Friday, April 30, 2010

Early to Rise…

We were presented with a unique opportunity this week: a whole day's pass at the Wilderness in the Smokies waterpark resort and a chance to be on television—with filming from 5 a.m.-9 a.m. So my kids don't care at all about being on TV, but a whole day at the waterpark with their friends? They were more than willing to get up at 4 a.m. in order to make the drive over there. It's the second time we've been invited to promote the resort on TV; the first was when it opened a couple of years ago. You can read about that event here.

As it turns out, we were able to get a room at the resort, thanks to our friend who was organizing this insanity. Below is the view from our balcony, showing part of the outdoor portion of the park, which actually doesn't reopen for a few weeks.

He also informed us that we didn't have to be there until 6 a.m., which is somehow much better than 5 a.m. Putting on a swim suit at that time of the day is just strange.

Anyway, we all made it through. About 35-40 friends showed up, and the kids were all moved from spot to spot—slides, wave pool, surf rider, play area—and played in the background while Mitch from the CW Network's "The Daily Buzz" did his thing. We moms in bathing suits lounged on the deck and tried very hard avoid the cameras. I did see one short segment. Mitch was talking on live, national TV, and there is my son, climbing up a water slide behind him, with his butt crack showing.

After our duties were over, we were able to enjoy the waterpark for the entire day. Normally, the park is open only to hotel guests, so it was a treat. The kids spent the day going on waterslides and fighting waves in the wave pool. We moms spent the day in the outdoor hot tub, discussing important things, like how old does a teen have to be to go on a car date? We like to go for the light topics.
We actually only stayed until about 1:30 p.m. The kids were worn out after seven hours of non-stop activity. When we got home, Duncan crashed on the couch for about 3 hours and still went to bed at his regular bedtime. And I got a nice start on my summer tan.

If you can afford it, I absolutely recommend staying at Wilderness in the Smokies if you're coming to the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area for vacation. Check out the link. They run special deals throughout the year. And you don't have to get up at 6 a.m. to enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Loving Jane Eyre

I'm teaching it in World Lit, and I finished it today for about the fourth or fifth time. I don't care one whit that half of my students have expressed that they abhor this book, because I love it. And I love my copy of Jane Eyre. I love the way it feels in my hands and the black and white illustrations within its pages. But most of all I love it because my father bought this copy just for me over 20 years ago and inscribed it:

"May you use to good purpose that gift with words with which the Creator has endowed you."

My father, all those many years ago, blessed me in a way that perhaps seemed small to him then. He blessed me with this book that he knew I loved, and he blessed me with the gift of encouragement and faith. He saw me; he believed in me; and he told me.

No amount of sighs and grumpy students could take away my joy in Jane Eyre, for reasons beyond Charlotte Brontë's wonderful story. For me, this book represents a father's delight in his child. And that has carried me through many, many hard times in my life.

Linked to Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky and Just for the Joy of It at Good, True and Beautiful

Monday, April 26, 2010

On the Menu

This week Dr. H. willingly sat down at the dining room table with me and helped plan our menu. (With a stack of 125 exams to grade, he'll do just about anything to procrastinate.) We did it the old-fashioned way this week: with a stack of cookbooks. I have a whole cabinet full, and I just randomly grabbed a few. That red folder is our collection of recipes clipped from newspapers, printed off the internet, etc. It also contains our master camping menu list and our master menu list, which is a former version of my On the Menu page.

But, honestly, none of this week's recipes come from a cookbook except for Tuesday night's dessert, Key Lime Pie. Here's what we are having:

French Bread Pizzas (never had last week)
Ribeyes (for my mom, who keeps mentioning that she'd love a good ribeye)
Thai red shrimp curry
Baked ziti

I have to wonder sometimes why I keep so many cookbooks, now that I find the vast majority of my recipes on the internet. And, in fact, why are so many cookbooks still being published? I once started to write a cookbook, cleverly titled Real Food for Real People. This started when I was a fairly new bride. I found myself understanding how to follow recipes for somewhat complicated meals but not knowing how to cook very basic things liked mashed potatoes and pot roast. I wanted a cookbook with simple, basic foods. Yes, I know—that's what The Joy of Cooking is all about. But I didn't get the Joy of Cooking as a wedding gift; I got complicated cookbooks with recipes for things like braised tongue.

