The Trials & Tribulations of Traveling to Tennessee

So, yesterday did not go at all as planned. The plan was for me to leave for Dallas in mid-afternoon. I would stop and visit my Aunt Marcia in the nursing home and then continue on to have supper with Flynn and spend the evening with him.

What actually happened was that I went outside to roll down the windows in the car when I was almost packed, so that the heat would have time to dissipate at least a little. The windows rolled down just fine. However, the engine did not start. It didn’t even try to start.

Assuming it was the same loose relay as before, I texted my longsuffering husband and before long he came home from work to get the car going again. It wasn’t the relay. Bad news. This meant that the new plan would involve him taking me to Dallas in the van, which only gets 10 miles to the gallon.

When he started up the van, however, the engine started smoking. This is also bad news. I was forced to ask Flynn if he could come get me in the event that neither of our vehicles could be revived.

As it turned out, Walter was able to get the van into usable condition. By then it was late afternoon, and he and Mercy had to go do their cleaning job first. So, we had to come up with yet another plan.

We finally left in the van at about 8:00 p.m. and then Flynn met us in Terrell, which is about the halfway mark between our house and his. We transferred my luggage to his car and by the time we got to his house, it was almost 11:00 and time to get some sleep since we had to get up at 5:00.

After a restless night (for me at least) we were up before dawn and soon on our way to the airport. Flynn did a great job of correctly guessing my terminal, and I checked in with no trouble. The trouble came when I went through security. I merrily put all my stuff on the conveyor belt and then afterwards I was told that my carryon suitcase would need to be opened.
I was not in the least worried because I knew I had nothing in there that I shouldn’t. The lady gave me an earnest look and said, “Do you have anything in here like a pocket knife or a credit card knife?” Note that was a very specific question. “Oh no,” says I. “I made sure to take all that stuff out when I was packing.”

So, she opened up my bag and pulled out the empty handbag I had stuffed into my suitcase for use once I got to Tennessee. Within moments she pulled out a pocket knife, and I cringed. I honestly thought that handbag was completely empty! It certainly looked empty when I looked inside before packing it.

After finding the knife, she continued to look very thoroughly through every compartment of the many-pocketed purse. I was getting a little miffed with her, since she had already found the knife, until I looked up at the x-ray picture on the screen as saw the very clear outline of my credit card knife. Oops! Eventually she found it and extracted it (I was not allowed to touch anything while she was snooping.)

I felt very chagrined. I never intended to deceive anyone. I just honestly thought that I had purged my stuff of all my knives! It would cost more than the two items were worth to check my bag, so I will just replace them at some point.

My flight was delayed for nearly an hour because the plane hadn’t been brought to the gate. After that it was uneventful and uncrowded–a great combination. There was a little hitch meeting up with Mary and Jordan, but we eventually managed it.

Mary and I went to get some coffee and shared a gluten-free muffin before coming back to her new apartment, which is very charming. Before long we’ll be taking off for the airport again to meet up with my brother and his family, with whom I’ll be riding to Crossville, which is where my parents live. Looking forward to a great weekend with my family!

Good Ears

This morning we did school despite a complete lack of interest on Jasper’s part. At least he’s willing to do it even when he’s not in the mood.

I had an early lunch before taking off in the heat for my autoharp lesson. It was really hot and I was more or less soaked by the time I reached my teacher’s house.

This time we could get right into actual playing, since my instrument is now all nicely set up. I played her my arrangement of “The Love of God,” and she played it with me. Afterwards, she said, “You are not a beginner. Not when it comes to ear training. I am very impressed that you figured out all the melody chords as well as the accompaniment. You have a great ear.” Whew! Having a good ear is pretty important if your instrument of choice is one that is mostly played by ear. (Although the mental image makes me giggle every time I think about it.)

She also gave me a list of etiquette rules for jams. I am far, far from being ready to join a jam. However, getting the list made me happy because I believe that means she believes the day will come when I’ll be good enough to jam with other musicians.

