Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Memory: To War

(A repost from 2008, in honor of Memorial Day.)

In 1951 my parents drove from Illinois to California so that my father could go to war. My father had already fought in World War II not even 10 years before, leaving college to enter the army at age 18. Now my father was a college graduate, a husband, and a father, and he was off to Korea.

My parents speak of this time with great fondness. They'd been married just a few years, and their lives were wrapped up in James, as we all are with out first child. It was a great adventure to drive across the country, to visit the Mojave Desert and the Continental Divide, to touch the Pacific Ocean. My mother was sending her husband off to war. It is what women did.

My mother and James flew back to Illinois when my father shipped out, and my father was in Korea for a year.

Here is a picture that my mother sent to him in Korea, near the end of his tour. James is wearing an outfit my father sent that was purchased during R&R in Japan.

My father is 85 years old now, my mother 83, and James will be 60 in July. In the evenings when my parents tell stories, though, they remember every detail: the rickety hotels, the sound of the ocean, the sifting of sand between their fingers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Wordless" Wednesday: Soaring

A Look At 100 Boys That Join Scouting

12 will receive their first time religious contact
5 will earn their religious emblem
2 will enter the clergy
18 will develop hobbies which will last a lifetime
8 will enter a career based on Merit Badges work
17 will become Scout volunteers
1 will use Scouting skills to save the life of another person
1 will use Scouting skills to save his own life
28 will continue lifelong hobbies started in Scouting

2 will attain the rank of Eagle

I'm going to move on from this; I really am. I know my posts in these past few weeks have been soaked in Eagle. But I'm just so darned proud of my son, and I'm so happy that at last, it's over! Graduation, which is coming up in 10 days, seems like a piece of cake compared to the Eagle Scout ceremony. My biggest regret is that Randy's family couldn't come see this. In retrospect, we wish we had encouraged them to come to his Eagle Scout instead of graduation.

But everything else about the day was perfect. Almost everyone that we invited came to the ceremony—thus we had some people even standing in the back, because who knew 100 people would be there? Even our college friends who live 2 hours away came for the event, which really, really touched us. My father, who got his Eagle in 1941, gave Jesse the Eagle charge. I didn't break down weeping, although I did have to get mad at the camcorder a couple of times to ward off the tears.

I loved hearing the positive things that the speakers—his two Scoutmasters and the overseer of his Eagle project—had to say about my son. I know that he is polite, respectful, and honorable, but it's nice to hear other people say it. One of the best things I did prior to the ceremony was make a photo book (on documenting Jesse's Scouting journey from Tiger Cubs all the way up to Life Scout, including several pages of his trek to Philmont Scout Ranch. We had the book on the table and asked people to sign it as a guest book of sorts. That is such a treasure to us, and I imagine will be to Jesse in a decade. ;-)

And now, moving on to graduation…

Monday, May 24, 2010

Easy Board Pictures

I used to make such cute things when my kids were younger and I had more time. I came across these pictures that I made for Duncan's room many years ago and are now stored under his bed.

These were so very easy to make; you could use any sort of book but we choose the Mr. Small theme because, well, we're the Smalls. I just bought very inexpensive copies of the Lois Lenski books The Little Fire Engine and The Little Train and decided which pictures I wanted to use. I then cut those pictures out of the books. It's nearly a sin, I know, but I have "real" copies of the book for reading. I found two boards in the shed that had been part of a bookshelf or something once, so they were already stained. I made "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish" pictures likes this years ago when Jesse was little, and for those I painted the board glossy yellow.

After cleaning the cobwebs off the boards, I just got my bottle of Modge Podge and decoupaged on the pictures and text.

I love to find projects that I once made. It reminds me that I really can come up with inexpensive decorating ideas all on my own—that I don't have to go buy new stuff at Target just because it's easier. And that's just one of the things I love about summer—time to create, paint, and make our home a little more us.

My Eagle

Photo by Lynn Freeny

My Eagle. And that's really all I have to say for now.

Linked to Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Shoe Collection

I couldn't help but notice our shoe collection this morning. In fact, I had to be wide awake in order to navigate this obstacle course through our living room and dining room without stumbling…

We do actually all have shoe baskets or shelves in our rooms, as well as one by the back door.

And yes, Dr. H. would like you to know, at least one pair is mine.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hometowns: Upstate New York, East Tennessee

I have two places that hold the title of "hometown," two different worlds, two different slices of Americana. From Wikipedia:

1. Geneva is a city in Ontario and Seneca counties in the U.S. state of New York. The population was 13,617 at the 2000 census. Some claim it is named after the city and canton of Geneva in Switzerland. Others believe the name came from confusion over the letters in the word "Seneca" written in cursive.

