Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happy Dave Ramsey Anniversary to Us!


It’s been one year since we began actively implementing Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover program. In this past year we have completely and radically changed how we handle money. The result: in one year we have paid off a whopping $11,113. We have a long way to go (7 years of student loans will do that to you), but we are one year closer to calling Dave and yelling, “WE’RE DEBT FREE!” That is going to be one awesome day in SmallWorld.

So what have we done? First of all, we both read Total Money Makeover. Then we began with Baby Step #1:
• $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund.
And during this past year, we have used that emergency fund for car repairs (twice), a new dryer when the old one finally bit the dust, a new dishwasher (ditto), and oven repair. For all of those things, we paid CASH (which means that we had to replenish the Emergency Fund on several occasions).

Next, we began tracking all of our expenses and created a budget a la Dave Ramsey. After tracking our expenses for a few months, we began using the envelope system for everything except for those bills we pay by mail. This has helped us with Baby Step #2:
• Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball.
Dave’s system is to pay off the smallest debts first so that you feel successful. It really does work. We paid off several small debts and our van. We have two more debts slated to be paid off in the next few months, and then we can tackle the Biggie (AKA, the student loan). It may be a long time until we get to the next several steps (although we do have some college funding going for the kids):
• Three to six months of expenses in savings
• Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
• College funding for children
• Pay off home early
• Build wealth and give!

So while we still have a long way to go, we have absolutely gotten a taste of the financial freedom—and it so, so delicious. We are about to celebrate our second CASH ONLY Christmas. We have not put anything on a credit card in a year. We planned and budgeted for all of our travels this past year. Randy taught a class this past summer to earn extra money, and, besides my regular teaching at our support group’s enrichment classes, I have been blessed with a regular proofreading job (thanks, Ang!) that satisfies my yearning for a little something extra every now and then. We did not squander away our income tax refund or Randy’s summer salary. Most of all, we have not accumulated any new debt. We changed our behavior, and the fruit has been abundant. I am looking forward to this time next year, when we are even closer to knocking out that nasty debt.

The Clock and the Calendar

November 29, 2006

“We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery.”
—H. G. Wells (1866–1946), English author

I love this quote. I wish I could make it one of my life mantras. I'm a pretty laid-back person, but I certainly can't deny that sometimes (OK, frequently) I hurry through certain activities to get to the next activity. I don't take enough time to just sit--with my younger two, especially--and just breathe. As December approaches, our calendar actually slows down as normal activities take a break. I'm looking forward to the next several weeks, taking time to revel in the small moments.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday Memory: Milligan College


I spent four years at Milligan College, but it seemed like a lifetime. How can so much life happen in just a few years? Why is it that I can remember all kinds of details about events or just daily life from my college years, but I can't even remember how we spent New Year's just last year? Why can I remember an outfit that some random person wore in the cafeteria in 1987, but I couldn't even tell you what my kids are wearing today or what I wore to church yesterday? Why can I remember exact conversations in the lobby of our dorm but can't remember if I told Randy about what's coming up this weekend?

It's as if those college years were in slow motion and in brilliantly colored, intricate detail. I loved my college years. I loved my college--a small, liberal arts college nestled in the hills of Upper East Tennessee (now known as Northeast Tennessee). People always wonder how I ended up in Tennessee, having been raised in upstate New York. Milligan brought me here. It is one of the largest colleges that is supported by the our particular church, and one of the few that is specifically a liberal arts college rather than just a Bible college. Three of my four brothers attended Milligan, and for me it was basically a matter of attending Milligan or attending Cornell University, where my Dad was a professor. Because I wanted out of New York State, Milligan was the obvious choice.

Many of the best things in my life happened at Milligan. I met a group of incredible friends, and we shared countless adventures and growing experiences. We are still all close friends today, although we see each other rarely. I had amazing professors, who showed me a much bigger world. I fell in love with Tennessee and the mountains. I discovered that God is much bigger than one-dimension. And, most of all, I met the love of my life.

Would I send my kids there? In a heartbeat. If they could take away from their college years nothing but solid, lifetime relationships, then I'd consider that four years well spent.

