Saturday, December 31, 2005

December 31, 2005: The Botanist and His Wife

The Botanist and His Wife

can't take a walk around the block
without a game of identification. He points:
She: Maple.
He: Yes, but which kind?
She (shrugging): Sugar? Red?
He (sighing): Acer saccharinum. Silver maple.
See how the bark peels and how the lobes
of the leaves are jagged and deep?
She (sidestepping): Watch out for the dog--.

First day of spring he kills plants,
sending the philodendron and the African violet out
to sun on the porch, imagining
their chloroplastic ecstasy.
their leaves are scorched, crisp
as potato chips around the edges.
She: Stay away from my plants. Don't dip
your fingers in my flower beds.
He (head hanging): Well, I just thought--
She (arms akimbo): And don't go near the
garden, either.

(where he pulls the stems off of onions, picks
cucumbers before the prickers have softened,
lets zucchini grow monstrous
like some forbidden radioactive experiment)

(By Sarah Cummins Small. Written with love and squalor for my husband. Published in Migrants and Stoways, 2004.)

December 30, 2005: Small Wonders 2005: A Year in Memory

Following is a summary of a year in the Small's World....a record of where we've been and who we've seen and a few of the things we've been through....
JANUARY 2005:Church: With January came the every-six-months church crisis. I remember this as the time when I could sense that something was up...but what exactly that was, we didn't know. By the time of the congregational meeting on the 19th, I knew we would be losing C. and T. I remember their body language at that meeting, thinking, "They are gone already." But at the same meeting, D. poured out his heart and agreed to be an elder. C. told us two days later that he would be putting in his resignation. Our hearts were breaking. I was so angry and frustrated and so, so sad. I believe it was that Sunday, then, that D. read Casey's resignation letter at church. I remember that the church was packed, and I was so angry thinking that all these people came out to see the action.
Family: Laurel was in the midst of Upward Cheerleading. We were sooo proud of our little shy girl, out there yelling and shaking her pompoms! Upward is such an awesome program. We spent each cold Saturday morning in January watching her cheer for a basketball game. Jesse had a Boy Scouts Court of Honor, at which he moved to Tenderfoot rank. Jesse also began fencing lessons. We spent every Friday afternoon for much of the rest of the year at fencing practice.
American Heritage Girls: We began our Creative Crafts badge. The second meeting, Sheila came to talk about Bessie Harvey, her late mother-in-law, the world famous folk artist. The Daily Times came out to do a story on our troop and on the wonderful creations that they girls made.
Homeschooling: Monday Fun classes resumed. I taught a wonderful group of kids for Readers' Theatre. Jesse took Notgrass Tennessee History, English from the Roots Up, and Art. Laurel took Hebrew Dance, Readers' Theatre, and Art. Duncan had "Monday School" with mom at home. We saw the "Arkansas Bear" at the Oak Ridge Playhouse.

