A Hike in the Woods

Almost daily I feel overwhelming gratitude for where we live. Not just America, not just East Tennessee. I love our little town, our corner of the county, our neighborhood, and our home. I recognize this is a huge blessing, as many people wish they lived elsewhere in the country, elsewhere in their city, elsewhere in their county.

We are doing what we’ve been told to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission: We are keeping to ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out. Obviously, I’m still accompanying Dad to radiation (today begins Week 4 of 6). We have made quick trips to the store, and we’ve ordered take-out from our favorite Mexican restaurant. Otherwise, we’re laying low.

Yesterday we had a break in the rain, so we took the opportunity to surgically remove the boys from electronics and go for a hike. Jeremy drove us!

This was my first time riding with him other than a quick spin around the mall parking lot months ago. Chuck has been handling all the instruction, and I’m happy to report that I felt safe and secure in the back seat with my seatbelt on. It helped that the roads were mostly empty.

The trail we walked is a 13-mile drive from our house.

When Major was younger, we’d let him run off the leash and wear out his energy on trails like these. He’d never go too far ahead of us or stay too far behind, but with his nose to the ground, he’d enjoy the adventure. Now, at almost seven and a half, Major’s energy wanes more quickly. Yet, he’s still an explorer and always plays around in the water if he can get to it.

Thankfully, the boys didn’t resist the hike. They didn’t even complain. Perhaps they too realized the air in our house had become stale and a walk in the fresh air would do them some good.

It still looks like winter in places where we live, but spring is poking through. There were little tufts of green scattered throughout the forest. In a matter of weeks, green will replace all the brown and create a canopy of shade over the trails.

I thought this felled tree looked like a dragon’s head.

A quick song for the forest animals:

We went roughly three miles, and honestly, we could’ve stayed out longer. We have all kinds of time on the weekends since we can’t visit my dad and everything is closed (rightfully so).

Today we get back to homeschooling, working from home, and taking almost-daily trips to the UT Cancer Institute. I have no idea how long this quarantine will continue, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our spring semester will end like this – communicating online and participating in virtual classrooms. It’s not a huge adjustment for us since we’ve been homeschooling since 2012, but it’s not what we prefer.

If you’d told me 2020 was going to look like this, I never would’ve believed you. How is it only March?

Where in the world have I been

In my former life, blogging was an almost-every-other-day thing. I had so much to say, so much to post, so much to SHARE about our life. It was easier then, when my world was a little less public and there were fewer eyes reading the posts. I didn’t care to share (almost) everything. This site has been a scrapbook of sorts, and I remain immensely grateful for the ability to look back several years, even a decade if I want to, and catch a glimpse at where we were.

Today, however, it’s a little more complicated. I’m sensitive to the boys’ privacy, I’m careful with my own, and I want to be sure that, while I’m more selective about what I share, I am still showing you what is real and true.

That being said, here’s a quick glimpse into 2019 so far:

Jackson continues to enjoy equine therapy (aka, “Horse Hangout Hour’) and finally found the courage to trot! It was a huge hurdle for him to cross since trotting makes him feel off balance and the fear of falling off the horse entirely is real. A couple of weeks ago, after tons of encouragement, he finally did it. You can see a video here.

Yesterday, the weather was so delightful that the class rode their horses in the field next to the barn. It was a beautiful way to wrap up the winter session.

Jeremy has been enjoying success on the local chess tournament circuit. After playing chess for several years at our co-op, and finally getting a quality chess coach, he entered a few tournaments recently and has had a great time playing other students in the area. The most recent win was a team win, and since I don’t have permission to post other kiddos’ photos in this space, I’ve blurred their faces. 🙂

We are nearing that time of year when we’re tired of school and aching for summer, a level of academic fatigue that comes full circle in April. Still, I’m enjoying my role as an English teacher at our co-op and am already preparing for next year’s courses. It is still a surprise to me that I like teaching, but I also recognize that I get to teach in a space with limited restraints (unlike the traditional school system). Perhaps that’s made all the difference. Plus, it’s only once a week.

