Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite SmallWorld Posts in 2012

Sifting Through a Life: "It's the pause before, the sacred snippet of quiet that I should be savoring. I should be sleeping or reading or even watching television. In an hour we'll be at the funeral home, arranging displays of a life, a whole entire life of 90 years. In two hours we'll be shaking hands of strangers mostly who loved our person, our uncle, our Max."

Good Mom:"It is simple, this mother love. It comes in waves of memory or quick blinks of realization that the years are limited. Some day, in just a few years, I won't have anyone around who delights in hot chocolate or who wraps himself in an afghan while watching cartoons."

New York City, Family Style: I divided this amazing trip of ours into four posts:
Lodging, Transportation, Food
Central Park and Times Square
Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Staten Island Ferry, Top of the Rock
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

First Annual Festival of One Act Plays: A Memory."The evening was warm. The grassy courtyard was filled with students on blankets, wearing shorts and t-shirts, facing the makeshift stage. The air was thick with anticipation and honeysuckle. Everything was exactly right."


Motherhood Slice of Life:"It is true that there is absolutely nothing in the world I wanted to be, ever, more than being a mom. I marvel sometimes at how I can be a mom now to two teenagers and one wanna-be teen. You know that feeling that somewhere out there, you still exist as a 14-year-old, 18-year-old, 25-year-old? I have that a lot."


What I Don't Show You (and Why I Blog Carefully): "A lot goes on in SmallWorld that you don't know about. I decided long ago never to tell stories that might hurt someone else, even if those stories are partly my stories. I don't share personal struggles that my kids go through, or things that are happening in my friends' or families' lives. It's not because I am scared to show you who I am, but because I believe in protecting people's privacy."


10 Pieces of Advice for All Homeschoolers, Old or New: "Much more important to me than choosing curriculum or having well-organized shelves or even deciding whether to keep homeschooling is the tremendous task of being a good parent. My pieces of advice really apply to any parents, not just homeschooling ones."

Ultimate Guide to Creative Writing Resources for Students: I spent hours and hours putting together this huge list of mostly free resources for teaching creative writing. Don't miss it!

Chicago with Teens: Art Institute. 2012 was a year of fantastic adventures with both NYC and Chicago on our itinerary. The Met and the Art Institute were my favorite parts of the trips; Chicago was especially fun with three teen girls.


31 Days of Beautiful Things. I spent the whole month focusing on the beautiful things in my days. There were a lot of beautiful things in October: a trip to my alma mater with my daughter as a prospective student )"Today's beautiful thing: being reminded of how incredibly blessed I am/was to have gone to college at a small, liberal arts college where everyone does, indeed, remember your name"); a camping trip to hear the elk bugle at Cataloochee ("Watching these huge, majestic animals was beautiful, as was being out in the valley at 7:45 a.m., autumn just coloring the leaves and fog creeping in and out.");  running with my husband ("I run because Randy and I have 45 minutes of uninterrupted time, just the two of us, to talk about our yesterday, our today, and what's happening tomorrow"); and joining the Vineyard ("One year ago, I would never have predicted that we would join another church.)


My Grandmother's Legacy.  "I am grateful for the legacy of optimism and expectancy, of looking for beauty in simple things, of embracing life, of just 'having some fun.'"


Finding Peace in the Christmas Program.  "But somewhere about halfway through, I fell in love. … I stopped thinking about how many more acts the bulletin promised (13 at that point) and noticed the lights on the stage, tiny twinkling stars on the trees and wreaths."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Year in Books

I've finished my annual Review of Books over on my SmallWorld Reads blog. For those 400 or so of you who don't subscribe over there, here is my Top 10 List, followed by all the books I read in 2012! If you have a reading list or if you have a book that I absolutely MUST read, please link to it in the comments so I can come take a look!


In 2012 I read and reviewed 47 books here on SmallWorld Reads, and probably read a total of a dozen others (juvenile fiction read aloud to my youngest).

 (I've been doing this for five years now. See my other Best of the Years posts.)

Top 10 Books Read in 2012
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. From my review: "This was our book club's read for June, and, for perhaps the first time ever, everyone not only read but loved this novel!"

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  From my review: "The Distant Hours is a gothic novel full of mystery, suspense, romance, and hauntings. … This is one of those books that I thought about during the day and couldn't wait to get to in the evenings."

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. From my review: "It was just, well, it was everything I could possibly want in a novel. A mystery with a ghost story feel. Romance, lost love, found love, familial love, orphans, good guys, villains, a manor, a secret garden (and speaking of that, well-done cameos with real life figures), fairy tales, and did I mention suspense."

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. From my review: "I'm really quite astounded by The Invisible Bridge. The last 50 pages or so I read in a doctor's office while waiting for a friend, and I embarrassingly wept now and then. I was slightly numb when I closed the book, stunned by human resiliency as displayed in the character but also stunned by Orringer's ability to craft such a novel."

