Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday Miscellany

* I am on vacation! In order for me to be on vacation, I have to be away from my house. Even with being on break at home, I still work all the time, whether it's doing lesson plans, AHG plans, organizing, cleaning, cooking, etc. But I'm actually away from home in luxury accommodations with the most gracious hosts, and I am forced to take naps, eat amazing food, and read books. All day.

* I've also been catching up on all the blog posts in my Google reader today. Henry Cate at Why Homeschool announced that the Carnival of Homeschooling will celebrate its 5-year anniversary with this next edition. Do you have something you've been wanting to share with other homeschoolers? I'm always amazed at the abundance of great posts out there with very few readers. Participating in a carnival is a great way to get more readers—and share your insights.
I am working on two articles, one for Simple Homeschool and one for The Homeschool Classroom, but with all this extra time, I hope to get a post up for the Carnival of Homeschooling, too.

* We are celebrating my brother-in-law's 50th birthday this evening, and they (my in-laws, husband, and daughter) are all busy preparing tonight's outrageous feast, which will feature prime rib, crab-stuffed twice-baked potatoes, bacon-wrapped green beans, and chocolate oatmeal cake. They totally don't need my help. I just like to sit here, blogging and reading blogs, and watch them from my spot overlooking the golf course and the hot tub, which I see in this evening's future. Every few minutes, my husband comes over and kisses me on the forehead.

* I feel tremendously blessed and well rested. My heart goes out to Edie at Life in Grace, whose life has changed forever when her house burned to the ground last week. Her blog is one I read faithfully and never delete when I'm behind on my reading. Here is what she says: "My heart is full and grateful. I am overwhelmingly sad and yet unable to stop rejoicing. My mother is amazing. My husband is my rock. My children are so incredibly brave. I am blessed beyond measure. It’s as if our friends and family have become the hands and feet of Christ, bringing love and help and healing." Read her story at the link above, and you will be blessed by this woman.

* Hope you're enjoying some peace and quiet at the end of 2010.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow in the Mountains

We've lived in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains for 10 years, and this is the first time I've ever gone into the park after a big snow. The roads had been closed for the past few days, but we decided yesterday to chance it and see if we could get anywhere. We wanted to see Cades Cove in the snow and figured this would be a very un-touristy time to go.

We were excited to see that Laurel Creek Road, which heads up to Cades Cove, was open. The drive along the Little River was breathtaking.

We were wrong about the tourists, though. Traffic was fairly heavy and going very slowly, which was smart. The road were terrible and we were surprised it was even open. Eventually we decided to turn around because there appeared to be an accident ahead of us. We slid off the road enough during our U-turn that we had to get pushed out. Fortunately, there are always plenty of nice guys in pick-up trucks ready to help people out of ditches.

We came down the road s-l-o-w-l-y and passed another accident on the way. The park rangers had closed the Laurel Fork road by this time. We decided just to hike along the river for a bit. Duncan desperately wanted to walk out on the ice, and Laurel kept wishing for ice skates.

We took a short hike on the Chestnut Top Trail right across from the Wye. The trail was pretty slick on the way down, but it sure was beautiful.

The whole afternoon was absolutely gorgeous. Sometimes I still can't believe we live in this beautiful place! We're expecting temperatures back in the 50s and 60s by this weekend, so I'm glad we ventured out before the snow melts.

"He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains."
~Habakkuk 3:19

Monday, December 27, 2010

Skating on the Frozen Pond

Untitled from stephen cummins on Vimeo.

My fourth brother—the one who is just two years older than I am—went to the wrong airport and thus missed coming to see us for Christmas. He felt very silly, so he made us this video of him and his wife skating. I love this video so much. It brings back for me so many of the things I miss about living in upstate New York and growing up with orchards: skating on a frozen pond, cross country skiing, and an orchard in the winter's sunset.