On co-op days, I’ve made a habit of using my lunch break to visit Grandpa Thomas, who moved here in January. I still can’t believe he’s here, actually. (Hi, Grandpa!) I’ve never lived in the same city as any of my grandparents, and I’m still getting used to the fact that my parents are only 45 minutes away. If you’d told me this time last year that both Grandpa and my parents would be here with us, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Finally, East Tennessee received a beating on Saturday with a record-setting 17+ inches of rainfall. By Sunday morning, entire neighborhoods and streets were underwater. Our neighborhood, mercifully, was spared any damage, but that isn’t the case for thousands of other Tennesseans. In fact, on the way home from equine therapy last night, a couple of the roads we usually take were still underwater, along with adjacent homes.

Chuck and I took time to drive the missing link Sunday afternoon and stopped by the Townsend Wye to see what the water levels looked like. The usual Class I and II rapids were easily Class III and IV on account of all the water. The area in the photo below is typically a calm pool for swimming in the summertime. Not the case this week!

Finally, there’s an addition to this website, but it’s not my personal work. Jackson decided he wanted to start writing book and movie reviews for tweens and teens, and I made his year by telling him I’d post them on the blog. Overjoyed, he got right to work on The Reviewing Rabbit. I assume the quality of content will improve over time, but he’s already doing a good job! He’s created a backlog of posts, and three are already live.

That being said, if there’s an age-appropriate film or book you’d like Jackson to review, please email me and I’ll pass it along to him. 🙂

First Snow of 2018

Parts of Tennessee got its first snow of the year last week, but we weren’t that lucky. Yesterday, however, we scored a few inches (yay!) and it’s cold enough today that the accumulation lingered.

Northerners will look at these piddly flakes and roll their eyes, but Southerners have a different experience with winter. Snow is rare and, therefore, magical. It has the power to shut down entire cities with one threat.

This morning it was still spitting, so I grabbed my camera and went for a short walk to visit our neighbors.

I love when they see me coming. My voice and figure are recognizable to them now, so once I’ve called their names, they come to the fence line to greet me and to see if I’ve brought them treats.

He smells apples!

We still do school work on snow days, which is the only way to stay on track. It isn’t without complaint and struggle, but we are always glad to reach the end of the school year and not have to extend our calendar. We can be done when it’s time to be done.

For now, the boys have finished their work (and gnashing of teeth), so they are outside sledding and expelling their energy. The temperatures will be in the 40s by Friday and the upper-50s by the weekend, so this first wash of snow will be short-lived.

By the look of the blog of late, it seems as though all I’ve done in 2018 is read. [That is partly true.] I am swimming in freelance work, so I’ve had to save my words for other things. Co-op classes are back in session, so that’s also taking a bit of my time. Fortunately, I’m keeping the promise I made to myself last year – saying yes to what I want to do and saying no to what I don’t. That is a freedom I dreamt about in my 20s and early 30s. As I approach 40, it’s old hat. It’s the norm. I love it.

In the path of totality

We were some of the lucky ones whose house was situated in the path of totality, so a handful of friends from Knoxville and Chattanooga joined us for the eclipse yesterday. Before the solar party got started, the boys played outside and got all hot and sweaty. We had plenty of water and pizza to keep everyone hydrated and happy.

They each had glasses, so occasionally they’d stop to check the status of the moon’s progress.

Before totality hit, our neighbor rode over on her horse, which was a huge treat for all of us.

You don’t go into a total eclipse thinking you’ll also get to pet a horse!

Catherine was excited to feed Shera some clover.

As the time neared for totality, we all gathered on the back patio for a good view.

Right before the moon fully covered the sun, all the kids jumped on the retaining wall.

We reached totality! I wish I’d had the forethought to videotape everyone’s reactions. All the “oohs” and “ahhs” from kids and adults alike…

Glasses off! I didn’t want to use a flash and ruin the view, so this photo was taken with only the dimmest light from the dark sky:

What a treat! We witnessed something that can’t be described with ordinary words. While science explains a total eclipse with accuracy, I felt we experienced God’s creativity at its finest.

And since I never make it into these photos, thank you, Karin, for capturing this one!