Anyway, I never got farther than one or two recipes before I lost interest in that project. But this would have been one of them:

Baked Ziti

1 lb. ziti, penne, or whatever tube pasta you like
2 cups mozzarella
1 jar of spaghetti sauce (I prefer Classico vodka sauce or 1/2 jar red sauce and 1/2 jar alfredo)
2 chicken breasts, grilled or otherwise cooked and shredded

Mix everything together except 1/2 cup of the cheese. Add whatever spices you like: basil, oregano, a little dried red pepper, etc. You can be crazy and add other things, too, like spinach, mushrooms, or other cheeses. Put in casserole dish and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. Baked at 350 for 20-30 minutes. This makes waaaay too much to feed our family of 5, so you'll have lots of leftovers. (Or be smart and cut the recipe in half if your family lets leftovers rot in the fridge.)

There you go: real food for real people. No sweetbread omelettes here. For more menu ideas, check out my On the Menu page at the top.
Linked to Menu Plan Monday at Organized Junkie and Tasty Tuesdays at Balancing Bedlam and Beauty.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Road to Independence, Part 2

It's been awhile since I posted part 1 of The Road to Independence. If you are a follower of WordSmithery, you know that I have issues with so-called regular features. I'm pretty much not Type A.

In my first post, I talked about the general relaxed approach we've taken in our lives. One of the reasons that we began homeschooling was because we didn't like the rigid emphasis on testing in the elementary grades that we saw in our area public schools. In first grade, our oldest and his classmates had to practice filling out bubbles so that they would be prepared for the TCAPS (standardized test) in second grade. Really? What a colossal waste of childhood. They also had to practice note-taking so "they'd be ready for college." Oh, come on. That's just silliness. (I know it's not like that everywhere. I understand—and have experienced—the existence of excellent public schools, like the one in Iowa where we started out. But that's not our reality. And so.)

As I was saying, we have deliberately cultivated a relaxed approach to our lives, and in homeschooling and parenting, this translates at one level to relinquishing control little by little. This, my friends, is a key part of the road to independence. Your kid cannot become independent if you do everything for him/her because it's the way you want things done (AKA, the right way). In simplest terms, it's OK for your kids to color outside the lines, metaphorically. To raise an independent kid, you will have to give up a lot of preconceived notions you had about parenting and how your kid would be.

In practical terms:
• you must let your kid fail sometimes
• you must let your kid wear clothes that you did not pick out (yes, I know people who pick out their high schoolers' clothes each day)
• you must let go of some of the requirements you may have asked of your child when s/he was younger (e.g., cleaning her plate, getting up at ___ a.m., going to bed at ___ p.m., etc.)
• you may need to reconsider whether you will require your teen to attend various events with you. For example, I've seen 16-year-olds attending functions that are clearly meant for K-5th graders. The look on their faces: angry and embarrassed.
• you must pick your battles, just like you did when s/he was a toddler
• you must not allow what other people think to dictate what you know is right for your family. You must watch the hypocrisy level in your own life.

I'm not talking about just packing it all in and saying, "It's your life; do what you want." Obviously, there are plenty of places where our guidance is essential. But our kids need room to breathe and figure things out on their own, and they can't do that if we are constantly grilling them, questioning their decisions, and planning their every move. I think we parents do this mostly out of fear—fear that they'll be harmed in some way, fear of what others will think, fear that they'll fail, fear that they won't know what to do, fear that they won't turn out like we wanted them to.

That's all I have to say this time about helping your high schooler become independent. It's scary; I know—but you really can relinquish some control. Holding on too tightly might make you feel better and might even make your kid feel better because it's all s/he's ever known, but you might very well be doing him a disservice.

Do you have a high school-aged kid or older? In what ways did you relinquish control?

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Friday, April 23, 2010

In the Yard and Other Nice Things

Here's what's happening in our yard this week, in addition to everything from last week, which is all still blooming…

The bleeding heart and roses are especially precious to me because they came from my parents' yard in New York. I don't know what the real names for the roses are—and perhaps those are the real names—but my parents call them Rose Rose and Oriental Rose. My father swears that white bleeding heart didn't come from him, but it really did. His bleeding hearts are all pink.

