Friday, November 18, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Left

Facebook has that wonderful, terrible "On This Day" feature, and so I think a lot about how things used to be. "Nine years ago today" and I read about a hilarious discussion between my youngest, then six, and his friend. "Six years ago" and there is a photograph of my daughter, a new teenager. "Two years ago" and I'm reminded of when I took my literature class to see "Macbeth" in Atlanta.

And every day, "On This Day" remind me of life in a homeschooling family: co-op classes, exhaustion (those two were really paired together 99.9% of the time), projects, activities, and lots and lots of sweet, beautiful moments. {I'm a poet, remember?}

Those days seem long ago. My house is so quiet now, most of the time, anyway. Long gone are the sounds of Legos being dumped on the floor, shrieks of "STOP IT!!" and calls of "MOMMY!" Today, the dog stretches in the sunlight, cars swoosh by on the busy road, and my One Left turns a page in his chemistry book.

Here's what homeschooling looks like with One Left at home—and that one a fairly self-sufficient nearly 16-year-old.

He wakes up at 9:15 and watches an episode of something on Netflix while checking Instagram and Facebook.
I fix him an omelet. {NOTE: this is extremely unusual; however, necessity required me to be a good mom and fix breakfast because we're out of milk and he can't have his usual bowl of cereal.}
He gets out his spiral notebook, which lists his assignments for the week.
He reads today's chemistry assignment.
He reads a chapter of The Good Earth for literature.
He then says, "Can I take a 5-minute break?" {Note: only 50 minutes of school have elapsed so far.}
He gets dressed, and we go (he drives) to pick up his Eagle Scout project papers. While we're out driving, we decide to drive down to the Smokies to see what's going on with the wildfires. Also, Duncan still has 20 more hours to drive before he can get his license, so this seems like a great thing to do on a sunny day. There is a terrible fire spreading about 10 miles away.

We drove past it and then decide to take a hike up to the tower on the Foothills Parkway to see what we can see. And while we're there, I remember that just today, this picture (on the left) taken on up on the tower showed up on my "On This Day" from nine years ago. He was six. SIX. He's still just as sweet and not nearly as mischievous. I don't have to worry anymore about him climbing over the edge of the tower or sneaking onto the ladder that goes all the way up.

And so, a little drive turned into two hours, including a hike, a drive, and a talk about ecology. And some pictures, of course.

 These are my favorite kinds of days: the ones that start normal and take some out-of-the-ordinary turns.

And so we're back home now, and Duncan is back to reading. I have dinner cooking in the crockpot, and I've canceled my run, since we took a hike. In a little while, we'll go over his latest ACT practice test and then go visit my parents—probably play some cards with them. We'll eat supper with Randy and then head out to watch a movie (October Sky) with Duncan's Appalachian Studies class.

It's mostly a quiet life, these days.  I do miss the boisterous little people that once filled this house, but I enjoy this, too, and am so grateful for the one who's still left at home.

{And, although I know she's very sad to be leaving Vienna, I am pretty excited that my girl comes home from her study abroad in just 10 days! But here she is in Venice, because what's a blog update without a European picture?}

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why Your Kids Should Study Abroad

The beautiful city of Vienna from the top of St. Stephen's Cathedral

OK, this post isn't really about why your kids should study abroad other than this: because if your kids are studying abroad, you should probably go visit them.

That's where I've been for the past month or so. No, I haven't physically been away that long, but mentally I've been preparing for our 12-day trip for weeks ahead of time.

Laurel is studying in Vienna with nearly 30 other students—including her best friend since childhood (Bess) and her roommate from college (Madelyn)— from Lipscomb University this fall. So... it seemed appropriate that Bess's mom, my dear friend Caroline, and I should visit them there. We've been planning this for six months, but we really started making our reservations just since August. We've had fun planning our trips, packing, getting our boys (who are both high schoolers) all set to make sure they did school while we were gone, etc. And then October 23 finally arrived, and we headed off to Europe.

We spent a total of four days in Vienna, two days in Salzburg, two days in Budapest, one day in Melk, one day traveling from Salzburg to Vienna to Budapest, and two days traveling to Vienna and back home again. I could easily devote a dozen blog posts to the trip, but here are just a few highlights.

First, here are the girls at the u-bahn (subway) stop which they use many times each day. This is the closest one to their house.

Add caption

Here are the girls at the American Institute, where they have most of their classes. They share this building with a dozen or so other universities.

And here we are eating käsekrainer (sausage stuffed with cheese) right from the stand right outside of their school, which is right by the Vienna Opera House.

The girls live 10 minutes away from the city center in a house with the other Lipscomb students as well as a dozen other students from a different university. Here are several of them cooking in the kitchen that they share.

So that's a look at their daily life: school, u-bahn, sausages, and their living quarters. We loved getting to peek into their lives a little bit, although for them, each day is different. They have classes generally Monday-Thursday and have weekends to travel.

Now… here is a short tour of what Caroline and I did in on our trip. Since the girls had classes most of the days we were there, we did a lot on our own. We toured the major sites in Vienna:

Inside the Vienna Opera House
Vienna Opera House

Schönbrunn Palace, the summer home of the Hapsburgs

St.  Stephen's Cathedral

Top of St. Stephen's Cathedral

Albertina Art Museum

Walking back to their house via the Danube        

Sigmund Freud Museum (the girls live in this neighborhood)
We joined the college group and visited Vienna's Central Cemetery on Nov. 1, All Saints Day

Central Cemetery

 Besides spending several days in Vienna, we took a weekend trip with the girls to Budapest! Wow! Budapest was so interesting! We enjoyed the famous thermal baths, ate some interesting food, took the subway past the last stop, shopped at a gigantic indoor market, saw lots of beautiful buildings, and ended with a trip to the Terror House Museum— a history of communism in Hungary.

