Tennessee Volunteers

Although it is in fact ALMOST football time in Tennessee, I am not talking about THOSE Volunteers!  No, I am talking about the ones that appeared in my garden this summer.

Last year I planted zinnias for the first time ever.  I didn’t know anything about them, and I had no idea how bountiful they would become.  I got a couple of six packs at Kroger or somewhere, and they got bigger and bigger and bloomed and bloomed all summer long.  So of course I wanted to plant them again this year.  And of course I couldn’t find the same kind this year!

But apparently zinnias re-seed, and so a month or so ago, these appeared.  They didn’t grow where I would have planted them, but I let them stay.

volunteer zinnias

volunteers zinnias 2

I am actually not a huge fan of annuals.  I’ll set out a flat of pansies in the fall, and in the spring put in a few to fill in empty spots or provide a missing color, but in general I am too lazy to want to bother with replanting things year after year.  But I have to have marigolds, and this one below is my favorite kind.

volunteer marigolds

It, too, is a volunteer!  The marigolds I planted THIS year mostly died.  I have never seen anything like this one, though.  I don’t even understand it.  It’s bush-sized now and I didn’t know marigolds could get this big.

garden volunteers

garden volunteer 2

Did you see my other volunteers?  I don’t know what they will turn out to be yet, but I know where they came from.  Every year we get vines like that all over the front yard, anywhere that pumpkin seeds fell when we carved our Jack O’Lanterns.  Last year we got all excited thinking we would have pumpkins.  I transplanted every one I found over in the side yard, and was disappointed when they instead grew various kinds of gourds, something that apparently happens with hybridized crops.  So I don’t know what’s going to happen here, and even though I hate to pull up vigorous and healthy plants, these are getting so long that I will probably have to.

Do you have volunteers in your flowerbeds?  Any suggestions for me for plants that re-seed reliably?

Answer Me This #18

It’s Sunday so it must be time for . . .


1. What is your favorite picture book?

Oh, what a hard question!   I don’t really have one favorite, so I will just name the first favorite to come to mind:  The Runaway Bunny, which I like even better than Goodnight Moon, a more famous book by the same author.  This way of showing a mother’s love is SO much more appealing to me than sappy things like I’ll Love You Forever and its ilk.  I wrote about other favorite kids’ books here.

2. Are you a boycotter?

Not on a grand scale.  I avoid Nestle products as much as possible due to their flouting of the WHO code regarding advertising of formula in Third World countries.  It’s not making any difference; I know that–it’s about me, not them.

3. How do you feel about cheese?

I love it and am so happy that low carb eating allows it after I have spent my life avoiding it and feeling guilty about the fat content.

Lunch one day this week, including feta cheese

Lunch one day this week, including feta cheese

4. How many pairs of sunglasses do you own?

Three, which were purchased for me by my son Teddy a couple of years ago, I think for my birthday.  Before that, the last pair I had were blue and I purchased them at Cracker Barrel in 1986.  I had them till the house burned down.

5. How long has it been since you went to the dentist?

I’m not really sure but the embarrassing truth is probably 14 years.  I know it was before William was born.  We don’t have dental insurance, and I don’t get cavities, so it hasn’t seemed like a priority, especially since I brush obsessively several times a day and even in the middle of the night.  I plan to add a dental plan next year now that we are used to paying a monthly health insurance premium.

6. If you could visit any religious site in the world, where would you go?

First choice, Vatican City.  Second, Lourdes, where I have already been with my grandmother when I was 17.

For more fun answers, check out the linkup at Catholic All Year!


Welcome to my Sunday Snippets post, and thanks to RAnn for hosting and for inviting me to the linkup!

Question of the week: Introduce yourself. Some of us have been participating for a long time; others are relative newcomers. Take a minute and briefly tell us about yourself and your blog.

I’m Leslie. :-)  I’ve been married to John for 23 years, and we have five children:  Emily (23), Jake (20), Teddy (19), William (13), and Lorelei (9).  We live in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is my hometown.  John is an attorney who works from home, and I’m his assistant.  I also do some contracting work for a non-profit my mother is the community organizer for, and this year I am homeschooling Lorelei.  I therefore do not have as much time as I would like to write in this blog, which I started four years ago as a new avenue for my writing after my long-time stint as a columnist for the local Catholic paper came to an end.  I write about pretty much anything I feel like:  parenting, marriage, Catholicism, life issues, politics, education, homeschooling, recipes, books . . . you’ll find it all here.  Thanks for visiting!

