Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Have you hugged your support group leader today?

I want to market a bumper sticker in the homeschooling community that says, "Have you hugged your support group leader today?" Of course, no one would get it except the people that need the hugs and a few others. I do a little random blogging now and then, and I'm always dismayed with the number of times that I run across blogs where people are complaining about their support group. And it's just as bad in real life. Now I'm not saying that members can't have a voice in how things go, or that their opinions aren't worth hearing. It just irks me how divisive and hurtful we can be in a community that should be working together (hmmm, sounds like the church, doesn't it?). As Dr. H. says, "Homeschoolers are certainly not immune to being narrow-minded and petty."

It's hard to be a support group leader. Now that I am out of 4 years of leadership and just a regular Joe in our group, I can say that I am just amazed, truly, at how self-absorbed we can be. Phone calls at all times of the day, irritated members whose emails were not returned promptly, complaints about the cost of every single thing, grumbling about having to put in volunteer hours, reports of a dress-code violation, the never-ending grapevine--to name just a few of the most common plagues of a support group leader.

One thing I've realized and tried to impart to our current leadership team is that some people will always complain. No matter where you are--in a church, in a group, in a business--there will always be someone who likes to complain and who can rally a few people to join her. There are people who will never be happy unless they are in control and doing things exactly their way. But most people I know are happy and appreciate tremendously all the behind-the-scenes work that goes on, although few have any idea of the tremendous amount of mental, physical, and emotional energy that goes into support group leadership.

I have a file on my computer where I keep all the nice emails that I received over the years. I really did receive a lot. There are some really, really kind people out there who made a big difference to me on those days when the grumbling seemed overwhelming. I cannot express how much it meant to me everytime someone took a minute to say to me, "Thank you so much for all you do!" It is a little thing to add the word, "thanks" at the end of an email.

What I'd like to say, if you are a member of a support group, is that next time you feel the urge to pass on some negative information to your leadership or launch into a tirade about so-and-so's outfit: count to ten. Ask yourself: what kind of burden am I placing on this person with my words, and is it really necessary? Remember, before you let a complaint fly, that support group leaders are just homeschooling parents who volunteer their time and energy at tremendous expense of time and energy because, well, they want to help homeschooling families. So swallow your grumbling, and just say, "thanks."

Monday, October 30, 2006

October 30, 2006: Monday Memory: Sailing, Sailing


My brother Peter and his son spent last week at my parents' home in upstate New York. My parents live on Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, and it is mandatory in our family that we sail while we are visiting them. Last week was cold, but Peter and Owen had to sail anyway. About 25 years ago, my brothers and dad made the front page of the local newspaper when they took a Christmas Day sail. (My mother and I watched from the snow-covered dock.)

Sailing was a big part of my childhood. When we first moved from southern Illinois to New York, my parents--pure, land-locked midwesterners--joined the Yacht Club and took sailing lessons. They were hooked, and they bought what we called the K-boat--a big, red, wooden sailboat. Later they also bought the Sunfish, a smaller sailboat that could be managed by one person. I took sailing lessons at the Yacht Club for years and learned practically nothing except that big, old heavy boats can sink. By this time we had moved from town to our newly built home on the lake. One day when I was about 13, Peter came home from college and taught me how to sail in 2 hours. Maybe I was old enough by then to understand the subtle changes in the wind--to feel the tension of the sails and recognize the patterns of the waves. My friends and I spent countless hours over the next years of summers, sailing in the Sunfish. We'd set a straight and easy course and steer with our feet while we splayed out on the boat, begging the sun to bake us a little more. When we got too hot, we'd dive in or capsize the boat.

I miss sailing, but there's no place for it here in the mountain waters. The speedboats here rule without regard to their wind-powered distant cousins, and I'm spoiled by a natural lake 2 miles across, 35 miles long, and 750 feet deep dotted by white sails, any time of the year.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oct. 26, 2006: Cades Cove Day

Today was our annual Autumn Cades Cove Day. The kids and I have been doing this for years--maybe since we've lived here. We missed peak color a few days ago, but of course everything was still breaktaking. Last year we went on Nov. 8, so the winter is definitely coming faster this year.

Create Your Own!

The Mountain to the Pine
By Clarence Hawkes

Thou tall, majestic monarch of the wood,
That standeth where no wild vines dare to creep,
Men call thee old, and say that thou hast stood
A century upon my rugged steep;
Yet unto me thy life is but a day,
When I recall the things that I have seen, --
The forest monarchs that have passed away
Upon the spot where first I saw thy green;
For I am older than the age of man,
Or all the living things that crawl or creep,
Or birds or air, or creatures of the deep;
I was the first dim outline of God's plan:
Only the waters of the restless sea
And the infinite stars in heaven are old to me.