Someday, someday we're going to make it to New York for Christmas. Someday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

At Ten

This is my Christmas baby. He'll be 10 in just a few days, on Christmas day. This is what people generally say about him: he is always smiling. As his mother, of course, I know that's not exactly true. But he really is an unusually sweet, kind, and happy person. He's also full of mischief. Mischief wrapped in kindness and sheer joy, all tied up with dimples and a big smile. He's exactly like his father.

Duncan turning 10 made me nostalgic about my older two. I had to hunt down photos of them on their 10th birthdays.

Here's my beautiful girl at 10 and now at 13…

And our firstborn at 10 and at 17…

Yes, it's astonishing how much they grow in just a few short years. They always told us that, didn't they? All those older women who'd stop us in the store and say, "Oh, they grow so fast! Enjoy them while you can!" And we'd inwardly roll our eyes because we were already tired of diapers and potty chairs and washing little hands.

Yes. They grow fast, and yet it all takes a very, very long time. And: you can still enjoy them at 10 and 13 and 17. I promise.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Miscellany

* Today started with me really wanting to whine on Facebook: "Having to set the alarm clock to wake up during Christmas week is pure evil!" Or something like that. But I realized quickly how ridiculously blessed I am that I rarely have to wake up by an alarm. Most mornings, I have the luxury of staying in bed as long as I wish. I hardly ever manage to sleep past 7:30 a.m., but still, I could if I wanted to.

* I read three complete People magazines while I waited for my daughter at the orthodontist's office today. I am totally up to date with every single thing that is happening in Hollywood.

* Do you think celebrities are actual people? I mean, do you ever think it's weird that we go about our normal lives, cleaning the toilet and paying the electric bill, and all of these celebrities make their living off of entertaining us? Isn't that just weird?

* I love getting Christmas cards. We have been getting several each day, including one today from my only aunt, who lives in Friday Harbor, Washington. She is an artist, and the card is of her painting "Snow Falling on Firs." The text inside the card was written by her husband, whom I have never met but who I know I would like very much. He has a poet's heart. Here's what the writes in first part of their Christmas card: "It is time again for the wild swans to come honking down from their summer homes in the far north to settle in for the winter on our ponds and lakes on San Juan Island. This is red sweater and hearty soup time, Christmas in Friday Harbor." Red sweater and hearty soup time. Yes.

* Christmas was the same for so long here in SmallWorld, and this year I am feeling some of those traditions losing their allure a bit. It's the kids aging, I suppose, as well as my parents aging. I can't get terribly enthused about baking Christmas cookies, and yet I miss being enthused about baking Christmas cookies. Although the house is nicely decorated and festive, I haven't made anything crafty. We are behind on our countdown stockings, and no one seems to be terribly traumatized.

* I have a lot of shopping yet to do.

* I began this post hours ago, when my two oldest were out Christmas shopping and Duncan was playing the Wii. The house was quiet and peaceful. Since then, I've burned 24 cupcakes, ironed a bunch of shirts, cooked dinner, chatted on the phone, hurt for my son, ironed more clothes, cleaned up the dinner dishes, done two loads of laundry, put yesterday's laundry away, and wrapped some presents. At last, I return to the post.

* And then posting was interrupted again so we could catch up on our Christmas countdown stockings. (See picture here.) I love the verse I got to read tonight: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." I needed that.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

Aaah. Christmas break is here at last. I think that for perhaps the first time in 11 years of homeschooling, we actually maintained focus during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually we just kind of drop everything and make cookies and crafts.

We finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader just in time for the movie release. Have you seen the movie yet? My kids enjoyed it very much, even though we just finished the book and they were very in tune with the differences between book and movie. Randy and I were trying not to twitch and bang our heads against the wall. Here's the thing: we are madly in love with the Chronicles of Narnia and have been all our lives. Deviations from the book, which include outrageous additions and deletions, are unacceptable. The end. (Although, I will say that I continue to think that the actors portraying Lucy and Edmund and in this one, Eustace, are well chosen.)

