Two for Two

Yesterday (Sunday) I had to get up earlier than I have been because my dad had reserved us seats at the 8:45 service at his church. They’re doing multiple services to make social distancing possible. Afterward, we drove to the cemetery to visit my mother’s grave.

I had not realized it was in that cemetery. The one I had to drive through every time I visited her in the nursing home. I found it very sobering at the time, the constant reminder of what the next step for my mother would be.

There has been a ridiculous string of errors concerning the headstone, most of them stemming from the fact that my mother requested that she be buried on the “left,” and by tradition the wife is always buried on the “right” of a double plot. Which means the headstone has to be in a different order too.

But anyway, it is hard to stand in front of a rectangle of grass and realize that the earthly body of your mother is there. Dad prayed to thank God for Mom’s life, and then we drove away.

Since church got out so early, I had time to go back to my hotel and have tea before meeting my dad for lunch. Afterward we went back to his house and I was able to get some final sorting done, but not as much as I wanted, because we were invited to have supper and an informal church service at the home of some of Dad’s friends.

It was a spectacular day, and we ate on his friends’ deck and then sat around a fire to sing and listen to a brief message. Everyone was so kind and friendly. There was no social distancing whatsoever.

Afterward  we went back to Dad’s house and had tea and I stuffed as much as I could into the car before saying goodbye and heading back to the hotel one more time. It has been weird staying in a hotel, since I normally stay with my aunt, but it also sure was nice having internet in the evenings and enough hot water to take a luxurious shower.

This morning I was up and packing right when I planned to be. I am not a super early riser and I have learned that trying to leave early on a road trip is counterproductive for me, because I just end up getting sleepy and having to pull over to rest. So I was on the road at about 8:30, which worked out well for me.

If you’ll remember, on my way to my dad’s town, I had a killer story idea and then spent the next two evenings writing the story. This morning as I set out, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could have another idea on this trip? Because I have several stories to write.

And you know what? I did. I had to turn the music off so it wouldn’t distract me. And then when I stopped to get gas, I pulled a grocery list out of my handbag and wrote the basic plot points on the back because I was so afraid I might forget it. And then I remembered another story I wrote as a piece of flash fiction, but that I could expand to make it much more powerful (I hope).

What is going on here? I haven’t had two great story ideas in one week since . . . ever. Here’s what I think. I have limited real estate in my brain. And for the last few years, most of it has been dedicated to teaching. Now that I’m getting a break from that, suddenly the creative part of my brain is being unleashed with a vengeance. So watch out! I may have to reactivate my writing blog to keep from boring you all to death with writing posts here.

And yeah . . . I did make it home this evening safe and sound and with a car FULL of stuff!

Favorite sight of the day: Eight camouflage-clad soldiers, sitting around the table in the hotel’s lobby, praying together this morning.

On the Road

Last night’s entry, which I couldn’t post due to technical difficulties.

Today was Lina’s birthday, and I spent it on the road, driving the 700 miles from our house to the town where my dad lives in Tennessee. I ingested large quantities of caffeine. I only stopped to buy gas and use the facilities.

It was a beautiful day until I reached Nashville, when I ran into some rain, which got heavier and heavier as I drove along. But just at sunset, the rain was still quite light, and a beautiful huge rainbow appeared in the sky ahead of me. It shot almost straight up into the air and then vanished into some clouds. Behind me, the sunset had turned the sky into glorious shades of gold and orange. It really was kind of surreal. For over half an hour I continued to drive straight toward that gorgeous rainbow, with the equally gorgeous sunset lighting up the sky behind me and reflecting off my mirrors. As the sun sank below the horizon at last, the rainbow grew fainter and fainter and then vanished.

After that the rain increased to the point where everyone slowed down and quite a few people pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway to wait it out. Fortunately for me, I outran the rain a few minutes before arriving at my hotel (it didn’t work out to stay with my aunt this time).

Apart from the whole rainbow/sunset thing, the other cool thing that happened today was that after so many hours of letting my mind wander while driving, I thought of a great story idea and have stayed up later than I intended so I could get a good start on it before I forget all my brilliant ideas!