Monday, October 23, 2006

October 23, 2006: Monday Memory: Fire Engine Park, 1994

From August 1994-July 1999, we lived in Ames, Iowa. During those five years, Randy earned his PhD, I earned my master's degree, and Laurel was born. Jesse was not quite 18 months when we moved to Ames. Lots of other stuff happened, too, but those are the main events.

Iowa was always temporary for us. It was a necessary stepping stone to the next stage of our life. Iowa itself was far away from everything and everyone we'd ever known. The climate was hideous, and the endless fields of corn and beans mocked our desire for Tennessee's mountains. But we were happy in Ames. We had good friends and a great church and lived in the city that was ranked #2 nationwide in a list of "family friendly" cities (circa 1997).

One of the best qualities of Ames was its tremendous park system. There were 23 parks in a city with a population of 50,000. At least 4 parks were within walking or biking distance of our house. These were parks with two or three playgrounds each, plus swings, walking trails, etc. Most of the playgrounds were the fabulous wooden structures, shaped like pirate ships or castles. Probably our favorite park was one we called "Fire Engine Park." The centerpiece of this one was an old fire engine. I can't even imagine how many hours Jesse spent driving this old fire engine. It was here that we met the family that was to become one of our best friends in Iowa. I remember watching older kids jump off of the fire engine, thinking how impossible it seemed that one day Jesse would be old enough to do that (and before we moved, he was certainly old enough to do that). Around 1996, Iowa had a huge flood (not as big as the one in 1993 that got so much publicity), and the entire park was under water--including the fire engine. And so, without further adieu, I present scenes from Fire Engine Park (please be sure to notice Randy's awesome purple Chucks). Jesse is about 19 months old in these photos, taken in October 1994.

randy-fire eng

jesse swing

Friday, October 20, 2006

October 20, 2006: Friday Feast

One of my favorite things about fall is that we get to start eating soup again! I understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating soup in the summer--and I even know some truly nice and normal (well, sort of) people who do so--but we just don't. For us, soup is one of the ways to hearken the onset of autumn. On tonight's menu is probably our all-around favorite: Rainy Monday Beef Stew. This was a trial and error recipe, perfected long ago on a rainy Monday in Iowa. Tonight's will be even better because I have time to make a loaf of focaccia.

Rainy Monday Beef Stew
2 slices bacon, cut up
4 T. flour
1/4 tsp. pepper
1-1 11/2 lbs. stew beef or chuck roast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lg. onion, chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic, chooped
2 c. beef broth
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
1 pinch thyme
2 carrots, sliced
2 large potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
10 mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or less to taste)
1/2 tsp. chili powder

In large pot, cook bacon until light brown. Combine flour and pepper in a bowl. Dip meat in flour mixture to coat. Brown in bacon fat (add oil if it sticks). Add onion and garlice; brown a bit. Add broth, wine, and thyme. Cover and cook slowly 1-2 hours. Add spices and vegetables. Cook another half hour to hour, or until vegetables are tender. Adjust spices to taste. You can make this is the crockpot but you need to brown the meat first and use less liquid.


1 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
about 3 1/2 c. flour
2-3 tbs. dried rosemary
olive oil (for the bowl)

1) Place the water in a medium-sized bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved.
2) Add flour, one cup at a time, mixing with a fork or whatever you like. Eventually, you can mix with your hand. Add more flour as needed to combat stickiness. Knead on a floured surface for 5-8 minutes--until it's smooth. Form into a ball. Put in a bowl that's been oiled, turn over to get it all oiled, and cover with a tea towel (preferably one without dog hair on it). Let rest for and hour or so in a warm place. Preheat oven to 400.
3) Punch down and roll dough into a circle, about 10-12 inches in diameter and put on lightly oiled tray or on pizza stone. Brush surface with olive oil. Bake about 20 minutes or until lightly browned or however you like it. Serve with olive oil and pepper for dipping or just dip into your stew.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

October 18, 2006: October at Its Finest

We’re all about the fall here at SmallWorld. In the summer we tend to be sluggish, preferring the comfort of air-conditioning to the mosquitoes and humidity. I think one of the reasons we love camping so much in the summer is because the mountains remember autumn and give us a little taste of October in the middle of a July night.

