Saturday, June 27, 2009

Setting the Table for 5

My guys are back after 16 long days away. They spent four days driving and 12 days on the trails at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico, hiking around 75 miles. Their adventures also included rock climbing and rappelling, horseback riding, shooting, blacksmithing, spar-pole climbing (like a lumberjack), and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember.

There is something profound about that moment when you see your child for the first time in two weeks. He seemed to have grown a couple of inches, and he was standing so straight. His face is tan and his curly hair even curlier. I had a terrible, beautiful glimpse of what it will be like in a year and a half, when he comes home from college for Thanksgiving break for the first time. Terrible only because there will have been weeks at a time that I wouldn't have seen this son of mine; beautiful because taking flight just is.

I took a certain delight in setting the table for five last night. The three of us back home rarely ate a meal at our table. With the dining room project going on the whole time and a week of VBS that included dinner each night, meals were haphazard and odd.

Dr. H. and Jesse expressed proper amazement at our newly remodeled dining room, and then we sat down to eat, all together again.

Life is good.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Project Dining Room and Other Miscellany

* My dining room project is nearing completion. My floors are too gorgeous for words, except for that one little spot today that Laurel pointed to and said, "Hey look! There doesn't seem to be any shiny stuff here!" Oh well. If it took us 4 days to notice, hopefully no one else will. I have a second coat of trim to paint tomorrow, and then I'll be done with the major stuff. I can't figure out how to get my custom-made blinds down, so painting the window frame will have to wait.

* Our Hobby Lobby has about 8 aisles of stuff on 80% off clearance this week. I got these enormous candleholders for $4.40 each. They look too fabulous in my new dining room.

* Tonight was night 3 of Vacation Bible School at our church. This year Laurel is a craft helper rather than a participant, and she is loving it. I'm not sure why I'm so exhausted after VBS, but I feel like jello when it's over each night.

* Every evening after VBS we've been coming home and eating popsicles or ice-cream on the front porch while we watch the fireflies. That has got to be the best part of summer.

* This weekend is the big homeschooling fair in Knoxville. This year we have an American Heritage Girls booth there. We have 5 troops in our area now, which is incredibly exciting, but we are always hoping that a few troops will start in neighboring cities. We are working toward having our own council in the next few years! Caroline and I will spend Thursday afternoon setting up our booth, and then we have a bunch of mom/daughter pairs from the various troops who will be manning the booth and spreading the word about AHG.

* I'm addicted to a new game on Facebook, which is sucking up way too much of my time. But I have to go play just one round now…

Monday, June 22, 2009

I Heart Faces: My Littlest Boy

The theme this week at I Faces is "Let's Hear It for the Boys" to honor the special men in our lives. That's my littlest man in the azaleas, badly in need of chapstick and a haircut but so adorable nonetheless!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Just One of My Father's Legacies

My childhood was rich in the cadence of words, both written and heard. There was always the sound of my father's voice telling stories, and the image of my father in the middle of everything, quietly reading a book.

My family had books everywhere. Bookshelves lined our den and bedrooms, corner shelves were stacked full with books in the living room and dining room, and books crept onto the polished tops of coffee and end tables. My father never used bookmarks or even turned down the corners of pages; he was—and still is—a spine-breaker. He left his trail face-down, books sprawled out on surfaces, waiting to be picked up again, their spines permanently arched and cracking.

My father could be alone in a house full of us. The bustle of the family could hum all around him while he sat, cross-legged, rubbing the corner of a page between thumb and forefinger. "Jim," my mother would say for the fourteenth time, and he'd look up, eyes mystified and foggy under his black-rimmed glasses. Any true reader knows that to swim to the surface and bob up into reality can be disorienting.

My father has never been a monogamous reader. He splits his time between his bedroom novel, his coffee table magazines, his scientific journals, his biblical texts, and whatever anyone else is reading. He reads every book my mother brings home from the library and cannot be in my house for 10 minutes without visiting the nearest bookshelf and pulling out a book. He's easy to find and predictable, there on the green couch with his legs crossed and his thumb and forefinger doing their page rubbing.

