Sunday, September 30, 2007


September 30, 2007

"Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to his disciples, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest'" (Mark 6:31).

Today was one of those days in church that I just wanted to curl up in a quiet corner. I was overwhelmed with the entity known as corporate worship. The low hum of whispers. The tiny chatter of children. The zipping of bags and rustling of bulletins. The out-of-sync bass and--most jarring of all--the carillon of the organ during communion. 'Most any other Sunday and I would have soaked it all in. But today I needed to be in a quiet place: a corner, the beach, the mountains.

There are times when corporate worship is too much for me. My soul yearns for solitude. In Sunday School we studied Psalm 23, and that the picture I hung onto was of resting on the grass by the river, just breathing in the good, clean air.

Next weekend we are headed to the mountains. I need them. It is in the musty smells of the forest, the feel of wood and soil, the sounds of birds and crickets where I can be truly still. Where I can listen, and hear, and breathe. And worship.

Field Trip: Fort Loudoun

September 8, 2007

Ft. Loudoun State HIstoric Area is at the site one of the earliest British fortifications on the western frontier, built in 1756 during the French and Indian War. Each September, the fort becomes the site of an 18th-Century Trade Faire. We've been wanting to go to this for years but something always seems to interfere. Randy and Jesse went rafting with the Boy Scouts, so Duncan, Laurel and I seized the day.

Here's a view of one part of the fort. During the Trade Faire weekend, hundreds of reenactors, tradesmen, and entertainers gather to recreate a colonial trade faire. Each building in the garrison is open and reenactors explain what would have been there. We especially enjoyed the infirmary--something about that amputation saw was chilling. The battle reenactment was great fun. As our friend and reenactor Chris explained, "We (the Blue guys) lose today, but tomorrow the Red Coats lose."

Notice the plethora of dead Blue guys and the victorious Red Coat. After the battle we headed over to the magic show. Laurel and Duncan both got to help the magician with some of his tricks:

What an awesome afternoon! Those guys had to be boiling up in their outfits on this 95 degree day, but they sure made it look like fun. Chris was a fabulous tour guide. It's good to have friends in high places. Here is Laurel with Bess, in her outfit. How adorable is she in her finery?

(That's Duncan and Janice behind them in the infirmary, learning all the gory details of tooth-pulling.) And below are the tents in which the reenactors sleep during the weekend. Makes me happy for my bed tonight. But still, it looks like fun.

Ft. Loudoun is about 30 minutes south of Knoxville in Vonore on Highway 411. Right across the road from Ft. Loudoun is the equally interesting Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, which is a fabulous museum of the history of the Cherokee in Eastern Tennessee and of the writing system developed by Sequoyah. Both the museums are open every day for a small admission fee. Ft. Loudoun has several upcoming living history and garrison weekends, which are listed on the website.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I found a red leaf today

September 29, 2007

It is early for the maples to be coloring and dropping; still, a red leaf is a good occasion for another autumn poem or two. Here's a very cool thing: DLTK has all kinds of autumn poetry (not fluffy rhymes but actual Keats and such) with graphics on it for coloring. Very nice for those notebooks! This week in my American Lit class we'll be studying Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, and so:

Nature XXVII, Autumn

by Emily Dickinson
The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Friday, September 28, 2007


September 28, 2007

Boy, I gotta confess. Sometimes reading blogs is just downright demoralizing. So I've been running all day and haven't had time to read blogs or even read my emails until 10 p.m. And I don't recommend reading a whole bunch of blogs at once because some people have been just way too productive this week.

Take the mom who does this freakishly intense artist and composer study each Friday. Oh yeah!! That used to be me! I used to call each Friday, "Fine Arts Friday." Now I call it: "Yay! Friday!"

Or the mom who blogged about her day as she and her little ones who sat in the meadow amidst the late-blooming wildflowers quietly sketching in the nature journals. Hmmpf. I watched my little one watching his little friend pee against a tree in the city park. Now that's a nature study!