The Thieving Child, Part 2

November 27, 2006

So here's how we handled our lying, stealing, etc. child. We enjoyed reading responses and were reassured that our parenting techniques fall into line with so many others'. (Yes, I really do think there should be an apostrophe there, because it should be others' parenting techniques.) ANYWAY. Duncan spent about 3 hours cleaning his room on a beautiful Saturday. (This included time spent cleaning out the register/duct.) He is not allowed to have candy or gum for 2 weeks, and he has to pay for the items that he took for the reward bag. This totals less than $4, but for a child who gets 50 cents/week in allowance, that's a lot of money. He spent the rest of the day helping his Daddy with chores. Probably more than anything, he endured a day of being emotionally separated from us. He knew we were angry and disappointed, and I hope that will be more of a lesson than anything else.

So hopefully Dad2Three won't be writing an article entitled "Where will Duncan pee next...."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What to do with a Lying, Cheating, Stealing, Vandalizing Child?

November 25, 2006

Yes, Dad2Three, it's Duncan again, back with crimes more heinous than ever. I'm really not joking here, although I imagine that some day--far, far in the future--we will indeed chuckle over this. The crimes, all discovered in the past hour, are as follows:
Stealing: Entered our bedroom at some point Thanksgiving afternoon and took 2 toys from the "reward bag." Lying: Told his brother and sister that his cousin gave these to him.
Stealing: Entered our bedroom Friday night while we were gone (my parents were babysitting) and stole several packs of candy from the same reward bag. (Yes, he ate all the candy before bed last night.) Lying: Told his brother and sister that someone gave these to him. .) Cheating: In both cases above, he cheated by taking rewards that were not due to him.
Vandalism: Peed in the heat register in his room last night while we were gone. This is the discovery that led to figuring out all of the above crimes. When the heat kicked on and the smell emanated through his room, I realized what had happened. At that point, I started noticing candy wrappers and toy boxes, and all his crimes were revealed. (To his slight credit, he did confess to everything when asked by me.)

And so, wise parents, what would YOU do if your nearly six-year-old had committed the above acts of lying, stealing, cheating, and harming property? Tell me what would be your course of action, and perhaps we'll integrate some of your ideas into our own punishment-in-progress.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November 21, 2006: Family Season Begins

Friends, take heed. When you call me, you'll be answered with a deep, gruff, "This is Jim." The holiday season has officially started: my parents have arrived from New York. Dinner conversation tonight is only a foretaste of things to come: we talked of New Zealand, apartheid, scarab beetle tie clasps, cryogenics, germplasm maintenance, 60s ties, and noninstrumental churches. Forget the kids reporting on various daily events. When my parents are here, dinner conversations take surprising twists, and it's not unusual for Randy and my father--both scientists by trade--to spend a solid hour at the dinner table discussing history or all of us listening to my father's stories. With 81 years behind him, he has a lot of stories.

I am unspeakably blessed in so many ways to have my parents live in here 5 months of each year. Not only are my children growing up with their grandparents right next door, but I get to spend precious time with my parents. And how many spouses would delight in their in-laws living next door, sharing the supper table, for half the year? I love my husband even more for his utter generousity of spirit. He simply loves having them here. Funny how the similarities between Randy and my father grow stronger every year...

And so the family season begins. Tomorrow we bake pies, roll out noodles, and thaw a turkey. My brothers and their families, who live less than an hour away but whom we rarely see during the "off season," will start popping in. My kids will be reminded that they have cousins. There will be evening card games and trips to Dollywood, lots of raking and yard maintenance, and my mother's fabulous side dishes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nov. 20, 2006: Monday Memory: First House, First Car


Randy and I were married at the end of March. In February, I was living at home in NY with my parents, and he was living with a friend in Johnson City, TN, where we would be married. In that month before our wedding, he was charged with finding us a place to live. This is what he found: a 3-bedroom house on Johnson City's Tree Streets (we would never have looked anywhere else) for a whopping $175/month. The oven didn't work, the pipes burst, the back porch was falling off, it needed paint everywhere, and the roof leaked, but we loved it. It had definite potential. He was very nervous about showing this house to my parents, imagining that they would be appalled that their daughter would be living in such squalor. But my parents were undaunted and in fact were all smiles, remembering their own first house, not unlike this one.

We used to fantasize about what we could do with that house if we had money and if we were owners rather than renters. We'd shine up the hardwood floors, knock out a couple of walls, and fix the fireplaces. The best part of the house was its huge front porch, which was a gathering place for all sorts of people. The Tree Streets were the place to live back then: six streets of old family houses with big front porches interspersed with fraternities and apartment houses, just a few blocks away from the university where Randy was finishing his bachelor's degree. All our friends either lived there on the Tree Streets or were still in college 5 miles away at Milligan, so our house was always hopping. We never knew who we might find in our living room when we came home from work or school, and that's how we liked it.