But my father has never been stingy with his love of reading. The earliest recording of my voice is me at about age three with my father. "What do you want me to read?" he asks in his gentle Southern Illinois drawl, like the rolling hills of an orchard. I answer back in the same accent, "Just any ol' thing, Daddy." Though my mother was my daytime reader, my father read to us each evening from the big white Pearl S. Buck story Bible.

After supper and on long car trips, he was a storyteller. He knew how—still does know how— to tell a story. He knew all about character development, plot, climax, conflict, and denouement, and he used those devices with skillful ease. He is a master storyteller, rich in language and suspense.

A passion for reading is certainly not the only gift my father has given to me, but it is perhaps the one that links my life so solidly to his. This we share more deeply than our delight in the perfect sail or a slice of the sweetest peach: a passion for words, both written and spoken, for the sound of language and the joy of a well-turned phrase, and for sheer delight of a perfectly good book.

(Repost from SmallWorld Reads. My apologies to those of you who subscribe to both!)

Friday, June 19, 2009

What I've Been Doing

My first summer project began last Saturday when I put the first coat of paint on my dining room walls. It all started because I wanted to redo the parquet floors, which were in dire need of refinishing. But of course since I had to move all the furniture out of the dining room anyway, it seemed logical to repaint the walls, as well. It's been eight years, after all.

When we first moved into this house nine years ago, the dining room had a hideous vertical-striped wallpaper on the top and something else on the bottom. Peeling wallpaper and painting was chore, especially with a newborn. My friend Tracy did most of that work while I watched all the kids. I'm not sure who got the better end of the deal, but that was eight years ago. I'm tired of green.

Look at this floor! Okay, this is after I sanded it, but it really didn't look much better before sanding. I was somewhat intimidated by the thought of sanding, staining, and polyurethaning a hardwood floor. I read a few websites and got the general idea, and then I sent the kids to day camp and worked my heinie off.

And here it is four days later. The first day I sanded and stained. The next day I rested. The third and fourth days I put coats of polyurethane on and made everyone stay out of the dining room. That was tricky, since we have to go through the dining room to get to the kitchen. But the kids were great, and we enjoyed eating out!

And here are the new wall colors. The photos isn't terribly representative of the "sauteed mushroom" and "Belgian chocolate" combo, but it is fabulous. Now I just have to paint the trim and buy new switchplates. And new picture frames. And a clock. And paint a chest. And most importantly…

move the very large dining room table OUT of the middle of the living room and back into the dining room!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Memory: Treasures in the Pages

Having left hers at church, Laurel needed a Bible to take to camp with her this week. She needed a lightweight one to carry in a backpack, so I found one of my old Bibles on a shelf. This was the NIV I carried through college and through the first ten years of my married life. I kept lots of stuff in the pages. Last night I shook all the papers out before I gave her the Bible, and right before bedtime I sifted through these lovely treasures.

I found a note from my college friend Lindsay. I don't know why she wrote it. Maybe when my grandmother died my freshman year, or perhaps some other time when she knew I was down. It says, "I love you! 'Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall.' Psalm 55: 22." I am blessed to have such people in my life.

I found a note from my mom, with the salutation, "Sweet Paperdoll." That was always my favorite nickname that she had for me.

I found a note that fluttered like a ghost. I knew what the green sheet of paper was before I opened it. How many times had I read this letter from my college friend Dee Ann? Somehow I had forgotten all about it, and now that she's gone, I will treasure it even more. I remember well the confident curls of her cursive.

I found my first boyfriend's obituary, and the finality of his death hits all over again. And his age: 23. And I found the note from his mother, thanking me for traveling from Tennessee to New York for his funeral. As if I could have not been there.

I found a letter from my future mother-in-law, encouraging me after Bryan's death. What was really sweet about that letter is that Randy and I were no longer dating when she wrote it. But she said she always knew—or hoped—we'd get back together.

I found a poem from Randy after we did, indeed, get back together. A snippet from that:
"Two people met in the faraway hills of Tennessee
that learn to call each other home
And find that life without a home
is like no life at all."

