The Rock Box

Today I did more stuff in the house and worked on autoharp music and went shopping at Aldi. I also did laundry and edited for a while.

The primary achievement of the day, however, was finding the rock box. And yes, it is what it sounds like: a box of rocks. As I was organizing things in the schoolroom, Lucy got it into her head to find the rock box. Only it wasn’t where we thought it was.

We looked and looked. Finally, it was Jasper who found it. He can barely remember it and therefore is not emotionally attached to it like most of my other children are, but he still managed to recognize it and pull out of the cupboard where it’s been hiding.

I’m pretty nostalgic about the rock box myself. It dates back to 1994, when we had just returned to Texas from Africa. I was trying to figure out how to handle homeschooling two kids, since Flynn was now ready for kindergarten. We were on a shoestring budget.

One day I found myself in Books-a-Million, and I saw they had various types of rocks for $2 apiece, the kind where you pick out your rock and then find a little slip of paper telling all about it. I got a rock and the piece of paper and took them home to the kids. I found a flat cardboard box and glued the paper on the bottom in the corner. We talked about the rock–I believe it was tigereye–and everyone got a chance to handle it and admire it.

Over the next few weeks, as we continued to try and settle into our new home and new life, I bought a new rock every time I went to Books-a-Million. We learned about each new rock and we had quizzes, where I’d put the rocks on the table and the kids had to identify them. Once Flynn learned how to read, I could remove the rocks from the box and then let him or Lina put them back, with each rock on its correct label.

Once we had all the different kinds of rocks that Books-a-Million offered, our collection became rather static, although from time to time I did add a new rock or two, even if they didn’t have labels. Every so often, we’d pull out the rock box and see how many the kids remembered. We never glued the rocks to the labels.

Now, after years of obscurity, the cardboard box is falling apart—but the rocks had quite a comeback moment this evening. Lucy wants to mount some of them and frame them as a decoration for her wall. We showed them all to Jasper and put them on their correct labels. It’s funny how a little thing like that can bring back such a flood of memories, and the flavor of that long-ago time when the kids were little.

A Much-Needed Respite

Today, the forecast was for fine, warm weather, and I decided that we needed a little break, despite all we still have left to do before both Walter and our guests arrive on Saturday. It has been a rough week in a lot of little ways.

So, I let the kids sleep in a little and then I got them up and we got ready to have a picnic lunch at the lake. We picked up some simple picnic food on the way and drove on out there. It was very warm and sunny and we had the windows wide open. Jasper was sure he would want to go swimming.

We got there to find that the lake is still very high–just about five or six feet from the picnic tables.

2-11-16 lake

In fact there were multiple lines of debris even farther up, showing where the water line had been in the past. The highest line was within ten feet of the parking lot! The tables would have been completely underwater, which explains why the benches no longer have any paint on them.

So anyway, we had a nice picnic and then just sort of loafed around enjoying the solitude and the water lapping right at our feet and the blue sky and the occasional sailboat passing. Jasper changed his mind about swimming. As always, I took plenty of reading and knitting, but mostly I just sat in my chair and soaked up the fresh air.

We weren’t able to stay long because we had to get the car back for Mercy and Spencer to use, and we had a stop to make on the way. Lucy is feeling a powerful urge to experiment with pottery again, and to show Jasper what she’s learned, so we stopped at the hobby store and got a box of clay and some shaping tools. Should be interesting to see what they come up with.

This evening I worked some more on the schoolroom. I am trying to get ready to sell and give away all the school stuff I don’t need anymore. I also moved my desk 18 inches (well, it was Spencer and Jasper who actually moved it). This has made a huge difference in the functionality of my office nook.

I finished a quick knitting project this morning and started a new one this afternoon. This little projects are to bolster my morale before I tackle a reknit project. I have been dismayed to discover evidence of moth damage. Two balls of yarn that I had lost track of have turned up this week, both with many strands eaten through by moths. And a capelet I made last year has two holes. I am hoping I can rip it back below the holes and then knit it back up, piecing the yarn together as needed. And maybe I need to get some mothballs!

Hanging in There

I had high hopes for this week. I don’t have to teach, and I have a list as long as my arm of stuff I want to get done while Walter is away and before we have house guests arriving on Saturday. Alas, things are not going as smoothly as I might have hoped.

