Saturday, August 26, 2006

August 26, 2006: Nanci Griffith Tickets

nanci_lg10

I clearly remember hearing Nanci Griffith for the first time. It was the summer of 1990. Randy and I lived in Johnson City, TN on the tree streets. Our friend Jonathan (now an author and assistant professor at Bowling Green) was working at the Barter Theatre in nearby Abingdon, VA, and he used to come down for the weekends sometimes. Jonathan and I have a long musical history. It’s one of those Vonnegut “karass” things that Dad2Three blogged about awhile back. We recognized an immediate kinship in one another as freshman at Milligan College, and much of it had to do with our excellent taste in music. (We also saw ourselves as intellectual geniuses of course.) We got tremendous enjoyment in making fun of pop music (and its fans) of the mid-1980s: Duran Duran, Milli Vanilli, Madonna (although I think Jonathan just might have liked a bit of Madonna…), Michael Jackson, etc. We fed ourselves on a more substantial diet of the Talking Heads, U2, and lots of MTV’s “Closet Classics.”

But fast-forward six years after our initial meeting, and Jonathan pops a cassette into the tape player. “Listen to this,” he says. He puts in Nanci’s Storms album, and “I Don’t Wanna Talk About Love” washes over us. We were hooked. We were listening to everything Nanci Griffith we could get our hands on, and soon we were all Nanci fanatics. Our first concert came a year later. Randy and I had moved to Oxford, Ohio, where he was getting his master’s at Miami University. Nanci had just released Late Night Grand Hotel and was touring. Most of our friends were still in Tennessee, and they drove up for the big event: Nanci at Bogarts in Cincinnati. The night could not have been more perfect. Bogarts is really just a regular club, but this night, in honor of Nanci, they had white tablecloths and candles on all the tables. We were right in front of the stage, and she played every song we could have wanted to hear. It was a perfect night. I think that Tracy, Angie, Suzie and I bawled without abandon when she played, “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods.”

We’ve seen Nanci many times since then: in Indianapolis a couple of times, Louisville, Des Moines, and at Knoxville at the Tennessee Theatre. (If you listen very carefully, you can even hear Randy “whooping” on this live recording!) We even bought concert tickets for Bogarts on March 29, 1993—which was my due date with Jesse. We were such Nanci fans that we never imagined that having a baby would prohibit us from going to a concert! (He was born on March 27, so we actually had to give our sacred tickets away.)

All that to say…we have a long history with Nanci Griffith. Answering the question: “who’s your favorite female musician?” is easy for me. Randy has drifted off to other “whiny chick music” (and Nanci is NOT whiny) in years hence, but I’m confident he’d still claim Nanci as his first lady. The tickets are purchased, our kids already have a place secured at our wonderful friends’ home for the evening, and I’m looking forward to a night with Dr. H. and Nanci.

Friday, August 25, 2006

August 25, 2006: The Party's Over

I love parties. I'm glad my daughter is a partying kind of girl. For her 9th birthday, Laurel chose to have a "beach" party. A nearby park has a nice sandy beach on a TVA lake, and a Friday afternoon in late August is ideal for a party there. All the public school kids are back in their classrooms, leaving the lake all for us.

The girls had a great time, as did the girls' siblings; and of course we moms had fun, sitting under the shade and chatting. As always, we laughed about the great Socialization Myth as we watched our children play. They are all lovely children, and I always come away from such events feeling blessed in my children's friendships, and blessed in my own friendships with their parents.

Laurel's party

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 24, 2006: Knoxville, Tennessee


I love this poem by Nikki Giovanni.
It's such a simple slice of life. I discovered it years ago in the form of a children's book. Today Laurel read to a resident at a local senior's assisted living facility, and I was so touched to see that she'd picked out this poem to read. I hadn't read it to her in years; it was just in one of her poetry books.

Knoxville, Tennessee


I always like summer
Best
you can eat fresh corn
From daddy's garden
And okra
And greens
And cabbage
And lots of
Barbeque
And buttermilk
And homemade ice-cream
At the church picnic
And listen to
Gospel music
Outside
At the church
Homecoming
And go to the mountains with
Your grandmother
And go barefooted
And be warm
All the time
Not only when you go to bed
And sleep

Nikki Giovanni

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

August 23, 2006: Discombobulated


Discombobulated: adj: having self-possession upset; thrown into confusion; "the hecklers pelted the discombobulated speaker with anything that came to hand."