In other lovely news, Randy and I are going out to dinner all by ourselves this evening while our younger kids are at a birthday party and Jesse is at work. It's a simple pleasure, but a much needed one after the crazy week we've had. Phew! I'm glad it's Friday!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Love Story

This week, Kelly wants to know. So I'm reposting this, because really. A love story needs to be told again and again. So from 2008 (or rather, beginning in 1985)…


Our love story is very long and complicated. There are many twists and turns along the path that led to me become the other half of SmallWorld. It is much easier to say, “We met in college,” which is entirely true.

But more precisely, I spotted Randy. I was a sophomore, and my friend Brenda and I returned from summer break a few days early, during freshmen weekend. I believe that we came specifically because our boyfriends had to be back early to start basketball practice and we wanted to see them, but we absolutely, in spite of our boyfriends, engaged in much previewing of freshman boys.

And in he walked. Brenda and I were in the cafeteria, facing the doors so that we could see everyone who came in. So in walks Randy, with that bounce in his step. He was wearing black Reboks with paisley shoe strings and striped shorts. He was very tan and had gorgeous long brown hair. And earrings. “Who IS that guy?” I asked. (I don’t know who I asked, but someone.) “That’s Greg Small’s brother,” I was told. (Background information: Randy’s older brother Greg had graduated from this same college a couple of years beforehand but lived nearby in an apartment.)

So, yeah. I kept my eye on him. But I had this boyfriend that I was crazy about, and that was all very complicated. So Randy and I became good friends. We hung out. His best friends were my best friends. But I had this boyfriend…

FAST FORWARD. So over Christmas break that year, this boyfriend quit school and dumped me. That was very sad. But heartaches mend quickly at 19. Back at college in January, Randy and I exclaimed our jubilation that we were both relationship-free. We held hands for the first time at the Italian Village. He sent me flowers for my 20th birthday. We kissed in the lobby of my dorm. For Valentine’s Day, we cooked spaghetti together. And it was all very, very nice.

The first seven months were pure bliss. We were madly in love. I’m pretty sure I’d never been happier in my life, nor felt more completely myself with anyone. And then— kerplunk, kerplooey—it all fell apart. I don't even remember the circumstances, but we broke up and it was devastating. And then, at Perkins late studying one night, we got back together again. We sang, “Reunited” while walking around the swimming pool outside Perkins. (Why was there a swimming pool outside Perkins, anyway?) And then at Christmas, we broke up again. And then…yeah. That happened a lot. A whole, whole lot. We were “on a break” more often than not, and that was horrible beyond description. And since I don’t like to dwell on that year of on-and-off…

FAST FORWARD. So after a year of on-again/off-again, I said, “Enough.” I remember wondering who in the world I was and knowing that I had to release Randy in order to reclaim myself. Oh, that was a very good thing. And it was very hard. Randy started dating my best friend’s roommate. Did I mention that we went to a very small college? That everyone knows everyone’s business? That you can’t help but run into your ex-boyfriend and his silly new girlfriend everywhere? Oh, and that my best friend and her roommate-who-was-now-dating-my-future-husband lived right below me, and that my window looked out on the parking lots, and that every time that roommate and my ex-boyfriend/future husband walked out to his car, I was watching? Yeah, that was stinky.

But I had my own new boyfriend pretty soon, and he was fun. We laughed a lot, and he liked to quiz me every now and then: “Are you still in love with Slim?” (His name for Randy.) “No, no, of course not,” I’d reply.

Yep, he was fun, the boy I would never have married. And my girlfriends! Oh, we had the most amazing times together. We lived in constant angst, but a delightful kind of angst. We painted poetry on my dorm-room walls and made mixed tapes. We went to hear bands and danced the night away as often as possible. We didn’t care about our sort-of boyfriends, because we knew they were temporary. We were so, so free.

What I really gained after breaking up with Randy was myself. I was healing. I was gaining perspective. I remembered who I was. And somewhere in there, I really did let Randy go. I remember understanding that I would never love anyone as completely as I had loved him. But I knew I could move on with my future. I would marry someone who treated me well. I would love him. But the great passion of my life happened by age 21.

There was a poem by Gary Snyder that burned into my heart. Like the poet, I would live; I would endure. But I would live remembering:

After college I saw you
One time. You were strange.
And I was obsessed with a plan.

Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I've always known
where you were--
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back.
You still are single.

I didn't.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that.

Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.

We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.

I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.

