Friday, October 31, 2008

Many Beautiful Things: The Soup and Pumpkin Party

(Photo by Lynn Freeny)

It's all worth it: the furious cleaning, the flurry of shopping and last-minute trips to (the) Walmart(s), the sticky floor the next day. This is our big event of the year: our annual Soup and Pumpkin Party.

(Photo by Lynn Freeny)

Once again, the weather was perfect for an evening of festivities. Chilly enough to warrant pots of soup, but not too cold for plenty of running around outside and, of course, pumpkin carving.

So here's how it works: everyone brings a pot of soup, a dessert or appetizer, and pumpkins to carve. Fitting 60 people in our house can be challenging, but we are blessed to have a big yard and an attached apartment for extra room. This year we had a dozen pots of soup, from Elixir of Portobello to Pumpkin Curry. We had candy-corn snack mix, candy-corn cookies, candy-corn popcorn palls, and a chocolate cake adorned with candy corn. I think I can safely say that my craving for candy corn has been satisfied.

There is little organization to the rest of the evening, other than eating, chatting, running amok, and eventually, carving.

I love to hear people say, "This is my child's favorite event of the year." This is all about creating memories and fostering tradition. Perhaps some of these 40+ children will go on to host their own Soup and Pumpkin Party in another 20 years or so. In the meantime, I hope they come back every year, and someday bring their spouses and their kids, and more soup.

But first—we'll have to add on to our kitchen.

(And I was amused to see that I ended last year's Soup and Pumpkin Party entry with this line: "Next year, perhaps the kitchen will be painted and the shelf hung." I am happy to report that both have been done!)

* Thanks to our friend Lynn Freeny for his amazing photography. Check out his spectacular gallery here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Homeschool Memoirs #11: Field Trips

This week's Homeschool Memoirs asks for our favorite field trip. Field trips are, of course, one of the huge benefits of homeschooling. I couldn't possibly list on the field trips we've been on, but some recurring favorite ones are:
• The Symphony (we're headed to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra this morning, in fact)
• Local historic sites like Fort Loudoun
• Children's museums, like this one in Oak Ridge
• Nature centers like Ijams
• Plays, especially those at the Oak Ridge Playhouse

But I do have two very favorite field trips. The first: In the Smokies. I know that for millions of people, coming to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a very big deal, even a once-in-a-lifetime trip, like Yosemite would be for us. But for my family, the GSMNP is our big backyard. We go there often, and I never cease to be amazed at the sheer beauty of creation. We've gone to the Smokies mostly just for hiking and camping, but we've also gone for numerous field trips put on by the park rangers or other sources.

My second favorite field trip thus far, to Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown , was one we took last year to go along with our year in American History (up to 1800). That was such a fantastic trip, and it's all detailed in the link above! I'm hoping that at the end of this year, when we "finish" American History, we'll be able to take a trip to Washington, D.C.

Wanna play? Visit Homeschool Memoirs at the link above!

See Memoir #10 here: 10 Timely Facts
(I opted out of Memoir #9)
See Memoir #8 here: Study Spot
See Memoir #7 here: Snacks
See Memoir #6 here: Summer Photo Essay
See Memoir #5 here: My Favorite Things
See Memoir #4 here: Something New
See Memoir #3 here: Routines
See Memoir #2 here: Agendas
See Memoir #1 here: All About Me

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Three Beautiful Things: Chilly Morning

1. Waking up late: I've had a string of early mornings, but this morning the sun seemed reluctant to rise and I slept late and warm.

2. Kids in blankets: We haven't turned the heat on yet, but the kids don't care. They've dragged out warm blankets and I woke to find them wrapped in afghans in the living room.

3. My favorite gray sweater: Still smelling faintly of cedar from its summer storage spot. The sweater and two cups of coffee: delicious warmth.

What beautiful things are in your life today?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday Memory: Ralph M. Small

Randy's dad, Ralph M. Small, would celebrated his 91st birthday yesterday. He would have enjoyed going to a restaurant and ordered a rare steak, a loaded baked potato, and a slice of pie with ice cream. I only knew him for the last ten years of his life, and for most of those years he waged a quiet war against prostate cancer. He died 10 years ago, and he is missed.

I remember Ralph mostly as a dignified, well-dressed gentleman who always had a funny story to relate to any situation. He had been a minister for 25 years at a tiny church in rural Illinois, and ministers seem to have an inexhaustible supply of stories. I met him when Randy and I began dating in college, and he was nearing retirement after another full 25-year-career for Standard Publishing in Cincinnati.

(It was during his time in Cincinnati that Ralph, a bachelor at age 60, married Randy's mom and adopted Randy and his brother Greg, who was 16. Randy began a new life at age 10, with a new dad, in a new city, and with a new last name. Ralph had known and loved the boys all their lives, and making the transition to Ralph-as-Dad was an easy one for Randy. But that's another story.)

When our Jesse was born, Ralph became a doting Grandpa. He carted Jesse around in the front carrier and later sat him, as all grandfathers must do, in front of him on the riding lawn mower, in the van, and in the motorboat. He purely knew that boys need to steer. I don't believe this man, who had never had small children of his own, ever grew tired of playing with Jesse.

By the time Laurel was born, Ralph was fading quickly. I'm sorry he never got to dote much on his granddaughter the way he did on Jesse, for surely he would have adored the first girl baby born to the family in 50 years. He died when she was just a year old. Duncan is puzzled when we mention Grandpa. "Great-Grandpa?" he always asks, remembering Randy's grandfather who died just a year ago.
"No, Grandpa," we say. "Daddy's dad." But this has no meaning to him; he has no memories to anchor him to his grandfather, no photographs that link them together.

