Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Posts of 2011

Stirrup pants and mullets? I always crack up when I look at my stats and see that my #1 post is always the same, year after year. It has absolutely nothing to do with homeschooling but it gets over twice as many hits as the #2 post.

Apparently, thousands and thousands of people need to know:

1. Fashion of the 1980s. Oh, I have so many other pictures I could add to this. I should probably make a second post.

Almost all the rest of the Top 10 are homeschooling related.

2. Where We Do School. (And removing the Willy Wonka wallpaper is still on my to-do list.)

And close behind, a few of my creative writing lessons:

3. WordSmithery Lesson 2.
4. WordSmithery Lesson 1.
5. WordSmithery Lesson 6.

6. Lapbooking Resources. Definitely not a surprise. I must say this is a pretty good list of ideas for lapbooking!

7. Spaghetti Sauce recipe: Really? Why is this so fascinating? There are probably 1.2 billion such recipes on the internet. Although I must say this one is fabulous.

8. Carnival of Homeschooling (April 2011 edition).

9. Day in the Life in our Homeschool. Like my #2 spot, we homeschoolers always enjoy peering into the lives of others.

10. Carnival of Homeschooling (Oct. 2010 edition).

So those are the most read posts on SmallWorld according to the stats. But my favorites of the year? That list will be coming up soon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Waiting, Arrival, Heroes

These past 6 weeks have had the Twilight Zone air about them, the waiting kind of days. I wrote about The Waiting a few years ago, in the days preceding Randy's grandpa's death. We are waiting in my family now for what will happen next with Uncle Max.

Last Friday, just two days before Christmas, a pilot and a doctor, two old friends of Max's, brought him to us in the pilot's plane. Uncle Max has lived his entire life—90 years— in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. The decision to bring him here to Tennessee was not made lightly. After three strokes and surgery, Uncle Max isn't doing well. He has a huge network of friends there who care greatly for him, but it is his family who has to make decisions—all those medical and financial ones. And hold his hand for hours and try to feed him one tiny spoonful at a time. My parents, who are in their 80s, and two of my brothers had made several trips already to and from Illinois. We made the decision to move Max here to a local long-term care facility, and things fell quickly into place.

I love this picture of my father waiting for the plane. Uncle Max is my mother's older brother, but my Dad and he were roommates at the University of Illinois first. It was on a trip from the university to Mt. Vernon that my father first met Max's younger sister. The story goes that Mom and Dad sat in the backseat and played Battleship (on paper of course, not the board game) all the way home. When my father came into the house, my grandfather said, "That's the man you're going to marry."

But this is about Uncle Max. Except that Uncle Max is part of them, part of us. Although we had dozens (literally) of great-aunts and -uncles, my brothers and I had only 3 "real" ones: my mother's brothers Henry and Max, and my father's sister, Ann. Uncle Henry died many years ago; Aunt Ann passed away just this August; and now there is just Uncle Max. He's the one, though, that has been the biggest part of our family. He is ours, and we have been his.

I love this picture because in it are two of the Greatest Generation: my father and my uncle, both World War 2 vets. My uncle was actually a D-Day pilot, flying Operation Overlord in June 1944: Utah, Omaha, Gold, June, and Sword Beaches. My father came to Europe three months later, 18 years old. And now here they are, 65 years later. It breaks my heart but fills me with unspeakable pride. And gratefulness.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Great Room Redo, continued

I'm still in the midst of the great room redo, but I am getting closer and it's only been one month! The biggest part of the job is done: the walls, trim, door, and cabinets are painted. Yesterday I finished the desk, which is going to be my sewing table.

Here's what it looked like before:

It's a really sturdy lab table that Randy rescued when his lab was renovated. The height is perfect for me, but obviously it was a wreck after being an art table for awhile and then Duncan's desk.

And here it is now!

I gave it 2 coats of off-white paint (the same color as the trim) and 3 coats of Minwax polycrylic protective finish, which apparently will not yellow on white paint. The "S" just seemed like the right thing to do. I had to use wrapping paper from Hobby Lobby because scrapbooking paper wasn't big enough, and I didn't want to line up two pieces. I'm too impatient for that. (Plus, now I have a whole roll of cool wrapping paper.)

I found this site on Pinterest for all kinds of letters. Mine didn't come out quite like I envisioned it, but I'm happy enough. I decoupaged on the "S" before I put on the polycrylic. Because I am lazy and like instant gratification, I didn't smooth it out as well as I should have so it's kind of wrinkled. I picked out the photo that didn't show the wrinkles, but I do feel the need to confess my crafty inadequacies (which are many).

The whole project cost about $5 for the wrapping paper (I forgot to bring my 40% off coupon) and $4 for the Minwax. Everything else I already had (Modge Podge, paint, the desk itself). And I have plenty of wrapping paper and Minwax left over for other projects.