Today was pumpkin picking day for BHEA. Well, it was sort of pumpkin picking, in that the kids got to pick their pumpkins off of the grass. Strangely, this farm does not grow its own pumpkins but rather purchases them elsewhere and scatters them about the land. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day. The farm had a few goats and kittens to pet and hay bales on which to jump, and no one really cared much that the pumpkins probably came from Wal-mart.




This evening we walked down to an empty field nearby so that Jesse could have some target practice with his bow and arrow. The sunset was exquisite, and we had hot blueberry cobbler and ice cream waiting for us when we returned home. I love knowing that we have another full month of autumn before the winter brown sets in.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oct. 16, 2006: Monday Memory


It seemed only appropriate that this week's Monday Memory should involve the girls. This photo of us curly-girls in our smashing outfits was taken in the fall of 1991, as we were on our way to a Nanci Griffith concert at Bogarts in Cincinnati. Suzie (who couldn't be with us this past weekend) lived nearby in Dayton; Tracy and Angie came up from Johnson City, TN; and Randy and I lived in Oxford, Ohio (just outside Cincinnati). We thought we were really hot stuff in these outfits, and that concert was amazing.

Our Oxford years (1991-1994) were very memorable. The first few months were sheer torture as we learned to adjust to life without our group of friends. We'd been inseparable in some form or fashion for years and years, and for Randy and me, this was our first time in our marriage that we were actually alone. It took a lot of adjusting. I found a job that I loved right away, so that really helped. The gang came up to Oxford every-other-month, and Suzie, Randy and I drove down to Tennessee the alternate months. Jesse was born in 1993, and Oxford was a great place to take long walks with a baby. Randy finished his master's degree at Miami University in 1994, and we headed off to Iowa for the next chapter in our life.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Oct. 15, 2006: Girls' Weekend

It's been an annual fall event in some form or fashion for years and years. Used to be, years ago, our husbands would go on a September rafting trip and we moms and kids would hang out for the weekend. The dads ended their rafting trips several years ago as more kids were born and careers kicked into full gear, but I look forward to October each year when my two best college girlfriends, Tracy and Angie, come for the weekend.


It is hard to absorb that we have had this amazing friendship for 19 years. We have grown together from wild college girls to brides to the full weight of motherhood in these past two decades. It's been almost 15 years since any of the three of us lived together or even near each other, but our lives remain intertwined. There is something so precious about having friends that share your past. We know where we've been and where we are now, and we love each other in spite of it all.
Our weekend was a flurry of soccer games, meal preparations, a little shopping, and meeting the basic needs of seven children, but we did get plenty of time for chatting. We get a kick out of how much our girls look like us and get a photo like this each year, although they are all changing more each year and looking more and more like their daddies.

moms and girls

That's me with Laurel (9), Tracy with Savannah (4 1/2), and Angie with Evie (almost 5). We really did take pictures of the boys, too, but with 7 kids at the same time, it was impossible to get a decent shot of everyone.
A weekend with the girls was a great way to end our fall break week. I'm refreshed and ready to get back to my regular life.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Oct. 9, 2006: Monday Memory


This is Laurel toward the end of kindergarten, 2003. Handwriting was probably her favorite part of the day, although what she really liked was the coloring. She had excellent fine motor skills and was always able to make nice letters. We plastered the wall behind her with the pages from her "A Reason for Writing" book. Four years later, we are lining the top of Duncan's walls with his handwriting pages and Laurel has moved on to cursive (well, sometimes....)

Sunday, October 8, 2006

October 8, 2006: Recipe: Randy's Famous Sunday Night Fried Rice

Not only does Dr. H. know how to do talented things with plant DNA, but he is also a fabulous cook. Here is something that he makes way better than I do. In fact, I don't even attempt this.

Randy’s Famous Sunday Night Fried Rice
1.5 cups uncooked rice
2 cups water
2 eggs
meat (optional—we used leftover grilled chicken or tiny shrimp
various veggies, diced: green onion, white onion, bell pepper, broccoli, frozen peas, frozen corn
1 ounce dark sesame oil
2 ounces canola oil

The day before: Cook rice - put it in the refrigerator overnight. The rice needs to be prepared ahead of time or this just doesn’t work right.

The rest of this can be done 30 minutes before you are ready to eat. Mix the eggs and an ounce of the canola oil and the ounce of dark sesame oil. (The key ingredient in this whole thing is the dark sesame oil, so don't forget that.)

