My Word for 2017

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“Onward” is my word for 2017. It came to me in an email from a friend who was inquiring about housing for a friend of hers, who lost her home in the Gatlinburg wildfires. When I told her we had already rented out the condo once we moved back into our home, she thanked me, added a few niceties, and ended the email with “Onward!”

Pioneers in Romania, 1986

Pioneers in Romania, 1986; source: Wikimedia Commons

It totally took me back to my childhood. In Communist Romania, school children were “Pioneers” – a scouting organization of sorts. Our motto was “Onward!” We used to have regular assemblies and the Pioneers’ Leader would say, “Pentru gloria poporului și înflorirea României socialiste, pentru cauza partidului, înainte!” (“For people’s glory and Socialist Romania’s flourishing, for the Party’s cause, onward!”) and we would answer, in a chorus, “Tot înainte!” (“Onward still!”)

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So silly. It sounds both silly and surreal looking back on it, not to mention that it gives me chills to think that I went through such a regime. For this reason, “Onward, Christian Soldiers” has never been one of my favorite hymns.

However, once that friend put it in an email after we went through a national disaster and historic fire, the word changed its meaning. It became a good slogan, a positive slogan, something survivors mutter under their breath, after having thought they would lose their lives together, in the fire. So onward we go.

This new year starts with several challenges for us on the home front, as we still need to do some remodeling at our house after the wildfires. But our routine has been so drastically interrupted, we need to get into a better routine before we get disrupted again by spring break.

We are still waiting for our insurance to settle our claim satisfactorily. The same is going on at my husband’s hotel, Zoder’s Inn and Suites. It’s a long story, one that is still unfolding. Maybe I will tell it when it is over.

Homeschooling is going well. The children are growing and I have learned the yearly routine by now: testing in March means that we focus in January and February (with some breaks for sanity if needed) and then in April and May we are home free or, at least, we are in the home stretch. Spring break will happen after testing, during the last two weeks of March.

Then summer will be upon us, with camps and leisure and library visits. And, hard though it seems, August will roll around before we know it and this time I will have a fourth grader and a second grader. My, my. I am coming up in the world.

Hopefully, through it all, we can continue all the routine of extracurricular activities: orchestra, violin, piano, tae kwon do and soccer. The kids have asked for tennis and swimming but we have no time. Period. I told them something has to give and they don’t know what.

And then it will be Christmas all over again, and a new year, 2018. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s to a studious, prosperous, and happy new year, 2017! Onward, onward still!


Full credit for the picture: By G.B. – Personal files. The copyright holder granted me permission to upload the photograph to Wikimedia Commons and release it under the following Creative Commons License., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Tuesday Tome Week 52 – The Talent Code

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We had to read The Talent Code during the month of October at the Anna Porter Public Library Group Book. The author, Daniel Coyle, traveled all over the world to talent hotbeds: Russia for tennis, upstate New York for violin and other instruments, Brazil for soccer, Costa Rica for baseball.

The Talent Code

The subtitle says, “Greatness is not born. It is grown. Here’s how.” So the whole book details how a small tennis club in Moscow can produce more Top 20 female tennis players than all the American tennis academies combined in the last decade. And how all these other places can produce the best violinists etc in the world. It turns out, they have similarities, the talent hotbeds.  Continue reading »

The coach or teacher is usually somebody older than 60 years old. Somebody who has seen a lot, who does not have small children to tend to at their own home, somebody with a lot of patience, but also somebody who will not let you off the hook if you make mistakes – somebody who does what Coyle calls “master teaching.”

The Russian kids will not even touch a tennis ball for the first six months or so of training. They only work with their rackets, learning the motion of service and others. That’s right. They swing in the air hundreds of times a day, hours upon hours.

The violin players – that’s a different ball game altogether, but you can recognize the principle of deep practice there, too – the second principle of building greatness and cultivating talent, according to Coyle. These are Suzuki players, and in the beginning they don’t even have an instrument. They listen to the songs they will eventually play over and over again, until every sound has been ingrained in every fiber of their being. Then, they start holding a cardboard violin. After six months, maybe they will graduate to an actual violin and a bow.

The other principle is ignition or intrinsic motivation or passion. A lot of children will not persevere through music lessons or tennis practice unless their parents make them. But then comes the moment – and many children can identify that moment – when something came up on the inside, like a light that got turned on. They started liking their instrument, their sport, their hobby. They started more then liking it. They started loving it. And the more they love it, the more they practice, the better they get, and the more they practice, because they see the results of their hard work.