Ralph's life was nearing its end when I married his son, but the impact he had on my own life is tremendous: he, along with my mother-in-law and Great-Grandpa, raised my husband. Even if my children barely or never knew their grandfather, he comes to them through characteristics of their own daddy: his strong work ethic; his endless supply of old sayings (we call those "Ralph-isms") along the lines of "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise"; his gentleness; his discernment; his desire for knowledge and education; and his respect for all people. And for that, I am unspeakably thankful.

"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Alumni Weekend, or Something Like That

I spent this past weekend in a delicious mixture of sharing memories and catching up with long-time friends. It began here in our home Friday evening when our friends Steve, Giedra, and Jonathan arrived from Ohio/Indiana. After supper, we planted ourselves in the living room and pretty much didn't move until 1 a.m.

Jonathan, Steve, Dr. H. and I were in college together; Giedra is Steve's wife (whom he met after college), but she is so wonderful that she took part in this memory extravaganza with a smile on her face the whole time. (Only Giedra's foot was in this picture; I'm sure she'll understand that I cropped it out.) We could have talked for many more hours. We have years of memories stored away. Jonathan and I, who came in as freshmen together, were particularly struck by the realization that we've known each other well over half our lives.

On Saturday morning, bright and early, we headed two hours away to Johnson City for alumni weekend at our alma mater. The next few hours on campus were: unsettling, disturbing, comforting, odd, deja-vu-ish, bittersweet, sweet, and hilarious. None of us had really been back to campus for more than a quick and casual drive-through in nearly a decade, and much has changed at our tiny college. New buildings have been erected; old ones torn down or renovated. Nearly everything looked shinier and somehow cleaner.

We are all quite sure, for example, that there was not a homecoming parade back when we were students. Fortunately, these parade participants carried forth the southern tradition of throwing outrageous amounts of candy to parade watcher. Duncan was extraordinarily happy for the entire day with pockets full of candy.

Lindsay, with whom I've reconnected in the past year via Facebook, came all the way from St. Louis for the weekend. Lindsay and I were anomalies at our college because we were New York girls. I can't imagine how many times I heard, "What brought you all the way down here?" We enjoyed an hour or so of watching fellow alumni, trying to figure out if we knew them, while our little boys played on the inflatables.

Somewhere along the line we found our friend Robert strolling across campus. Twenty years ago he would have been wearing a black hat and a trench coat, but it was still rather deja vu to see him wandering across the lawn. The newest building on campus is a gorgeous performing arts center.

I found it extremely emotional to be standing in the new performing arts center with these three men—Dr. Shields, Dr. Small, and Dr. Chambers— who were once tall, skinny boys named Robert, Randy and Jonathan. All three of them loved Milligan's theatre program, and Jonathan went on to get a PhD in theatre. It's all about that proverbial full circle.

And speaking of full circle, here are Randy and I next to Hopwood Memorial Christian Church, where we were married nearly 20 years ago. Hopwood is on the campus of Milligan College, and Randy and I attended there both during college and after we were married. It's still possibly my favorite church ever; certainly it's the most beautiful.

Jonathan, Steve, Giedra, and Randy and I spent most of the afternoon strolling around campus. There is something surreal about walking in a place which appears so often in one's dreams. I spent four solid years of my life in the place—my coming-of-age novel, were I to write one, would take place here. Some places had hardly changed. Seegar Chapel, where we met for convocation twice weekly for four years, still looked and smelled exactly the same. It was easy to see the ghosts of ourselves and our classmates there. My dormitory, too, was virtually unchanged. In that lobby Jonathan and I watched MTV's Closet Classics religiously at noon each day. In that stairwell Randy and I had our first kiss. Through that third-floor window Tracy, Suzie, Angie and I climbed in the evenings to watch the sunset over Buffalo Mountain.

And other places seemed unfamiliar. A new parking lot, a new courtyard, a planting of trees and shrubs, a missing fountain. Even the smallest changes seem to shake the foundation of memory. Were it not for shared memories, would we question what really happened?

We were done by 6 p.m. Really, quite done. We picked up our friend Rich and went out to eat. Our intentions were to spend the night with Tracy, my best friend from college, but suddenly we knew we needed to go home. Laurel and Duncan weren't feeling well, and we all yearned for the comfort of our living room.

So we all came back here Saturday night. I found my stack of college yearbooks, and the five of us spent several hours laughing until we were dangerously close to hyperventilating. I can't imagine how many people's names came up, generally with a "I wonder what s/he's doing now?" following the memory. We did eventually go to bed, just a little earlier than the night before.

These three headed back to the midwest in the morning, and we headed off to church and back to our regular life. I feel richer somehow today. Weekends like this add a sharpness to edges that have been blurred by time and distance, give definition to memories that hung loosely in the shadows.

I may never go back to another alumni weekend. I've forged a certain peace with my night-time dream wanderings; my feet are on solid ground. What remains, though, is the certainty that our friendships far, far transcend place and memory. And I look forward to more weekends spent laughing in living rooms.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I Like My Friends

I have such nice people in my life. I love that I have spontaneous friends who changed their plans so that we can hang out tonight at our house. I'm waiting for these three friends to arrive from up north. I have two soups simmering on the stove and three loaves of focaccia ready to put in the oven. Tomorrow morning we'll head up to the northeast corner of the state to attend alumni weekend at our college. We'll find lots more friends there to hang out with, reminisce, and hopefully eat some good food. I really like my friends.

