Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Having Fun with Grammar

No, the title is not an oxymoron: you really can have fun with grammar. Admittedly, I love grammar, but I realize that most people don’t share my strange affinity for prepositional phrases, pronouns, and punctuation. That’s no reason for torturing your kids with dry grammar worksheets and tedious sessions of circling, underlining, and crossing out. …

The Homeschool Classrom
{I'm at The Homeschool Classroom today. Come on over and read the rest of the article there!}

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Looking for Some Great Reads?

After a few mostly mediocre months of reading, I've had a great November. I'll be posting my Top 10 List in early January over at my SmallWorld Reads blog, but I thought I'd give a little preview here in case you are looking for a good book, either for yourself or for a gift. Here are a few of my favorite books so far this year. Clicking on the title will take you to my review of the book:

New Literary Fiction
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Tougher Reads (as in, maybe not such happy endings and with difficult subject matter)
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Denticatt
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Buffalo Solider by Chris Bohjalian

Nonfiction/Memoir (tend to be emotionally difficult but well written and fascinating)
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Annie Fadiman
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
Heartbreaking Word of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I'm always looking for book suggestions, even though I have more than 200 books on my current To Be Read list. Do you have any books on your Christmas list?

Friday, November 26, 2010


O My God, Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow. When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
crowding into every moment of happiness
~A Puritan prayer of thanksgiving, from The Valley of Vision

It was a quiet Thanksgiving at my third brother's home, except for the sounds of the wind and my incessant sneezing. We were missing over a third of our clan, including all of the great-grandchildren. Duncan, nearly 10, was the youngest. There were no toys to step over, no high chairs, no babies needing held. We did Skype with one missing niece and her little guy, so at least we heard some toddler chatter.

We ate, played a few games, sat outside on the deck and chatted. By early evening I was too miserable to be sociable anymore, and we came home. I was in bed by 10 p.m., which is early for me. Today is another quiet day. No Black Friday shopping here; instead, we are enjoying a morning of utter laziness. I've stopped sneezing and blowing my nose. Bacon and eggs have been devoured. My Dad brought over the morning paper and all the ads, which I might scan later. Just in case I'm missing anything really amazing.

But I'm thinking all the amazing I need is right here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christmas Cards

Those 3.5 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas happen fast. I've been thinking for the past week or so about our Christmas cards. For the past few years we've used Shutterfly for our photo cards. I love being able to make a collage of photos, like in this card or this card. There are just so many choices now for fabulous looking cards! I like this Top Ten card, too, but Laurel and I said that it would all be about Jesse: Jesse got his Eagle Scout, Jesse graduated, Jesse went to college. Everything else seems kind of…small.

I love to make books and calendars from Shutterfly, too. If I could get on the ball over Thanksgiving weekend, I could get all kinds of Christmas shopping done—and make one for myself, too. We have several Shutterfly books on our coffee table, and we never get tired of looking at them. If you have never made a book, please do! They are sooo easy to do and look amazing.

If you've got a blog, Shutterfly is offering the opportunity to get 50 free holiday cards, so head over & see how you can score some awesome cards of your own.

November Morning

"There is music in the meadows, in the air --

Autumn is here;
Skies are gray, but hearts are mellow,
Leaves are crimson, brown, and yellow…"
William Stanley Braithwaite

(And that pumpkin is one gnarly-looking fellow.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Full House

My 13-year-old has recently discovered the old 80s sitcom, Full House. She watches an episode each day on Hulu or some other viewing site. I don't know what exactly she likes about Full House. I wasn't in a television-watching phase of life when the show was on originally. But this is what I do know: I like my full house. Our firstborn came home from college last night, predictably at 8 p.m. It takes him exactly 3 hours to drive here from his college, and he left as soon as his last class was over. You know what I love? He's excited to come home. He's not homesick—he absolutely loves college. But he likes us. He likes his family. He likes to hang out with us.

Also, he likes my cooking. The second he walked in the door, he was ready to eat. I heated up a plate of macaroni and cheese (homemade, of course) and twice-baked potatoes. We all sat around and watched him eat, soaking him in. His little brother showed him the duct-tape wallet he'd just made. "I can make you one, too," he said. Just minutes before he came home, I'd finished making the warm vanilla butter sauce to go over the cranberry cake. We all had big slices and finished catching up on what's been going on in his life.

Within an hour, his two best friends were here. We all sat around in the living room talking, although to say "talking" seems bland. Those three are dramatic and burst out yelling at each other frequently. "You're so stupid!" "You are such an idiot!" "You are such a liar!" Boys are like that. It's some kind of twisted love language.