(Excerpted from “Four Poems for Robin”)

And so I graduated from college in May 1988. Randy was there, and that weekend there was a graduation party at a friend’s house. We all brought white t-shirts to autograph for each other. And what Randy wrote on mine clearly meant to communicate to me that he was missing me. (Did I mention that he and his silly girlfriend had broken up a few months beforehand?)

But still, I had this fun, uncomplicated boyfriend. Who went away on a trip for two weeks after I graduated.

So one evening my girlfriends and I were watching the classic horror flick from my childhood, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. (Hmmm. Perhaps I should write a post someday about all the scary movies I saw when I was a child.) This particular movie scared me just as much at 22 as it did at age seven, so we decided to go check out the local music scene instead. I can’t remember who was playing, but it was warm night in June, and some of us were sitting outside in the parking lot, leaning on cars. And then it was just Randy and me.

And that was it. Nearly three years after we'd first met, and eight months after our final break-up—the big one—there was that sublime moment of realizing that this—this moment—begins our life. There should have been symphonies and fireworks lighting up that June sky. It was a moment I can still see so clearly: the young girl and boy in their t-shirts and shorts, sitting on the hood of an old car on a warm East Tennessee night. He quotes a song to her. They know: this is forever. They kiss. Friends peer at them from inside the building, pointing and whispering: “OH MY GOODNESS! Randy and Sarah are back together!” All is right with the universe. This is the way it was always meant to be, but sometimes we have to do things the hard way.

June 4th we met for breakfast in the park. We had jelly donuts and Five Alive. I wrote my uncomplicated boyfriend a letter and broke up with him. As it turns out, he was always right about Slim.

In September we said, “Hey! We could get married!”

In March, we did.

And we still have spaghetti every Valentine’s Day.


And my picture? I can't seem to find the classic one of the groomsmen kneeling down in a plaintive fashion while I'm standing with arms akimbo, and so I'll have to humiliate Randy instead. One can only wonder why these kinds of photos are taken. Randy and my entourage of bridesmaids and flower girls. How can this possibly be explained?

Tell your love story this week at Kelly's Korner.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Outdoor "Wordless" Wednesday: Two Weeks

What a difference two weeks can make!

That's the same spot in our yard, two weeks apart. Spring is happening so fast I can't even pretend to keep up, but at least the leaves are mostly cleared out of this flowerbed!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday Miscellany

* An earthquake awakened me at 5:30 a.m. That was weird! I've felt one small one here before and one in New York. Very unearthly feeling for such an earthly thing.

* I think the earthquake scared the poop out of my dog, literally. She pooped on the floor for the first time in months. In case you were wondering.

* We're having company for dinner that we've never met. That's always fun! They are friend of friends back in Iowa who are contemplating moving here, as any sensible person would. I'm serving lasagna. I don't know how one couldn't fall in love with this part of the world on a week like this. The azaleas are so outrageously beautiful and something else pops out nearly every day.

* I love the end-of-the-year feeling. I'm not quite counting down the days, but nearly. But I will say this: only six more weeks until my oldest child graduates.

* I've been consumed with oldest child events and issues lately. Senior photo shoot for newspaper on Thursday, prom on Friday, real senior photos on Sunday, and making Eagle Scout ceremony preparations this week. And then dealing with various other things that happen in the lives of teenagers… As we tell him not infrequently, we are figuring out all of this ourselves, too, this parenting thing. He's a great kid, and we are very blessed.

* Yesterday I spent an hour or so just with our youngest son at the park. It was lovely. I sometimes feel a tug at my heart when I think about how much he's "missed" by being the youngest child. All those afternoons at parks, all those lazy days with play-dough and art projects. Oh, he's had a good supply of those things, but it seems like our older kids had so much more of that relaxing down-time. So much more of us.

* And on that depressing note, I'm off to dust the pollen off the mantle.

Have a terrific Tuesday!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On the Menu, with Lasagna Recipe

Finally, I'm getting back to my regular menu planning! Not only has my family been suffering from careless and random meals for the past few weeks, but I'm also afraid that my friend Diane and her family have been suffering. She tells me that she plans her meals according to my menu plan, so I'm truly apologetic to her husband and son, who have possibly been eating spaghetti o's a little too much lately. (There, Diane! You made my blog!)