First of all, there is the problem with the van. It died on Friday while we were on our way to Dallas. Spencer drove it to campus and then couldn’t get it to start again. So on Saturday, I actually rushed home sooner than planned so that Spencer and Mercy could use the Suburban to go to work, only to find that they had borrowed a vehicle from someone else!

I was quite confident that the college mechanic would have the van going in no time. But no. In fact two brilliant mechanics went over it and couldn’t get it going. So, that means we are back down to one vehicle this week, which means I can’t do anything in the evenings because Mercy and Spencer need to use the car for work. And there is the looming sense of doom about the van. When Walter gets back, we will no doubt have a much better picture of how much money it’s going to take to get the van back on the road—if that is even possible.

Then there was yesterday. After having my book “short-listed” with a publisher and getting my hopes up, it was rejected. Again. No matter how much I try to steel myself against rejection, it always hurts. So, I have a policy of allowing myself one day to cry and mourn and feel sorry for myself. I will post a full report on my writing blog, but suffice it to say that there were a lot of tears. It was only after two cups of tea, three episodes of Jeeves & Wooster, and a LOT of knitting that I was able to regain my equilibrium, if not my fighting spirit.

Thanks to all that knitting, I finished a project and even got it sent off in the mail today before I took Jasper to his piano lesson. Spencer also applied for a passport today.

My projects in the house are not going as well or as quickly as planned, but I am making headway. This evening, after watching a movie with Lucy and Jasper, I got them to carry out my number one goal for the day, which was the big chair switcheroo. I knew it was going to be a big project, and it was.

The first step was to get my recliner out of my office nook in the schoolroom. That chair has served me nobly and well since my kind husband got it for me a few years ago. However, I have succeeded in wearing it out. Since moving it around over Christmas and then into my office nook, it has begun to list ever more surely to port, which has made it less and less comfortable. The frame is literally coming apart. I realized that the time had come to say goodbye to this chair.

It was a huge project getting the chair out of the nook. My job was to move everything out of the way so that Lucy and Jasper could manhandle the chair and get it out of the schoolroom and through the dining room without breaking anything. We all thought that was the hardest part of the project, but we were wrong.

The next step was to get the old wingback chair out of my bedroom and move it to my office nook. This chair was once a rocker which we got second-hand about twenty years ago. When the metal rockers broke, Walter the Mighty made a new wooden pedestal for the chair and even installed a drawer in it. Although old and shabby, the chair has a good sturdy frame and I think started off as a pretty good quality piece of furniture.

The frame is not only sturdy but bulky, and the pedestal adds to the bulk. Getting that chair out of the bedroom, through the hallway and dining room, and into the schoolroom was a real challenge. Tempers flared. There was much grunting. I kept moving more and more things to make way. At last, the old chair was in its new location. It doesn’t rock or recline, but it should last me at for a while.

The last step was to move the much flimsier red wingback chair from Jasper’s room (where he doesn’t want it) to my room where the old chair used to be. That was the easiest part of the whole process. Now to put everything back and rearrange things to make our space more efficient.

Not My Favorite Day

Today I got some housework done and then Lucy and I went out for a mother-daughter lunch. We had a nice chat and some good food. When we returned, I made the mistake of checking my email before going to lie down for a few minutes. I received distressing news and will refrain from further comment until tomorrow, when I hope to be able to be more objective.


Well, I have to admit that although I miss my husband, there are some compensations when he’s away–like reading in bed and sleeping in till 7:30!

I spent most of the morning preparing for and then doing the “big” weekly shopping at Aldi. The primary task of the afternoon was getting Jasper to the 4-H meeting. They got to do a fun gardening activity.

The kids helped me with some work in the kitchen after supper, and hopefully we will get more done tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Walter chauffeured his mom to various appointments and got two teeth pulled. Nonstop fun over there.

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

All I ask is that if you sing it, sing it like you mean it!

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

William Williams

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield;
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.

Hear a Welsh Choir sing it:

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

A Book Binge, a Mishap, and Nyama Choma

Since Walter’s flight for Georgia left so early this morning, we had planned on driving to Dallas yesterday and spending the night in a hotel near the airport. I was cunning enough to get a hotel with an airport shuttle so that I wouldn’t have to get up in the dead of night to drive my husband to the airport!

So anyway, we left a little before noon yesterday and had lunch on the way. Our first stop was Half Price Books, a favorite browsing spot, and one that brings back memories of our courtship. When we were dating, my future husband would borrow a car (well, actually my friend Don’s van) on Saturday nights. Instead of taking me out to eat like a normal boyfriend, we would eat at the college cafeteria and then he’d take me to the bookstore and let me pick out a paperback book, while he picked out one for himself. Is it any wonder I fell for him?