This week I started as I always do with Catholic All Year’s Answer Me This linkup.

Next I linked up with What We’re Reading Wednesday.

I wrote about books again the next day, writing about five books that changed my life.

I continued my series on my homemade homeschool curriculum.

And finally I finished up with an update on my family’s adventures with Obamacare.

I hope you’ll check out some of these posts and come back to see me again if you enjoy them!



It’s been a couple of months since my last update, and things have been happening (and also some things have not been happening, as you will see!).

When I updated you last, I was complaining about the bureaucratic elements (mess) involved in Obamacare, AKA The Affordable Care Act, despite my overall satisfaction.  We were waiting to get a letter notifying us of our official hearing on the appeal I filed to try to get Teddy, William, and Lorelei covered.  Well, I am still waiting.  I have never received a letter or a call or ANYTHING.

However, I also told you that I was going to have to submit another huge batch of financial information, and proof of citizenship, and I don’t know what all else.  So I got that all together and went to upload it to the (still very user unfriendly and prone to crash) website, and could not for the life of me figure out where to upload the documents.  Last time I think I just mailed them.  So I called the help line.

This is the first bright spot of Healthcare.gov, and I want to reiterate it:  The people who staff the help line are efficient, courteous, and knowledgeable, and there are no ridiculous hold times such I have experienced with, for example, TennCare (40 minutes or more).  This guy was quickly able to tell me how to upload the documents, and also said that he thought from looking at my account that it was a mistake anyway.  I wasn’t taking any chances, of course, so I did upload them, and thought I would also take a moment to ask him is he knew anything about my appeal.

Naturally, another department handles that, but he told me if I wanted we could reapply right then for the rest of the family, and that if we were successful, they could be covered by the first of the next month, and that the deductible we’d already met would apply for them as well.  He did it for me while I stayed on the line and supplied the information, and lo and behold, one hour later, everyone in our family was on the way to being insured!

He also put in a request to make it all retroactive to my original application date.  They’ve since denied that and I am getting ready to file yet another appeal.

Our premium did go up as a result of the addition of three people.  We are now paying $411/month, which I am quite sure is still pretty darn low.

What have we been doing with all this awesome health insurance?

Emily, William, Lorelei, and Teddy have all gotten checkups now and have been pronounced in good health.  William and Lorelei both got some immunizations, and Lorelei had several icky warts frozen off (she was very brave!).  John and I both saw the dermatologist.  Y’all, I have been dreading that checkup for years.  Skin cancer runs in my family and I was sure I would hear some awful news.  Instead, the doctor told me I have relatively light sun damage and she doesn’t think I have anything to worry about! (I celebrated by coming home and laying out in the sun.  Just kidding.  Sort of.)  Teddy and I visited the chiropractor yesterday.  Now if you know anything about chiropractic you know it usually takes at least a couple of visits to straighten out whatever brings you there (sciatica, in my case).  So in the past, as a self-paying patient, I would usually try to get by with one visit.  But with a co-pay of $8, I think I’m going back Monday.

Now you know that as a result of all this care and support, John and I have both made some significant dietary changes.  John has now lost 20 lbs., and I’ve lost approximately 40.  He had his blood drawn last week and will find out on Monday whether his numbers have improved along with his weight.  I won’t have another checkup till October some time, but I can tell you that I feel great, have lots of energy, and can walk four miles up and down hills on a summer day without dropping dead.

John and I smiling and feeling healthy!

John and I smiling and feeling healthy!

I wrote a post on my five favorite low carb things to eat a couple of weeks ago and y’all, the page views on that post went out the roof!  So I expect people might be interested in hearing in a little more detail about some of the dietary changes I’ve made, and I’m planning a post on that next week probably.  But for now let me just share one amazing change that I am incredibly proud of:  I now drink my coffee with NO SUGAR AT ALL.  Only cream.  And anyone who ever saw me drink coffee before will know how huge that is!

If you would like to read all about our healthcare triumphs and travails, please see below:

The $64,000 Question, Answered

Who Are the Uninsured?

Uninsured No More

ObamaCare Update

ObamaCare Update 2

ObamaCare:  My Latest Update

ObamaCare Revisited

Answer Me This #16

It’s Answer Me This time again!


1. What do you still want to do this summer?

With school starting tomorrow here (yes, I know that is ridiculous), summer is effectively over for us.  Before the end of summer by the actual calendar, I’d like to take the kids to Dollywood, at least.