A Long Drive, Ides, a Birthday Dinner, and a Clean Pantry

Saturday was a long, long day. We left Flynn and Tiffany’s house on a sparkling snowy morning, but soon descended into fog. There were lots of other people on the road too; virtually everywhere we stopped was crowded. At one place, the line for the women’s bathroom stretched all the way across the back of the store!

It was 26 degrees when we left Colorado Springs and 70 degrees when we finally arrived home in East Texas. It is always good to be home and to sleep in your own bed.

Sunday morning I was up early to go grocery shopping. Walmart had many empty shelves, especially when it came to paper goods and bread. There were zero paper goods.

We had no church, so after making us a nice breakfast I got to work making Lucy’s birthday dinner. She had requested a Greek meal consisting of chicken gyros with homemade tzatziki sauce, Greek salad, and falafel. With a carrot cake (my own recipe) for dessert. I’ve gotta say that homemade tzatziki sauce is to die for. And the marinade I made for the chicken was pretty amazing too. I had the cake made by lunchtime, which is when Lina arrived.

Because I had been busy all morning, I had time for a little nap and to observe the Ides of March, as I always do, by listening to “Rinse the Blood off my Toga” by Wayne and Shuster. Lucy and Tanner went in quest of pita bread for me so I wouldn’t have to make it from scratch—which I can totally do, but it would have added more time and effort to the meal.

We had five of our kids here for supper, plus one spouse (Mercy’s husband Daniel) and two significant others (Tanner and Jade). It was good to have ten people around the table! I am so glad that Mercy and Daniel were able to come from Dallas. With both of them working now it is much harder for them to find a day when they are both free.

And yes, the meal was fabulous and everyone enjoyed it. It was Jade’s first time to have Greek food.

By late in the evening everyone had left and I was scrambling to prepare for today’s high school English class. Next week we will have an online class, and I am working on doing an online class for my younger kids tomorrow just to make sure no one is uncomfortable. I had an online tutoring session this afternoon as my regular student is self-isolating.

Since Geography is such a small class, we still plan to have it, and I had told this week’s student chef to let me know if he needed any spices. I was pretty sure he’d need the fenugreek called for in the recipe, and he did (none of the stores here carry it). So after class today I went to get it—and I couldn’t find it. I know for a fact I bought fenugreek the last time I taught Geography. I thought I knew exactly where it was. I was wrong.

Guess who pulled everything out of her pantry cupboard and is now in the process of cleaning and organizing it? It’s needed to be done for a long time. I found one item in there that expired in 2009! What I did not find was fenugreek, and I can’t order some in time for our meal on Thursday. So the recipe will turn out a little differently . . .

I don’t think I mentioned that the university has added an extra week of spring break for the students, before putting all classes online, so Lucy and Tanner set off for Memphis this morning to spend a couple of days with Mary and Jordan. Jordan is also teaching from home. My husband, however, has to go to work as usual.

And finally, I had word this evening that my mother is back in the hospital with a urinary tract infection. The good news is that my dad was allowed in to see her and to clean and set up her bi-pap machine for her. She is miserable and confused and could certainly use your continued prayers.

A Birthday, Snow, and a Shopping Challenge

Sure enough, the temperature fell overnight and snow began falling shortly after we got up. Tiffany had left for a dentist appointment, so I got some Paisley cuddles while Flynn showered. And while I had Paisley, I called Lucy so we could both wish her Happy Birthday. Lucy was at work in the empty library at the university today on her 22nd birthday. We’ll celebrate when we get home.

I spent the morning doing some more baking for Flynn and Tiffany. I made banana bread and some chocolate chip cookies. After Tiffany returned, they all watched an old Godzilla movie while I worked in the kitchen.

After lunch, we had a discussion about supper plans. Given the snow outside, the idea of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches seemed appealing. However, we didn’t have everything we needed, so once again I headed to the nearby grocery store.

Although it had snowed quite a bit, the roads were still clear. Of greater concern was the very heavy fog and almost nonexistent visibility. I had to drive very slowly. Then, when I arrived at the grocery store, I found the parking lot completely full. I had to circle quite a while before finding a parking spot which was very far away.