But when our 6-month lease was up, we moved a few blocks down Poplar Street to a nicer apartment. Six months is long enough to use a toaster-over for baking, and we longed for showers instead of baths. The house remained unrented, though not vacant. A year or so later, it suffered fire damage when a homeless person tried to use the fireplace. A couple of years after that, that house and its twin sister next door sold and have been renovated. We drive past every time we go to Johnson City. Maybe someday we'll work up the courage to ask if we can see the inside.

The car was given to us by Randy's grandfather. I used to drive that giant Impala to work every day, fearing for my life and feeling like a midget in a submarine. Like the house, the car had a leaky roof and a broken heater.

I'm not sure I ever imagined the day would come when we'd have a van and our own house, but starting from scratch sure does make today's treasures sweeter.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

November 18, 2006: Discoveries and Ensuing Deep Thoughts While Cleaning

You have to really wonder: what would possess a five-year-old to remove the toilet bowl scrubbing brush from its receptacle, pee into the receptacle, and replace the brush? And how, exactly, does one find and eliminate that underlying odor of little boy pee in said little boy's room?

Friday, November 17, 2006

November 17, 2006: What's for Supper: Chicken Roll-ups

As someone famous once said, "When Bloggers' Block strikes, post a recipe." Plus, who doesn't want a recipe that has actually passed the all-family-members-like-it test? My friend Kris in Iowa brought these to me when Laurel was born. I like the idea of people bringing me dinner. I think that my friends should bring me dinner more often, even if I'm not having a baby. Random, meaningless occasions would be fine. Also, I think that we should all get bridal showers again, like after 15 or 20 years, especially those of us who got married young when we and all our friends were penniless...
But I digress. Onto the recipe....

Chicken Roll-ups
4 oz. cream cheese
3 T. melted margarine
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 T. milk
2 1/2-3 chicken breasts (cooked and shredded)
2 pkg. crescent rolls
3/4 c. seasoned bread crumbs (fine)

Cook your chicken however you like to do this. I boil this for 20 minutes and then shred when cool. Blend cream cheese, margarine, milk, salt and pepper until smooth. Add chicken. (I leave out 1/2 breast, since I have one child that doesn't like the cream cheese mixture. If you use all 3 breasts, you'll need a little more cream cheese mixture.) Mix well. Separate rolls into 8 rectangles. Seal seams on rectangles. Spoon about 1/4 cup mixture into center of each, pull 4 corners to center, and seal each. (At this point, I put the plain chicken into the last 2 rectangles for the child-who-doesn't-like-cream-cheese.) Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet or pizza stone for 20 minutes at 375. Makes 8.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

November 15, 2006: Whatever happened to Fine Arts Fridays and Other Fun Stuff?

The first 2-3 years of homeschooling, I was dedicated to having Fine Arts Fridays. Each week we would listen to classical music while we learned about the artist-of-the-week. I would print out paintings from various time periods of an artist, say Picasso. We would all try our hand at painting/drawing in that artist's style, and then I'd display the artist's work as well as the kids' work until the next Fine Arts Friday. Sometimes we worked on a style rather than a particular artist--Impressionism, Modern, etc. This was a wonderful way to introduce the kids to artists and classical music and to incorporate the fine arts into our lives.

Sigh. I think it's been 2 or 3 years since we had our last Fine Arts Friday. I don't even remember Duncan being part of the scenario, so he must have been napping or in a highchair.

And mystery folders! Jesse and Laurel each had a folder, labeled "Mystery Folder." I'd put something new in the folder each day: a brain teaser or crossword puzzle for Jesse, a paper doll or coloring sheet for Laurel. When I needed alone time with Jesse, I'd tell Laurel that it was time to do her Mystery Folder, and vice-versa. They loved their folders, and this definitely helped them to be more indepedent. But I haven't stuffed those folders once this year, and I don't think I ever did it last year....

And "Order of the Queen" edicts! Occasionally I would surprise the kids by typing up an official notice, such as: By Order of the Queen! Today has been officially decreed a Day of Games! No workbook shall be opened! There shall be no math, no grammar, and no spelling allowed! All citizens of the estate must participate in Board Games and other such frivolity!