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. From my review: "Genova has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard, so her novels, which deal at one level with complex neurological issues, feel so completely believable. But it isn't just the medicine that's good: Genova is a fantastic writer. She can get spot-on into the heart and soul of her characters."

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. From my review: "This was a beautifully written, lovely novel about Ernest Pettigrew, a perfectly stuffy English gentleman. This was our book club's November read, and everyone absolutely loved it."

Room by Emma Donoghue. From my review: "Who wants to read a book about a kidnapped woman and her son, who are living in an 11X11 room and visited nightly by "Old Nick"?…But if you don't meet Jack and Ma, you're missing on two wonderful, strong, courageous characters and an unforgettable, powerful, yes—positively gripping story."

The Rebel Wife by Taylor Polites.  From my review: "I had a hard time putting down this post-Civil War novel. I was even reading during breakfast and lunch, which is quite an unusual feat for this mom who usually saves reading for bedtime. The novel was that engrossing."

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. "I was hooked from the very first line, and I was reluctant to put it down each night to sleep. I carried it with me during the day when I wasn't reading it. I carried the language of Tim O'Brien—the absolutely beautiful poetry, the lyrical longing, the heartbreak."

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas.  From my review: "Sandra Dallas has once again written a fascinating tale woven around a unique piece of American history. This time her subject matter takes us out of Colorado mining country to the Mormon Trail in the mid-1800s."

FAVORITE BOOK(s) of 2012
I'm going to have to call a tie between Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. I can't really compare the two: one is sort of a Gothic romance/ghost story, and the other is a gritty, heart-breaking story of war. But they were both absolutely beautifully written.

* Don't Forget the Classics!
I read several classics this year. I don't count these on my Top 10 list because, well, somehow they seem to be above such things. Here are my beloved classics from this year:
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
  • Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
  • My Antonia (Willa Cather)
  • O Pioneers! (Willa Cather)
  • Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • Watership Down (Richard Adams)

• I added 38 books to my Ever-Growing TBR list, and I marked off 19. That means that my TBR list continues to grow faster than I can read, and it also means I read a lot of books that aren't on my TBR list.   I learned about books from posts on The Sunday Salon, Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books, from various internet sources, from personal recommendations, and especially from other book bloggers.

 • Below is the total list of books read, minus the juvenile fiction. Each link leads to a review or, rarely, to if I didn't get a chance to review it. My star-ranking system is as follows: 5 stars--must read; 4 stars--highly recommended; 3 stars--enjoyable; 2 stars--ick; 1 star--no, no, no.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: Birthday Boy

Christmas Day is Duncan's birthday. We've always done a party in early December, but this year we were all ready for the end of parties. We took him and his two best buds to Ripley's Haunted Adventure in Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Please, please, please: remind me to never go there during the holidays again! It was absolutely jam packed with tourists. I should have known. We knew that Sevierville and Pigeon Forge would be a mess of outlet shoppers, but we didn't even think about the crowds in Gatlinburg. We waited in traffic about 45 minutes to go 3 blocks, but we did finally get there.

The boys seemed to love the Haunted Adventure. In the picture above they are listening to instructions from a zombie-looking actor—and that was the point at which I was told to put my camera away. It only took us about 15 minutes to get through because the boys were practically running. My advice: if you go, walk slowly, or you'll feel fairly ripped off for spending so much money for 15 minutes. Then again, we all know these things are way overpriced, right?

After eating at Mellow Mushroom, we headed back home but went over the mountains rather than trying to navigate Gatlinburg traffic again.

We were rewarded with lots of nice snow! OK, "lots" might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you look closely in the photo, you can see a few flakes. We were excited, anyway.

We stopped at The Sinks, a popular waterfall, on our way back. The river was positively terrifying in its strength. The boys, who usually climb all over rocks, were even quite respectful of the intensity of the falls. They only tried to climb once or twice.

It was a good day for our youngest birthday boy. I'm so glad to be done with the elaborate parties! I'm sure in a few years I'll be lamenting the passing of the seasons, but right now, I'm happy for the ease of a couple friends and a trip to a cheesy tourist attraction. And the mountains: always, the mountains.

Linked up with Saturday Snaphot

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Night Panic—and LOVE>FEAR

It happened to me again last night—that's twice now while tent camping and twice in my own bed. I awoke in an absolute panic, my heart beating fast. I was terrified, and the first thought that always hits me is, "Is this going to keep happening to me? Is this my new thing?" The tent, I understand. I get claustrophobic, and with the window closed and blankets piled on top of me, panic seems inevitable. But in my own bed?