I trudged through the falling snow to the door of the store, where an employee was industriously disinfecting everyone’s carts and baskets as they entered the store. The store was a madhouse—and many of the shelves were completely empty. I had been sent to buy some tomato soup. There was no tomato soup—or any other kind of soup, except for a few cans of unpopular varieties like cream of celery.

Fortunately, I know how to make tomato soup from scratch—but even finding cans of tomatoes was a challenge as the shelves were all but bare. Eggs were almost gone. Paper goods were completely gone. I was so glad to get the few things I really needed and get out the door.

Everyone else was enjoying a another Godzilla movie. I returned and whipped up some pretty good tomato soup and then some grilled cheese sandwiches. There are enough leftovers here to keep Flynn and Tiffany going for at least a few days. Maybe by then the panic will have lessened.

Tomorrow: the long drive back to Texas.

A Date, Special Cookies, and Alarming News

Flynn has today and tomorrow off, so he and Jasper got up early this morning and walked down to a local donut shop for breakfast. Since they were gone anyway, Walter went for an exploratory walk himself.

At lunchtime Walter and I headed out to go shopping again. Our first stop was a health food store as I had been asked to make some special “lactation cookies” for Tiffany, and two of the ingredients were not things I’ve seen in the local grocery store. We got the rest of the things we needed at Walmart and headed back to the house.

Then Paisley was carefully transferred to her baby carrier, which clips onto the stroller, and we all went for a nice walk. There is a big paved walkway which runs along the river behind Flynn and Tiffany’s neighborhood, and we enjoyed walking along it in a big loop that led back to the house. Paisley slept through most of it and didn’t fuss at all.

I had offered our services as babysitters this afternoon so that Flynn and Tiffany could go on a “date” by themselves for an hour or two. To my delight, Paisley stayed awake and mostly happy the whole time they were gone. I handed her off to Walter so I could cook supper (Flynn’s request; our famous “sombrero dip”), but then ended up holding her again once the food was in the oven. What a cutie! And she is starting to make little cooing noises and to smile from time to time.

Meanwhile, we learned that spring break at the university where Walter works has been extended for another week—and that after that all classes will be conduction online, due to the panic about the coronavirus. Boarding students who left for spring break have been told not to come back, and those who stayed on campus are being encouraged to leave. Yikes. Walter should have fun when he goes back to work.

Supper was a big hit—it was Tiffany’s first time to taste Sombrero Dip. As soon as the meal ended, I set to work on the lactation cookies. The two magic ingredients, in case you were wondering, are brewer’s yeast and flax seed meal. Tiffany tried one and said it was good. Whew!

After watching a TV show with Flynn and Tiffany and cleaning the kitchen, I checked my email and found one from my dad that is not surprising but very saddening. As of tonight, my mom’s nursing home is on lockdown and no visitors will be permitted until further notice. This means my dad can’t go see her, can’t help with her bi-pap every night, and can’t coax her into eating. She doesn’t have a phone in her room so even phone communication will be all but impossible. If the ban isn’t lifted by the beginning of April, I won’t be able to visit her again as I had planned, so please pray for this situation. I’m sure there are thousands of other families around the country who are facing the same dilemma.

Tomorrow is our last day here and it’s supposed to snow! It’s been quite warm until tonight.

In Which We Finally Meet Paisley!

Well, in case you haven’t figured it out, I am in Colorado at Flynn’s house now. And so are my husband and Jasper and Lucy and Tanner. Walter and Jasper and I drove up on Saturday. It was a long, long day—14 hours of driving.

I did have an interesting experience at a gas station on the way. In the ladies’ room I was waiting to wash my hands at one of the two sinks, both of which were already occupied. The two ladies washing their hands just kept on washing and washing and washing . . . . way past the recommended 20 seconds. That’s never happened before.

Of course, the long trip was worth it when we got here and finally got to see our granddaughter, Paisley. She is still very tiny and “new” even though she is a month old.

