Sunday, August 31, 2008

Three Beautiful Things: Camping

There are a lot of beautiful things about camping, especially camping here in East Tennessee. We usually go to the Smokies but this time we went to the Big South Fork in the Cumberland Mountains, north of Knoxville. And here are just three of the beautiful things about this weekend:

1. My girl amidst a gaggle of giggling girls.

2. My boy with his band of merry men.

3. A look of pure joy and contentment on my husband's face, and a boy who thinks his Daddy is the greatest guy on earth. (I agree.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

My Daughter, Eleven

What I remember most about this day eleven years ago? How when it was all over and everyone was gone, late at night, and I looked over at her lying next to me, and she was looking at me so intently with those big dark eyes. And that's the look that I still catch across a room, as if she is just looking at me to check in, to reassure each other that we are both really there.

Happy Birthday to my treasure. She is more than I could have asked for, had I known the words to ask.

In my daughter's eyes everyone is equal
Darkness turns to light and the world is at peace
This miracle God gave to me gives me strength when I am weak
I find reason to believe in my daughter's eyes.
~Martina McBride

Thursday, August 28, 2008

College Essentials

Heidi at Mt. Hope Academy, one of my favorite blogs, had a beautiful and thought-provoking post a few weeks ago, titled "Childhood Essentials." As she explains the post, "As I travel down the road of deliberate parenting, I've thought a great deal about my childhood and what I want for my own children. So many things find their home on my childhood essentials list, and yet so many things are strangely absent."

I kept intending to take time to make my own Childhood Essentials post, but lately I find myself thinking much more about College Essentials.

Jesse started his first class at our local community college this week. He's in the dual enrollment program, which means he's getting both high school and college credit at the same time. He's just taking one course, Music Appreciation, to get his feet wet. So far he loves the course.

But community college is just a temporary spot. His real college experience will start in less than two years. He'll be graduating a year early because, well, why not? He wants to, and his first ACT score will earn him a decent scholarship. Hopefully his next ACT score will bring in a fantastic one. I know, I know: there's more to college than being ready academically, and, frankly, he's pretty mature and wise. And with two more years yet at home, I feel confident that he'll do well emotionally in college, as well as academically.

So now the pressing question becomes: where?

Lately more and more people from my alma mater have joined Facebook, and it's like this big continuous reunion. People are posting photos, stories, and questions ("whatever happened to...") every day. There is something tremendously satisfying about shared memory.

I went to a small, private college of less than 1,000 students. I absolutely loved it. (OK, sometimes I hated it, too, but only in an anti-authority kind of way. Anarchy and all that.) Living on-campus, in dorms was mandatory unless you were over a certain age (maybe 23?), married, or a commuter (there weren't many commuters back then). Suffice it to say, you pretty much knew everyone. And although you know everyone's name, you don't necessarily hang out with everyone. You meet your people.

And that's what I want for my kids: I want them to have People.

I had good friends in high school, and I have some great memories from then. But in college, you live and breathe each other. It is this amazing world of its own that I don't think can ever be duplicated, except perhaps to some degree within your own family. But it's not the same, even in your family. There are people from my college years who know pretty much everything there is to know about me, and they love me anyway. We have a warehouse full of shared memories stretching over hours, days, months, years—memories that are so powerful that one "remember when" on Facebook comes into focus with perfect clarity.

Throughout the years many people have remarked on the friendships I've sustained with college friends as if it were something unusual. I have to wonder how much that comes from going to such a small college. My mom friends and I discuss the College Experience sometimes. We have differing views. Some of them lived at home and commuted to the closest university. Some lived on campus and loved it. One hated it. But very few had, well, People. A village.

I realize when I have these thought processes that I always go back to the people. Academics? Yes, I had a fabulous academic learning experience in college. Our Humanities program in particular was outstanding. It was like advanced Sonlight: good literature, history and art all bouncing off of each other.

But academics were, for me, just one part of the whole experience. And isn't personal fulfillment based largely on relationships? God created us to be relational—to love, interact, encourage, and help each other. And so that's what I keep going back to: I want my kids to find lifelong friends. Friends that know them for who they really are; friends who want to have reunions every year; friends who can say "remember the time your car rolled..." in twenty years and don't even have to finish the sentence.