Brain research has shown how talent is just a very thick layer of myelin, wrapped around the neurons. Practice makes perfect, but practice has to be deep practice – perfect practice builds myelin. For instance, if you can recognize the song a violin player is playing, he is playing it too fast. And there are other things which I will not detail here.

It’s a fascinating book and I loved it, but most people at my book club did not, for various reasons. To each his own. This book inspired me to be even more careful with the habits I am allowing the children to develop in their practice whether it be violin, piano, spelling or math.

Merry Christmas!

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We are home for Christmas, which was our contractor’s goal after the wildfires and the damage at our house. But our house is not completely fixed yet. The wood flooring has to be replaced all over the house due to water damage after a tree fell and punctured the roof in several places, followed by rain that night.

Christmas at Downton Abbey

Christmas at Downton Abbey is a 2-CD collection of traditional Christmas melodies sung by some of the cast members from the iconic TV series and others

We are thankful and counting our blessings though. The children opened presents earlier in the morning and were very excited to receive new things to build and play with. We draw strength from their enthusiasm and childlike excitement.  Continue reading »

We had dinner at home and my husband’s mom came over with her husband. I cooked a simpler meal than at Thanksgiving: vegetarian turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, walnut gravy, salad with Olive Garden dressing, steamed corn, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie. We drank different Martinelli sparkling non-alcoholic ciders. Christmas at Downton Abbey played in the background – my favorite Christmas collection for two years now.

In other words, we had a good Christmas dinner, like many of you, I am sure. I really enjoy being at home, in my kitchen, laying a nice tablecloth on the dining room table, and seeing my family eat. It’s the simple things in life that bring us the most satisfaction.

As far as homeschooling, we started a Christmas break last Wednesday. For the next two weeks, we will only cover Bible, violin and piano. The children have received lots of new toys and books to engage with and I need to decompress after a very busy year. Don’t we all.

Tuesday Tome Week 51 – Joy in the Morning

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We had to read Joy in the Morning by P. G. Wodehouse during the month of November at the local group book I attend. I did not enjoy the book, but I read it anyway. I made the most of it, let’s put it this way.

Joy in the Morning

My conscience would prick me if I did not, because when I commit to something, I follow through. Plus I think it is a good challenge to put up with a book until you finish it. It’s like dealing with a relative you don’t like but whom you must see around now and then. It’s good for your character. Continue reading »

In short, the book was too silly for my taste. Sure, I enjoy jokes a lot, but the overall message of the book ranked on a silliness level I do not find appealing.

This is just one of many books, which stand alone, but they feature the same characters: Jeeves and Bernie Wooster. So if you like this one, have at it, there are several more to enjoy in the same vein.

In retrospect, the title of this book came in handy toward the end of the month of November, when my family had to evacuate Gatlinburg due to wildfires. Ironically, a silly book which I dismissed became a source of encouragement and its title a mantra I had to repeat to myself whenever I got discouraged and worried during the process of fixing our home and business.

A few things I did enjoy about the book:

  1. Biblical references – the title itself comes from several verses in the Bible which say something along the line of “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” – a reminder to all of us that temporary crises are just that, temporary, and good times are sure to come; our test will become our testimony.
  2. Wodehouse’s writing style – the sentences were well-written and the self-deprecating humor, British par excellence, gave me a chuckle here and there.
  3. Shakespeare does not teach you anything, but it sounds good – that’s what Wodehouse says and I happen to agree. Glad to hear it from somebody else’s mouth.
  4. Like an Old Testament minor prophet who was having a bilious morning – what a great phrase! Wodehouse got me laughing out loud with this description.
  5. Steeple Bumpleigh is the name of the small village where the action takes place – it sort of reminds me of Downton Abbey.
  6. Lord Worplesdon cracked me up during the twists and turns of the plot, as he got shock after shock. His reaction every time was, “What? What? What? What? What? What? What?” Don’t you feel that way when you homeschool sometimes?
  7. Jeeves, the butler, is an intellectual who knows Latin, Greek, the Bible, Shakespeare and many ways to get out of trouble. Very impressive.

Gingerbread House Decorating

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We spent two weeks and two days in our “life boat,” as my husband calls it – the condo where we had to live after the wildfire from Chimney Tops engulfed our city of Gatlinburg. Even though our home has not been completely renovated after the wind and water damage, we felt it was important to move back in, so that a family who lost their home to the fire could move into our condo.

Boy and girl decorating a gingerbread house

Our children decorating a gingerbread house at the condo.