But what's really amazing to me is that, not only do I get to spend the weekend with old friends, but I got to spend the afternoon with everyday friends. Isn't that a nice way to think about them? I love that my friends feel comfortable enough in my house to sit around my dining room table to chat while I kneaded bread. And I can't even believe that one friend ran to the grocery store for me to pick up all the things I needed for those soups that are now simmering on the stove! And yet another friend washed my pots and pans for me while I cooked! (Thank you, Tammy and Sheila!)

And my sweet parents have also been great friends. This morning my mom came over and cleaned our guest apartment for me while she did her laundry. How outrageously kind was that? And my dad stopped by the grocery store early this morning to pick me up a gallon of milk, having heard me mention last night at dinner that we were out.

I'm feeling quite enveloped in the blessings of friendships and a sweet, sweet life.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Homeschool Memoirs #10: Ten Timely Facts About Me

Today's theme at Homeschool Memoirs is "Timely Facts": "This is our 10th Homeschool Memoirs so this week it’s going to be about 10 timely facts about you! Write 10 interesting, crazy, weird, fun facts about you!"

1. I cannot pour a cup of coffee without spilling.

2. I sleep with a pillow over my head.

3. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my favorite food was cream cheese and green olives on an onion bagel.

4. I have skied in the Alps.

5. I hardly ever shave my legs in the winter.

6. I have incredibly strong fingernails that never break and grow fast, but I am not a fingernail kind of person.

7. My creative writing thesis from graduate school is one of my favorite things.

8. I am most comfortable with college friends and homeschooling friends.

9. I follow a certain schedule every morning, and I don't like for my schedule to be interrupted.

10. I really do LOL, especially when friends are posting pictures on Facebook from college.

Wanna play? Visit Homeschool Memoirs at the link above! Want to read more fascinating facts about me? Click on the link on my sidebar right under my profile pic!

(I opted out of Memoir #9)
See Memoir #8 here: Study Spot
See Memoir #7 here: Snacks
See Memoir #6 here: Summer Photo Essay
See Memoir #5 here: My Favorite Things
See Memoir #4 here: Something New
See Memoir #3 here: Routines
See Memoir #2 here: Agendas
See Memoir #1 here: All About Me

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday Memory: On Plum Street

My Monday Memories seem to usually feature either my childhood, my college years, or on my own children; but two significant time periods I don't write much about are the three years we spent in Oxford, Ohio, and the five years we spent in Ames, Iowa. Those eight years were graduate school years, but they were also the years that I think we became grown-ups.

The tiny apartment at 125 Plum Street in Oxford was our first living-on-our-own experience. We'd already been married for two years when we moved here, but those were two years spent amidst our closest friends back in our college town of Johnson City, Tennessee. Our apartment in Johnson City had been the gathering place; I'm not sure we were ever alone there for more than a few hours.

And then, suddenly, we were gone. Well, except that Suzie lived just 45 minutes away, and the Johnson City crew came up once a month and we went down there each month. Still, we felt terribly, terribly alone for awhile without our constant companions. Randy was busy working on his master's degree at Miami University, and I began a job that I absolutely loved, working as an editorial assistant at an international business association's headquarters. We fell into a pattern eventually of quiet evenings during the week and then traveling or having visitors most weekends. We saw tons of concerts in Cincinnati and did a whole lot of shopping. (I also, for the first time ever, had an actual salary.) We bought our first new car.

And midway through our second year there, we had our first baby. After Jesse was born, Randy became a stay-at-home dad by day and a graduate student by night, and I continued working. By Jesse's 10-month mark, I couldn't bear to leave him any longer, and Randy really needed to finish his master's degree. So I came home and Randy went back to doing something he swore he'd never do again: be a waiter. But he worked in a nice restaurant and was able to spend more time finishing his thesis.

In July of that third year, we left Ohio for Ames, Iowa, the next stop on our journey.

I have mixed feelings about Oxford, Ohio. We have great memories of our life there. I loved my job, and I developed a huge set of skills there: editing, desktop publishing, design, writing, interviewing, etc. We met a few special people, but I've only kept in touch, sort of, with one friend. I liked living near Cincinnati, but Oxford itself was a rather uppity town. I had issues with kids who drove BMWs and Saabs to classes.

Mostly, those were the amazing days of being brand-new parents. I can see so clearly, still, the sidewalk where Jesse and I would walk every day, the library where I'd take him for story-hour, the beautiful brick buildings of the university. I remember the sun shining on his blonde curls and him standing at the window, waiting for Daddy to get home. His little blue hat.

But Oxford was just a brief stop on the journey. We were standing there with one foot in college-life and one in adulthood, and sometimes that crevice was hard to straddle. I think my real mommy years kicked in when we got to Ames, Iowa. But that's a memory for another Monday.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oh, My Aching Back

I got to participate in a very exciting project today. One of our American Heritage Girls' troop members, Jennifer, is working on her Stars and Stripes project. Stars and Stripes is the AHG equivalent of the Eagle Scout Award in Boy Scouts—the highest level of achievement. Jennifer will be our troop's very first S&S recipient, and we are so excited for her. (That's Jennifer and her sister Laura in the photo below.)

Jennifer has to put in 100 hours on her project, including everything from securing donations to supervising workers. She is a fantastic leader, so I'm not surprised that her project is coming together so well. Her challenge is to clear the grounds around 2 cabins at a local church camp, Camp Tipton. We're not talking about pulling up a few weeks; this cabins are surrounded by a jungle of deep-rooted saplings. We had shovels, pick-axes, hoes, and other assorted tools that looked a little frightening to me.

