Friday, December 7, 2018

Semester Wrap-Up

This morning began early with goodbyes just as the sky was lightening from black to dark grey to light grey.

Laurel and Hunter popped in late last night. Randy, Duncan, and I had found the perfect Christmas tree (full but not fat) and put up the lights a few nights ago, waiting for sister to come home so that we could put the ornaments on together. She was so surprised and delighted; she thought she would miss out on decorating this year. Her smile was totally worth the week of trying to figure out when, exactly, we three were free at the same time so we could get the tree and have it up and ready on Thursday night.

I listened and watched from my perch on the couch. Laurel sat beneath the tree, opened the ornament box, and pulled them out one by one. Because she is an organizer, she put them in specific stacks: Dad's outdoorsy ornaments, Mom's kid-picture ornaments, travel, homemade, artisan, etc. Predictably, Randy says, "Where are the icicles? Did Mom throw them all away yet?" and Duncan made a beeline for the Energizer bunny and the bacon. The plastic icicles, the plastic Energizer bunny, the bacon: the ornaments that torture Laurel and me each year, colliding with our vision of white lights and matching decorations. Truthfully, I wouldn't want our tree any other way. I love the mishmash of exquisite and ordinary, of artisan-made and child-made, of the big orange UT Santa and the delicate heart from Austria.

But back to this morning. Laurel and Hunter left early. They had over 3 hours to drive this morning to get to Appalachian State University by noon. Next year  is a big question mark for all three of our kids: Jesse to law school, Duncan to college, and Laurel to graduate school. This is the first of her graduate school tours. Jesse should get his LSAT scores any day now, and those will help determine where he is headed in the fall. Duncan has narrowed down his choices to two of the three colleges to which he applied and was accepted. So we're all just waiting, watching, and weighing pros and cons.

It's an exciting time!!

I should be melancholy, I know. And I could be, if I let myself get wrapped in memories of mornings spent snuggled under blanket reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas with kids in pajamas drinking hot chocolate, or even when early mornings meant milk dripped on the table, Legos on the floor, and shrieks of "GIVE IT BACK!" rattling the windows.

I could really get melancholy when I look at these.

Just a few of Duncan's senior pictures. You know. My baby. Thank you to my dear friend, Donna, for these amazing photos. We've been in this together for a long, long time.

But I'm not melancholy, even though we are just wrapping up Duncan's next-to-last semester of high school. My next-to-last semester of homeschooling, which I've been doing for 19 years now.

Nineteen years.

But I'm not melancholy this morning. It's business as usual. A half an hour of "WAKE UP, DUNCAN!" He'll wake up, work on his German for awhile, work on his essay (an analysis of horror films), and then head off to work at Kroger.

No Christmas crafts around here any more, and I'm okay with that. No Charlie Brown's Christmas, no Rudolph, no Frosty the Snowman. I'm okay with that. I'm even okay with not reading any of the Christmas books that make me cry, because once I get started, I may not stop.

 Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday, October 26, 2018

Field Trip: Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Sounds weird, right?

This year, my friends Amy and Diane and I decided that we were going to do a Tennessee Explorations class with our boys, who are juniors and seniors. We gave the boys the task of finding places in Tennessee that they want to visit.

Their first choice: Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. They didn't have to think twice about that one.

A couple of years ago, the boys chanced by the closed-down penitentiary on a Boy Scout camping trip. They begged Randy, who is the Scoutmaster, to let them "explore" (AKA: trespass), but of course he refused (with some reluctance, if I know my husband). :)

Imagine how thrilled they were to learn that Brushy Mountain opened for tours a couple of months ago! As Duncan said on the ride over, "This is a dream come true."

Ah, teenage boys.

I have to admit: it was a fascinating and sobering field trip. It's just been open six weeks or so, and I suspect that in a couple of years, it will lose a lot of its rough, raw quality that makes it feel so authentic and, well, alarming. Creepy. Sad. We visited on a Monday afternoon, and there were only about 25 other people there; however, the tour guide said that it is absolutely packed on weekends.

Right now, you can just wander around almost everywhere on the compound, although a few places are off limits.

"The Hole"

The documentary in the museum is fantastic, but best of all, a former prison guard showed up and invited us to join him for a free tour. He was amazing. He took us through the compound and told all kinds of stories, pointed out where murders occurred and how prisoners escaped, and just gave life to the men who lived and worked here for decades. He related how the guards treated the prisoners with respect and dignity, regardless of what they did on the outside. It was really amazing. While we were fortunate to be there on a weekday and happened upon a free tour, I would definitely pay for one. Former inmates also give some tours.

This tour is not for everyone. It was, after all, a maximum security prison. We commented that we could feel a heaviness around us, sense a sadness and even the cold chill of evil. I think young kids would have nightmares—or at least I would have. This made me think of the "Scared Straight" movie from the late 1970s. While the boys enjoyed a sense of exploration and adventure, they also felt the danger and hopelessness that is pervasive even now at the prison.

It was not our most cheerful fall field trip ever, but it really was an enlightening experience!

Linked up with the Homeschool Blog Link-up and  Weekly Wrap-Up

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wedding Prep: Engagement Party, Venue Shopping, and YES to the Dress!

A little over a month since our daughter's engagement and we are full swing into wedding planning! Laurel and Hunter had plans to come to Knoxville for the Florida vs. Tennessee game, so we thought that was the perfect time to throw a little engagement party.

(Florida won. Or rather, Florida slaughtered Tennessee.)

