Summer Fun: Adventuring

Last week I fell far short of my promised one-fun-thing-per-day promise.  I had a good excuse, though–I went to Nashville from Wednesday until Saturday to visit my sister.  Emily kindly provided some entertainment for her siblings in my stead, taking them blueberry picking.  And John took them to a “magnificent” (according to William) Asian restaurant to dine while I was gone.
But we did have one big adventure on Tuesday, one that did not turn out at all as I had planned!
We lived in South Knoxville when the big kids were little, and every Wednesday morning for years I used to take them to breakfast at Shoney’s.  Shoney’s was a big favorite for our family back then because we didn’t have a lot of money, we had a lot of mouths to feed, and kids ate free at the buffet!
So just about every summer since then we make a point to head south to that same Shoney’s to recreate some of that long ago summer fun.  Usually there’s a waitress or two there who still remembers us from back in the day (not this time, sadly).
That’s what the plan was on Tuesday, to be followed by a quick trip to the Fort Dickerson Overlook, perhaps a short walk on a trail, and visits to Scottish Pike Park and the new Suttree Landing Park that William and Lorelei have never seen.
Most of that will have to wait until another day, as you will see!
After a big breakfast, we drove up to Fort Dickerson Park and went to admire the view from the overlook.  I will never forget the first time I saw this view, about 25 years ago.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing–it was like I was in some enchanted faraway land instead of about a mile from downtown Knoxville.
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Now, I’ve been to Fort Dickerson many times, but this time I saw something new–a trail just to the left of the overlook.
And that’s when I had a bright idea.  Why don’t we explore it, I said.  Let’s just see where it goes, I said.  We can always turn around and come back.
So we braved the kudzu and started to walk.
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And we walked.  And we walked.  And we sort of committed.  Eventually it was clear that we were walking right around the lake.  I figured we’d end up at the bottom (I’ve taken a trail that goes there from a different parking lot) and then surely there would be a way back on the other side.
Sure enough, after a fairly easy walk we ended up exactly where I thought, and we started hunting for that other trail.  At first things seemed to go fairly well, and we made our way along the opposite side of the lake, heading in exactly the direction we were supposed to.
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Until, that is, we ended up at a very dead end, standing right on the bank of the lake with a sheer cliff several hundred feet tall in front of us.
So we doubled back to where we had taken what was clearly the wrong fork and kept walking, only to eventually realize the trail we were on did nothing but circle us back–after a long time, I might add–to an area close to where it began.
By now we had come to realize that there WAS no trail on the other side.  We had two choices for how to get back to the car–take the trail we’d come down to begin with, or leave the park and go by road.
Did I mention that it was about a million degrees by now? (Well, at least 90 anyway.)  And we didn’t bring water.  We were tired, exhausted, and dehydrated as we made our way to the parking lot and thence to Chapman Highway, which if you are not local I need to explain is NOT the kind of road you really want to walk on.
Fortunately, there is a sidewalk–on the wrong side, naturally–and we were able to find a safe way to cross the highway.  We trudged doggedly up the hill and then crossed back over to the park entrance and finally made it to the car.  Y’all, we had walked FOUR MILES.
We drove straight to Weigel’s and bought Icees and much water, which I actually poured right on my head.  I apologized A LOT for my poor leadership skills.  But it was an adventure!
Read more of our summer adventures below!
Why We Can’t Have a 70s Summer and What We Are Doing Instead
The Summer Fun Continues . . .
More Summer Fun
Summer Fun Update
Summer Fun:  Vacation
That 70s Summer
In Which I Grow Lazy
Exploring History

Twice Exceptional Parenting Is Challenging. Here's Why I'll Never Change a Thing.

I have a large intimidating binder and a husband who is a lawyer to bring with me to IEP meetings.  I send emails to teachers, I have conferences with the principal, I advocate relentlessly even when it makes me uncomfortable.  I have become THAT MOM, and I don’t care if people at school don’t like me as long as they accommodate the needs of my brilliant and quirky son.
He was out of the ordinary from the moment of his birth.  He didn’t walk until 17 months, and didn’t get into trouble the way his big brothers did.  He had a vivid imagination, spending months at a time insisting that he was a pirate named Captain Cutler (one of many identities he assumed), and once scandalized a patron at the local Shoney’s who asked about the stuffed ostrich he was carrying by announcing: “It is the Ostrich from Hell.  Its name is Blood.”
Read the rest at Not So Formulaic.
 