Lorelei at Dollywood last Fall

Lorelei at Dollywood last Fall

2. What’s your favorite kind of pie?

I don’t know how to begin to answer that!  First thing you need to know about me is that I am known for my pies.  Although we haven’t done it in years, we used to have a yearly Harvest Party at which we served pie, pie, and more pie, all made from scratch, crust and all, by me.  I made 30 or more and we invited everyone we knew.  I would make pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan, apple, and combination pies.  Oh, and did I mention that the pumpkin pies were made from ACTUAL PUMPKINS, not the canned stuff?  I must have been stark raving mad.

Anyway, I love all those pies.  But I also love lemon meringue pie, and key lime pie, and the chocolate pie my mother makes, and various berry pies.  I don’t think I can name a favorite, honestly.

Pumpkin pies from last Thanksgiving

Pumpkin pies from last Thanksgiving

3. How much sleep do you need each day? How much do you get?

This summer, I’ve set my alarm for 8:30, which means I’ve gotten at least seven hours a night and sometimes more.  During the school year I typically get six.  I haven’t needed to nap this summer, so I’d say I should be shooting for at least seven every night.

4. Do you prefer to swim in a pool, lake, river, or ocean?

I’ve never really swum (Is that right?  It looks so wrong.) in a lake or a river.  I enjoy the ocean occasionally but I don’t like sand and also I’m scared of the ocean.  So I prefer the pool.

Lorelei's first swim of the summer

Lorelei’s first swim of the summer

5. Do you know any poems by heart?

I’m an English major, so yes.  :-)  And I’ve blogged about this topic before, which you can see here.

6. Do you use the public library?

Every summer I go to the library the first week or so, and invariably at some point, despite the VERY BEST of intentions (hello, Road to Hell) I don’t turn them in on time and end up with so many fines that I can’t use my card (or Lorelei’s, or William’s) until I either pay them down or (what I actually do) wait until I can clear them by bringing cans of food for the hungry or school supplies for underprivileged kids.  It’s terrible, because I really do love the library.  We used to live within walking distance of one, and we walked there weekly in the summer for story time, summer reading, and playing in the park out front.

For more fun, check out the rest of the linkup at Catholic All Year.

Did you think I’d given up writing on my home-made homeschool curriculum?  Think again!  It’s just that I’ve been busy actually DOING homeschooling, as school began last week.  And so far it is going pretty well.  Today I want to write on our Reading curriculum.

I did have to order some new textbooks because some of mine were lost in the fire.  That makes me really sad because a few of them had been around a long time–they were discarded textbooks from St. Joseph that they were giving away back when I was younger than Lorelei.  It’s a sad commentary on  . . . something . . . that Catholic textbooks are no longer used in Catholic schools.  One of the best aspects of Catholic education is that the faith can be woven throughout the day and not confined to religion class.  How much more true that would be if Catholic texts were still available!

But the Internet being the marvel that it is, I managed to find what I was looking for:  fourth grade Catholic Readers from the 1940s and 50s.  I have a mixture of New Cathedral Readers and Faith and Freedom Readers, and I have a few secular readers I’ve collected over the years as well that we can use if we finish the ones we have.

Right now we are reading New Times and Places, and Lorelei is enjoying the stories, most of which teach Catholicism by showing Catholic people doing Catholic things in the course of their regular lives.  Most days of the week somewhere in the middle of our school day I just tell her to start reading and after about 30 minutes I tell her to stop, and then she tells me about the stories, which she is always eager to do.

reading book


As you can see, there is nothing NEW about this book.  But that’s why I like it.

reading book 5

reading book 4

reading book 3

reading book 2

I love the old-fashioned pictures, the innocence, the simple piety of these books.  I love that Lorelei is learning about living the faith even as she does her reading lesson, but in an organic way, not a preachy way.

On Fridays, we switch gears and I have her read and do some exercises from a workbook I bought somewhere, which includes short segments on Guinness Book of World Record Winners.  I just thought that looked fun. :-)

When she finishes this first reader, she already has a chapter book picked out to read.  I’m going to have her read that and then do a book report.  Then we will start on the next reader.  And we will just keep going until we run out of year.

Jake and William were not confident readers, so I started them in the third reader, and we would take turns reading aloud to each other.  Lorelei, like Teddy, is fine to read on her own at grade level, and I expect we will move into 5th grade readers later in the year.   The problem with Lorelei is that she’s not that into reading.  She likes to read once she gets started, but unlike Emily (and me) it’s not the first thing she thinks of when she has free time–that would be t.v.  That’s why it’s important to me to make extended and interesting reading part of our curriculum this year, and why I’m going to concentrate for now on READING, not talking about it, or answering questions about it, or doing lessons based on it.