Yes, I know. Ultimately, it's our children's decision about where they go to college. But as a parent, it's my job to provide them with insights that come with experience.

So free university (lottery scholarship and faculty discount) or expensive private college? Check back next year.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Word-Filled Wednesday

I've noticed the past week or so that the spiders are starting their autumn spinning. I almost walked through one like this a few days ago, but this is a photo I took last September. The spider's intricate web is one of those things that just makes me say, "Wow."

"O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. ... Every one of these depends on you to give them their food as they need it. When you supply it, they gather it. You open your hand to feed them, and they are satisfied." (Psalm 24, 27&28)

(For more World-Filled Wednesday posts or to submit your own, visit The 160-Acre Woods.)

Homeschool Memoirs: Agendas

This week's Homeschool Memoirs entry feels a bit like cheating because I just did this the other day for Heart of the Matter's Friday meme. The assignment today calls for our Homeschool Agendas for the upcoming year, and here is mine.

Since I've done the majority of this assignment already, I'll elaborate on a few things. I reference our "enrichment class" program several times on my agenda. We have a fantastic program in our support group. We offer about 40 classes on Mondays (10 per hour), ranging from art to Hands-on Shakespeare to lapbooking, with everything in between. There are roughly 10 kids per class, although some have as many as 20 and some as few as 5. Parents must stay and must volunteer at least one hour each week. High schoolers can be dropped off.

I usually teach 2-3 of the hours; this semester I'm taking a break and just teaching one class (basic essay writing for 5th-8th graders). I normally teaching some kind of writing or grammar class, but I've also taught Readers' Theatre (great fun) and a geography class for early elementary. Last year I taught American Lit for high schoolers, and that was a fantastic experience. I plan to teach British Lit next year. (Great experience but I did need a break!)

(This will be the first year that my oldest isn't participating in Monday Fun, although he is taking chemistry and geometry, both taught by homeschooling dads, on different days. Yesterday Jesse had his first college course. He's taking music appreciation at our local community college, and he loved it.)

Homeschool Memoirs also asks for a Bible verse that inspires us each year, and again I'll link to another post: rooted and established in love.

(If you'd like to join Homeschool Memoirs, click here!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Three Beautiful Things: Rain, Barbies, Book

1. The sound of a good, drenching rain, one that looks as if it's going to stay all day.

2. My daughter with her Barbies spread all over the living room floor, all geared up for a full day of Barbie world.

3. Still thinking about the beautiful writing in an amazing classic I read last week (and wondering how I never heard about it in umpteen years of high school, college, and graduate school).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Memory: The Reunion

I've blogged before about The Reunion, but lately there's been a new, ongoing reunion of sorts as more and more of my college friends are joining Facebook. I've reconnected with people I haven't seen in twenty years, and the world becomes even smaller and cozier. What a nice feeling. I've been inspired to pull old photos out of albums and frames, and I've enjoyed looking at photos that others have posted from our days at Milligan College and later.

I'd love to have a Reunion at my house, but I'd include not only these friends, but others that I've reconnected with on Facebook now, in my adult life—people that I'm learning I have so much in common with.

I don't know if we'll ever have another reunion, although I expect we will. But I do know that I have been blessed so abundantly in this life with friends and memories of incredible times spent together. And that is a continuing prayer for my children: that they will be blessed by beautiful friendships.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Heart of the Matter Meme: What We're Using This Year

This week's discusion at Heart of the Matter: Last week we talked about the favorites in the curriculum and books. Now tell us what you are actually using in your homeschool lessons right now!