I found a poem that my father wrote for me, called "Little Girl." A snippet from that:
"You weren't all that impressive
when you first arrived, you know;
Just another little pink baby,
open-mouthed and squinty-eyed.
Brothers would just as soon have a dog.
'Druther, maybe;
dogs are smarter than sisters and train better too…
Mom and I decided to keep you anyway,
At least for awhile.
Any new pet's nice to have in late winter,
helps with cabin fever.
It was dogwood season when you really joined the race—
dogwoods by the window,
white crosses and pink
blowin' in the wind,
blowin' laughter in the wind,
blowin' beauty in the wind.
My Sarah in the wind,
Sarah in the dogwood wind.

My heart is full of treasures,
little girl,
full of treasure pictures,
row on row,
year on year,
treasured treasure pictures in my heart...."

It goes on for another page, and I can't even ever get throught the first stanza without weeping. I am blessed, so blessed, by this man who is my father.

And I found the poem my father wrote for my mother on their 50th anniversary, called "Always Twenty-One." That one I can't even read. At all. Especially with my parents (who celebrated 60 years last August) 800 miles away. But I have it here if you want to read a beautiful love poem.

I found a few other things, too: a letter from my college best friend when I graduated and left, a note from my uncle after my Great-Aunt Flossie died at age 104, a postcard from Randy when he went to Venezuela, and a note from him titled, "Happy Hopefully Pregnant."

I think it is entirely appropriate that, tucked inside the Word that has always sustained me, were words from people who have loved me, touched me, forgiven me, given me unspeakable joy, and blessed me immeasurably.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Flag Day Parade

Don't they all look so happy? This is as we were heading out of the nice, air-conditioned cars to meet up downtown with our Cub Scout pack and American Heritage Girls troop for our city's first Flag Day parade. (Or at least the first in the past few decades.)

Thirty minutes later they weren't looking quite so happy. Vests came off and shirts came untucked. Sweat was pouring and tongues were hanging out of their mouths as they cried "WATER! WATER!" We finally started marching after they'd been waiting nearly an hour-and-a-half. It was really, really hot, as days tend to be in the South in mid-June.

Next year, I will remember these two things: 1) there is no need to line up an hour before the parade begins; and 2) bring water. That would have been a really good idea.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Weekly Wrap-Up

It's Weekly Wrap-up time at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. This has been a weird but very social week here in SmallWorld.

On Monday, we went to the pool for the first time this summer. I completely forgot that Duncan began Cub Scout Twilight Camp that evening; fortunately, Donna reminded me when she called to figure out carpooling. And that's all I remember about Monday.

On Tuesday, we went to the pool again. This time we stayed a bit too long and got a little fried. But I got to chat a long time with my friend Julie, who had been out of town for awhile. I made something delicious for supper, but I don't remember what.

On Wednesday, we did not go to the pool. I have no idea what we did. I think I planted some flowers and pulled some weeds. I probably did a lot of laundry.

On Thursday, Jesse left at 8 a.m. for Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico. If you know anything about Boy Scouts, you know that Philmont is the pinnacle event of the scouting experience. The group put their reservation in two years ago, and at last, their trip begins. And that's why I can't remember anything except the pool about Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday: our entire lives have basically been consumed by Preparing for Philmont for the last week. And now he's gone for an amazing 12-day adventure, plus 4 days of driving there and back. Maybe I can remember some stuff now. Yeah, and on Thursday, we went to the pool after Laurel's flute lesson. We were there for 20 minutes and then a huge storm hit, so we can home. It's lovely to live a minute from the pool.

On Friday, surprise! We went to the pool. We had loads of fun and stayed way too long, but it was worth it. Duncan and I also planted a bunch of flowers today. We're headed out now to the closing ceremonies for Cub Scout camp, which will include a bonfire.

And so there you have our first full week of summer vacation. I think we spent it appropriately: a lot of pool time, packing and departing on a very big trip, Cub Scout camp, sleeping late, and planting flowers.

How was your week?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Three Beautiful Things

1. A summer thunderstorm, not long after I planted a bunch of thirsty flowers.

2. Pool passes, so I don't feel bad about only being at the pool for 20 minutes before the storm hit and the pool closed.