2. Blount County is a U.S. county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee. Its population was 105,823 at the United States Census, 2000. The county seat is at Maryville, which is also the county's largest city. It is included in the Knoxville, Tennessee, Metropolitan Statistical Area.

I was raised in western New York, which, unless you live in New York, is known as "upstate" (because everything not in NYC is upstate). I grew up in a neighborhood in the city of Geneva, but we moved out to live on our lake property when I was in 6th grade. This was the view I awoke to for many, many years.

Geneva is a small, largely Italian-American town. When I was growing up, it had dirty streets and run-down buildings, just like everywhere else in the 1970s and 80s. Now it's been cleaned up, and the lake shines like diamonds beyond the row houses and carefully placed benches along Main Street. It's a beautiful place.

Last summer my parents sold our house there. It still makes me get weepy to read this post, called House. I've written a lot about Geneva on this blog, and I noticed that I always call it "my hometown." Here's something I wrote a couple of years ago while visiting my parents:

There's a curious dichotomy of familiarity and strangeness that invariably comes with being in the city where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Not much has changed in my hometown—or rather not as much as one would expect in the past 24 years. Of course I've been back annually in those 24 years since my parents still live here, but in the area where I live now, a whole lot can change in the course of a year. I can't even imagine the number of retail stores, restaurants, and subdivisions that have gone up in Blount Co., Tennessee in the past year. Here in Geneva, I've noticed but one building (Pudgies Pizza) bulldozed down and a Tim Horton's has gone up across the street from Dunkin' Donuts. I think I counted three new houses on a little cul de sac on Snell Road. That's about it.

Seneca Lake looks the same as always. There are the familiar sails of a regatta on weekend mornings (or "ricotta," as Duncan says) down by the Yacht Club. The hum of weekend boaters and the small lapping of the waves on the beach. Voices calling out from docks to houses. In town, Main Street looks just as it did when I walked on it three decades ago, tossing newspapers onto front porches with Lisa. The Baltimore-style row houses still look sharp and historic; the lady-of-the-fountain still gushes water on Park Place. Nothing's changed at the colleges—Hobart and William Smith—except maybe a new sign or two. …

But with all these familiar things, I can't shake the feeling of being a stranger in my hometown. My friends mention people and I search for the memory of a face. I can't help but feeling now and then, erroneously, I know, that lives have stood still for those who have remained here. I know that is a completely false perception, but it adds to the strangeness of coming back to my hometown.…

Dr. H. always says my New York accent comes back for a brief appearance after a trip to my hometown. I started hearing the upstate nasal twang about 15 years ago: the incomplete "r's" and the harsh vowels. Upstaters are way toned-down from downstaters, but there is something there, for sure, something fast and a little hard. I am missing the gentle cadence of the south. We have just over two full days left here before we head back to Tennessee. The next time I come back to Geneva, I'll be a full-fledged visitor, assuming that my parents will have sold their house here by then. I'm ready for that, I think. I'm so far from the girl I was when I lived here that I can't even conjure up more than ghosts of emotions. There's no question where my home is now.

There are so many emotions attached to that little city on the lake, but for me, my home now is outside the Smoky Mountains, just south of Knoxville. On a rainy day like today, the view from my front window looks like this:

I write a lot about our adventures in the Smoky Mountains. We call it our big backyard. I love the South. I love the people and the climate and the slow pace of life. I love the wild abundance of green and the softness of the people.

For tourism, well, 8 million people visit our area each year. Besides the mountains themselves, we have Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge and all the attractions there, from Dollywood (which really is fantastic) to outlet shopping. And we live just 15 minutes from Knoxville, where you can find pretty much anything to do. Dr. H. is a professor at the University of Tennessee, and football season around here is just an amazing thing. The whole area becomes a sea of orange, and those who support other schools are enemies, pure and simple.

Two hometowns, two places that live in my heart. But if I were given the ultimatum—pick one, and live there forever—the choice would be easy.

I'm not budging from where I am now.

Linked up to Kelly's Korner

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday Miscellany

* Is this Thursday? I'm strangely calm, considering we have a Big Event happening in just a few days. But maybe this is Wednesday.

* No, it really is Thursday. I know because I took my Dad to the oral surgeon today to have four teeth pulled. I love my Dad. I've never before been in the position of being a caregiver for him. When he had angioplasty 15 years ago, I lived far away and my brothers were there with him. He's always taken care of me, but today I got to drive him and wait for him and pick up his medicine later.

