A Canine Crisis, An Expo & New Walls

Today was a big day for Jasper. His 4-H group had a room at the local RV & Boat Expo to promote their 4-H activities. Jasper and his friend Sam were there demonstrating their robots.

The day got off to a very rough start, though. Both dogs escaped during the night. Lucy was still up when they took off, and Spencer arrived home shortly after, but he was not willing to go after them in the wee hours of the morning, and to be honest, in this neighborhood I don’t blame him.

The dogs had not returned by morning, and Lucy and Jasper had no luck finding them despite go all over the neighborhood and quite far afield in their search. After they came back empty-handed, I was a little late in getting Jasper to the convention center for his robotics stint.

I clearly was not needed there, and I was glad, because my allergies kicked into gear today and I was doing very poorly for a while there. I came home and took a nap and felt a little better by the time I had to go get Jasper at lunchtime.

He had agreed to go back at 3:00 this afternoon, but when we got there, we found the convention center surrounded by fire trucks and the parking lots full of people. I sent Jasper to find out what was going on, and it turned out the center had lost power and everyone had been evacuated. He still wanted to stay and help once power was restored, so I left him with friends from church and headed home.

I got a phone call before I even reached home, saying that the expo had been shut down for the day due to the lack of power. Our friends brought Jasper home.

He was disappointed at not getting to go back to the expo, but as consolation he got to help Walter build the walls of his treehouse. It was a gorgeous, sunny day in the mid-70s so it was great to be outside. Now the treehouse has lattice-panel walls on three sides and I don’t have to worry that someone will accidentally fall off!

I got some work on Geography done and autoharp practice too. The dogs have not returned. Lucy is beside herself with worry. Please pray that they find their way home!

A Dreaded Visit to the Doctor

Today I went to the doctor. I had to wait a long time, most of it in tears because I was so anxious. She is very overworked, poor thing. I don’t know how she makes it through the day as the only caregiver in a very busy clinic!

Anyway, she had some suggestions for me and some new prescriptions for me to try so we will see if they result in any improvements. Improvement would be good!

This afternoon my friend Robin came for a visit. I hadn’t seen her since before Christmas! It was good to have some time to catch up.

I had hoped to spend some time with my autoharp, but didn’t. There’s always tomorrow!

Greek Food & a Rare Indulgence

I’m not sure what happened to yesterday. I took Lucy to her art class and waited in the car for her. On the way home, we picked up her friend Martha to spend the rest of the day with us.

In the afternoon I took Jasper to his piano lesson and Lucy made spanakopita for today’s Geography class.

Every other spare minute I was researching and preparing for Geography class.

One thing is worth mentioning, however. During the time I was waiting in the car, and while Jasper had his piano lesson, I was reading a book. I finished the book–the first one of this new year. I so rarely have time to read for pleasure these days, it was a real treat. The book I read was The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, the 16th installment of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.  This series, set in Botswana, is like a brief visit home for me. I hope I can find time to read another book soon.

Today was all about Geography. We were studying southeastern Europe, which was a great excuse to make a Greek meal. Lucy had made the spanakopita yesterday, of course, so this morning I got up and made the gluten-free Greek honey cake and then while I was off getting Haley, Lucy made the salad and the egg-and-lemon soup.  I should also confess that when I drove out to get Haley, I was wearing fuzzy socks and slippers, since I don’t currently own shoes. I rarely sink that low, but my feet were cold and I knew I wasn’t going to get out of the car! Oh, and I found the house much more easily this time.

When we returned to the house, we had a delicious meal. I love Greek food. We also enjoyed watching a couple of videos about Greece and then talking about many of the other countries in the region. I have been to Greece, but I want to see all the rest too!

Tomorrow I’m going to the doctor. I’m pretty sure she’s not going to be happy with me because I was supposed to go see her in October.

Zambian Food & Meetings

Today was one of those days when I felt a little cowardly from the moment I got out of bed. I knew it was going to be a challenge. I had a lot to do to get ready for my class, and health-wise, I was having a “down” day, so everything was harder that it should have been.

