Monday, June 28, 2010

Down from the mountain and into the valley below.

My daughter and I spent the week high in the Cumberland area of the Appalachian mountains. As I drove the behemoth ClifFORD the Big Red Van (15 passengers) up and down twisty, rutty, nearly invisible lanes to pick up and deliver children, I discovered the real meaning of UP and DOWN the road.  Not until Friday, when we had a couple of hours to explore, did we find an overlook that revealed just how high up we were.

Mountain T. O. P. (Tennessee Outreach Program) combines a day camp experience and work projects for families living in the most threadbare circumstances. Our group staffed the day camp. Other groups completed construction and repair projects at various homes throughout the county. Most volunteers were between the ages of 13 and 17; two adults accompanied each day camp or work team.

Mountain T.O.P. likes to have a one-to-one ratio of teen volunteers and day campers so each child has the personal attention so many of them crave. I watched sophisticated, "with it" teens just melt as a child grabbed and hung on for dear life. Parting on Friday was very difficult.

My job was to pick up 8 children each morning and return them each afternoon, a 2-hour one-way van route (our team totalled 5 teens and 2 adults, so we filled every seat of that 15-passenger tank.) Children emerged from rusting trailers and small, tired houses excited for a week filled with crafts, games, explorations, service, and hearty lunches. For many, the lunch we served was the only meal they had that day. I empathized with the parents' obvious love for their children - they may do without in creature comforts, but their children were clean, well clothed, and beautifully mannered.

One day we had lunch at the home of one of our daycampers. This was a big deal for the parents who agreed to host us. We provided all of the food and they welcomed us into their homes (or yards, if they preferred). Our child was initially very anxious about having us visit her home. But her mother had stayed up past midnight (after working an afternoon and evening shift) to make us cupcakes and had set a blanket under a shady tree in the yard for us. Our very loud appreciation (sugar!!! shade!!!) eased her into happy pride.

Another day was spent in service - the children discovered that they, too, could serve others in need. We sorted donated clothing for the Appalachian Women's Guild while another team planted shrubs and pulled weeds around the Grundy County Courthouse.

Many, many memories resound . . . Jacqueline, who proclaimed in a rich Tennesse accent that "my daddy says Ford is evil, but it's okay for me to ride in your Ford."

Jacob, whose gravely rendition of "Little Red Wagon" gave me great pain as I tried to control my giggles. (You can't ride in my little red wagon! The front wheel's broken and the axle's draggin'. Chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga.)

Anna Beth and Emily, two teen volunteers who know the words to every single chant, cheer, song, jump rope rhyme, and more and who repeated them over and over again to the children on demand.

The slimiest, grossest bath house ever - let's just say that Mountain T.O.P. puts its fundraising to work for the families in its community, not in its own camp facilities (as they should).

The inevitable prank, when unknown teens set out two ten-person tables in the middle of the camp's three-acre activity field, complete with plates and silver, water cups, and napkins.

The Greutli-Laager Dairy Barn, bliss at the end of a 2-hour van loop, just before returning to camp.

Outdoor worship services surrounded by trees, lit only by candle and starlight.

The Mountain T. O. P., sung loudly and enthusiastically by the 152 volunteers serving this past week.

That song is stuck in my head.

Now I'm back . . . to air conditioning, a grocery store within 2 miles of my house, a van to take us whenever and wherever we need or want to go, a job, and all the take-for-granted elements of life here in Dunwoody.

Little of which is an option in Grundy County, Tennessee.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Packing up.

My daughter and I are traveling to the Cumberland area of Tennessee's Appalachian Mountains for a mission trip with St. Luke's Presbyterian Church. Half of our group of 30+ will do repairs and light construction on homes in this very poor area; half will conduct a day camp for 20 or so children. We're in the Day Camp crew, and I'm very much looking forward to meeting the children in our charge. I'm driving a 15-passenger van for the first time in many, many years and will be responsible for picking up, shepherding, and delivering each child in my charge to and from their homes.  I'm sure the backing up part will get better with each day's practice.

The organizers of the various mission trips we have each year figured out that trying to stow a wide assortment of luggage shapes and sizes was the biggest headache at the beginning and end. So they ordered one duffle bag for each participant. Everything . . . clothing, bedding, tools, toiletries, amusements, pillows, rain gear, shoes, Bibles, etc. . . . must fit INSIDE THE BAG. Since ours is the first mission trip to use the bags, we're the guinea pig of sorts for how much better things go.

The extra-large bags are huge. Nonetheless, packing to fit the available space has been both a challenge and an opportunity. Do I really need this extra pair of pants? Can't I make do with one pair of shoes all week? Will I have time to read more than one book? Can I use a small backpack instead of a purse? Should I go au naturel and not blow dry or style my hair all week - hence, no dryer or hair stuff? Do I leave vanity at home and take a servant attitude instead?