Duncan, Grade 2
Year 2, First Language Lessons
A Reason for Writing (handwriting)
Spectrum Writing, Grade 2
Explode the Code Books 4-6
Lots of early readers
Math: Saxon 2
Sonlight 4, American History, mixed in with lots of other resources (see our first year of American History here)
Bible: Family Devotions and Hero Tales
Science: nature studies, Human Body and Weather Disasters at enrichment classes.
Geography: 50 States class at enrichment classes.
Cub Scouts

Laurel, Grade 6
A Reason for Writing (handwriting)
Spectrum Writing, Grade 6 and Basic Essay Writing at enrichment classes
Wordly Wise
Easy Grammar
Spelling Power
Saxon math
Sonlight 4, American History, mixed in with lots of other resources (see our first year of American History here)
Bible: Family Devotions and Hero Tales
Science: Botany at enrichment classes
Performing Arts class
Cooking class
American Heritage Girls

Jesse, Grade 10/11*
Jacob's Geometry (co-op class)
Apologia Chemistry (co-op class)
Music Appreciation (dual credit at local community college)
Sonlight 400: Civics and Government (also Bible)
Writing (using community college's comp class book)
US Geography (various resources)
Health (using various resources)
Boy Scouts (working on Eagle Scout rank)
* He'll finish his sophomore year in December and his junior year in May so that he can graduate a year early

That's it off the top of my head, although I'm probably forgetting some important stuff!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Homeschooling Memoir Week 1: All About Me

The Kick-off theme for weekly Homeschool Memoirs over at the Homeschool Blog Awards is "All About You." Or me, that is. A perfect topic for bloggers because obviously we all like to talk about ourselves to a certain extent.

The meme reads: "This week, we want to hear about YOU. The author behind the words. The Momma behind all the homeschooling kiddos. Just write up something about you, your family, and your home. How long you’ve been homeschooling and why you decided to homeschool. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy at all, but we’d love to hear it! You might include a family photo too!"

Since today was our first day "back to school," I'll start with a picture of my youngest two in our what is now our school room. This is the living room of our attached apartment. We've never used it as living space because it's been my parents' winter dwelling for the past 8 years. But since they've bought their own southern house just a minute down the road, we've decided to make this into our school room. We've got a long way to go in getting it just the way we want it, but the kids had a great time in it today. And I love not using our own dining room table as school headquarters! I moved our old dining room table (above) into the apartment for school. It's lovely to not have to clear off stacks of books before supper each evening.

Anyway, the rest of this week's meme can be answered in various places on my blog:
* Want to know all kinds of things about me? Get a big cup of coffee and click here. I do ramble a lot about myself on this blog.
* Here's how we got started homeschooling, and here's why we home school: the intangible version and the practical version.

If you manage to click on those four links, you'll know a whole lot about life here in SmallWorld!

Word-Filled Wednesday

We began our ninth year of homeschooling today. I've never agreed with those "experts" who insist that each family must have a written vision statement, but if I were tied down and forced to pick a family vision statement, it would be these verses from Ephesisans 3:16-21. The first one is from the NIV; I've included the verses from The Message as well, because I like the different perspective.

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

(From The Message):
"My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us."

I really can't imagine a better blessing for my children as we begin this new year.

(For more World-Filled Wednesday posts or to submit your own, visit The 160-Acre Woods.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Heart of the Matter Meme: Favorite Curriculum

This week's Heart of the Matter meme asks for favorite curriculum or books. That's just so easy for me that I feel as if I'm cheating. We've used Sonlight since the beginning and have done every core up to Core 100 (that's 10 cores). Basically, nearly every book we've read during the past 8 years from a Sonlight core is our new favorite! This is the perfect curriculum for us, as a family that loves great literature and flexibility. We aren't strict adherents to the Sonlight schedule, but I enjoy having everything laid out for me, even as a suggestion.

This coming year Jesse (10th/11th grade) will be doing Core 400 (Civics/Government). I skipped up a bit because we thought it would be appropriate to do Government during an election year. I'll continue doing an adaptation of Cores 3&4 (American History) with my younger two (grades 6 and 2). Here's how (and why) we adapted American History last year.

Other favorites: First Language Lessons for 1st and 2nd grade. Love it, love it, love it. Easy Grammar for 5th and up. My kids have all loved Explode the Code and A Reason for Writing.