The good thing was that all of my students were able to be here today for the first time this semester. We were going through the note taking seminar DVD, and I was very grateful as I’m not sure I would have been up to teaching all afternoon.

Meanwhile, I was trying to keep track of the food preparations. Mercy volunteered to provide food for a Zambian table at an event on campus, but then realized (just like every year) that she couldn’t actually do any of the cooking. So that left Lucy and I to do it. This meant making several gallons of stew. Lucy did most of the work under my direction and I kept checking on it to make sure everything was as it should be.

Just a few minutes after class ended, I had to leave for my critique group and Lucy was in charge of making the cornmeal mush. I hear she did a great job and the Zambian food was a hit!

It took considerable force of will to make it through my critique group and writers’ meeting, but it sure was good to see my writer friends and get some feedback on my writing. Here’s hoping tomorrow is an “up” day.

My husband, by the way, had a much worse day than me. He worked a full day at his day job, then left to fill in for an employee for several hours, then still had a couple hours left to work his normal night job.



Catastrophic Failure

If you know me at all, you know that I am not a “shoe person.” In fact, I loathe them. I don’t have a single pair of “cute” or even classy shoes. Cute shoes are simply not made for feet that are long, wide, and arthritic. The best I can hope for is “practical” and maybe even “not agonizingly painful to wear.”

I avoid wearing shoes whenever possible. For the last 15 years or so, I have worn flip-flops for most of the year and my brown leather (men’s) clogs for the days when socks and shoes are actually necessary to avoid frostbite. The clogs have gotten me through countless renaissance faires and writers’ conferences.  They are plain and serviceable, and also irresistibly delicious to one of Mary’s cats, which is why I have to stash them in a closet when I visit Mary and Jordan!

Today, though, the inevitable happened. I had an autoharp lesson this afternoon, and on the way home I stopped to pick up a few groceries that I had been unable to get at Aldi this morning. As I trekked from the car to the store, my left shoe felt unaccountably loose. I looked down and saw that the seam holding the shoe to the sole had come loose for a short section.

Deep sorrow filled my soul. Those clogs wore like iron and I wanted them to last forever. It is so, so hard for me to find shoes. I tried buying a second pair of clogs several years ago but never wore them because they were so uncomfortable. I remember being horrified at how much I had to pay for these plain brown leather clogs–60 dollars! Since I know they are at least 15 years old, that works out to $4 a year for comfortable shoes on those days when shoes must be worn.

By the time I finished shopping in Walmart and headed back to the car, it was rather difficult to keep the shoe on my foot because the gap was growing ever longer. I had to walk funny because I was wearing hand-knit socks and hand-knit socks must be preserved and protected! Otherwise I would have just taken off shoes and walked to the car in socks. The soles, by the way, are still in great shape!

1-25-16 broken shoe

Now I have no real shoes. I have flip-flops, a pair of rubber sandals, fuzzy slippers, and neoprene slippers that I pretend are my “dressy” shoes. Oh, and I have sneakers that hurt my feet. I foresee great discouragement and tears in my future as I try to locate another pair of shoes that are comfortable enough for me to actually walk in.

1-25-16 clogs

RIP, brown clogs.

Winter Weekend

Today started very cold and dark. It took considerable fortitude and willpower for me to bundle up and go out into the cold dark morning. The warmth of WalMart felt positively welcoming. Then, after I got home, I had to go right back out and buy some insulin so that Mercy could use the car to do her shopping.

I had a long list of projects for today and I didn’t get very far on it, but I did get some stuff done. I tried to practice my autoharp quite a bit too. Obviously, I’m playing in church tomorrow, but I also have a lesson coming up and after being sick all month I am definitely not where I wanted to be at this point!

My heroic husband also assembled my new desk chair, which I hope will make working at my desk more pleasant so I will be willing to do it more often!

I also had to “tink” some knitting. “Tinking” is when you carefully take back one stitch at a time. I was knitting while watching a video last night, and I was at a tricky part, and I had a suspicion I had started it one row too early, but I kept convincing myself it was going to be okay. It wasn’t okay. I had to tink it all back and then knit another row. All better now.

