Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sixteen {16}

 This week my little girl turned 16. Sixteen! Such an age filled with possibilities. I love this picture below, same spot 11 years apart. She makes my heart leap with joy now, just like she did then. She is more than I ever could have imagined all those years ago when I so desperately wanted a little girl.

Her day was filled with friends and family and good food. And presents, of course. One of her best friends shares her birthday, so we had to get our annual photos of these two precious girls, who have been inseparable since they were 4 and 5. (Bess is one year older.)

My brother and my adorable nephew were in town and had birthday dinner with us and my parents.

No, we did not get her a car—but we have started looking on Craig's List for possibilities!

Because the day after her birthday, she got her driver's license!

Sigh. I love her so much. She amazes me constantly with her kindness, compassion, creativity, sheer beauty, and hilarious sense of humor. We get each other. I think about how distant I was from my mother when I was 16, and I am so very thankful that my daughter is not the girl that I was, in so many ways. I wish I could have been more like her.

See how kind and compassionate she is?

Sweet 16, when the world is fresh and you are filled with expectation, when anything might happen at any time. When song lyrics cut to your heart and the smell of summer rests on your skin, when the thought of autumn makes your heart flutter and you want to weep—and you have no idea why or what or who or when, only that you are always on the cusp of something.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cummins Falls State Park

We've had a great summer being intentional about hiking. Last week Randy took the day off, and we loaded up the van with friends and headed two hours west to Cummins Falls State Park. My maiden name is Cummins, so we've naturally wanted to go to this new state park in Cookeville, TN since it opened just a year ago. According to the webiste, "It is the eighth largest waterfall in Tennessee in volume of water, and was named one of the top 10 best swimming holes in the United States in the 'America’s Best Swimming Holes' article in Travel and Leisure magazine." We knew we had to make this trek before summer was over!

It was soooo worth the 2-hour drive. It would be worth a 10 or 12 hour drive! To be realistic, we have had tons of rain this summer in Tennessee, so the falls surely was at its most spectacular. But it really is the prettiest falls I have ever seen. Yes, including Niagara. The great thing about Cummins Falls is that it's totally approachable.

To get to the falls, you hike about 1.5 miles. Most of this is an easy trail through the woods, but the last half is upriver. Literally. (I wore my hiking boots to the river, then changed into Tevas.) You have to hike through the river, usually around ankle-to-knee deep. Obviously this is a summer/early autumn hike. Again, we had an unusual amount of rain this year, so one might find this radically changed during drought years.

Probably about the average depth of the river as you're hiking.

Hiking upstream was more challenging than I was expecting but incredibly fun. The river bottom was often as smooth as a driveway, and the rocks weren't terribly slippery. You do have to pay attention so that you cross at shallow enough places, or you might get stuck on one side of the river and then have to backtrack. Not that my friend Diane and I would ever get so involved in a conversation that such a thing would happen to us.

Once you get to Cummins Falls, you just kind of stand there and say WOW! It is truly incredibly gorgeous. Of course, pictures don't do it justice. It's huge. It's loud. It's exhilarating.

I was so glad that Randy was with us because had I been the adult in charge, I probably would have forbidden the kids from climbing the falls. And these falls were meant to be climbed.

Instead, I was climbing the falls—and jumping in, too!

 The water looks lovely but it was so cold that it took my breath away.

 But there are plenty of rocks to warm oneself while having snacks. Or just to ponder the universe.

We stayed a few hours and then made the trek back down the river. Most of us hiked, anyway. The younger boys decided floating was a better mode of travel.

There was only one downfall to the entire day (well, besides the hours of Mad Libs going on in the back seats, with three teenagers and two tweens—you don't wanna know): the bathrooms—which looked potentially nice—sported a big sign that said, "NOT READY FOR USE." We totally weren't expecting that. There was a solitary portapotty which was used by several desperate members of our group and was reported to be horrifying. Anyway, I'd suggest finding out if the restrooms are open yet before heading over there.

Besides the restroom situation, we all give Cummins Falls a resounding two-thumbs up. We've been recommending it to everyone, and we will surely make it an annual trek.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It's the Carnival of Homeschooling!