Yesterday (Sunday) we stayed in and watched Flynn and Tiffany’s church service on TV. Walter and I both got to take turns holding a sleeping Paisley. Later, we went grocery shopping so I could make spaghetti for supper. Flynn and Tiffany haven’t had much time to cook lately.

Today I admit I slept in a little. I was so thrilled to get some sleep because I often have a very hard time sleeping at high altitude. Flynn had to go to work this morning but Walter and I both got some baby time in. Lucy and Tanner went to Garden of the Gods and later so did Walter and Jasper. I elected to stay home with Tiffany and the baby.

I am trying to restrain myself here—but just be assured she is the cutest baby ever born and we adore her!

There was another quick run to the store this afternoon to get a few things for today’s supper, which was tacos. We are kind of doing meals one day at a time I guess. Also, the toilet paper shelves in the store were almost completely empty. Like that makes sense . . .

The main Paisley excitement was that she had a bath this evening, which is apparently her least favorite thing in the world. She was exhausted afterward!

Gas Station Etiquette

During my trip home on Sunday, I had an experience at a gas station that has been rankling ever since, so naturally I am writing about it. When road tripping by myself, I often stop at Love’s Travel Stops because official “rest stops” often don’t come up when I need them, and at Love’s I can count on clean bathrooms, hot sausages, and petrol if I need it.

So on Sunday, while driving through Arkansas, my gas gauge was very low and I pulled into a Love’s which was very busy. All the pumps were occupied. I lined up behind a car which was empty, leading me to believe that the occupants had filled their tank and gone into the store to buy drinks and snacks.

Boy was I wrong. After I had waited for over fifteen minutes, a couple did return from the store with drinks and snacks. They knew I was waiting because they had to walk right past my car to get to their car. They spent several minutes talking and rearranging stuff in their car. Then the husband turned to the pump and started filling their tank.

I waited patiently, despite the fact that my quick stop for gas had already become much longer. Finally they finished fueling. Another conversation ensued, and then the husband strolled back (right past me) to get the window washer squeegee thing. He leisurely washed all the windows on their car. More talking before he finally got into the car. By the time they pulled away from the pump, I had been waiting for over half an hour (during which time the other pumps were always occupied and with lines behind them too).

Now here’s the thing: I would never make someone else wait like that. If the gas station is busy, I always pump first, then park my car somewhere else before going into the store because I hate to hold anyone up. And that is what I did on Sunday. As soon as I had filled my tank, I re-parked the car before going in to use the facilities and buy a drink. To me, that is only common courtesy. In fact I thought it was one of those unwritten rules of the road. What say you?

Home Again

Yesterday was a long, long day. I woke up at Julie’s house, showered, and finished packing all my stuff. I had tea. I also had severe dizziness which the tea did not cure. At about 10:00 Julie and I set off for the Spokane airport. She helped me get my bags checked (I also checked my carryon in an effort to make my day easier) and then we said goodbye.

After going through security, I still had plenty of time, so I decided to take Julie’s advice and get some protein, even though I don’t normally eat that early in the day. My bunless burger cost $9! And sadly, my dizziness persisted. My next natural step was another big cup of tea, which I drank while sitting at my gate waiting for my flight.

It was there at the airport, having said all my goodbyes, that my worries returned to me like a flock of ravens returning to the blackened branches of a long-dead tree. I was able to suppress all that in order to enjoy the reunion, but now I found myself feeling so daunted by the next few months. Meanwhile, new worries have joined the old ones. A classmate is facing a heartbreaking health challenge. Others like me are concerned about ailing parents and some face difficult situations with their kids or grandkids. At times like this, I feel I have to try even harder to see and appreciate each tiny little ray of sunshine that pierces the gloom.

Once sitting on the plane, I didn’t care if I was dizzy because if I passed out I’d still be sitting in my seat. However, the flight passed without incident and soon I found myself once again in the Denver airport, which is far from being my favorite place. Despite continued dizziness, I scored more tea and then made the long trek down to my new gate, where I settled in to drink tea and read.

By the time the tea was gone, I felt quite a bit better. I followed another friend’s advice and filled my water bottle from the water fountain and drank some water. I think I was certainly somewhat dehydrated.