We've discarded shockingly little over the years, I think largely because I've maintained the "if it ain't broke" stance. I'm always attracted by other programs—Winter Promise, Our Father's World, Beautiful Feet, Mystery of History, for example. While I'm sure those are all excellent programs quite similar in philosophy to Sonlight, I've been perfectly happy with Sonlight and have quelled my occasional urge to try something else that comes with reading homeschooling blogs. When I get that itch, we break away from our regular curriculum and do a unit study (a few we've done: Apples, Titanic, Australia).

And speaking of the new year, I should probably go clean up the shelves from last year!

Three Beautiful Things: Kristina, Walk, Day

1. Finally, a blog post from my friend Kristina, who left for Papua New Guinea a month ago. I love that I know the sound of her voice and can hear it in her writing.

2. A morning walk around the neighborhood, which I haven't done in at least 2 weeks.

3. A full day stretched before me with nowhere I have to go.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2007-8: A Homeschool Year

Moving my blog from over to blogspot took up an enormous amount of blogging time this summer, and I'm just now getting around to doing catch-up blogging. Having a record of each school year is something I've found quite useful, especially when people ask me "what did you use for language arts"—or to remind myself of what I used!

Jesse, Grade 9/10
History (1 credit) and Bible (1/2 elective credit): Sonlight Core 100 (American History in Depth)
Science (1 credit): Apologia Biology (He took this with a bunch of other kids in our support group from an awesome homeschooling dad who is also a public school science teacher. They meet Tuesdays and then do the rest of the work at home.)
Algebra 2 (1 credit): Saxon Algebra 2 (This was also an outside class taught by a homeschooling dad. They met Fridays and did their weekly assignments at home.)
English 1 (1 credit): Survey of American Literature (Taught by me at our group’s weekly enrichment classes on Mondays. We met for 2 hours each week and read and discussed 9 novels; had units on poetry, short story, nonfiction, and drama; and rounded it out with writing, grammar, and vocabulary. This was a fantastic class and I look forward to teaching British Lit next year.
Economics (1 credit): Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace for Teens course at our co-op; Personal Management badge for Boy Scouts; Whatever Happened to Penny Candy; Crunchy Cons.
ACT Prep: He did ACT prep (1/2 credit) by doing Wordly Wise 10 and he did a course online to get another 1/2 elective credit. He took the ACT in April and did fantastic.
Community Service: 54 hours
Other: Boy Scouts (has reached Life level), downhill skiing, and guitar lessons. Was also a Den Chief for Cub Scouts as part of his Boy Scouts service.

Laurel (5th grade)
History and Bible: View our year of American History.
Also, American Girl Kit class and Tennessee history class (both taught at our Monday enrichment program)
Geography: Trail Guide to U.S. Geography and Which Way USA (Highlights).
Science: Monthly classes through the East Tennessee Discovery Center and Hands-On Science class at our co-op. Also Ocean Life unit study at home.
Math: Saxon 5/4.
Language Arts: Easy Grammar 5/6, Spelling Power, Wordly Wise 5, A Reason for Writing, journaling.
Art: Enrichment class on Thursdays.
Music: Flute lessons
Other: American Sign Language, Hands-On Shakespeare, and sewing at our enrichment class program; swim team (twice weekly fall semester only), Show Choir, and horseback riding (through February); and of course American Heritage Girls.

Duncan (1st grade)
History and Bible: Same as Laurel
Geography: Great States enrichment class
Science: Hands-on science, Animal Habitats, Grossology, and Wilderness Wildlife classes at our co-op. Monthly classes at the East TN Discovery Center. Ocean Life unit study at home.
Math: Saxon 2
Language Arts: Explode the Code, early readers, and First Language Lessons; handwriting, journaling.
Other: Book Cooks at Monday Fun; soccer; and Cub Scouts.

Other Years in Review (and I have no idea what happened to Laurel and Jesse in 1006-7!!)
2006-7 Year in Review for Duncan

2005-6 Year in Review for Jesse
2005-6 Year in Review for Laurel
2005-6 Year in Review for Duncan

And now that I have my last year recorded, I guess I'd better get started on this coming year!