The basic routines of my daily life seem superfluous when confronted with such limitations. Perhaps our organizers understood that limiting us to a single duffle bag would be both a spiritual and a practical lesson.

They're pretty smart that way.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In my inbox

I get lots of valuable information sent directly to my inbox. Thought I'd mention a few Dunwoody and Atlanta-centric ones in case you'd like to enjoy them, too!

Aha! Connection - Audra Anders has a ever-increasing distribution list where she passes on news items, opportunities, and community news to people in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs (and beyond). Recently, she's been a linchpin for a local family involved in a very scary boating accident in Florida (they're home safe and sound at last), shared postings from people looking for plumbers and nannies, advertised area garage sales, and shared a half-off coupon at our new Butcher Shoppe. Email her at to get added to the list. 

Groupon - This is so cool. You pay a little and get a lot.  Groupon sends email offers for huge discounts at restaurants, Paper Affaire, tourist attractions, and more, many with long expiration dates. For example, I used an offer with Paper Affaire to purchase $50 worth of thank you notes for just $20. Today's deal is $98 for an introductory helicopter flying lesson from Air Atlanta Helicopters, usually $220. No, I won't take the deal. But I know a few daring souls who will. The website keeps a counter of how many people take advantage of an offer. And each offer expires from the website fairly quickly.

Recipes - The older my kids get, the less time I have to indulge one of my favorite hobbies: cooking. So the recipes I get from Allrecipes and the Fresh Market are often exactly what we have for dinner. A few easy ingredients, a stop by Publix or Fresh Market, and . . . yum.

Atlanta Unfiltered - Since I no longer read a paper copy of the AJC, many interesting articles are buried in that website's rather disorganized filing system. So Jim Walls' Atlanta Unfiltered, straight-to-my-inbox news briefs are a wonderful bridge.  One of the more hilarious parts of his site is the salary policy page - how much various executives are paid. Wow - some nonprofits must have major operating budgets because their CEOs and Executive Directors make more than the entire Dunwoody Cluster of PTSO's, PTA's, and Executive Council volunteer budgets combined.

Atlanta on the Cheap - you can link to this website via the AJC, but it's ever more useful to get info directly from the source.  Atlanta on the Cheap does just that - helps you enjoy the metro by taking advantage of special deals on everything from tourist attractions and restaurants to goodies for the family. For Father's Day, you can enjoy: 
There are more. Many, many more. But I've had to trim the list so my inbox doesn't make me feel like a slacker if I'm not doing something every single day.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Camp rules.

The Knitternall family tends to do things somewhat more slowly than other folks. When friends were sending children to High Harbor back in 3rd grade, my kids said "no way." They loved the slow pace of nothing-to-do at home, so we didn't push it. My son did his first week-away camp at the Woodruff Boy Scout camp near Blue Ridge in 6th grade. My daughter waited until just this summer, between 7th and 8th grade, to head to the Pine Acres Girl Scout camp at Lake Allatoona.

Boy Scout camp is roughing it in every possible way. Disorganization reigns, boys camp in troops with their own leaders in charge of their schedules and behavior, and the goal is to end the week without changing clothes, showering, brushing teeth, or deoderant. Other than the leaders accompanying and supervising them, the boys are largely incommunicado from family back home. (Picking up your smelly, filthy Scout at the end of a week like that is quite a testament to unconditional love.)

Girl Scout camp bridges roughing-it and comfort quite adeptly. The entire week is highly organized, from large signage directing parents to various check-in stations and the requisite swim test to camp counselors assigned to each group of girls. Parents do not stay with their daughters - this is truly a week away. My daughter has an airconditioned cabin linked by breezeways to a main gathering room and shower facility. (The camp also has platform tent camping sites that are furnished with comfortable bunks and steps away from nice bath houses.)  I'm able to see photos of her activities posted to the website each day.

Am I suggesting that one camp is better than the other? Nope. Because most Boy Scouts really like the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of their anything-goes, down and dirty summer camps. And most Girl Scouts like a sleepover party feel for their week away from home.

The best thing about summer camp? Mom DOESN'T rule for seven magical days!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Why do guys like to wander around the house in their underwear?

Why does my daughter think her room is tidy when the floor is covered with tossed clothing, all the drawers are pulled open, and the closet doors are gaping?

Why does nearly every completely bald guy have one of those mustache-and-goatee things?

Why does the dog cower at the distant sound of thunder but bark excitedly at the garbage truck?

Why do some people pull their cars WAY to the left, even into oncoming traffic, before turning right?

