Monday I taught a letter-writing class, and today I taught a note taking class. For years I have taught my own students my favorite note-taking system, because so often kids are never taught how to take notes at all. This year I thought I’d expand the material to a day-long class so we could explore seven different note taking systems. When it comes to taking notes, I do not believe there is one true way and all the others are pointless. There is such amazing variety in human brains, and I figure if I give kids a huge toolbox, they will gravitate toward the tools that work best for them.

It was one of my larger classes, but they were a pretty cooperative bunch and I think they all walked away with some tools they could use in the future.

Here they are hard at work:

8-10-17 Note Taking class

In Which Adrienne Saves the Day!

I have stunning news on the “very rare hymn tune” front! My brilliant and innovative friend Adrienne has acquired the tune! She tried to get the album featuring a choir performance of the hymn, and I think downloaded the individual track, but the information we needed was not there. So she tried something that never would have occurred to me. She contacted the accompanist for the choir in question and he sent her a photograph of the sheet music!

The name of the tune is not listed, but the composer is–a Victorian musician named W.H. Jude. Knowing this, I was able to discover that he published only one volume of hymn tunes–back in 1900. I found a used copy online and have already ordered it from England—but meanwhile, I have the photo which is clear enough to play from. I will let you know when the book comes as I’m sure you’re all sitting on the edge of your seats!

In other news, Lucy and Jasper and I went on a brief excursion to historic Jefferson today. The weather was not very cooperative. We were able to eat our picnic lunch in a nice little park, but then it started sprinkling. We thought we’d check out a free museum we’d never been to, since that’s an indoor activity. By the time we drove there (two blocks) rain was coming down in buckets. We got drenched just getting from the car to the porch of the museum, only to find it was closed for lunch.

However, they had a handy bench we could sit on while we waited, which was great until the wind started blowing our way and we got drenched again! The kids lost all interest in the museum, so I bowed to the inevitable and took them to the General Store, stopping on the way for an obligatory photo:

8-9-17 Jib & Lu 1

The General Store is where you can find all kinds of one-of-a-kind items, old-fashioned candy, and souvenirs that range from wild and wacky to very, very tacky. Like these little light-up Jesus keychain flashlights:

8-9-17 Jesus lights

Or this mug:

8-9-17 Jesus Shaves

When you pour hot liquid in, apparently, Jesus’ beard disappears.

Eventually the kids were ready to have a root beer float for dessert. Since I was sitting at the counter with them, I felt obligated to order something, so I asked for a diet Dr. Pepper. I could not finish it. I just do not drink soda anymore and I saw no point in drinking something I couldn’t enjoy!

Then we came home and ever since I’ve been going flat out preparing for tomorrow’s class. Those kids aren’t going to know what hit them . . .

Parting Shot:

8-9-17 Jib & Lu 2

An Old Dog Learns New Tricks

Today has been a day of mostly “cramming” for the class I’m teaching Thursday. Some of the material is stuff that I’ve taught many, many times, but I am also adding some new content and for that I must study and prepare. I have learned some new things myself and I hope I will be able to pass them on to my students.

Update on last week’s cat trauma: Our former cat has been put up for adoption on the shelter’s website! This means they are treating her, have no doubt already spayed her, and she might have a chance at a new home. She really is a sweet cat.

Also, I cut Jasper’s hair because it was driving us both crazy.

Amazon Won’t Take My Money

Today was the day I had my day-long letter-writing workshop. I didn’t have enough interest to do it last year, so it had been two years since I taught it. I spent a lot of time trying to upgrade my curriculum. Of course, during the day I thought of lots of other ways to improve it.

Anyway, I think it went pretty well. I had one student who was less cooperative than the others, but we made it through. I always end up with making envelopes, which almost everyone enjoys. I even got a few made myself!

It rained on and off all day, which kept temperatures low but meant my students couldn’t have their recess or lunch outside. I think they were all a little stir-crazy by the time they went home.

And then there was my little scuffle with Amazon UK. Years ago—like at least a decade ago—I started trying to find a hymn that I sang and enjoyed as a kid. The name of the hymn (because I know some of you will ask) is “At Even, Ere the Sun Was Set.” It is apparently unknown here in the US.

I remembered the hymnbook we used overseas, and I found a used one online, and ordered it from Ireland. When it arrived, I was so happy. I found the hymn. I sat down to play it. It was the wrong tune. I have spent many hours over the years trying to locate the “right” tune. I failed. However, since I have a good ear, I learned how to play it on the autoharp. I don’t feel that I can teach it to the people at church though without sheet music for them to follow.