I think that the main reason I've let all these creative moments slip is because Jesse has entered the more serious academic years. Devoting a whole day to board games makes me slightly nervous, thinking about all the algebra and grammar that Jesse should be doing. Those are the times when I feel that balance wavering. It's those voices in my head saying: "We're homeschooling! We have the freedom to play Yahtzee all day if we want!" vs. "What would possess you to play Scrabble when he should be doing algebra?" And yet the younger children need that kind of unstructured structure. They need some of those non-academic learning opportunities--the ones that involve lots of "This is school?" moments. And Jesse may not need those kinds of activities, but I'm sure he'd appreciate a break now and then.

Another reason that I've let these slip is sheer laziness...and forgetfulness. It takes time to download and print out paintings and research artists...a little time...and, well, I forget my good intentions. And then I reassure myself that my children are gifted with a totally amazing art teacher, who has introduced them to dozens of artists over the past six years, and I do feel better. But it sure would be fun to have a Fine Arts Friday every now and then. And I do know exactly where the empty Mystery Folders are. And maybe the Queen needs to issue a few decrees.

Monday, November 13, 2006

November 13, 2006: Monday Memory: Gramma

My grandmother, had she been alive today, would turn 106 on her birthday tomorrow, November 14. Gramma--Gladys May--was born to James and Aretha Riley in 1900 in southern Illinois. In the town of Dix, Illinois, over half the 400 or so residents are Rileys. My family. Gladys was one of ten Riley children, whose grandfather, Andrew O'Reilley, and his brother came from Ireland as young men, dropped the tell-tale "O," and settled in southern Illinois sometime in the mid-1800s. The Riley clan was prolific, until Dix nearly burst with Rileys.

I was forever fascinated with the Riley clan as a child. To think that I had hundreds of 2nd and 3rd cousins, who ran back and forth to each other's houses, ate at each other's supper tables, played games of ghost-in-the-graveyard in the fields. My father grew up in a swarm of them. He had so many first cousins he could barely count them, must less name them, 75 years and eight hundred miles away from his childhood.

When I was a baby, my father moved us all from southern Illinois to upstate New York, worlds that have nothing to do with each other. Summers we would drive the 18 hours back to Illinois. We'd stay at my maternal grandmother's air-conditioned house in city of Mt. Vernon. In the afternoons my father would drive my brothers and me out to Dix to visit relatives. Rileys were everywhere. Every few feet, it seemed, my father would pull off the road. "Here's where Grandmother Riley used to live," he'd say. "Here's the house your mother and I lived in when we were first married. Here's Jack Riley's house. Here's John Carl's shop." Later my father would sit on front porches with his aunts and uncles while my brother and I drooped in the hot Midwestern sun, longing for carpet instead of the scratchy brown grass beneath our feet. I would hear my father slip into his native drawl and feel an ache in my heart even then. I wanted to lay some claim to this clan my father had left behind. But what do I know about the Riley clan, really, other than a few afternoons spent decades ago watching distant cousins, whose names I soon forgot, play free-tag in the short grass? They could have been anyone's children.

Gramma, though, I knew in a youngest grandchild kind of way. She and Granddad wintered in St. Petersburg, and I spent happy vacations there, riding in the baskets of their old people tricycles and eating delicacies like Frosted Flakes and store-bought packs of chocolate pudding. Eventually, after Granddad died, Gramma moved into a nursing home, and then another and another. She got mean and cranky and could make up a whopper of a story. She lived long enough to meet Randy (or "Andy," as she insisted on calling him). The last time I remember seeing her, she pointed at my dad across the lobby of the nursing home and shouted, "ISN'T HE HANDSOME?" Gramma died in 1988, my senior year of college. I remember my father telling me that when he was a boy in Dix, funerals were important social events. Everyone was practiced in the art of mourning, and he and his Riley cousins, dressed in their best clothes, would carry baskets of flowers in the funeral processions with the other mourners.

Being the last of 5 children with 16 years between me and my oldest brother, I never had the luxury of really knowing my grandparents. My brothers all have memories that include living near them in Illinois; I remember a handful of week-long vacations as a child and nursing-home visits as a teen and young woman. I wish I had longer with them. I never got to hear their stories. If I try hard, I can remember the sound of Gramma's voice and her laugh, and her particular smell. I wish I had more than that and am tremendously thankful that my own children have their grandparents living next door half the year. I can't think of many better gifts than that.