Welcome to the Carnival of Homeschooling! I'm glad you're visiting here at SmallWorld at Home. Let me introduce myself for those who are new here. I'm starting my 14th year of homeschooling, currently with an 8th grade son and an 11th grade daughter. Our oldest son is beginning his senior year in college. (And yes, he was homeschooled all the way through high school.)

But enough about me; you're here for the Carnival! We have a little something for everyone on this homeschooling journey with this carnival, from fun hands-on activities to thought-provoking posts about homeschooling issues. I've included a few photos from our recent "field trip" to France just because, um, I can. And also because we are trying to fix—in big steps and small steps— what I once called "My Biggest Homeschooling Mistake: Not Traveling More." Read on, and come back and visit!

Quintessentially French.
Mindy presents Starting the School Year with a BANG! posted at Homeschooling Articles, Freebies, Reviews and Giveaways.

As Julie Bogart of A Brave Writer's Life in Brief says, "The best curriculum is the one you use." Her article Less is more; less is more; less is more…  addresses curriculum choices and how to avoid frustration and keep focused.

Are you pondering schooling year 'round? Daniele of Domestic Serenity gives five reasons why homeschooling can work any time of the year in her post Why We're Switching to a Year-Around Homeschool Schedule.

For most of us, it's a new school year. Phyllis of Write the Vision provides thoughts on dealing with the stress of a new school year in Do You Feel Overwhelmed?

Kathy of Cornerstone Confessions says: "When starting to homeschool, I knew I wanted to teach my children in light of godly principles in the home environment. Little did I realize so many of the extra benefits of homeschooling until we were knee deep and loving it." She shares 10 Unexpected Benefits of Homeschooling.

Parisian gathering spot for writers and publishers: bliss!
Selena of Look! We're Learning! isn't afraid to give her kids the time they need to learn. In Why I'm Holding My Child Back This Year, she discusses the pressure homeschoolers feel to outperform their public school peers—and how she's doing what's best for her child.

Melissa at The Cork Board has a review of lapbooks that complement the Classical Conversations memory work. Head over for a chance to win a Cycle 2 package!

Looking for essentials for your homeschooling? Notes from a Homeschool Mom presents her Five Favorite Homeschool Books. You may want to add these to your collection!

Maureen of Spell Outloud shares what her preschooler did for a Preschool Fish Theme Unit—observing fish, creating fish puppets, fish sensory box and more

A view of Paris from the Notre Dame tower
Using a microscope can be intimidating! Ticia at Adventures in Mommydom has suggestions and quick rules for teaching your kids how to use a microscope with her Science Sunday: Learning How to Use a Microscope.

Homeschooling High School Science doesn't have to be intimidating.  There are so many resources out there to help!  In this post, Cindy of Our Journey Westward shares some of the things her family has done over the past couple of years to make high school science not only doable, but very successful.

Locks of love on the Seine. Paris is all about romance!
Is high school looming in your future? Kris of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers gives 5 Tips for Using 8th Grade as a High School Prep Year.

Mary of Homegrown Learners says that going from being a mom with children in traditional school to being a homeschool mom was a necessary priority shift in her life! In this article she details 10 Ways Homeschool Has Changed Me.

Mindy presents Getting Started posted at Homeschooling Articles, Freebies, Reviews and Giveaways.

Metaphysics for kids? Why not? Aadal of These Temporary Tents has an awesome lesson on philosophy with Kids Doing Philosophy Truth, Reality, and Dragons.

Terri of Round World Square Peg blogs about homeschooling with special needs and related issues. In You Should Homeschool Your Special Needs Child she discusses the benefits of bringing your special needs child home.

Flower market along the street—what could be more lovely?
And Marianne of Abundant Life agrees. In You Can Homeschool Your Dyslexic Child Successfully, she says, "over the past 18 years of homeschooling kids with dyslexia, I am convinced that it is not only doable but by far the best option for dyslexic kids."

