Saturday, July 27, 2013

First Christmas Card Order

I know it's only July, but I can't resist getting 10 free cards from Shutterfly. So to avoid cleaning the house, I just spent an hour making Christmas cards. Because I like free stuff.

5x7 Folded Card
View the entire collection of cards.

Saturday Snapshot: Afternoon Drive on the Foothills Parkway

"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."
~Henry James

Some days, I make really good decisions.

Grabbing a bucket of chicken, my kids, my parents, and five chairs and heading to the mountains: that was a good decision.

Just a few years ago my parents would have been game for a short hike in the mountains, but not anymore.

Fortunately, the Foothills Parkway has some of the best views of the Smokies, and Mom and Dad, who are in their late-80s, were so happy just to be able to sit and soak in the mountains—a change of scenery for them—and their grandkids.

Dad and Duncan went on a really short hike. Dad mows his lawn, tends a big garden, and spends a huge amount of his day doing yard work, but he gets winded while hiking.

We ate our chicken, watched the mountains, talked with some bikers who stopped for the view, and then headed down the parkway for another view. We sat there for nearly an hour, just watching the mountains and the clouds, listening to the sounds of summer.

You can't help but feel refreshed and revitalized when you've breathed in all of this, all this green and blue, this wide expanse of creation, this marvelous, wild, incomprehensible beauty.

I savor these days with Mom and Dad and with my children. I know that right now I am in a special, precious place, when I still have my parents and my children are still at home. I choke back that panic of a life without my parents, of the emptiness that I know comes when each child leaves home. You have to quiet the fear, you must in order to embrace perfect days like this.

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time."  ~John Lubbock

Linked up with Saturday Snapshot

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Pinterest Projects

Pinterest is an amazing tool! For the most part, I am really good about not getting sucked into it. I don't spend hours each day perusing and getting lost in the Pinterest world—because I know I could get totally wrapped up in trying to do more things, better things, and cuter things. I try to use it practically—and summer seems to be just about the only time I can get house projects done. Here's how I've been using Pinterest this summer…

Around the House
I painted our hallway this summer, and I admit I had a little pang as I painted over crayon marks from 12 years ago. Sigh. But—painting gave me a nice clean slate for redoing our picture gallery there. I took down all the old frames and painted them all black and also bought some new ones. Pinterest gave me ideas for creating a photo display wall and reminded me of how my mother taught me to hang pictures: using newspaper as a template.

Here's the wall thus far:

 Admittedly, it's still in progress. I have to order several pictures to fill some frames, but the hard part is done! I pinned this idea to put your wedding song lyrics on canvas awhile back and am working on doing something like this for the wall. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, but so far I have this added onto the above collage wall:

 That's a copy of the first page in the songbook that our wedding song was in. I crinkled and yellowed it, thinking I would decoupage it on the canvas, but now I'm not sure. I'm still thinking about this one. I might need to add some twine and a snapshot or something. Or I may end up going with the original idea that I pinned, although that's not quite my style.

I have found that the easiest way to add books to my reading list is to first pin them to my I Cannot Live Without Books board and then transfer them monthly to my Never-Ending TBR List on my SmallWorld Reads blog. This summer I've added:
  • Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis: Lauren F. Winner
  • The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
  • Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli
  • In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White
  • Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (The World As Home) by Janisse Ray
  • Snow: Orhan Pamuk
  • The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
  • Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes by Kelsey Timmerman
  • Me Before You: A Novel: Jojo Moyes
  • The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls  by Anton Disclafani
  • A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
  • The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls
  • The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas
  • Ghost Moth by Michele Forbes
  • Songs of Willow Frost: A Novel: Jamie Ford
  • 41 False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers

{And that's why my TBR list is never-ending!}

I refuse to being school as early as the public schools do around here (our city began July 22!), but I do like to start gathering ideas and organizing a bit. My newest board this summer is devoted to Art Lessons.  After visiting so many art museums in Paris this spring, my 12-year-old is absolutely passionate about learning more art techniques. I've done a lot of pinning and reviewing and have even written up 4 weeks' worth of lessons. My favorite sites so far are That Artist Woman and Julianna Kunstler's Art Lessons. But I'm only just beginning to plan!

I use Pinterest soooo much for recipes. Between my daughter and me, we have hundreds of ideas marked:
Mango Pineapple Salsa. So yummy.

Main Eats 
• My favorites there this summer: Buffalo Chicken Salad and Toasted Ginger Sesame Salmon

Sweet Eats
Grammy's White Sheet Cake is ridiculous. I could eat the entire thing myself.

Grilled Starburst: Major flop. Sounds like a great idea, but we tried this out on a camping trip and the crispy outside and liquid inside just didn't happen. It was just a warm, gooey Starburst.

Extra Eats
Zucchini fries? Yessssss. And this Mango Pineapple Salsa is a must with anything pork. Or anything.

Eats (my daughter's board)
Beer and bacon mac and cheese: FLOP.
Crunchy black bean tacos: YUM.