Other: Dad turned 80!! That's him in the photo above, age 9. Peter made an absolutely awesome DVD with snapshots, poems, readings, etc. from the beginning until now. We had a party here (Stephen coming in from NY was the big surprise), watched the video, etc. I think Dad was absolutely stunned. I am so thankful to Peter for putting together this wonderful memory DVD.FebruaryChurch: Just sadness, really. And a lot of anger. And bitterness. We decided to stick it out until C. and T. left and then begin visiting other churches. The older folks Small Group served a wonderful Valentine's Day dinner for our Small Group. Very nice evening, in spite of the shroud of sadness.
Family: Laurel continued with cheerleading and Jesse with fencing. Randy and I had a date to go see "Miss Siagon." We celebrated my 39th birthday!
Homeschooling: We finished up our China unit from Sonlight 5. We really made China last a long time and ended up with a Chinese New Year celebration on Feb. 9. Randy was a judge at the SMHEA science fair.
American Heritage Girls: We had our All-Troop Skating party AND our Mother/Daughter Sleepover this month. We continued working on the Creative Crafts badge during meeting times.
March:Church: C. and T.'s last day was March 6. I don't remember the last time I cried so hard. I felt like everything was just pouring out of me as they said good-bye. All I remember is sobbing and sobbing in the pew. After the service, there was a good-bye meal in the fellowship hall. It was a huge turnout. I remember thinking how absurd it all was, that the entire church membership turns out for a meal to say goodbye to them, when only half the church showed up for regular services. Oh, that was such a hard day! For the rest of the month, we kept going to services at FCC. We decided to keep going there as long as Mom and Dad were in town.
Family: Jesse started his second round of golf lessons and continued fencing. Laurel's cheerleading came to an end. The kids and I went to see "The Little Princess" and Randy and I saw "Crazy for You." We celebrated Jesse's 12th birthday and our 16th wedding anniversary. For our anniversary, we actually got to go out to dinner at Sullivant's while Mom and Dad watched the kids!
American Heritage Girls:We continued the Creative Crafts badge in American Heritage girls and began working more earnestly on camp preparations with the Pioneer/Patriots.
Other: Mary and I were interviewed on Truth Radio about homeschooling and our upcoming Homeschooling 101.
AprilChurch: When Mom and Dad left after April, we started visiting other churches. I was still teaching Sunday School, so I would go teach and then leave before service started. We visited River Oaks and loved it so much that we didn't go anywhere else. We have so many homeschooling friends that go there. It was a wonderful church. We were really uplifted by being there. Once in April we went back to FCC, and we were so despondant. It was horrible. We were so torn, and we missed C. and T. so much. I remember singing the song "From the mountains, to the valley..." and just sobbing because all I could hear was T.'s beautiful voice singing. The kids missed FCC and wondered why we had to go somewhere else. On April 23, Tami W. and I did a Sedar for the church. We had planned this back in January, so I couldn't exactly get out of it. But it was a wonderful experience.
Family: Mom's birthday was April 11. John and Peter and their families came over for her birthday dinner and to say good-bye. Mom and Dad headed back up to NY the next day. Everything is always so quiet and sad when they leave. We all fit comfortably around the table again, and I start using their apartment as storage. Little by little our stuff ends up over there, only to have to find a place for it in our house a few months later. When will I ever learn? To add to the quiet, Randy went to meetings that whole week. The kind of week we just enjoy the quiet in spite of missing the rest of our family.
Homeschooling: We had a fantastic 4th annual Homeschooling 101. This time we had expanded to a full day, and this was a great success. We had close to 100 people in attendance, including all the speakers and those doing "Show and Tell" curriculum tables. Jesse continued fencing and golf. We saw a wonderful production of "Peter and the Wolf." Randy and Jesse went to the Boy Scout camporee at the end of the month. We had Monday Fun Finale at our co-op. My Readers Theatre class did a wonderful job performing a few skits.
AHG: We moved up our camp planning meetings, as camp loomed closer and closer! Otherwise our girls finished their Creative Crafts badge. Some of the Tenderfoot groups also worked on extra badges.
MayChurch: We continued going between FCC and River Oaks. We continued to be drawn back to FCC because our interim minister is so fantastic. He addresses the congregation and all its problems in a straightforward manner. He admonishes in the most loving way. I feel convicted that my own bitterness needs to be dissolved.
Family: In many ways, May is a quiet month for us. Co-op classes are over. Most activities cease. The wild bustle of April, with Randy's meetings and wildflower walks, ends with the slow setting in of summer.
Homeschooling: We began winding down, doing our usual doubling up on weeks so that we finish our Sonlight by June. We loved Core 5! Certainly it's our favorite yet, although each year has been a treasure.
AHG: Camp preparation is in full swing. Our Spring Awards Banquet was May 12. We had about 15 girls earning their level awards at various levels. We held the banquet at the outdoor pavilion at Caroline's church, and it was really lovely. The next day, Dads and daughters headed to Elkmont for the annual Father/Daughter camp-out. We had them do the Outdoor Skills badge during the camp-out. All had a wonderful time. The next weekend, Caroline and I had a most wonderful time! We took our girls to the 10th Anniversary AHG Conference in Cincinnati. It was just amazing. We learned sooooo much, and it was so good to be with other troops for the first time. We went to different workshops so that we could soak in as much information as possible. While we were in meetings, our girls were working on badges and doing service projects with a hundred other girls! That was really special for them, too. The banquet in the evening was wonderful. We were seated with the chairperson from the other TN troop as well as Jenny K. and her family. Jenny is a lovely young woman who claimed our troop as her Stars and Stripes project. She came down from Cinci in our first summer as a troop to do camp for us. We were blessed to get to be with them again. The trip home was also wonderful. Caroline and I, newly inspired, were able to plan out the rest of camp as well as Fall 2005. We also go to stop at the Gap Clearance Center. We NEVER go to Cinci without stopping there!

Church:: We continued going to both FCC and River Oaks. Going to FCC was very hard for me. I was all knotted up inside. I felt such enormous bitterness toward so many people who have an active role in the service. I couldn't even get a "hello" out of my mouth without feeling like I was betraying C and T. But for various reasons, we went to FCC every now and then. Sometimes it's hard to walk away from a sinking ship. I forgot to mention another significant part of all of this. Since March, we had been doing Beth Moore's "Breaking Free." So even when we weren't going to church, I was going on Wednesday nights for our class. I LOVED this class. It was very, very strange to be in class without T. Also, Darci stopped coming to class because she'd already done this study, so my personal support group was not there. I felt like it was me....and the rest of the women. Except....Stephanie, our interim minister's wife, started coming. I loved her instantly. I would come reluctantly into the building, unable to look many people in the eyes, but when I saw her, my heart softened in her presence. She is so Christ-like, so full of the fruits of the Spirit. It is hard to hold onto your bitterness in the presence of someone like her. The Beth Moore study was 20 weeks for us, since we split it up into video one week and discussion the next. I needed those 20 weeks very much.
Family: June is a lovely, relaxing month around here for the most part. We finished school at the end of May and had a little breather. We get to start grilling out and camping. We camped at Elkmont on the 24th and 25th. This was our BHEA Family Camp-out. There wasn't a huge turnout, but it was wonderful. Laurel attended Art Camp for three days and AHG camp for 3 days, and Jesse attended Mythology camp for a week (2 hours/day). Jesse began violin lessons toward the end of the month.
AHG: This was camp month! June 13-15 was the first day camp that our troop put on, and it was fabulous! Our Pioneer girls worked so hard to prepare for this and pulled out off without a hitch. To make things even better, we wrote the World Heritage badge ourselves, submitted it to the National office, and had it accepted and included in the new handbook! We had close to 60 girls attend camp from Monday-Wednesday. Caroline and I were utterly exhausted each day, but it was so well worth it. To reward our Pioneers, we reserved a suite at the Hilton on Thursday night. The girls had a great time swimming and staying up all night, and Caroline and I got tons of planning done. We really felt that the Lord blessed us so much and gave us strength and perserverance through our first camp.

