Sunday, August 29, 2010


Six months.














Today my little girl becomes a teenager. I love everything about her. She truly fills my heart with joy. She is the person I want to be when I grow up. She's kind, encouraging, and loving—she's the kind of friend we all need. She's sweet but she's not a pushover. She does things she doesn't necessarily want to do because she knows she should; but she knows her own boundaries, for the most part, even at age 13. I truly am astounded that this person is my daughter. And very, very blessed.

Linked up with Tuesdays Unwrapped on Chatting at the Sky

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday Morning

Two Kid Schoolhouse says she woke up this morning without "a burden of things to do," and I feel exactly the same way. Last week we were doing hard things; this week I'm thinking that, although I have a few things to do, I don't have to be anywhere at any particular time.

I've had one cup of coffee and am about to go out for a run. A dozen girls are sleeping over at the apartment, crammed together across every inch of the floor. When they awaken, we'll have sausages and waffles (with whipped cream in the can, at the special request of the birthday girl).

Birthday shopping. Something delicious for dinner prepared by Dr. H. Anticipation of a quiet evening and maybe a Netflix movie arriving in the mail that we'll watch tonight. (What it is, I can't remember.)

There are dozens of shoulds: I should be doing lesson plans, preparing the upstairs for painting, cleaning, working in the yard. But today I'm just going to take things as they come.

What's your Saturday like? Link up at Two Kid Schoolhouse.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: First Week Back

Phew. At the beginning of this week, I wasn't sure I'd make it through—not because we started school but because of taking our oldest to college. I was really in a funk but it started to clear out about Tuesday, and by Thursday I was probably pretty close to back to normal. It's so great to have texting capabilities! Definitely closes the mileage gap and eases this mother's heart.

So we began this school year on Monday, we three. Laurel is now in 8th grade and Duncan in 4th. In the morning we did our traditional measuring. Laurel grew a whopping 4 inches since last year, and Duncan grew his usual 2.5 inches. At 9 1/2, he is an inch taller than Jesse was at 10 1/2—and Jesse was not short! I'm still predicting that Duncan will be the tallest in the family, and I'm betting on 6'2". Laurel is now just an inch shorter than I am, and I think she'll end up being an inch taller than I ultimately.

We also did our annual "all about me" page. We vary this between being a book (Enchanted Learning has some great ones) and just a sheet of paper with a photo that lists things like favorite foods, activities, movies, books, as well as height and weight. I keep all these in a big box called appropriately, "The Big Box of Books." The box also includes lapbooks and various other books they've made throughout the years. Tons of fun to look through each year.

On Monday our co-op high school classes began, and that included Laurel's yearbook class at 2 p.m. She had a great time, but I was still at the "please don't ask me how I'm doing or I'll get all weepy" stage. I was glad to get back home so I could be depressed some more.

The rest of the week we added all of our subjects back in. We did spelling evaluations, a few math drills, began grammar and handwriting books, and read lots of Narnia. To get in the Narnian spirit, we made Turkish Delight (a dismal failure) and a jelly roll for afternoon tea. The jelly roll was just okay. We all thought chocolate would have made a better filling.

This year for science we're going through a book called Focus on Scientists. It has biographies of dozens of different scientists in various fields and includes a couple of pages of experiments or other activities to go along with each one. My plan is that I will do the introductory lesson with the kids, and either my Dad or Randy, who are both biologists, will do the follow up experiments/activities with them.

On Wednesday the kids and I went down to my parents' house, and Dad and the kids took apart a couple of old watches and discussed gears and other things. We had read about Benjamin Banneker, an African American mathematician and astronomer. In the mid 1700s, Banneker constructed a working clock without ever having seen a clock.

I'm not sure what we'll be doing for art this year. I just haven't found the perfect thing, although last year I used Focus on Artists for awhile (until it was due at the library) and really liked it. I may have to break down and purchase that.

All in all, it was an excellent first week, in spite of my melancholy. Jesse is doing great at college. One thing that really strikes me is how absolutely delighted he is with his classes. He loves learning, and for me, that was a huge reason to homeschool: to foster a love of learning.