Knowing that I am focusing on hymns right now because of playing in church, Ann (my teacher) had prepared several hymns for me work on. They all seem to be pretty challenging, but I enjoy a challenge! We played through them one by one and I struggled mightily to keep up (and mostly failed). After the first couple of hymns, Ann’s husband quietly walked up with a huge upright bass. “Are you joining us?” she asked. “Well, you can’t expect me to hear that good music and not join in,” he said.

So he started playing his bass along with us and I cannot tell you how thrilled I was. It was a big, big deal to me. There was so much joy coursing through my veins that my fingers hardly knew what to do with themselves! Since it was my first play-through, I just kind of stumbled along and strummed a chord here and there as I was able. One of my other lifelong dreams has been to play an instrument as part of a group of people playing other instruments. The tiny taste I had today convinced me that this is a good dream! I’m still savoring those glorious moments.

Today’s lesson only lasted an hour and forty-five minutes, after which it was time to get back into my rolling oven and drive back down to my critique group. I stopped for a quick supper on the way and still made it in time. It was good to get inside the cool library. I took my autoharp in too because I didn’t like the idea of leaving it in the hot car!

Our writers’ meeting (following critique group) consisted of only seven people, including the speaker, but it was still enjoyable and informative. By the time it was over I was ready to head for home, though. Being out in the heat is very tiring for me.

Tomorrow I’m leaving. So much to do! So little time!

A Wasp, Two Classes, & a Tea

I got quite a surge of adrenaline this morning when I went into my bathroom to get ready for my shower and I heard a buzzing sound. The sound was made by an enormous wasp which had apparently moved into my bathroom. Suddenly I was not in a hurry to take my shower.

I skedaddled from the bathroom and closed the door while I went in search of a weapon. Eventually I found a can of bug spray and went back to do battle with the dastardly intruder. Of course by then she (I assume it was a she) was nowhere to be found. The two big questions on my mind were: How did she get in? and Where in the world is she?

The idea of taking a shower again lost its appeal, and I went and helped Jasper with school and printed out about a ream of stuff for my classes and then it got later and later and I knew I was going to have to face my domestic terrorist. Well, I would have faced her but she was still hiding, so I reluctantly got in the shower after carefully shaking out my towel just in case.

All went well, despite my paranoid imaginings, until I was drying off. The buzzing started again and I saw the winged beast fly past the mirror. Good thing I had taken the precaution of having the bug spray in the shower with me. The next time the wasp ventured forth I sprayed and sprayed (from a safe distance, naturally. The enemy sort of staggered in the air before falling into my drinking cup. I quickly turned on the hot water tap and dumped the wasp down the drain, after which I continued to run hot water for a really long time. Just to be sure. Whew!

My first class went pretty well, I think. One boy was unable to make it but otherwise it went off without a hitch. The second class went fine as well, although the boys in that class were not at all thrilled about having to describe a doll.

By the time my students all left, I had about ten minutes to get ready for my first homeschool group’s Mother’s Tea. I have not been to the tea for a couple of years, and in fact I am currently having my annual crisis over whether to stay in the group or not. However, I wanted to see my friend Robin who was also going for the first time in many years, so off I went, bearing deviled eggs which Lucy had made for me while I taught this afternoon.

I should have taken my own tea in a thermos. They didn’t offer any kind of tea that appealed to me, but I settled for some herbal tea just so I’d get to use the lovely tea cup I’d brought.

It actually was quite enjoyable. I sat between my friends Robin and Joan. Among the three of us, we have 20 children and almost 70 years of homeschooling experience. Given that I’ve been at it for 24 years, I feel like I should be more of an expert by now!

By the time the tea ended, I just wanted to get home and practice my autoharp and try out my new thumb pick which arrived in the mail today. I’ve got another lesson tomorrow, which means another drive to Quitman in the brutal heat. It’ll be okay. I can’t put it off because my teacher and I won’t both be in the area again until the end of September.

So, that was my day. The new pick is very comfortable but somewhat quieter than my more traditional pick. I might have to experiment with my playing style a bit in order to get the volume I want with it.

