Thursday, January 29, 2015

Celebrating Ninety {90}

Ninety is old. Ninety-year-olds scuffle when they walk, if they walk.

My Dad turned 90 this month. I can't actually absorb that. I have to keep saying it over and over again to try to figure out what it really means. My Dad is 90? Ninety?

On his birthday morning we took Mom and Dad out for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. {This is the essence of homeschooling—I've said it once, and I'll said it a dozen times more before we are done with it all. We take a day or more off for momentous occasions like this. Because 90.} Dad speculates on why so many people flock to Cracker Barrel where, he says, the food is mediocre and overpriced. He's right, of course. "It's nostalgia. People of my generation remember a simpler time. People of your generation wish they could remember that simpler time and live vicariously through our generation." He then walks around the restaurant (yes, while people are eating) and examines the pictures and tools on the walls. Cracker Barrel's decor has probably never been so carefully inspected.

He is careful not to eat all his grits and stays away from the gravy. When I tell him to eat up—it's his 90th birthday, after all—he says, "Yes, and I'd like to live to 91."

I baked my father an apple cake for his birthday. When I asked him what he wanted for his birthday dinner, he couldn't decide. When I asked him what cake he wanted, he said he wanted "an apple cake like my Dad used to make." He says this every year, and every year the cake hasn't been quite right. But this year: this year I got the ultimate two-thumbs up with this recipe.

Birthday dinner was a smallish affair, considering the number of offspring that could have been there, with  two sons, his daughter, his son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, three grandsons, and a granddaughter. Two more granddaughters (mothers to his 5 great-grandsons), called in during dinner. He couldn't really hear them over the phone, but he heard their "Happy birthday" shouts and their "I love you, Opa."

After dinner he headed off to pick up a third son and the youngest grandson, who is nearly three, from the airport.

The youngest two grandsons (as of now... another one is due in May!)

The celebration continued all weekend. We gave him an itinerary on the first evening.

The second evening we headed over to my third brother's home for a slide show and soup. There were a whole bunch of us there: four out of five of us kids plus an assortment of grandkids. Dad narrated the slides, many of which he'd never seen before. What is it like to look back at your life, to look back over 90 years, and wonder how it all went so fast and yet so very slow?

The third day didn't go as planned, and that's OK. My brother and I had a grand plan to do some much-needed cleaning and painting at my parents' house while they went to brunch at my second brother's house, but Mom wasn't feeling well. Dad went and had a great time, but we had to cancel the cleaning surprise and the subsequent game night we had planned with everyone. Dad was totally content and ready for a break.

The final day took some work, but my fourth brother pulled it off: he managed to get our oldest brother, the one who is broken, to Skype with Dad. Dad and James had a good conversation, or as good a conversation that can be had between someone who can hardly hear and someone who lost himself years ago. But still: he is the oldest of us siblings, and in that slide show from the second night? He's the one in all the pictures. The one that came first. I'm glad that Dad got to end his birthday weekend with James.

We're all rested up now after the flurry of celebration. I look at my Dad in absolute wonder. I cannot believe that he can be 90. When I look at my Dad, he's just my Dad. He's a little slower than he used to be. Every now and then he forgets something. But he doesn't look a whole lot different than he did 10 or 20 or even 30 years ago. But then I think: my father is 90. And I can hardly breathe.

More years, please. So many more.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My Own Favorite Posts of 2014

Earlier this month I posted my most popular posts of 2014, but those aren't necessarily my own favorite ones. My own favorite posts are invariably the ones that tug at my heart, the ones that capture our family doing life. These are the ones I write so that I can remember—and so my kids can, too.

 Like the time we had Southern Snow Magic in February: "And finally, my children know the pure beauty of a perfect snow night, when everything is quiet and the glow of the streetlights makes the world seem unblemished."

First spring hike: "Give me sunshine, something beautiful, a spacious place, and my family, and I'm good either way."

And I absolutely adore the pictures in the post In Just Spring. (I'm beginning to see a theme here.) "My backyard is like a fairy land, bursting with purples and pinks with a few dashes of yellow and white, all smothered in green. It's hard to resist the urge to join the dog rolling around in the grass."

 And this is just a Weekly Wrap-up, but it's the one in which our oldest graduates from college. From college. "I don't know how my child, my child— the one who used to insist on wearing gloves all the time for his "protection suit," the one who used to say, "You and Daddy are my best friends"—I don't know how he is on this list of graduates."

What Made Me Cry Today: This post is all about cleaning out my dresser drawer, and what I found in one that made me all weepy. (And it wasn't the baby teeth!)

 Summer: This is just a midsummer wrap-up of events, but I like to go back and remember all the things that were going on. We really filled last summer to the brim.

Moving Out: In which our oldest son, recently graduated from college, moves into his own apartment across town. "This is what we do. We raise them up and we send them off into the world, or at least across town, with our cast-off silverware and the old plates we got when we were first married and a stack of mismatched towels—the ones that are kinda stained and frayed."

Firsts and Lasts:  First day of high school, last year of high school… and more firsts and lasts in our own SmallWorld.

17: Thoughts on my daughter turning 17. "At 17, you're on the brink of the end of childhood—there is no denying that. At 17 you are thinking about the big things, about college and love and who you are and who you are going to be. You know by now there are some things you are just going to have to take a deep breath and do. But at 17 you're also just a kid, and you're thinking about shopping and having fun and ice cream flavors and about how confusing life is."

