Friday, April 27, 2007

Duncan's First Lost Tooth

April 27, 2007

In case we didn't have enough exciting things going on around here this week, Duncan also lost his first tooth! We were surprised to see that permanent tooth already popping through behind it. I'm always amazed at how these perfect baby teeth have the potential to yield a mouthful of unwieldy permanent teeth. Will he succumb to the genetic pool of the combined Cummins/Small families and need braces? How could he not?

But at this moment of the first lost tooth, Duncan's quote as he looked at his mouth in the mirror really sums it all up: "Awesome! Blood! A bloody pool!"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Dr. Hibiscus...

April 22, 2007

He's a funny guy. He's a botany/genetics professor by day and just a regular guy on weekends when he's going to (the) Wal-Mart to get new tires put on his 15-year-old, beat-up, ripped-up, moldy-looking car. And when he says in all seriousness, when I ask how soon until he is leaving, "I just gotta duct-tape my hat before I go."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Planning a Homeschooling 101

April 20, 2007

I’ve had several emails about how to have a Homeschooling 101, so I’ll share here what our support group does. We started holding an annual Homeschooling 101 about six years ago, and it has continued to be an excellent way of providing information to potential homeschoolers in our area.

1) The first step is to gather a crew. You’ll need a leader and a few willing workers initially.
2) Pick a date that works for you and your crew. We like March or April because this seems like the time when parents are really thinking about the next year—and because our public schools do “Kindergarten Round-up” about this time. We’ve done weekday evenings or Saturdays with equal success. Whatever works for your crew is the best choice.
3) Have someone order (and store) catalogs. One mom called or emailed dozens of curriculum providers and asked for 30 catalogs each. She ended up with 2 full tables’ worth of catalogs, from the hefty Rainbow Resource to one-page flyers. The new Sonlight catalogs went like hotcakes!
4) Reserve your location. We have traditionally used a church; however, this year we reserved a room at our local public library for a nominal fee. We had our best turn-out ever this year, and I suspect that having the meeting in a neutral location helped.
5) Advertise—for free. About 3 weeks before the event, I send a blurb to our three local papers (one daily and two weekly). They post this in their “Calendar” section for free. We also send the announcement around to several homeschooling yahoogroups, both local and state-wide. Some years we have put flyers in the library and at local Christian bookstores, as well. This is the blurb I send to the papers:
“Homeschooling 101: Are you considering home education but don't know where to start? Blount Home Education Association (BHEA) will be holding its annual Homeschooling 101 seminar at the Blount County Public Library's Dorothy Herron rooms on Saturday, April 14, 12-2 p.m. This free program will present the basics of home education, including getting started, registering, choosing curriculum, socialization concerns, and much more. Curriculum tables will also be set up so that participants can examine various types of curricula. This seminar is free and open to the public. For more information, please call Sarah Small at ___-____ or visit BHEA's website at”
6) Ask for help from your members. We try to get 6-10 members to set up “Curriculum Share” tables the day of the event. Basically, they just bring a bunch of their materials and set up a table. After our Intro talk, they chat with newbies in a casual setting. No sales, just sharing. Often our current members will come just for this part of the session so that they can get their hands on specific books and talk to a user. This is always a highlight of the day! Not only do people get to really look at what homeschoolers do, but they get to talk to veterans—and find out that we’re not super moms. Just regular folks who educate at home.
7) Have your group’s membership person get information together: membership forms, nametags, brochures, ID cards, or whatever your group offers. Ask your membership coordinator to be there that day, or assign someone to man that table.
8) Enlist someone to present the Basics talk. More on that later.

The Event
1) Thirty minutes should be enough to set up, unless you need to set out tables, etc. (The library had this all ready for us.) Make sure the registration/membership info table is in an obvious place. We have people sign in, pay for membership if they wish, and give them the hand-outs. The can pick up catalogs at this time, too.
Our Hand-out packet includes:
* Outline of Homeschooling Basics Talk
* 50 Reasons to Homeschool
* List of Umbrellas (Church-related schools) in our area
* List of Resources for Homeschooling Information (not exhaustive, but includes a decent number of internet sites, books, and magazines);
* List of curriculum providers (obviously not an exhaustive list, but we try to hit “the biggies”);
* List of activities, services our support group provides
* List of possible field trips and opportunities in our area
* Article: Dispelling the Myths of Homeschooling

2) We start with a Homeschooling Basics talk. We cover: Introduction (including reasons to homeschool at); State Homeschooling Regulations; Approaches to Homescholling; Joining a Support Group; and Choosing Curriculum. This talk takes about 50 minutes. I take a very casual approach to this and ask for questions during and between each topic. Several of our veteran members are scattered throughout the audience and interject information as appropriate.

