Sunday, September 30, 2012

31 Days of Beautiful Things

I only six blogged times in September. Six times—that is probably a new low for me. I can't say why, other than that I was overwhelmed with busyness. I don't like being overwhelmed, nor do I like being so busy that I don't have time to see the beautiful things all around me.

One of my favorite semi-regular posts is "Three Beautiful Things." I wrote one a week or so ago, called Baby, Cool, and Tradition. These are simple posts, snippets of the beautiful things in my life. These are the things I want to take time for every single day.

For the next 31 days, inspired by The Nester, my goal is to capture a few beautiful things each day—to breathe in and focus on the simple and the profound, the quiet and the obvious, the things I almost missed. October is perhaps my favorite month, the month of cooling down and crisping, of colors and bonfires, pumpkins and soup. There is no shortage of beautiful things in October.

Maybe you'll want to join in, jotting down three beautiful things in your life every day this month, whether on your own blog, in the comments, or with actual pen and paper. Maybe you'll want to go into all-out 31 Day writing mode with hundreds of others on The Nester. Whatever you do, don't forget to deliberately notice something beautiful every single day this month. It could become a habit.

And I'll end this first post with a quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne, with whom I've just spent four weeks teaching The Scarlet Letter:

"There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October."

This post is Day 1.
Day 2: Morning Coffee
Day 3: It's OK to Break for Bugs 
Day 4: Supper and Cards 
Day 5: Running with Randy
Day 6: At Cataloochee 
Day 7: A Brand New Thing
Day 8: Alma Mater 
Day 9: Writing Group 
Day 10: Big Brother, Baby Nephew 
Day 11: Little Girls
Day 12: Boy Home 
Day 13: Quiet 
Day 14: Family Legends 
Day 15: Comfort Food 
Day 16: Family Legends 2 
Day 17: Sleep 
Day 18: Anticipation (AKA, Beauty in Cleaning) 
Day 19: Soup and Pumpkins
Day 20: Old Friends, Brand New  
Day 21: Leaves
Day 22: Sunrise
Day 23: Cat in the Sun 
Day 24: Shopping with My Mother
Day 25: Book Club 
Day 26: Warm and Safe
Day 27: ARC 
Day 28: The Love of October 
Day 29: Dog's View 
Day 30: Boo
Day 31: Us

Friday, September 28, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up: 6th Week

Phew! This first 6 weeks has flown by at a ridiculous speed. This is the first chance I've had to do a weekly wrap-up. This was a fabulous week for Duncan. He spent two days recently learning about  Japan's history & culture in a special camp by a fellow homeschooling mom, who went all out.

She made yukata and obi (robes and sashes) for all of them! Amazing! I can't believe all the topics they covered in these two 5-6 hour classes; here are just a few—and I do mean a few—of the things they did/learned about:
  • samurai weaponry & armor 
  • how the civil war in Japan had left many samurai masterless, turning them into ronin. 
  • the most famous ronin, the 47 who avenged Lord Asano from Lord Kira 
  • William Adams/Miura Anjin, the only foreigner to become a samurai and the loyal friend & advisor to Ieyasu (& inspiration of the character of John Blackthorne in James Clavell's book, Shogun).  
  • the impact of Christianity on Japanese culture
  • years of isolationism (1638-1854)
  • Painters and poets
  • role of women in Japanese society
  • traditional tea ceremony or chanoyu
  • visited koi ponds
  • Matthew Perry & how his "black ships" broke open the door to Japanese trade
  • made lapbooks 
  • received a custom yukata & obi ("dresses & sashes"), and kanji of their names on washi (mulberry) paper along with a pronunciation key & meaning of the syllables & entire name. 
Needless to say, it was a fantastic opportunity. Duncan and I had spent several weeks last year studying Japan and made a fantastic lapbook on Japan, but this took what he learned last year to a whole new level.

We finished reading Beowulf: A New Telling for the literature circle class I'm co-teaching at our co-op. The kids are absolutely loving this gory re-telling of the epic poem. I highly recommend this version as an introduction to the real thing! It is so fantastic. Gory, but fantastic.

We put our WWII study on hold this week but look forward to getting back to it next week. We've been keeping up with both Teaching Textbooks math and Duncan's pre-algebra class at co-op, which is awesome. Taking that extra class is really keeping him on his toes with math. Besides that, he's doing drama both on Mondays and Tuesday at two different co-ops, as well as a knot-tying class and  flags at co-ops. Seems like I'm missing something that he is taking, but I can't remember what!

Laurel is keeping up with all her co-op classes—ecology, American Lit, American history, geometry, drama, dance, ACT Prep and government—although it is challenging at times. This week both government and geometry were cancelled because of teacher sickness, so she has a tiny break. She's also trying to study to get her driver's permit, but that always gets pushed to the back!