And so we continue.

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Day in the Life

If you're feeling stressed out because you're reading all kinds of amazing schedules at the Not-Back-to-School Blog Hop at Heart of the Matter, you've come to the right place. You can relax here or probably feel better about yourself because you'll be thinking, "Wow! Even I have more time slots than this lady does!" I am, in general, a member of the relaxed schooling society. At least for K-8th. And so…

(What you are about to read may or may not have ever happened.)

(Translated: every day is different.)

10 a.m.: Everyone is dressed and breakfasted. Some of us have exercised and had a second breakfast. We (here are my students) leave our house and take two steps out our back door to go into our apartment/schoolroom. (Here is where we do school.)

10-noon: The goal is always to do the harder stuff first thing in the morning, so we try to do math right away. If we don't do math first, we all regret it.
After math, we do grammar, writing, history and/or literature. We've always been avid Sonlight users (and will continue to be after this year), but this year, we're all about Narnia. Or we might do something like make a jelly roll for tea time later (we did that today), or go to my parents' house for a science lesson, like we did yesterday.

(That's my Dad teaching the kids all he knows about how a watch works. Mom had two old wind-up watches that the kids took apart and examined with a magnifying glass.)

noon-1 p.m.: Lunch. Or if I'm really hungry, we'll eat from 11:30-12:30. It's not good to have a grumpy Mom. Kids are allowed to have 30 minutes of tech time during lunch (no TV).

1-2:30 or something like that: we do all our other stuff. This includes anything we didn't finish in the morning, and anything I'm forgetting to mention above, like spelling, science, creative writing, art, etc. We also have "sustained private reading" during this time for about 20 minutes.

So that's a "normal" day, which would include Wednesdays and Fridays. On Mondays we have all-day co-op classes, and on Tuesdays, Laurel has dance and drama classes at another co-op in the afternoon. Duncan has his very own Oma and Opa (grandparents) time on that afternoon. On 2nd and 4th Thursdays, we have American Heritage Girls and Cub Scouts. On the 1st Thursday, we'll be going to the planetarium.

We're flexible and casual, but learning happens all the time around here, whether structured or unstructured. We get all the "biggies" done every day and add in the rest when we can. Or sometimes we ignore all the biggies and just do the rest. Next year I'll start another one in high school and we'll have to move things up a few notches; but for now, we're enjoying the luxury of a relaxed childhood.

Linked up on the Not-Back-to-School Blog Hop at Heart of the Matter

Wordless Wednesday: My Parents' Yard

Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart.
~Russell Page

By the end of August, my own vegetable garden is nearly completely taken over by weeds. My flowers are still surviving (but not exactly thriving) for the most part, except a few pots that died in the endless string of 90+ degree days.

Yet just two blocks away, my parents' yard continues to flourish. Their vegetable garden is overflowing. They toss seeds in the ground which seems to turn into 6 inch flowers the next day. My father is currently cultivating roses and has a dozen or more thriving new ones from just one rose plant. The fence is lined on both sides with rows of sunflowers, roses, lilies, impatiens, marigolds, cosmos, 4 o'clocks, apple trees, and more. The peach tree is heavy with fruit.

I know. Right now my real garden consists of my own little family. But I sure am determined to someday have a late summer yard full of growing things.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Doing Hard Things

We took him to college this past weekend. It's funny, being behind your teenager as he drives. One of his best friends went with him. Good thing, too. It was early in the morning and I'm sure the conversation kept him awake.

I'm so happy for where he is. The campus is reminds me of my own college, so pretty. It seems small although with 5,000 students, it is much bigger than my college.

We got him all set up in his room. I like knowing where he's going to sleep, where he'll brush his teeth, where his sock drawer is. We found the laundry room and were happy to see explicit directions on each washer about how the washers work. We met his roommate and his RA, and both seemed easy to get along with.

We toured the campus again, went to the bookstore a few times, had lunch, drove to Staples. But eventually we had to leave. Really had to. I was strong for most of the day (that you to many friends who were praying!), but as the reality started to creep back in, I really had to leave before I totally melted down.