Besides all our regular stuff, we spent last week reading Christmas stories. We read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and then several short stories in an anthology that I have. (Here's a post I have about Favorite Christmas Books in case you didn't see it.) It's been a couple of years since we read The Gift of the Magi, so we read that one again. I found a movie version of it on Netflix instant streaming that I highly recommend. The language is verbatim with just a couple of additions. If you have Netflix, this is the one with Rosemary Deleonardis and David A. Silverstein. It gets terrible ratings, but I think the reviewers all seem to criticize the language. Perhaps they don't realize that these are O Henry's exact words. I guess I didn't really care about the acting. After watching the total destruction of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I suppose I was just happy to have an accurate version of a story! Anyway, it's only about 20 minutes long, so it's perfect for after reading the story (linked above).

Our oldest arrived home from college on Monday afternoon—he left right after his last final. It's so awesome to have him home for a few weeks! He got his grades on Friday, and I'm happy to report that his cumulative GPA thus far is a 3.7! That includes his 14 hours from dual enrollment at the local community college during his last two years of high school as well as his first semester (16 hours) at Belmont University. I'm very proud of him, especially since he is only 17 years old. He has a fantastic work ethic. He's always realized that school is his work at this point in his life, and he has fully devoted himself to studying. I am happy that he loves learning so much. He does actually want to get a job next semester. We didn't want him to get one first semester just to make sure he wasn't overloaded, but he says he misses working (plus his spending money has run out!) and is sure he'll have no problem balancing work and school.

I am so happy for these next two weeks of vacation! We do have all kinds of parties, commitments and appointments for the next three days, but Thursday and Friday look blissfully empty. So far, anyway…

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Snow Day

We don't get much snow ever, so even a little is exciting. The high reached about 20 degrees that day, and my kids don't even own winter boots or anything resembling snow pants. We couldn't even find a hat for Duncan. When we got home, I saw that Duncan had holes in his socks. Really big holes. Ill-prepared parent that I am, you'd never know I grew up in snow country, would you?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Favorite Christmas Books

One of my favorite parts of the season is opening the box of Christmas books and putting them on the book rack right by the Christmas tree. They are, truly, old friends. For me, the mark of a good Christmas book is that it makes me cry.

We have a good number of children’s books for Christmas, and I try to add a new book each year. We have some of the popular ones like The Polar Express and some silly but sentimental ones like Mercer Mayer’s Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad, starring Little Critter. I love to hear my Dad read Twas the Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve. Some of the books we give the obligatory seasonal read and then put back on the rack.

But I have my favorites. These are the books that, without fail, make me cry at some point. My voice catches, a child’s head pops up and looks at me and says, “Mama! Are you crying again?” I can’t help it. … {Want to see some of my favorites? Head on over to The Homeschool Classroom for the rest of this article!}

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas in SmallWorld

If you were to pull in my driveway, you'd see early American tacky. The outside Christmas lights are crooked and/or partially burned out, mounds of leaves are sticking up through the shallow snow, and I'm pretty sure I saw a smashed pumpkin by the pear tree. But we're warm and cozy inside, surrounded by our favorite old Christmas things and some new ones, too.

This was a flash of brilliance for us this year. This frame usually has seasonal photographs in it, but my daughter and I realized that the favorite Christmas cards we had saved from last year looked perfect in the frame.

Our countdown-to-Christmas stockings/mittens. Each one has a Bible verse and candy in it, and we open one each night beginning December 1st. We started doing this several years ago, and back then I bought the stockings at Walgreens for 25 cents each. This year I've seen bloggers make these out of burlap or other material, which is very cute, but buying them sure was simple!

We made the ragamuffin garland and the Noel hanging last year. You can find the directions at Life in Grace.

We love our collection of Christmas books. We really need to box some of them up—like the Sandra Boynton Bob book—but somehow I just can't part with any of them. They are part of our Christmas family.

I love our Dickens Village, too. This is the first Christmas decoration we put up each year, and the houses and people are all old friends to the kids. We have just enough of a village to cover the top of our piano.

