Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Missing Seneca Lake

My father and third brother took a trip back home to New York this week. My first and fourth brothers live there still, and my nephew just moved up there to my brother's Indian Creek Farm to learn the ropes of Cummins Nursery.

You may recall, if you're a long-time reader, that my parents sold their home in upstate New York (Finger Lakes region) two years ago to move down to Tennessee with the rest of us (my family and my two other brothers and their families). "House" is a post I wrote about it. I happen to love this post. It makes me a little weepy every time I read it, even two years later.

I shouldn't have just read it just now, because last night my father called from Seneca Lake. They were out sailing: my Dad, brothers Peter and Stephen, and nephew Owen. "We're out here on Seneca in the K-boat," my Dad said. "Waited for one storm to pass and now another has hit. We're four wet turkeys in a boat."

"Out here on Seneca." My father is 86. When I was a little girl, he always had one hand on the rudder and the other on the mainsail. Handling the jib was up to us. Bailing our old leaky boat was my mother's job. Sometimes I curled up under the bow and slept, lulled by the waves and my father's voice.

If you grew up in my hometown, you would know Seneca Lake. It's just always there. For some it was always just a drive-by view, a late-night spot, a Saturday afternoon. For others it is alive, transparent with emotion, exquisite in its beauty, frightening with its moods.

I miss it, I do. I miss it so much that I can't think about it for long, can't dwell on the thought of the early morning sun sending diamonds across the waves. Can't think about the big orange moon sitting fat and lazy in the sky.

Can't think about my father, who may or may not have had his oh-so-familiar hand on the rudder during yesterday's sail.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sunday Miscellany

* I went to our local homeschooling resource fair yesterday. Our five area American Heritage Girls troops shared a booth during the 2-day fair, and our time slot to work was the last two hours and then pack up and bring the booth stuff home. The fair seemed much, much smaller than in previous years, and my favorite booth, Miller Pads and Paper, wasn't there. I love that place soooo much. It's pretty much my sole reason for going to the resource fair. I love these little bare books and the big batches of construction paper and journals and just everything. So boo.

* I know you are dying to know what I did purchase at the fair. It's so unexciting. I got Duncan's grammar book (Easy Grammar 6) and a Mind Benders book from Critical Thinking for him. That's it. Buying homeschooling curriculum isn't very exciting after 11 years. I know I should be happy that I get to reuse everything from Jesse and Laurel, but I miss buying new and exciting things.

* Speaking of new and exciting, there was a way cool company there called Homeschool Legacy. They sell unit studies that are meant to be done just once-a-week, leaving time for all your "regular" studies. What attracted me was their banner, which said "Boy Scout friendly." Turns out that the unit studies also serve to help Scouts earn merit badge requirements while learning about a certain subject. You can read all about it here. And I was really excited when the owner said, after reading my name tag, "American Heritage Girls! I'm so excited to get to talk to you because next year we are going to be adding AHG requirements into the books, too!" That was awesome. I told her I'd be back next year, when Duncan is a Boy Scout and they have updated their books to include AHG.

* My friend Diane and I decided it would be a fun idea for all our the Jr. Church kids (4th and 5th graders) to make and serve a meal for a different group of people in our congregation each month. Today we served the elders, ministers, and the kids' families. Phew! We have an awesome group of kids, and they did a fabulous job. I, however, am pooped. I am going to take a long, luxurious nap this afternoon. I'm hoping that the sun goes away and a nice rain begins to fall to lull me to sleep.

* I am reading a fascinating book called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It's the Life of the Mind book for University of TN this fall (where Dr. H. teaches) and also the common book at Belmont University (where Jesse goes to college). This is the story of a poor black woman whose cancerous cells were taken from her without her knowledge in 1951 and have become one of the most important tools in medicine, bought and sold countless times—yet her family can't afford health insurance. Fantastic read.