Family: All kinds of fun things happen in July.
1. Tracy had a surprise cabin weekend planned for Keith's 40th birthday. We met them in Pigeon Forge and had a relaxing day and night. Randy and Daphne came down from Johnson City, too. It was a nice full cabin, brimming with children and old friends.
2. The next day, Randy and Jesse left for a week at Boy Scout camp. I love that week for them. I love that they are together, father and son, and that Jesse always comes back this different person. He is always a little more grown-up and so sweet. So full of stories and smiles. This year he worked on photography, motorboating, archery, motorboating, and canoeing.
3. We had our first Foothills Fine Arts camp the third week of July! Leigh and I and another mom have been planning this since last fall. Leigh did art, I did creative writing, and Christi did music. We had three groups of around 8 students each, divided into K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. We rotated groups so that each group did each of the three classes. What a fantastic three days!
4. After our camp week, we had a wonderful camping weekend with fabulous friends, the Laneys and the Freenys. That's Duncan, Caitlin, Laurel, and Emily above. Perfect 2 days at Smokemont on the NC side of the Smokies, which none of us had been to before. Each child had a friend to play with, and the adult company was lovely. We hope to do that much more next summer!
5. For the first time ever, I got to actually drop the kids off at VBS instead of spending 5 nights working at VBS. This was the same week as camp, so I really needed those evenings to prepare. Very nice.
6. Duncan and Laurel both had great wellness checks at the doctor. We are thankful to have such healthy children and to not have gone to the doctor in nearly 2 years!
Church: Oh, the whole church scene gets more and more strange this month. God would not let us go. He was pulling us, telling us we needed to make a decision. Way back in January, we had said that we would wait until July to make a definite decision about leaving FCC. Historically, "something" always happens every 6 months. Something ugly, 90% of the time. So in late June, Randy was nominated to be a deacon. This was not part of our plan. Randy's been nominated to be a deacon before but has never considered accepting the nomination. How incredibly strange that this time, this time when we are halfway out the door, he considers it. Should we stay and try to change things? What does it mean if we walk away? What bridges are we burning? And most importantly, what does God want from us? Agonizing conversations. had many excellent conversations about this all, and ultimately Randy accepted the nomination. At the congregational meeting in July, he was voted in as a deacon. What a complete change of events for us. We were trying so hard to run away, and God worked in a way we would never have anticipated. So what comes next? A search committee for a new minister is finally established, and the search is on. And in the midst of all this, we find our bitterness has relaxed its hold on us. I have a long-due confrontation with M., who has been a constant source of agony for me at church. I felt horribly right afterwards, but I realized within a couple of days that this was the right thing to do. I've said my piece.
Homeschooling: We had our BHEA kick-off on July 30. Many meetings of the enrichment class team prior to this. I am blessed to work with these 6 wonderful women! We all do our part, and the day comes together fabulously. About 185 families sign up for BHEA, with over 100 registering for enrichment classes.
Other: The Richardsons have friends who want to move here, so the dad, David, stays at our apartment while he job hunts. We are thrilled to meet them all just a few weeks later when they move up. Duncan and Wheaton are like long-lost soulmates, and Celia and Laurel warm up so quickly that Laurel wants to invite Celia to her birthday party as if they'd known each other for years! What a wonderful addition to our circle of friends.
AUGUSTFamily: August is always our travel month. But first, Jesse spent 3 days at Fetal Pig Dissection camp at the Children's Discovery Center in Knoxville. What a great camp! Laurel started Narnia Club the first week, also. We read The Magician's Nephew first. I've never read them in this "new" order, so I'm curious to see how it goes. On August 7 the kids and I left for New York. How great that the Milnes let us borrow their TV/VCR unit! Laurel and Duncan were headquartered in the back with the TV on the middle seat in front of them, each with his or her own snack bag. Jesse and I had our own snacks and listened to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle for literally the whole trip up (and most of the way home). We stopped in Staunton, Virginia to spend the night and drove the rest of the way on Monday (Mom and Dad's 57th anniversary). The whole trip took us 14 hours. We had a wonderful vacation. Swimming on Seneca Lake every single day. Sailing, relaxing, picking cherries. We visited Stephen briefly and James a little longer. Seeing James was so strange. It is hard to describe what he is like after his TBI, except to say that he is a form of his former self. He was eccentric anyway, but....It's just something I have to puzzle and take out to examine quietly every now and then. I also got to go out to dinner with 5 of my girlfriends from high school: Lisa, Michelle, Robin, Karen, and Sian. We had a great time. We came back on the 16th, and Randy came home from his wanderings a couple days later. He had been collecting in West Texas and then at meetings in Austin. It is always so amazing to see my sweet love again after our annual August separation!
* Laurel Rose turned 8 on August 29. This year she requested a camping party, so we took about 10 girls up to Elkmont to camp on the 26th! The Hancocks and Freenys and Tim R. went as well. We had such a wonderful time, even if the girls did put a giant rip in the tent! Thankfully we had a tarp to throw over it! I opted to sleep with the girls while Randy and the boys slept in a different tent. I got a surprisingly good night's sleep with 10 girls in the tent!
Homeschooling: We always start back the same day Randy starts back at UT, so it was August 24 for us. We had a very modified schedule, beginning with 2 days the first week, 3 the second, etc. Enrichment classes started for 7th-12th grades on Aug. 22. I am teaching creative writing to a good-size class of 17. Jesse has his first fencing tournament in early August. What an awesome event! It was so much different than I expected--so exciting! I was so proud of and amazed by my son.
AHG: We have a leaders' meeting on the 25th and then plan to start back on the 30th with a family picnic. However, after weeks of perfect weather, we have a huge storm on the 30th and have to cancel.
Other: After years and years of illness, my best friend Tracy's mom died on the 31st. We cried and cried and cried. Goodbye, Joan Cosgrove.
* Laurel and Duncan both began Upward Soccer. What a perfect setup! Laurel is on a team with Caitlin, Caitlin, and Celia; Duncan is on a team with Wheaton and Gideon. They both have awesome coaches, and they both practice at the same time! We love Tuesday evenings, sitting out on the soccer field and chatting with friends while we watch our beautiful children run.
* Orchestra practice begins for Jesse. Every Wednesday we go to orchestra. Duncan and Laurel play on the playground while Jesse practices.
* Laurel begins piano lessons, every-other-Monday.
* We all have dentist appointments.
* Jesse has a Boy Scout Court of Honor.
Homeschooling: We are doing Sonlight 6. Laurel is listening to everything except the read-alouds, which don't interest her too much. I am reading the Kirsten books and Chronicles of Narnia to her. We have an excellent schedule this year. We have our subjects mapped out by time chunks, which we've never done before. Duncan is also doing lots of activities, including puzzles and preschool workbooks. Jesse is taking a geography class at the Laney's on Thursdays. They are working through "Around the World in 180 Days." We have something extra every day of the week except Tuesdays: Monday Fun on Mondays, Orchestra and violin lessons on Wednesdays, geography and AHG on Thursdays, and fencing on Fridays. Jesse also has Boy Scouts twice a month on Fridays.
AHG: We begin our meetings on Sept. 8 with about 65 girls. The first meeting we play getting-acquinted games and make AHG t-shirts. On the second meeting we begin our badge work. Tenderfoot girls are doing their Physical Fitness; Explorers and P/Ps are doing their Personal Hygiene. We have our first Family Sunset Hike at the Foothills Parkway on the 30th. The sunset was perfect, and we had a great turn-out for the hike.
Church: Nothing new happening. We had a ministerial candidate but this did not work out. We have a good, strong Small Group meeting regularly now on Saturday evenings.