So I was demoralized for about a second. But I can quickly click off of those blogs and look at my day in retrospect. The sky was blue. The trees are just lightening a shade. My children sat amidst a swarm of friends while watching the play "The Magician's Nephew" at the theatre. I spent a delicious hour in the sunshine with other moms while our kids played in the park. My children laughed, and buried their toes in the sand, and sweat profusely. Later, we enjoyed an afternoon at horseback riding lessons with more friends, the smell of horses, and more blue sky. And in the evening, dinner with lovely friends.

And so. Underachiever is a misnomer, truly. I have not achieved today a mastery of artistry or a history of a musical composition. My children wrote no poetry nor memorized multiplication facts. But tonight these people of ours are content in their beds, the little ones asleep with their smelly feet and sweaty heads, and the oldest yakking away like a teenager (oh--he is a teenager!) on the phone. And there is a cool breeze coming through the open windows and a good book to read. Achieve: to complete successfully. A good day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Book Review: Helen Keller's Teacher

September 25, 2007

"Teacher, don't talk like that [about your impending death]!" her friend cried out. "You must not leave us. Helen would be nothing without you!"
"Then I would have failed," Annie snapped. For her whole life had been dedicated to making Helen Keller free — free even of Teacher.

I just finished reading this book by Mickie (Margaret) Davidson out loud to Laurel. She could certainly have read it to herself, but I really wanted to share this one with her. I think it was about the 118th time in my life I've read this book about Annie Sullivan, and I still got all choked up. I can think of no other book that I read so often in my childhood. I don't know why this story appealed to me more than the biography of Helen Keller herself, but it was always Annie Sullivan's story that I came back to again and again. The girl with the scratchy eyes and terrible temper, the scenes in the poorhouse, her brother's tubercular hip--all those images were so familiar to me as I read the book to my daughter. And she loved it. I would have been terribly disappointed if she hadn't been enthralled! We have also read Helen Keller's story and watched both the Nest video and The Miracle Worker, but Helen Keller's Teacher is still my favorite.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Curriculum Review: Top Secret Adventure and Which Way USA

September 21, 2007

My friend Tammy, who is a curriculum junkie, introduced me to Highlight's world geography club, Top Secret Adventures. Having joined Book of the Month Club many times in my life with disastrous results, I am always skeptical of mail-order book clubs; however, I was intrigued by Top Secret Adventures. The idea is that your child is a secret agent in the Country-of-the-Month (Japan begins the series), and s/he has to solve the crime/mystery by traveling around the country, finding clues. "Travel" around the country is provided through puzzles of all sorts, map work, and searching the guidebook. The guidebook and puzzle book contain loads of information about the particular country. Laurel was 9 when we began this series, and she was just old enough to enjoy it. She was excited each time one would come in the mail. We didn't get to all of the kits and have moved on from World History for now, so I have stored the unopened countries and canceled our subscription for now.

This year we are studying American History, so I've ordered the Which Way U.S.A instead series instead. Much like the Top Secret program, Which Way USA provides a nice state map and a puzzle book with each state (two come per month). My only gripe so far is that the New York puzzle book spent about 98% of the book on New York City and 2% on the rest of the state, which is disappointingly typical.

The books are colorful (but not too busy) and filled with facts and tidbits of information about people and places. The information is presented in a way that is appealing to my 5th grader--short snippets and not terribly overbearing. (She's my "bells and whistles" girl.) My 1st-grader is not terribly interested, and my 9th-grader would rather just find the capital and a few major cities, as well as famous people from the state, and be done with it. We use these Highlights' clubs in conjunction with Geography Matters' Trail Guides and Mark-it Maps to round out our geography program.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

September Applesauce

September 20, 2007


by: Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

HE golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.

The gentian's bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook.

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes' sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.

By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer's best of weather,
And autumn's best of cheer.

But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.

'T is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.

"September" is reprinted from Poems. Helen Jackson. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1892.

Truly Luscious Applesauce

About 8 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into fourths
1/2-1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2-1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions: Put the apples in a pot. Add everything else. Cook slowly with lid on for about 20-30 minutes, mashing the apples occasionally and stirring. Take the lid off the last 10 minutes to thicken, but be sure to stir to keep from scorching.

Applesauce is good for you, and it makes your house smell good. Make some. Serve it with biscuits for lunch outside and you'll surely catch a whiff of the approaching autumn.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What We Learned in American History Today

September 18, 2007

Me: So, what do you think was more significant? Columbus landing in the New World or the astronauts landing on the moon? And why?