I was 25 the first time I heard the word "discombobulated." I was standing in my boss's office at The Planning Forum in Oxford, Ohio, where I was the editorial assistant. Marthann, my boss (and friend), was this wonderful woman from Texas, and she said, in her deep Texan accent, that she was "all discombobulated" trying to figure out her computer. She was always making up words, so I just figured she'd made up that one. But as such things go, I heard the word used just a few weeks later by someone else. It's been one of my favorite words ever since. What could better describe the life of a homeschooling mom than a state of "perpetual discombobulation"? And to imagine one's children as the "hecklers" in the above definition, "pelting" the "speaker" (i.e., Mom) with both literal (pencils, wads of paper, and what not) and figurative (whines, complaints, etc.) objects...it's just all too visually perfect for a day like today.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

August 20, 2006: Football Widow

A new bride is often shocked and dismayed about many characteristics she discovers about her beloved after the wedding day. For some, it's those burps and what-not that men can be so proud of. For others it's the dirty socks balled up by the bed or that perennial toilet seat problem. My shocker didn't come that first year but rather crept in slowly. By year 3 of our marriage, I could no longer deny that my beloved had hidden a vital part of himself from me: he was, at heart, a football fanatic. An on-the-couch from Sunday noon to night and Monday 9 p.m.-1 a.m., yelling, jumping, shouting, snack-consuming football addict. It only got worse when we moved to Knoxville, and he added Saturday afternoon U.T. games to his regime. (And a lot of orange clothing, in which he actually looks really good.)

Grounds for an annulment, perhaps. But really, truly, we love the football weekends around here. We have lots of really good snack food, and the kids love to pile all around Daddy while he's watching and look forward to being tossed in the air with a Titans' touchdown. It's always great fun to have friends over and watch their reaction when they see mild-mannered Dr. H. shout forcefully at the TV. And I've learned to cultivate true sympathy when the Titans or the Vols lose. But don't ask me anything about football, please. As my beloved says, it's all about fashion for me. Why must they wear those hideous outfits, anyway?

August 20, 2006: Jesse's (partial) Reading List, January through mid-August, 2006


• Going to the Sun
• The Visitation
• The Shakespeare Stealer
• Nightmare Academy
• Monster
• Luther
• The Second Mrs. Giaconda
• Shadow of a Bull
• I, Juan de Pareja
• Catherine, Called Birdy
• Adam of the Road
• The Great and Terrible Quest
• 1984 (re-read)
• The Samurai's Tale
• Otto of the Silver Hand
• Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass
• The Beduin's Gazelle
• Through the Desert Gates
• Bill Gates: Biography
• Black Horses for the King
• The Bronze Bow
• The Last Battle (re-read)
• The Silver Chair (re-read)
• Prince Caspian (re-read)
• Eldest (re-read)

August 20, 2006: Read-Aloud Books January through mid-August, 2006


• Ramona the Pest (to Duncan)
• Christy (to Laurel)
• The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (to Duncan and Laurel)
• Pirates Past Noon (to Duncan)
• Jess (to Laurel)
• Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (to Duncan)
• The Boxcar Children #1 (to Duncan)
• Master Cornhill (to Jesse, never finished)
• Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (to Duncan and Laurel)
• Happy Birthday Felicity (to Laurel)
• Hitty: The First Hundred Years (to Laurel)
• Flame Over Tara
• The Last Battle
• The Silver Chair
• Augustus Caesar's World
• The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
• The Trojan War
• Kirsten Saves the Day
• The House Without a Christmas Tree
• Voyage of the Dawn Treader

August 20, 2006: Half-Moon Cookies

A few weeks ago I blogged about how much I love Half-Moon cookies, a delicacy that is apparently unique to upstate New York, land of my childhood. Today, being delightfully rainy, was a perfect day to try out a recipe I found online. I made just a couple of adjustments, and the result is extraordinarily close to the cookies made at Tops Friendly Market in Geneva, New York. This recipe is for a dozen large cookies. Trust me, that's all one family needs or you'll all be hurling! The cookies are supposed to be big--3 or 4 inches in diameter.

halfmoon

Chocolate Half Moon Cookies

* One cup brown sugar
* One-half cup butter
* One egg
* One-half teaspoon vanilla
* One and one-half cups flour
* One-half teaspoon baking soda
* Pinch of salt
* Four ounces baking semi-sweet baking chocolate (plus 2 more ounces for icing)
* One-half cup milk

1. Cream brown sugar and butter together. Beat in egg and chocolate (4 ounces which has been melted). Add milk alternately with flour, soda and salt. Stir in vanilla.
2. Drop by heaping tablespoons onto pizza stone or lightly greased cookie sheet, spreading batter slightly. Bake in 350 degree oven 10-12 minutes.
3. Cool and frost flat side of cookies. Combine two cups sifted confectioners sugar with one-fourth cup butter, add one-half teaspoon vanilla and enough milk to make it spreading consistency. Frost half of cookies with white frosting. Add two squares melted chocolate to remaining frosting and frost other half of cookies with chocolate frosting.

