Sunday, January 31, 2021

2020 in Review (Part 1)

 I'm a month late in reviewing 2020... but I have to get this strange year recorded. 

2020 started out with such promise! We were looking forward to Jesse and Summer's wedding on July 4. We toured their venue; we got together for some planning.

Randy had hernia surgery and spent a few weeks recovering...

We moved his mom into an assisted living facility. In the photo below, my mom (on the left in blue) is visiting Randy's mom on the right.

We had book clubs and game nights and celebrated birthdays.

We saw friends and family and celebrated weddings and even traveled.

We spent an couple hours with Laurel and Hunter while they were in Gatlinburg

We spend a night with my high school friend Robin and her husband while they were in the Smokies

We celebrated Elizabeth's son's wedding!

I visited Laurel and Hunter in Nashville for a few days

And then COVID became real. I remember this particular night so well. It was about a week before things got really bad in NYC. Randy and I were planning to go to NYC during spring break, and I remember telling my friends that we were still planning to go.

We all thought it would go away soon.

A few days later, my friends and I went to Biltmore Estates for a little getaway. It all still seemed so far away.

That was March 11.

Laurel came home for spring break, and we all went for a hike. On the way to the hike, we talked about the wedding and wondered if it would still happen. On the way there, it was recommended that gatherings stay less than 100.

On the way home, the governor recommended that gatherings stay at fewer than 50 people. The virus was officially and certainly in Tennessee. And everywhere.

And Duncan was in Peru, doing research on the Amazon River, totally off the grid. Imagine how happy we were when our boy made it home, getting out of Peru just two hours before the borders closed! Like so many students, he finished up his semester at home. Here is is climbing the house, because it's the best climbing wall we have here!

And then there was this...

Answer: YES.

And Jesse's birthday on Zoom...

And lots of cocktails.

So many cocktails.

And we worked from home, like everyone else.

And bought a lot of toilet paper.

We played games and took walks and lounged in hammocks.

We Zoomed.

We put on masks.

And that's just up until May. This is when it really began to set in that we were in this for the long haul. The wedding was off. Our trip to NYC was long ago canceled. Graduations were canceled. Concerts postponed. Cases were so low in Tennessee -- just a handful in our county. We settled in and waited. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

15 Years of Blogging

 It is hard to believe, but I have now been blogging for 15 years. How our little family has changed throughout those years! 

Here are a few excerpts from my blog post on January 9, 2006, exactly 15 years ago today. The post was called "Why We Homeschool: The Intangible Version," and gives a wonderful peek into what our lives were like then, when Jesse was 12, Laurel 8, and Duncan 5. 


We homeschool because....
* of days like today, when we had a spontaneous winter picnic. That in itself is lovely. But every aspect of it adds to the delight of homeschooling: my daughter made pbj's cut into perfect triangles; my 12-year-old son pushed my 5-year-old son in the swing so we could prepare the picnic; my parents joined us, making it a three-generation spontaneous winter picnic; my kids don't think it's weird to have a picnic on a rickety table in January. They're used to stuff like that.
* of days like today, when my son had fun doing pre-algebra.
* of days like today, when my dad came to hang out and read my son's math book.
* of days like today, when my daughter gave her little brother her "squishy pillow" to sleep with because he was upset.
* of days like today, when my littlest guy said, "Can I have these pennies to send to the poor children in Africa?"
* of days like tomorrow, when we can just drop all our "regular" studies to take advantage of a wonderful wildlife program that's going on all week.
* of hundreds of yesterdays and tomorrows, filled with yellow rainboots jumping in puddles; mouths smeared with cookie dough; tears shared over sad books; lightbulbs flashing when a concept is mastered; muddy clothes and huge smiles; popcorn and movies; little prayers said; brothers and sister huddled over a game; sweet kisses on my cheek; fights over who loves Mommy most; happy yells when Daddy comes home; sweet friendships with other homeschooling families; and a million other little day-to-day treasures that might never be captured without homeschooling.


The five year old is now 6'4". He's majoring in Outdoor Education in college. He still has a big smile all the time. He's one of the most pleasant people I have ever been around.  Today we waved goodbye to him as he drove off to college. I miss him already.

Before he left, my parents (95 and 93), whom we are so blessed to still have with us, came over for brunch. We ate biscuits and gravy. Mom said the same things over and over again ("Randy, did you make this? Jim has started cooking too!" "Duncan is so tall!" "Duncan, do you cook?"). Dad gave us all a lesson on eskers and drumlins — landforms left behind my glaciers. He is still teaching us, still sharing his expansive knowledge. And sweet Mom will always be the party girl.