Cold & Windy

The main thing about today is that it was cold. The rain ended during the night but the day was cold and windy.

I had a nice break in the middle of the day when I got to go meet my friend Darlene for lunch.

This evening, Spencer’s band was playing on campus so we walked over in the freezing cold to be there. That was not a happy environment for me. I’m not sure I could have handled it without my knitting!

Meanwhile, our big rainstorms kept going until they turned into snow in Tennessee. Mary and Jordan got lots of snow, as did my parents. Hope everyone in the path of that storm stays warm!

In Which a Surfeit of White Churches Leads to Tears

It is hard to maintain the delusion of your own intelligence and competence when you keep producing evidence to the contrary. Today was my Geography class, and my student Haley still doesn’t have transportation, so once again I offered to pick her up.

Last week’s attempt was kind of a nightmare, but I was pretty confident that this time I would find her house without a problem, since I had just been there a week ago, and I knew now to start counting the twelve miles a lot sooner. It would have been nice if it wasn’t pouring rain, but it’s not like I had any control over that.

So I set off full of confidence. The rain got harder. There was lots of water on the road. There was lots of lightning. I do not enjoy these driving conditions. The crucial landmark I was looking for was a white church on the right-hand side. I knew if I saw a white church on the left side, I would have gone much too far.

I was a little frustrated that my trip odometer went on strike, but I thought I was still pretty on top of things. I saw the white church, and immediately started looking for the other landmarks Amy had mentioned. Nothing seemed quite right. I kept going (in a deluge, mind you) until I was sure I had somehow overshot it, then turned around and inched back until I was at the church again.

Then I did it all over again. After not finding the driveway for the third time, I called Amy as I turned back into the church parking lot. “What color is the church door?” she wanted to know. Gray. Well, it seems the white church that is near their house has a purple door. By this time, I was in tears. It is so hard to deal with one’s own shortcomings sometimes.

After discussing the situation, we agreed that this time, instead of overshooting my destination, I had not driven far enough. So I drove and drove and drove. It didn’t seem possible I could have been that far off. Then I saw a white church with a purple door and purple steps. Moments later, I found Amy’s driveway with no trouble.

Then, as I was driving Haley back, I had a coughing fit and spent a traumatic few minutes trying to keep it from turning into puking emergency. Also, we passed yet another white church.

So, I think we can all agree that the real problem here is that there are too many white country churches lurking about on rural roads. My life would have been so much more enjoyable today if instead of three white churches there had been a red church, a blue church, and yellow church!

In geography today we were studying Russia and the Balkans. I had made a nice big pot of borscht, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite the way I like it since I had to make it meatless. The same problem arose with the pirozhki. I found a meatless filling recipe, but it was pretty blah. Lucy made the Russian apple pie, which turned out to be more Russian apple goo. It was not our most successful geography class from a culinary standpoint.

However, we really enjoyed learning about that part of the world, despite the fact that it seems to be very cold there a lot of the time!

For supper tonight, there was leftover borscht. I added meat to it and it was better that way.


A Somber Anniversary

Twenty years ago today I got up early after staying up very late. The plan was to take Lina and Flynn to a town about an hour’s drive away to see a history presentation. Five-month-old Spencer came too. We never made it. I fell asleep at the wheel, went off the road, bounced through a field, and hit a tree, totaling a friend’s car.

The ironic thing was I knew I was dangerously sleepy and had been telling the kids to help me find a safe place to pull over. I was so impaired, even before we left, that I had failed to refasten my seatbelt after stopping to see if our neighbors would be coming with us (no).

I broke my left arm and seriously injured my knees, back, and face. My gums tore loose from my cheeks and my whole mouth had to be stitched back together on the inside. My back and knees still bother me—a lot. Lina was sitting beside me with a shoulder belt on and had a little bit of bruising from the belt. Baby Spencer in his rear-facing car seat just had a big fright. Flynn, in the back seat, didn’t tighten his seatbelt enough, so his head hit the seat in front of him, resulting in a cut over his eye which had to be stitched up.