I found a couple of books and gifts for upcoming birthdays, and also got a Grieg CD for only $2.99. He found a couple of books and movies that he was very happy with. Then we picked out desserts for later at the German bakery and headed for the hotel to check in. (Yes, there is actually a dessert that is gluten free and not too hard on my blood sugar!)

We checked into our hotel, carried our stuff in, and signed up for the shuttle before heading out to our next stop, the import store known as the British Emporium. Flynn used to shop there and bring us goodies from time to time, but we had never been there ourselves. We found the place without difficulty thanks to Nigel (my phone GPS) and pulled into a parking space. Walter got out of the car and I opened my door and started to get out when a big pickup truck backed up right beside me and into the open door of the Suburban!

Yikes! I was sure the door was just going to snap off. Walter was trying to warn the truck driver and thank goodness he pulled forward and took the stress off the door. The door was still attached, but the hinge had been “sprung” and it does not close quite right anymore. Also, it cannot be opened from the inside. The guy in the truck felt terrible. He was as nice as could be, especially considering it was his birthday and he was on his way to his birthday dinner when he backed into our car! When he realized Walter was on his way out of town for a week, he decided to call his insurance company right away to report the incident and get the process going.

Meanwhile, I went on into the store as it was only going to be open for another hour. It was the kind of store that is very dangerous for me–where I want virtually everything inside but most of it is priced well beyond my budget. I did splurge on mug, because obviously I don’t have enough yet, right? I also found a tin of black treacle that I simply had to get for old time’s sake:

Black Treacle

This is what they used to make treacle toffee at Sakeji when I was a girl.

I also found some jelly babies for the kids and a few other similar goodies. They had Marmite but I currently have a stockpile so I didn’t need to get any! I looked in vain for my favorite soft drink, Schweppes Bitter Lemon, but all in all I was happy with my choices. If you remember my exhaustive search for rhubarb a couple of weeks ago, then you’ll understand how happy I was to find canned rhubarb in this store. However, at $5 per can I found I could continue to live without it!

Our original plan had been to eat at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant, but it was on the other side of town and my husband was not at all thrilled at the thought of driving over there. As we have gotten older, he likes big city driving less and less, and I can hardly complain since I have never liked it at all!  So I did some research on my phone and found an African restaurant that was fairly near our hotel.

It wasn’t Ethiopian, but it was definitely African! A sign in the front window proclaimed, “The Best Goat Meat in Town.” That boded well before we even stepped through the door. Everyone in there was African, except us. That was also a very good sign. The cook/waitress brought us the menu and it became clear that the food was mostly West African, with a few East African dishes as well. She told us to pick our drinks from the glass-fronted fridge by the wall. You can imagine my unbounded delight when I discovered several bottles of Schweppes Bitter Lemon!

After studying the menu and trying to figure out what would be easiest on my blood sugar (since I was splurging on my favorite soft drink), I decided on nyama choma, which is just grilled meat, served in this case with very authentic greens and fried plantains. I asked for a side order of goat meat, because I wanted to see if it really was the best in town.  Walter went for the grilled fish.

While we waited for our food, the three men at the next table spontaneously broke into song. What with the smell and the Bitter Lemon and the prospect of nyama choma and three African men singing in glorious harmony right beside us, I was overcome with homesickness.

Our food arrived. Walter’s grilled fish was just that–an entire large fish grilled to perfection. It took some work to get all the meat off the bones, but it was worth the work. My food was also excellent, though the waitress had forgot to bring the side order of goat. When I went to pay up, I grabbed a few extra bottles of the Schweppes to bring home and hoard for very special occasions. The waitress apologized for forgetting the goat meat and put it in a to-go box for me. She also knew I had lived in Africa by the way the words “nyama choma” rolled so trippingly off my tongue when I ordered my meal! So we had a nice little chat about that.

I had noticed there was an African grocery store a couple of stores down from the restaurant, so we of course went to check it out. It was truly African in that there was very little variety! Lots of maize meal and rice and lots and lots of palm oil. I did get some palm oil as we still have Africa coming up in Geography. They also had some lengths of African fabric hanging up along the walls. I was thrilled, until I looked at the first one I thought was pretty and saw the price was $45! Granted, I believe it was a 6-yard length instead of the standard 2 yards, but that is still pretty pricy! On the other side of the room I found another piece of fabric that was high quality and drop-dead gorgeous. I coveted it from the bottom of my heart. However, when I saw the price tag, I was cured. $75! I walked out of there with just a jar of palm oil and some Eno salts. The lady at the store also pegged me as from Africa because, I think, I was a white lady in an African store!