This is the cabin we worked around today. (Jennifer and another crew had already cleared the first cabin earlier this week.) With 11 people working, we had the first side cleared within a couple of hours. The back and the other side (below) proved more challenging.

Each one of those innocuous-looking green things in the photo is actually a small tree with roots that are at least 22 miles long. We also found half of a dead rabbit buried in here and a nest of lively yellow jackets. Much shrieking ensued with both finds.

Most of the girls had never used a shovel before, but they were pros within 15 minutes.

Did I mention there were a few large rocks to clear away, as well?

Lunch time provided a very welcome break for all of us.

And then it was time to go back to work, refreshed and rested.

This is the second side of the cabin, almost totally cleared. This was Jennifer's second full day of work; she has two more days scheduled for this project. There is one more large patch to clear, and then she and her crew will plant grass seed around the cabins.

My back and legs are sore and my hands hurt, but it was so worth it. These girls had the best attitudes, and they were incredibly hard workers. I loved to see their smiles and listen to their funny stories and remarks. And I'm so proud of Jennifer for her leadership and organization (and, of course, her hard work). She had another crew of workers coming in this afternoon, but I had to come home. I'd like to say I'm going to get comfortable on the couch with some hot tea, but we have our annual American Heritage Girls/Cub Scouts hayride and cookout yet this evening. I can't be grumpy about that, though; it's one of my favorite events of the year!

So maybe by 10 p.m., I'll be on the couch, filled with s'mores and chili and very, very content. Life is good.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Heart of the Matter Meme: Being Creative

This week's Heart of the Matter meme asks for ideas for the non-creative moms or those that think they’re not creative. "What are some of the best projects your family has done? What fun things doing you remember doing as a child? Are you naturally creative or did you have to learn? Any sites you could share? "

I'm a pretty creative mom. When we first started homeschooling, I was definitely one of those ultra-crafty moms, but I've become less and less inclined to be crafty through the years. Now I have to remind myself to do crafts with the younger two, and they get very excited when we do.

Autumn definitely brings out the creative side of me. When my kids were really little, one of their favorite things was the fall bracelet. This is so easy and somehow so thrilling to them. Just take a piece of clear packing tape and put it around their wrists. Go outside and find bits of nature to stick on the tape: bits of leaves, grass, flower petals, etc. (Sticks don't work too well; flat objects are best.) When the bracelet is fairly well loaded, cut it off and put another piece of tape over the top. Now they have a bookmark or just an autumn keepsake! Or, if they're like my kids, they won't want you to cut it off and they'll keep adding more objects to it throughout the day until it is sagging off their wrists.

Of course we always have to do leaf collections and rubbings each year. One year we did leaf rubbings in lots of different colors on white paper, glued the white paper on orange or yellow construction paper, and then covered it all with clear contact paper for placemats. You can have them label the type of tree and/or copy a fall poem onto this, as well, before covering it with contact paper.

Another perennial craft at this time of year seems to be fruit and/or vegetable stamping. You just need poster paint and a variety of fruits and/or vegetables, which you can cut into various shapes. One year we made acrostics to go with each fruit/vegetable. So, for example, we wrote an acrostic poem for apple, like
Pink lady
Pies, sauce, crumble, crisp
Love to eat you just like you are
Excellent fruit.
and then stamped the edges with various shapes cut from apples. You could do this now with pumpkins, squash, pears, potatoes, etc. or do the same thing with leaves, making your acrostic poems from the names of trees. If the kids get tired of acrostics, this would be a great time to try other form poetry like haiku or cinquain. Here's a great site that briefly introduces types of form poetry.

My favorite sites for craft ideas are Enchanted Learning (click here for autumn crafts), Crayola, and Family Fun.

In our house, though, most of my kids' creativity is self-initiated. Essential to being creative is to have an abundant supplies. We have a big tub that we call the invention box. This is where all those things go that you say, "What could we make with this?": egg cartons, styrofoam chunks, paper towel and toilet paper cardboard rolls, shoeboxes, containers of all sorts, etc. I also stock up on all the essentials each summer when the school supplies are on sale, so we have ample markers, crayons, scissors, glue, and paper. (It's a good idea to keep back some of each so that you can bring out fresh markers, etc., during the year.) I usually put fresh supplies in my younger kids' Christmas stockings, too, and also some extras like their own rolls of masking tape, poster paint, and some other exciting craft item like plastic eyeballs or pipe cleaners. We live big here.

(And that reminds me: one of my daughter's favorite gifts was when I made her a craft supply center. I just bought one of those craft/tool organizers (sort of like this) at Walmart and filled each drawer with all sorts of things: beads, glue sticks, eyeballs, ribbon, pipe cleaners, pom poms, etc.)

All that to say, if you give a kid an empty box, he'll ask for a pair of scissors. If you give him a pair of scissors, he'll ask for a piece of tape. If you give him a piece of tape, well, you know the rest.

Related posts on SmallWorld:
Celebrating Autumn Resources
Apple Unit Study
Teaching Creative Writing
Combating the January Blahs

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Platitudes and Misconceptions #2: Why Aren't You Using Your Degree?