Catherine was less interested in the eclipse and more interested in exploring my house and enjoying snacks. I didn’t mind one bit! Love her!

Thanks to everyone who joined us! We were happy to have you!

Field Trip: Marco Rubio Rally

A big part of our homeschooling philosophy is to talk about everything, and that includes politics. My boys are years away from voting, but that doesn’t negate them from the conversation. Chuck and I are honest about our political views and subsequent frustrations, and we try very hard to offer them objective information about what’s going on in the political arena. You will not hear us downloading hateful rhetoric into their young, impressionable brains. We tell them what we believe and acknowledge that they might grow up to believe differently from us.

Mostly, we boil everything down to the most important consideration, which is: What do you believe is the role of government?

When a friend of mine gave me the heads-up about Marco Rubio coming to town, I thought it would be a great opportunity to involve the boys in the political process. I always take them with me to vote, so why not take them to see a real, live candidate?

We showed up about 45 minutes prior to Marco Rubio’s arrival. I didn’t know what to expect at all, so we just went with the flow.

American flag

Reagan Revolution

Hillary for Prison

This sign reads, “Never Trump, because my children deserve better than a bully!”

NoTrump

We secured a great spot for watching Rubio’s airplane land. Like a clown car, 20+ people disembarked from a very small aircraft, a mixture of press, campaign officials, and other folks. They must be packed like sardines in there.

(Yes, that’s Ethan standing next to Jeremy. We have a visitor for a few days!)

Watching the plane land

Finally, Rubio made his appearance.

Off the plane

To get the crowd warmed up, a trio of Tennessee Republicans gave brief speeches as their official endorsement for Marco Rubio’s nomination – Former Representative Zach Wamp, Senator Lamar Alexander, and Governor Bill Haslam:

Zach Wamp

Lamar Alexander

Governor Haslam

Haslam for Rubio

We also had prayer.

Prayer

Then it was time for Rubio to take the stage. People cheered and clapped and pulled out their phones to capture the moment.

Marco Rubio in Knoxville

Crowd

I am HAPPY to report that there was no name calling, no screaming, and no hate speech. Rubio made some choice comments about Donald Trump hiring illegal immigrants and using fear tactics in his campaign, but I expected that since he’s the front runner. Most of Rubio’s comments had to do with aligning his politics with those of Ronald Reagan’s and emphasizing how his parents moved from Cuba to the United States to live out the American Dream. They started from nothing and retired with dignity. Presuming his story is true and not sensationalized, I agree that’s part of what makes our country great.

Marco Rubio on stage

I have two favorite quotes from his speech. First, “The American Dream isn’t about how much stuff you have. It’s about having the opportunity to live the life you want.” (That made my Libertarian-leaning heart swell.)

The American Dream

Second, “When I’m president, you won’t always like my decisions, like when Tennessee plays Florida. Just don’t read my Tweets.”

Well played, sir. (The crowd yelled a resounding, “GO VOLS!”)

Technology

Overall, I was pleased with the experience. The boys were observant and curious, particularly of other parts of the event. We talked about the media presence and the role of those who were standing on stage behind Rubio. Rallies are live shows. Everyone plays a part.

Tweeting journalists

Tomorrow we’ll go to the voting booth and Tennessee will make its presidential preferences known. I wish I could say I was a die-hard fan of a candidate, but as it stands, there’s no one who truly represents my belief system as it relates to the purpose and role of government. I will vote because I can’t imagine not voting, but I wish I was passionate for a specific candidate. I admire that about those of you who will pull the lever or punch the ticket for someone you really, truly believe in.

As for Marco Rubio, I’ll leave you with Jeremy’s final assessment, which was, “He makes a very compelling argument.”

iPad photo

P.S. I was on the lookout for a crew from The Circus, but I didn’t see anyone. Such a bummer! That would’ve been exciting. (If you’re not watching The Circus, you should be.)

Throwback to camping, and hello autumn

Hey, remember when we used to go camping? Circa 2012?

Millers and Prichards

I am so ready for this again.