3) Curriculum Tables: After the questions seem to have stopped, we send people off to browse the tables for the next hour. This is when a huge amount of learning and networking goes on, as our members talk with new/potential homeschoolers in a one-on-one setting.

4) We were limited to 2 hours at the library, and this worked perfectly. In other years, we’ve had an all-day event in which we break for lunch and then have concurrent sessions in the afternoon. Our sessions have included: what to do with the little ones while you are schooling; what does a day in homeschooling look like; how to homeschool high-schoolers; discovering learning styles; how to start kindergarten, etc. This was also a wonderful approach to Homeschooling 101, but it does require a lot more work on the coordinators’ parts, more volunteers, and a bigger time commitment all around. This past year we’ve had monthly roundtable discussion groups that address these topics and others while we have coffee at Panera.

Offering a Homeschooling 101 is a fantastic tool to reach out to those considering homeschooling wherever you live. Anyone who has homeschooled for any amount of time has something valuable to say or share, and you never know who in your city might be searching for someone else who has chosen this journey!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Homeschooling 101

April 14, 2007

Homeschooling 101 makes me happy. I am happy that it is over--that is true. It's one of those BIG checks off the never-ending To-Do list. But I love the opportunity to get to speak to people who are earnestly seeking out information about homeschooling. It actually thrills me to be able to encourage them. Our support group started this about 6 years ago. We take about 45 minutes to give the bare bones of homeschooling: homeschooling law in the state, approaches to homeschooling, reasons to homeschool, how to figure out what to do in your own home, etc. We open up the floor to Q&A and then take the next hour for curriculum browsing and more personal Q&A. Usually 6-12 members set up their own "Curriculum Share" tables. Participants can get their hands on the materials and talk to the users in a no-sales environment. This is an awesome time for new folks to really see what is available out there. Their faces get so excited when they see the possibilities for real, outside the walls, learning! (Current homeschoolers also enjoy this part if they have been wanting to see what others use.) We also have stacks of catalogs provided by various companies that folks can take home and peruse. (And TOS was lovely enough to give a free subscription as a doorprize.) We had about 30 potential homeschoolers attend today's seminar. I am so inspired to see all these families taking a long, honest look at their children's education. I know that our goal is to encourage them, but they certainly do encourage those of us in this journey already!

Next on the list: should I get my classes ready for Monday or find a warm blanket and read my latest book? Um, book.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

April 12, 2007

So it goes.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1922-2007

"To whom it may concern: It is springtime. It is late afternoon." Literary giant Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., died today at the age of 84. He was the author of such classics as Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. I became obsessed with Vonnegut in my senior year of college, and I even did an entire independent study class on him. I read every single novel and collection of Vonnegut. I began speaking like him and writing like him. I filled notebooks with his quotations, underlined and starred his works, and urged my friends to read him. I wanted desperately to meet him. I felt, in fact, as if I knew him quite well. He was a profound satirist and an acute reader of human nature. I believe he lived in a constant state of perplexity that humans could have so much beauty and so much cruelty. Kurt Vonnegut wasn't for everyone. Some were appalled by his brusqueness and his often disgusted assessment of humans. To me, he was the voice that spanned many generations.

"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center. "

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Support Group Leaders Need Your Support

April 10, 2007

I am not a support group leader anymore. For four years, I poured hours and hours each week--physically, mentally, and emotionally--into serving our support group. A year ago I gave my notice and then stepped off the board at the first of August (the beginning of our new year). I began as the newsletter editor/communications coordinator and ended as a communications support person and as part of the enrichment class team.