I've been mulling over this "why aren't you using your degree" misconception for quite some time now. Back in March, I wrote about a reporter from our local newspaper who interviewed me and a few other parents about homeschooling. While the article itself was innocuous (though bland), what irked me was this, which I can best explain by quoting my own blog:
…right off the bat, [the reporter] commented that my husband and I both have post-graduate degrees. I was trying to figure out where this was going when he said something to the effect of: "So you have a master's degree and were certified to teach public school, but you're not using it?" Yes, he actually said that. I laughed and said, "Not using it? I use it every day!" He sputtered then, but I told him I was glad he voiced that, because this is such a common misconception not only toward homeschoolers but toward stay-at-home moms in general.

A fellow homeschooling dad and then-employee of this same newspaper later told me that this reporter mentioned how riled up I got about his comment. I really didn't get riled up. I was quite calm, but he probably didn't appreciate my knowing smirk. It's hard not to smirk at such an outdated and ridiculous comment.

To claim that one isn't using one's degree at home is, frankly, ignorant. It's right along the same line as, "You need to be a certified teacher to teach your kids at home." Please. Anyone who has gone through teacher certification knows that half of what you learn in education courses is useless information. Seriously. The only way you really learn how to teach is by, um, teaching and being open to continuously learning and improving. Aah, but that's another misconception to address on another day.

I have a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in history, and I did certify to teach at the secondary level (although that certification would have lapsed a long time ago). I also have a master's degree in English, with a concentration in creative writing. I had an incredible interdisciplinary Humanities program and a slew of excellent professors at my liberal arts college that broadened my knowledge base in countless ways. After college I worked in a variety of jobs, from telemarketer to substitute teaching to editor, before being a stay-at-home mom. When my firstborn was about three, I decided it was a good time to pursue my master's degree. I took mostly evening classes and finished three years later. By that time we'd added a new baby. For those three years, by day I did playgroups and story time at the library and spent hours at the park; by evening I wrote furiously, determined to finish my thesis and get my master's degree.

I did not go into college or graduate school thinking, "How will I use this degree?" I went into thinking, "What will I learn? How will I grow? What kind of interesting people will I meet?" College was never optional for me; it was a given. Earning my master's degree was a personal goal that I'd set when I was very young. I had a great role model. My mother received her master's degree when I, the youngest of five, was a baby and my oldest brother was 16. My mother hadn't worked outside the home in over a decade at that point. But she taught us every single day, from nursery rhymes to botany in the woods to storytelling to music to cooking. Although her career was raising five children, she traveled extensively throughout the world, always studying the culture, language, and literature of the country before visiting there. She worked side-by-side with my father, a research scientist, helping him with this research, recording data, suggesting possibilities. She volunteered with Headstart back in its early days and with a sewing guild, teaching young women how to read patterns and sew their own clothes. When I was in high school, she began a 20-year position with Literacy Volunteers, helping a dozen or more foreign students learn to read, write, and speak English through the years. Don't tell me my mother wasn't using her degree.

So what qualifies as "using your degree"? Must I teach in the public school system? Do I have to be a journalist, an editor, or a playwright? Or is it all a matter of a paycheck? Would I be "using my degree" if I were working at a daycare, but not at home, with my own children? Must I earn actual money to be using my degree?

Any mother knows that she uses her degree every day, whether it's a high school degree or a PhD. Perhaps homeschooling moms are more acutely aware of using those degrees simply because our lives are filled with constant learning as we seek to raise new learners. To say that our own children—our families— aren't worthy beneficiaries of our degrees is treading on some dangerous territory. And there's an army of moms with diplomas ready to enlighten those poor souls who just don't get it.

Related post:
Platitudes and Misconceptions #1: I'm a Better Mom Because I…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday Miscellany

* Who can say why, today, Duncan decided to show up for school in a button-down shirt and tie? I have no idea what prompted this, but I've felt as if I'm in some sort of prep school today. I must say, he was an exceptional student. Maybe I should start having a dress code.

* The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Homeschool Buzz. I always enjoy scanning the entries and reading many. I'm going to check out Ivy League Freebies from Countdown to College more closely, and I love this one at Works in Progress: 16 Reasons to Read Aloud . My favorite, though is Changing Seasons at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers (love that blog name, too!). Also, I am scheduled to host the CofH here at SmallWorld in December. That's a little nervewracking to contemplate, but, then again, that's two months away!

* My parents are moving down here from New York in just two weeks! My brother Peter and his family and Duncan and Laurel and I spent most of Saturday cleaning their new house. They'll be living just a half-mile down the road from us, which is amazingly awesome. Duncan and Laurel were fantastic cleaners, although Duncan did spend at least half the time running around with his cousin Seth.

* So what was the final verdict after my grocery-shopping meltdown over the weekend? Thanks for all your great suggestions and links, by the way! This week's menu is uninspired but easy:
--hamburgers (or turkey burgers) with baked beans and french fries tonight;
--pasta salad with chicken Wednesday
--samosas with roasted Brussels sprouts on Thursday
--spaghetti with meatballs on Friday
--American Heritage Girls/Cub Scouts hayride/cook-out Saturday
--and Dr. H. has committed to trying out a new recipe each weekend.

Stay tuned to see if that really happens...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Celebrating Autumn: Books and Other Resources

Autumn is definitely here in East Tennessee, in spite of temperatures in the 80s. The driveway is covered with leaves and the first hints of fall color are showing up in the trees. Because the Smokies get tons of visitors in autumn, the question is always: what kind of fall color will we have this year? The happy fact is that even in years, like last year, when the prediction is that we'll have a "low color" year, autumn is gorgeous around here.