Catholic Minimalism Redux: Week Three

Oh, I was so excited for this week.  I am ALWAYS wanting to minimize my kitchen more and more.  Back in January, I got a lot done.  BUT, I had intended to go back and do more during the catch-up week, and as I have explained, Week Three ended up being my last week.
I didn’t follow the day-by-day instructions this time, for one because I only recently organized all the refrigerators and the pantries are pretty empty at the moment, and also because I wanted to hit areas that I didn’t get to last time.
This first drawer is my favorite.  No before picture, but I bet you don’t need to see this because I just know you have this drawer at your house too.  You know, the one that is always getting stuck shut because there are too many utensils in it.  I got rid of so much stuff from this drawer and even organized it a bit, and now every time I open it I feel happy.
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I still have too many knives in here, but maybe I will be able to bring myself to get rid of some more next time.
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This was another drawer that was overstuffed until I got rid of some aprons and also some chef hats. (Why did I have chef hats? And I rarely use aprons.)
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Here’s the silverware drawer before:
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And here it is after.  This is really going to make me happy too.  I had to fight with Lorelei over that egg slicer even though we have literally NEVER used it in seven years.  (She’s a bit of a hoarder.)
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I bet you have a cabinet like this one too–one that stuff just falls out of and you slam the door and hope for the best?  Anyway, I did this one last time and I’ve done it at least once since and I probably will have to keep at it every few months or so . . .
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But for now, doesn’t it look wonderful?
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This is another thing we’ve maintained very well since last time, so no before picture, but we tidied it up a bit.  How’s that for a junk drawer?
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I am far from finished with the kitchen, but I am planning to do more during catch up week, both because I need more time and because Emily will be home then and I need her help.  So stay tuned for that, and for next week when Kids’ Rooms are scheduled!

Catholic Minimalism Redux: Week 2

Week two of the Catholic Minimalism challenge is bathrooms.  We have four of them!  Last time around, I thoroughly minimized the two upstairs.  In the time since, the one on the main floor was repurposed when Emily moved all her things to the basement bathroom, which I won’t be dealing with at this moment as she is sharing it with her brother and his wife, who are moving out soon.
So . . . all this is to say that I did a quick go-over of the bathrooms on the first day and then devoted the rest of the week to the upstairs hallway, including the linen closet and the laundry room, all of which have been long-time disaster areas.  Here are some before pictures:
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This is the hallway at the top of our stairs, which leads to three bedrooms, a bathroom, the laundry room, the playroom, and the linen closet.
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These are pictures of the terrible laundry room with the ridiculous amounts of tablecloths I needed to go through as well as things we actually use but never put away.
I did not take any before pictures of the linen closet because it had been minimized already and did not really look that bad.
Here’s what I did:  First I bought four new laundry baskets from the Dollar General Store and organized all that laundry (clean!) from the first picture.  All that belongs to my son and daughter-in-law, who are only here temporarily.  There is nowhere to put it, and it’s not mine to minimize, but it looks much better coralled.  I also got William to carry all those boxes down to Lorelei’s room, because she was too lazy to do it and they have been sitting there for weeks.
Next I got Emily for moral support and we went through all the tablecloths and placemats in the laundry room plus all the towels and bedding in the linen closet and got rid of SO MUCH and put the rest away.  Everyone has their own towels already, and I only kept three extra emergency towels.    I was able to get rid of things I had held on to last time we did this, and I am sure that I will be able to let go of more tablecloths especially next time around.  Minimizing is an ongoing process and a mindset and you don’t have to everything all at once!
We will be going to Goodwill later this afternoon with three kitchen garbage bags full of towels, bedding, and table linens in good condition that someone else can enjoy!
The last step was to get Lorelei to help me go through the clothes that she never puts away in the laundry room.  We got rid of some and sent the rest downstairs to her room.  I also purchased two additional laundry baskets to keep her and William’s clothes organized as they leave the dryer and make it easier for them to be transported to their real home.
Here are the linen closets, the laundry room, and the hallway now:
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A little Catholic decor to finish things off

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Next Week:  Kitchen!
For more adventures in minimalism, read on:
My explanation of Catholic Minimalism.
Week One
Week Two
Week Three
Week One Redux

A Plethora of Peacocks: Lessons from Drama and Real Life

Back in my high school days, the Drama Club was one of my favorite extra-curricular activities.  I participated in every production that occurred while I was a student.