Last night I dreamed that I was with a bunch of friends, and we had to keep going deeper and deeper underground—into the sewer I think. I remember feeling sheer terror while trying to talk myself into being calm. I couldn't breathe, couldn't move. When I woke up for real, I felt the same way. I tried to go back to sleep, but I actually had to get up and move to the couch. (Last time we were camping, I had to leave the tent and sleep in the van.) I don't know what it is about the couch vs. the bed—streetlights shining in seem to help.

In my 20s, I was suddenly hit with fear of heights and claustrophobia. The fear of heights happened when I was probably 21. A bunch of us were exploring the Doe River Gorge, and we had to cross an old railroad bridge that went over the river. By "bridge," I mean a single long plank. By "river," I mean a rushing river, not a creek. I got about a quarter of the way across and froze—absolutely froze. My friend Dave and my brother Stephen were already across the river, smiling and waving at me. My friends Janet and Jennifer were still on the bank, waiting for me so that they could cross. I couldn't move forward or backward. I couldn't even sit. I was sweaty and even becoming resigned to my fate: I would forever live on this log. Somehow I eventually managed to sit and scoot my way back on my butt to safety.

I tested my new fear several times: attempting to stand as close as possible—while still safe— to the edges of gorges or cliffs. I froze every time. Oh, I'm not talking about the kind of fear that keeps you safe—I don't mean natural instincts. I am talking about an unnecessary fear when little or no danger exists.

Claustrophobia hit me around the same time. We were spelunking in a familiar cave, Salt Peter, in upper East Tennessee. I'd been there a dozen times. Loved getting smeared in Tennessee red clay and crawling through tight spaces. There is nothing quite like reaching an underground lake, lighting candles, and singing a hymn. Well, until the time that the panic hit. There I was, crawling next to my friend Adam through a tight place, and BAM! I froze. My heart was pounding like crazy, I broke into a sweat, and I couldn't move. I was terrified. Somehow I got out—and never went back again. My caving days were over. Oh sure—I've been to the big touristy-type caverns, but I am pretty certain I will never crawl under the earth again on purpose with a hard hat and a flashlight.

So there lies my real fear. I can easily avoid caves and cliffs. I don't have to go spelunking or cross a log across a river. I don't even have to go camping and sleep in a tent, although to give that up would be devastating. Camping is a huge part of our family life, and I'll take the risk of panic hitting while I'm in the tent, knowing that I can always move to the van.

But waking in a panic while sleeping in my own bed, in my own room, next to my husband? That is just not going to work out for me. I mentioned that my first clear thought is always about myself: is this my new thing? But my second one is always about a couple of my friends who suffer from severe anxiety, who have dealt with debilitating panic attacks most of their adult lives. How do they live like that? How do they get through day after day, never knowing when they will freeze in utter terror?

I'm on a team for a new initiative at my church, called LOVE>FEAR. It's all about how normal people demonstrate how love is greater than fear—stories of regular people who refuse to let fear triumph in their lives. Our website will be up and running soon, but the Facebook page is already active. I listened to the original LOVE>FEAR sermon series recently. (The series is here on our pastor's blog—Aaron

Message #5—Sharing Truth—was our first time at the Vineyard. I remember being absolutely blown away by Aaron's message. We were those people who had left our church, who were hurting—bleeding— from what happened there. We had even said things like, "I would be happy never going to church again, if it weren't for the kids." (From the archives: "Leaving a Church.") We went to the Vineyard somewhat reluctantly, really just to appease a friend. That first day at the Vineyard, Randy and I were pretty amazed. A year later, we became members. (From the archives: A Brand New Thing.)

I know. I've strayed from my original topic. Sort of. Conquering fear is on my mind a lot lately, and I'm offended when it comes to me at night, sneaking in like a thief. I love what Psalm 91:5 says:

"You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day…"

That's a verse to hold in the palm of your hand.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Dad

I love this picture of my Dad and Mom that I snapped on Christmas Day. My Dad smiles a lot, but he never smiles for pictures. I'm so proud of my Dad—for Christmas he gave my mom that pretty scarf she is wearing. As long as I can remember, he's said to me a few weeks before Christmas: "I am stumped. I don't know what to get your mother." I remember the year we lived in Germany when he waiting until the very last minute to go shopping. What we didn't realize was that the stores closed much earlier there than they do here on Christmas Eve. He barely made it, but he did get my mom an adorable chimney sweep for her Hümmel collection.

Speaking of presents and my Dad, I did something that I'm quite proud of for my Dad this year. In my writers' workshop at my church, I learned about this awesome site called Create Space, a division of Amazon. It's an incredibly easy and totally free way to self-publish. As soon as I was introduced to it, I knew what I needed to do.