Family: October is so lovely in Tennessee. Soccer continues each Tuesday evening and Saturday morning. The evenings are darkening earlier and Saturday mornings get downright chilly by the end of the month. Tia, newly arrived from Jacksonville, is thrilled with the chill and her enthusiasm is positively catching. I always appreciate Tennessee--especially having been in Iowa for 5 years--but it's always good to be reminded of just how blessed we are through the eyes of someone who is experiencing it for the first time.
* Randy goes to St. Louis for meetings early in the month. Tracy and her kids and Angie and her kids came to keep me company while he was gone. It was soooo lovely to spend time with them. We cried a lot with Tracy, and rejoiced a lot in the blessings of our lives. I'm not sure any of us would have imagined how stable and lovely our lives are now, back when we were college students dancing the nights away at Quarterbacks or lamenting our love lives in my dorm room.
* The Foothills Fall Festival comes in the middle of the month. Why do the kids want to go to this year after year? Crowds, lines, Indian summer....and yet there is something so small town, so traditional. We just can't help taking them every year.
* Our friends Jimmy and Patty (above) comes up from New Orleans for a fabulous camping weekend! BRRRR!! What a weekend we picked for camping! We were absolutely freezing but had a fantastic time. As always, we enjoyed spending time with them and hearing an insiders' view of Hurricane Katrina.* Our annual Soup and Pumpkin party takes place on October 24. This is just a spectacular event! A house full of friends and a bazillion offspring running around; a dozen or so soups and breads; a little punkin' chunkin' with carefully contructed trebouchets; and about 20 big fat pumpkins, smiling...grimacing...or otherwise! (That's Jesse's BOB pumpkin above.) What a night to revel in the blessings of warmth: warmth of friends, warmth of food, and warmth of children.
* The kids have their last soccer game on the 29th, and we all (the Blairs, the Freenys, the Walls, the Grahams, and the Smalls) head over to Los Amigos for a fabulous celebration meal.
Homeschooling: Jesse continues fencing. He also goes to the UT Earth Science Fair with the Laneys and continues his geography class. Enrichment classes are going well. We have a Lego Outreach program in mid-October. Over 30 kids from BHEA attend this hands-on workshop, put on by The Children's Discovery Center. Laurel, Duncan and I go see our first Disney on Ice: The Incredibles. It was fantastic!