Not having a menu plan seriously adds stress to my life. I'm not crazy about grocery shopping, and Dr. H. does help with that a lot, and I often dislike thinking of things to eat; but being resistant to fixing supper does not make the need for meals go away. I secretly look forward to the day when I can eat yogurt or cereal every night for supper, like my parents do. But until then…

This week we'll be having:
Ginger Beef
Potato Crusted Tilapia
French bread pizzas
and lasagna

My lasagna recipe changes every time, but here is the basic recipe. I make mine half-carnivore/half-herbivore, so an omnivore can have his/her choice of halves.

Really Easy Lasagna

6 lasagna noodles, cooked
1/2 lb. ground beef, if desired
1/2 c. onion, chopped
2-4 gloves garlic
1 can tomato sauce (14 oz)--or more
1 small can tomato paste
lots of spices: oregano, basil, hot pepper flakes, garlic, salt and pepper, to taste
spinach (if you want a vegetarian side)
1 container ricotta mixed with 1 egg
1 lb. mozzarella, shredded

Cook the lasagna noodles. Brown the ground beef. If your family deals well with onions, add 1/2 cup chopped onions and 2-3 gloves garlic in with the ground beef as you brown it. My kids scream if they see a piece of onion, so I leave this out. But I never leave out garlic, unless I am feeling terribly lazy.

Cook the tomato sauce and paste together. Add about 1/2 cup water. Add all the spices. If you like a really saucy lasagna, you should add another can of tomato sauce. Cook for about 5 minutes. If you are going to make an all-meat lasagna, add the meat to the sauce now. If you are doing all vegetarian, add the spinach to the sauce now. If you are doing a 1/2 and 1/2 lasagna, leave the sauce alone.

Begin layering your lasagna. If you are making a 1/2 and 1/2, stick a piece of foil at the halfway point of a 9 X 13 pan. Yes, I really do this. We would not want the meat side to touch the vegetarian side. Put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom. Add 3 noodles (cut in half if you are doing 1/2 and 1/2), then more sauce. At this point, you can sprinkle beef on one side and spinach on the other. You don't have to cook the spinach ahead of time—just layer on the fresh leaves. Now add half of your ricotta/egg mixture and half of your mozzarrella. Repeat sauce and meat/spinach and cheese layers, then add the rest of the noodles. Put one more thin layer of sauce on top and finish off with lots of cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 for 30 minutes.

You can also, of course, add all kinds of delicious things to your lasagna, like sauteed mushrooms and roasted eggplant. Or you can make a kids' half and an adult half, if you want more delicious things than your purist children.

Serve with a salad and Pioneer Woman's Buttery Bread.

Have a happy eating week! More recipe ideas can be found on my On the Menu link at the top of the page and at Menu Plan Monday and Tasty Tuesday.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

It's been weeks since I've done a Weekly Wrap-up. I've been in one of those months in which every minute seems to be eaten up by some kind of deadline.

But I'm breathing now, catching up on all the things I've let slide. For the past few weeks we've been studying the 1920s and 30s. We had one movie blitz week, in which we watched: Sergeant York, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, The Journey of Natty Gann, and also Cheaper by the Dozen (the 1950 one). We read Cheaper by the Dozen a couple of months ago but I waited forever for the movie come back in at the library. Ultimately, I ended up buying it as well as the sequel, Belles on Their Toes, which we haven't watched yet.

Sergeant York, which is the story of a poor farm boy from Tennessee who becomes a WWI hero, was phenomenal. This is a must-see for studying World War 1. We are going to try to work out a field trip to his home in Pall Mall, TN. It's about 2 hours from here, so we'll see what else we can do in that neck of the woods. We all absolutely loved this movie!

We've seen Kit Kittredge before but it was well worth watching again as we studied the Great Depression. Laurel took a whole 10-week American Girl history class that focused on Kit, but that was a couple of years ago. This was a great refresher. The movie really hits on a lot of Depression-era topics and is definitely one that appeals to kids and adults alike.

The Journey of Natty Gann tells the story of a Chicago girl (maybe 13 or 14) who decides to ride the rails to find her father, who took a job in Washington State and promised to send for her. This also provided a fantastic picture of a different aspect of the Depression. It was definitely darker and rougher than Kit Kittredge. There was some pretty rough language, which surprised me for a PG-rated Disney flick. But the whole focus on riding the rails, hobo camps, and the hobo's life was excellent.