My all-time favorite role was Penelope (Penny) Sycamore, the mother in You Can’t Take It with You.  This wacky woman, the matriarch of an eccentric clan of characters, was always at her typewriter, writing plays.

As the climax of the action nears, we learn WHY Penny writes plays–because eight years ago, a typewriter was delivered to the house by mistake!

I think about his whenever I talk about the peacocks in my house.

We moved here nearly seven years ago, after our previous home burned down.  For three weeks John and I and the “little kids” lived at my sister’s house, the big boys stayed with friends, and our dog hung out at my other sister’s (Emily was away at college).  We needed somewhere to move quickly, somewhere that would accommodate our large family and our need for an in-home office.

We ended up in a home that had been customized by the prior renter, who apparently had a thing about peacocks.  There’s a peacock stepping stone in the garden and a statue just outside the front door.  There are peacocks painted on either side of the front entry and another in the breakfast nook.  There’s even a tiny one in their family coat of arms which we’ve chosen not to paint over in order to give this very new house a little bit of history.

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Now we could have asked our landlady to paint over all the peacocks.  (We did ask her to paint over the red tree on the living room wall which was encircled by the words “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one, single, solitary step.“)  Or we could have just tolerated the peacocks.

Instead, like Penelope Sycamore did with her misdelivered typewriter, we embraced the unexpected.  Searching for meaning, I found that peacocks have been a Christian symbol of resurrection, which seemed fitting as we left our old lives more or less in ashes and started all over with a new home and new possessions.

And, as it happens, Cracker Barrel has a collection of peacock decor items which have over the years put me in serious danger of becoming a crazy peacock lady.  I have a peacock lamp and a variety of decorative items like candle holders and vases in peacock colors.  I bought throw pillows to match the theme and eventually plan to paint one wall a peacock blue.  I even have peacock shoes!

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As I wrote the above, I realized that maybe there’s a reason why the role of Penelope Sycamore meant so much to me.  I don’t know whether I absorbed something from her, or if the casting was foreshadowing, but there is more of Penny in me than I ever knew.

Like her, I’m the mother in a houseful of rowdy people who may or may not be related to me at any given time.  Penny welcomed a Russian ballet teacher, an expat grand duchess, a drunken actress, and the mailman (who never left) with unfailing hospitality and good humor.  When my boys were younger it was not unusual for our house to be filled with people I had never seen before.

Penny didn’t let her family responsibilities get in the way of her personal pursuits, and neither do I.  Like Penny, painting or typing with the chaos all around her, I’ve learned to tune out all but the loudest screams while I blog or read.  I ignore the shenanigans in my basement just like Penny remained unfazed by the sounds of exploding fireworks in hers.

Like her, I’ve learned not to care about being conventional but rather to follow my heart and allow my family members to do the same.  Penny equally applauded her husband’s fireworks, her son-in-law’s printing, her older daughter’s dancing, her younger daughter’s engagement, and her father’s snake-collecting.  It never occurred to her to worry about what others would think of the family’s lifestyle.

Penelope Sycamore was completely secure in herself and her family.  She didn’t even think about whether other people would like her or not.  She was able to put worry aside, fully inhabit her days, and enjoy life as it came.  I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.

I will not die an unlived life . . . I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid . . .
~ Dawna Markova

Thank you, Penny.  Now bring on the peacocks!