My Jesus, I Love Thee

Sorry for the lack of entry yesterday. Flynn was here and we celebrated Spencer’s birthday and things went very late. We sang the following hymn this morning (with me playing autoharp) so I thought I’d feature it today. Our hymnbook offers an “altered” version, so I’m getting back by posting the original version, which I love. It was written by a sixteen-year-old boy!

My Jesus, I Love Thee

William R. Featherston

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I love Thee because Thou has first lovèd me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree.
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Fear Mongering

Today I posted a link on my Facebook page. For those who didn’t see it there, here it is:

This is one article of many I’ve read in the last couple of years about how we Americans have become so fearful that we don’t let our kids do anything. I used to think this level of paranoid parenting was freakishly rare, but I realize now that it is mainstream, despite the fact that statistically, our kids are safer today than they were 50 years ago. It’s just that when something bad does happen, it’s all over the news for days and it can begin to seem that any innocent activity can end in tragedy and in fact most probably will end in tragedy.

I recently read the account of a woman who faced criminal charges and jail time for leaving her preschooler in the car for less than five minutes on a cool day (so the heat was not a problem). My parents would have been in the poky for life if that had been a crime back in the 1960s.

I have refused to give in to this lifestyle of fear. I want my kids to be confident and independent. I want them to be able to handle problems that come up in their lives, whether it’s an argument with a friend, a minor injury, or a fine point of fort design.

Because of this article, I was thinking back on my own childhood. Before we ever went to Africa, I attended a public school in Royal Oak, Michigan. The school was three blocks away, and I walked there by myself even in first grade. Now here’s the thing: I failed at walking to school. I actually loved school, so it’s not like I failed on purpose. It’s just that I was an animal lover and I had to walk past yard after yard containing dogs. Surely I couldn’t be expected to walk past a dog without saying hello!

So, by the time I visited with each dog along the way, I would be late for school. My parents were informed. What happened next is what I think is interesting in light of how things are handled today. My mom did not start walking to school with me. Driving me was not an option because we only had one car and my dad drove that to work. Instead, she started trying various strategies that might help me be successful at getting to school on time.

She arranged for some other girls in my neighborhood to come get me and let me walk to school with them. Those silly girls had no interest in dogs! So even though I enjoyed their company, I would often lag behind and be the recipient of the dreaded tardy slip. I really should have cared about being tardy, but I didn’t.

Another thing my mom tried was sending me out the door half an hour early, so I could take my sweet time on the way and still arrive on time. Sometimes, it worked. Other times, I got distracted by dogs and would notice all the other kids passing me but for some reason it didn’t motivate me to catch up to them and be on time for school.

My teacher lectured me. The principal lectured me. My parents lectured me. Not once, however, did anyone suggest that I should be herded to school by an adult (at least not in my hearing). The goal was always for me to achieve success on my own–and eventually, I did. After months of tardiness, I started being embarrassed by it. It occurred to me at some point that it was just as easy to visit with the neighborhood dogs on the way home as it was on the way to school. I still slipped up every now and then, but for the most part I got to school on time. Sometimes I even got there early enough to play on the swings before the bell rang.

By the time I was eight, we lived in Africa and my best friend lived on the other side of the station, a mile away. I walked or cycled that mile almost every day to go to her house. I survived all manner of minor incidents, including having a swarm of bees fly into me. When I was nine, and riding home from my friend’s house, I was stopped by two young African men who wanted to rape me. I was too innocent to have any idea what they intended, but I knew it wasn’t good.

I prayed for help and God sent help in the form of a group of people whom my would-be assailants were obligated to greet. I took off on my bike and made it safely home. My parents had talked to me many times about what to do in a situation like that, and I had the confidence to do it. I knew every inch of my route because I traveled it so often, and knew I could outdistance those guys easily once they took their hands off my bike. I want my kids to have that kind of confidence too. I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed or afraid of the kind of stuff that happens every day. I want them to just deal with it and move on! So, if you’ve noticed that my kids seem to have more autonomy than most, that’s why.