* Speaking of reading, that's what I'm about to do now, wrapped up in my nice fleece blanket on a Sunday afternoon. I hope you get a good nap in, too.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

When Do I Get Summer Break?

I keep thinking summer break is about to start.

Last week, well, for the past 4 weeks really, my life was devoted to American Heritage Girls camp. We had a fabulous time, visiting Peru, Japan, and Ireland for the World Heritage badge. You know that song in Annie, "Little Girls"?
Little girls
Little girls
Everywhere I turn I can see them
Little girls
Little girls…
That's pretty much how I felt after last week. Oh, I love them, I adore them, but phew! I was ready for some time off.

But somehow I didn't make the connection that Vacation Bible School immediately followed AHG camp. I had a 2 night break, and then—little boys and little girls! But VBS is so much easier. I didn't have to do a bit of planning. I just had to show up and, with my daughter and other assistants, lead the kids through their craft of the night. Tie-dying was especially fun…
Don't worry—it was only about 95 degrees outside the evening we did tie-dying. And in case you were wondering: yes, preschoolers can tie-dye shirts!

I was tremendously grateful today for a night off. We were supposed to have friends in to visit, but they had to cancel. That's OK–we had back-up company. My brother and his wife from New York are in town, so they and my parents came over for dinner. We had a relaxing supper and then an even more relaxing visit outside in the backyard.
My mother and my fourth brother.

My beautiful mother…

My precious poet of a father.

I think, I think that I might actually have a relatively free week coming up. My father is going out of town for 5 days, so I will be visiting my mother and keeping her company more than usual during that time. We hope to get to the pool and to Dollywood. Besides that, I'm looking forward to many evenings at home, sitting on our bench and watching the fireflies.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: 500 Writing Prompts for Kids

Without a doubt, the most challenging part of teaching creative writing classes and writing my own creative writing curriculum is coming up with writing prompts. Sounds like an easy enough thing to do, right? But those of us who thrive on creative writing want prompts that entice and get the writing glands salivating. We balk at prompts like, "Write three fun things you did this summer." Blah.

I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of Bryan Cohen's 500 Writing Prompts for Kids. This is an absolute goldmine of writing prompts. Cohen has organized the prompts into 10 different categories: memorable events, imagination, relationships, activities, school days, technology, the seasons, life lessons, the outside world, and grab bag. Each of those categories has about 50 total prompts which are divided into subcategories. For example, within the activities category, there are prompts for athletics, the arts, writing, religion, and recreation.

These aren't ordinary, boring prompts, although some of the standards are included here ("What are some things you do for fun around your house or neighborhood?"). These are prompts that will really get the wheels turning. Here are a few I really like because I know my writing class kids would like them:
  • What is the first present you ever remember getting for your birthday? Was it exactly what you wanted? How often did you use it?
  • You wake up one morning to find that all of the figures from the major holidays have come to hang out with you. This includes Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Leprechaun and anyone else you can think of. What do you do with these magical holiday people during your day together?
  • All of your friends’ parents have gotten together and have decided to put you and all of your best friends into a beach house together for the entire summer. Describe at least three crazy adventures that you all have while living together.
  • Describe what a cartoon version of you would look like. Talk about your hair and your face and your clothes. What would your animated room look like? Tell every detail possible.
  • While looking through a regular library book, you find a recipe for a potion that turns anyone into a “nice person.” When you get back home, you mix together the ingredients and it actually works! What were the ingredients, how do you test the potion out and who do you use the potion on? Once you use it, how does it change your life?

This is a fantastic source for writing at home and in the classroom. I am going to be teaching creative writing again next spring, and I am already looking forward to pulling prompts for this book. With your own family, you can pull out a few prompts each week to write about, or just do one each week. Cohen includes an introduction and an appendix with fantastic ideas on how to use the prompts.