Family: November is when we start settling in for the winter. Our activities slow down and the pace becomes less frantic.
* This was a crazy traveling month for Randy. He had a seminar to give in Wisconsin and then had to hop back on a plane and go to meetings in New York. He was so happy when all that was over.
* I spoke at the Fairview MOPS group about Growing Kids God's Way. This was a great group of moms, and I always enjoy sharing about this wonderful course.
* The kids and I went for our annual Smokies Day, when we drive around Cades Cove and do school. This year we got to see a big fat black bear! Below photo is the kids in the spot where we ate lunch.
* Mom and Dad arrived on the 18th for the winter! We are always so very excited to have them here. I love to watch Duncan run into their arms. What a blessing to have my parents share our lives.
Homeschooling: Orchestra and fencing continue for Jesse. This month the orchestra plays at 3 nursing homes. Jesse is finishing the railroad merit badge in Boy Scouts and he also goes on a major hike. We all went to see "Annie" at the Oak Ridge Playhouse.
AHG: We have a fanastic Bonfire and Hayride at the Milne Farm the first weekend. Just chilly enough to enjoy a fire, but not too chilly for hayrides. What a blessing it is to have the Milnes open up their farm! The Cub Scouts also joined us for this. Badge work is over for the girls for their fall badges. The Tenderfoot girls go to a nursing home for a short Veteran's Day presentation. We have our Fall Awards Ceremony on the 14th. I always enjoy this, and Caroline surprised me this time by presenting me with a Gem of a Leader award. Very sweet.
Church: Nothing really happening. We are doing a study of Mary in our Wednesday night group and continuing with our regular Small Group study. Our Sunday School class is going well, although we are disappointed that folks aren't as committed as we'd hoped they would be.
DECEMBER:Family: And here it is, the last month of 2005. The calendar looks packed, with special events replacing regularly scheduled activities...
* We got our big, fat beautiful Christmas tree early this year. What fun to have such a chubby tree!
* I sat on a homeschooling panel at Johnson Bible College. This is for a class of education majors. Very interesting! * I had a lovely Spa Escape party. The best part was that each guest had to say something nice about me. I wish I could have bottled all those lovely words so that I could open them up whenever I am feeling blue! I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the friends whom God has provided me with.
* While the big girls are at my spa party, the little girls are at a Christmas party at the Milne's. Laurel had a wonderful time with lots of little girls, making crafts and even sleeping a little bit.
* Randy and I got to go on a date to see "Oklahoma" in Knoxville.
* We had the BHEA Christmas program, which was lovely. Duncan got to do two songs and a fingerplay with his preschool classes. Very precious. What a talented and unique group of families in BHEA! I was so impressed.
* Duncan had his dinosaur birthday party on the 13th. A dozen little paleontologists helped him celebrate turning five! Great party.
* The Richardsons had their annual Bunko Christmas party. Always a great time!
* Leigh hosted a Moms' Night Out ornament/cookies exchange, which was so much fun. She is the quintessential hostess, and she makes really good wonton thingies, too.
* We finally got to see Narnia! For over 30 years Narnia has lived inside of me, and seeing it come to life on the screen was inexpressible. Tammy and I cried through most of it. The only bummer was that Randy and the boys were totally separated from Laurel and me, so I couldn't exactly share the experience with them.
* We went to Dollywood one last time before our season passes run out.
* Duncan James turned 5 on December 25, and Randy turned 39 on December 26!
* Stephen came for Christmas. Lots of blogging about that. But all in all, it was a lovely Christmas day.
* Family Christmas with the rest of the brothers and families has to be postponed until January, as Mom has come down with the stomach virus (we all had it 2 weeks ago).
Homeschooling: Jesse has orchestra concerts on Dec. 1, 2, and 3 and fencing continues through the 9th. We are all so impressed with the Blount County Homeschoolers Orchestra! What a long way they have come since the first practice in September, and half of them beginners to boot. We take off for Christmas break beginning on the 18th.
AHG: We have our first Mother/Daughter/Grandmother Christmas Tea for our Dec. meeting. What a spectacular event! Pat and Pam did a wonderful job organizing and implementing, and Tina gave a great devotional. My precious father stepped in to watch the little brothers when our childcare called to say she couldn't make it! We had about 95 ladies in attendance.
Church:: We have a potential candidate coming to visit the first of January....

And that winds up 2005. I sleep well at night....The children are taller and more precious...the house is friends are heart is love for my husband is deeper....I am drawing nearer to my I stand at the crossroads of the ancient paths and pray that I will choose the good path.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

December 29, 2005: Stephen and Me: A Slice of Childhood


Stephen and I spent many weekends with our Dad in the greenhouses where he worked at the Geneva branch of Cornell's Agricultural Experiment Station. Our mother must have appreciated those afternoons when we went with Dad, although she was just as often there too, as his faithful assistant. The smells and textures of a greenhouse are so lovely: the rich chocolatey soil, soft as silk; the crunchy white peat; the rotten-egg stench of sulfur blocks. Stephen and I would bring our cars and drive them on the concrete walkways. We'd take frequent trips into different rooms of the long row of greenhouses, which were barren on weekends but never dark, saturated with the flourescent glow of artificial light competing with the sun streaming in the dirty glass.