Today we got school done and then Lucy took off for the weekend. Spencer and Mercy are spending the evening with friends. I’m trying to get some stuff done and practice my autoharp and finish making my shopping list for the morning.

A Day of Returnings

Today has definitely been a milestone day. First of all, I got a call from the repair shop that my serger was finally ready for pickup. I have not been able to use my serger since June, and I am therefore way, way behind on my sewing. The serger has been in the shop for 2 weeks, after being out for at least that long before to be cleaned and tuned up.
Going out into the searing heat was worth it to bring my serger home! I already have tested it by sewing a seam on the skirt I was trying to make in June. It sews like a dream now. In fact it is so smooth and quiet I realize it must have been having trouble for some time now. And by “some time” I mean years.
At about lunchtime I heard from some missionary friends who are returning to their alma mater to bring their son to the university. I told them I wanted to have them over while they are in town, and tonight really looked like the best option. I did not have any plan that I could pull off in one afternoon. I figured they would love to have our local sublime barbeque, since they both went to school here. So, after picking up the serger, I went to one place to get coleslaw, brought it home, went back out for the barbeque, brought it back, then went to Walmart to pick up buns and everything else. In heat like this you can’t leave food in the car.
I got home from the final errand just in time to start the homemade ice cream and jump into a cold shower to cool off. Wouldn’t you know it–the shower wasn’t cold enough! That’s summer in Texas . . .
Our friends showed up right on time and it was so good to see them again and meet their three sons. The boys were delighted to find that we are a family that appreciates and owns swords. We had a great dinner but weren’t able to visit for very long as they had a required event to go to on campus.

While we were getting ready for dinner, Walter went out into his workshop (the erstwhile garage) and guess what he found? A very hungry, very thin Neko. Now we have looked in the garage for him on several occasions since Saturday. We have called him. Several times people have gone into that room to get something from the freezer, and no frantic cat tried to get through the door to the food and water dishes on the other side. I have no idea why he didn’t meow or dash through the door when he had the chance.

But anyway, he is back. He gorged himself on food and then puked. He’s our pukiest one even at the best of times, so this wasn’t too surprising. Maybe next time he won’t be so eager to check out the workshop!

After our guests left this evening, Spencer and Kat were doing dishes and Spencer dropped a plate and it broke and cut his finger. It wasn’t a really big cut, but there sure was a lot of blood, and Spencer seemed to enjoy walking around and showing it to everyone.

I really need to get busy and practice my autoharp. I haven’t had a chance yet today.

A Family Birthday

Today is a special day. Today my Spencer is 19 years old. He took the day off work to celebrate by sleeping in really late. Here is a photo of him sleeping a few days ago when he never made it to his bed at all:


Jasper and I got through all his school before 11:00, which meant that Lucy and I could go out to run errands.

As I believe I’ve said before, we (Lucy and I) are hoping have a booth at the Texarkana Renaissance Faire this fall, and if we’re going to pull it off we really need to get busy making stuff. So, after taking Lucy to buy her brother a birthday present, we had a quick lunch and then hit the dollar store to buy some supplies.

From there we went to Hobby Lobby, and then to the fabric store. By that point we were both tired so we gave up on our plan to hit a bunch of thrift stores. It was a very hot day and the lack of air conditioning made it pretty tiring to be driving around.

Spencer, meanwhile, was working on throwing himself a birthday party. He invited all his friends to meet him on campus in the media room so they could have pizza and watch a movie. (His family celebration will take place this weekend.)

Since Lucy and Jasper also went to Spencer’s birthday bash, I had some time to myself, which I spent figuring the chords for one of my favorite hymns. It was very tedious and took well over an hour, but I think I ended up with something pretty playable. This was one of my assignments from my teacher–to take a hymn out of the hymnbook and chord it “from scratch,” as it were.

I also did something else my teacher taught me to do. I labeled all my chord buttons on the side so I can see what’s what when I’m holding the autoharp up to play:

8-20-14 Autoharp chord buttons

Doesn’t that make a whole lot of sense? It’s especially helpful now that all the chords are in different places and I have to relearn all my fingering.