Why are Dunwoody families either Kroger or Publix shoppers - when the two grocery stores are just 2 miles apart?

Why does organic milk have an amazingly long expiration date while other milk expires almost instantly?

Why are so many highly disorganized people in charge of projects needing a high level of organization?

Why do MARTA subway drivers bother speaking over the intercom when all passengers hear is garbled nonsense?

Why am I regularly just behind the car that pokes along and doesn't make it through the yellow light at the interminably long stop light at Dunwoody Village Parkway and Mt. Vernon Road?

Why Justin Bieber?

Why do contractors swear they'll be finished on schedule . . . when they never are? (NEVER. EVER.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Life's funny that way.

Musings . . .

1. At some point, I decided that I was going to be very selective about the new things I learn. Every time we get a new cell phone or audio/video component or computer, the learning curve changes. Not that it's necessarily harder - it's just new. I'm tired of having to reconfigure, input, troubleshoot, explore options, set my preferences, download, rewire, and customize technology to make it as simple and straightforward as possible. It's like a recipe: if it has more than six ingredients and more than one isn't already in my pantry, I'm just not interested. I'm capable - I'm just not willing to invest the time in every single cool new thing that comes along.

2. In this age of online mapping, websites loaded with instructions and information, and the handy dandy phone, why do people get in their cars and head someplace THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO GET TO?  My favorite telephone calls begin with "can you tell me how to get there?" when they're EN ROUTE. Well, where are you now? Do you have access to a computer? Do you have a road map in the vehicle? Can you pull to the side of the road so you can safely write down the directions? Oh, you don't have something to write with - or on? So you're calling me at every intersection to make sure you're going the right way?

This happens all the time.

3. One of my favorite people has the most marvelous attitude about challenges: you can fight, flight, or flow. She chooses flow every time. So as tensions mount and confusion reigns, she's an oasis of calm and can-do. She reminds me of that tortoise in Aesop's fable: slow and steady win the race.

4. Nature has its own rhythm that is contrary to the Disney-esque expectations of our somewhat cloistered daily lives. Weather isn't always picture perfect, animals and insects don't perform on cue, baby birds and squirrels fall out of nests and become prey for hawks, mosquitoes like the early evening as much as we do, poison ivy and poison oak lurk everywhere, and rabbits like the same vegetables we do. Rather than try to control nature, it's best to go along with it.

5. I've learned a new dress standard: "Dunwoody Casual." A friend asked me about appropriate attire for an evening garden party. "I assume Dunwoody Casual is fine."  I'll have to look that one up, but I wonder if it includes a tennis skirt?  

6. A Dunwoody High School student named Danny Kanso organized a brigade of volunteers from the DHS rank and file to help before and during the Butterfly Festival. He showed up early, kept a list of the ones who showed up, tracked their hours, made a copy so I could log them into Dunwoody Nature Center's database, and checked on everyone to make sure they were on task. I highly recommend him to every future college and employer.

7. Camp trunks leave home perfectly packed. They come home looking like my kids' bedrooms.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dunwoody's Giving Spirit.

This week, as we rev up for the 2010 Butterfly Festival at Dunwoody Nature Center, each day has brought a cadre of volunteers to the park. Monday through Wednesday, the Dunwoody Chapter of the National Charity League had mom and daughter teams creating a festive Butterfly Boutique out of an ordinary classroom, hanging signs, pouring wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mulch onto the large creekside field, and prepping craft materials.

They were joined today by Danny Kanso and his Dunwoody High School cohorts, who are volunteering just because . . . they like to volunteer. 

Meanwhile, Reverend McLaughlin of North Atlanta Church of Christ drove several practice runs with one of their brand new buses. The church members generously offered to provide shuttle services to the satellite parking at their facility during the Festival.

Hands On Atlanta sent dozens of volunteers to help with preparations as well. Tables and chairs moved out into the park, signs point the way to various events, and shortly the giant butterfly tent arrives from Florida, courtesy of Greathouse Butterfly Farm.

Dunwoody Nature Center's energetic Board of Directors, volunteers all, have been busy with the Monarchs and Margaritas fundraiser at the home of Carole and Jim McWilliams. 2010 Event Chair Mary Millar has been a calm and experienced center to the maelstrom of plans and preparations.

Tomorrow, more than 200 volunteers will staff concessions, discovery and craft stations, traffic patrol,  entertainment, admissions, and more.

The Butterfly Festival is a microcosm of similar events in Dunwoody (think Lemonade Days, the Arts Festival, the Fall Festival, Soapbox Derby, lots and lots of charity fun runs, and others). In every case, volunteers  drive the engine and make things happen.