How To Do Life: Reflections on a perfect day in the mountains with my parents. "How will I navigate a world without being able to reach out and hold my mother's sweet, crooked hand and smooth down her beautifully soft hair? And how will I ever, ever, ever go the rest of my life without my father's gentle smile and his freckled knees?"

Stars and Stripes: This was a really, really big event—Laurel's American Heritage Girls Stars and Stripes award. Phew. 

In nine years of blogging, 2014 was by far my least productive with only 38 posts (compared to my usual 150-200). But I am glad, so very glad, for the moments I did record in our life—and determined to do better in 2015.

Check out what other iHomeschool Network bloggers loved the most on their own blogs!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up: Back to School

It is just so hard to start back again—that's universal, right?

We had a fantastic Christmas break. We had lots of lazy days, enjoyed family and games and friends and good food. And we celebrated Duncan's birthday on the 25th and Randy's on the 26th, and then did Christmas all over again and New Year's too with Randy's family in North Carolina.

Mom gets the real thing during our family's white elephant exchange

Dad and one of his great-grandsons, Judah

5:06 on Christmas Day—time to celebrate Duncan's birthday!
And the day after Christmas is Randy's birthday, AKA, hiking day.

Laurel and Daniel at our destination: Baskins Creek Falls.

New Year's Eve in Charlotte!

Randy's brother, Greg, introducing Duncan to the culinary arts.
And this is where I spent the last few days of vacation: doing lesson plans in Charlotte in this perfect spot.

(I just realized that I don't have any pictures of our oldest, Jesse. He really was around during Christmas vacation, but he had to work a lot!)

We have a tradition in our house of not having school on birthdays. Since Duncan's birthday is on Christmas Day, we always take a different day off. This year, I honestly forgot about that until it was time to plan for the first Monday back—and then I realized WE CAN TAKE THE DAY OFF!! Lame, I know. But a birthday-day-off meant unlimited video game time for him. And, yeah, I might have spent four blissful hours at a coffee shop with a friend.

So we didn't really start back until Tuesday. And since our co-op classes didn't start back until Wednesday, Duncan actually didn't have any homework to do. Instead, we did a whole day's worth of history. We are slowly making our way through world history, and I do mean slowly. We keep getting "sidetracked," a term I had to put in quote because really, getting sidetracked is one of the greatest joys of homeschooling.

So reading about da Vinci and Michelangelo in his history book led us, of course, to reading about them more in-depth (one of these books is from my own childhood) and then watching videos on about the Sistine Chapel. And can I just say how amazing it is to read about the Mona Lisa and for Duncan to say "I've been there!"

Co-op classes started back on Wednesday, which means my British Lit class and also geometry for Duncan. His science class starts back next week, but he has homework to do for that. So, the rest of this week is dedicated to writing an essay, reading poetry, doing geometry, and reading environmental science. He is going on a winter camp-out with his Boy Scout troop this weekend, so he's also been busy getting ready for that. Yep, it's supposed to get down to 12 tonight, and they apparently think that's fun.

Laurel is in her last semester of her senior year. There. I said it, but I try not to think about it too much. The exciting news is that she has decided to go to Lipscomb University in Nashville! I'm really happy about it. There was a part of me that hoped she would go to my alma mater, and I think that would have been a great fit, too; but I think she's made the right decision.

But that's all I'm going to say about college right now, because she still has a whole semester of high school left. She was busy finishing a paper for my Classic Literature class for the first couple of days this week. I'll do a separate blog post on the independent reading project I had my upperclassmen do, because it turned out so incredibly well.

Her co-op classes also started back on Wednesday. She's continuing with my Classic Literature class as well as psychology. She'll be taking German again at the college as part of dual enrollment, but that doesn't start until the last week of January. We also ordered Teaching Textbooks pre-calculus for her, which she started this week.

It was hard to get back into the swing of things this week, but now that the first day of co-op is over, we are remembering the rhythm of our days. After all, we've been doing this together a long, long time. I've got nearly 15 years behind me, and not quite four left to go.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Most Popular Posts of 2014

College and writing: without a doubt, the most popular posts on my blog in 2014 focused on those two subjects. And yeah, they're kinda passions of mine.

 1. The Ultimate Guide to Creative Writing Resources for Students: A huge collection of links and ideas for creative writing for all different levels.

 The next three posts come from my series called "What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew," which was based on a panel discussion last year with several college professors for our homeschooling community: 

2. What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew: This is the one that kicks off the series, setting the scene.

3. What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew: Study Skills

4. What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew: Write Well

5. What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew: How To Interact with Professors

 And the next three come from my WordSmithery creative writing program, which is always free here on my blog:

6. Introducing SmallWorld's Wordsmithery : This is the one that begins the series.

7. SmallWorld's Wordsmithery: Good Words

8. Wordsmithery: Alliteration and Spring Poems

9. 100 Not-Boring Writing Prompts for Middle and High Schoolers: This is one of my most recent ones and has already been shared like crazy on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. Now I just need to get these going in my own English classes!

10. Teaching the Book Thief: Repurposed Pages: This was an incredibly fun and satisfying project from my World Literature class last spring. I am still amazed at the kids' beautiful creations. I love teaching high school literature!

Need more ideas and reading material? See other Best of the 2014 posts from the bloggers at iHomeschool Network.