Summer Fun: In Which I Grow Lazy

I’ll admit it–it is harder to have fun all the time than you might think.  Honestly, I really, really like sitting at my desk having uninterrupted time to get work done.  Leaving the house is stressful, and sandwiching fun in between not only work but also family business like medical appointments (two this week) is not easy.
So this week I outsourced some of the fun to John, and therefore this post will be short on pictures even though the week was not short on fun!
On Monday evening, John took the kids to see The Incredibles 2.  John and the kids all love movies, me not so much, so that’s been “his thing” since the big kids were little.
Tuesday I took the kids and Emily out to breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company, a newish place that I had been passing daily while picking up William at school and had been dying to try.  If there’s one where you are, you should go.  Only William was not a fan, because the waffles had infinitesimally tiny bacon pieces in them which he admitted he could not taste but had to remove one by one anyway.
Wednesday was the Fourth of July (I’m sure that is not news to you).  We had a cookout at our house with my family.  We had planned to go downtown for the symphony and fireworks show afterwards but it was like a million degrees so instead we took William’s suggestion (actually his demand) and watched Independence Day, which is definitely one of my top ten favorite movies of all time.  Bonus:  everyone in our neighborhood was shooting off fireworks like crazy and we could see them through our windows without leaving the television or the air conditioning.
Thursday was the big event of the week, planned for some time since I had bought a Groupon for it months ago–a visit to Rainforest Adventures,  which is an hour’s drive away in Sevierville.
Things I liked:  it was mostly inside and air-conditioned, we could see the animals up close and they seemed very happy and well-cared for.
Thing I did NOT like:  The overwhelming stench of animal urine that greeted us the moment we walked in the gift shop and literally made me feel ill throughout the two hours we were there.
Here are a few highlights:

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William with the serval

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Lorelei and William admire two ridiculously large pythons

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William with the black caiman

Friday it was John’s turn again.  This time he took Lorelei and William to see Ant Man and the Wasp.
I take Saturdays off.  So far they are all still sleeping which is fine with me.
See more summer fun posts below.
Why We Can’t Have a 70s Summer and What We Are Doing Instead
The Summer Fun Continues . . .
More Summer Fun
Summer Fun Update
Summer Fun:  Vacation
That 70s Summer

Catholic Minimalism Redux: Week One

Remember back at the beginning of the year when I was participating in the Catholic Minimalism Challenge, and making all kinds of progress, and posting impressive updates?
Well, along about week three, we got the flu.  For the second time.  As you might expect, that derailed basically everything except survival.
But a new challenge started last week, and I jumped at the chance to pick up where I left off.
Week One is supposed to be the Master Bedroom, which I did thoroughly in January.  In addition, I have kept up with it in the months since, and have even gotten rid of more things.  So I only needed to devote one day.  I went through the closet and drawers, and got rid of two small bags of clothes and a stack of books.  I did not go through all the jewelry and the sentimental things–I think once a year is enough for that.
I don’t have any pictures from the first day as there just isn’t that much change to show.  For the rest of the week, I worked on the hallway outside my office  I was SO EXCITED to tackle this area!  Here’s before:


 
What a mess, right?  Things were constantly getting knocked off  the top and on to the floor, and every time I walked by all that mess it made me sad.
This was the perfect time to tackle this area, because most of this is homeschooling material, and my homeschooling days have ended.  Lorelei will enter 8th grade at the local public school in August.
So I went through all of the homeschooling books, and got rid of some of them.  I probably should get rid of a lot more, and I admit that putting them in boxes and moving them into the garage, which will be the VERY LAST THING that ever gets minimalized, is just punting the problem down the road.  But let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, right?
Lorelei is spending some time dog-sitting for my sister with Emily, so I did not have her much-needed assistance with this project.  Therefore there is another box filled with things that she will need to go through.  Not my box, not my problem!
I’ll show you what it looks like now, and then I will explain what I’ve put there.
 