We stayed up a little later than usual, reluctant to go even though we know, by 11 p.m., that they are ready to talk without parents around. At 3 a.m. I awakened to hear them opening and closing the refrigerator, looking for "something good," and getting drinks of water. This morning I find empty glasses and plates on the counter. The cranberry cake is completely gone.

This is new and old for me, this holiday returning. I remember the feeling from my childhood. Being the youngest of five and with 16 years between oldest and youngest, I anticipated comings-home all my life. The house was full when they were home and so empty after they left. I see things differently now, though, as a mother. My life is full when he's not here, although quieter. But him coming home adds a party atmosphere, an irrepressible urge to bake cakes and make Chex mix.

I am thankful for so many things all the time. But here is a specific one today: I am thankful that the separation has not been painful on either side, and that coming home is a celebration all around. What more could we have asked for?

Linked up with Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the Menu

Such excitement! Our oldest will be coming home from college for nearly a week on Monday, and he isn't a vegetarian anymore! Oh, simmer down, vegetarians. I have nothing against vegetarians; I'm just not one, and I've found it somewhat challenging to cook for one these past few years.

Also, I'd love for him to put on 20 lbs or so, and that's difficult to do when one eats lots of veggie burgers and lettuce. So tomorrow I'm going shopping and stocking up the cabinets with all kinds of stuff to cook.

And of course Thanksgiving is this week, and my third brother and his wife are hosting. All I have to do is make the pies! The bad end of the deal is that we won't have any leftover turkey, but Christmas is only a few weeks away.

So coming up this week, we'll be having:
Randy's Fettucine Alfredo
Tortellini Chowder
Slow Cooker Cuban Pork
Randy's Chicken Piccata
and, while we're at it, let's add Randy's Famous Sunday Night Fried Rice

It occurred to me, as I was making out the menu, that Dr. H. will be off most of this week. And he does love to cook…

Besides baking pies for Thanksgiving Day, I'll be making cookies and a cake, for sure. I'm thinking about Pioneer Woman's Tres Leches cake. The only problem with this cake is that there is no chocolate or icing—but it's not about me, right? It's really fun to have a grateful college student for whom to cook.

Linked up at Menu Plan Mondays

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

On Friday and Saturday I see Weekly Wrap-Ups appearing in my Google Reader, and I invariably think, "What did we do all week? I have no idea." I forget by Saturday what we did on Tuesday, especially on weeks like this when we have one or two outside activities every single day.

The week started with our citrus order being delivered, and thus a semi-truck of fruit from Florida unloaded, on Sunday afternoon. Our AHG troop sold nearly $10K worth of fruit, which nets right at $6000 for our troop—a fantastic fundraiser! When the truck was unloaded we had a Family Game Night at church, which was lots of fun.

Monday we had our second-to-last co-op class of the fall, and then we headed over to church to help with fruit pick-up. About half of our girls picked up their orders, so I knew I'd have to head back over on Tuesday so the other half could pick up their orders. On Monday evening Laurel's girls' small group worked for a couple hours on a service project. They are going to be distributing boxes around town to collect pajamas for the local women's shelter. She had a great time doing this, and a photographer from the newspaper came and took their pictures. The article is supposed to be in Sunday's paper.

Tuesday and Thursday we did our regular bookwork: math, spelling, grammar, writing, science. We're halfway through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Duncan is getting a big dose of boat this week, which is greatly enriching the book for him. Randy's going to be reading Carry On, Mr. Bowditch to him in the evenings. This was one of Jesse's favorite books when he was Duncan's age, but I knew Laurel wouldn't like it, so we skipped it last year.

On Wednesday our homeschooling group toured the Nina and Pinta replicas, which were docked in Knoxville. Again, this was perfect for Duncan's impromptu boat unit study.

The weather was absolutely perfect. I'm not sure the kids heard that much of the presentation, but they had a great time nonetheless.

Wednesday evening our church held a community Thanksgiving meal, open to anyone who needed a meal. We had about 150 people come to it from our community. It was a really awesome opportunity for service and sharing. By Wednesday of this week, Laurel had already logged 7 hours of community service!

Thursday afternoon Duncan had Cub Scouts, and our middle- and high-school AHG girls did a teamwork/leadership building course through Maryville College's Mountain Challenge. They did all kinds of exercises that required cooperation and leadership skills. We like to do this every two years for that age group, not only to promote teamwork but to help them with their own confidence issues.