Tonight I am getting together with my American Lit class to watch The Scarlet Letter, which we just finished reading. I managed to cut the 4-hour PBS version down to about 3 hours, but we are still in for a long night! The kids are looking forward to it, though. Actually, so am I.

That's what's been happening this week! We're headed out to grocery shopping and fencing, and then we'll be ready for the weekend. Tomorrow Duncan has an all-day service project for Boy Scouts, and Laurel and I have a Stars and Stripes ceremony for one of our American Heritage Girls troop's members (equivalent of Boy Scouts Eagle Scout award), so we'll look forward to actually relaxing on Saturday evening.

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Biking the Cades Cove Loop

Since we've done this two years running, I think we can officially call it an annual event.

Every Wednesday and Saturday mornings from May through September, the 11-mile loop is closed to car traffic until 10. We like to stay at the campground when we bike the loop so that we can get out nice and early. We booked our sites back in July. We managed to get 4 sites right next to each other so that some of our friends could come, too.

The weather was absolutely perfect. Last year we rode the loop in July. September was a much better choice!

We were all in better shape this year. The loop might seem relatively flat when you drive it, but there are some seriously steep hills. I think all but 3 of us ended up walking our bikes up a few of the hills. Annoyingly, there was a group of runners passing us on the loop. Seriously—what is up with those guys and their thin, ropy bodies, daring to just ease pass us bikers as if we had square wheels? Sheesh.

We had plenty of stops for water and snacks and taking in the gorgeous views. We finished just as the first cars were finishing the loop.

My days have been packed so full lately that I can scarcely remember where I'm going or what I'm supposed to do. This was exactly what I needed to clear my brain and restore some peace in my too busy days.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Three Beautiful Things


My brother, his wife, and most importantly, their baby Kollman are here visiting. I can’t explain how much I love this baby. Or that my brother, at 48, is a new dad.

The weather, the weather! I am so thrilled to wake up to somewhat chilly mornings, leaves on the ground, fog floating across the mountains.

I love traditions. I don’t love being in bondage to traditions, but I love celebrating events with certain traditions. Laurel’s birthday was a few weeks ago, but I still find the number “15” taped all over the house. It’s what we do and have always done with all three kids: tape a dozen or two of their new age around the house. 

What beautiful things are in your world today?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Chicago with Teens: Art Institute

Over the summer, under the influence of my commitment to travel more, I took my teen daughter and two of her friends to Chicago. You can head over to this post to read about our first day in Chicago.

The first afternoon included lots of walking, shopping, and getting an overall view of the city. The second day we had two specific goals: The Art Institute and Navy Pier.

Step 1: What to wear. OK, this wasn't really part of the plan, but the girls did spend a lot of time getting ready that morning. Remember the part about teen girls? But they looked adorable. (At the museum, one woman asked my daughter if they were part of the Irish dancing troupe. They loved that.)

But first: getting there. My friend Andria, with whom we were staying, and I had thoroughly examined the Chicago Transit Authority's maps the previous night, and she made detailed notes for me about which lines to take. This was no easy feat: the print is so tiny on the maps that we seriously needed a magnifying glass to read it. And I'm not just saying that because we are in our 40s! Really, Chicago: large print is the way to go.

Did I mention the record-breaking temperatures in Chicago during the three days we were there? That is an important travel tip: it is freakin' hot anywhere when the temps stretch from 95-105. Dress accordingly. Wear your hair back in a ponytail. Drink lots of water. Eat gelato. But don't put off your trip just because it's hot.

All that to say: we walked many blocks to get the El, which of course is the Chicago way of saying "subway." It's also called the "rail." Whatever. We found it! The El experience was much different than our subway experience in NYC. I just assumed that there would be a subway stop at pretty much every block, like in NYC; however, the Chicago El system is much smaller than New York's. So, we actually had to walk probably a mile to get to a station. We were greeted by a worker there who immediately tagged us as tourists, took my card and swiped it and gave us our tickets. Yes, I thought to myself, "Why did I just let that man swipe my card? What if he is only a man dressed up in a Chicago Transit uniform and he's really stealing my identity?" But alas: he told us to run and catch the next train, which we did. It all happened very fast. Faster than I could really think, which might have been to our benefit.

The ride cost us each $2.25. There are, of course, passes that can be purchased that might be less expensive. You can get an unlimited day pass for $5.75, which would allow for unlimited bus and/or rail rides on a single day. I opted not to do that because I didn't think we would be riding more than twice. As it turned out, we each paid for 3 total rides, but that was a goof on my part. More on that later.