Friday, August 18, 2006

August 18, 2006: Good for the Soul

This is where we camped last weekend. Usually photos wholeheartedly fail to capture the beauty of a place. My mother is forever taking photos of the smoke on the mountains or the fog over the lake, and we always laugh because the real thing is so much better. But when Lynn Freeny sent these images of Indian Boundary, I thought, "WOW! Were we really there?" I could wake up to this view every morning...

sunrise Indian boundary


Indian Boundary

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August 17, 2006: Back to School

We started back yesterday, a week earlier than usual but with longer breaks scheduled in throughout the year. Ahhh, if only the whole year could go like the first two days! But as I enter year seven and add child #3, I have no illusions (well, maybe just a few). Our first day is, as Jesse calls it, "educational orientation" (how did he learn to speak puplic-schoolese, anyway?). Our first act of each new year is to measure and weigh the kids. Duncan and Jesse grew a whopping 4 inches this past year, and Princess Laurel continued with her regular 2 inches. Then we go through our "Big Box of Books," which is, incidentally, a big box filled with books. These are books of all sorts--stapled, taped, tied with yarn, and what-not-- that the kids have made through the years. Our focus, though, is looking at the previous years' "All About Me" books. I print these out at Enchanted Learning (which I find to be well-worth the $20/year fee). I love going through these every year--seeing how their handwriting and drawing has changed, etc. Jesse rejected these a few years ago but I still make him write out a "This is Me Now" page. The rest of our day was basically just organizational, although Laurel did want to do a page in her reading comprehension book, and Duncan had his first lesson in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Duncan's report on his first day of kindergarten was that it was great!
Today was another excellent day. We started back in full swing and actually got "everything done" (in other words, we accomplished what I'd hoped to accomplish)! The kids were great, and the biggest news is that Duncan wrote his name by himself for the first time! We were all very proud of him. I am amazed that my little party guy, who is all about having a good time, is actually buckling down and focusing.

duncansname

Tonight we have our support group's Welcome Back picnic, which gives this whole week even more of an "official" feeling. I'm glad we're back to the books. My cabinets aren't totally organized and I still have summer projects to complete (or start), but we were all ready to start again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 15, 2006: Cacophony

Cacophony: (n) Jarring, discordant sound; dissonance.

If you were to ask Dr. Hibiscus his favorite word (and yes, we do ask such odd questions around here), he would undoubtedly say, "cacophony." Good thing, too, because there is no other word to describe this evening. Upon arriving home from violin lessons tonight, Jesse had to take out his violin and demonstrate his new plucking skills with "In the Hall of the Mountain King." Randy then had to get out his guitar, and a second later, Laurel comes in with her guitar. Duncan begins banging the coffee table with makeshift drumsticks (a plastic dinosaur and a flip-flop), and then Laurel starts actually fiddling "Rocky Top" (accidentally, since she doesn't know how to fiddle yet)! The dog starts howling, and the phone rings. Unadulterated cacophony. Or, as Laurel says, "I like music night, Mommy. Don't you?"

Sunday, August 13, 2006

August 13, 2006: Home From Camping

We are smelly, sleepy, sticky, slightly damp, and very grimy here at SmallWorld. We've just come back from camping at Indian Boundary in the Cherokee National Forest. The cooler has been unpacked and the showers have started. I'm next in line, so I'll have to blog quickly or I'll lose my place.

Our two-night camping spree was thwarted by the rain, but one night was great anyway. We did have a heavy shower mid-afternoon, but we headed out swimming as soon as it tapered off. This is our first time at Indian Boundary, and we'll definitely go back. Dad2Three and his entourage brought a kayak, and another family brought a blow-up boat, so everyone was well entertained in the water. The teens all brought their bikes and the little ones had plenty of mud and dirt in which to dig. We stayed up late talking around the campfire, and this morning the moms took a 3.5 mile bike ride around the lake. Since I haven't ridden a bike in 4 years, I'd say there is a good chance I won't be able to sit tomorrow. It's challenging even now.