Playing School

I always find it amusing that my two younger children, who have always been homeschooled, like to play school. Last year Laurel even saved up $50 to buy a Let's Play School kit, which includes everything from a bell to spelling lists to a reward jar filled with small plastic toys. What I find amazing is that they know how to play school. Laurel is always the teacher, and I must say she is a fantastic one. She is kind but firm and senses when it time to shift gears (most of the time) before her student, Duncan, gets fidgety and bored and, well, leaves. She follows a particular order, which begins with basics like the calendar, and even assigns homework. Today Duncan even brought me a permission slip to sign so that he can go on a field trip to the Exhibit of Dinosaurs on August 18. The note home also reminded him to bring something for Show and Tell tomorrow—but "no live pets."

The question begs to be asked: do my kids want to go to school? (I ask them this purely out of curiousity; we would not send our children to school at this age.)

"No way!" they assure me. They are curious, but they understand that school isn't all tidy spelling tests and reward charts. Their version of school is a quaint mix of "Little House on the Prairie" and Ramona Quimby. They like their life at home. They know they have a sweet and unfettered childhood—that they can close their bedroom doors at anytime and have periods of quiet in which to play, that they can run out to the garden to check on the tomatoes or ride their bikes.

Still, there some things that attract them about going to school. Last year we actually went out to buy "school clothes." This year, they are fascinated with school lunches. Today we are heading over to Target to buy lunchboxes, which I will be packing for them each day, at least for awhile until the novelty wears off. Laurel already has planned what I'll be putting in the lunches: sandwiches, bags of chips, Little Debbie snack cakes, fruit, carrot sticks, perhaps a thermos of soup.

I am happy to acquiesce in these small ways: clothes, lunch boxes, new pencils and notebooks. I love that they get the accessories of public school but the joy of being at home.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Word-Filled Wednesday

I saw the 160 Acre Wood's Word-Filled Wednesday a week or so ago over at Diary of 1 and thought it was a fantastic idea. I love the idea of combining a simple scripture with photos of every day life. Having just spent 10 days with my parents in my hometown, my thoughts are naturally with my wonderful parents. I took this photo of my mom on our last night there; somehow I captured the expression on her face I love the most.

Good friend, follow your father's good advice; don't wander off from your mother's teachings. Wrap yourself in them from head to foot; wear them like a scarf around your neck. Wherever you walk, they'll guide you; whenever you rest, they'll guard you; when you wake up, they'll tell you what's next. For sound advice is a beacon, good teaching is a light, moral discipline is a life path. (Proverbs 6:20-23)

(To participate in Word-Filled Wednesday, click here.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Three Beautiful Things: Railroad Tracks, Nap, Olympics

1. Duncan and Laurel walking along the railroad tracks, along the same tracks I walked on as a girl, balancing on the rail, falling off, picking up railroad spikes. Seeing my past, present, and future in one glance.

2. A Sunday afternoon nap with the lake breeze blowing in, just cool enough for jeans and a sweatshirt.

3. The whole family gathered around together watching the Olympics, specifically women's gymnastics tonight. Again, a glimpse of the past, present, and future.

(Three Beautiful Things here.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

On Being in My Hometown

I've been visiting in my hometown of Geneva, New York for eight days now. There's a curious dichotomy of familiarity and strangeness that invariably comes with being in the city where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Not much has changed in my hometown—or rather not as much as one would expect in the past 24 years. Of course I've been back annually in those 24 years since my parents still live here, but in the area where I live now, a whole lot can change in the course of a year. I can't even imagine the number of retail stores, restaurants, and subdivisions that have gone up in Blount Co., Tennessee in the past year. Here in Geneva, I've noticed but one building (Pudgies Pizza) bulldozed down and a Tim Horton's has gone up across the street from Dunkin' Donuts. I think I counted three new houses on a little cul de sac on Snell Road. That's about it.

Seneca Lake looks the same as always. There are the familiar sails of a regatta on weekend mornings (or "ricotta," as Duncan says) down by the Yacht Club. The hum of weekend boaters and the small lapping of the waves on the beach. Voices calling out from docks to houses. In town, Main Street looks just as it did when I walked on it three decades ago, tossing newspapers onto front porches with Lisa. The Baltimore-style row houses still look sharp and historic; the lady-of-the-fountain still gushes water on Park Place. Nothing's changed at the colleges—Hobart and William Smith—except maybe a new sign or two.