{Are we really old enough to have a child in college? Why did we let our son do high school in three years? Who sends their 17-year-old off to college, anyway? Will he make any friends? Will he eat? Will he get up in time for his 8 a.m. class? Will he brush his teeth? Will I crumble up and die of heartache?}

Yes, I am wearing sunglasses in the photo because I am weeping. We are all trying to hold ourselves together. And then we left quickly after the last hug, because you have to walk away.

Three days later. This is the first morning I've awakened without my stomach in knots. I think I might not weep today. It's the little things that get me teary. Making 8 cups of coffee instead of 10. Accidentally calling one if his siblings his name. Not having to worry about backing into his car when I pull out of the driveway. Seeing his other best friend, who is still in high school, at Boy Scouts. Seeing his stuffed lionfish in his room, his old pal Vinny. Folding a shirt that got left behind in the laundry. Starting back to school in our home with two students instead of three.

It's all good—it really is. He's exactly where he should be, and we all know from the moment they are born that this time will come eventually, right?

Texting and cell phones make the process easier. He is eating. He has found people to hang out with at least for now. He found the gym and ran on the treadmill ("You ran on the treadmill? You've never done that before!" ""Um, we don't have a treadmill at home." Oh yeah.) So far he's made it to most of the orientation events, and classes actually start tomorrow.

I had to ask: "Are you homesick?"
"No," he replied. "Sorry!"

That's exactly the answer I needed.

Linked up with Tuesdays Unwrapped on Chatting at the Sky

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Memory: To College

We took our oldest son to college this past weekend (an event that will have its own blog post, as soon as I can do that without weeping), and of course Dr. H. and I got to talking about our own first weekend in college. He remembers his parents bringing him to college, but I don't think it ever crossed our minds that my parents would bring me to college. My 4th brother was a junior in the same college my freshman year, and my 3rd brother and his wife were dorm parents at the college (not in my dorm). I guess I had enough surrogate parents to suffice.

Apparently we did, however, take my 2nd brother to college. I remember this very vaguely. I must have been 5, Stephen 7, and Peter 14 when John began his freshman year. I'm not sure why my grandparents were there with us. What kinds of things were going on in our family then? Stephen and I were so little. We were perhaps still after-thoughts in this already formed family. Maybe they were all still getting used to us being around. And looking at this picture, I realized that my Granddad must have died just a few months after this, or at least within a year.

The stories behind the pictures. That's one of the main reasons that I blog—so that my kids will know, to some extent, the stories behind the photos. And so that I'll remember these slices of life.

Do you have a Monday Memory? Leave a comment so I can check it out!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I can't remember the first time we ever took Jesse camping, but he was just a little guy, maybe even a baby. When we lived in Iowa, we weren't exactly avid campers because, well, it's strange to sleep by a cornfield. Children of the Corn and all that. But in the past 10 years we've camped far too many times to count. So camping was the perfect way to spend our last weekend with our son before he goes to college.

Yes, he's texting while we camp. Don't judge us; you'll allow it, too, when you have a 17-year-old. We camped with about 15 other families for our annual Scouting Family Camp. I think he's texting his not-girlfriend (she's not allowed to date, so they're not-dating), wondering how long until she arrived.

This was a new find for us on this trip: Starbucks instant coffee. Um, yum! It was actually fantastic coffee! One of the downfalls of camping has now been eliminated for us. If we can figure out how to eliminate chiggars, life would be grand.

Duncan spent 98% of his time riding his bike and playing with his 15 or so buddies who were there. We really didn't see him except for meals and bed.

Laurel nearly finished her outdoor cooking and camping badges. She's getting ready to make pancakes here.

Camping is just plain good for the soul. I can't think of a better way to spend a few of the last days with our family before our first one flies away.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Argiope

"They might bite if grabbed, but other than for defense they have no interest in biting humans."