* I do remember once when I was in high school and my mom went away for a week to visit my grandmother. I supposed I cooked for my Dad that week. But what I really remember is him cooking supper for me: a corned beef hash, egg, and cheese sandwich. It was strangely delicious. I can't quite imagine eating such a thing now. Is corned beef hash still even sold?

* Today I made a few dozen chocolate chip cookies and a bunch of cheese straws in preparation for Jesse's Eagle Scout ceremony on Sunday. Thank you, Carrie-from-high-school, for the cheese straws recipe! These are ridiculously delicious. Jesse said, "They taste like Cheez-its." He's absurd.

* I mailed out graduation invitations yesterday and today. Got Jesse's honor cord in the mail. This, for those of you who don't know your graduation lingo yet, is a golden cord that an honor student can wear drape around his/her graduation gown. Because, well, why not?

* Randy and the kids got me a pair of telescoping loppers for Mother's Day. All I really want to do is to be outside pruning trees and lopping away inappropriate shrubbery.

* But first, more cheese straws, more cookies, and supper. Is it weird that I plan to reward myself by getting to prune for 30 minutes or so this evening? Ah well. I come from a long-line of horticulturists.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dancing with Exuberance

I confess. I am often bored by ballet. I really, really want to like ballet; it seems like it should fit my quiet, literary nature. But honestly, I usually want to tear my hair out when I watch it, whether it's professional ballet or just a local recital. I truly would be happy never to see The Nutcracker again. (Forgive me, readers, whose daughters dance their hearts out in pretty little pink shoes!)

I'm sure it would be different, however, if my own daughter did ballet. Then, I am quite sure, the whole world of ballet would be magically transformed for me. I would see the story of Clara and that creepy nutcracker dude in a whole new light and be delighted each December to watch it again and again.

Luckily for me, my daughter has consistently chosen international dance. I love the fast-paced dances, the bright colors, the billowing dresses, and the exuberant faces. Everything moves so quickly in these recitals that I never have a chance to fidget or bang my head against the chair in front of me.

Truthfully, I want to run up on stage and join them in their exuberance. I suspect, however, that my daughter would never get over that mortification.

We're all done with recitals and performances for six more months!

Linked up with Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On the Menu

There is nothing new on our menu this week, just a return to old favorites that make at least 4 out of 5 people happy.

Penne a la Betsy
Spicy Pork Cutlets

I need simplicity and familiarity because this week I have to devote to preparing foods for Jesse's Eagle Scout ceremony. I've been perusing cook books, searching for a few appetizers that can be made ahead of time. His ceremony is next Sunday afternoon, and I'd like to have all the food prep done by Saturday. This gifted local yokel is making his cake, so my task is now to fill up the table with just the right extras.

Ideas? Please, share!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Favorite Books

This is my kind of "show us your life" question at Kelly's Korner today. I don't have a whole lot to say about make-up or cleaning tips, but books? Yep. I've got a lot to say. That's why I have a separate SmallWorld Reads blog.

My favorite book ever? Here's a little hint: ""Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird." You can read all about my favorite book ever here.

Reading with children? Yes. Every day for the past 17 years. Read this post for some thoughts on that. And don't miss this post for some great links on where to find great books for your kids. Here's a little excerpt:

"I like this list of 100 Best Books, but I like the age-by-age breakdown here even better. And if 100 isn't enough (of course it isn't!), here is a list of 1000 Good Books for preschool-grade 12.

Paula's Archives is another great place for reading lists, such as
* Easy chapter books
* Literature to supplement history and
* Living books for science

What about books for babies through preschoolers? I think this is a great list from the NY Public Library. Scanning these titles, I feel a tremendous nostalgia for the days of Bread and Jam for Frances, The Carrot Seed, and Mike Mulligan. (On a side note, my 7 and 11-year-olds still like for me to read picture books to them. A few times a week I'll pull out an old favorite to read to them, and they love them just as much as they did when they were preschoolers.)"

Click on this link, though, to read it all.

And last, but certainly not least, here are some of my own childhood favorites.

I could go on and on about books. If you are looking for something to read, check out the link for "Reading Picks" at the top of the page. These are my Top Ten lists from the past few years.

And I'll end with one of my favorite quotes:

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.
~Anna Quindlen

Linked to Show Us Your Life at Kelly's Korner

Ending Things

I have a love/hate relationship with May. May is when our regular activities end, and summer picks up. After 9-10 months of regular activities, I'm thrilled for them to be over for a while. The "hate" part comes with the tremendous amount of stress surrounding the ending of activities. Everything has to end with some kind of Big Event.