It’s nearly my favorite month and there’s much to look forward to. Our wedding anniversary, SEC conference football, an evening with Liz Gilbert. My heart swells at the thought.

Come October 1, I’ll officially be in the holiday spirit – the sort of spirit that enjoys eating copious amounts Brach’s candy corn while ignoring tooth pain. The kind of spirit that burns autumn harvest candles and orders Salted Caramel Mochas. The kind of spirit that opens up all the windows in the house so the temperature drops to brisk 60 degrees. Hello fuzzy blankets and wool socks! Hello boots and skinny jeans! Hello chili on the stove and slow-cooked roast in the oven!

Hello, autumn. I’m so glad you finally showed up.

xoxo

Hey Spring!

So glad you showed up.

Dogwoods

Pink

Violets

The garden is nearly prepped, so more goodness will be growing soon. Spring is happiness.

 

A hint of spring

first flower

I know this is a weed, but it’s also a hint of things to come.  A week ago we were sledding  in a foot of snow. Today, I’m on the verge of turning on the air conditioner. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we were living in Amarillo again. (Remember the one-day blizzards? Ca-razy.)

Feather hunt

The boys and I got out of the classroom yesterday morning to look for feathers. We’re studying flying creatures in Zoology, and since feathers are a defining characteristic of flying creatures, it made sense to see what we could see about them. With the dog in tow, we went to the duck pond to feed the masses and then explore the perimeter of the water’s edge.

We found a number of other treasures on our hunt, including a severed crayfish claw.
Collection

Feeding the ducksHappy Weekend to you, reader. Go Vols!

 

Exploring with my explorer

We woke up to rain this morning, which means the boys will be bouncing off the walls by noon. While wishing for dry weather, I remembered that I had a slew of photos to post from the weekend.

One of the things that makes Jeremy fantastic is his love for nature and animals. I’d love to say that it’s because we’ve raised him that way, but that logic wouldn’t hold for Jackson. (He needs books and air conditioning, please.) No, Jeremy was just born with an innate appreciation for the outdoors, so when we spent Sunday afternoon in the mountains I grabbed him for some one-on-one time to see what we could see.

Sidebar: Chuck and I joined the Smart Phone Club again with very limited service to the interwebs, which was intentional. The best part about upgrading my cell phone from a 1985 model is having the ability to take amazing photos.

Here are a few shots I took at the river with my little soon-to-be-ten-year-old explorer.

Mushroom Ring This big Azure Little fungi Grub Nature boy Shells Where the fairies live

Canoeing, Fireworks, and Salem

But not all at once.

Our week with Jacob ended with a rainy Fourth of July Hurry-Up-and-Light-the-Sparklers extravaganza. The weather was dreadfully wet, but we managed to squeak out a quickie-canoe trip on the river on Wednesday and one more swim on Thursday before storms forced us inside for the rest of the day.

Then we swam to Dayton, Ohio, to swap Jacob for Jeremy, and swam back to our house Saturday evening. I’m so over the rain and I miss Jacob. Whether he realizes it or not, the true gift of this week was having my 12-year-old nephew all to myself.

He’s a great kiddo.

Canoe trip

Jacob canoes for the first time

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At the end of the week I asked Jacob to rank his favorite things from his time in Tennessee. No. 1 was time spent in the river, which I expected. No. 2, however, was a pleasant surprise. He said he really enjoyed the pets. That makes sense, though, since he and Salem were best buds every night during movie time. (Major was mostly tolerable, which is pretty good considering…) _DSC0101In third place, for those wondering, was all the food he enjoyed eating with his non-vegetarian aunt Jennie. We ate well and often. Nature and food = Tennessee. 🙂

Rain, Rain, Go Away

We’re about to swim to the grocery store, but I wanted to share these photos with you before we left. We’ve had a TON of rain this week. And by a “ton,” I mean ten thousand inches. And it’s still raining.

Our Christmas decorations are all down but I purposely left this string of lights strung in the homeschool room. Why? Because we can! Both of these boys wish they could be outside, but since they can’t they’re commiserating together on the back of the couch.