Read what this formerly public-schooled gifted kid has to say about homeschooling in 10 Things I Love About Homeschooling: A Gifted Kid’s Perspective at Raising Lifelong Learners.

Have you seen all the school rooms over at iHomeschool Network? I could spend hours perusing all of these fabulous posts!

And last but certainly not least, from the Carnival of Homeschooling's own Henry and Janine Cate of Why Homeschool comes Preparing for a new school year, in which Janine shares some of the things she does in planning for another year of homeschooling.

That's it for this week's Carnival! Thanks to the Cates for organizing this fantastic resource each week and for all the bloggers for participating. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of homeschooling using the carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

{Not} Back-to-School Week: School Room

We are blessed to actually have a dedicated school room. We have an apartment that is attached to our house where my parents used to stay during the winter months. They have long since moved into their own house a few blocks down the road, so the apartment has become our schoolroom—or our oldest son's living quarters when he is home from college.

And we do school there, sometimes. 

That's our table corner with last year's World War II pictures still on the walls. I mean, it looked so good. Must I change it? I have sharpened pencils and my Sonlight World History manual all ready to go. But that was really just for the picture. We aren't starting school for another few weeks.

We have a lot of stuff on the walls. I love our synonym wheel. Some things need to stay on the walls forever! The World of Flags poster comes always seems to come in handy. Duncan uses it as a distraction technique. "Let's do math now," I say. "OK," he says. "But first let me find the flag of…" He knows I'll be excited that he wants to find a flag and then find that country on the map. Smart kid. 

I love this ripped words poetry collage that Laurel made years ago. It needs to be displayed more prominently.

And my SmallWorld mug that my wonderful friend gave to me years ago.  I know. How cute it that?

Yes, we proudly display a few of our diplomas—both of our master's degrees and his PhD. Because seriously: we worked hard for those. I wish we could have our college diplomas there as well, but the cats peed on them a long, long time ago, and then they mildewed, and yeah. You don't really want to hear about that, do you?


Books, books, and more books, and a dangerous tower of games. And let's not forget the TV and the Wii and our big comfy couch. I would be utterly remiss if I did not admit that we watch and play, as well as read and play. We love Netflix and Just Dance (AKA, physical education).

Physical education? Yeah. The outdoors is a big classroom for us and a major part of our learning. Hiking, biking, running, canoeing. And rock jumping. 

But back to the house. 

Duncan, my 8th grader, and I do a lot of our schooling in the school room. But Laurel, who is a junior, does most of hers in her room…


Or on the couch…

Or she takes her backpack and meets friends at their favorite coffee shop.

And Duncan and I also do lots of school right here on this couch. There are few things I'd rather do than read on this couch with my boy in the winter with a fire in the fireplace.

 {The dog? Yes, she is part of school. The clean, uncluttered living room? Yes, I just had company.}

And of course here is the most essential learning zone in pretty much all homeschooling families: the dining room table.

And you know, it's not just that we often do math at this dining room table. This is where we have conversations, meet with friends, make decisions, pay bills, read the newspaper, and, well, eat our meals. It's the cafeteria, the guidance counselor's office, the study carrel, and, well, the headquarters.

And usually, it's the depository for all kinds of junk.

So there is where we do school for the most part. I left out our backyard benches because we have vampire mosquitoes out there, and I left out our co-op because thankfully it hasn't started back yet. But here's what I've been saying forever and I'm sticking with it: learning happens everywhere! 

 Linked up with the {Not} Back-to-School Blog Hop at iHomeschool Network.  You can link up, too!
Learn what others are using. Share your plans. See what works, or what doesn’t, for others. Share your photos. It’s a Not-Back-to-School blog hop for homeschoolers, afterschoolers, preschoolers, carschoolers, anyone – anyone at all – who teaches at home and wants to share or needs a little encouragement. Meet new bloggers, get to know homeschoolers near you and nowhere near you.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

{Not} Back-to-School Blog Hop: Curriculum!

If you've been reading SmallWorld at Home for awhile, you know I desperately dislike the Southern system of starting school in the summer. (Phew! That was a lot of alliteration. Say that 5 times fast.) In the past few years I don't even like to think about what we're doing for the upcoming school year until as late as possible—and I guess this is about as late as possible since our co-op starts in just two weeks.