Now that the desk is done, I can start sewing curtains for both the window and then cabinets. Here's what they looked like before:

Stay tuned to see what they'll look like next week!

Linked up with Craftastic Monday at Sew Can Do

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best Christmas Present Ever

Eleven years ago right about now (12:15 p.m.), we headed to the hospital. Five hours later, he arrived, all 10 pounds of him. He was rushed to the NICU for meconium aspiration, and we brought him home six days later. He's been smiling ever since.

Happy birthday to our sweet Duncan, and happy Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


There is nothing quite like quiet December mornings, made purely magical with fire and lights. Snow would be a lovely addition, but it's not mandatory.

I'd like to say I'm going to cozy in and stay put for the next several days, but that is not to be, at least not on this rainy day. Today, my teenagers are cooking for us in what has been declared a tradition. Last year they made pumpkin ravioli. This year they are making chicken curry. Their day will include a trip to the Asian food market. While they are doing that, I'll be taking my 84-year-old mom Christmas shopping. She wants to get my Dad a cell phone carrier to hook onto his belt. Age is just a number.

If my kids aren't in the kitchen all day, I'll make another batch or two of cookies. And tomorrow will be our annual sugar cookie decorating day with my Mom. Friday we'll head over to my second brother's home to have our annual Christmas swap. This year we're doing cookies instead of white elephant. And then we'll head into Christmas weekend, which should be nice and quiet.

Hope you are having a somewhat peaceful week!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Good Things Could Fill a Book

It occurs to me that reflecting on this year is a lot like reflecting on last year. I remember feeling so grateful that the year was over, that 2011 would be an easy year.

But this has been a hard year, or at least these past five months have been hard. Deaths, heartbreak, troubled friendships, my aging parents, my uncle's stroke. Leaving our church and dealing with wave after wave of insult atop injury there. I am tired of this year.

My father and me with my Aunt Ann and her family, just three weeks before she died of ovarian cancer

But in spite of it all—and this is the truth—I am filled with joy and anticipation. These things wear me down. I would like sometimes to flee, whether literally or figuratively. But surrounding all these hard things are the good things, the hundreds and hundreds of sweet and lovely things that sustain me.

The hard things took up one small paragraph; the good things could fill a book. I could start with the sweet smile of my husband in the morning and end with something utterly materialistic, like the fact that we have the means to pay our son's college tuition. I could write about the utter joy of listening to the familiar, slightly accented voice of my father as he tells a growing-up story after dinner. I could list excellent health, running vehicles, a new roof over our heads. I could try to explain what the mountains smell like in the snow, or how utterly spectacular it is to see the tall phlox flowering in the spring in the Smokies. I could translate into words the pure joy of laughter, the comfort of friends, the delight in new friendships. I could write about my daughter's utter loveliness, the sweetness of my youngest, the pride I have in our oldest. I could write about the good things that happened as a result of the bad things.

I could say, "This year was really hard." It was sometimes. Painfully difficult. But above all, I am thankful that nearly each day, before anything else creeps into my mind, I wake with a certain sense of anticipation. It is a gift that the Giver of all good things bestowed upon me—the gift of expectation and hope. I don't want to imagine life without it.

Linked up with Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky, On Your Heart Tuesday and Finer Things Friday

Friday, December 16, 2011

Keeping the Obligation Out of Tradition (A Simple Homeschool Post)


I am a great lover of family traditions. In fact, my entire master’s thesis was built around the theme of tradition and legacy. I love the stories that are passed down from generation to generation, the bits of family legend, as well as the tangible items: our grandmothers’ china, the old grenade and bayonet from World War II, Aunt Mabel’s jewelry, old books inscribed in elegant handwriting, and threadbare quilts with my mother’s old dresses.

In our own family, my husband and I decided early on in our marriage to deliberately cultivate traditions. We had one or two of our own before the kids were born and then added to them yearly. We have collected a solid stash of them in these 20-some years, from candlelight dinner every Saturday night, to the bedtime reading ritual, to taping numbers all around the house each birthday eve in celebration of a child’s new age. ...

But what happens when our kids outgrow the traditions, or just don’t want to take part? Come on over to Simple Homeschool to read the rest of my post!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday Miscellany

* I love my quiet mornings. I do the same thing every single morning: make coffee, eat a banana, spend a little devotional time, watch the sunrise, read what's happening on Facebook, drink coffee, scan a few blogs. The cat usually curls up at my feet and snores. December is even better, because I have the Christmas tree lights and the fireplace to heighten the utter joy of a quiet morning.

* I get a little grumpy when I don't get my morning routine, but that's rare. I just really need 30 minutes or so of alone time before someone starts talking to me.