Spencer came back with a couple of his friends, and a cool birthday present from Kat–a stereo with a turntable. We thought we had thrown away our vintage record collection–and we probably did, but my husband had saved one record. It is one of the very early Beatles albums before Ringo Starr joined the group. So, we’ve been listening to it. It still sounds pretty good!

Parting Shot:

8-20-14 Eppie on floor

This is our cat Éponine lying on her back. Despite appearances, she is not dead. Her son Neko is still missing, alas.


This morning Jasper and I powered through three math lessons and some English homework. Since he is at the beginning of a new math book, it is all review and going very fast right now. I also got to chat online with Lina for a while, which is always a pleasure.

My autoharp lesson was scheduled for 2:00, and Google said it would take about an hour and a half to get there, so I left at noon to give me time to stop by the credit union and then fill up the gas tank first.

It was a hot day, but I had plenty of water, not to mention Mountain Dew, to make it more bearable driving in the heat with no air conditioning. It helped that it was a stunningly beautiful drive through forest and pasture land. There was also a huge tree farm.

I know that an hour and a half is a long drive for a music lesson–but to be honest, I thought I’d be lucky to find an instructor as close as Dallas, which would be almost to three hours one way. I was thrilled to find someone this close, and even happier because the information I found on the internet said her fees were very reasonable.

She gave me excellent directions to find her lovely home at the end of a country lane north of the little town of Quitman. Quitman’s primary claim to fame is that it is the hometown of Sissy Spacek. And that it has a truly awesome quilt shop.

So anyway, my teacher was waiting for me in her lovely dining room with autoharp stuff spread out in readiness. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. She is a lovely Christian lady and I liked her immediately. First we talked about tuning. I’m doing it right. She was happy with my tuning. We went through the four types of strum that you can do on an autoharp. I’ve done all except for one which will take some practice to master.

Then we talked about the arrangement of the chord bars. Up until talking to her on the phone the other day, I had no idea that you could move your chord bars around to make it more convenient to play in several keys. It sounded daunting, but I figured why not since I had the help of an expert? We pulled the cover off the chord bars, then labeled all the bars and removed them. This would have been so scary if I tried to do it myself.

Then my teacher showed me how to arrange the chord bars so that all the majors are in the middle, with the minors above and the sevenths below. However, in order to make that work better, I needed some chords I didn’t have, and there were a few I did have that she assured me I would not need. That, it turns out, was not a problem. I just had to cut the felts off of the unneeded chord bars and then we glued new felt on, and then she showed me how to mark the felt and cut the gaps for each new chord.

Do you have any idea how mighty I feel right now? I cut my own felts! I had always assumed that when the time came for any of my felts to be replaced, I’d have to sell one of my children in order to be able to pay someone else to do it. I had no idea I could do it myself!

Then, when we were testing the new arrangement, we found out that one of the original chord bars was wrong. That is, it said it was a B flat chord, but it most certainly wasn’t. It sounded horrific. But, because I had expert help, all I had to do was cut the felts off that bar, glue new felt on, and cut it in the right places to make a B flat chord. Problem solved. All I have to do now is relearn all my fingering!

Then, we could finally get to playing a little. She showed me how to know what chords to play for any key, so I can pick out tunes by ear. That pretty much rocked my world because I never learned that when I was taking piano lessons (and neither did she). She was very happy with the work I’ve already done on finding chords I need to play hymns. She gave me several new things to work on. So, even if I don’t play in church again I have plenty to keep me busy.

How long did all this take? Two and a half hours. I loved every minute of it, and I was thinking that even though it was a super long lesson it would be worth every penny. You can imagine how dumbfounded I was when this dear lady refused to take any payment. She just wants to spread autoharp joy wherever she can and asked me to do the same. So, the time and gas money are my only expense. I’m having another lesson next week.

I drove home so happy, singing hymns all the way and thinking how lovely they will sound on the autoharp. Then I got here and no one wanted to hear about my wonderful lesson, which is why I’m inflicting the whole story on you! This really is a dream come true for me.