We finished reading the American Adventures novel The Great Depression. As always in this series, the dialogue isn't great and the writing is formulaic and often cheesy, but the history itself is fantastic. My kids really like these books, and I try to keep my own opinion as an avid reader and writer out of my voice.

We've also been reading about the Depression from Landmark History of the American People and Usborne's World History, but the very best history lessons my kids had through all of this was their own grandparents and great-uncle. My uncle was visiting last week, and one afternoon the kids and I went over to my parents' house and said, "Please tell us about your memories of the Great Depression."
We spent over an hour listening to their stories. My mother and my uncle (that's them in the photo above) were city kids, and they told how their folks lost their house and moved into the apartment above their store, and how they'd see the breadlines and recognizing people they knew. My uncle talked about the hobo jungles on the other side of the tracks and how they wouldn't go down there. My dad (in the checked shirt), who grew up on a farm 10 miles away, said that the Depression really didn't affect them much. They were poor anyway and lived off the land. They had all the fruit and meat they wanted.

My parents often talk about "old times" around the supper table, but it was great for my kids (and me) to ask specific questions based on what we've been studying and to understand that they have the privilege of really knowing—and being known by—these precious people of "the greatest generation."

In other school-related news, our weekly Monday co-op classes are now finished until September! We're always happy when the year comes to end, although we enjoy it all while we're in the midst of it. I still have 3 weeks left of the World Lit/geography class that I teach on Fridays. With Monday Fun being over, we can make more progress toward "finishing," a term I use lightly and somewhat ironically. We are now reading up on World War II, starting with The Winged Watchman. Laurel has already spent 10 weeks reading about various experiences in WW2 during our first literature circle class last fall, so we aren't going to spend a huge amount of time on this time period. Of course, we also have my Dad for first-person narratives on the war.

I'll be looking for PG-rated movies to watch for my kids, so I'd welcome any suggestions!

Ah yes, one more thing. I had one of "those" encounters this week, but it all turned out OK. A woman I've recently met and learned to really enjoy and I had a conversation about homeschooling. She said that she had been a librarian in a small town out west and that all these homeschoolers would come in to check out books, and the moms had no business homeschooling--that they couldn't read or speak correctly, etc. etc. So I was able to talk to her about stereotyping and about how there certainly are undereducated (and/or ignorant) people who are homeschooling their kids; but that this segment represents only a small--but unfortunately media-attractive— portion of homeschoolers. Homeschoolers in this area, I emphasized, are largely (but not entirely, for sure) well-educated parents who, in fact, refuse to put their kids in a mediocre public school system. After all, I told her, our state historically ranks in the bottom 3-4 states in its public school scores over all. She conceded that, in fact, she would never put her kids in public schools had they raised them here. (Her kids are grown.) We talked about the large percentage of former public school teachers in our support group who are now homeschooling their kids. Anyway, I share that because I have a tendency to either get defensive in the face of comments like this or, more likely, to let the comment slide on by. But we ended up having a great discussion. She did assure me that I was an OK homeschooler. ;-)

Linked up at Weekly Wrap-up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In the Yard: April 15

I love this time of year. Our yard is outrageously beautiful, and something new is popping up every day. Here is what's flowering today (click for a close-up):

Clematis and columbine should be out in the next day or two, and all the roses are just about to burst open. Next week, we may have peonies. I've started planting annuals these past two days and have a small section of impatiens, marigolds, and dianthus planted. I've got a long, long way to go, but I love the feeling of dirt under my nails. Pure joy.

What's growing in your yard this week?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Just Us

It's been a long, long time since we've had a family picture, just us siblings and my parents. It's highly possibly that I was four years old in the last one. Usually all the spouses, grandkids, and now great-grandkids are in the photos, which is fantastic, but I love this one with just us. Or most of us, anyway. Our oldest brother, James, never comes to us, literally. If we wanted a family picture taken that included him, we'd have to go to him. And that's a long, long story.

More "Wordless" Wednesday posts at Wordless Wednesday and Five Minutes for Mom.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


For the past 10 days or so I've been in that haze that comes with being so utterly overloaded that I've been practically paralyzed. My mind has been going in so many different directions that I can hardly have a coherent thought. Forgive me, real life friends, for looking at you blankly if you've talked to me in the past 10 days. It's highly possible that have no idea what you said to me, so please tell me again.