I visited my friend Lisa a few days ago. She's recuperating from major surgery at her parents' house. I haven't been in their house since high school, but nothing has changed even there. Even my friends look mostly the same: Robin and Michelle are still beautiful, Lisa still wears her golf shirt tucked into her golf shorts. I'd recognize them anywhere. Lisa teaches at our old high school; Michelle works as a secretary in the school system. Robin has moved to a neighboring town, but she still comes to Geneva regularly.

But with all these familiar things, I can't shake the feeling of being a stranger in my hometown. My friends mention people and I search for the memory of a face. I can't help but feeling now and then, erroneously, I know, that lives have stood still for those who have remained here. I know that is a completely false perception, but it adds to the strangeness of coming back to my hometown.

One of the oddest feelings is being at a supermarket and wondering if I know that man I just passed—if I went to high school with the woman in the snack-food aisle. I tend to pass over middle-aged people at first and then realize: Wait! They are my age! Again, that feeling of time standing still clouds reality.

Dr. H. always says my New York accent comes back for a brief appearance after a trip to my hometown. I started hearing the upstate nasal twang about 15 years ago: the incomplete "r's" and the harsh vowels. Upstaters are way toned-down from downstaters, but there is something there, for sure, something fast and a little hard. I am missing the gentle cadence of the south.

We have just over two full days left here before we head back to Tennessee. The next time I come back to Geneva, I'll be a full-fledged visitor, assuming that my parents will have sold their house here by then. I'm ready for that, I think. I'm so far from the girl I was when I lived here that I can't even conjure up more than ghosts of emotions.

There's no question where my home is now.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Three Beautiful Things: 60 Years

Today—on 8/8/08— my parents are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. I could list hundreds of beautiful things about that, but instead I'll just share three photos of them today. They began their day early with a sunrise canoe ride and spent the day relaxing with their grandchildren. (My mom did try to get my dad to mow the lawn at one point.) We fixed them a fabulous meal this evening, complete with the china my father brought back from Japan after the Korean War, my great-grandmother's wedding cake stand, and the flower vase the decorated my parents' wedding cake. It was a simple day, without elaborate parties and gifts, as my parents wished. For them there is nothing more special than family and the comfort of home.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Three Beautiful Things: Cookies, Friends, Italian Food

1. Half-moon cookies are a wonderful thing. Every summer when I come back to upstate New York for vacation, I eat about a dozen of these amazing cookies, which are apparently rather unique to New York. I found a pretty good recipe for making these at home, but they just don't compare to the real thing. Last night we each got a cookie from Tops Friendly Market. Isn't that a nice name for a supermarket? (They're not really too friendly in there, but that's NY for you.)

2. I spent a lovely afternoon with my high school friends, Robin and Lisa (above) and also Michelle and Karen (I forgot to take a picture before they left). Robin was my best friend in high school, and Lisa is my oldest friend. As always for the past two decades when we get together, I missed our friend Ros tremendously. She hasn't been back in a long, long time. I miss her. But we five had a good time. There is something so comforting about being with people who knew you when you wore red Keds, and when you had glasses and braces, and when you had your first kiss, and when your heart was broken for the first time. For a couple of hours the five of us caught up on all kinds of people-we-once-knew (they all still live in our hometown or nearby) and barely talked about our current lives. Later Robin and I went out for coffee by ourselves. I love that girl.

3. It's hard to properly express the joy of true Italian-American food. I grew up with it here in upstate New York. Down south the Macaroni Grill and other such restaurants do their best, but it just can't compare. When I was growing up, Nonna's Trattoria was Alice's Restaurant (and yes, the ad said, "you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant"). It's changed hands since then but the food is still amazing. I had gnocchi with beans and greens and then Dr. H and I split tiramisu for dessert. Spectacular. Laurel and Duncan got to have spumoni for the first time. They couldn't believe we used to get that for lunch in the school cafeteria ("chocolate, vanilla, spumoni or Italian ice?").

Life is good.