Last Thursday evening was our American Heritage Girls spring awards-and-cross-over ceremony. This is the really big one. Caroline, my co-coordinator and I, are frantic for the week prior to this, even though we've been preparing for it for weeks—and even though we've been doing this for 7 years. With 65-70 girls in our troop, we have a lot to think about. We have leader gifts to buy and plan for, tally sheets to double-check, badges and service stars to put in baggies and label, and a dozen other things to remember. And then suddenly, at 10 p.m. on Thursday evening—it's over. Joy!

Friday I gave my World Lit/Geography class a final exam and then headed out to our co-op's end-of-the-year program. I had little responsibility for this one, other than displaying my literature circle's posters and watching my daughter dance and sing. But still, it was another place to be. But joy—our co-op classes are officially over for a couple of months!

Monday we had a family dinner for my high school World Lit/Geography class, which required cooking and buying stuff and coming up with a quiz show so I could pit the students against their parents. And joy—the students won! I wish I could say I was completely done with that class, but I still have a pile of final exams and essays to grade.

And Tuesday night was the Cub Scout end-of-the-year and crossing-over ceremony. Since Dr. H. is the Cubmaster, there was still more stress and frenetic preparation. Badges, pins, belt loops, food, supplies, emails, phone calls. And these faces:

That's the joy of it all. Dr. H. and I are committed to some intense leadership positions, but there is tremendous joy in the knowledge that, through these activities, the lives of these kids are hopefully being enriched. And, honestly, there is much rejoicing in our home when the activities take a summer break.

And while I'm feeling tremendously relieved that these Big Events are over, we still have two more coming up: our oldest son's Eagle Scout ceremony, followed two weeks later by his graduation.

But for just a couple of days, I'm savoring the satisfaction of good endings.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Basket of Strawberries

We picked two baskets of strawberries today from our very own strawberry patch. I keep thinking that we need to go to a local farm and pick, but when we're producing this much on our own—wow! I've never been a great vegetable gardener since we moved to the red dirt of Tennessee from the rich soil of Iowa, but somehow the strawberries thrive in spite of the soil quality and my lack of attention. If only I had the ingredients to make shortcake… (I see a grocery shopping trip coming up this evening.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

That Exorcist Head-Spin

This has not been my favorite week ever. I've been grumpy and stressed. We've had to be somewhere every evening. School has been haphazard. My heart hurts for hurting teens. I spoke sternly to grown-ups because they irritated me. I've felt bossy and mean inside.

I missed my favorite TV shows. I spelled a word wrong on my Facebook status. We don't have any good snack food in the house.

I have felt my head spin around like that chick in The Exorcist way too many times this week.

But suddenly, it all just seemed to evaporate this evening. My friend Sheila, who knows me very well, sent me a "praying for you" text. And a prayer from her is goooood stuff. She made me laugh today, even though I was on the verge of tears. And tonight another friend made me laugh, and another. And then nothing even mattered anymore. I came home and couldn't even remember what I was all riled up about earlier; and when I did remember, I didn't care. (Well, except for the misspelling on my Facebook status. I actually do care about that.)

I have a quiet evening ahead. I have people who love me, in spite of myself and even when I'm feeling mean. And that's a really, really good thing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Wordless Wednesday": Flowers Abound

This is by far my favorite time of year for flowering gardening. The weather is still cool enough for the most part and the ground is nice and soft from a couple of good heavy rains. The problem is that this particular few weeks of perfect gardening also correspond with the end-of-the-year rush, so I have much less time to devote to flowers than I'd like. Fortunately, most of these lovely plants pretty much take care of themselves each year. It's the weeds and annuals that need attention…

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Memory: Scout

People keep asking me, "Are you so sad/scared/freaked out that Jesse is graduating?" and I keep answering no. But the truth is, it is getting harder and harder as the date gets closer. This week I am faced with the task of putting together a photo album of his scouting career in preparation for his Eagle Scout ceremony in just 3 weeks. This means I have to sort through dozens of photos—like those above—from 11 years of Scouting, from Tiger Cub in 1st grade to now, as an Eagle Scout. And of course that means watching my firstborn transition, over and over again, from a six-year-old to a 17-year-old.