This evacuation may have been a life-altering event, but we have made many great memories at this condo. One of them was decorating a gingerbread house with the kids. Continue reading »

A couple of years ago we got a kit which had to be assembled first, then decorated. It was – uhm – challenging and not exactly Pinterest worthy. We had fun alright, but frustration, too, as the walls of the house would not stand. That experience cured us from wanting to decorate another gingerbread house for two years.

Boy and girl decorating a gingerbread house

One of the things we brought from home was our daughter’s blue stool.

Last week, we were at Walmart to pick up electrical tape for our violins (that’s another story for another time) and we saw this gingerbread house decorating kit in which the house has already been put together. All we have to do is decorate with the enclosed icing, marzipan, gum balls, and gum drops.

Boy pipes icing onto gingerbread house roof

My son tried to pipe some icicles onto the roof of the gingerbread house. A for effort.

The kids had fun decorating and I let them do most of the work, unless they asked for help. Specifically, they asked me to show them how to pipe the icing on the roof to make it look like icicles. Well, I am no icing diva, but I read the instructions and followed them carefully and we got some icicles.

Gingerbread house decorated by children

The almost final result – they kept adding details even after we declared it finished.

The result is still not Pinterest worthy, but the kids were excited and it gave us a bit of normalcy in this time of evacuations, fires, and high winds. We were displaced, but we found a way to make our temporary home feel more like a home through gingerbread house decorating, among other things. We are thankful.

Tuesday Tome Week 49 – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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One of the 32 classic novels in Western literature recommended by Susan Wise Bauer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written by Mark Twain, the father of all good things in American belles lettres. I was surprised Huck Finn was picked over Tom Sawyer, but I guess I am still learning the subtleties of why one novel is considered more important than another.

Huckleberry Finn

Huck Finn is on the run – that’s the main theme of the novel. The quintessential American quest for freedom is exemplified in his running away from his alcoholic, abusive father, from the religious lady who tried to adopt him and make him into a Christian, and from the rest of the people who mean well, but are doing him more harm than good.

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When Jim, a Negro slave, runs away and meets Huck by accident in the woods, the two band together and run into adventure after adventure. It is hard to read Jim’s language. Twain spelled the words phonetically, the way a Negro slave spoke back then. That really slowed down my reading as words did not make any sense. I ran into the same problem with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, of course.

I know some people refuse to read these books because of that language barrier. I confess that was tough even for me, and I love a linguistic challenge.

The value of any book starts when you find yourself in the story. I found myself in Huck in some ways. Even though my father was an honest man and held a job, he did have a drinking problem. I remember being a child and wanting to disappear from the picture of our not-so-happy family. The scenes with his father were hard to read from that point of view.

Maybe that’s why I found it easy to go overseas for college. It was my own quest for freedom, for wanting to put some distance between me and the domestic abuse I witnessed. In that sense, Huck Finn’s story spoke to my heart.

Tuesday Tome Week 48 – I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression

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The second book by Erma Bombeck which I read was I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression. By now I knew Bombeck’s writing was very dated. Moms from the 70s and 80s relished her writing, but I did not.

I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression

First off, her children are disrespectful and annoying. They take furniture and appliances with them when they go to college. They never return the family car with the right amount of gas. After reading James Dobson and Kevin Leman on parenting, coming to a book by Bombeck makes me want to whisper, “you got it all wrong, Mrs. Bombeck!” But, of course, she could not hear me anyway. Continue reading »

With all due respect to a deceased author, I did not enjoy this book. It was funnier than the first one I read, about motherhood as the second oldest profession, but it still did not help me in any way.

So I chuckled because she is funny in the way she presents things, but her chaotic family life makes me want to travel back in time and space and help her put her life in order. Her overbearing mom does not seem so bad after all – she is just trying to help Erma put her life on a schedule.

Her husband – I don’t understand how he allowed her to describe him in such a negative light. Maybe it was because her books were paying the bills more so than his educator’s salary? It was the beginning of the “bash the white man” movement of the 80s. So yes, her books sold well.

Don’t waste you time on this book is what I say.

Our Son’s First KSYO Concert

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I can’t believe I have not shared with you guys about my son’s first concert on the stage of the Tennessee Theater, with the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra. He played with the Preludium ensemble, which opened the concert that night. Erin Archer is the wonderfully talented and patient conductor of this group of youngsters.