That is reassuring, but man, those argiope spiders are big! We usually have one or two big ones that hang out for quite a long time in late summer. For me, they are a sign that fall is on its way. And just to confirm that, we are due to have our first day in two months that is under 90 degrees!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Students

Because this one…

who was homeschooled since second grade, is just days away from leaving the nest (wanna get weepy? read this), I am left with these two beautiful, amazing creations:

Duncan, our youngest, will be in 4th grade or thereabouts. At nine, he's taller than most of his 11-year-old friends. I am thinking he'll skip a grade eventually. But for now, he is all about Legos, video games (let's be honest), riding his bike, Cub Scouts, hiking, his grandparents, his family, and eating. He's an easy student, smart and mostly cooperative. I adore him.

And this beauty is my 8th-grade daughter. She takes my breath away, just as she has since the moment she was born. She is kind, generous, big-hearted, compassionate, and very funny. She is a wonderful friend to me and her many girlfriends, and I cherish each day with her. She's also well on her way to being a great cook. She is smart and a quick student, always precise in her work without being a perfectionist. I'm crazy about her.

This year, we're spending our days in Narnia. Because who wouldn't want to?

Linked up at the Not-Back-to-School-Hop at Heart of the Matter.

Once Upon a Time: A Letting Go

Once he was a boy who like to climb in log cabins and jump in haystacks.

Once he was a boy who liked to swing and run up slides at the playground.

Once he was a boy who played with Legos, hour after hour.

Once he was a boy who went barefoot in the sandbox in the spring, reveling in the feel of the cool sand and the end of winter, surrounded by little people who thought he was the greatest. And the bossiest.

Now he's my boy who is about to leave the nest, to head off to college 3 hours away. We had one last camping trip this past weekend, a familiar familial pattern of campfires, hikes, and marshmallows. We've done it dozens of times over the course of the past 17 years, but this one was extra sweet.

"What should I take with me?" he asks.
"Everything," I tell him. "Everything that you need every day."

What isn't packed in his suitcase will be packed in his heart, stored there as quiet memories of sand, swings, mountains. And us.

Linked up at Tuesdays Unwrapped on Chatting at the Sky

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back to School Reflections

I’ll soon be heading into my eleventh year of homeschooling. My firstborn is leaving for college, and, as usual, the dynamic of our homeschool will change. I like to take this time before we start again to prepare myself for a new year. After 10 weeks of enjoying lazy days, it’s time to shift gears from Summer Mom to Teacher Mom. Remembering basics like sharpen all the pencils and have coffee first is easy. But what makes the transition work the best is reflecting on the less tangible lessons I’ve learned over the years:

• My children reflect my moods. (Yes, I said reflect, not affect.) If I am distracted, grumpy, and/or irritable, they will be, too. I should be nice all the time. …

{I'm over at The Homeschool Classroom today. Visit me there for the rest of this post!}

The Homeschool Classrom

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Cake

Learning to decorate a cake has been high on my 12-year-old daughter's "to-do" list for a long time. She finally had the opportunity to participate in a cake decorating workshop this week. Her cake was gorgeous and way too delicious.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

On the Menu (with Hobo Meal recipe)

It's time. I have to start getting back out of lazy summer mode and back into the swing of things. We've had sporadic menus this summer, but now I'm getting serious. We're going camping at the end of this week, so we'll have our traditional hobo meals one night and hamburgers/veggie burgers another night. Other favorite camping essentials include beef jerky, Sunchips, powdered sugar donuts, and pudding snack paks. These are all coveted foods that don't normally make it into the shopping cart. Also, Dr. H. insists on frying Spam for breakfast.

I usually choke down one piece to make him happy, but no one else in the entire campground—and we'll be camping with about 20 other families—will touch it. Poor Dr. H.

Hobo Meals

Stew beef
Assorted veggies, like potatoes, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, onions.

Directions (assemble at home before camping): Bake (or partially bake) the potatoes, otherwise they may not cook in the campfire. Cut enough sheets of foil for each person. Spray with cooking spray. Add meat and then whatever bit-sized veggies each person wants. (One of the beauties of the hobo meal is that you can tailor-make each meal for each person.) Season generously. Add a couple of tablespoons of butter to each one. Seal well and write the person's name in Sharpie on each packet. Store in your cooler. To cook, place on prepared coals over campfire. Takes probably 15-20 minutes, depending on how hot the fire is. You can also make these with chicken or ground beef, but we like the texture of stew beef the best.