I think the girls really enjoyed this—Laurel did, for sure. I love this age group! That evening our homeschooling group had a game night for teens, so we headed back out again for that. We had a great turn out and the kids seemed to have a great time.

Friday finally brought a bit of relief into our crazy schedule. Randy and Duncan left at 11 a.m. for a Boy Scout/Cub Scout trip to the USS Yorktown in Charleston. They'll spend 2 nights on the aircraft carrier, doing all kinds of activities. Again, the whole boat theme comes into play this week! Laurel and I just took the day to get caught up on housework and miscellaneous school work, and then she had yet another service project in the late afternoon/evening.

And now we're halfway through a quiet Saturday. My goal today is to get the living room cleaned, dead flowers taken away, surface dusted, and the carpet prepared: tonight, I'm getting out the steam vac. A weekend with the boys away seems to be the perfect time to shampoo the carpets, and as much as I dread doing it, I'm looking forward to getting rid of all the nasties.

Jesse comes home from college Monday evening for a full six days with us! I'm going to spend some time today and tomorrow preparing a menu and doing the grocery shopping so that I can be perfectly lazy next week.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mystery Folders

One of our best devices for encouraging independent work for our kids has been our "mystery folders." Each child has a colored file folder of his/her own, decorated in his/her own style. Each night I put a "mystery" assignment in each folder (usually different according to age level of child). These are almost always sheets I have downloaded from the internet and have been quite varied. One important aspect is to keep the material fresh and enticing; I rarely use regular math or grammar worksheets, for example, unless there is something exciting and unusual about them. While I consider this folder as learning time, I also strive to keep it disguised as pure fun!

A normal week will include brain teasers, coloring pages, directions and supplies for simple crafts, crossword puzzles, mazes, and connect-the-dots. We have covered many of the 50 states by coloring state flags (www.enchantedlearning.com) and have become familiar with many artists by coloring famous paintings. The children are not allowed to look at their mystery folders until it is time for independent work. At that time, one child will do his/her mystery folder while I spend 15-20 minutes working with another child. It is amazing how much I can get done with this one child while the other is occupied with the mystery folder! And at the same time, the "mystery folder child" is learning to work independently.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Sunrise

I'm not always up early enough to see the sunrise, especially now that we have been manipulated into believing that what was once 7:30 a.m. is now 6:30 a.m., or maybe this is the real time, or something.

All I know for sure is that I love waking up, going out to get the newspaper, and seeing the sun rising over the mountains. It never fails to thrill me that I have a house, a family, a yard, a view of the mountains.

When I was a girl, I woke every morning to the sound of the lake. Every morning I'd pull the curtains and greet the lake. Lakes are moodier than mountains, less dependable but more knowable.

I've lived in places without morning views. Sometimes you have to create your own definition of view: bare feet on cool concrete with a mug of coffee, a sweet baby's face, your neighbor's maple tree. What's your morning view?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

This was a fabulous week. The weather was lovely, everyone is nearly recovered from being sick, and at least two Big Events were marked off the list. That's always a good thing.

On Monday Laurel had her poster presentation for poetry class at our co-op:

In this class (16 middle-schoolers) we have each student randomly pick a poet on whom to do a presentation. Students must do a 2-3 minute talk to introduce the poem and make a poster which is to include at least two poems by that author. We do three presentations each week. Laurel did a great job on her poster and talk. She has such a good eye for design. I had nothing at all to do with this poster besides buying the board itself.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday were great school days. Besides our regular studies, we watched Prince Caspian, having finished the book last week. I actually really enjoyed the movie when it first came out a couple of years ago, but I hadn't read the book in 10 years or so at that point. This time around with the book fresh in our minds, we were all astonished at the ridiculous changes made in the movie. I am hoping that upcoming The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie will be more true to the book!

Tuesday night we had Cub Scout Pack meeting, which was extra entertaining because Dr. H., the Cubmaster, had nine whipped-cream pies smashed in his face. (Pictures, any local yokels?) He had promised the boys that anyone who sold over $200 worth of popcorn would be able to smear a pie in his face. He is the best Cubmaster ever.

Thursday—Veterans' Day— was a l-o-n-g but well spent day. Our Boy & Cub Scouts and American Heritage Girls troops participated in the Knoxville Veterans' Day Parade. The weather was unbelievably perfect. We actually had to shed our jackets and roll up our sleeves. My only regret is that my parents weren't there to watch it. They find Knoxville traffic daunting, but next year I'm going to get them there somehow.