So my quest continues. The other day on Facebook I asked people to comment with favorite hymns, and my English friend Adrienne mentioned that very same hymn (she was at the same boarding school as me back in the day). I told her about my troubles finding the right tune, so she sent me what she hoped was the right tune, but it was in fact the one that I have found multiple times. That tune is called Angelus. Further research today turned up an alternate tune named Abend. That is also not the tune we used.

So I tried to see if I could find any recordings using the right tune, and to my astonishment I succeeded. There is a track on the album titled “Joy to the World” by the London Emmanuel Choir, and on that track the choir sings “At Even, Ere the Sun Was Set” to the right tune (there is a long enough sample to tell). However, it is only available through Amazon UK.

No problem, right? I could download the MP3 for only 59 pence, and they accept all major credit and debit cards. Except they don’t. They turned down both of my debit cards and my Mastercard because they weren’t linked to a “local” bank. I wouldn’t even need to download the song if the description included the name of the tune, but it doesn’t.

I wasted way too much of my time trying to get Amazon UK to take my money and let me have the song so I could see if there was a mention of the name of the tune. I never succeeded. So I am still in the dark! Years of effort and still no result. *sigh* At least I can play and sing it for myself.


My Diabetes Miracle #7: Misinformation

My monthly weigh-in on the first of the month was kind of underwhelming. Despite my faithful fasting, I had lost only four pounds. However, I was not as disappointed as I could have been, because I honestly feared I had not lost at all. I am beginning to wonder what it’s going to take if I want to keep losing weight. Not sure I want to know, but I hope I’ll figure it out.

But anyway, I was doing some research the other night, as I often do, about ways to reduce my blood sugar without medication, and I came across a website that made me furious. It was very official looking. I can’t tell you what it was exactly because I got so fed up I closed out of it before making a note of what it was. I can guarantee it is maintained by some entity in the medical establishment. This website is aimed at diabetics like me who are concerned and eager to reduce their blood sugar naturally if possible.

These are some of the claims they made:

—A low-carb diet will not reduce your blood sugar. You should eat lots of grains and fruits.

—Skipping meals and fasting will not reduce your blood sugar. You should eat every few hours.

—Staying hydrated will not reduce your blood sugar. Don’t bother to drink much water.

—Supplements will not reduce your blood sugar. Sure, there have been some promising studies, but you can’t trust them.

In other words, if you follow the advice on this website, you will be forced to depend on insulin and other drugs for the rest of your life, because the lifestyle they recommend guarantees you will never get your blood sugar under control!

As I said, I got so angry I just clicked away from the site before I became tempted to attack my poor computer!

I don’t believe for a minute that every strategy will work for every body. I have proven over and over that my body will not react the way that others’ bodies do to many different substances and eating programs. So I’m saying that you have to do the hard work and figure out what works for you, but I’m going to be VERY surprised if you are diabetic and you are able to control your numbers while still eating lots of fruits and grains.

I have just started a new thing and am interested to see what the results will be. I have started drinking some aloe vera juice every day. I saw it was recommended for various skin conditions, so I thought it was worth a try to see if it makes any kind of difference to my very severe rosacea. Imagine my surprise when I did some research and one of the warnings on aloe vera juice is that it might lower your blood sugar more than you want it to! (Hard to imagine in my case . . . ) So, I am drinking four ounces two or three times a day and I will let you know if it ends up freeing me completely from glyburide. It is relatively inexpensive—less than $7 per gallon—so if it is effective that is very doable in the long term.

What I don’t understand is why aloe vera marketers aren’t making a big deal about it if it is effective at reducing blood sugar. You’d think they’d be shouting it from the rooftops!



Fifty years ago, my life changed forever. That summer, my family left the city of Detroit and relocated to a mission station near Kasempa, Zambia. I had just turned eight. Two days after arriving and moving into our tiny turquoise house at Mukinge, my mother and I climbed into a crowded van and I was on my way to boarding school. The date was August 5, 1967. (Even at the age of eight, I knew it was a momentous date.)

For the next eighteen weeks, I lived in a dorm room with fourteen other girls. I did everything else with those same girls–went to school, ate meals, went to church, played games, and even learned to garden. Sakeji School shaped the person I became in so many ways. I spent more time there than I did at home, and as a result Sakeji was the place I thought of as “home” in Zambia.

I know some of you associate boarding school with misery and abuse—and there certainly was plenty of both at times during my years at Sakeji. But the reality is that I loved my school. I loved the way it smelled. I loved every building (well, except maybe the outhouse and the changing hut down by the river). I loved the rain and the sun and the mangoes and the gigantic glowing moon at night. Most of all, I loved to learn, and I crammed knowledge into my brain as fast as I could. I spent all my free time reading and even read in bed by moonlight. If you want to know what my life there was like, you should read my book about it:

This Rich & Wondrous Earth

But today, I just wanted to acknowledge the influence this school had on my life on this, the fiftieth anniversary of my arrival there. It made me who I am. It gave me lifelong friends that are more like siblings. It enriched my life in so many ways, and I am grateful.