This week we'll also be having:
Samosas: I grew up having these on Saturdays at the Farmers' Market in Ithaca, New York. Perfect vegetarian fare.
Grilled Chicken with Cornell Sauce
Bacon and Tomato Pasta

We are all tired of summer food and looking forward to soups. I'm sure I said something exactly opposite about 4 months ago!

Do you have a favorite camping food? We'd love some new ideas.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ft. Loudoun in August

Our friend Chris is always trying to talk Dr. H. into joining him in reenacting. Today probably wasn't the best day to entice someone into the world of reenacting. It was easily 98 degrees at Ft. Loudoun for the 250th anniversary of the Surrender of Fort Loudoun to the Cherokees. And those guys were wearing wool, and a lot of it.

We sat in the shade and watched the battle and then walked around and talked with Chris and his kids, who are also in period dress. We watched a guy baking cornbread in an outdoor oven and a blacksmith making bullets. Duncan got advice on how to be a man from a nearly-naked Cherokee. We sweated a lot, but not nearly as much as those guys.

We got back into our air-conditioned van and went to an air-conditioned supermarket to buy groceries, which we are now cooking in our air-conditioned home on our indoor stove.

I'm glad Dr. H. is passionate about hiking and camping in the nice, cool woods in the summer, 'cause wool just makes me itch.

Friday, August 6, 2010


I don't think I've ever used that word before, except when referring to the senior citizen group at our church, which is called "Heartstrings." But all week I've been feeling those proverbial heartstrings being tugged at—that sweet and sad mixture of memory and present-tense.

This past week our friends the Johnstons came to visit from Iowa. They were our best friends during our five years there when we were in graduate school. We attended the same church and were part of the most phenomenal small group ever there. It wasn't hard to leave Iowa—after all, we were coming to our dream job in our dream location— but it was hard to leave our small group friends, especially Kris and Del.

You don't have the chance too many times in your life to connect at such a level. Double soulmates, I think of them as, because the four of us connect so strongly, not just Kris and me. And the minute our younger boys spied each other, they were like magnets. Neither Duncan nor Will were born when we left Iowa, and they were only 18 months old when we saw them last. I'm pretty sure they were together all but two hours this whole week —and that was only because Duncan didn't want to go horseback riding. Our girls got along great, too, but the boys just really hit it off.

We made the most of every minute they were here. We did all kinds of fun touristy things that are so much more fun when you have someone who can not only appreciate them, but laugh at them. We drove around Cades Cove and saw two bears and a bunch of tourists taking pictures of them from 5 feet away, played in the river, picnicked and swam at the lake, went horseback riding in the mountains, shopped the outlets in Pigeon Forge, and went river tubing. The weather was absurdly hot, but we all survived. The kids played about 10 hours of the Wii and stayed up outrageously late every night. We ate great food and had great conversation.

I missed them before they even pulled away this morning. Our house feels empty, and we're all kind of moping. I have this same sense of sadness with other friends who visit and leave: why can't we all live near each other? How sweet life would be to be able to gather in all our soulmates in one place. Well, and it would have to be here in Tennessee, of course.

And so now I'm returning to my regularly scheduled life, which is so very good right where I am. We just need one good day of moping and reveling in the gift of good friends.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Reading in July

Are you looking for some summer reads? Head on over to my SmallWorld Reads blog to check out my reviews. Here's what happened in July in my reading world:

Read and Reviewed

(click for review)
Mountains Beyond Mountains

My Name Is Asher Lev
Picture Bride
Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Favorite Book of the Month
Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev, without a doubt. But it was a great reading month, and all the books are highly recommended.

Currently Reading
The Help. Love it.

Tribute Reposted
Happy 50th to To Kill a Mockingbird

To Be Read in August
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Books Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List
Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson (mentioned at Books and Cooks)
My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (Reviewed by at Bookworm's Dinner)

Movies-From-Books Watched
Ramona and Beezus, based on the series of Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I loved, loved, loved this movie! Highly recommended.