So here goes!

To keep things in order, our oldest will be a senior in college. He's spending the first half of the year in Florence, Italy, doing a study abroad program. Yeah. At the university in Florence he'll be taking Intro to Art History, Intermediate Italian, Contemporary Italian Lit, and Lit of the Renaissance. They have classes on Monday-Wednesday, giving them Thursday-Sunday to immerse themselves in the culture. He'll pretty much be taking trips with the program almost every weekend. I am so happy for him that he can have this awesome experience!

Our daughter will be a junior in high school. She is taking the majority of her classes at our co-op:
Algebra 2. They'll be using an older textbook called Algebra and Trigonometry, Structure and Method Book 2.
World Lit and World Geography. I teach this at co-op. It's going to be a big class with 21 students—bigger than I prefer—but I have a really hard time turning people down. We'll be reading novels, plays, poetry, and short stories from around the world, as well as writing essays, journaling, etc. I like to teach world geography along with the literature because they enhance each other so well. I  write my own lesson plans for these classes, perusing the internet for all kinds of fabulous ideas and resources. Books we'll read for sure (but not in this order) are: Funny in Farsi; Cry the Beloved Country; Nectar in a Sieve; The Book Thief; Jane Eyre; and The Good Earth. I may add another one as we go along, depending on what the spring line-up of plays looks like in area theatres.
Chemistry. Sigh. Apologia it is. Not my favorite by any stretch of the imagination, but we have a fantastic teacher at our co-op that Laurel loves.
Economics. Again, this will be teacher-created materials taught in sort of a Socratic circle with a group of high schoolers. This is just one semester.
• German. I'm actually teaching this to Laurel and her friend. I lived in Germany during my junior year of high school and took two years in college, so I think I can teach the basics. Her senior year she'll take it as dual enrollment at the college, so this will give her a head start. I'm using all kinds of free online materials for this as well as an older German textbook I found at a used book store.
• Bible. This year I'm going to have my kids begin writing a kind of summary about each book of the Bible (starting with the New Testament), kind of hitting key points and events, as well as choosing favorite verses. I'd like them to have a thorough overview rather than just stories and devotions here and there. I read this on someone's blog and thought it was a great idea. I figure it will take two years to get done.
• Stars and Stripes (leadership): Laurel will spend a lot of time in the next few months working on her Stars and Stripes project, which is the American Heritage Girls equivalent of the Eagle Scout. She'll be having a couple of work days in which her fellow troop members make blankets and sleepers and assemble care packages for Newborns in Need.

Halfway through last year we decided that we'd go ahead and move Duncan up a grade. He'd been straddling two grades for the past two years, and we feel pretty confident that he can handle 8th grade this year. I'm just not sure I am mentally and emotionally ready for him to be an eighth grader because that means he'll be in high school next year.  This year he's taking his first high school credit through co-op, and the rest are solidly middle school classes.
• Algebra 1: He'll be taking this at co-op, using Algebra 1: Expressions, Equations, and Applications. He finished Teaching Textbooks pre-algebra midyear last year and began  TT algebra, so I'm hoping he'll be ready for this. I looked at the first few chapters and I know  he'll be familiar with the concepts, once he gets back into school mode.
• English Prep: I'm teaching this class at co-op this year for the first time. My goal is to have these middle school kids ready to take high school English. I'll be essentially combining my literature circle, grammar, 5-paragraph essay, and research paper class into one class that teaches the basics of all these. I want the kids to be able to write essay comfortably, have experience with writing a short research paper, and be able to discuss literary concepts. I think it will be really fun!
• French Revolution: This will be a co-op class for just one semester, focusing on the French Revolution. The teacher is an absolute history whiz and a wonderful, enthusiastic teacher. Duncan and I have been reading A Tale of Two Cities this summer in preparation for the class.
• French: After our trip to France, Duncan really wanted to take French. We have a great opportunity at co-op with a native French speaker, so bingo! I'm pretty excited about this for him. I had three years of French in high school, so hopefully I can at least help him a bit at home.
History and literature: We'll be doing Sonlight World History (Core G). I'm so excited to get back to Sonlight! We spent last year doing an intense study of World War II, which was awesome, but I miss Sonlight.
• Science: We are going to continue with the Elemental Science biology that we never finished last year. This is a fantastic program, and we're both excited to continue it.
• Art: I've been compiling art lessons on Pinterest, and I'm determined to spend a lot of time nurturing this passion  in Duncan. Again, this is something that came out of our trip to France: Duncan really wants to learn more technique and tools. I am also trying to arrange art lessons with a local woman for him.
• Boy Scouts: This continues to be a huge part of Duncan's life. Several troop members will be going to Sea Base next spring, so nearly every weekend in September will be devoted to certifying for scuba diving. They'll also be doing an amazing climbing adventure/Via Ferrata at Torrent Falls in Kentucky. I have no idea what merit badges they'll be working on throughout the year, but it's always a great learning experience.