I dream sometimes still of greenhouses. Of dark brown dirt running between my fingers, of the periodic hiss of the radiator and the chug of the automatic watering system kicking in. Of tables and tables in room after room of living things--brown sticks of apple trees, purple cabbages, and lush green tomato plants.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

December 28, 2005: My Brother's Visit

Stephen left on the 26th. I am not so true to myself when I am around my brother. We weren't always like this, of course. Stephen and I are two years apart, but we may as well have been twins, the way we were paired together. I have few childhood memories that do not include him--next to me, in front of me, behind me. In nearly every photograph in the family albums we are together, sides touching and heads tilted together, almost level. One shows us, around ages four and six, in a silver-colored recliner watching television, a bowl of popcorn on a single TV tray across our laps, four legs sticking straight out beneath it. Our smiles are identical, bottom rows of tiny teeth white and eager.

We were our parents' second family. Seven year separate Stephen from the youngest of our three older brothers; sixteen years stretch between my oldest brother and me. Their childhoods were spent on an orchard in southern Illinois when our parents were young and poor; we share none of their stories of tractors stuck in mud or crops ruined by hailstorms. We grew up in New York, with a scientist-professor for a father and a bridge-playing Welcome Wagon hostess for a mother. Our parents were middle-aged before we entered kindergarten. We know now, of course, that our parents' lives were much different, much more complex than they appeared to be, but back then it seemed that our father went off to work each day in a brown cardigan and our mother baked and cleaned.

Our older brothers drifted here and there, sullen around the dinner table, out with friends at night. Stephen and I stayed together, holed up in our attic playroom or outside in our tree house. We liked quiet. In my memory few words were exchanged between us; I can't even hear the sound of my brother's voice. Instead we communicated by anticipating each other's wants: We will color our pictures first, then play with Tinker Toys later....Give me the purple car....

But of course memory plays tricks--children do chatter. We did have voices, and we must have used them; but our quiet natures found a peaceful rhythm in each other. We rarely fought. My mother swears Stephen hovered over me like a guardian angel from the moment I arrived. Throughout my childhood he presented me with carefully made gifts. A rag doll with black yarn hair and thick red lips. A two-story doll house, complete with shingled roof and wall-to-wall carpet. A wooden diary bound with leather ties, my name etched jaggedly onto its cover with a woodburning tool.

His generosity overwhelmed me. By all right he should have kicked me around some. He should have pinched my arm at the dinner table or thrown my baby doll in the toilet. He should have left me behind to walk home along after school or tormented me with stories of kidnapers and monsters. After all, not only did I usurp his briefly held position as baby-of-the-family, but I caused more than a little commotion as the first girl child born to either side of the family in nearly forty years. Everything I had was new--clothes, dolls, china teacups; he faced a childhood of hand-me-downs and broken cars. Grandparents bought frilly pink things for me, brown itchy things for him. One statement made regularly to my parents characterized my existence: "You finally got your little girl. You must be so happy! You must spoil her rotten!" So I accepted each of my brother's gifts gratefully, but more than likely with a certain amount of nonchalance. My station in life was to be the receiver of all good gifts.....

Monday, December 26, 2005

December 26, 2005: 2005 Reading List

Breath, Eyes, Memory (by E. Danticat)
Sarah (by Mark Halter)
Daughter of Fortune (by Isabella Allende)
The Prodigal (by Bevery Lewis)
Unspoken (by Francine Rivers)
The Priest (by F. Rivers)
The Warrior (by F. Rivers)
The Prince (by F. Rivers)
Follow the River (by James A. Thom)
New Stories from the South, 2004
The Broker (by John Grisham)
A Skeleton in God's Closet (by Paul Maier)
Mutant Message from Down Under
Father Melancholy's Daughter (by Gail Godwin)
Last Girls (by Lee Smith)
In Cold Blood (by Truman Capote)
A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor (by T. Capote)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (JK Rowling)
The Jungle (by Upton Sinclair)

On Writing (by Stephen King)
Bad Girls of the Bible (Liz Curtis Higgs)
Wild at Heart (John Eldredge)
The Great Hedge of India (Ray Moxham)
The Savage My Kinsmen (Elizabeth Elliot)
The Dream Weaver (?) (By B. Wilkinson)
Mere Christianity (CS. Lewis)
Apples (Frank Browning)
Total Money Makeover (Dave Ramsey)
Help for the Harried Homeschooler (Christine Field)
A Girl Named Zippy (Haven Kimmel)
A Very Small Farm (William P. Winchester)

Read-Aloud Novels to Kids
(This does not include dozens of pictures books and short chapter books)
Eric Liddell
Genghis Khan and the Mongel Horde
Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?
Daughter of the Mountains
William Carey
Theresa of Calcutta
Shadow Spinner
Hittite Warrior
Mara, Daughter of the Nile
The Magician's Nephew
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian

And the Winners Are...
Fiction: Not a great year for fiction. I'd have to say the priest series by Francine Rivers was the best, although that doesn't fully qualify as fiction. I hope to make some great fiction discoveries in 2006.
Nonfiction: This is tougher, but Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover definitely wins. Apples and A Girl Named Zippy come in second. I loved Stephen King's On Writing. Sounds scary, I know, but I found it fascinating. Horrible language.
Kids: This is hard, too. I love Sonlight! But, I guess I'd have to choose Narnia, of course, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase after that.