* Every year our American Heritage Girls troop sells citrus for our one big fundraiser. Yesterday the semi-truck from Florida delivered the fruit, I (along with a few others) spent the day unloading boxes of citrus and then loading them into people's trunks. I seriously was ready for bed by 6 p.m. This morning, my arms are actually sore. I need to start strength training again!

* Speaking of exercise, Randy and I are still running together 2-3 times each week. We ran 5Ks in October, November, and December and have another in mind to run in late January. I am really proud of us, plus we get 45 minutes of conversation, without interruption, 2-3 times each week.

* Speaking of citrus, we now have boxes of grapefruit and naval oranges and YUM! I love grapefruit so much. When I was in college, I ate grapefruit every single day, and I don't think I ever got sick. Plus, I was really skinny.

* We only have two days of school left before our Christmas break starts. Tomorrow we are headed to Chattanooga to the Challenger Mission Center, for the culmination of a 10-week Voyage to Mars class. I dreamed about it all night—that I forgot the list of kids and their jobs, that someone forgot to come, that we got the time wrong, etc.

* What I really, really want to do is work on our office more. I have the walls and trim finished, so I actually am getting really close. Here's a preview:

Yes, I know it's a fuzzy picture that doesn't represent what is really happening in there. But here is what the room looked like just a few weeks ago. I really want to paint the desk, so that I can bring the sewing machine over, so that I can sew curtains for the window and for the cabinets, so that I can finish deciding on my color scheme, so that I can buy a chair, etc. BUT I am determined to get this pit of a house cleaned up and finish putting up the Christmas decor first.

* Speaking of Christmas decorations, I have to say this. While I enjoy and am jealous of all of these beautifully decorated homes on various Christmas Tour of Homes dealies all over the blogworld (like this one at the Nester), my question is: where do these people put their children? All of these houses are so lovely and neat and so...sterile looking. Are the kids allowed to move the carefully arranged 12-candle greenery thingy on the coffee table so that they can spread out their Lego guys? Where are the Lego guys that should be dangling off the mantel on a string? And where are all the messy, gluey ornaments that the kids made? And where is the RED, for Pete's sake? Why does everyone use white and blue? Obviously, I do obsessively view the houses on the tours and I "pin" a lot of ideas on Pinterest. But I have to admit: I breathe a huge sigh of happiness when I come across a really tacky house on the tours: one that uses red, green, fake snow, ugly Santas, and stockings that don't match. I would feel at home there.

* And now, my quiet time is over. I have muffins to make and dishes to wash, counters to clear and laundry to fold, and those sweet children to teach.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Double Ambrosia

My nephew came home to Tennessee for Christmas. He works with my 4th brother on his farm, Indian Creek, in Ithaca, New York. Look at those lovelies that he brought for us. This is the kind of stuff I was raised on. I absolutely cannot choke down cider from the local grocery stores. It is so icky. But this..... this is, truly, orchard ambrosia. Unfortunately, we already drank it all.

And have you ever had fresh Brussels sprouts that you pluck off the stem? Amazing. If sprouts intimidate you, or you have only had overcooked, mushy ones, please try again. Even the ones that you get in the fresh food aisle in the grocery store can be made delicious with this recipe below!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and yellow leaves removed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).
  2. Place trimmed Brussels sprouts, olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal tightly, and shake to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet, and place on center oven rack.
  3. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 to 45 minutes, shaking pan every 5 to 7 minutes for even browning. Reduce heat when necessary to prevent burning. Brussels sprouts should be darkest brown, almost black, when done. Adjust seasoning with kosher salt, if necessary. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On the Menu

I am finding soooo much good stuff to try on Pinterest! I have noticed that the vast majority of recipes that I pin there are, unfortunately, desserts. I really, really love dessert. Fortunately, our college boy is coming home for the holidays beginning this week, so I'll have an excuse to make lots of good desserts, knowing that he and his friends will eat them all quickly.

Here are a few I found that I'm going to make while he's here:
* Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake
* Peppermint Truffle Brownies
* Salted Toffee Pretzel Bark
* Cran-Pistachio Cookies

And of course I'll be making all of my regular Christmas cookies, too, including:
* Chocolate Truffle Cookies, Jam Diagonals, and Never Fail Sugar Cookies
* Russian Tea Cakes
* Snickerdoodles

Randy making his famous fried rice!

But we'll be eating real meals around here, too. This week I'm trying one new and the rest old favorites:
* Randy's Famous Sunday Night Fried Rice
* Stuffed Shells
* Chicken with 40 Garlic Cloves
* Salmon with Spicy Thai Noodles
* Rainy Monday Beef Stew

Are you making Christmas cookies? What are your favorites?

Linked up on Menu Plan Monday

Friday, December 9, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up

I don't know how 5 weeks have elapsed since I last did a Weekly Wrap-Up, but they have. Perhaps I should aim for a monthly wrap-up.