In celebration of this perfect season, I thought I'd share some of my favorite resources for fall. Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins is by far our favorite leaf book. After a brief discussion about leaf characteristics and why leaves change color, Robbins shows the reader leaf colors from trees across the country, with close-up photographs of leaves as well as photos of whole trees for easy identification. This book spans several ages. The text is simple enough for preschoolers but not too simplistic for middle readers. I think it's just a great guide book.

For preschoolers and early elementary children, Lois Elhert's Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf is an explosion of beautiful, rich color. The book traces the life of a sugar maple from seed to sapling. Kids will want to get out craft supplies and make leaf collages after reading this one.

The Let's Read and Find Out Science series has a good resource book, Why Do Leaves Change Colors? for young readers (preschool/early elementary). It's simple, with good detailed illustrations of leaves and a couple of easy craft ideas.

I've always loved authors Gail Gibbons and Anne Rockwell for probably ages 3-6. Both authors have a voice I appreciate; they don't talk down to children or dumb down their explanations. Gibbons The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree, which takes the reader through the changes in an apple tree though the seasons, was one of our favorite autumn books. We also enjoyed Rockwell's colorful Apples and Pumpkins. Perhaps my favorite preschool pumpkin book, however, is Jeanne Titherington's Pumpkin Pumpkin. I bought this books at a lovely toy store called The Pumpkin Patch in Ames, Iowa, where we lived when Jesse was a preschooler. I love the gentle colored pencil drawings and the little boy who looked so much like my own child.

Here are a few more books that look wonderful. I'll be looking for at least a couple of these at our library:
Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic
It's Fall
Fall Is Here!
I Know It's Autumn
When Autumn Comes

You can do a search for "fall crafts" or "autumn crafts" and get tons of ideas for various age levels. My younger children are 7 and 11, so we have moved away from coloring pages and handprint crafts for the most part. This year we'll be doing:
Nature Luminary Candle Holders
Melted Crayon Stained Glass Windows
Leaf Rubbings

The sites below have lots of great activities and ideas for enjoying autumn. I especially love the ideas at Easy Fun School.• Easy Fun School:
• Autumn Science
• Autumn unit study at Seven Pillars Book Nook
• Lots of great fall activities at Enchanted Learning
• Fall Leaf Guide is an easy guide to identifying trees by the color and shape of foliage; the chemistry, physics and geometry of fall color; and more. Sounds complicated, but the explanations are very short and sweet. This guide highlights Tennessee trees but can be used wherever seasons change.
Of course, most importantly, get out and play in the leaves!

Related posts here on SmallWorld:
Apple Unit Study
In the Smokies: Selected Readings

Sunday, October 12, 2008

On Grocery Shopping and Menu Planning

I'm totally procrastinating: reading blogs mindlessly, signing up for GoodReads which I totally don't need to do, and playing Scrabble (sorry, I mean Wordscraper) on Facebook. Now I'm posting a blog to add to my procrastination.

All of this procrastination is about avoiding making out a grocery list. Creating a grocery list means that I need to come up with a menu for the next week, and, frankly, I'm tired of all our regular food. You'd think that with an extensive list of family favorites like this, a cabinet full of cookbooks, and, of course, 120,000,000 recipe sites on the internet, that menu planning should be simple. But I find it grueling.

Part of the problem is that I could eat chips and salsa and a turkey sandwich every day and be perfectly happy. But I'll eat pretty much anything unless there is mayonnaise involved. I like any food much better if someone else prepares it for me. In other words, I see cooking as a mandatory part of life, but I have no passion for it. Dr. H. loves to cook. My friend Blogless Leigh loves to cook. I just don't have that gene. I'm a competent cook, and I even enjoy cooking if lots of friends and a party are involved (OK, really it's the entertaining part I enjoy). I think that the closest I could come to using the word "drudgery" in my life would have to be in the cooking-daily-meals department.

Still, it's impossible to be grumpy for long. The sun in shining, the birds are singing quite boisterously, and we are blessed to have ample money for our daily bread. (We are long past those first days of marriage when we had a $25/week grocery allowance.)

So tell me: do you like to cook? And what is your favorite source for recipes? Maybe I can be inspired.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Three Beautiful Things: Sleep, Brothers, Long Weekend

1. A good night's sleep. I slept so well last night. For nearly 20 years I have slept poorly when Dr. H. is away. (Actually it's only been in the past 10 years that I would even stay by myself if he was out of town. You can read my struggles with this here at my post Opening the Windows.) Last night, I slept great. I did wake up a couple of times, but I didn't have even one single twinge of fear, wondering if they doors really were locked. In fact, I just realized that I didn't even put chairs up against all the doors last night.

2. The day ahead. Today my brothers and I will be cleaning my parents' new home, just a few blocks down the road from me, in anticipation of their arrival in less than 2 weeks. It's not that cleaning is especially a beautiful thing, although this isn't major cleaning, but I am looking forward to catching up with my brothers and their families. We all live within 45 minutes of each other, but our visits are rare.

3. Long weekend. Our co-op classes are off on Monday for Columbus Day, so I have a long, luxurious, lesson plan-free weekend.

What beautiful things are in your life today?

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Survived the Fall Festival

I promised them that we'd go this year. Last year I publicly confessed that I do not like to go to the Foothills Fall Festival. Yes, it's won national awards: "The Best Festival in the Southeast!" and "One of the Top Ten Fall Festivals in the Country!" Foreigner is playing there right this minute, and my teenager is somehow hanging outside the festival area listening. There are 13 more acts this weekend, including Billy Ray Cyrus and my personal favorite from my childhood, Kenny Rogers. I'll never forget the joy my 8th grade year when my friends Ros and Lisa gave me a Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits album for my birthday, along with a green Izod golf shirt! That was a great birthday.