On top of the normal chaos and stress of a high activity week, last Thursday was the meeting at American Heritage Girls at which we take orders for badges, service stars, new uniforms, conduct Boards of Review, and a dozen other little things as we prepare to end the year. Plus my uncle and my fourth brother came in town last week, and Randy went out of town. We had everyone over for supper on Saturday and then the whole family (21 of us) gathered at my third brother's home on Sunday.

And I had a cold, which is a weird thing for me to have in April. And I was sleepy all week, but it was even worse when my brother stayed at our house until 1:45 a.m. on Saturday/Sunday. I really don't remember the last time I stayed up that late. And there were emotional issues going on this week, some angst here and there, all made more important because of the lack of sleep and stress combination.

But I'm starting to feel somewhat clear-headed today for the first time in what seems like forever. I'm beginning to remember all the daily tasks that have been neglected: laundry, ironing, cleaning, grocery shopping. Returning emails and phone calls. Paying bills. Cooking meals for my family. Blogging. Brushing my hair.

Actually, I don't brush my hair. If I did, I'd look way too much like this lady. But come to think about it, I've pretty much felt like this lady all week.

And so there. I've done something that can drive me insane about Facebook statuses and other bloggers: I've whined. And I feel much better at the end of this blog because in whining about my life, I am again reminded of what a very blessed life I lead.

(And how I need to get off my butt and make a grocery list.)

The End.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Mother

My mother turned 83 today. It's almost impossible for me to conceive of my parents being in their 80s, although I see them every day and I know, on a certain level, that they are, as my father says, octogenarians.

My uncle Max (that's him on the left) and my brother Stephen came into town for her birthday. We're all heading over to another brother's house later today. We'll all gather, eat, maybe play a few hands of cards.

And while I find it hard to grasp that my parents are in their 80s, I am, each and every day, tremendously grateful that they are here and painfully aware of the passing of time. I want many more years of perfect spring days under redbud trees, more afternoons spent speaking of everything and nothing, more Tuesday evening card games.

Many, many more birthdays.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Daffodil Girl

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains
of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and
spring after the winter.

- Rachel Carson

You can share your life in photos at Wordless Wednesday and 5 Minutes for Mom.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Sunday

'Twas Easter-Sunday. The full-blossomed trees
Filled all the air with fragrance and with joy.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There really isn't much more to say. It was a perfect day. Hope yours was, too.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Organization, My Way

Like most people I know, I’ve had dozens of organizational systems through the years. Some things work, and some things don't. I’ve always had a calendar of sorts, and back when I just had one child I had a great system of performing one cleaning job each weekday (e.g., dust on Mondays, vacuum on Tuesdays, etc.). That was all nice and easy when we had a 500 square feet apartment, six pieces of furniture, one small child, and what seemed like endless hours to each day.

More children and a couple thousand more square feet and inevitably I turned to FlyLady to help me manage cleaning and clutter. I diligently did FlyLady’s routine for a while but after a year or so, I unsubscribed from her group—but not before I’d made habits of many of her steps (e.g., shine the sink, get out of my pajamas, de-clutter a little every day).

My organizational system of cleaning is now called, “clean something every day.” Every day dishes get washed, counters get wiped down, clutter gets picked up, beds get made, and laundry gets done. That doesn’t mean all the dishes or counters or clutter, but something gets done every day. The best motivation for a really clean house is company.

Beyond cleaning organization, there is household and homeschooling organization. I am attracted to forms of all sorts. I love the forms on Donna Young's site. I love the forms from The Organized Home. With everything from calendars to home management to preparing for Christmas to homeschool forms, both of these sites are amazing! I absolutely love to print off great quantities of these sheets at the beginning of each year and use them…. Ok, actually, lose them in a big pile of Stuff. I love Cindy Rushton’s notebooking system, and for a year (OK, maybe six months), I was a proud Binder Queen with all kinds of tabs and folders and forms in my nice, thick binder. But then the binder got too bulky, and well, I lost interest in being a Binder Queen. Plus I couldn’t carry a big binder in my little brown purse. Or my springy pink-striped purse. (Yay! It's almost spring and I can get out my pink purse!)