What a fun party! We had loads of flowers, food, friends, family, and sangria. I am usually the Queen of Photos, but somehow I failed to get many of the actual party! For these  "He asked... She said Yes" and the photo collage below, I wrapped our regular dining room photo frames in brown paper and got the pictures made from Shutterfly with one of their get 250 pictures free deals. The photos are just secured with mini-clips and twine, with ivy from our yard as an accent. (See, Randy? English ivy is good for something!)

Roses and rose petals are from my father's yard. He loved contributing to the party.

 Sorry for the crooked picture below, but it makes me laugh. This was another freebie from Shutterfly. I didn't realize how huge a 16 X 20 photo is! I secured this on a chalkboard with clothespins and twine and then added a string of mini-lights, which you can't see in the photo. This was on the drink table.

I made a huge vat of sangria, and Hunter and Laurel came up with their own version of Moscow mules. 

Since I didn't get many pictures at the actual party, Laurel and Hunter posed for me the next day. They are such good sports!

 Bonus: Hunter's parents were able to fly up from Florida for the engagement party! We packed a lot into a little over 24 hours: three venues, a picnic on the river, brunch, and an engagement party!

Lunching between venue appointments

Since then, they have decided on a venue! It's actually not one of these, though. They visited another one that Randy and I had already seen, and after much deliberation, they chose that one!

And Laurel asked her first bridesmaid—or rather her matron of honor. Bess has been Laurel's partner in crime since they were 4 and 5 years old (they share a birthday, one year apart).  Laurel was Bess's maid of honor, and Bess will be Laurel's almost exactly two years later!

And, last but certainly not least, we went wedding dress shopping last weekend! Bess's mom, my dear friend Caroline, and I drove over to Nashville (where the girls go to college) for an incredibly fun (and exhausting) weekend of shopping. Laurel had made two appointments at dress boutiques. So much fun! It's all happening so fast. I'm watching my little girl try on gown after gown, refusing to think about these two little girls playing dress up not so many years ago....

The first boutique had lovely dresses and yielded one potential candidate. We were all a little overwhelmed and needed some time to process, though, sowe had a fabulous dinner and got a good night's sleep. The next morning we hit Fabulous Frocks bright and early.

She tried on several dresses and then tried on one particular one again....and I could see it in her eyes. She saw herself walking down the aisle in this one beautiful dress. And....she found her frock! I'm not sure any of us were expecting to actually find the dress. We had tentative plans to shop here in Knoxville over fall break with a few of her bridesmaids, but when you know, you know!

What a whirlwind week! Party, venue, and dress chosen in less than 10 days....I'm not sure what's next, but I'm soaking it all in and looking forward to these next several months!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Weekly Wrap-Up: Beginning of Our Very Last Year

We're a month into our last year of homeschooling. Or more like: I'm a month into it, but Duncan is closer to two months in. 

Duncan on top of Mt. LeConte as part of his Great Smokies Experience class

Duncan started his senior year in mid-July with a dual enrollment class at our local liberal arts college, Maryville College.  The Great Smokies Experience is a phenomenal 12-day program open to high school juniors and seniors nationwide. They spent the majority of the class living at Tremont Institute in the park, with the first few days on campus at Maryville College and at a few other local spots. Activities included hikes,  a canoe trip,  scientific species surveys, exploring the park at night, an interpreted climb up Mt. LeConte, as well as daily readings and time in a classroom discussing environmental issues. Duncan absolutely loved every bit of it. He said that although he's grown up in the Smokies, he had an entirely new perspective on his big backyard as a result of this class. It was truly an amazing experience! He earned a science credit for high school as well as credit for a three-hour Introduction to Environmental Issues and Sustainability Studies.

Duncan plunged right into intensive studying for the ACT as soon as he returned from his Smokies program. As soon as that was over, he began an online Brave Writer class: Expository Essay—Exploratory and Persuasive. For the first time in 16 years, I am not teaching at our co-op, so it was time for him to take a writing class from a different source. Of course, as a Brave Writer instructor myself, I feel 100% confident that he is getting the absolute best instruction available.

Besides his writing class, he is finishing up odds and ends on several different Boy Scout merit badges. He already has his Eagle Scout award, but he had a bunch of badges that he started last year that he didn't quite finish. 

Here Duncan is finishing his Art merit badge—finally! He's been working on this one for a year.

 He'll be wrapping up health this semester, and we have plans in the works for a Tennessee field trip class with a few of his friends. First stop: Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. Because boys. 

And, of course, we'll be doing a couple of final college visits, and then he'll begin the application process.

I took beginning-of-the-year pictures while Laurel was still here, so I could get senior year pics of both of them. I also begged them to do one last "All About Me" page, and they sweetly obliged. They are adorable.

We've been doing these at the start of each school year in various forms, and I so treasure these memories. I keep them in our Big Box of Books.

How can it be that I have a senior in high school, a senior in college, and one that has been out of college for three years already? And so I begin the end of all these years—a whole career of teaching my children, of waking up in the morning so thankful for these three and for this life together.

I have taken great joy and satisfaction in lesson plans, looking forward to that moment when, at 10:00, school begins. I have also locked myself in my bedroom just to get a few minutes peace. Those days seem so long ago now, those days of squabbling and tattling and sweet bodies piled up next to me on the couch, those days of precious drawings and playing Beanie Babies and Barbies and building Lego towns. Those days of forming letters, sounding out words, and telling time, of memorizing multiplication tables and remembering all that punctuation. 

One last year: I'm savoring every moment, every chance to sit with Duncan at the dining room table, every movie we watch together, every field trip we carve out for ourselves. I may even get up the courage to look through our Big Box of Books one of these days.

Linked up with the Homeschool Link-up and  Weekly Wrap-Up