But I digress. Besides the very reasonable $35 weekend pass for the concert area, there is also a gigantic FREE children's adventureland and a craft show. And like I said, this year I promised I'd take them.

Here are the back of their heads as they watch the dog show along with 62,000 other people. (Yes, I made that number up.)

I'm sorry, but I don't understand why we get so excited about animals doing tricks. I try to be enthusiastic, and I do clap as if I'm truly enthralled with these talented beasts, but I'd rather be raking leaves than watching dogs catch frisbees. I am quite sure I am lacking some fundamental character trait, and I probably shouldn't have admitted that.

There's Duncan, fourth in line in the brown shirt. He went on this particular inflatable many, many times while Laurel and I sweated profusely.

Obviously, she deserved a sno-cone when he was done. But didn't sno-cones used to be, well, flavorful? I'm just saying.

We did run into some friends midway through our outing. Friends do make everything so much more enjoyable.

Duncan could spend every waking moment with his friend Noah, so it was an extra treat to run into Noah at the festival. Next year maybe I could get Noah and his mom and sister to skip the fall festival and just hang out here for a few hours. I would even blow up balloons and make deep-fried Twinkies.

We spent less than three hours there, and I was utterly exhausted. Crowds, noise, heat, long lines, bodies: that kind of stuff wears me out. I would have loved the fall festival when I was a teenager—the people watching, the thrill of independence, the throngs of people. Now, not so much. I just want water and a bench in the shade.

But the good news is, I've done my duty! I've fulfilled my promise, with a smile on my face, and I'm home in my quiet kitchen. The house is very quiet tonight. Dr. H. went on a solo backpacking trip; Jesse is hanging out at the festival with a friend; and Laurel is at a sleepover. Duncan and I enjoyed a rare evening together, just the two of us, with a movie and Zaxby's chicken wings. And 5 hours after returning from the festival, I'm beginning to recover. A good dose of quiet goes a long way.

Heart of the Matter Meme: Educational Freebie Sites

Today's Heart of the Matter Online meme asks: What great educational freebie sites do you frequently visit?

Here are some of my favorites:

* Daily Grammar Archive: This is a whole grammar curriculum, well laid out, easily accessible, and free.

* Glencoe Literature Library: Fantastic free study guides on dozens of novels, from Across Five Aprils to The Yearling, on both middle reader and high school levels.

* Purdue's Online Writing Lab (OWL): Another fantastic grammar and writing resource, with printable quizzes and handouts.

* Lapbooking at Squidoo: This has been by far the most helpful site for me in learning the art of lapbooks. I can always go here for ideas and a lot of free downloads.

* CurrClick: I love the free download every Monday. I have a big file of future lapbooks and notebooking pages I've downloaded. Someday maybe I'll get to them…

* Enchanted Learning: I can't possibly say how many times I've used this site over the past 9 years. I did pay the $20/annual fee for a couple of years, but I haven't for awhile. It seems like we are using my favorite site less and less as the kids get older.

* Scott Foresman Grammar and Writing Handbooks: I couldn't resist one more grammar resource. You can download entire workbooks for K-6th grade. Fabulous!

(See more educational freebie sites here at Heart of the Matter Online.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Study Spots in SmallWorld

First of all, this is our house. (Actually, this is our house in April, not October, but it's dark and rainy outside right now so this photo will have to suffice.) The door in the photo goes into our sunroom, which is our craft room. This room holds all the playdough, paint, construction paper, glue, inventing supplies, and other essentials like cast-off calendars and wallpaper sample books. We don't use this room in the winter because it isn't heated, and it gets positively filled with junk each winter. One of my early summer projects was to clean this room, which I did quite thoroughly. I love having a room where all the messy projects can be done, out of sight.

We've always done school in a variety of places around the house, mostly the dining room table and the living room couch. This year, however, we've changed things around. Another of my summer projects was to figure out how to use our attached apartment, which was, until this year, my parents' winter home. I made the bold move to turn it into our schoolroom, and I cannot express how much I love have a separate space for schooling! I've taken the majority of our kids' books, games, puzzles and other materials out of various places in our house and put them in our new room. Finally I have the space to put up my book rack, so that our daily books are easily accessible.

I also moved our old dining room table in there. We do the majority of our work either at the table or on the couch in our new room. I can't believe what a difference it makes in my personal sanity to have all our materials, for the most part, in one place. I love being able to stick maps up on the walls with abandon and not have to pick up stacks of books and papers for meals. Laurel especially thrives on organization, and she's really enjoyed making our new space more "official," with cubbies and nametags. (This is the girl who likes to play school.)

Of course we do school other places in and around our home, too: outside and in the kitchen, especially. And Jesse, our high schooler, does the vast majority of his work sitting right here, at the computer.

See Memoir #7 here: Snacks
See Memoir #6 here: Summer Photo Essay
See Memoir #5 here: My Favorite Things
See Memoir #4 here: Something New
See Memoir #3 here: Routines
See Memoir #2 here: Agendas
See Memoir #1 here: All About Me

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday Memory: in memory of randy landry

He was a liar, a cheater, a poseur. He was a drunk and a thief. He was offensive, amoral, and conniving. And he was my friend. He was brilliant and funny and sweet. He was a good listener and smelled of Paco Rabanne. He was witty and bold, artistic and promising. I met Randy Landry during freshmen weekend at college. He had followed a girl to college, a girl he'd met at church camp. He wore an argyle sweater and shiny penny loafers. (He would deny, later, ever having worn such things, but I have pictures and a very good memory.) The girl lived across the hall from me, and we became friends. It soon became clear that she was not interested in him. Still he followed her around, courteous and devoted. He was going to be a youth minister and marry her. (He would deny this, too, later. Both parts.) She brushed him off like a shoulder full of dandruff.