Budapest at night -- the building to the right of the Danube is parliament

On the famous chain bridge

Szechenyi baths in Budapest

Entering the Terror House museum

Caroline and I also spent two days on our on in beautiful little Salzburg. We did the 4-hour Sound of Music Tour (well worth it!), saw a stringed quartet at Mirabelle Palace, hiked to the fortress, saw lots of churches, and ate a lot of delicious food!

No caption necessary. Fabulous tour!
Yep, this is THE gazebo from the movie!
Love locks on the Salzsach River. The fortress we climbed to is in the background.

View of Salzburg from the fortress

And for our very last day, Caroline and I took a quick day trip to Melk to see the famous Melk Abbey, founded in 1089. It was beautiful, and we only got on the wrong train once!

Melk Abbey is still an active monastery today

Pretty little town of Melk
And that's a quick view of our trip. I have, of course, hundreds of photos from each and every day, and I'd like to think that someday in the future, I would write a post for each day. But until then…

When you still have your kids at home, read to them about the world. I highly recommend Jamie Martin's Give Your Child the World. When they are older, encourage your kids to study abroad. And then… visit them.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday, September 30, 2016

Monthly Wrap-Up: September, Year 16

With only one left at home and only one class at our co-op, I'm enjoying a somewhat easier year thus far. I've had a little time for a few spontaneous hikes, I've been able to spend a little more time with my parents, I've been able to work out a few days each week, and I've even been able to keep my house fairly clean. It feels kind of like a sabbatical year for me, a between year. I like it.

On the other hand, I've been doing a lot of driving this year. Duncan has a class or two elsewhere every day of the week. On Mondays, he has chemistry at our co-op. It's Apologia, which is close to the bottom of our list for science programs, but it's what the teacher uses, so.... there is that. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he has a trig class that he absolutely loves. It's just him and 4 of his best friends and a teacher who, as he says, "really understands boys." That's hugely important. On Wednesdays he has college prep study skills and then my class, which is World Literature and World Geography combined. We've began the year with the memoir Funny in Farsi and are now reading Nectar in a Sieve. On Thursday afternoons, I teach a small German class (5 students) at my house. Fridays are different each week, but one Friday each month we have an Appalachian Studies course that takes the whole day (or even overnight). He also alternates Fridays with serving at Second Harvest Food Bank, having student council meetings, and Boy Scout events. I don't think we've had a quiet Friday at home yet.

Monthly group at Second Harvest Food Bank

Duncan during one of our Appalachian Studies trips. This was on a ranger-led hayride at Cades Cove.
Duncan and Emery helping the ranger show a black bear skin.

Besides school, Duncan has Boy Scout events weekly: regular meetings, camping trips, hikes, ultimate Frisbee, etc. On Sept. 11 he and several of his fellow troop members volunteered to do the 2 a.m.-4 a.m. shift for a 9/11 flag retirement ceremony.

9/11 Flag Retirement Ceremony

Next week he'll once again escort veterans at the airport as they gather for the next Honor Air flight. And he's also beginning his Eagle Scout project! He is writing up his project proposal now, so hopefully that will get approved and he can do the project itself in November.

Unbelievably, we've started the college search process. We visited Appalachian State University with several friends last week. It was a beautiful campus, but we're just at the beginning of the search process. I have no idea where Duncan will end up!

The boys after our Appy State tour.

White Duck Taco in Johnson City on the way home. Definitely a highlight for them.

Laurel is loving her semester abroad in Vienna and seems to be seizing every opportunity to have travel adventures. She has classes generally Monday-Thursday and then travels on the weekends. So far she's been to Dorgastein, Salzburg, Hallstatt, and Prague, and she's actually in Amsterdam right now.
Laurel and her roomie, Madelyn, in Vienna

At Shonbrunn palace in Vienna

In Dorfgastein

At the Sound of Music gazebo in Salzburg

Laurel and Bess at the John Lennon Wall in Prague
On a weekend trip to Hallstatt

And that's what's been going on in our own SmallWorld in September.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hiking 100

I've been doing a lot of hiking lately in order to finish hiking 100 miles in the Smokies by December 6. I'm making good progress, but I still have nearly 30 miles to go!

Here are some pictures of our most recent hikes.

Abrams Falls: 5 miles

Abrams Falls is a challenging trail for me. Lots of roots and rocks and, well, we also had biked the 11 mile loop at Cades Cove that morning. But getting in the creek at the falls made it all worth it! Lovely and cold on a hot day!

Meigs Creek: 7 miles
Randy and I added 7 miles with the Meigs Creek Trail last week. I really enjoyed this trail. We got there early on a Saturday morning and only passed a few people on our way back down.

Curry Mountain: 6.6 miles
My friend Cathy and I hiked the Curry Mountain Trail for another 6.6 miles on September 1. It was H-O-T!! It started pouring on the way back down, though, so we did get a little cooled off! We didn't pass even one single hiker that day.

Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls: 4 miles
In August, a big group of us did the hike to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls. We spent a lot of time at the swimming hole—as did about 50 other people that particular day! That was just a short 4 miles added to my list— but everything counts!

Little River: 4.8 miles
Also in August, a group of us did the Little River Trail again for 4.8 more miles.

Those were my August and September (so far) hikes for the Hike100.  I'm really loving this Smokies Centennial Challenge and sometimes, even after 17 years, still can't believe I live by this incredible national park!