All in all, if it weren’t for the car door mishap, it was a pretty satisfying day. We retired to the hotel and made tea to drink with our German desserts. We also tried the goat meat, and it was indeed delicious. The restaurant’s boast was not an idle one.

Walter had to get up at 4:15 this morning. I did not get up. After he left, however, I found it very difficult to get back to sleep, so after getting breakfast at the hotel I went back to my room and took a nap before driving home!

The drive home was uneventful  and filled with Grieg and it was good to be back. Walter had arrived safely in Atlanta before I ever even checked out of the hotel this morning. He will be spending the week helping his mom and sister like he did last year at about this time.


Last Shoe Hope Dashed

Yesterday I just ran out of time to post before I got too sleepy. One thing that I did yesterday was to take my broken clog to the cobbler. I didn’t want to throw out my only pair of shoes without making at least an effort to resurrect them. He took one look at the damage and proclaimed, “The only thing to do with those shoes is throw them in the trash.” *Sigh* That was one time when I would have loved to be wrong!

In the evening Jasper and I went up to the church. We don’t normally attend prayer meeting because of Walter’s work schedule, but last night was different because we’d be participating in a group Skype session with our dear friends Don and Gwen, who will soon be coming for a visit. The members of the church wanted a chance to talk to them and learn a little more about their ministry in Zambia before they get here. It was good to see and hear them!

Today was a geography day. It was the easiest one for me so far, since Haley made the main dish and since I didn’t have to go pick her up. So I had more time to prepare for the class. We were in Central Europe today, so we enjoyed a Swiss and German meal and watched a video about Poland and Prague.

Jasper and I were supposed to go to the bee meeting in Whitehouse this evening, but I was so tired after class and he really didn’t want to go either. I feel a little guilty about not going, but we will try for sure to make the local meeting this month as we start getting closer to the season when we are going to be needing to get more bees.

Tomorrow, Walter and I will be going on a little adventure in the Dallas/Fort Worth area before he flies east early Saturday morning.

SFS Strikes Again

I don’t often think about my handicap, because most of the time I hang out with people who know me, and who know that I am not only sentient, but at times capable of coherent thought. Yesterday, however, I was reminded once more of my debilitating SFS. SFS, for those of you not aware of my problem, stands for Stupid Face Syndrome. It’s okay. I’ve accepted it. I have a stupid face and as a result people assume that I am stupid on a fairly regular basis.

Yesterday, I had to go pick up a prescription from a pharmacy that is located in the basement of the hospital’s parking garage. I had never been there before, nor even known that it existed, but they have an agreement with my doctor and they gave me a great discount.

The prescription I needed was for a different kind of insulin that comes in a “pen” rather than a vial. The pen has to be fitted with a new needle each time you use it. What I’ve been doing is using a whole new syringe twice a day to give myself injections. So anyway, in addition to the pens, I also had to get the little needles.

The pharmacist came up with the little box of needles, looked at me, saw my face, and asked, “Do you live alone?” I was puzzled by his question. Was he afraid I’d go crazy and OD on insulin? I told him I lived with my family and he seemed relieved. Then he launched into an awkward explanation of how to screw the needle unit onto the pen. It became obvious that he believed I might not be bright enough to screw one thing onto another thing, and he wanted to make sure there might be someone smarter in the house who could show me how to do it. *sigh* It was easy.

Today I had my English class to get ready for and teach. I have turned at least two of my students into Jotto enthusiasts. I’m so proud. I print out the game sheets and they play it during their break.

I thought you might like to see a photo of the progress on Jasper’s treehouse:

2-1-16 Jasper's treehouse with walls

He has happily done his math up there the last two days!

Parting Shot:

2-2-16 Rudy's grave

Spencer made a marker for Rudy’s grave.


Happy Hearts

Recently I was in Aldi and a young mother came in right behind me with her two adorable children–a three-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. From that moment I had a front-row seat to a very entertaining family drama.