November was packed with activities, including a week of service, a get-away book club weekend for me, a performance at the kids' performing arts co-op, finishing up our other co-op classes, a field trip to see Dickens' A Christmas Carol, company, and, of course, Thanksgiving—which meant our oldest was home from college. In the midst of all that, my uncle had a stroke and then surgery, so we've been wrapped up in concern for our beloved uncle. My parents have been making trips to and from Illinois to be with him.

The first week of December brought our annual Mother/Daughter/Grandmother Christmas tea. My own mother was in Illinois and missed the tea, but I provided one of the table settings with my grandmother's (her mother's) china.

We had about 160 attend the tea, which is probably my favorite AHG event of the year.

Our co-op had a Christmas dance for the teen group. The girls had so much fun picking out dresses. They are so beautiful.

We got our Christmas tree on a 65 degree day. That was kind of weird.

But we did have some snow a few days later. On this particular day, I drove Duncan and some friends down into the mountains for an all-day program at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. I love living here and having access to all these awesome opportunities!

And then we had all of our regular homeschooling at-home studies. Duncan and I finally finished studying Japan. We are really proud of our Japan lapbook. I think we move on to S. Korea now, but I'm actually not sure. Duncan has been zipping through pre-algebra, although I tend to stretch a lesson out over 2 days since he's just in 5th grade. I've also been more intentional about doing grammar every day, and he's zipping through that, as well.

Laurel has really hit her stride with her high school co-op classes. She did a research paper and presentation for her health class and got a fabulous grade, and her science class average is fantastic. Good grades are very motivating for her, and I've seen her confidence grow. I know it's hard to follow in the footsteps of a brilliant older brother (I had a few of those), but I think she is finally realizing that she also has a sharp, quick, wonderful mind.

Things are winding down now for the rest of the semester. I had my last British Lit class until mid-January. We had such an awesome time reading and discussing Romeo and Juliet. I have the absolute best group of students! I have them this nice present today:

That is their Romeo and Juliet exam, which they have to get back to me within 10 days. I thought it was a really awesome exam, with lots of options for a final project.

Monday is Laurel's last day for her other high school classes, Tuesday is our co-op's Christmas program, Jesse gets home from college on Wednesday, Thursday we have caroling with American Heritage Girls and Cub Scouts, and then we had to Chattanooga on Friday for our class trip to the Challenger Mission Center for our Voyage to Mars mission.

But in spite of all that and some personal grievances with annoying people that threaten to be joy-suckers, I feel tremendously relaxed and ready to just sit by the fire, stare at the Christmas tree, and enjoy my wonderful life.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Monday, December 5, 2011

10 Favorite Grammar Resources

extra credit

I am a bit of a grammar fanatic. I love solving grammar problems, diagramming sentences, and proofreading. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need guidance! Below are some of my favorite resources for teaching grammar, as well as other aspects of language arts. With all of the resources available on the internet, one could easily put together a comprehensive language arts program without spending a dime; however, the first two programs are ones that are well worth the purchase price! …

{Come on over to The Homeschool Classroom to read the rest of my article on grammar resources!}

Friday, December 2, 2011

Japan Lapbook

Duncan and I have been studying Japan for probably six weeks now, as part of Sonlight Core 5 (F). Rather than doing the Eastern Hemisphere and World Book Encyclopedia combo that comes along with the Core, we are doing our own geography and cultural studies. For Japan, we created this awesome lapbook. I've included links to the various printables and websites we used.

First opening. (See end of post for list of resources for mini-books, etc.)

Bottom flap opened.

All the way open.

Detail of haiku mini-book on inside flap.

Left flap: animals and inventions.

Inside top flap. Pop-up bunraku theatre found at Ellen McHenry's Basement Workshop. Mini-books are The Arts and time zones.

Inner extra flap. A Year in Japan in Manga available at Kids Web Japan.

Lower inner flap. Includes quick facts, recipes, and mini-books.

Top inner flap: natural disasters, currency, sports, and religion.

Bottom inner flap. Flipbook that includes samples of the three types of Japanese language. There are loads of different sites that have charts, like this Learn Japanese one.

Back of lapbook. One pouch contains various origami objects that we made following youtube videos listed on Activity Village.

Resources and Inspiration:
Lots of mini-books on Homeschool Share. Click on the Japan lapbook link for a PDF file with printable books.

Kids Web Japan is an absolute goldmine of information on all things Japanese.

Lots more mini-books and ideas on Lapbook Lessons, Japan.

YouTube is a great source for videos of all things Japan, including this simple Japanese tea ceremony, this footage of the tsunami, this video of a puppet theater, and this short clip on sumo wrestlers.

Introduction to Shadow Puppetry.

Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire on Netflix instant play.

The lapbooks sites above include probably a dozen or more mini-books that we didn't do, but we are ready to move into another country. Next up: South Korea, Mongolia, and China!