We have great ideas for more trips in the future, including a month-long "marine biology" trip to the beach next year. We have grand plans; making them come to fruition will be a challenge. But in the meantime, there are many more weekends for camping right here in the Smokies, where the river tumbles and the laurel thickets beckon.

Indian Boundary

Friday, August 11, 2006

August 11, 2006: Throwing Away Day

I've spent the afternoon cleaning our sunporch/craft room, stuffing two garbage bags full of junk. Every time I come home from visiting my parents, I want to throw stuff out. I want to toss every scrap of paper, every lone rubber band, every twist-tie. It's true, I know, that I might need those things later. I have caught myself in desperate need of a single rubberband. But my mother grew up during the Depression, and like many of her peers, she saves everything with a ferocity that is foreign to most of us who grew up in later decades. She saves pieces of aluminum foil; bags full of hotel soaps and shampoos; and containers of all sort: butter, cottage cheese, yogurt--you name it. Eggs shells and coffee grounds are tossed onto the outdoor plants. Having a proclivity toward an earthy crunchiness myself (you couldn't escape that in my family), I know that coffee grounds are good for plants, but I can't bring myself to do it. The poem below--the first I ever had accepted for publication--was prompted after a visit to my mother's home many years ago.

Boneless Skinless

What does it mean
to throw away a sliver of soap?
How many years must an empty
container be saved? She can't
bring herself to wear an apron
or to save the chicken broth
to use as soup stock later.
Her refrigerator has no patience
for a single pickle or two stalks
of limp celery. Her skillet refuses
bacon grease; her plants renounce
eggshells and coffee grounds, preferring
squirts of store-bought fertilizer.

Serving up supper
straight from the pan
she feels the pains
of child-guilt, heavy
and familiar as the early dark
of winter afternoons.
Boneless, skinless breasts reek
of idelness; she sways
under the weight
of her mother's earnest face
and the memory of her quick, red
hands gouging out
potato eyes.

~Sarah Cummins Small

August 11, 2006: A Free Day

The groceries are ready to go; the dog's at the vet getting fixed; the gear is ready to go; the suitcases and backpacks are packed. But there's a 100% chance of rain, with the possibility of severe thunderstorms, in the forecast today. 'Course it hasn't rained around here in weeks, and the temperature has been over 90 for 12 straight days; but today, just in time for our long-awaited camping weekend, the skies are heavy and wet. We'll go tomorrow morning instead and make it a one-night trip instead of two.

After being disappointed for a few minutes, Dr. H and I realized that we have a whole free day and night in front of us, unplanned and without any commitments! What excitement! What possibility! No one even knows we're here (except for our camping buddies)! He'll spend the day getting exams graded to turn in Monday that he anticipated doing late Sunday night; I'll attack the clutter in the homeschooling cabinet and sunroom in preparation for the start of school next week. This evening we'll dig into the camping food for supper and watch a movie.

I hope we get a huge rain. I hope the lights go out and we have to light candles. The kids can make a blanket house and scream at the thunder, and we'll eat tiny powdered-sugar donuts. The bags are packed, and camping comes tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

August 9, 2006: Music History

One of the best parts about my recent trip to New York was that I got to spend 27 hours in the car with my second oldest brother, John. To say that John is a "music lover" or an "avid musician" is barely scratching the surface. When I think of John, he has one of those cartoon bubbles coming out of his head with musical notes and a guitar in his arms. It is impossible to separate John from music.

As we were driving and talking (about music, mostly), I told him something that was obvious to me but had never occurred to him: that he was the greatest musical influence in my life. I come from a musical family of sorts--a music-loving family, anyway. My parents had season tickets to the Rochester Philharmonic Symphony every year, and I have lovely memories of falling asleep on my mother's fur coat while listening to the symphony. But my first musical memories are of John singing and playing guitar. I knew all the words to CSN's "Our House" and Loggins and Messina's "Danny's Song" when I was probably five or six. This was the early '70s, and my first memories of John (over 12 years my senior) are of him with very long, straight hair pulled back in a ponytail, playing guitar in the living room.

John sent me a flurry of YouTube videos today, and this was my favorite. This is the essence of my musical childhood. And I'm still listening to CSN 35 years later...