This shelf and this area now mostly belong to me.  I am feeling happy that as my children grow and sort of leave, I am able to claim more space in this house for myself.
I love that the top is currently bare.  I hope it can stay that way.  I might consider putting some pictures or decorative items there, but the space is crowded and things might get knocked off.
The top shelf is primarily books I have received in exchange for my honest review thereof, or have won via social media giveaways.  I probably don’t need to keep them all; that’s something I will revisit next time I go through the challenge.  At least I want to keep a list of them.  I am also keeping whatever books I am currently reading on that shelf, and my extra journals.  Most of these books were previously stacked in a dusty heap on the bottom shelf, and some were sitting in a cardboard box in my office, a space that has now been freed up!
Second shelf are Catholic project items.  For example, I have a binder for the Catholic Minimalism Challenge, and it lives there.  My prayer journal is there.  My binder with various Advent and Lent and other liturgical year tools is there.
The bottom shelf is a work in progress.  It currently contains homeschool materials that I borrowed from others and need to return, and extra folders, notebooks, and such that may be needed when school begins.  I’m thinking that we will need space for extra paper and school supplies for use in doing homework and I am willing to use the bottom shelf for that if need be.  I will have a better idea how I will use that space by the next Challenge.
Finally, in the corner you will see a couple of totes.  Yes, I found a use for some of the many totes that were taking up space in my bedroom!  One of them is holding a lot of prayer journaling supplies–scissors, glue stick, colored pens and pencils and markers, Catholic coloring book, prayers, prayer cards.  The tote keeps them contained, and if I want to go elsewhere to journal everything is ready!  The other tote is holding a special Christmas gift from my husband–a monthly subscription to a mystery to solve.  It’s really fun but also takes time we don’t seem to have, so I am keeping it all organized here so that when we devote an evening to working on it, everything is ready to go.
So there you have it! Next week is bathrooms.  Again I expect to spend one day on them, and then I am planning on working on the laundry room and the upstairs hallway for the rest of the week.

Summer Fun: That 70s Summer

Remember when I told y’all that we weren’t doing a 70s summer around here?  Well, this week we did our best imitation and as a result this will be a very short post.
The reason:  POOL.
So to me, daily access to a swimming pool is an absolute necessity for a 70s summer.  Back in the day, our lives revolved around calling the time and temperature number so that we could inform our mother that we had achieved the magic 75 degrees and it was now hot enough to swim.
And swim we did–for two hours every weekday at the neighborhood pool.  Playing at the pool with our cousins, getting sunburned, risking further burns from the vinyl seats and metal seatbelts riding home, arriving home wet and cold from the air conditioning and starving with that particular kind of starvation induced by hours at the pool, sating ourselves with white-bread-mayo-Kraft Singles sandwiches–this is the centerpiece of my 70s summers.
When Emily was small we lived in an apartment with a pool and she and I went there every day from April through September, and she learned to swim at an early age as I had.  But after that my kids have never had regular access to a nearby pool.  They’ve all learned to swim at hotel swimming pools, which are always a must and a highlight of any vacation we take.
But this week Emily was dog-sitting for my sister (who has a neighborhood pool).  And the weather has been cooperative.  And I was tired from vacation and behind in my work, and felt like being lazy.
So this was the week of the pool, and we will get back to our regularly scheduled programming next week!
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Summer Fun: Vacation!

Our fun summer continued last week with a little less creativity needed on my part, since we were on our actual vacation!
We traveled to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, to stay at a timeshare provided by my oldest friend and her family.  We had a wonderful time and I took so many beautiful pictures that I would love to devote a longer post to it, but this is not that post! Instead, in keeping with what I’ve been doing, I’ll hit the high points and show a couple of pictures of each day’s special activity.
The kids and I (John was still working) drove up Friday afternoon.  It’s three hours from Knoxville, most of it through beautiful scenery.  John arrived at midnight and our friends the following day.  Saturday was for sleeping in and relaxing.
On Sunday we took a short hike, and were rewarded with close-up deer and a beautiful view at the top.
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Later in the afternoon we went down to nearby Banner Elk, looked around a bit, and celebrated Father’s Day with dinner out (and had a close encounter with another wild animal!).
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Monday we drove to Boone and did a little browsing in some of the interesting shops there.
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After lunch we visited Mystery Hill, a tourist attraction involving a mysterious “vortex” that causes people’s apparent height to change, water to run uphill, and some other fun effects.  The complex also contained a Native American museum, a restored 1800s home, and a fairly impressive dinosaur museum.
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Tuesday was another quiet day, with only a visit to the local general store, because we were waiting for Emily to arrive.  The kids were more than ready to hit the road again on Wednesday, when we visited Linville Caverns and then took a hike to Linville Falls, just on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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After our walk, we stopped at a quaint roadside antique shop/dessert parlor.
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Thursday brought the event the kids had been most excited about–Grandfather Mountain.  I can’t recommend this attraction enough.  The animal habitats allow you to get very close to some animals who were formerly native to the area.  We were particularly excited about the cougars.
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We enjoyed the museum, some fudge, and a nature hike before driving to the top of the mountain.
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And the views up there defy description–especially those from the far side of the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.
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Checkout was Friday morning, and Emily and the kids and I went a little out of the way home to visit Creation Kingdom Zoo just over the Virginia state line in Gate City.  I had discovered its existence earlier this summer while researching nearby zoos.  We spent a happy two hours there feeding some animals and seeing some that were new to our experience.  William was especially excited about the spotted hyenas.
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We got back to Knoxville in the early evening and have spent most of the time since recovering from the vacation!  I plan to take it easy this week–if the kids will allow it.
 