Mr. and Mrs. Clause, the choir boys , and the books behind them are all part of my childhood. Mr. and Mrs. Clause are actually hard-boiled egg holders. The choir boys I always imagined were my four older brothers. The Christmas Carols songbook is one that my mother and I played and sang out of all throughout my childhood. I need to go play some carols as soon as I finish this post.

I love having some of my own childhood decorations in our home. My parents don't get out their big box of tree decorations anymore, and one of these years I'm going to find that big box and be reunited with all my childhood tree decorations.

But for these years, I'm enjoying reminiscing with our own family ornaments, many of them sweetly homemade, like these three snowflakes above with my own treasures inside them.

We are looking forward to the arrival of our oldest sometime this afternoon. His last final is today, and then he'll drive the three hours home from college and our house will truly be full.

That's just a brief tour of some of my favorites in our house. Want to share your Christmas favorites and take a peek into other homes? Both Kelly's Korner and The Nester have a bazillion links to look at!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the Menu

I'm trying to get back to regular meal planning. Most of our activities are over for the month, so I'm hoping we can enjoy many family meals together while Jesse is home from college. Since he is no longer a vegetarian, he says he wants beef. Hilarious. We don't really eat that much red meat here ourselves, but I found a couple of things to put on the menu for the upcoming week.

Pioneer Woman's Beef with Snow Peas
Meatloaf (I make this up as I go along but it's a lot like Pioneer Woman's without the bacon)
General Tso's Chicken (I double the sauce on this)
Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes
Baked Potato Soup

We're also going to start out baking frenzy this week. We'll be making chocolate truffle cookies, sugar cookies, and oatmeal cranberry-white chocolate cookies. We may get to some others by the end of the week.

I'm going recipe hunting this week. I haven't been in a while, and I'm beginning to tire of our same old menu items.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday marked the end of all of our regular outside activities and classes for the next few weeks. The kids each had their last last last co-op class of the session on Monday, and we signed up for new classes for next session. Tuesday and Wednesday we had very productive bookwork days. Duncan's been working hard to memorize his multiplication tables. He knows them all, but he isn't quite as fluent as I'd like him to be. We are moving ahead with his math book, but I've been drilling him like crazy every day.

Wednesday afternoon we got our Christmas tree. Here's Dr. H. and I standing by our final choice:

Getting the tree on Wednesday meant that Thursday morning was devoted to decorating.

We seriously need to get a second tree one of these years. All those sweet, homemade ornaments weigh a ton.

Thursday afternoon we had our annual American Heritage Girls Mother/Daughter/ Grandmother Christmas tea. It's always a beautiful event. We had a little over 150 people there. I was sad that my own mother didn't come this year for the first time. Some day I'll blog about watching my parents age, but usually I just can't. It is too heavy on my heart to think that my parents are in their mid-80s.

Friday was a wonderfully relaxing day. We finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I'd like to say we got to go see the movie on opening day, but that didn't work out. Dr. H. had a Boy Scout camping trip scheduled for this weekend, and we wanted to wait until we could all go together. Hopefully we'll get to go in the next few days.

Next week we'll read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, bake cookies, and do a bunch of math, spelling, and grammar. Jesse has his last final of the first semester of his freshman year on Monday, so he'll be home for a whole month on Monday evening. He's studied a lot this semester and loved just about every minute of it, from what I can tell. I'm so proud of him, and so thankful that the freshman year adjustment was fairly painless on both sides!

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

50 Best Homeschooling Blogs

I got notification today that SmallWorld at Home has been included on the list of 50 Best Homeschooling Blogs on the Guide to Online Schools. That is so nice of them! Here's what they have to say about my blog:
"This blog depicts a very positive view of homeschooled teenagers. The older kids participate in co-op classes, attend dances and bonfires through the local homeschool support community, and live a full, well-adjusted life."
I love it. I really do think my kids live a "full, well-adjusted life." So do I.

The other part I love is that I haven't heard of most of the other 50 blogs! Why Homeschool and A Familiar Path are long-time, daily reads, but I've got my work cut out visiting many of the others. Good thing Christmas break is almost here!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Transitioning into the Big Kid Years


Let’s face it. Very few of us are completely untouched by public opinion, whether it’s barely beneath the surface or just an occasional niggling feeling. Even the most die-hard unschooler must wonder at some point: Are we on the right track? Am I doing enough?

