Summer Fun: The End

School started yesterday.  Our summer is over even though there is a month and a half left in the season!

There wasn’t a whole lot of time for fun in our last week.  It was actually a pretty typical week from one of our other summers–I worked every day and the kids stared at screens.  But that was the ONLY week that was true this summer so I’m calling it a win.

There was a lot to do, as there always is when school is about to start, like haircuts:
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And although I bought supplies online, we still spent most of Saturday shopping because Lorelei needed new clothes.

I promised everyone a trip to the lake in the afternoon, though, and I delivered on that promise.
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On Monday, we had our last big adventure.  I have no pictures to commemorate it, but we wore ourselves out spending maybe three hours at an enormous antique mall.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed it and each got to bring home a few items.

On Tuesday, we went for ice cream just once more as a last day of vacation treat.

And then on Wednesday school began.  No way would William let me photograph him on such an occasion.  You can see how thrilled Lorelei is to have to go back to regular school.
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Thanks for following along on our summer adventures.  Knowing I was going to be blogging about them helped motivate me to continue, and continuing gave me something regular to write about, so it was a great idea all around and I will plan to repeat it next year.

Here are all the posts in order:
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
Adventuring
Home Stretch

Catholic Minimalism Redux UPDATE

Just popping in to update anyone who has been following my minimalism posts . . .
I have NOT stopped, but I have slowed down.  When last I posted, we were moving into Kids’ Rooms Week.
We recently minimized Lorelei’s bedroom in a BIG way–because Jake moved out and we moved Lorelei to a new room!  It doesn’t need minimizing yet.  At some point I will share pictures of her big girl room, and show you what I did with the room she vacated.
As for William’s room, we have done work there in the past and while it does need more I decided it could wait till the next go round, because I had something far more challenging to tackle:  THE PLAYROOM.
Up until recently, Lorelei spent a lot of time in this room, even sleeping here because she had developed a fear of sleeping in her own bedroom.  Since she moved, this space sits vacant for days at a time–vacant of people anyway, not stuff.  I thought if we could make it nicer Lorelei might start spending more time up there, and especially that it might be a good place for her to do her homework as she moves from homeschool to public school in just a few days.
Well, we started.  But we have not finished.  Here’s a preview to give you an idea of what we are dealing with:
playroom 2playroom 3playroom 4playroom 1We have made a lot of progress, but we are not finished.  Given the pressures and time constraints inherent in working at home, delivering on promised summer fun, and getting ready to start school very shortly, we have not been able to work on this every day.
Following the schedule, after Kids’ Rooms came Catch-up week, then Office Week, and now it’s Living Room week.  I wasn’t planning on doing Office Week (the office is a mess, but most of it is out of my control!), but I do want to do some things in the living room, and I still wanted to go back to some of the kitchen cabinets.  I don’t want to wait six months until the next challenge to get to those things!
So, I am going to continue working on this in a sort of mixed up way for the next few weeks, even after the challenge is officially over.  I am determined to finish the playroom once and for all (this is far from being the first time we have tried to tackle it but it gets easier each time, especially since Lorelei is finally able to let go of things.).
I’ll post pictures when the playroom is complete, and I by then I should have an idea of how I plan to proceed.
For more adventures in minimalism, read on:
My explanation of Catholic Minimalism.
Week One
Week Two
Week Three
Week One Redux
Week Two Redux
Week Three Redux

Summer Fun: Home Stretch

It was the second to last full week of summer break, and my pace was slowing, but we still had some fun times!
On Tuesday we had breakfast at Nick and J’s, a former Waffle House now locally owned and serving breakfast and lunch, with the most enormous pancakes I have ever seen.  William ate two entire orders of French Toast.
We followed up breakfast with our very first visit to Plumb Creek Park, which is a five minute walk from our house, that is if there were any safe way to walk there.  Y’all, I’ve known they were building this park eventually since we moved in, which was seven years ago, so I was super excited to finally get to walk around there.  The walking trails are not quite finished but I foresee this as a great exercise spot when it gets cooler.
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On Thursday I kept a promise made two weeks ago when we stumbled across Bull Run Park, and took the kids swimming there.  I highly recommend it.  It’s not crowded. it’s shady, and the water temperature is comfortable.  I found it soothing and peaceful.  But we are buying water shoes before we return because Lorelei cut her foot on something.  It’s not a swimming pool, y’all.
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Friday we left town for a long-planned trip to Nashville, which is about three hours west of us.  The trip had a dual purpose.  First, to visit my sister and her family, and for the kids to see her house; and second, to go the Nashville Zoo.  Both parts of the trip were successful.
We visited on Friday and went to the zoo Saturday morning.  Someday I will write a whole post about the zoo and share more pictures, but the short version is that we were there for about five hours, and it was delightful, with lots of shade, happy animals in lovely habitats, and more opportunities for interacting with the animals than is typical in our experience.  William declared it one of his favorite zoos.
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Summer break is almost over and I’m sad because we’ve had so much fun that I don’t want it to end.  If you want to read more of our adventures, click on any of the links 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
Adventuring
 
 

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.
 

Summer Fun: Exploring History

Y’all, it is HOT.  And our access to a swimming pool is gone.  It is hard to want to leave the air conditioning to have summer adventures, but we managed three days of fun this week.
I couldn’t get it together till Wednesday, when we had to leave the house for an appointment anyway.  Immediately thereafter, we drove downtown to visit Blount Mansion.
I vividly remember my own first encounter with this bit of Tennessee history as part of a seventh grade field trip–I was unimpressed and thought it wasn’t much of a mansion at all!  This time I was absolutely enthralled with such details as panes of glass installed in 1792–the first glass windows in town–and still there to be looked through over 200 years later, and the desk on which the Tennessee Constitution was signed, and William Blount’s very own fancy shoe buckles still in their original box.
Our guide did a great job of bringing history to life for us.  We spent close to two hours in the museum, the house, and the gardens, and Lorelei was NOT bored which she had come expecting to be.
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Thursday we went out for ice cream for the third time this summer. (Did I mention it was hot?) Lorelei and I enjoyed it but William did not like how fast the ice cream melted in the heat (we were very messy by the end!).
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Friday was really exciting.  Last week William had a follow-up appointment with his oral surgeon in Oak Ridge.  There was a traffic jam along our usual route back over the Clinch River to Knoxville, and Siri routed us a way I had never seen before.  Along this lovely country road we spied signs for an historic cabin and cemetery, and we passed right by a park.  On Friday, I told the kids we were having an adventure and we drove back to explore these places.
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We discovered that Bull Run Park has a swimming area and made plans to go back and enjoy it!
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Next we headed to the David Hall Cabin, and were conducted on an informative tour of this two-hundred-year old cabin and a couple more by the one of the owners, whose wife’s father was raised in it.  The Baumgartners live behind the cabins on four of the original 50 acres.  We thanked Mr. Baumgartner for all he and his family continue to do to preserve this history for us to enjoy and learn from!
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After looking at the cabins, we went back into the woods and explored the Arnold-Hall Cemetery, where David Hall (a Revolutionary War veteran) is buried along with other members of the families.  Y’all may know I love cemeteries, so that was a treat for me and the kids indulged me!
That’s it for this week.  I’ll be honest–I can no longer promise to do something every single day.  But I DO have some plans for next week!
For more summer fun, read on:
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

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

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.