3. The prospect of a newly painted dining room.

What beautiful things are happening in your life today?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Filling the Flowerbeds

When we moved into this house nine springs ago, I was absolutely thrilled with all the landscaping that was already in place. Besides loads of trees, there were two large and one tiny flowerbed already laid out, lightly mulched, and planted with mostly bulbs (irises, several varieties of lilies and daffodils) and azaleas.

The problem, though, was that the flowerbeds were really big and relatively empty in spite of the bulbs. But I love gardening and what I saw was potential. Nine years later, I'm still seeing potential. I've transplanted bulbs every year and added various perennials: roses, lavender, bee balm, hostas, Coral Bells, Black-eyed Susans, heather, rosemary, hibiscus, phlox, lantana, chrysanthemums. Still, every year I have empty spaces that have to be filled with either annuals or more perennials, which can be expensive. I can only add a few of those each year.

One of my favorite ways to add to the flowerbeds cheaply is to root impatiens and begonia stems. I always have several vases of stems rooting in my kitchen window, and people invariably ask what I'm doing and express amazement that one can do this. Growing up in a horticulturally obsessed family, I guess I figured everyone knew this could be done. So in case you don't know, here's how to do it.

First, cut about a few 3-5 inch stems from a plant you already have. I like to winter a few pots of impatiens indoors so that I always have some to start with in the spring. I also buy a flat of impatiens each spring to get things started, adding them both to containers and to the flowerbeds.

Now put them into little vases filled with water. These are flasks that Dr. H. brings home from his lab, but you can get cute little flasks at Walmart in the craft section for a couple of dollars. Or just use whatever you have. It's important to always keep the water level covering the stem, so check it each day. They drink a lot.

In about a week for impatiens or a couple of weeks for begonias, if you've kept the water level up, you should see roots. You've done your job.

Now go plant them. It's best to plant in the evening so they aren't attacked by the sun immediately upon planting. Impatiens like the shade; begonias do fine in the shade or the sun. Water thoroughly. You can also buy a bunch of impatiens seeds and sprinkle around, but you won't have the instant satisfaction of free flowers.

As soon as you plant those, go cut some more from your original plant, and start another batch. And ultimately—if you give them plenty of water—you'll have something like this:

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.
~Claude Monet

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday Miscellany

* Yes, it's supposed to be Monday Memory day, but really I am too lazy to go photo-hunting. So instead, it's Monday Miscellany.

* Speaking of memories, I was remembering today how incredibly hard it used to be to go to the pool. Now that my kids are good swimmers, I can sit back and chat with my friends. I never thought I'd get to this stage, but it is lovely. If you still have little ones, you'll get there, too, someday. Really!

* Speaking of the pool, this is our first real day of summer vacation, so we went to the pool for the first time. Our city has a fantastic community pool, complete with a huge slide and a few diving boards. For the first time in three or four years, my daughter isn't swimming on the swim team, so we are going to spend loads of time playing at the pool. It's more fun for her to swim at the pool when she doesn't have swim practice later in the evening.

* This morning Duncan and I were out doing yard work. I asked him to put "that" in the shed, pointing to the snow shovel. (It was out because Jesse was shoveling old sand out of the sandbox and into the new flowerbed.) "What is this thing anyway?" he asked. I told him it was a snow shovel. "What is it used for?" he asked. My boy is truly a southerner. We have never needed to use a snow shovel in his entire life. We probably could have left that behind in Iowa.

* My 16-year-old is getting ready to go to Philmont Boy Scout ranch in New Mexico. He'll be hiking for 12 straight days, and he'll be lucky to get one shower. We spent $40 on a pair of hiking pants this weekend, and we've been told that they'll stink so badly when he returns that we'll have to burn them.

* I need new recipes. I am officialy tired of every single meal that I make. I want light, summery, and extraordinarily delicious fare. Ideas?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Family Friday

Although three of us siblings live within 45 minutes of each other, we rarely see each other during the "off season"—that is, the half of the year when my parents are in New York at their other home. But this past Friday evening, my middle brother invited everyone over to his house for an impromptu party. The occasion: his daughter was unexpectedly in town with her 14-month old son, whom most of us had not yet met.