  And then he was my friend, not hers, and a better friend than the girl he followed. Soon we were a group of six or so, spending all our time together. Late nights studying, roaming around campus, wildly enthusiastic, we all were, about discovering everything new, on our own. He was, more than anything, sharp-witted and funny. He was always in the middle of all the action, always ready to have fun. Clearly, he drank too much; we learned that within the first few months of college. But he was my friend, and he would have done anything for me. Mostly, he listened. I can hear his voice, still. A bit of a munchkin sound to it. He couldn't carry a tune, and like most people who can't hear a note, he didn't know it.

  Girls liked him. Some girls. I never knew why: he was short and barrel-chested with skinny legs. But he had a nice smile and beautiful eyes, and he could be charming and very, very funny. And sometimes, before he started drinking too too much, he smelled good. Sophomore year I fell in love with his roommate (who would ultimately become my husband). The next years become fuzzy, but randy is always there. In nearly every scene in my memory, he is there, somewhere. Whatever the state of my heart: broken or ecstatic, he was there to cheer me on or let me cry. He was always reassuring me in some way, although he had demons knocking his own door down. He had fallen hopelessly, helplessly in love with one of our entourage, the beautiful Debby. He followed her around everywhere, helped her write papers, and soon became known as "Quiet Desperation" by some of the snickering upperclassmen.

  I liked him less and less each year, although I loved him. He seemed to shrink each year, eyes red-rimmed and face scruffy. His black trenchcoat and shabby shoes. He was the black sheep of the family, walking right along the edge of the cliff, barely hanging on. A photograph comes to mind: on vacation one summer, we visit Niagara Falls. He decides, suddenly to climb over the iron fence. I snapped a picture of him hanging by one hand above Niagara Falls, cigarette dangling from his mouth. I could have stomped on his hand and set him free to slide down the falls. He had a penchant for badly masked plagiarism. Once he gave me a pile of poems to read. I scanned each one; all sounded familiar. Then this one jumped out at me: "Not even the snow has such fragile wrists," the last line read. "Randy," I said. "This is e.e. cummings! This is "Somewhere I have travelled, gladly beyond!" I cried in disbelief at his blatant copy. Totally seriously he looked at me and said, "I've never read e.e. cummings." It was at this same time that he began signing his name as "randy landry."

  He drove us all crazy, but we loved him and cared for him, even as our disgust mounted at times. He was often rude and mocking, then penitent and kind. Clearly he was brilliant. He didn't need to copy Vonnegut or cummings; he was a graceful writer on his own. Ultimately he found his calling in the theatre department. Our college hired a new theatre professor, and randy adored him. Under Dick's tutelage, randy started focusing. He was a gifted director. Could have been Something. Could have been Someone. But.

  Although we came in as freshmen together, somehow randy didn't graduate with me. I'm not sure what happened; perhaps he simply stopped going to classes. He became sloppy. But he was devoted now to theatre, and he spend that summer after my graduation working at the Barter Theatre. One weekend we went to see a play and visit him. At his tiny room we opened his refrigerator for a snack—nothing but beer. Still, you can justify that when you're just a summer intern. 

 We moved on. Randy was one of the groomsmen in our wedding; he showed up with the stale smell of alcohol seeping from his pores. I cringed to watch him walk my mother up the aisle, with his eyes red-rimmed and his arm shaky. 

We moved on again, into a life of graduate school and babies. We lost touch for the most part, talking on the phone once or twice each year. A decade later, we visit him in Marion, Illinois. He has gone back to his home state, always on the cusp of getting something going: a new theatre company, a directing position, anything but what he really was: a waiter in a sleazy restaurant in a sad little town in the midwest. His apartment was filthy and decrepit. I fought the urge to run, find a hotel room to sleep. He gave us his bed. All night long he passed through the bedroom on his way to the kitchen, one beer can popping open after another. I was tormented by my disgust. This mumbling, stumbling drunk had once been my confidante, and all I wanted to do was get far, far away from him. 

 Every Christmas Day for 15 years he called me, no matter where I was living, no matter where he was living. One year the calls stopped, and I didn't think about it. I didn't think about him much at all anymore. 
And then one day Robert sent an email with a link to his obituary. 

 Randy Landry, age 40. Died at home after a short illness. And that is all we know. 

Three years ago he died, and somehow it is this year—the year of my 20th class reunion— that it all comes back to me. 

I remember the soft feathering of his hair and his scuffed Docksiders. I remember his thin army jacket and the way his smile curled up slowly on one side. The way he'd burst out laughing. How he always had faith that my Randy and I would end up together, in spite of all the drama. The scrawl of his poems on notebook paper. 

 And so, for randy:
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond 
by e. e. cummings

Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond

any experience, your eyes have their silence:

in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,

or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me

though i have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens

(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if you wish be to close me, i and

my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,

as when the heart of this flower imagines

the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world

equals the power of your intense fragility: whose texture

compels me with the colour of its countries,

rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes

and opens; only something in me understands

the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands. 

Rest in peace, my friend.