After the parade we had just enough time to drive back into town and eat a quick lunch, and then our AHG girls headed out for a short presentation at a local assisted living facility. The girls had made cards and tissue-paper poppies to hand out, and after they sang and read some poems, they visited with the residents a bit. It was a lovely afternoon, and although we were exhausted, I'm so glad we did this.

Saturday stretches out before us with relaxation, catch-up, a bit of shopping, and, for Dr. H., grading exams. And less than two weeks before Jesse comes home from college for Thanksgiving break!

PS I've been nominated for Best Homeschool Mom, Best Encourager, Best Photos and Artistic Content, and Best Homemaking Blog at the Homeschool Blog Awards. I'd love your vote in any of these categories if you haven't voted yet!

Linked up at the Weekly Wrap-Up

Thursday, November 11, 2010

He Was a Soldier Once

My father was a soldier once, and his father too. My father served in WW2 and in Korea. He wrote this poem about a year ago. Every time I read it, I get weepy.


I was a soldier once,
When I was young.

I was once a soldier,
Long ago, when I was very young.

I was a young soldier once,
And then one noonday I
became an old soldier.

I was an old soldier
For what seemed then a very long time.

I have been old for a very long time,

But I remember when I was young once,
And a soldier,
A very young soldier,
Once upon a time.

Thank you, Dad, for being a soldier once, and for giving me the gift of your words, in more ways that one.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Madrigals

I can explain. I woke up this morning thinking about my son in college, wondering what he was doing and what I was doing 25 years ago in November of my freshman year. Somehow this memory came to me: practicing for Madrigals. My college used to put on several nights of Christmas Madrigal Dinners for the community, and for a couple of years I was in the roaming recorder ensemble. That's a bass recorder I'm holding, not a hookah pipe.

All I can say, when I look back on this, is what a strange thing for me to have done. I wasn't in the music or theatre departments. I didn't get paid. I think the singers/performers mainly ignored the roaming musicians, so we were just like serfs. Well, modern-day college serfs, anyway.

That's all I can say. This falls under the "what was I thinking?" category of my life. I bet you have a few of those, too.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cake Is Good Food

I have an obsession with cake. I like to make cake, and I like to eat cake. This past weekend I attended a shower at which there was cake. Right about when I was ready to have my slice, someone put a notebook in my hand and said, "Could you please record all the gifts?" There were so many gifts that I absolutely could not stop for one minute to get cake, and by the time my job was done, the cake was gone. That was so wrong.

The problem with cake is that it so often looks amazing but is actually kind of disappointing. (Thinking like that helps me to cope with cake losses like my most recent one.) This cake, however, will not disappoint. I cut it into slices for transporting purposes, and also because I could snag a few slices for my family before I took it to whatever event I was taking it to.

Triple Chocolate Cake

1 box of devil's food cake mix
4-1/2 oz. package of instant chocolate pudding mix
1-3/4 cup milk
12-oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
powdered sugar for the top

Preheat oven to 350. Combine everything except the powdered sugar in a bowl. Mix by hand until well blended. Pour into a greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes or until it springs back. Cool and then turn out onto serving plate and spring powdered sugar on top.

I made this apple cider cake (above) a few weeks ago when Jesse was home from college. He and his friends actually devoured the entire cake in one night. I did get enough to say that it was, indeed, delicious. I used the recipe here at Eat at Home.

Laurel practiced her cake-decorating skills on this mocha cake. I found this recipe at Life in Grace, and it is truly delicious. Kind of a lot of work to get all those little swirlies on top, but hopefully you have a youngster who enjoys doing such things. I'm more of a gimme-a-knife kind of icing girl.

I have a bunch more cake recipes bookmarked that I want to try. The problem is that I rarely make cakes just to eat at home; I need an event in order to make a cake. The obvious reason for this is that I, like many mothers, will end up eating at least half of the cake if I make it for my family. (Unless Jesse is home from college. I can always depend on him to eat half a cake. But he is 6'1" and weighs like 75 lbs, so he can afford to eat half a cake.)

Here are some more on my list:
Darn Good Chocolate Cake Drizzled in White Chocolate at Simply Sweet Home
Cranberry Cake with Warm Vanilla Butter Sauce at Make It and Love It
Tres Leches Cake at Pioneer Woman
Molten Chocolate Lava Cake at Pioneer Woman

Do you have a cake recipe I need to try? Tell me, please!

Linked up at Tasty Tuesdays

Monday, November 8, 2010

Homeschool Blog Awards

Well, this is exciting! I went over to the Homeschool Blog Awards today to vote for The Homeschool Classroom and Simple Homeschool, two blogs that I write for, and found that I was nominated in not one, not two, but four categories: Best Homeschool Mom, Best Encourager, Best Photos and Artistic Content, and Best Homemaking Blog (that one kinda makes me chuckle!). How exciting to get to put this little button on my blog!