I’m a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, to Five Favorites, hosted by Mama Knows, Honeychild.

five favorites

Let’s talk books today.  I don’t know how I would go about making a list of my five favorite books ever, so instead I will call this Five Favorite Books that have changed my life.  And if that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s really not.

1.  Humanae Vitae

If you are Catholic, this book should need no explanation.  It SHOULD.  But sadly it probably does.

This is the papal encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI which confirmed the Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control.  But it doesn’t just condemn; it also explains, and does so beautifully.

Of course I grew up knowing that the Church was against contraception.  But in spite of 12 years of Catholic school, no one ever once explained WHY.  I went into college thinking that this was just some sort of old-fashioned and unimportant idea that I should feel free to ignore.

Then I took a Christian marriage class at Georgetown and read this book, and my life was changed.  And the change went deeper than just my understanding of this one issue; it also affected my relationship to the Church.  Because it was in reading this that I realized that Church teachings have explanations, that they aren’t just pronouncements from on high.  I decided right then that before ever disagreeing with the Church, even in matters of conscience, we must first read and reflect on its teachings.

2.  Let’s Have Healthy Children

When I found out I was pregnant with Emily, the first thing I did was go to the library and look for books to check out.  This was in the first batch, but I soon bought my own copy and annotated it heavily.  Adelle Davis’s findings remain a topic for debate today, but I remain convinced that the regimen of vitamins that I took while pregnant and breastfeeding are responsible for my children’s vibrant good health.

When my kids were babies I introduced foods to them the way Davis suggested too.  I have continued to believe that nutrition is the key to good health even when I didn’t always follow Davis’s guidelines.  The effect of the dietary changes I have recently made on my health confirms this belief!

3.  Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

Besides the practical advice Kippley provides on breastfeeding, her stance on mother/baby togetherness formed the way I parented my children.  I didn’t know then what attachment parenting was, but Kippley told me that babies should be fed on demand, that nursing wasn’t just about food, that extended nursing was normal, and that mothers and babies shouldn’t be separated.

Before I read this book I thought of breastfeeding as something you did to give a baby a good start before weaning to the bottle at six months or so.  I would never have imagined myself nursing children until three or four years of age, and I wouldn’t have understood the parenting aspects of breastfeeding that go far beyond nutrition and shaped my mothering as well as my children.

This book also changed my life because it turned me into a breastfeeding advocate, which led me to develop online friendships with like-minded people that endure to this day, after our breastfeeding days are done.

4.  Childbirth without Fear

I never did have the all-natural childbirth I dreamed of when I first read this book, although I got closer each time.  Still, this book changed my life by influencing the way I viewed childbirth, by encouraging me to be skeptical of all interventions into this natural process, by leading me to read further (Painless Childbirth; Thank You, Dr. Lamaze; The Experience of Childbirth; Open Season), to take Bradley and Lamaze classes, and to become an advocate for myself in this area.  This book set me along the road that led to two successful VBACs after three C-sections.  It led me to connect with others who felt the same way who were a support for me and taught me so much.  And it contributed to my attitude toward medical intervention in general, because it became clear to me that doctors can be life-savers but that we have a responsibility to learn about our own health and advocate for ourselves, not just blindly follow medical advice “because doctor said so.”

5.  Kids Are Worth It!

If you’ve read this book, and you know me, you’re probably thinking, “What’s she talking about?  She doesn’t parent her kids anything like what this book says!”  And you’d be correct.  But we all need something to aspire to, right?  I know that this is the best parenting book I’ve ever read because I keep coming back to it and quoting from it.  I don’t disagree with one word in it and I only wish I’d read it before I had so many kids and was already overwhelmed and making every possible mistake!

Still, even when I don’t follow the principles of this book, I can see where I’ve gone wrong and why, and that’s something, isn’t it?  There’s always hope.  And especially as my kids have gotten older I take comfort and advice from this: “Is it life-threatening? Is it morally threatening? Is it unhealthy?”  That’s helped me pick my battles.  Now that William is 13 I probably should re-read the teenage section of this book and see how I can improve this time around. :-)

That’s it for this week.  If there are any books that have changed YOUR life, I wish you’d tell me about them in the comments!


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