The flight to Dallas was shorter than it had been going the other way, and I arrived at the airport quite a bit sooner than my husband, who was driving in through Dallas traffic. We reached home right at midnight and I got the dishwasher loaded and running before I went to bed. Both kids were gone—Lucy babysitting and Jasper at an all-night prayer event.

Today my first job was grocery shopping since we have a birthday dinner this weekend. Once home, I did what you’d expect—put away groceries, unpacked my suitcases, and started putting everything back where it belongs. Then I began on my school chores. Why is it that being gone for a week makes me feel like I’m a month behind? I’ll be hard-pressed to do everything that must be done before Walter’s surgery on Friday.

Also, I still have not seen either one of the kids since my return!

The Carryon Conundrum

All my life, I’ve aspired to be one of those savvy travelers who takes only a carryon for overseas adventures—no matter how long. I put forth tremendous effort into figuring out how to do it and what to pack for my UK trip last fall.

This more recent trip I had to also take a larger suitcase because of the bulky winter clothes I needed. And, as I mentioned, my new four-wheeled carryon arrived at the last possible moment. I was so glad to have it, especially in the Denver airport where all three pieces of luggage had to go with me everywhere!

Now here’s where I’ve been rethinking things a bit. Most glowing endorsements of carryon-only travel that I’ve seen make a big point of how you never have to go to baggage claim. You just grab your carryon and stride boldly into the world to have adventures. In fact, this seems to be the primary selling point of this approach to traveling.

Now imagine you’re a lady in the early stages of senectitude, and you also have restrictions against lifting heavy weights. I find it challenging and unenjoyable to drag my tightly-packed carryon down the tiny aisle of the plane, and then have to lift it over my head to get it into the overhead bin. Furthermore, because you’re only allowed one personal item, I have to stuff my much-beloved Sash handbag into my backpack at least until I get settled in my seat.

Thanks to an attack of extreme dizziness yesterday, and to the fact that Southwestern allows you to check two bags for free, I chose to check both my regular suitcase and my carryon for my flights home. My experience was so much easier and less stressful. I still had my backpack for anything I might need during the flight, and my Sash bag too, because my backpack was my official carryon and my Sash bag was my personal item.

As it turns out, I don’t mind at all going to baggage claim and waiting a few minutes for my bags to show up, especially if it makes other aspects of the trip so much easier. Another huge benefit of this approach is that you are not so restricted in liquids. I need a lot of potions just to make myself presentable these days! And if, like me, you think traveling with a pocketknife is necessary, you can safely do so as long as you pack the knife in your carryon and then check it. So in the future, although I still hope and plan to travel carryon only, I will check my carryon and collect it again at my destination.

Some exceptions to this new resolution:

If there is a fee for all checked bags but not for a carryon I will of course carry it on.

If I expect a lengthy layover during which I might need access to items in my carryon, I will carry it on.

But aside from those two exceptions, I think I’ll be checking my carryon bag most of the time. Anyone else have any thoughts or opinions on this?

The End

It’s hard to say goodbye when you’re still having a great time—but also necessary. This morning I was up early to repack all my stuff and still be able to hang out in the main living area so I could visit with the classmates who hadn’t left yet.

As the morning progressed, people sat down and ate breakfast, helped clean the kitchen, and then began leaving. There were many, many hugs. Ken had help loading the pickup truck, which was a pretty big job.

We waved goodbye to the last of our classmates and then Ken and Julie and I set off for Spokane in the rain. For almost the entire four-hour drive, we went through very thick fog, which must have been quite stressful for our driver, Ken. For me it was just a bit disappointing because the fog obscured so much beautiful scenery I would have liked to see. Washington is a stunningly beautiful state.

Although I dozed off often in the truck, I’m afraid I still took a nap when we reached Julie’s house. It’s been a quiet evening as we all recover from the activity of the last few days. Tomorrow I hope and expect to have no delays or cancellations on my trip back to Texas.

Note: you have not heard the last about this reunion. The impact statement is yet to come.