Recipe Box Swap: Bruschetta

Amy at I Have To Say is hosting the August garden edition of The Recipe Box Swap. She explains: "This month's recipes are all Garden Fresh! If you can pick it from the garden, buy it at the farmer's market or get it from the produce section of the grocery store, tell us how to prepare it! All you need to do it post your recipe on your blog and add your post URL to the link above."

This is a repost on my blog, but it is definitely worth repeating. This is, really, the best bruschetta I've ever had. If you really hate olives, you can leave them out, but even Dr. H, an olive-hater, loves this bruschetta, olives and all.


3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely diced
salt to taste
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 TBS chopped pitted black and/or green olives
3 TBS finely slivered fresh basil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
pepper to taste
one baguette or other bread, sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1. In colander, season tomatoes with salt, stir, and let drain for about 45 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine oil, olives, basil, and garlic until well mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Add to tomatoes to mixture and stir to combine.
3. Broil or grill slices of bread. Put tomato mixture on bread slices and serve.

That's all! It is truly amazing!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Packing Treasures: Amazing Poetry

So if you've been reading my blog the past few days, you know that I'm at my parents' home in upstate New York, helping them pack up a lifetime worth of stuff to get ready to move to Tennessee. I have found a lot of treasures, as I mentioned a couple of days ago. What I'm about to share with you ranks right up there in the top finds.

The year: 1977. If you were between the ages of 8 and 18 in 1977, you must have been well aware of teen heart throbs, Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy, the Hardy Boys themselves. If you were a girl, you may have had their Tiger Beat pull-out posters taped on your bedroom wall, right next to Leif Garrett and Robbie Benson. We all did.

But I have something even more special; I have actual poems in my actual diary that I wrote to honor Parker and Shaun—a tribute that has lasted 30 years. After reading this poems, I'm sure you'll agree that I was right in pursuing a degree in creative writing.


Whose eyes light up like a 4th of July sparker?
Whose hair is brown or a little bit darker?
Whose a little bit chubby but he'd make a good hubby?
Who do I dream of at night when out goes the light?
Who's the man of my dreams? By all means:


Whose shy and as gentle as a fawn?
Who would you kiss at the break of dawn?
Who got good legs, not like barrel kegs?
Who just the right size, if you don't realize?
Who do you love, who's as gentle as a dove?

I was eleven when I wrote those masterpieces. My daughter, who is about to turn 11, giggled adorably when I read those to her, and she did proclaim that she thought I was a great writer. Obviously I was well on my way.

(Images from Stuck in the 70s.)

Three Beautiful Things

Three beautiful things on Tuesday, August 5

Morning sun on Seneca Lake, 8 a.m.

Roses by the lake, 2 p.m.

Father/son chess game, 5 p.m.

See more beautiful things at the links here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesday Miscellany

It is Tuesday, isn't it? Between being on vacation and being in summer, I tend to lose track of the days. For the past many years, the kids and I have come to my parents' home in upstate New York during the first 2 weeks of August. This year Dr. H is actually with us, which is incredibly special. But I was thinking how much I love coming here at this particular time because at home, back in Tennessee, the prevalent mantra is "Summer's over! Back to school!"

I feel all hemmed in and claustrophobic by that. Summer is not over on July 31. August is the hottest month. August is for swimming and camping and sleeping late. August is for dry grass, crispy under bare feet, and the less anxious buzz of crickets. I don't want schedules and new pencils in August.

Perhaps heading north, where schools still start after Labor Day, is my escape device. I'm not sure what we'll do next summer, assuming my parents have sold their house by then, but we'll surely be heading somewhere else to prolong that feeling of a long summer.

* Speaking of selling the house, my parents thus far have only stuck a few "For Sale by Owner" signs by the house and at the end of the road. And each day, they've had about 5 phone inquiries and even a few drop-by people. Everyone wants a house on the lake. This may be a much quicker sale than any of us anticipated, and I think we're all a little shell-shocked. Is it really happening so soon?