My teenager has been the craftiest in the house this summer. One day she and her friend had a Pinterest day and finished three or four projects that they had pinned. She found both of these ideas on SimplyFind.It's Cute and Crafty board:

My Most Pinned Posts
It's fun to see what SmallWorld posts are most pinned. A quick scan shows that my top two are:

Ultimate Guide to Creative Writing {for Students}

SmallWorld's Wordsmithery [free creative writing lessons]

Come and see how other bloggers at iHomeschool Network are using Pinterest this summer! You can link up your own flips and flops there, too. And if you don't already, be sure and follow me on Pinterest for food, homeschooling, great books, travel, and decorating stuff, too!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Best Homeschooling Advice {A Simple Homeschool Collection}

For the past few years I was a regular contributor to Simple Homeschool, which I think is the absolute best homeschooling site out there. I really do. In my efforts to cut down on the busyness of my life, I stepped down from my monthly writing at Simple Homeschool, but all of my articles are still there. I'm proud of my work there. It's some of my best writing about the more philosophical side of homeschooling—not the "how tos" necessarily, but the "why we do this" and "what it all means." Writing these posts every month or so really served as a reminder to me about the beauty of this journey we are on and just how incredibly blessed we are to be doing life like this.

Read on.

Reason Enough to Homeschooling: Maybe my favorite post ever. I re-read it every so often just to remind myself.

Burying the Big Yellow Bus: That yellow bus can keep on passing us by. This is my other absolute favorite post.

My Dozen Best Pieces of Homeschooling Advice: That's right. Twelve things I think I did right, for the most part.

Our Top 25 Read-Alouds (Ages 5-12): A list of delicious books we've read with the kids over the years—and lots of good suggestions in the comments, too.

Responding to the Homeschooling Critics: Should I keep my mouth shut, or should I respond?

The Best Part of Homeschooling—Enjoying Them:  We seize the days together, and that is the sweet essence of homeschooling.

What Counts as Homeschooling?: Hiking? Biking? Board games? Field trips? Don't be boxed in by a desk and textbook!

Are Homeschooled Kids Weird?: Aren't we all?

10 Ways to Adjust Your Attitude When You're Homeschooling for the Long Haul: Wow! That was a long title. What happens when you're not really excited about homeschooling for this particular season?

Physical Education for Homeschooled Teens: Get creative. Not all kids are meant to play team sports!

Stepping Outside the Grade-Level Box: What do grades really mean? Homeschooling is all about learning at one's own pace—but teach your kids what grade they are in, anyway!

A Guide to Navigating the Homeschooling Community: Hike your own hike. There are a lot of crazies out there.

Homeschool Through High School? You Really Can!: I've done it, I'm doing it, and I'll do it again!

Keeping the Obligation Out of Tradition: Dealing with family traditions with reluctant teens.

My Biggest Homeschooling Mistake—Not Traveling More: My own post inspired me to be more deliberate about traveling!

Seeking a Professional—Our Speech Therapy Journey: Homeschooling parents can't always do it all; here's our journey to better speech.

Decluttering 101: I'm not the neatest person in the world by any stretch, but for me, a decluttered house is necessary for homeschooling.

Reclaiming Family Time: How do we get back to that place of simplicity?

Transitioning Into the Big Kid Years: Ways to make the transition from playdough to research papers.

 Day in the Life Posts:
2013 (12 and 15 year olds)
2012 (11 and 14)
2011 (10 and 13 and a new college student)

Curriculum Fair Posts
2012: Of America and War
2011: High School, Take 2

{If you don't subscribe to Simple Homeschool, I highly recommend it. I know, you're saying "But I already read so many homeschooling blogs!" Head on over there and click your favorite subscription icon at the top—you'll be inspired and educated, week after week.}

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hy reading aloud to your kids is good for them. I think I would go so f - See more at:
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. - See more at:
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. - See more at:
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. - See more at:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Mid-Year Reading Recap

My apologies for a duplicate post to those of you who also read SmallWorld Reads; but for the 350 or so of you who subscribe here but not there and are looking for great novels to read this summer, below is a list of what I've read so far in 2013. Click on the links for my reviews, or, in a few cases, for links to amazon. I'm kinda behind on my reviews still!

Books Read January 1–June 1

  Best Books So Far

  • Unbroken: an absolutely stunning novel about survival and resilience during WWII (nonfiction)
  • The Story of Beautiful Girl: Absolutely mesmerizing story of  Lynnie, a beautiful inmate at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded; Homan, a deaf man who is also locked away there; and Martha, a widow in her 70s who becomes tangled in their lives.
  • Expecting Adam:  Martha and John, young Harvard graduate students, find out the life-changing news: their unborn baby, a boy, has Down Syndrome. They are shocked beyond words. This is Harvard, the land of geniuses and IQs off the charts. There is no room in Harvard for anything "less" than "perfect." Terminate now, they are told over and over again. This is their family's beautiful story. (memoir)
  • And, well, of course I have to add To Kill a Mockingbird, which I read again while teaching American Lit. It just never loses it's magic for me.