Pour the other ounce of canola oil in the bottom of a wok or large nonstick skillet. Get it hot (high – not med high, but high)! Randy suggests cooking this while you have clothes on; otherwise, you run the risk of serious injury as the hot oil in the wok will spit at you when you do the next step. When the oil is hot, add the egg mixture to the wok. Get this looking like oily scrambled eggs. Add the meat (make sure it's already cooked). The meat should be diced as well, in small bite-sized chunks. Scramble altogether.

As the eggs are starting to brown), add the rice a little at a time, making sure to break up the clumps as you go. When you've added all the rice, add the vegetables (add them last so they will remain crisp). Mix and evenly heat all that stuff in the wok. Keep the heat on high or medium high, and constantly stir. Add a little more of the dark sesame oil, and keep stirring. Add some salt—taste it as you go. Add some more salt. Taste it again. Repeat.
Spoon out into bowls and enjoy!

October 8, 2006: After Apple Picking

Early October in East Tennessee, while perfect in its own way with the mountains just beginning to lighten, is a different breed than October in upstate New York and New England. October there is crisp and clear and lasts for weeks. October is apple-picking month. Years ago when my oldest brother, James, was in his glory days as owner of Littletree Orchards in Ithaca, my parents and I used to spend out Saturdays helping him pick apples, make cider, or sell at the Ithaca Farmers Market (which was, then, just a dozen stalls by the old train station). At the end of an apple-picking and cider-making day, you are cold and sticky and your mouth is puckered from eating too much sweetness.

Robert Frost knows orchard life. For my father’s seventieth birthday, over 10 years ago, James made a tape of himself reading Robert Frost’s poetry. “It was eerie,” my father told me on the phone. “When I played the tape, I heard myself reading, but I didn’t remember making the tape. Then I realized that the reader was James. We have the same voice.” Indeed my father and my oldest brother share some things: a love for the orchard life and the same voice for poetry. It is more than either of them realize.

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Oct. 7, 2006: Sunset Hike, or Just One Big Reason Why I Love Tennessee

I was reminded again this evening of why East Tennessee is such an unspeakably beautiful place to live. Here are some photos from our second annual American Heritage Girls Family Sunset Hike on the Foothills Parkway.

foothillsdand lenora



foothills sunset


October 7, 2006: Diary of an Internet Deprived Madwoman

Thursday, Oct. 5

8:30 a.m.: I check my email, do a little blog-surfing, and cheerfully head off for the day, blissfully unaware of what is to come.
9:30 a.m.: Jesse reports that “something is funny with the internet,” but we are running late for a field trip, so I ignore him.
2 p.m.: We return. I try to check my email….and nothing. So, I take a short nap.
2:30 p.m.: The internet is still not working. I call Randy about something else and mention to him that neither of our computers will hook up to the internet, and he tells me to call Charter right away. Apparently, if our wireless isn't working, it'll all be OK...but if our hard-wired computer isn't hooking up, something is WRONG.
2:45-5 p.m.: I am on the phone with Charter. I type in a plethora of codes, unplug and plug in various cords, and listen to twelve messages about how I should upgrade my services. I make several panicked calls to Randy. In the meantime, I am calculating exactly what it means to be without e-mail. Nothing that the four Charter reps tell me to do works. One of them expresses disgust that we have an Apple mouse hooked up to our PC. I break out in a sweat and wish for a shower. The Charter guy finally tells me that he will send a technician out on MONDAY afternoon to take a look. I consider biting my nails or pulling out large handfuls of hair.
5 p.m.: I talk to BrownSugar. "What's wrong?" she asks. I tell her I am so frustrated I can hardly talk. She thinks I am crazy when I tell her it's the computer, not the kids!
5:15-45: Randy arrives home and calls Charter. He experiences all of the above (except for the sweating). But since he is a well-versed, experienced MAN who can speak computer-ese, he is finally able to get someone who tells him that Charter is experiencing major server problems and THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO ABOUT IT.
6 p.m.: My stomach is in knots, but we have a dinner engagement and head out. The first thing I see at this family's house is their laptop, sitting invitingly in the kitchen. I resist the urge to ask if I can check my email. (I don't know them well enough to do this.)
9 p.m.: I call Blogless Leigh to let her know the tragedy in our home. Mrs. Choco has already called to let them know. Blogless Leigh assures me that nothing is going on--that I'm not missing anything and that she's only received a few emails all day. But I am thinking about all the irons I have in the fire that require e-mail access, and I begin developing an ulcer.