(Gramma and me, 1985, Florida. No comments on the hair, please--it was the 80s!)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

November 11, 2006: Veterans' Day: In Honor of My Father and Grandfather


My father, James Nelson Cummins, enlisted in 1943 at age 18. When the troop hit the beaches in France, he was a PFC (private first class) in Ft. Sill, OK at The Artillery School, assigned to a "flash-ranging" platoon (forward observers—FO). Back to Georgia, promoted to buck sergeant and headed out that September on what was once the luxury liner USS Manhattan, stripped down to hold 20, 000 troops. They crossed the Atlantic without escort (the story was that they were so fast that no U-boats could find them) and landed at Liverpool. Eventually they crossed the English Channel and landed on Omaha Beach. There was all kinds of wreckage there from 3 months earlier.

His battalion found out that their equipment has been on a different ship, which had been sunk, so they pitched tents in Normandy and waited for replacement equipment. When it arrived in early December, they headed for Belgium and the front. Almost there they got word of the Bulge fighting and that their sister battalion, 287 FA Ob, had been captured at Malmedy and butchered—which didn't help their morale.

My father writes: “We were not a bunch of heroes. Mostly did counter-battery work—locating German artillery, heavy mortars, rockets and tanks and directing fire on them. Wound up on the Elbe, north of Magdeburg. Crossed the Elbe to finish things off at Berlin; called back to the west bank orders of Ike; sat there and watched from about 30 miles out the fires of Berlin; watched the remnants of the Wehrmacht coming west, flowing south east of the Elbe. Watched the Russians chasing them. Finally, surrender.”

The war wasn’t over for my father, though. Because he had joined the fighting late, he was earmarked for continuing service by going to Japan. He was sent home in July with orders for 30 days leave, then to report to west coast and passage to the Far East. I have often imagined —but can’t possibly—how he felt when they landed in Boston harbor to the cries of newsboys hawking papers with headlines "Second Atom Bomb Dropped on Japan!" I imagine all those days crossing the ocean, knowing that, though he was done battling in one continent, he must barely take a breath and then head off to another. And then, to have the atom bombs be his saving grace. It has always been hard for me to read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, because on one hand I am horrified and terribly sad, but on the other hand….my father.


In 1947 my father finished his degree at Cornell University on the GI Bill. That semester he and some friends decided that Stalin was “getting really nasty,” so they enlisted in the Army Reserve. After graduation he headed back to Southern Illinois and joined his Dad on the farm, got married, and had my oldest brother in July of 1950. Two weeks later he received orders to report to Ft. Lewis, Washington, for immediate shipping to 16th Field Artillery in Korea. It was nearly a year before he went to Korea, having received a commission in the Quartermaster Corps that first took him to Ft. Lee, Virginia. But ultimately he landed in Pusan where he was shipped trainloads of groceries to troops in the north and promoted to 1st Lt. He was offered a offered captaincy but instead came home to help his Dad on the farm in 1952.

Back in Illinois he continued in active Army Reserves, usually as infantry officer. Changed to Medical Service Corps and had three more sons. In middle of his doctoral studies at Southern Illinois University, he received ultimatum from Army -- either take command of a reserve Ambulance Company at Belleville (60 miles away) or retire. So he reluctantly retired about 1965. My father writes: “I could be negative about military service. I'm not. The Army made a man of me; gave me an education through GI Bill; gave me a strong sense of having served my country.”


My Granddad, Nelson Andrews Cummins, went into navy in 1942, an apprentice seaman at age 41. He went to Great Lakes for his boot camp; aptitude tests pointed him toward mechanical. Stayed there for motor mechanics school, then went to advanced diesel engine school. He was promoted to MMM 1st class and assigned to a destroyer escort (DE) -- essentially a small destroyer, but powered with huge diesel engines rather than steam turbines (standard on destroyers, DD). He was promoted to Chief MMM, in charge of the engine room under the Engineering Officer. His ship went to far Pacific as support for the Okinawa landing. On the second day of the invasion, Granddad was ordered to go ashore where he had charge of diesel-powered generators that supported the fleet admiral's radio commo. His DE was sunk by kamikaze. He retired as a Chief Petty Officer and returned to his orchards in Dix, Illinois.