My Dad is a storyteller. Over the past 20 years, he's been writing down slices of life, memories, and poems from his life. One afternoon when he was gone, I went on a stealth mission, logged onto his computer, and emailed myself all his stories. (Fortunately, he has them on word docs.) I realized that I could not possibly get all his stories into one collection before Christmas, so I decided just to do his childhood stories. My third brother sent me a bunch of pictures, and just a few days before Christmas, Boy at Dix arrived.

How cool is that? I got a copy for all my brothers, nieces, and nephews, and a bunch of copies for my Dad. Needless to say, it was pretty much the gift of the year.

That's Dad, with his great-grandson Justus looking on, as he opens his book. What I really loved is that my Dad right away sent one to his cousin Bob, who is featured quite prominently in these childhood stories. Dad has not seen nor spoken with Bob in—ready for this?—50 years! I am excited to hear Bob's reaction.

The most precious part to me, though, is that we have this book. My kids, my brothers, nieces, nephews—we have this part of my Dad. I am so incredibly grateful to my Dad for writing down these stories and memories so that we can have a piece of our family history, so that we can keep passing these stories down through the generations.

My message: get those stories on paper. If your parents or grandparents don't like to write, get them talking and record those stories.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Very Merry

Family. We are abundantly blessed with it. Two days before Christmas, 29 of us gathered together at our house for our first family portrait in 14 years. We've added a lot of people since then. Only our oldest brother, James, was missing. He is always missing.

Cousins, cousins, cousins

A room filled with family

Oma with the oldest and youngest of her grandchildren

Everyone reading the book of my Dad's stories that I had published for him. More on that later.

Christmas Eve was quiet and perfect with just my parents here with us. As always, we feast on shrimp and cheese and cookies and punch. Dad reads "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and Randy reads the birth of Jesus from Luke.

And Christmas Day, we celebrate doubly. We celebrate that baby in the manger who saved the world, and we celebrate our own precious youngest child.

May you have peace, joy, and merriment that can't be contained in one day!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Seizing the Holidays

It started in November with the kids' production at their performing arts co-op…

And moved quickly to packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child (I think our troop packed 35)
Packing boxes for OCC

And then Duncan was in a local Christmas parade at the request of a little girl who adores him…
Duncan and his admirer, Zee

There was the nearly 2 hours Christmas program, where I giggled uncontrollably and inappropriately and in which Duncan lip synched to "Silent Night" in German…

Duncan not even pretending to sing at this moment.

 And the Mother/Daughter/Grandmother Christmas Tea, which was as beautiful as ever, even though we did not have a proper coordinator for it this year, so Caroline and I threw it together. It was our last tea as coordinators, and the troop surprised us each with a cabin getaway weekend to use whenever we wish!
Laurel and Mom

Somewhere in the midst of all that, Laurel was in the play "The Mystery at Shady Acres" put on by her drama class at co-op…

And Randy and Duncan went on the Boy Scouts' annual winter camping trip…

One Saturday we took in Christmas in the Smokies, which was not a cheesy Pigeon Forge-type thing but a living history walk through the woods, with reenactors talking about what Christmas-time would have been like in the early 1900s.
"Granny" explaining the medicinal herbs in her basket.

Laurel went to a Christmas dance, two tacky sweater parties, and had a Christmas sleepover, but I only have pictures of the dance…

A small group of our AHG troop went caroling at the airport…

Somewhere in all of that, we got our tree at the local tree farm and decorated it…

And Jesse came home from college (straight As!) and yes, he still can't seem to stop reading…

This past week we have had the tremendous joy of Koll Henry visiting from New York (he's my fourth brother's baby)… 

And now we are heading into pure family time, decorating cookies and having the Christmas sing at my second brother's house.

This afternoon is going to be fabulous. For the first time ever, every single one of my parents' offspring (except, of course, our oldest brother James, who never comes to anything ever) will be here at my house. That's 29, from my 87-year-old father to his youngest grandson, Koll Henry, 9 months old. That also includes 5 great-grandchildren, who are all older than Kollman. We are spread out from New York to TN to Texas, so it is quite a feat to have everyone here at the same time. My friend and wonderful photographer, Donna, is coming over to take real family pictures for us.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be relatively quiet, with all the extended family gone.  Besides Christmas, we'll celebrate Duncan's birthday on the 25th and Randy's on the 26th—and then Randy's family will start arriving on the 27th.

I probably should feel overwhelmed with all these goings-on. I don't—well, most of the time. I feel incredibly blessed. Mixed in with all the activities, we've had quiet evenings at home with homemade Chex mix and movies, with candy-cane Hershey's kisses and Scattergories. We've had our house filled with our children and their friends, sitting around in the living room chatting for hours. We've shared food and laughter with new friends and old friends.

And almost every single morning, the love of my life and I sit in the living room drinking our coffee, while our three sleep and the cats and dog frolic. It's a good place to be.