Our group's mission has always been to support and encourage area homeschooling families in various ways. But keeping one's eyes on the mission is difficult in the midst of dissension. And there is nearly always dissension. Homeschoolers are an independent and opinionated lot in general. Some are downright difficult. Right now I am heavy with empathy as our leadership struggles with rumors and hearsay. What is so difficult about being in leadership is that you just can't tell "the whole story" without airing "the victim's" (and I say that with very large quotes around the word) dirty laundry. You have to trust the Lord that all secrets will be revealed in their own time, and that the Truth will prevail. Phew. That is hard to do when your name is being dragged through the red clay. Even if only a couple of people are doing the dragging.

But here's what pulls a leader through: the sweet voices of encouragement. It is in our nature as humans to dwell on those tiny out-of-tune soloists of criticism while ignoring the choir of support. Isn't that crazy? And here is my message to anyone who belongs to a support group: let your leaders know you appreciate them. Send them emails. Tell them how important the group is to them. Don't buy into the rumors you might hear circulating, and by all means, don't participate in the speculation that stems from such situations. Chances are that most members have no idea of the dramas that go on, because I have seen gentle, kind-hearted women take a verbal beating and go on to plan classes or prepare an upcoming seminar with smiles on their faces. Don't forget to pray for your leaders. And if you have something you can add to a group--and everyone does--don't hesitate to offer. There is nothing more encouraging to a leader that these two phrases: "Thank you!" and "How can I help?"

Monday, April 9, 2007

Monday Memory: Easter Dresses

April 9, 2007

There is something so precious about a little girl's Easter dress. Laurel is about 4 in this picture. I remember everything about that dress--picking it out, letting her buy the hat, the little white shoes. What I can't remember is her at that age. Why is it so easy to remember the scuff marks on a shoe but so hard to remember the sound of a little one's voice or the roundness of her face? I am so thankful to have this vast store of photos. Scrolling through iPhoto, I am always struck by my children when they were about 1, 4, and 8. I have so little memory of those days. Was I so swamped with mothering, so exhausted, or what? I can remember all kinds of details about Jesse's first four years and Laurel's first two, but somehow I've lost Duncan's baby years. I am sad about that. Or maybe I just miss having a baby...

But I digress. Buying the requisite Easter dress is always a joy for me, and it's just as fun now that Laurel picks out the dress with me. This year she and her friend Caitlin bought the same dress in different colors, and their American Girl and Bitty baby dolls were all decked out, as well. I hope these dress and doll days last a long, long time.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

A Weekend of Jollification

April 8, 2007

"Jollification" has become a favorite addition to our lingo this week. Laurel and I encountered it while reading Christy and have decided to incorporate this mountain term into our daily conversation. This has, indeed, been a weekend of jollification, as we celebrated our mother's 80th birthday and our Lord's resurrection.

The party was not exactly a surprise to my mother, but the day still held some surprises. My brother Stephen drove in from New York. Here he is in the backyard, explaining the rules of Ladder Golf to my mother. He made her a Ladder Golf game for her birthday, and we all had a blast playing. This is a great family game. You can see what it looks like here, but my brother made his with PVC pipe, electrical tape, and golf balls.

Uncle Max, my mother's older brother, drove down from Illinois for the party; Ellen and her husband Justus came down from Kentucky. The rest of us are local, but Mom is always at her happiest when we are all together. Of course it wouldn't be a family gathering without a rousing game of basketball. This time our brother John broke--or dislocated--his finger for some added excitement. Duncan and Laurel go wild with excitement when my niece April and her husband Jeremy bring Jeremy's kids, who are just the ages of Duncan and Laurel. Here are Laurel and Carena enjoying being cousins. (No doubt Duncan and Xavier were off running loudly through the house at the time of this picture.)

After an afternoon of games and food, we presented Mom with the photo album we made for her through This awesome 100-page album spanned all 80 years, from 1927 to last week. Watching Mom and Dad revisit all these years through photos was precious. (I highly recommend these Winkflash books, by the way. Easy to do and look fabulous.)

We were all exhausted by the end of the day, but I know Mom had a wonderful celebration. I was amazed that they made it to Sunrise Service this morning. We, however, did not. We were even late for Sunday School, which is very unusual. After church, we invited our friends the Freenys home for left-over party fare and a last-minute Easter egg hunt. We enjoyed an afternoon of good conversation, and the kids enjoyed a few hours of good, solid playtime.