My last year at the school (Form I/9th grade) was the happiest of my childhood. I reveled in every moment of it. Graduation plunged me into a deep depression that plagued me for many years afterward. It was almost like all my siblings had died, because all my classmates went elsewhere (together) and I stayed at home to do school for the next year and a half. I had to learn the hard lesson of looking forward instead of back.

Today, the school is still in operation, though it has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable to former students of my vintage. Still, it has been a source of great delight for me to know my daughter Lina is teaching and living in buildings I once frequented, is seeing the same moon and the same river and the same airstrip, and hearing the same birds at night. Wish I could pop over there and spend a couple weeks of her vacation with her this month!

Here’s a Google Earth view of the school:

Sakeji with labels

Rant Alert

Today was a rough, rough day. I would go so far as to call it “grim.” I have had a rant building up inside me for several days now, and I can’t hold it in any longer. I know what I’m about to discuss will be upsetting for some, but I can’t stay quiet about this.

We have had an ongoing situation with one of our cats, the one I like to call Whiny Pants (not her real name). We have had her since birth—she and her brother Ginger Pants are the offspring of our other cat, Eppie (or Fluffy Pants). Whiny developed a skin irritation a few years ago. At first it didn’t seem serious. She had these little lesions but they were small. Then she started scratching them and they got bigger.

Over the last few years, her skin issues have got better and worse, but mostly worse. We did take her to the vet on one occasion and he opined that she might be having an allergic reaction to flea bites. The problem was that every time we tried a flea treatment on her, she got worse. So she was reacting both to fleas and to any effort to eradicate them.

The last few months have been horrible. Big sections of her fur fell out. She had multiple lesions, and they often oozed or bled. No one wanted her anywhere near them. No one wanted to touch her. She had no quality of life. We knew we couldn’t afford to take her to the vet and pay hundreds of dollars to get her treated. We can’t even afford to go to the doctor ourselves!

Things came to a head the other day when it was time to give the cats their flea baths, as we are currently trying to stamp out whatever fleas may be lurking. No one was willing to handle Whiny Pants. She hates getting bathed, and I don’t blame her. I’m sure the flea shampoo and warm water are very painful on her lesions, so she defends herself vigorously. Whoever is trying to bathe her ends up getting injured.

So, we reluctantly came to the decision that the kindest thing would be to have her euthanized. We couldn’t afford treatment for her, and we couldn’t bear to watch her continue to suffer.

This is where things became truly traumatic, for me at least. Our town no longer has a Humane Society or shelter where you can drop a pet off for free, so I called the vet we had taken Whiny Pants to a few years ago, and I asked about getting a pet euthanized.

What I got was a long argument with the employee who answered the phone. She wanted me to bring the cat in for an evaluation, followed by treatment if appropriate. She was not at all on board with the plan to euthanize the cat, and she argued strenuously against it. I tried to tell her that no argument in the world would put more money in my bank account, and no matter how amazing the vet might be, I can’t afford his services.

She ended up leaving me hanging by telling me she would discuss it with the vet. If he agreed to do it, it would cost $65 plus another $25 if we wanted them to dispose of the body. She also recommended that I look into the new shelter which replaced the Humane Society a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, we had to keep the cat isolated from the other two who had been given their flea baths.

This morning, when I didn’t hear back from the vet’s office, I started researching all the shelters in the area. None of them lets you drop off a pet for free anymore. They brag about how humane they are and about how they don’t euthanize any pets.

I don’t think these well-meaning entities have thought through their policies using basic logic. If someone (for whatever reason) is no longer able to keep a pet, and if that someone is also low-income, they are not going to drop their pet off at one of these gleaming facilities and pay them $100 for the privilege.  If they are truly desperate, they will drive a few miles away and just leave the pet on the side of the road.

I now understand why people do this or why they drown their pets in ponds. For a couple of hours today, that truly was looking like our only option. It made a miserable situation even more traumatic for me. Tears were shed. I felt sick to my stomach. The vet’s office called back and told me they flat out refused to euthanize the cat. After doing a little more research, we put her in a box and I drove her over to the new shelter. Since I am within their very specific territory, I was allowed to drop the cat off for $50 instead of $100. Had I asked to have her euthanized, it would have cost $65. So instead, I relinquished my rights to her and they will decide what her fate will be. I honestly hope they can help her and that they won’t have to euthanize her.

But this whole experience has made me very angry. I think the current situation with local shelters will lead to more animals being abandoned, not fewer. More animals will suffer needlessly because their desperate owners can’t afford the fees to take them to a shelter, let alone a veterinarian.