Amazingly, the vast majority of the family came. It was a perfect ending to a hectic week: homemade ice-cream, babies, and a rousing game of Mao.

Those are my middle two brothers, John and Peter, with their grandbabies, Abigail and Justus. It's weird that my brothers are Grandpas. But they are SO way older than I am.

Cousins Abigail and Justus, who are just a couple of weeks apart, met for the first time. They were really too precious for words.

That's my Laurel with Abigail. My poor little girl was surrounded by brothers and boy cousins, as all the girl cousins were teenagers when she was born. She is enjoying having her own baby girl cousin now.

Duncan is always excited when he gets to see his cousin Xavier. They are peas in a pod, and my niece April and I always vow to get them together more. But like most of those plans, they never seem to come to fruition.

We've made plans to get together again for the 4th of July, which is always a frighteningly fun night with my brothers. They are not to be trusted with fireworks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thursday Thirteen

Lists are such good things to do when one's brain is drained from 2 intense weeks of camp planning, preparation, and implementation! This week I'm joining Thursday {Thirteen} at Happy to Be at Home.

In 10 days, all my kids will be at camp. My oldest will be at Philmont Boy Scout camp for 16 days, and my younger ones will be at day camp—all day camp. While I have been away from my kids for a day or two every now and then, I have not had the house all to myself for more than a couple of hours in about 16 years. I have a big list of things I'd like to do in the house while they are gone. I'll be happy to get the first one done.

1. Refinish the dining room floors.
2. Paint the dining room.
3. Paint Duncan's room.
4. Work in the flowerbeds.
5. Go to Hobby Lobby and mindlessly wander throughout every aisle of the store.
6. Meet a friend for lunch.
7. Blog every day.
8. Record what we've done this year in school and see what I need to purchase for next year.
9. Begin lesson plans for the classes I'll teach at co-op next year.
10. Clean our bedroom.
11. Go to McKay's Used Books all by myself.
12. Wander around Target aimlessly.
13. Do an enormous grocery-shopping trip.

What would you do if you had the house to yourself?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Books Read in May

May was a strange reading month for me. Most of it was devoted to reading middle-grade readers in preparation for a literature circle class I'm going to be teaching at our co-op this fall. Also, I have been so swamped with AHG camp preparation that I haven't gotten around to reviewing most of the books. So check back on my SmallWorld Reads blog next week for more reviews!

Books Reviewed:
Epileptic by David B.: a pretty weird graphic novel. This turned out to be only the first volume.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I absolutely loved this. And the author sent me an email thanking me for the review! I swooned.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Middle-grade reader. Everyone seems to love this; I wasn't crazy about it.
Ties That Bind, Ties That Break. Middle-grade reader. I really liked this one.

Books Read but Not Yet Reviewed:
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Amazing, of course. But I don't think I'll use this one for class for various reasons.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. Fantastic. This will likely be one of the books we'll read.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. It's been a good 25 years since I last read this one. It's still fantastic, but I don't think this will be one of my choices.
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. Again, I haven't read this one since I was a teenager. Not going to make the cut.
Sounder by William Armstrong. Loved it, and I don't think I've ever read this one before.

I'm currently reading Farewell to Manzanar. I have decided, in the course of all these reading, to do a themed literature circle—World War 2 Perspectives. As of right now, I'm thinking our three books (it's a 10-week session) will be The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Farewell to Manzanar, and Number the Stars. Each presents a different perspective of the WW2 experience.

If all goes well, I may do another one with a canine theme with Where the Red Fern Grows, Julie of the Wolves, and Sounder as possibilities. We'll see.

I'd love to start tackling my own TBR list, but next I'm going to make the final decisions on the books we'll be reading for my World Lit class for high schoolers next year.

Read any good books lately?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Camp, Day 1

Today, the first day of our American Heritage Girls summer camp, we concentrated on the zoology badge. We had a morning filled with …




A visit from the Zoomobile


And lots of screaming upon encountering our mascot, the polar bear!

Day 2, tomorrow. Tonight, we'll all sleep well.