Her: Well, probably Columbus. Because otherwise we wouldn't all be over here in America and way too many people would be in Egypt.

Me: (after recuperating from us both laughing hysterically...Egypt??) So, can you think of other places in the United States or South American that are named for Columbus?

Her: Columbus, Indiana.... Columbus, Ohio.... Columbus, Virginia---no, Virginia is where all the communists were!

Go figure. (She meant: colonies.)

All in a day's work....

Monday, September 17, 2007

Monday Memory: I Was a Teen-Age Cheerleader

September 17, 2007

So last week in my American Literature class at our co-op, we were discussing stereotypes. I asked the kids to give me some stereotypes and the first one that came up was: cheerleaders. "Cheerleaders are dumb, annoying, airheads, giggly, stupid, sleazy, etc. etc." I let them go on and on with their thinly disguised disdain of cheerleaders (note that these are all homeschooled kids who aren't even walking the hallways with these cheerleaders).

And then I said, "Hmm. But, um, I was a cheerleader." Oh, the delight of seeing their jaws drop as I shattered their stereotype.

Not dumb. Not sleazy. Not terribly annoying. OK, maybe a bit of an airhead and somewhat giggly, but aren't most teenage girls? Oops. That was a stereotype. And so yes, I told them, cheerleaders can actually go on to lead productive lives. A former cheerleader is your teacher. And I'm smart. (Plus, how great did I look in those socks?)

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Deep Breath

September 14, 2007

It was one of those weeks. Dr. H. and I realized that if we could survive this week and remain sane, then we would be in good shape. Exhausted, but in good shape. This was one of those weeks when everything was happening. Enrichment classes and show choir on Monday. Swim team, Biology class, the World's Biggest Blog Party, and Book Club on Tuesday. Music lessons and church on Wednesday, with Randy and I beginning our first of 20 weeks facilitating a parenting class. Thursday brought art and then our first meeting day for Cub Scouts and American Heritage Girls. Duncan was ecstatic about last week's pack meeting and couldn't believe that he actually got to start den meetings this week. Here he is with his buddy Noah. And yes, they are both first graders. Duncan's really, really tall for his age, and Jen Mc's Noah is a bit on the wee side!

We kicked off our American Heritage Girls' year by making AHG t-shirts. It was an ambitious undertaking, but the results were well worth it. Here's Laurel making hers:

By the end of our meeting we had 70 shirts spread out drying by the parking lot and lots of very messy girls! While we encourage girls to wear their uniforms for meetings, we often ask them to wear their "Spirtwear" tees on field trip or messy craft days. They had a blast and the results were unique to each girl.

The first meeting is always chaotic. Parents have questions, girls are everywhere, papers need to be filled out and money paid. By the end of the meeting, Caroline and I were utterly exhausted and still had cleaning up to do. And dinner to get at home, and kids to soccer and to bed and.... Thank goodness for Friday! With just swim team, horseback riding, and Boy Scouts, the day has seemed a breeze. And, oh yeah! We actually had a great week of homeschooling at home, too!

The spinning has now officially stopped. Because this week contained so many fall "firsts" (swim team, Wednesday night church, AHG, and Cub Scouts) and some extra evening events (Book Club and Blog Party), as well as some regular "every-other-week" activities (Boy Scouts and horseback riding), we were absolutely swamped. And it feels so good to come up for air and know we made it through. A lazy Friday night and the weekend ahead are sure to be luxurious.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti

September 6, 2007

News headlines today cry, "Heaven now has a tenor," and I think, "How silly." But then I allowed myself to imagine for a moment, not the anemic gold-winged fluffy angels with harmonious choir voices stereotypcially depicted as Heaven's choir, but... Pavarotti himself, the King of Tenors. Add to Pavarotti the other Two Tenors. And then a whole string of tenors, baritones, sopranos, and more who have raised goosebumps on the arms and brought inexplicable tears into the eyes of millions of people. Just for the sheer, God-given beauty of their voices. Imagine.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dream Day

September 5, 2007

As Laurel was getting ready for bed the other night, she described her dream day to me. She said, "I want a day when I can get up, watch 'The Waltons' and 'Little House on the Prairie' all morning, play on the computer whenever I want and as much as I want, talk on the phone, play in my room, and eat anything I want." So I made her a deal: if she gives me three solid weeks of no complaining, she can have her dream day.