The ride was uneventful, and we did listen carefully to the CTA guy when he told us where to get off. We arrived a couple of blocks from the Art Institute and then had no idea how to actually get there. I'm sorry to say that all four of us are slightly map challenged. But we made it.

Whoo-hoo! The line was fairly long. We arrived about 11 a.m. and obviously should have tried to get there an hour earlier, but those outfits were important.

Like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago has been on my to-do list for a long time. Maybe always. Last year my father and I flew out to Puget Sound say goodbye to my only aunt, his younger sister, before she passed away from ovarian cancer. My aunt was an artist. She asked me to take any art books from her collection that I would like to have, and one of those I chose was an oversized book of the masterpieces in the Art Institute. I knew I needed to go there soon, partly in tribute to my Aunt Ann.

And sharing art with my daughter—and her friends—was a priceless experience. As I said in my post about the Met, my daughter recently finished a year-long art history class at our co-op. Their primary textbook was Short Lessons in Art History: Artists and Their Work. Having that familiarity was wonderful.

As I did with our trip to the Met, I familiarized myself with the collections at the Art Institute and made a must-see list, such as…

Van Gogh's room at Arles

Grant Wood's American Gothic

Monet's Poppy Field

Renoir's Two Sisters on the Terrace
Those are just a few, a very few, of the treasures that left me awestruck and tremendously grateful.

Another highlight for me was Marc Chagall's stained glass America Windows. Just amazing.

The girls loved the Architecture and Design wing. Honestly, I'm not sure I would have even visited that wing had the girls not wanted to, but I'm glad we did!

I admit that we spent the vast majority of our time in the European masters. I can't help it. It is an awe-inspiring experience for me to stand before a painting that I have known all my life—perhaps first as a print hanging in my mother's living room, then as a student in college, then perhaps on a calendar or a card, then teaching to my children— and to realize this is it. This is the real thing. Van Gogh touched this, gazed at this, hated it and loved it. I get very emotional at such things.

The special exhibit: Roy Lichtenstein. Wow! This is a big difference from my beloved Impressionists, but I loved it.

We spent about 4 hours at the Art Institute. We did decide to eat in the museum, although I swore I would never do that again after our experience at the Met. The Art Institute was less expensive by far, and it was worth the cost to stay in air-conditioning rather than venture outside into the Sahara to find food.

Total cost: subway: $2.25/each. Museum admission: $18/adult; $12/student (under 14 free, but we didn't have any of those). Food: around $10 for mediocre food, but we were full.

Next up: our afternoon inadvertently sightseeing on our way to Navy Pier.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lazy Labor Day Ramblings

* It's been an extraordinarily lazy holiday weekend. I am not sure I've done one productive thing, other than do a few loads of laundry. I haven't even cooked. One would think that after such a weekend, I'd be motivated to conquer my to-do list today. But truthfully, I'd just like to take another nap.

* I've been reading so many good books lately. I haven't even had time to review them all! But if you are looking for something to read, hop on over to my SmallWorld Reads blog. You can see my "best of" lists at the top, or check out the 4 and 5-star reviews on my sidebar. Threes and below--meh.

* Lately, I have suffered the most terrible cravings for half-moon cookies from my hometown in upstate New York. I think about them a lot. I was excited to see that Entenmann's makes them now, but they were terribly, terribly disappointing. And then a Publix opened locally—and black-and-whites (the downstate name) were in the bakery. But again, blech. I am going to have to make my own. This recipe is close, but not perfect. I need to stop thinking about food from my hometown. Don't even get me started on pizza from Cam's or meatball subs from Uncle Joe's....

* I think I'm in a blogging slump. I have a lot of things to write about, but somehow I can't muster up the energy to write. I've recently become addicted to a ridiculous game on Facebook, and I can't seem to tear myself away from it. I know. But admitting it is the first step, right?

* I may have mentioned a few dozen times how much I adore our new church. (See—that's one of those long posts I need to write.) A new session of small groups start soon, and I have joined the writers' group. I am very proud of myself. I signed up without even really thinking about how crazy our Tuesday evenings will be (Laurel has both dance and government class on Tuesdays already), because when you go to a church that values writing (and other arts), you pay attention.

* Our youth group activities have been cancelled because of rain this evening, so my parents are coming over for Randy's Famous Fried Rice. It really is the best fried rice ever. And in spite of my sheer laziness and irresistible urge to take a nap, I really am ready to face the coming year. It all starts again next week: the classes, the clubs, American Heritage Girls, small groups, appointments, meetings, etc. And I'm OK with that. I'd be better if I had a dozen half-moon cookies, but I think I can make it anyway.