And so my father and his father and thousands of other fathers returned home after wars, and thousands did not. My father is 81 years old now, and my Granddad died over 30 years ago. And there is this huge part of my father's life that he remembers in all its details: the exquisite taste of hot cocoa made from bars of chocolate shaved into cups
while camped above the Elbe, the Jewish clerk from NYC and his "an-coy-vees," card games on the ship, seasickness crossing the English Channel. Missing his first child's first steps and first words. Battling moral conflict. What war takes from and adds to one man's life, we who have not, can never know.

Monday, November 6, 2006

November 6, 2006: Monday Memory: Go Vols!

go vols

When we first moved to Knoxville in 1999, we were astounded by the enormous fan base here for the U.T. Vols. Knoxville is a sea of orange in the fall. Orange clothing, orange flags, orange vehicles, orange coffee cups and book bags. When Jesse was in public school for first grade, the children were all encourage to wear Vols t-shirts on Fridays (and no, that is not one of the reasons that we decided to homeschool)! It is a phenomenon that you just have to see to believe. I remember one time at a nearby gas station, a cashier refused to sell to a customer sporting a Georgia Bulldogs tattoo. (In the cashier's defense, it is very bold to be walking around with such a thing during the Tennessee/Georgia game weekend.)

But it didn't take us long to join the craze. Randy does have a large assortment of UT paraphernalia, and he buys Laurel a UT cheerleading outfit every couple of years. In the picture above, she is three years old, and she'd received UT Barbie from a friend that year for her birthday. (Unfortunately, Jesse popped her head off a year later. Fortunately, a fellow homeschooling mom happened to have a couple of extra and gave a new one to Laurel.)

We still don't have flags and pom-poms dangling from our house and car, but I was thinking about planting marigolds in the shape of a big U.T. out in the front yard next year...

Saturday, November 4, 2006

November 4, 2006: Free Weekend and French Onion Soup

Wow. I am soaking in this day. This is the first time in 10 weeks that we've had a completely free weekend. Soccer is over. Our annual Soup and Pumpkin party has come and gone. Trunk or Treat, AHG/Cub Scout Hayride and Campfire, dentist appointments, John Notgrass seminar....all over. It's the flurry of activities that always come before we settle in for the winter, and while I'm not ready to get out the Christmas decorations yet, I am excited to spend evenings wrapped in the afghan in our blue chair (the one that has seen much better days in its first life with Randy's dad).

Speaking of being free, I read a great line in a homeschooling magazine at the library today. The author of the article was described as having been a homeschooled family "since they were liberated from public school." I loved that line. It's been seven years since we were liberated, but I still feel that powerful sense of freedom each and every day.

We've been terribly productive around here today. Randy and Jesse finished with Stage 1 of the tree house: The Platform. I've been mostly catching up on paperwork and emails, tying up those odds and ends of duties that get lost in the daily shuffle (often literally). The kids and I spent a relaxing hour at the library, and now they're all watching the big game while supper cooks. French Onion Soup and smoked turkey sandwiches are on tonight's menu. The soup recipe is below. I found a fabulous addition to our sandwiches: Mario's Red Pepper and Artichoke Tapenade. It's not as fabulous as roasting your own red peppers and using marinated artichokes, but it keeps a long time in the fridge, and it's quick.

French Onion Soup
Serves 4

2 TBS. butter
4 large yellow onions, sliced thin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. mustard
dash of thyme or Italian seasoning
6 cups water
3 TBS. soy sauce
2-3 TBS. dry white wine or red wine (opt.)
few dashes of pepper
Croutons (recipe below)
Grated Mozzerella or thin slices of provolone or swiss cheese

1. Melt butter in a kettle or Dutch oven. Add onions and salt. Cook over medium about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add mustard and thyme. Cover. Continue to cook very slowly for about 35 minutes. The onions will be so soft and will simmer in their own liquid.
3. Add everything else except the toppings. Simmer 15 minutes more. Dish into overproof bowls and top with croutons and cheese (in that order). Put under broiler briefly to brown the cheese. Serve with smoked turkey sandwiches or just crusty bread.

Cube some old hoagies, hamburger buns, stale bread, or whatever you have handy. Saute in garlic butter and then toast at 300 for a few minutes.