If your students are under 11 or 12, keep relaxing. Please, oh please, enjoy these days. Snuggle together reading, spend hours doing crafts, take long walks and bend down to examine every insect. Bake a cake and call it science. Go to a museum and call it history. Go grocery shopping and call it math.

I have now graduated one student, who is in his first year of college, and I can say with assurance: I do not regret one single day that we spent decorating cookies instead of doing a math worksheet.

But the time does come to transition. … {Want to find out more? I'm a contributor at Simple Homeschool today. Come on over to Simple Homeschool to read the rest of the post!}

Saturday, December 4, 2010

More Christmas

I have my new Christmas header up. Today was one of those "If you give a mouse a cookie" kind of days. I started to look for Christmas photos, which of course made me nostalgic. While looking for specific Christmas photos, I came across a bunch of old photos. I had to post a couple of those to Facebook. Then that made me think of some other photos, so I had to go to the other computer and look through photos there. And post more to Facebook. That made me think of photos I need to scan, so I thought about getting out photo albums. BUT just in time, I got control of myself and managed to pick out a few photos and make a new header.

I make my headers on Picnik, which offers a lot for free but is totally worth the $25/year fee for premium membership. It's one of my few internet splurges. OK, actually, it's my only one. Like I said, I did spend quite a bit of time choosing the perfect photos. Here's why I picked these:
1. The first is our Christmas tree, which I love. Not this year's tree, but still. Also, there are pink lights on it, which makes me laugh.
2. That's Dr. H. and me, looking blissful at the Christmas tree farm. The reason we look blissful is because, well, we are. (Also, there's a good chance that he's squeezing my butt.)
3. Christmas sugar cookies—a very serious tradition in our house. A tradition that is not to be tampered with in any way, shape or form.
4. My three little sweeties. That little guy in the middle is Duncan, who will be 10 on Christmas day. Yes. He is the very best Christmas gift I have ever received, so don't even try to top me at a Christmas party. You can't, unless you've also given birth on Christmas day. That picture is actually on New Year's Eve because he was in the NICU for the first six days of his life. That is how precious that picture is to me. My little (OK, big, actually, as he was 10 lbs.) miracle came home that night, and our family was complete.

Yes. I do have a blessed, amazing life. And never once do I forget who is the Giver of all good gifts.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Ramblings

* Little by little, the kids and I have been putting up all of our Christmas decorations. You know what was really fun? Finding things in the giant storage tub that I bought last year during the great post-holiday sales. I found new lights, candles, a cookie platter, a tree topper, and lots of plates, napkins, cups and cookie tins. That was so smart of me! I need to remember to surprise myself again next year.

* Also, Laurel took pictures last year of where we had all our decorations. She is so smart. So this year, instead of wondering where we put this candle and that teapot, we just looked at iPhoto. We're so savvy around here. Does everyone do that? Did it just take me 20 years to figure that one out?

* I made my first batch of Christmas cookies last night: jam diagonals, our absolute favorite.

* One more Christmas-related item. I love what we did with our big collage frame in the dining room. Normally it has my own seasonal nature photographs in it, but yesterday we put Christmas cards in it and it looks fabulous. A few of the cards are ones my Aunt Ann painted and the others are just ones we've liked and kept around. And my smart girl already took a picture of the, um, picture so that we know what to do next year.

* I figured out our annual "how much debt did we pay off this year" accounting a few nights ago. We always do it on Nov. 30 since we began Dave Ramsey a few years ago. We were happy to see that, in spite of college tuition kicking in this year, we paid off over $11K in debt!

* And that's about all I have to say. I am on a mission to finish cleaning and decorating today. I have one of those days ahead that involves watching friends' kids, shuttling my own kids here and there, and hopefully getting to spend a little time with my parents. I'm not seeing too much book-learning in today's forecast.