Friday, Oct. 6
8:30-9:30 a.m.: Randy is on the phone with Charter again. The final answer: They've been updating software and ran into a major SNAFU. They'll "call" us when they have a solution. We both roll our eyes, sure we'll never get a phone call.
10 a.m.: I encourage the kids to hurry and get their work done so that we can head to Panera for lunch with the laptop. The phone calls begin: "You didn't answer my email, so I thought I'd better call and see if....."
12-12:45 p.m.: Miracle of miracles, the Charter guy actually calls just as we are about to leave for Panera. He has a solution that has been working for some customers, and it actually works!! I am back online! I quickly check my 70 emails and send couple of responses, but the kids are looking forward to Panera, so we head out before I have a chance to really catch-up. (We take our laptap to Panera just so that we can look cool and important.)
4:45 p.m.: We return from lunch, errands, and fencing. I have to get ready for a dinner, so again I don't have time to check things out.
11 p.m.: We return from our outing, and Randy reports that the internet is again out. I am much calmer now as I head to bed, pondering how I'll get stuff done this weekend without e-mail. And how can I feel fully refreshed without reading blogs? What if something exciting happens? Should I take up a new hobby?

Saturday, Oct. 7
8:30 a.m.: Randy turns back on the computers and plugs stuff back in, and all is well. We head off for soccer games.
1:30 p.m.: At last, the internet seems stable and I am back again, feeling tremendously relieved. Is there a lesson in all of this? Probably. I should probably say something profound, such as:
"Being without the intenet for nearly 48 hours caused me to reflect upon the ways in which I spend my leisure time and the tremendous dependence that our society places on being connected electronically. Because of the irrational trauma this caused in my personal life, I made a resolution that I would make a concerted effort to decrease my reliance upon electronic communication and spend more time speaking one-on-one with people, focusing more on interpersonal relationships at a face-to-face level. I resolved to return to actual hard-copy letter-writing and phone calls as a chief means of communication, and vowed to return to writing in a paper diary, rather than chronicling the details of my personal life in a public forum."

Yeah. I probably should say something like that, but I'm just so darn happy to be back in the Blogosphere!

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

October 3, 2006: Recipe: Pumpkin Roll

Pumpkin Roll
3 eggs
1C sugar
2/3 C canned pumpkin
1t lemon juice
3/4 C flour
1t baking powder
2t cinamon
1t ginger
1/2t nutmeg
1/2t salt
1C chopped pecans (optional)
powdered sugar

6 oz (8oz is ok) softened cream cheese
1 C powdered sugar
4 TB softened butter
1/2 t vanilla

Combine dry ingredients in bowl and set aside. Beat eggs for 5 minutes with mixer at high speed. Slowly add sugar while continuing to beat. Fold in pumpkin and lemon juice. Fold in dry ingredients. Fold in nuts. Spread into jelly roll pan or cookie sheet (with an edge). Bake 15 minutes at 325 degrees. Remove from oven and turn onto dish towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. Roll very carefully.

Filling: Combine all ingredients. Beat until smooth. When cake is completely cool unroll and remove towel. Spread with filling. Reroll covering with plastic wrap. Chill. Slice to serve.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Recipe: Baked Potato Soup and Cheese/Bacon Muffins

Baked Potato Soup

This is absolutely my favorite soup. I could eat this every day in the winter. It's really good with the Cheese and Bacon Muffins. You'll eat all the bacon you need for a month in one meal!

Baked Potato Soup
4 large baking potatoes, baked
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup flour
7 cups milk
4 green onions, sliced
1 (12-oz) package bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
8 oz. sour cream
3/4 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Cut baked potatoes in half lengthwise; scoop out pulp and mash coarsely. Discard shells (or save them for potato skins). Melt butter over low heat (I use my cast-iron skillet for this). Whisk in flour. Cook 1 minute, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in milk. Cover over medium heat, whisking, until bubbly and thickened. Stir in potato pulp and green onions. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Add bacon and remaining ingredients. Stir until cheese melts. Serve.

Cheese and Bacon Muffins
1 lb. bacon
1/2 c. finely chopped green onions
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
3 cups flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 TB. sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
3 T. mustard (optional)
3 TB. shortening, melted and cooled
2 cups extra-sharp cheddar, shredded

Cook bacon until crisp. Drain, reserving 2 TB of drippings. Crumble bacon. Saute onions, salt, and pepper in bacon drippings until tender. Combine dry ingredients. Combine eggs, milk, mustrad, shortening, and green onion mixture. Add to dry ingredients, stirring until just moistened. Sitre in cheese and bacon. Spoon into greased muffins pans. Bake at 375 for 20 min. or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes a little more than a dozen.