And now I'm thinking: I want that day! I want a day in which I do only what I want to do. I want to spend hours at the computer if I want to. Read books. Eat chips. Talk on the phone, maybe. I want a whole day in which I never have to referee fights or fix a meal, get snacks, or say, "no." Actually, I want two days. The first day would be cleaning day, because I couldn't properly enjoy my All-About-Me Day if my house were dirty. So two days: one for cleaning, and one for lounging.

So if I have three solid weeks of no complaining, I wonder if my Dream Day(s) will materialize...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Someone Has Kidnapped the Professor

September 4, 2007

Is this some kind of midlife crisis? First, there was all that unclogging and wiring.

On Labor Day, he labored. With tools.

On the day after Labor Day, he labored even more. With more tools.

Phase 1 of The Treehouse is now completed, and the structure completely sturdy. Come on over and jump on the platform and drop parachutes off the side! And who knew how enticing math can be if a child can take her books up into the treehouse?

Jesse now has an actual DOOR to his bedroom. For these past seven years, he has endured having only a blanket draped in the doorway. For seven years, we've been saying, "We need to get Jesse a door." And today, this man who spends his days sequencing DNA and other mysterious stuff, put up a completely functional door.

Blogless Leigh says I shouldn't post about Dr. H's great accomplishments. She says it will make other wives jealous and will cause husbands to feel inferior. Ha. Eat your hearts out! I've got me a hammering, sawing, sweaty professor. And a treehouse. (But no, Neal, not a shelf.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

Monday Memory: Comfort Zone

September 3, 2007

Yep, OK--laugh away, people. That is me in a leotard looking dreamily into space, which is what teenage girls used to do. And the segue into this memory....This afternoon I watched my little girl venture outside her comfort zone. She really, really, really wanted to do this new Show Choir that is part of Southern Kids in Theater (SKIT). The only thing is...none of her friends signed up in time, so she had to decide to do something brand new without any of her trusty sidekicks. So I got to thinking about various times that I stepped out of my comfort zone when I was a girl to do something I really wanted to do. I remembered several, but this particular memory comes with a photograph, thus--the memory of me as dancer.

My senior year in high school I finally did something I'd always wanted to do: take a dance class. Modern Dance was an elective in our school, and a couple of my friends had been taking it for years. I never considered myself to be of the dancing type, although I'd always secretly yearned for ballet shoes, a tight bun (that's singular) and a supremely arched back. Boy, was it ever fun masquerading as a dancer that year! I was way out of my comfort zones: the water (swimming and sailing), the slopes (skiing), the band (flute and piccolo), and the books. I am ever so glad I took the chance that year of being foolish. I had such a great time and learned all kinds of things. My friend Robin and I choreographed a dance for our final project and got to perform it on stage. I learned about Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan. AND--I got to wear a leotard.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Date Night

September 2, 2007

Yep, we had another of our fabulous date nights tonight. Because this date lasted for hours and hours, the kids were often part of it. Sometimes they ran away. In Jesse's case, sometimes far, far away with his hands over his ears. (But just a couple of times. )This evening's date featured Taking Turns Finding YouTube Videos. Who knows what got into us after supper? We were just sitting around after a meal of Randy’s Famous Sunday Night Fried Rice, and we had a hankering for just one harmless music video (Depeche Mode, "Somebody"), and it ended four hours later with Harry Chapin's "Taxi." In between was an eclectic mix from Billy Joel to Don McLean to Rush and all sorts of old favorites. We also had a special viewing of "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "The Marvelous Toy" for Duncan and Laurel, who were flitting here and there during much of this music video feast. And hey! Some of the videos were actually karaoke-fied, so some lyrics that have been mysteries for 25 years were cleared up tonight. Like, in Dan Fogelberg's "Another Auld Lang Syne," the line actually says, "She said she'd married her an architect." I always that it was "army tech."

Who says date nights can't be educational as well as entertaining?