 Linked up with the {Not} Back-to-School Blog Hop at iHomeschool Network.  Learn what others are using. Share your plans. See what works, or what doesn’t, for others. Share your photos. It’s a Not-Back-to-School blog hop for homeschoolers, afterschoolers, preschoolers, carschoolers, anyone – anyone at all – who teaches at home and wants to share or needs a little encouragement. Meet new bloggers, get to know homeschoolers near you and nowhere near you.

Anyone can link up with this blog hop and the more the merrier!

Learn what others are using. Share your plans. See what works, or what doesn’t, for others. Share your photos. It’s a Not-Back-to-School blog hop for homeschoolers, afterschoolers, preschoolers, carschoolers, anyone – anyone at all – who teaches at home and wants to share or needs a little encouragement. Meet new bloggers, get to know homeschoolers near you and nowhere near you.
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Saturday, August 3, 2013

In the Smokies: Midnight Hole

My friends and I made a pact to be deliberate this summer about getting outside and having adventures, especially hiking in the Smokies. We were particularly proud of ourselves this past week as we made the trek nearly two hours away to Midnight Hole, which is right inside the park boundary at the Tennessee/North Caroline border. It's listed as "the best swimming hole in the Smokies," and that's what all our kids wanted most.

The hike itself is an easy 1.5 miles on an old railroad grade. The kids were already in the water by the time we moms got there.

They spent a good 2-3 hours jumping off the rocks while we dipped our toes in the water and basked in the sun. OK, and we debated a lot on whether the seven-year-old could jump off the rocks (yes) and if the kids could jump off a different set of rocks (no).

It looks like Hawaii, but according to the kids, the water was c-o-l-d. But kids don't care about stuff like that.

And there were plenty of warm rocks to take the chill off.

And there was obviously a butterfly convention going on. They were all over the place—positively flocks of them!

It's good to have friends who like adventure, whether you're 15 …

or 40-something.

Eventually we left Midnight Hole and headed up the trail a half a mile to Mouse Creek Falls.

Such a pretty little falls. We had a little mishap there. The seven-year-old slipped and fell into the gushing—and I mean gushing—river.

Our teenagers had hiked up the creek a bit. We yelled for them and then the 11-year-old, who was already in the water, came to the rescue. He guided him over to a rock and safety. The teenagers came running (or rock hopping quickly) and from there took him up the river, where he could cross safely. We were shaky and oh so tremendously thankful for quick thinking kids.

This was one happy mama to have her little guy safe next to her as we headed back down the trail. This was a great reminder for us to be vigilant on the water, rocks, and trails!

This is definitely one of my new favorite places in the Smokies, and we'll go back for sure again next summer. It's about an hour or so from Knoxville, unless you drive really slowly and stop to use the bathrooms at Burger King and get slightly lost once. Or twice.

To get there, take I-40 to Exit 451 (Waterville).  Turn left after crossing the river and go about 2 miles to an intersection. Continue straight, past the ranger station, to a parking area at the end of the road. The Big Creek trailhead is on the right, just before reaching the parking area.