Biggest Surprises
The good: What Alice Forgot. I almost put this one back on the shelf because the jacket description sounded silly, but I absolutely loved this story of what we'd like to keep forgotten.

The bad: Other Voices, Other Rooms. I've been wanting to read this Truman Capote novel for decades—since singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith came out with her album by the same name. She's holding a copy of the novel on the album cover. (Yes, I know there aren't "albums" anymore, but you know what I mean.) I was pretty disappointed in this short novel, which I actually bought with delight at Shakespeare and Co. Bookseller while we were in Paris.

What have you been reading lately? For even more ideas, check out my Best of the Years page on SmallWorld Reads.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Saying Goodbye to a Decade of Little Girls

April, May, and June came and went in a blur, leaving me practically gasping for air. We finished all kinds of things, did all kinds of things, went to France, finished another year of homeschooling—but really, perhaps the biggest event for me was "retiring" from my position as coordinator of our American Heritage Girls troop.

Caroline and I at our final awards ceremony. We got lots of sweet gifts—and a standing ovation that will forever ring in my ears.

For 10 years—ten years!—Caroline and I have been the coordinators of this troop that we founded in 2003. In many ways, we've grown up together. Eleven years ago I had really just met Caroline. We each had a girl sandwiched between two boys, each around the same age. Our husbands were both biology professors, and we hit it off right away. Little did we know 11 years ago just how intertwined our lives would be over the next decade.

Our husbands saying really, really nice things about us at the final awards ceremony. They have been our biggest fans and the support system that made all the difference in the world. We could never have done this without them.

In that decade, our preschool boys have grown to teenagers (or nearly so), our little blonde-headed daughters have grown into beautiful young women, and our older boys are college students. In that decade, Caroline and I have watched our parents grow old. We've experienced heartbreak, lost loved ones, battled exhaustion.

Our boys were preschoolers when we started this journey…10 years later we're sending them on a white-water rafting trip as just a little thank-you for all the Thursdays they were surrounded by dozens and dozens of little girls.

I think about all the hours we've spent together, planning year after year for our troop. For the first eight years, Caroline and I planned out all the badges—and I mean, every step of every badge—for all the different levels (K-12th) in our troop. We'd sit at my house or her house or in one of our vans with spiral notebooks and our AHG handbooks, charting our path for a whole year. We'd go through lists, think about who would make a  good leader, ponder activities and events. We have spent thousands of hours together in the past decade.

Every other Thursday for the past 10 years, Caroline and I have arrived at least an hour—sometimes two or three hours—early for each meeting, and we've always stayed an hour or more afterwards to clean up. And that means that the vast majority of those years, our kids were with us, too. Most of the time we were so tired after meetings that all we could do was eat our crockpot meal and utter  monosyllabic answers to our families. For the past many years, Caroline has gone to teach ESL after meetings. I have no idea how she does that.

We presented our daughters with gift baskets to thank them, just a little, for sticking with us all these years.

In the past 10 years, we've filled out enough paperwork to fill a dozen recycling dumpsters. We've made a hundred phone calls to national office and sent out hundreds and hundreds of emails to our members. We've made lists and more lists, and we've lost lists and more lists.

In these 10 years, we've patted sweet little heads and received more sweet hugs than anyone could possibly wish for in a lifetime. We've heard little voices say "Teacher! Teacher!" and received precious Valentines proclaiming "We love you!" We've experienced a little heartbreak now and then, but mostly we've watched little girls grow into bigger girls and then emerge as strong, lovely leaders.

I set off on this journey with my partner, Caroline, to create something for our daughters that would help them grow into women of integrity. What I never thought about, never considered a decade ago is how I would grow. How I would grow in confidence. How I would grow friendships that will last a lifetime. How I would face challenges and rise to meet them, how together with Caroline I would figure out ways to get around obstacles and find solutions.  How we would draw on our creativity and intuition over and over and over again.

How I would grow into a woman of integrity.

It has been a journey of indescribable proportions.

It's July now. We've finished our last camp. We've breathed. In two weeks, we will have one final meeting with our replacements, three women whom we feel completely confident in, who will love these girls like we have loved them. We'll pass on paperwork to them, give them a few more bits of advice and tads of insight, and let them soar.

Passing the torch to our new coordinators. Their signs read "Don't talk to me. It's AHG Thursday"—a familiar refrain in our homes for the past decade!

One post seems inadequate to sum up a decade of being surrounded by girls in red, white, and blue, of watching girls who were once unpleasant to be around grow into young women with happy smiles, of feeling proud to see shy girls grow into confident leaders. Only now can I bask in a sense of accomplishment, a certainty of a "well done" moment.

These 200 girls that have passed our troop's way—I hope every single of them has good memories of their time in AHG. I hope they know that they were loved and valued and that the world is a better place because, even if they goof up in their lives, they can always strive to be women who are compassionate, helpful, honest, loyal, perseverant, pure, resourceful, respectful, responsible, and reverent.