KSYO Preludium Concert

Our son (photo center, in jacket) during the concert with KSYO. Photo Credit: Faithful Photography

Kathy Hart, who directs Sinfonia and is the overall KSYO manager, told the Preludium after the concert that their pieces were the strongest opening concert of any Preludium in the 23-year history of KSYO. That’s saying a lot. They really did sound so well that night. Continue reading »

They played Finale by Tchaikovsky and an arrangement of Carol of the Bells by Larry Clark. There is a closeup of my son at the end of the clip, by the way. He is standing, wearing a jacket.

Mom and children at the Tennessee Theater

My children and I at the Tennessee Theater before the KSYO concert

The day before the concert, at their dress rehearsal, I was thinking, “I don’t know…” They still sounded shaky in places, some did not know when to cut off, and Erin Archer kept smiling at them, praising them and encouraging them. I would have been more stressed out about it. But she was right. Somehow the stage changed them and their sound was nothing short of amazing.

Boy and girl in the car

In the car, during the drive to the concert. We live one hour away, so it’s a commitment

My daughter’s ensemble, Overture, is preparing for the concert they will give to the other KSYO orchestras at their holiday party. They are not ready for the Tennessee Theater yet. They are scheduled to take the stage in May, after they have been together longer and honed their skills more. If you think my son’s orchestra is cute, you should see the Overture kids – a bunch of six-year-olds handling tiny violins and cellos. Cuteness overload.

Tuesday Tome Week 47 – Aunt Erma’s Cope Book

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This was the third and last book I read by Erma Bombeck. It was better than the first two but I don’t know if it’s because she is growing on me or because she actually got better in this book. It’s all a blur by now but I know I don’t want to read any more of her titles.

Aunt Erma's Cope Book

In this book, she mocks self-help books. I guess the self-help movement was taking flight in the 70s and 80s when she wrote and all these people in her life were trying to help her by suggesting this title and that title. Continue reading »

She read each one and mocked each one and pretty much said she did not find any help. She was going to be a disorganized mom and housewife for the rest of her life. However, even she notices that somehow she does not miss a writing deadline. Hmmm….

What are we to make of it?

I can only suppose the majority of women in her generation felt that way and acted that way and received validation from her writings. She would not sell many books today. Or am I living in a bubble?

She mocks her children, her husband, her friends, her mom and the clients from her part-time job. I know it’s called sarcasm and self-deprecating humor, but it just seems a little disrespectful, in my opinion. Do you really want to make a living laughing at the people in your life?

If it pays the mortgage, I guess some people are OK with it. I would not be.

Life is not perfect and our families are not perfect, but this mocking tone towards them reminds me of mindless TV shows during which everybody cuts everybody down. What’s the point?

Tuesday Tome Week 46 – Motherhood, The Second Oldest Profession

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About nine years ago, when I was becoming a mom, a friend told me about Erma Bombeck’s books as the solution to any of my future motherhood woes. My friend warned me that a sense a humor was a mother’s most important tool, if there is such a thing as a mother’s tool belt or tool box. And Bombeck was supposed to be the author who captured the humorous in the worst things about motherhood.

Motherhood The Second Oldest Profession

I don’t know why I never got around to reading Bombeck until now. Really. I don’t. I remember vaguely thinking about going to the library and checking out one of her books, but somehow I never made it that far. Continue reading »

It might have something to do with homeschooling – the blessed world of homeschooling which has absorbed me into itself. Now that I think I sort of have homeschooling figured out to the point where I don’t have to read about it constantly, I have finally got to Erma Bombeck.

I was disappointed.

Her books did not make me smile. Instead, they made me angry. Really. It took me awhile to figure out why, but now I know. These books are dated. They are not for Generation X moms who are raising children in a totally different way than the Baby Boomer moms for whom Bombeck was writing in the 70s and 80s.

For one, she quotes extensively from TV moms from TV shows that aired in the USA in the 60s and 70s. First off, I was not born then, so I have no idea what she is talking about. Secondly, if I was around, I was in Romania and they did not air US TV series under Communism in my country (unless it was Dallas).

So I did not get her metaphors, but I got her sarcasm to a degree and she simply came across as bitter and maladroit and ill-adjusted to her role as a mother. You might say that she was humble enough to be self-deprecating, but it did not seem so to me. Obviously, her books helped an entire generation of women to make sense of motherhood. But she did not help me in any way.

Is she funny at times? Yes, she can be. But the subject matter is so sad (her children are disrespectful, her husband watches football for three hours straight, she dreams about a career she can never have etc) that it almost made me not want to finish the book. It was depressing.

However, I am a woman of my word. And when I say I shall read a book per week, I finish the book. It’s a good exercise in patience and patience is a virtue. Don’t read this book unless you want to get depressed.