I know, those of you who think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars a year on veterinary care are thinking, “Well, poor people have no business owning pets. Period.” Maybe you’re right. But first of all, you can’t stop people from falling in love with an adorable puppy or kitten and taking it home. And I hate to think of the kids who would grow up in pet-free homes and never develop that bond with animals or know the joy of having a furry friend. There were a couple of periods in my life when I felt my cat was all I had. Kids who grow up without pets often become adults who think all animals are nasty, and I feel bad for them too.

I just think there has to be some way that someone who is low-income can take their pet somewhere when they are no longer able to care for it. Somewhere other than a lonely country road.

Rain & Other Humdrum Stuff

It rained today! Rain is rare and glorious at this time of year in Texas. Even though it was very muggy, the temperature did not rise to unbearable levels.

I am struggling with something. I’m not exactly sick, but I feel like a cold is trying to creep up on me, so I am not knocking myself out to do stuff other than sit in my chair and do brain work. I am doing a LOT of revising of old stories and planning of new classes. I did get a little bit of sewing in, but to be honest, my sewing room is hot at this time of year and I don’t like to spend long periods of time in there (HUGE west-facing window).

I knitted some rows and one of the colors is finally changing. That is big news.

Jasper made a German chocolate cake and replaced the brake pads on his bike.

Mercy arrived safely in St. Petersburg, Russia. She’s got a lot of settling in and adjusting to do before school starts!

We made the very difficult decision to have one of our cats euthanized, so I have that to look forward to tomorrow.

This wasn’t one of our more stellar days.

A Victim of My Own Success

My maternal grandparents were very courageous people. They prayed for something most people wouldn’t dream of asking for. They prayed that all four of their children would become missionaries. And guess what? They all did. One to Zambia, one to Guatemala, one to Japan, and one to Papua New Guinea. As a kid, I thought this was normal. I thought it was normal to go five years without seeing your grandparents, to barely know your cousins.

In December of 1977, I arrived early at my grandparents’ mobile home in Florida in advance of a family reunion. The morning after my arrival, I sat with them at the breakfast table and watched tears stream down my grandmother’s face as she talked about the joy of having the whole family together for the first time in 15 years. Until that moment, I don’t think it had occurred to immature little me what a sacrifice my grandparents had made in encouraging their children to go out to the ends of the earth to serve the Lord.

My prayer for my own children has been less specific—just that they would find what God wants them to do and then do it with all their heart, no matter where in the world it might be. I have tried to raise them with the notion that there is a big, wonderful world out there, and anywhere in that world can be a possible place of service for them. Unlike some of my friends, I have not begged or demanded that my kids stay close by once they leave home. This does not mean I don’t delight in their company, because of course I do—it just means I wouldn’t dream of standing in their way or making them feel guilty if God is calling them somewhere else.

I might also have forced them to take my geography class, which generally has the effect of making my students want to visit every single country in the world. And it doesn’t help that I regale them with stories of my own youthful travels and how much I enjoyed them. (My kids are very envious of all the traveling I got to do when I was young.)

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that my kids are adventurous. I raised them that way on purpose. I actually put effort into teaching them to boldly go forth and experience new places and cultures.

When you teach your kids that the whole world awaits them the moment they step outside the sheltering walls of their childhood home, you can’t be surprised or dismayed when they take flight; when they soar on wings of love toward distant shores, hoping and believing they can make a difference there.

Still, it’s not easy when the day comes, even if you knew all along it was coming. As of today, my offspring will be in three states and on three continents. We have three still here in Texas, Mary and Jordan in Tennessee, and Flynn in Colorado. Lina, of course, has been in Africa for the last seven and a half years—and now Mercy is on her way to St. Petersburg, Russia, where she will be living and working for the coming school year. We had our last phone conversation yesterday. I am so happy and excited for her.

At the same time, there is a new ache in my heart. For the first time ever, she won’t be with us for Christmas. She can’t show up and surprise us with a random visit. She is there, and we are here, and it seems likely to be the new normal from here on out. I am so proud of her.

Last Day of July; Last Class

Where did July go? Tomorrow it will be August and time to think very seriously about school. Quite a few of my homeschool friends started their school year this week.

As for me, I taught my last Story Quest class of the summer today. Next week I teach two one-day workshops and then get a whole two weeks off before I start teaching a high school class for the fall semester.  So, my “summer” consists of two weeks off after a lot of other people are already back at school. And of course, I will spend most of it planning.

Meanwhile, I have next week’s classes to plan and some sewing and knitting to keep me busy. And lots and lots of revising.

Today was Mercy’s last full day in the USA for several months. I got to talk to her on the phone for a while, but she was very busy and distracted. Tomorrow she flies to Russia!