That sweet little girl who comforted her little brother is still, at 23, comforting people, still making the world a softer, more beautiful place to live. She's in her second year of graduate school, getting her master's degree in marriage and family therapy. She and her husband live in a cute little apartment in Nashville. They were here for nearly a week over Christmas, and my heart nearly burst with joy at seeing my daughter every single day. I can never get enough of her. She is strong and capable, gentle and compassionate, funny and so much fun. Hunter has fit so nicely into our family. I can't wait to see where they go next in their lives!

And that 12-year-old who was having fun with pre-algebra is now 27 and in his second year of law school, having fun writing briefs and memorizing cases and working on the law review. He and his fianceƩ, Summer, decided to postpone their wedding because of COVID, but it is something we keep looking forward to, one of these days. Summer is lovely and funny and seems like she's been part of our family forever. We can't wait until the threat of COVID is over, vaccinations are had all around, and we can resume our monthly dinners with Jesse and Summer.

We're so proud of all our kids. Those three little people have grown into lovely adults who we consider our closest friends. They are compassionate, intelligent, and fun to be around. They care about making the world a better place, about justice, equity, and caring for this beautiful planet. And while they don't fight over who loves Mommy the most anymore, at least not that I know of, they clearly love us and enjoy spending time with us. Randy and I do not take that gift lightly. It's probably the great prize of parenting yet —having kids who like to hang out with us.

As much as we adore spending time with our kids, Randy and I have adapted to empty nesting well. He continues teaching at the University of Tennessee (21 years now) and I am now an adjunct instructor in the English department at our local private college, Maryville College. With the pandemic we are both working from home most of the time, Zooming, grading, and preparing lessons from our own favorite spots in the house. In the evenings we do what pretty much everyone else does: watch something on Netflix or Hulu. We will celebrate 32 years in March, but honestly, we celebrate each other every day. This year, like last, we will probably forego our anniversary trip, thanks to COVID. 

One of these days, we'll travel again.

And so here we are, 15 years later. All grown up, but still treasuring all those sweet, intangible things.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Books Read in 2020

 I read 60 books in 2020: 8 more than my goal of 52. I probably have the pandemic to thank for that, right? Here are the books and some comments about each collage.

This is a particularly good set of books! Some of my favorites of the year (a 4 or 5 star ratings on my Goodreads) are here: Dear Edward, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, The Gifted School, Stay, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, Writers and Lovers, Defending Jacob, Your Perfect Year, and Between the World and Me. 
Persuasion and The Bean Trees were both re-reads, and both were for book clubs. Persuasion still bored me, and I still loved The Bean Trees. It's been 30 years since I read them! 
Prep was one of my least favorite books of the year. The main character was intriguing and I had high hopes for her, but ultimately....she just turned out to be self-absorbed and without any sort of growth. Pizza Girl was horrid. Unfortunately, it was the book I picked for book club for 2021, as it sounded rather fluffly and fun! I have already taken it off the list, begging my fellow clubbers not to read it. 

This collage has more of my favorites and a few I did not like at all. The Silent Patient, March, The Other Wes Moore, Where the Crawdads Sing, The Vanishing Half, The Islanders, and The Silent Treatment all garnered 4 or 5-star ratings from me on Goodreads. I also really liked The Operator and found Carole King's autobiography fascinating.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Messy Grace, and the Lager Queen of Minnesota were three of the five worst books of the year for various reasons. Death Cleaning was actually interesting, but it was a terrible book to read in the midst of a pandemic. Also, one of our best friends had just passed away as I was listening to the audiobook, and it really just made me cry a lot.

And this last collage is full of wonderful memories! These are actually the first 20 books I read of the year, pre-pandemic. Remember those days? I loved Dear Mrs. Bird, This Is How It Always Is, Matchmaking for Beginners, The Sweeney Sisters, and Southernmost. 

Becoming, Just Mercy, and Born to Run were my favorite nonfiction books of the year. Oh man. I loved each of those so much!

Things Fall Apart was a re-read for me. I used to teach this in high school literature classes and decided to re-read it, as my college sophomore was reading it for a class. What an amazing book!

I really disliked Mrs. Everything. I don't remember much about it except that way too much happened. Snow took a long, long time for me to plow through. It was a book club choice, and I think we all agreed that we wish we had understood it better. The prose was beautiful, but the topic was difficult and the history largely unfamiliar to us. Dear Mrs. Bird and Courting Mr. Lincoln were also book club books. Heart in the Right Place may have been also, but I do not remember that one.

Here is my 2020 Top Reads List, although really, I could have added many more for fiction!

Top 10 Best Fiction:
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Becoming by Michelle Obama
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
March by John Lewis

What were your favorites for 2020?