Once inside the door, the mom talked sweetly to her kids and told them they could walk through the store with her, but if they misbehaved they would have to ride in the cart. Both of them wailed in horror at the thought of riding in the cart! (I had to laugh at that since my kids all LOVED riding in the cart!)

As we progressed down the first aisle, the kids both did a pretty good job of behaving themselves. They were so eager to help Mom pick out the groceries. By the time we all got to aisle #2, though, the little girl didn’t want to stay with Mom and the cart. She started running ahead. Her brother was a little uncertain at first, but he seemed poised to go exploring also. The mom called them back. The girl didn’t want to come. Mom had to go fetch her and bring her back to the cart.

At that point Mom followed through on her promise and lifted both children into the seat area at the front of the cart. (Aldi carts have room for two kids there.) From their reactions, you would have thought she’d ripped the living hearts from their bodies. They wailed and screamed and writhed as if the metal bars were burning them. “It’s too crowded in here!” shrieked the little girl. Mom stood firm. “I’m sorry, but you will have to stay there until you have a happy heart. Then maybe it won’t have to be so crowded.”

“My heart IS happy!” sobbed the little girl. Mom kept a straight face. “I’m afraid I’m the one who will decide if you have a happy heart. You have to show me with your actions.”

At this point the cherubic little boy looked up and saw me. I gave him a huge smile and he smiled back. His sister was still too busy throwing a fit. Mom pushed them around the store, speaking kindly and gently to them all the way. She allowed them to help choose certain items. She reminded them from time to time that the goal was for them to have happy hearts. The girl stopped crying and became sullen. Then she began to perk up. By the time Mom was ready to check out, both children were content, if not happy.

I wanted to run over to that young mama and give her a big hug and congratulate her for understanding something that so many other young mothers don’t, and that is that one of her biggest responsibilities as a mother is to help her children learn to control their emotions as well as their behavior.

One of the ways I did this with my kids was with goal-oriented timeouts, very similar to what I witnessed in the grocery store. I have been baffled to see so many parents using timeouts as punishment. If their toddler misbehaves, he is sent to the timeout chair for a maximum of five minutes, after which he is free to go right back to misbehaving. I don’t see how this results in a lesson being learned. The child learns to count down the seconds in timeout and then go on with whatever it was they were doing.

In contrast, I always saw timeouts as a way to help my kids learn to control their emotions and calm themselves down. When I had a child who was misbehaving or being disrespectful and obnoxious, I would take them to a chair and have them sit down. “You only have to sit here until you can be happy,” I’d say. “When you believe you are happy and ready to get up, call me and we’ll have a talk.” The goal of the timeout was a change in attitude, not a certain number of minutes.

I had one child who at times preferred an hour of screaming to calming herself down. She knew that all she had to do was stop crying and cheer herself up, and she’d be instantly released, but she wouldn’t do it. Over time, I helped her identify and employ her soothing activities. When I saw storm clouds on the horizon, I would leap into action. “Quick! Get your blanket!” She would run to get it. “Climb on the couch!” Up she’d go. “Now I want you to stay there until you can be happy, okay?” She would nod. Sometimes she would need to go through her soothing routine multiple times before she was ready to climb down. It wasn’t a punishment. It was training. The day came when she didn’t have to be told to run to a safe place and calm herself down.

Another daughter was a thumb sucker. After a certain age, she wasn’t allowed to suck her thumb anywhere except her bed. When I saw signs of a looming meltdown, again I would rush to head it off. “Get your blanket! Now run and get on your bed!” I would follow her and explain, “As soon as you are happy and ready to be kind to the rest of us, you can get off your bed and come out.” Sometimes, once she got on her bed and started sucking her thumb, she would realize she was exhausted and fall asleep. When she awoke from her nap, she’d be sunny and cheerful. Other times, she’d need a few minutes to calm down on her bed and then she’d come out with a completely changed attitude.

This is what I thought timeouts were for–not to punish a child for wrongdoing, but to help him or her learn to let go of anger and make a choice to be cheerful. I’ve always felt that the earlier you can help a child to master his emotions, the better it will be for everyone concerned. I’m sure I could have done a better job than I did, but I’m also convinced that my efforts resulted in kids who were not prone to tantrums and meltdowns, because they knew first of all that they would not be rewarded in any way for negative behavior, and secondly they knew how to stop the process and reset their attitudes. It warmed my heart to see that young mother doing such a great job of training her kids to control their emotions. This entry is my salute to her and all the others like her who are in the trenches with preschoolers every day.