And so here, now, after 21 years of marriage, 17 years of parenthood, and 10 years of homeschooling, is what my organizational system boils down to:
* a wall calendar
* a small calendar in my purse
* my computer
* the sticky-note feature of my computer
* two spiral-bound notebooks and a folder
* weekly menu
* three bags
* the home budget feature (much modified) of Excel
* Home School Reporting

That’s pretty much it.

* The calendar is just a simple one. I don’t even agonize anymore over which artistic/literary calendar to buy (Renoir? Monet? Shakespeare?). I am no longer obliged to keep old calendars around for crafts or perhaps for framing. Sweet release. The calendar, being what it is, hangs on the wall where everyone can see it. So when they say to me, “What are we doing this week?” I simply point to the calendar.
* The purse calendar is essential, and it's also essential to transfer items from that calendar to the wall calendar, and vice versa. Also, Dr. H. and I have a shared google calendar, but I really don't look at it much.
* Pretty much everything is on the computer, in files. Nice, fairly organized files. No clutter. No stacks of papers lost beneath other stacks of papers. I love my computer. And...
* The sticky note feature on my computer maintains my to-do, reminder, and idea lists (see photo above). There’s nothing easier than writing myself a little note while I’m on the computer, where I do much of my thinking and nearly all my corresponding. Best of all, sticky notes don’t get lost or buried beneath other papers. And perhaps some gratification is lost in deleting items accomplished rather than crossing off, but even deletion has its moment of satisfaction.
* One spiral-bound notebook is solely for grocery lists. Everyone in this house is trained to write down whatever s/he needs or whatever we have used up. I also plan meals for the week each Sunday. The meal ideas themselves are on my On the Menu page at the top of my blog, and I also find great meals from Menu Plan Monday at Organizing Junkie and Tasty Tuesdays at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, another vital component of my household. The On the Menu page contains an ever-growing list of meal ideas and recipes. The other notebook is for our finances. (We’re Dave Ramsey followers, so we keep rather meticulous records of our spending.)
* I have a library bag, an American Heritage Girls bag, and a Monday Fun (co-op) bag. Everything connected with those three groups (that isn’t filed away), goes in and stays in those bags. The bags are distinctly different looking, so that I don’t accidentally pick up the library bag when I’m going to American Heritage Girls. That would not be a good thing. The bags stay packed with their proper stuff, so if I’m looking for a book I used at the last Monday Fun, I know to look in the bag.
* We make a budget each month, and although it’s usually the same, reviewing and refining it each month helps me. I’ve found the home budget feature on Excel to be easy to use and modify.
* Homeschooling organization is really it’s own post, but here is one that keeps the paperwork down to a bare minimum for me: Homeschool Reporting Online. I can quickly and easily keep track of attendance, subjects, and create an ongoing portfolio for each child. I could also generate lessons plans, etc., if I so desired, but as of yet I haven’t desired so.

I must admit: I am terribly, terribly tempted on a regular basis to print out all kinds of organizational forms. I love the looks of them, the potential for.... what? Yes, in my life, the potential is for stacks of papers on the counter, lost forms, and frustration. And so for now, I'm sticking with what works, even if it doesn't fit in a nicely decorated and personalized binder.

Check out Kelly's Korner for more organizing tips!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In the Yard

So much to do, so much to do! I began spring yard work in earnest yesterday: cleaning out flowerbeds, pulling a few weeds, taking load after load of leaves to the curb, pruning. The most tedious task is pulling oak leaves out of the azalea bushes. I know it'll pay off in the next couple of weeks as the azaleas flower, but wow! I need to pay some kids to do that job!

My biggest problem is that I get terribly distracted. I set out to do one area and end up in a totally different area. We have a big yard with lots of flower garden areas, and I have ideas for all of them and then some. This summer I'm focusing on revamping that area in the lefthand corner with the red bench. Last year Jesse demolished an old stump that was there (the previous owners planted the daffodils to surround the stump), and I cleared out the bramble and poison ivy My plan is to make this the hibiscus and rose garden; so far I have a few roses and one lonely hibiscus. (Hint, hint, Dr. H: remember those hibiscus plants you were going to start for me in the greenhouse?)

I have a goal of getting all the beds cleared out in the next couple of days so that I can begin planting annuals. I love my yard in the spring and love the exercise that comes with gardening! Now if only I could hire a cook and a house cleaner for the next few weeks…