And now I need to head out to the library to replenish my reading supply...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

December 21, 2005: Seventeen Hours, Give or Take (Driving South)

I woke this morning, sunlight streaming in the windows, with this poem in my head. I wrote this poem during the last of the five years we lived in Iowa. Once or twice a year we would make the long drive from Ames, Iowa to Johnson City, TN to visit our family and friends. This stems from that and was the last piece in my master's thesis.

Seventeen Hours, Give or Take (Driving South)

We count on someday,
coffee on the front porch,
Buffalo Mountain still

in its own black shadow.
We live now
for the next vacation
and the next, driving southeast
and then south and east,
these strange selves

as the farms turn to forests,
corn to tobacco.
Two hours to go
and we are easy again
as if some lethal spell
has been lifted. We unzip

our stiff suits
at the state line
and toss them out the window.
Our skin beneath is warm

and smells greenly of wood.
We can't stop breathing.

(By Sarah Small. Published in Breathing the Same Air: An East Tennesse Anthology 2001)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

December 15, 2005: Death of an Old Friend

My best friend called us this weekend and another friend sent us an email, to tell us that our friend Randy died back in October. I want to feel sad, or feel something, but I am just so detached. Still, a death shouldn't go unnoticed, and this is a person I once considered my closest friend. In memory of many hours spent sharing our lives, I will remember Randy here.

I met Randy in college, within the first weekend. He had followed his ex-girlfriend, Karen, to college. They were both from the midwest, he from Illinois and she from Indiana. They had met at a church camp. I remember him in an argyle sweater and shiny jazz shoes. He always wore dressy clothes, often even a tie. (He would deny this later.) He was a youth ministry major, although in later years he would most certainly deny this. He went about trying to win Karen back in a most pitiful way (another fact he would later deny), but she wasn't interested. She must have seen into his heart.
Karen lived across the hall from me, and Randy latched on to me in hopes that I would be a link to Karen. It wasn't long before he lost interest in Karen, though, and Randy, Debby (Karen's roommate and my brother's ex-girlfriend), Adam, Susie, Rich, Jonathan and I became inseparable. We really did everything together. Being freshmen at a small private college, we were in classes together, ate together, spent evenings and weekends together. We all loved each other dearly in the unique way that happens at college. College is like summer camp that lasts for 4 years (or more).

We went through a lot together that first year, and much of it is a blur. Randy was always there, sometimes in a most unpleasant way but most often as my confidante. When my boyfriend from home came to visit, we hung out together and they became great friends. My brother, who went to the same college, despised him. I suspect it was because Randy was a poser. Still, I see Randy for his faults now and still think my brother had a superior attitude and was hateful to Randy. Maybe if my brother and his friends had been kinder to Randy, he wouldn't have tried so desperately to be cool.

Randy fell hopelessly in love with Debby before our freshman year was out. And no wonder. Debby was so beautiful and mysterious, an MK from Korea. And I met Mike. Randy was always telling me I shouldn't mess around with Mike, and he was always telling Mike that he shouldn't mess around with me. We kept our distance from Randy.

Sophomore year I first laid eyes on my future husband. Though Mike and I were still together, we were destined for heartbreak from the beginning. It's true what Randy said--we were from two different worlds, and we crossed over the tracks briefly, and not regrettably. Mike dropped out of school, and our long-distance relationship was short-lived. But, then again, I had spotted my future husband. Randy was always telling me I shouldn't mess around with my future husband, and, funny, he was always telling my future husband that I was bad news. Then it was the three of us and the old group, too, always together. So those years pass. I have few pictures in my mind until my senior year that don't include Randy, yet he became less and less of a personal friend as the years went by.

Randy was brilliant. He could write papers almost as well as I, and I was formidable competition. He was an excellent director. One year I was the lead in a play he was directing during our Festival of One-Act Plays. I completely respected his artistic vision and his intellect. But Randy was a chameleon. He was one person with me, another with Debby, another with his theater friends. When he gave up on Karen our freshman year, he gave up the youth ministry, the argyle sweaters, and the aftershave. He donned a hippy-look and read a lot of Richard Brautigan. He had knee-high moccasions and an old army jacket. He took up smoking and drank a lot. We all drank a lot back then. But he kept drinking, and drinking, and drinking.

By the time I graduated, he had moved on. I'm not sure if he actually ever graduated or not, but he was a year ahead of me. He'd gone to a community college before coming to our college. He was working for Barter Theatre, but his craft was losing its edge. He was getting blurry. We visited him once at Barter. He had become shifty eyed, always fixated on Debby and beer. He was dirty. Sometimes on weekends he would come to visit us. I remember him in those days, always passed out somewhere.

We moved on, my husband and I. We moved to Ohio for graduate school and then to Iowa for more graduate school. Randy would still call me every Christmas Day, as he had since our freshman year. I don't know how he even found us in Iowa, but one year when he called, we somehow decided it would be a good idea to all go to Tennessee together in the spring. By this time he was back in southern Illinois, where he was originally from. Why we hatched this plan, I don't know. I must have been feeling nostalgic. But as we got closer and closer to the date, I kept hoping the whole plan wouldn't materialize. But Randy was obsessed with the idea, and we arranged to meet him at his home in Marion, Illinois. By this time we had Jesse, who was probably about 3. We met Randy at the restaurant where he was waiting tables, and we drove to his apartment. It was one of those experiences that I don't even like to think about. His apartment was filthy. The only thing in the refrigerator was beer. Shelves and shelves of beer. I don't know how we ate. I must have brought food along for Jesse, because there was nothing to eat there. I remember hearing him at 4 a.m., walking to the kitchen and opening another beer. All I could think of was: a wasted life.