Every year on this date I remember that day, and how stupid I was. No experience in this world, no deadline, is worth risking your life for—or the lives of your children. For years afterwards I couldn’t sleep in a vehicle at all. Then my natural sleepiness began returning. So, I have always insisted on stopping to sleep if I am driving and I need to. This is why I am such a lame person to take a road trip with. I am so, so slow. I drive the speed limit, but I do sometimes have to stop and take a nap. However, and I feel I should emphasize this, I am still alive.

Today I had to do shopping for tomorrow’s Geography class meal. We will be making vegetarianized Russian food.

Word Games

As a writer, I love words. Obviously. I also love word games. I’m not terribly good at them, for the most part. For instance, when I play Scrabble, I am happier about playing a clever word than I am about playing a boring one that happens to be high scoring. So I always lose to a player who is all about scoring.

Last week, when we had our class “recess,” and it was really too cold to send the kids outside, I had the brilliant idea of teaching them my favorite word game, Jotto. I couldn’t find my carefully preserved pad, so I tried to explain it to them (because you can totally play it on any piece of paper) but I got the impression they weren’t really sure they were doing it right.

After class was over, I got online right away in hopes of tracking down a Jotto pad. It doesn’t hurt to have backup even if you assume you’re going to find the one you already have. I found one for a very reasonable price and ordered it. Then I kept looking, and found a scan of a Jotto sheet which I could save and print whenever I want. (The game is no longer produced.)I was thrilled. I printed some sheets and put them aside for today’s class.

I learned to play Jotto when I was 10. We were on holiday in what was then Rhodesia, and my mother taught me to play because my dad wouldn’t play with her anymore (she always won). It involves picking a secret five-letter word, which your opponent must try to guess by suggesting other five-letter words, and you tell them how many “jots,” or common letters the two words have. Of course at the same time you are trying to guess your opponent’s word.

At ten years old, I had a hard time thinking of a five-letter word out of the blue. I happened to be reading a very excellent book at the time, The Twelve and the Genii by Pauline Clarke, and the book was sitting on a table beside me. Aha! thought I. Genii is a five-letter word! It is also, it turns out, an extraordinarily hard word to guess, and as a result I won my very first game of Jotto.

Over the years I often played against my mother, and very rarely lost. As a result, I became very fond of the game. Once I played against both parents, sitting in our rented VW camper in a rainy campground in Germany. I beat them. Later, as a young wife, I played with a friend who was about an even match in both Jotto and Scrabble. I looked forward to our games and won about half the time. My cousins and uncle played a version of the game using four-letter words, but they did it all in their heads without writing anything down!

So anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Jotto was a big part of my growing up years and I have never lost my enjoyment of playing. I couldn’t wait for class today so I could teach my students how to play properly using the sheets I’d printed up.

As it turns out, two of my students had to join us by video chat again, leaving only two students here. During the break, I handed them a Jotto sheet and explained the game to them, letting the two of them team up against me. I promised I would pick a word they know. In fact I picked a recent vocabulary word. They, to my great amusement, picked a word I had told them about that had stumped me in a Jotto game years ago–the word “canoe,” which happens to contain the exact same letters as the word “ocean.” It didn’t trip me up this time! Our time ran out before they guessed my word, so I ended up revealing it to them—gelid. I hope they enjoyed playing, because I guarantee we’ll do it again.

The icing on the cake was that my package came today too. I opened it up and exclaimed in delight. It wasn’t just a pad. It was an original Jotto game in its original box, the very box I remember from my childhood:

1-19-16 Jotto box

The box is stained, but otherwise in good shape. Inside, more delights awaited. The dorky 70s people on the little insert!

1-19-16 Jotto brochure

Not one but TWO pads!

1-19-16 Jotto pad in box

And, best of all, the original Jotto pencils!

1-19-16 Jotto pencil

I’m still smiling.