Friday, August 4, 2006

August 5, 2006: Two Things I Love About My Hometown...


in upstate (western) New York: bulk bins and half-moon cookies. The grocery stores around here have these fabulous bulk sections with everything from Mike-and-Ikes to prunes. So if you only need 5 prunes for a recipe (not that I've ever needed 5 prunes for a recipe), you can buy 5 prunes instead of a whole box. Or if you're in the mood for a little peanut brittle and handful of trail mix, that's exactly what you can get. We've been to Tops *Friendly* Market for 4 days in a row. We like bulk bins.

But it's a good thing I don't live here all the time or I'd be a blimp. I have a terrible soft spot for half-moon cookies. I have since I was a little girl. I can remember begging my mother to let me get one at the bakery. She rarely complied, but now that I am a grown-up, I can get them any time I want....when I'm in NY. And so I"ve also had a half-moon cookie each day for the past 4 days. Half-moon cookies are these luscious cake-like cookies, iced half with chocolate and half with vanilla. I must find a recipe as soon as I get home.

August 4, 2006: Vacation Day #8: Rejection and a Literary Night

Eight full days now since we've been gone, and we're all ready to pack up and head home on Sunday. Today was slated to be our visit to see our brother James, who lives in Newfield, which is just outside of Ithaca (an hour from here). James is the oldest, 16 years older than I am but only 3 years older than John. So John calls him last night and leaves a message that we are coming today. At 6:30 a.m., James calls to tell my dad that he doesn't want us to come: he is too busy. We should come during the dormant season, he said! I have blogged before about James. He was a strong personality before his traumatic brain injury, now he is a strong personality with a twist. The whole situation makes me kinda chuckle, because I so much didn't want to go see James. It's always an obligatory visit. I have always been awkward around him. He always seems to be laughing at me. And so naturally, I was tremendously relieved that he didn't want us to visit, but it is still kind of funny that he turned the tables on us. And I do feel bummed for John, who hasn't seen James since his accident 4 years ago, when he was still eating strained plums in the rehab center.

But we enjoyed a relaxing day on the lake. The temperature has dropped a good 10 degrees or more. Sleeping is lovely, and we're all tremendously revived. This evening we resurrected an old Cummins family tradition: Literary Nights. We started this probably 20 years ago, when my brothers' girls were probably 4, 5, and 6. This is exclusively an extended-family event, held on special occasions when we were all together. For a successful Literary Night (and they always are), each person needs to bring a performance piece to share. This can be anything from a poem to a song to a joke to a story. The girls even used to put on skits in full costume. Although for the past 7 years, the whole extended family gets together on many occasions during the winter months, we haven't had a Literary Night in probably 10 years. Mom mentioned it yesterday, and we all thought it sounded like a great idea. (Well, Jesse didn't particularly think so, but he was a good sport about it.) Laurel was tremendously excited.

And so we gathered in the living room after supper. John started by playing his "Randy's Rainbow" song on his guitar. I read a couple of poems. Dad read a bunch of his stories and poems, and Esther told a ghost story. Laurel read a poem and Mom some scripture. Duncan attempted to sing "I am the Walrus." Dad told some more stories. Jesse listened. John wrapped it up with an hour's worth of singing old favorites. Daisy howled. I dragged a very reluctant Duncan and Laurel off to bed while Uncle John kept playing guitar. Laurel's prayer included a "Thank you that we got to do Literary Night!" It was a good day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

August 1, 2006: Wet Books and Other Vacation Adventures


So in the book I just finished, Sarah's Quilt, there was this scene where the main character's extensive book collection got soaking wet in a storm. So she hung them up in her barn with clothespins to dry. Guess what? This doesn't really work! After Laurel accidentally knocked the book I was currently reading off the dock and into the lake, I tried this clever drying technique. Immediately, the book fell apart even more! Sorry, Dad2Three and Blogless Leigh, rightful owners of this fascinating book! A new one is on the way! Fortunately for me, the second half of the book is dry enough to finish reading...

Today's adventures thus far consist entirely of swimming and attempting to exert as little energy as possible when out of the water. 97 degrees is hot anywhere, but it's especially hot without a/c (the lack of a/c is common in upstate NY homes) ! Fortunately, we can spend our days in the lake. Yesterday we drove to Cayuga (that's "Kye-U-ga") Lake, another of the Finger Lakes, to water ski with my brother Stephen. After boating, we went to Taughannock Falls (that's "Tye-gannick"), where we regaled the children with stories of people falling off gorges.

Another hot night and day to get through until it starts cooling off on Thursday...