Waiting

Droplets

RainSalem is not interested in going outside for obvious reasons, so he’s been using the litter box per house rules. While I love his compliance, I’ve been completely spoiled by his indoor/outdoor status and have not enjoyed tending to his indoor potty all week. I’m sure he’d rather get back to his bushes outside just as much as I’d like him to.

Too wet

Mini-Hike

We knew the break in the rain was brief, so we took the short opportunity on Saturday to get outside and enjoy the unseasonable 70-degree weather. It was perfect, though a touch humid. (Humidity in January?) We found a very short paved trail that took us atop a beautiful overlook. Even though the hike was quite short, a certain six-year-old somebody barely made it. For as muscular as he is, the boy has the speed and endurance of a sloth.Path at Look Rock

Look Rock

Mossy moss

Hairy moss

the view

Landscape

Wiggle

Jeremy's Close Up

Boy and a stick

Magnificent

We were sitting at the dinner table Tuesday night when Jeremy noticed through the patio window that the sunset was particularly bright – so bright that it was casting an incredible light on all the autumn leaves in its path. I spun around to look for myself and immediately popped up from the chair to grab my camera.

A red and orange sunset is always beautiful, but a purple and pink sunset is truly magnificent.As the sun tucked further down behind the horizon, a gray shadow rose along the tree line. All of that bright red faded away within minutes.

I ♥ autumn in Tennessee. Happy Weekend and Go Vols!

Bunch of Monkeys

We finally dropped by the zoo last week after one of Jeremy’s tutoring sessions at the university. We purchased a family membership a few weeks ago but the weather (and our schedule) has not been favorable for going. Since we were already downtown and the skies had not yet opened up with torrential rain, we made a quick visit to see the animals and inquire about homeschool classes.

This monkey was particularly curious about my two little monkeys:

There IS a sheet of glass separating the three, though you can’t quite tell. How fun would be if there wasn’t!

The Knoxville Zoo is a good size for this area, and I’m glad to know we can coordinate its hands-on classes into our curriculum. Jackson hasn’t expressed much interest in attending (he’s more of an indoor air conditioning computer kind of guy), but Jeremy is all kinds of ready. If they let him, he’d ride the elephants and tame the lions. He’d even handle snakes, which means I’d be waiting in the car to keep my distance.

 

 

Friday at the Little River

It’s Ethan’s last day with us, and the only thing he actually asked to do during this mini-trip is go to the river. So we did.

God saw fit to give us perfect weather today for an afternoon of throwing rocks.

This is my favorite picture of the day (click on the photo for a larger version):

Charlotte’s Web

Be still my heart, Jackson is reading Charlotte’s Web. That’s right, the five year old is reading a chapter book. I am over the moon about it. Routinely I pray, “Dear God, please make them readers.” I will not rest until they sufficiently bury their noses in books.

In this photo, Jack is reading aloud to us the second chapter of Charlotte’s Web while Jeremy paints one of the many rocks we picked up on our field trip to the Little River.

I could just stare at this photo for hours.

Incidentally, Jeremy found a rock that is shaped like Tennessee, so I painted it as such.

The Best Shade of Orange

It’s that time of year – almost. We’re a week and a half away from the start of Tennessee football, so it was time to show our support. I’ve waited all year to spend autumn in east Tennessee – for the foliage, for the festivals and for football. We’re working on scoring tickets without having to sell one of the children to afford them.

I’m back to spending mornings on the back deck now that the overnight temperatures are dropping. Summer was too smothering, but yesterday it was a delightful 59 and today it was 65. It won’t be long until the leaves start to change and then I suspect we’ll do a lot of school work outside. Wouldn’t you?

Spring is here.

This first photo was taken in late March when the grass first started to turn a vibrant green. The trees were still bare enough that you could see the shape of a house on the property behind us. (Ten points to you if you can find Salem in this photo.)

I snapped this photo this morning from the same angle. Newly grown ivy has decorated the base of every tree, most of which are now filled in with foliage. You’d never know there is a house behind us, and I love that.

I didn’t color correct these images. It is naturally this green.

The morning has been so lovely… minus the dead mouse on the back porch.