So, yeah. I am feeling a little melancholy these days. But mostly just really, really proud.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

On the Menu

We're heading into the time of year when all I really want to eat is pasta salad and fruity things. But alas, cooking must happen. People must eat. And it's sooo hard to keep weight on a 17-year-old vegetarian. Like his father, my son seems to burn as many calories as he eats, even while reading, sitting at the computer or playing guitar most of the day. My husband assures me that he was just as skinny at that age as our son is now; indeed, since Jesse wore Dr. H's high-school suit to prom and it fit perfectly, I guess that would be true. Still.

So last week I was going to have ribeyes when my parents came over for our regular Tuesday night meal; however, my Dad got some dental work done last week and is getting two teeth pulled this week, so I guess Randy and I will have to suffer and eat the steaks all by ourselves. We'll be grilling our steaks but making Pioneer Woman's mushroom sauce that accompanies her pan-fried steaks.

Besides that, we'll be having:
Indian Chicken with Lentils
Salmon with mashed potatoes (I don't really have a salmon recipe. I just marinate it for awhile in honey, soy sauce, olive oil, garlic, and ginger and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes)
Hamburgers on the grill
Easy Enchiladas

This is one of those weeks I'm really, really tired of food. I'd like to eat stuff like Lucky Charms, powdered sugar donuts, chops and dip, and instant pudding, washed down with diet Pepsi, all week long. Setting a good example can be a drag…

Saturday, May 1, 2010


* Good stuff at The Carnival of Homeschooling at Dewey's Treehouse. I especially like Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers' The Public School Parents' Guide to Homeschool Parents and this post from Lesson Pathways about homeschooling co-ops. I can't even imagine homeschooling without one!

* I never miss Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.

* This bench at Knock-off Wood. I need Dr. H. to build it for me quickly.

* A great list of homeschooling-related memes, hops, and carnivals at The Homeschool Classroom.

* Petite Vanilla Bean Scones at Pioneer Woman cooks and Frangelico Layered Bliss cake at Eclectic Whatnot. I must make these delights ASAP. First, though, I must buy Frangelico and a whole vanilla bean. I don't happen to have those key ingredients hanging out in my cabinets.

* "Sharing" without being nosy at 1800 Centre Square. Great reminders from a woman I went to college with. Love her wisdom!

* New blog discovered: Lego Quest Kids. Looks like something Duncan will love to do.

* And a really fantastic series of posts by Samantha on Planning a Unit Study. I keep meaning to add this to my homeschool links page because it's so excellent.

(Yes. I am procrastinating. I've been doing it so long that I can't even remember what I'm procrastinating from.)

Weekly Wrap-Up

It's palpable. It's seeping in throw the open windows and infiltrating every fiber of our beings with a frightening rapidity: the end of the school year.

We still have all of May yet to go, but I'm pretty sure we're all on a mental summer vacation already. That's the downside of having all of our activities end during the last of April and first of May! Theoretically, the upside is that we have a whole month to dedicate solely to "wrapping things up," a term I use loosely. Theoretically.

I have been a math drill sergeant this week. Duncan (3rd grade) will easily finish his math book by the end of May. Laurel (7th grade)—I have no idea. Since we switched to ALEKS a couple of months ago, I don't really know where exactly she is. All I know is that she's starting pre-algebra next year, and I'm hoping she's ready. It's been a confusing math year. But I know that, as resistant as she is to math, she really does get it. She's stubborn, but very smart. It'll all even out in the end.

We finished our World War 2 unit as of yesterday. We started watching The Devil's Arithmetic, but I had to stop it midway through. The movie is about a Jewish teenager who is swept up with her village and taken to a concentration camp. When their hair started being cut off at the concentration camp, Duncan had a horrified look on his face. I realized that, although this movie is based on a children's book and is geared toward younger audiences, he is a little too young and sensitive for it. I plan to watch it later this evening just with Laurel.

We've been doing American History for 3 years now. I can hardly fathom that. I am soooo looking forward to returning to world geography and history studies. Sadly, we'll cover the next many decades (from 1945-present) in a month, but I rest assured in knowing that they'll go through American History again in high school and in college.

We had two fun field trips this week. Thursday we spent at Wilderness in the Smokies indoor waterpark (story here), and yesterday Duncan and I and friends went to see Walking with Dinosaurs, which was fantastic.

Just three more weeks until Jesse's Eagle Scout ceremony and a month until he graduates. I have a lot to do, so naturally I'm procrastinating as much as possible. We had his senior pictures taken last week, and I'm tremendously looking forward to seeing those and getting graduation invitations mailed out. I really need to start making lists.

(And stop blogging.)
(And stop hanging out on Facebook.)
(And stop talking on the phone.)

Linked to Weekly Wrap-up on Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.