November 4, 2006: Driving Up Unaka Mountain

This has been--and still is--the most beautiful autumn I seen in probably 20 years. While East Tennessee is always amazing this time of year, this year the colors are simply astounding. The poem below, which was published a couple of years ago, reflects on an October day 20 years ago in upper East Tennessee, when I was in college.

Driving Up Unaka Mountain

That October the wild roses wove
their way through the barbed wire
fence. Your first time in the mountains.
You stood on the edge for so long I stopped
breathing, thinking you would stretch out
your arms and dive into the green and yellow
and orange below. Or maybe I would
try it myself, not for death but for the sheer joy
of being part of something so absolute,
catching your hand as I leapt,
leaving you

laughing gap-toothed and loud.
Instead we found a warm rock
and read the books we'd brought along.
I studied the tiny freckles of your skin,
and thought about ways
to make you stay.

I was never hungry
then. Now I would pack a basket
of baguettes and brie and grapes.
Now I would be a tourist. The old people
on their porches would see my out-of-state
license plates and turn their heads, blinking

away my wave. At the top I would raise
a glass of wine and photograph the view,
everything edged and cornered.

(Sarah Cummins Small, published in Breathing the Same Air, 2001.)

Friday, November 3, 2006

November 3, 2006: Hot Toddy

I need a hot toddy right now. I don't even know what one is, but it sounds all buttery and warm and British, and I really need a giant mug of hot toddy and a crackling fire, as well as some sheepskin clothing and perhaps furs. Lots of them.

For a native New Yorker, having lived through 5 brutal Iowa winters, I have turned into a pathetic cold weather wimp. We had our annual American Heritage Girls/Cub Scouts Campfire/Hayride at Milne Farm this evening. The thermometer on Laurie's baby stroller registered 27 degrees. The spilled drinks on the tables froze, and my feet felt like stumps. I was even wearing my Iowa-purchased down coat.

But it was a beautiful moonlit night, and over 100 souls braved what is frigid for a November evening in Tennessee. Good friends, a bonfire, a beautiful farm, and a safe trip home. Now if I just had a butler to bring me a hot toddy and one of those warming bricks, I'd be all set.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

November 2, 2006: Trunk or Treat

We had a great turn-out this year at our church's annual Trunk or Treat. While it was reportedly pouring up in Knoxville, we had a beautiful evening with a crescent moon. We started doing this many years ago as a community outreach project. I have to confess that I am a reluctant trunk-or-treater. Last year we skipped it and went trick-or-treating in an actual neighborhood instead. We all loved it! Back in Iowa, we'd have snow flurries by October 31, and we'd always have to make sure that Jesse's parka could fit under his costume (or be part of it). Most halloween's here have been warm enough for just long sleeves, and the leaves are still falling off the trees and swirling around the sidewalks.

But I had fun this year. I got to spend a long time talking to our new minister's wife, a fellow homeschooling mom, while Randy and Jesse manned our trunk across the parking lot. The neatest thing about the evening was that our minister's trunk was filled with both candy and Bibles. And nearly every single kid took a Bible. Several took Bibles and gave them to their parents, saying, "Here, Mommy, this is for you!" For me, that made the whole event a tremendous success.

Below is our soldier, wearing his Grandpa's WWII hat, and our angel, being her angelic self. (Photos courtesy of our favorite photographer, Lynn Freeny.)



Wednesday, November 1, 2006

November 1, 2006: What can I do to serve you?

My kids have been horrible little selfish beasts lately--to each other, that is. Among friends, my daughter is known for her kindness, my youngest is known for his friendliness, and my oldest is, well, funny. But at home, they've been bickering, quarreling, and complaining. So we have declared this to be What Can I Do to Serve You Week at SmallWorld.

The goal: to help them toward developing a true servant's heart, not just a public servant's heart.
The method: each day, before 6 p.m., each member of our family must ask every other member this question: "what can I do to help you?"
The rules: the servant must ask pleasantly and the one-to-be-served must reply graciously and within reason. (In other words, "clean my entire room" is not an option, but "help me pick up these Legos" is acceptable.) Each person must keep a written record of their daily acts of service, and we will share them at the dinner table each evening. Randy and I are included in this, of course, as both servants and recipients.

So far, Laurel diverted one big fight by using, "What can I do to help you?" to Duncan instead "Get out of my chair!" Jesse helped Duncan by retrieving the dog from outside, a job which Duncan particularly dislikes. We'll see in a week how our grand experiment worked.