It is listed as for kids in first through fifth grades, but I'd say half of the prompts are geared more toward 5th grade and up. (This one, for example: "If you could pick one character to be your movie boyfriend or girlfriend, who would it be? What would it be like to share a smooch on screen with him or her?") For the most part, the prompts can be adjusted for younger or older kids. This could easily be the only writing prompts book you would need for all your kids, K-12.

You can buy a paperback copy at the amazon link above, or you can download the e-book here for only $2.99. Seriously, this is a fantastic deal for all these prompts!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Back to My Life

Hi! My name is Sarah. This is my blog. This is my house. That boy on the couch over there is my younger son. Those dying plants on the mantle, shoes on the floor, dust on the endtables, and cat sleeping in the sun are all parts of my life.

Today, after weeks of massive planning and implementing a camp for 45 little girls, and after a night spent in a hotel rewarding 15 awesome teenage camp leaders, I am reclaiming my regular life. I am going to clean my house, listen to every rambling word my 10-year-old says to me, cook a nutritious meal, and put clean laundry away. I am going to visit my parents down the road and sit out on the patio with them, rather than just dropping off my son so I can go do camp.

I might even sit here and watch an episode of Scooby-Doo with my little guy and have another cup of coffee. Because today, I don't have to be anywhere else.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

This Place

When I am in the midst of a frenzied week or three, this is what I like to visualize. A waterfall, a river, a lake, a mountain. A campfire with us around it, roasting marshmallows. The smell of woodsmoke in my hair. Sunrise through the woods.

I have one more week to get through, and we'll be done with the absolute frantic preparation for our American Heritage Girls camp. And then one of these days, I'll be sitting around the campfire watching fireflies and listening to cicadas.

One of these days.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer Reading

I've read a bunch of good books in these first five months of the year. If you're looking for summer reading material, here are my favorites so far this year. If you click on the link, you'll get my review over at my reading blog, SmallWorld Reads.

Bloodroot by Amy Greene. This one is just, oh, soooo good! I was sad when it was over.

March by Geraldine Brooks. This is the story of Mr. March, father to the four Little Women of Louisa May Alcott fame. Fabulous.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
by Rhoda Janzen. This one's on the racy side—consider this fair warning! I laughed so much in this hilarious and sometimes sad memoir.

Born Under a Lucky Moon
by Dana Precious. I also laughed a lot during this memoir of a woman who thinks her family is too crazy to meet her boyfriend.

My other two favorites I haven't yet reviewed, but they were fantastic: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake and My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. Mary Sutter is perhaps my favorite book of the year thus far.

I'm halfway done with my current book and have a huge TBR list to choose from, but I'm also looking for suggestions. Have any good books to recommend?

Friday, June 3, 2011

2011 Curriculum Fair: Your Turn

Over the past month, all the contributors at Simple Homeschool have shared our plans for 2011. Now it's your turn!

As Jamie, editor of Simple Homeschool says, "Whether you’re an unschooler, a traditionalist, a Charlotte Mason fan, a Waldorf follower, or any and all in between, at Simple Homeschool we respect the unique choices you make for your family. And I’d love to hear from you today."

You can join in the 2011 Curriculum Fair by linking to your blog post in the comments, or you can just post your plans in the comments at Simple Homeschool. What fantastic reading material those comments will be!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


There's hardly anything that I like to do better in the summer than sit on a bench in the evening and watch the world go by. Occasionally the world is a sunset in Florida and my family barefoot in the waves.

Most of the time, though, it's a bench in our own backyard. Doused with mosquito spray, Dr. H. and I sit and contemplate. The cat rolls on his back in the mulch. The dog whines at the back door. Our teenage daughter comes out, phone resting on her chest, and says, "Can I go to ____ with ____ tomorrow?" (The answer is nearly always yes.) We chat about everything and nothing as the air gets just a fraction cooler and the sun sets behind the trees. Duncan catches fireflies and brings them to us one by one. "This is Sam. This is Frodo. This is James."

Happy June. I hope you have a good bench somewhere in your life.