Once we got to Tennessee, we didn't see him much. We stayed with my best friend and he stayed, of course, with Debby. He was so far gone that it was shocking. He couldn't have a coherent conversation. He couldn't look anyone in the eyes. His sentences would end in mumbling. It was pitiful. I don't remember any more of that trip, and that was the last we saw or heard from Randy until his obituary in our college magazine.

Whatever happened to Randy, the real Randy? I have pondered that through the years. The Randy I once knew was kind, funny, and smart. People liked him. He was a good friend and a fun companion. He loved Debby from a distance for 20 years, but Debby never could love him. At his best, he was hilarious and brilliant. At his worst, he was a pitiful alcholic.

What could he have been had he risen above his familial pattern of alcoholism? What if he had refused to drink and go the way of his father? What if we--his friends-- had understood, then, the black hole into which he would be ultimately sucked? He could have been a first-class director, or a writer, or a teacher. He could have been a great dad. He could still call me on Christmas Day.

And so, I bid farewell to Randy. I am ashamed to say I haven't really thought about him in years, this man who was once my friend. Oh sure, we've talked about him every now and then. I even told Tracy not too long ago that I suspected he was probably dead. I am reminded of the line by Billy Joel's "Come Out, Virginia": "Oh, your mother never cared for me, but did she ever say a prayer for me?" I am guilty of forgetting a person for whom I should have been praying, and at the end of this memoir, I find, finally, grief for a stunted life and an old friend.

Merry Christmas, Randy. I bid you adieu.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

December 10, 2005: Quick Party Fare

I had the loveliest party last night, which I will blog about separately, and got all kinds of nice compliments about the finger food. This was the easiest party I've ever prepared for! Below are the recipes. This was enough for 10 people, plus leftovers on the chocolates and beans.

Tangy Bean Salad
1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozed whole kernel corn, thawed
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 can diced green chiles
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
Mix together and serve with tortilla chips (Scoops work great with this).

Marbled Peppermint Bark
Crush 6-8 candy canes by unwrapping your candy canes and putting them in a zip lock bag. Wrap a towel around it and smash them with a hammer! Melt 2 16oz bags of your favorite chocolate chips in the microwave. (This is truly better if you use namebrand semi-sweets rather than an off-brand.) Stir often. As soon as this is done, melt 1 16 oz. bag of white chocolate chips separately. While you are waiting for the white chips to melt, add the peppermint to the melted chocolate chips. Mix well and spread evenly on a cookie sheet. When the white chocolate is completely melted, drop by spoonfuls onto the chocolate and swirl with a knife. Put in fridge until hard. Break apart and put on a nice plate.

Easy Cheese Puffs
3/4 loaf unsliced bread (I used French)
3 oz. cream cheese
1/4 c. shredded or cubed sharp cheese
1/2 c. margarine or butter
2 egg whites, beaten stiff
Cut bread into 3/4 inch cubes. Melt cheeses and margarine together. Blend and cool. Fold in stuffly beaten egg whites. Dip bread cubes in mixture. Bake on cookie sheet or stone at 400 for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned.Best if served a little warm.

Friday, December 9, 2005

December 9, 2005: My Christmas Baby

It's one of the most common questions asked in any group as an ice-breaker: "Tell about the best Christmas present you've ever received." No one can ever top my gift, as having a baby on Christmas Day easily surpasses the shiniest bike or even Ralphie's (of "The Christmas Story") long-coveted BB gun.

I didn't really expect to have a baby on Christmas Day, even though the ultrasound clearly gave December 25 as my due date. Who ever has a baby on her due date? I should have known, though. Jesse was due on March 27th and born on the 29th; Laurel was due on August 29th and born on the 27th. It would only make sense that the one due on the 25th would actually be born on the 25th!

The baby was generous enough that morning to wait until after the older two had opened their presents. I didn't head to the hospital until noon of Christmas Day. Duncan James was born a little after 5 p.m., weighing in as plump as a Christmas turkey at 10 lbs. But not all was tidy and sweet. Duncan had aspirated meconium in utero and was whisked off by ambulance to the NICU at a different hospital, his daddy right there with him. I was left alone on Christmas Day, my precious gift struggling for breath.

I was released early the next day (Randy's birthday) and we spent the next six days in a fog of home and hospital, trusting that the Giver of all good and perfect gifts would restore ours to us. On New Year's Eve we brought our treasure home and placed him in the spot that seemed most natural: under the Christmas tree.

Duncan will be five this Christmas Day, and, like Mary, I still "quietly treasure these things" in my heart and ponder them often. This blue-eyed boy is as generous today as he was the morning before his birth, bestowing his smile on all and bringing joy to his family's world throughout the year.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

December 4, 2005: Christmas Tree Day

The rain held off long enough for us to go to Baker's Creek and get our Christmas tree. We have the fattest spruce we've ever seen! And here is one of my favorite e.e. cummings' poems to commemorate the occasion:

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"