I haven’t seen Mercy at all today. I am assuming she is having a great time helping with international student orientation.

Mixed Emotions

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days. Yesterday (Sunday) was my second time to play in church. I thought I did okay on the first hymn, but struggled with the second, which was a lot trickier. I really, really hate making mistakes.

After church, our friends Steve and Angie came for the potluck in their honor. Steve’s parents (our good friends) Jim and Joan came also. There was a lot of good food and enjoyable conversation. Steve and Angie had driven all night (from Florida) in order to make it. They fly out to Kenya on Wednesday.

When everyone had just about finished eating, Steve gave a brief update and then I played again so we could sing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” I hope they are able to get everything packed up in time!

One thing I have learned is that playing to accompany singing in church is very hard, at least for me, and takes an extreme level of focus. At this point I can’t play, follow the congregation singing, and sing also. I kept having to slow my playing down to the others’ pace. Maybe it will get easier to listen to the singing and still be able to concentrate on the chords I’m supposed to be playing.

Or maybe I won’t have to. One comment I got after yesterday’s effort was that my playing is hard to sing along with. In other words, my efforts to help by providing accompaniment are not in fact helping. This was a pretty hard pill to swallow, but of course if my help is not “helpful” I will stop helping! And anyway, I have not been given any new hymns to practice for next week. Tomorrow I have my first autoharp lesson. Maybe my teacher will have some insights for me. It is disheartening when you are trying so hard to do something useful, and it doesn’t work out.

When we finally made it home from church, Mercy got word that the girl she was supposed to pick up from the airport would not be flying into our local airport after all, but was in Dallas boarding a plane for an airport located about an hour’s drive away. Newly-licensed Mercy had to drop everything and take off to go pick up this girl. Cecelia is a Korean girl, raised on Figi, who is an incoming freshman at the university.

Cecelia’s plane was supposed to arrive at about 4:00 and Mercy was there in time, but the flight was delayed repeatedly. Poor Mercy was stuck in the airport (which has no amenities) until the plane finally arrived at about 8:30. By the time Cecelia got off the plane, she was in tears and Mercy just gave her a big hug before driving her home to spend the night with us. Her luggage did not arrive with her but fortunately it was delivered here today.

Today both of them were very involved with international student orientation and tonight Mercy is spending the night in Cecelia’s room since her roommate hasn’t arrived yet.

Meanwhile, I spent the morning frantically preparing for two classes. This is the first time I’ve tried teaching two classes in one day. It makes things easier for the two families who have students in both classes. The first class is my regular middle school English class for kids who struggle with language arts. The second class focuses exclusively on writing different kinds of paragraphs.

I took a quick break from my preparations to go to Walmart and buy burritos, chips and salsa for the 4-H dinner tonight, because I knew I would have no time to cook.

The classes went okay, I think. I had a surprise student in my first class, so had to rush to make extra copies of all the handouts. Jasper was very happy that there is another boy in the class.

My second class seemed to go quite well also. I had a lot of information to go through and I hope it sunk in!

By the time my second class ended, the burritos were in the oven and as soon as they were done Jasper and I headed out for the 4-H dinner. (Lucy has dropped out of 4-H.) I was very tired, so I made up for it by eating too much, even though all I could have were corn chips and various types of dip. Jasper is “3rd vice president” of our 4-H club this year, which means he is supposed to recruit new members. That should be interesting.

Finally, we have an ongoing mystery here. Our cat Neko hasn’t been seen since Saturday. We have looked in every room and closet. We have called. We have listened for meows. Nothing. We are beginning to think that he might have somehow sneaked outside without being seen. It would be really nice to know where he is.

Tomorrow we need to get our schoolwork done in the morning so I can head up to my autoharp lesson in the afternoon. It’s an hour and a half drive. I can’t wait.

Holy, Holy, Holy

This is one of the hymns I played (very badly) this morning.

Holy, Holy, Holy

by Reginald Heber

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!