Laurel's an old pro at finding eggs...

Duncan's yelling, "Come on up, Emmy!"

Emily, in her beautiful Easter dress, is trying to climb up the rusty old ladder to where Duncan is high in the tree, but as she says, "This dress keeps getting in my way!"

And so the weekend comes to a close. For the rest of last week's events, check out the photos as my Project 365 Blog. Tomorrow is a break from our enrichment classes, and I am glad, as it is my parents' last day here. Tuesday their car will be loaded down with boxes and suitcases, and they'll head back up to New York until next November.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Party Day

April 7, 2007

You paid attention during 100% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Now that I'm feeling good about myself after taking this no doubt highly accurate and scientific quiz, Do You Deserve Your High School Diploma?, I'm off to start my day. Today is my mother's 80th birthday party, which is supposed to be a surprise. Somebody spilled the beans, so it won't be a complete surprise; but what she doesn't know is that our 4th brother is flying in from New York and my uncle (her brother) has come from Illinois. My 2nd and 3rd brothers and I made a beautiful photo album (make your own book at for Mom that spans her 80 years, and the whole family--grandkids and all--will be here except our oldest brother (and if he came, we'd all be struck mute!). Four hours until chaos...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Monday Memory: Lake Santee

April 2, 2007

For the first 16 months of Jesse's life, we lived in Oxford, Ohio (20 minutes north of Cincinnati) while Randy finished his master's degree at Miami University. This put us 45 minutes from Randy's parents in Greensburg, Indiana. They have a house on Lake Santee, which is largely a motorboat and pontoon boat lake. Living near Randy's parents was awesome with that first grandchild. We often went over on Sundays, as on this Easter day when Jesse had just celebrated his first birthday. Randy's dad died 8 years ago,but his mom, now remarried, has continued to live there on the lake. The kids love to visit Grandma there. There is something about a body of water that mesmerizes--calms--my children. Give them a creek, a river, a lake, and they are perfectly happy.

But for some time now, Randy's mom has been ready to move South. She wants to be nearer to us and Randy's brother in Charlotte. She called tonight to say that they are passing through this week to look at new places to live. Greeneville (is it NC or SC?) is their top choice right now, as it's close to both Knoxville and Charlotte. They plan to put their house on the market as soon as they get back next week. You'd think the kids would be thrilled that Grandma will be a couple of hours closer, but they are focused on only one thing: missing Lake Santee. I am suddenly sad for them. There is an ache that comes with missing a favorite childhood place. I still miss the house I lived in as a child; it's the one that still comes to me in dreams. And I still miss my oldest brother's orchard, where I spent so many weekends of my childhood. There are places we can never return to that hold bits of who we are. In ten years our kids will look at photos of Grandma's house and say, "I remember that deck!" and "Remember that awesome basement?" I'm hoping we have a chance to make a trip to Lake Santee before the property sells...

Pangs of Failure...

April 2, 2007

It was bad enough that Laurel said to me this evening, "Who IS Rumpelstilskin, anyway?" (She is doing a play in her Readers Theatre class in which the famous little man appears.) I promised her that she really has heard the story before, although it has probably been many years, and that I will read it to her tomorrow. So then not more than an hour later, Duncan and I finish reading the first in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh (and this particular story he has practically memorized thanks to audiobooks), when he says, "What is a Heffalump, anyway?" Ouch! Rumplestilskin gives me a brief pang of guilt. I've never been huge on fairy tales, but I have intended to cover the basics. But Heffalumps and Woozles! How could a child reach the age of 6 in our home and not know about Heffalumps and Woozles? The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh is a book that we read cover-to-cover to Jesse, our firstborn, several times after he received it as a gift at the age of 3. Several times!! But child #3 probably knows little more than the basic stories of Pooh in a very tight place and Pooh and the bees. I am confronted with true literary failure.

So the book is now next to Duncan's bed, waiting for Daddy to continue reading at bedtime. By the end of the month, Duncan will know all about Heffalumps. And tomorrow I'll find a copy of Rumplestilskin, and while I'm at it I'd better tackle all the other fairy tales I've probably neglected to tell to the younger two. That first kid gets all the good stuff!