What's particularly humbling is how so many people say "yes" to giving their time and talent for the benefit of others.

I love living in Dunwoody.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thank you for an amazing, wonderful, lifechanging Odyssey adventure.

 Dunwoody Homeowners Association's 2010 Odyssey of the Mind Middle School Team: Kendall Lowrey, Max Noto, Jack Jarrell, Will Bass, Anna Grace Nall, Sofia Gonzalo, Jennifer Kiser

From the moment the Dunwoody Homeowners Association's Odyssey of the Mind Middle School Team took second place at the State competition and discovered they had qualified for the World Finals, life took an abrupt and magical left turn.

Fundraising and practices, prop repairs and practices, paperwork and practices . . . all at the same time the kids were wrapping up classes and taking final exams.

We left for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Michigan State University on Wednesday, May 26 and fell happily into a Looking Glass populated by 6,000 left-turn thinkers and that number again of coaches, chaperones, organizers, and other volunteers. Splendid silliness and happy camaraderie were the rule at Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. NASA was there, encouraging the next generation of out-of-this-world problem-solvers to consider a universe of possibilities in their futures. There were opening and closing ceremonies with an Olympic-style parade of nations; a Creativity Festival that challenged kids even further with fun-filled problems; teams from Russia, Poland, Singapore, China, Mexico, and more; and a never-ending cavalcade of teams with costumes and props made from cardboard boxes, duct tape, pvc pipe, bubble wrap, aluminum foil, and lots and lots of materials found curbside and at the local dump.

There were 63 teams competing in Discovered Treasures Division II; the team's final scores placed them in the top third of their peers, a very satisfying result for their first time "at bat."

By Sunday, as we boarded planes homeward bound, laden with souvenir pins (which gave the security folks fits) and proudly wearing World Finals team shirts, the kids knew they had just made some powerful lifelong memories.

Now we're back in the "real world," with lessons of outside-the-box problem solving and friendly competition now ingrained in each of the team members.

For this experience and opportunity, we say to the generous people and organizations who made the trip possible: thank you.

Team Sponsor
  • Dunwoody Homeowners Association

Major Donors
  • Rotary Club of Dunwoody
  • Griffith Engineering
  • Giant Leap Consulting
  • Georgia Odyssey of the Mind Association
  • Dan and Kay Weber
  • Terry and Pam Melton
  • Sally Abele
  • Jeff and Julie Ackemann
  • Jane Anderson 
  • Anonymous
  • Laura and Joe Bona 
  • Burger King of Dunwoody
  • Thomas and Peggy Bynum
  • Paula Caldarella
  • Diane Campbell
  • David and Kelly Clinch
  • Charles and Sharon Conway
  • Costco, Dunwoody 
  • Dunwoody Arts Festival
  • Richard and Su Ellis
  • Robert and Sandra Evilsizer
  • Dean and Lisa Foust 
  • Fair and Lance Franklin
  • Paula Freeman
  • David and Fran Fuller
  • German and Kathryn Gonzalo
  • Anne Grayson
  • Jack and Stacy Harris
  • Claire Waggenspack Hayes
  • John and Kristin Heneghan
  • Laynne Holloway 
  • Casey and Kate Hopkins
  • Julie and Charlie Hudak
  • Liz and Scott Hudson
  • Jason's Deli/Dunwoody
  • Janelle Johnson
  • Elizabeth and Mark Julian
  • Polly and Joe Keen
  • Doug and Debbie Kelly
  • Tim Kelly
  • Jim and Ceil Kelly
  • Hilary and Don Lancaster
  • Kacie Lowrey
  • Jim and Karen McAlarney
  • Matt and Nicole McAluney
  • Mill Glen Swim and Tennis Club
  • Kevin and Sharon Mims
  • Dan and Susan Mitchell 
  • Jim and Caren Morrison
  • Joe and Sue Munger
  • Joe and Sande Noto
  • Joe and Sherry Noto 
  • Kate and Steve Plumb
  • Robin and Jeff Powell
  • Melanie and Richard Rohrbach
  • Cathy and Pat Sadler
  • Lori and Jay Schultz
  • Valerie Scott
  • Margaret Spalding 
  • Sweet Tomatoes, Peachtree-Dunwoody Road
  • Laurel and Michael Sybilrud
  • Nancy and Rick Wamsley
  • Sue Weinshenker
  • Edward and Mary Wynn
  • Patrons of the Car Washes, Ice Cream Social, Spaghetti Supper, and Dunwoody Arts Festival Booth

Odyssey of the Mind
is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They then bring their solutions to competition on the local, state, and World level. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program.  Currently, a documentary is airing on PBS featuring Odyssey of the Mind -- "ReCreating America: Creativity and Learning."