Summer Fun Update

I’ll be honest–it’s getting harder to come up with something to do every day, and now I am laboring under Lorelei and William’s expectations as well.  It’s not that I don’t have plenty of ideas–I have a page-long list, in fact–it’s having ideas that fit in with the weather, our finances, my energy level, and whatever else I have to accomplish on a given day.  So here’s what we did this week:
On Monday, we went to the Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum, which I have written about before.  This place is one of Knoxville’s best-kept secrets, a true treasure.
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There are lots of new paths since I was last year and although the spring flowers are gone, there were wild flowers, trees (with identifying markers, too, so you can learn something while you walk), and, most exciting to me because I’ve never seen one, a small wheat field!
Tuesday I had to scrap my original plans because something came up, so I took the kids to Wild Love Bakehouse for a treat.  I kid you not, this place in nationally renowned and if you come to Knoxville you will want to pay it a visit.
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After our treat, which we shared with friendly sparrows on the porch, we walked down the steps to investigate one of my favorite places–Mid Mod Collective.  I cannot afford one stick of the restored vintage furniture they sell here but boy do I wish I could.  They also have retro knickknacks and even vintage clothing.  Mostly it’s just fun to browse and feel like you’ve gone back in time.
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Mid Mod Collective shares space with The Book Eddy, a vintage book store that’s occupied various spaces in Knoxville over the past 20 years or so.  We had a great time browsing there.  My big finds were a board game from my high school years and a 1945 edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette.
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These places are all located in the Old North Knoxville historical district so our last activity was to spend a little time driving around the nearby neighborhoods and talking architecture (Victorian and Craftsman, for the most part).  Lorelei is obsessed with House Hunters recently and had asked me about Mid-century Modern, which gave me the idea for these activities in the first place.  Who says television can’t be educational?
We visited the Knoxville Museum of Art on Wednesday.  The museum is free, there is abundant free parking, and besides their permanent collection and the local artists they showcase there is always a new exhibit to see.

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The KMA Gardens

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Lorelei playing with a giant Lite-Brite

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Posing with one of their favorite pictures, a painting of the Grand Canyon by Daingerfield

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Looking at one of the Thorne Miniatures

Take special note of that last picture.  The Thorne Miniatures are absolutely amazing and the KMA is fortunate to have nine of them.  They were housed in the Dulin Gallery, predecessor to the KMA, when I was a child, and I am not the only one to have fond memories of them judging by the reaction when I shared pictures of them on Facebook.
I don’t have any pictures of our Thursday jaunt, which had to be a short one due to a dentist appointment.  I took the kids to Starbucks for Frappucinos, using up some gift cards I’d been carrying around!  They had never set foot in one before, so this was actually more exciting than I thought it would be.  Then we went to the Dollar Tree, which is always a hit.
Friday’s fun consisted of our drive to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, where we are vacationing with friends.  I couldn’t take any pictures since I was driving but WOW was it a beautiful trip.  I’m sure I’ll have lots to share when I write this up next week.
Catch up on our other summer adventures here, here, and here!