* Over at SmallWorld Reads, I keep track of and review books I'm reading and participate in a variety of reading/writing-themed groups: The Sunday Salon, Sunday Scribblings, Weekly Geeks, and Booking Through Thursday. If you are a book lover, you might enjoy checking out some of these groups (links are on my reading blog). I probably think too much about books, but participating in these groups has definitely given new direction to my reading and writing life.

* Books Read in July (click on titles for reviews)
The Sky Isn't Visible From Here (Felicia Sullivan)
More Than You Know (Beth Gutcheon)
Blue Ridge (TR Pearson)
Briar Rose (Jane Yolen)
Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)

Discarded in July (and thus, the worst book of the month):
The Ten-Year Nap (Meg Wolitzer)

Best Book of the Month:
Unaccustomed Earth, but closely followed by The Sky Isn't Visible From Here

* On today's agenda: a little shopping and hopefully a little swimming, if the rain holds off. The wind is perfect for sailing, if I can get my Dad to put up the sails...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Three Beautiful Things

I spotted Three Beautiful Things first over at Kellogg Bloggin' and was instantly intrigued. He pointed me to the home of Three Beautiful Things, where dozens upon dozens of bloggers regularly link their lists of three beautiful things in their own lives. I love this idea; it's the bloggers' version of "count your blessings instead of woes." How abundant our lives are when we focus daily on beautiful things. And so I begin.

Three Beautiful Things (in New York): Rainbow, Corn, Canoe

Rainbow over Seneca Lake after a day of off-and-on thunderstorms.

A picnic on the beach. Duncan says, "The dock is the kids' table."

Duncan, ready for an evening canoe ride.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Today's Treasures

I am sitting in my parents' bedroom in Geneva, New York. (My parents give us the whole upstairs while we are here and they take a smaller bedroom on the middle level.) Below me I hear my mother puttering about it in the kitchen and the waves lapping the shore. Randy and the children have just gone for a canoe ride, and every few minutes I hear one of their voices and the sound of the canoe skimming the ripples. Far away a motorboat hums.

The first day of vacation is always a lazy one. After a 14-hour car trip, we are a little woozy and weak, as if drugged by fast-food and miles. We arrived close to midnight and awoke to rain. A perfect morning to begin going through boxes in the attic.

And so my mother, Laurel, and I went through boxes marked "Sarah" in the attic. Every now and then Duncan would run in and I'd give him a special find: a necklace, a box of fossils, a small statue. He'd run back to "his" room satisfied and proud.

I'm supposed to be weeding through things, deciding what to throw away and what to keep. Somethings are easy choices: my Varsity jacket, my class pictures, favorite books. Of course I must keep these things. Some things I toss with reluctance but determination: a Shrinky-Dink dwarf, an old shirt, a bookmark.

And I found some treasures, too: the journal my brother made for my when I was 10. For about 2 months I wrote in it every day, and most pages even have illustrations. I love this one on May 1, 1976: "Mom and I went up to the attic. We played jump rope for four hours. Ooh! My feet hurt. That about all we did." the picture underneath shows us jumping rope. I commented to my mother that she was an awfully good mom for playing jump rope with me for 4 hours. She said, "Oh it was probably really about 4 minutes." Somehow that made me feel better, washing away the sometimes guilt of my own sometimes selfish mothering.

More treasures:
* a glass salt cellar in the shape of a frog. A note inside says, in my grandmother's writing, "Andrew Riley brought this with him from Ireland." My great-great grandfather, Andrew, and his brother came from Ireland in the 1840s.
* a set of gold wedding rings, tied together with a velvet ribbon. No inscription. What is their story? Who kept them, and to whom did they belong?
* my father's Eagle Scout pin.
* a tiny empty perfume bottle in a box, with this note scribbled on the back: "This bottle of perfume was given to Gladys M. Riley Cummins at Woods School, Christmas 1914." My grandmother would have been 14 then. Who gave it to her, and what made her keep it all those years?

I hear the canoe scraping the shore now and the kids jumping in the water. I may be more plugged in than I imagined this vacation. On a whim Randy opened up his laptop and said, "Hey, maybe we can pick up someone's wireless out here."

Gotta love the neighbors. Looks like we won't have to head into the library every couple of days to check our email!