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!

If you click on it, you can go over and vote for me or for any other of the wonderful blogs listed there. And thank you so much to whoever nominated me!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday Morning

I like how Margaret at Two Kid Schoolhouse did her Saturday Morning Journal, so I'm copying.

What I want to do today:
• Stay in my pajamas
• Read (currently, When My Name Was Keoko)
• Eat cake, hot buttered popcorn, and fettuccine alfredo
• Play Upwards and other games that only I seem to like
• Buy lots of new clothes with magical money
• Go to the library

What I need to do today:
• Mail a package to Jesse in the next 50 minutes before the post office closes
• Buy a gift for and attend a shower for a family at our church whose house burned down last month
• Work on lesson plans
• Fold clothes
• Make a dent in the ironing
• Sort and organize the evil stacks of paperwork and mail on the kitchen counters
• Catch up on emails and other things I'm avoiding or forgetting

My goal: to make time for some of the top list while accomplishing most of the bottom list.

What's happening on your Saturday?

Linked up on Two Kid Schoolhouse

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up (in Photos)

Missing photos: Monday's co-op. Duncan's tongue-clipping. Packing Operation Christmas Child boxes at AHG. Dr. H. and Laurel blowing their noses and hacking.

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

Thursday, November 4, 2010

In the Yard: November

Yesterday Duncan and I strolled around our yard for one last dose of that wonderful mix of summer and autumn. You know, the days when the summer flowers are still blooming, peeking through the leaves…

Those crazy roses are blooming like it's June, and the lantanas are just now at their most beautiful. Throw in some patches of salvia, marigolds, Black-eyes Susans, four o'clocks, mums, and even some straggly impatiens, and we have a crazy quilt of mixed seasons.

The cat watched us from his favorite bench. He's extremely lazy.

Duncan took his new remote-control car out for a test drive through the leaves…

Today is cold and rainy. By tomorrow, the leaves will be mostly on the ground and our first real dose of cold weather will hit. Suddenly, summer and fall are really gone.

I guess I'll have to take down the pumpkin lanterns. I could be really proactive and throw away the real pumpkins before they rot.

But then Dr. H. would miss all the fun of scraping pumpkin goo off the porch.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Common Cold Cures

Both Randy and my Dad are already battling terrible colds this year, hacking coughs and dripping noses. Pure cold misery. Last week I made chicken tortilla soup for my Dad, and I swear he was better within a couple of days. Tonight I'm making French onion soup for Randy, and I'm expecting him to be back to normal by tomorrow or so.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 TB. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced, plus a tsp. of the liquid
1/2 to 1 TB. chili powder (the more, the hotter)
2 tsp. salt
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup corn (frozen or canned)
1-2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/8 cup lime juice
tortilla chips

If you don't have a store of cooked chicken breasts in your freezer, you'll need to cook about 2 chicken breasts before starting this. You can boil them for 20 minutes or grill them. A rotisserie chicken also works great for this.
Sauté the onion, garlic, chipotle, chili powder, and salt in oil for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to boil, reduce heat slightly, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Add the corn and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in chicken and lime juice and warm through, for about 15 more minutes.

Ladle into bowls and pass the tortilla chips to crumble on top of the soup.

French Onion Soup
Serves 4

2 TBS. butter
4 large yellow onions, sliced thin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. mustard
dash of thyme or Italian seasoning
6 cups water
3 TBS. soy sauce
2-3 TBS. dry white wine or red wine (opt.)
few dashes of pepper
Croutons (recipe below)
Grated Mozzerella or thin slices of provolone or swiss cheese

1. Melt butter in a kettle or Dutch oven. Add onions and salt. Cook over medium about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add mustard and thyme. Cover. Continue to cook very slowly for about 35 minutes. The onions will be so soft and will simmer in their own liquid.
3. Add everything else except the toppings. Simmer 15 minutes more. Dish into overproof bowls and top with croutons* and cheese (in that order). Put under broiler briefly to brown the cheese. Serve with smoked turkey sandwiches or just crusty bread.

Cube some old hoagies, hamburger buns, stale bread, or whatever you have handy. Saute in garlic butter and then toast at 300 for a few minutes.

Seriously—this stuff is good for colds. Try making one of these next time someone in your house needs his stuffy nose and sore throat cleared up! Do you have a cure-all soup?

Linked up with Tasty Tuesday