Teaching and Packing

So, time got away from me yesterday and I didn’t get around to posting. It was another busy day getting ready for and then teaching the blond brothers and preparing for Geography and my trip.

I don’t think I’ve talked all that much about my trip. Tomorrow I leave for Spokane to visit my friend Julie and help her prepare for our high school class reunion which begins on Monday. And before anyone says, “Oh, I didn’t know you went to school in Washington”—I didn’t. Our boarding school was in Kenya, and despite our expectations of being able to go back there for a reunion someday, it hasn’t happened yet. So the class reunions have been at many different locations here in the USA. Julie thought it would be fun to have a reunion in the mountains in winter. I think it will be fun too, but I am scrambling to locate and pack enough layers.

This morning, though, was all about getting ready for Geography. We were doing Russia and the Balkans today. My student chef was bringing borscht and holupki (stuffed cabbage) and Jasper helped me make the salad. I also made a raspberry tart that turned out pretty well for being gluten free.

To my delight, the borscht was a big hit with the boys. Sometimes their lack of culinary open-mindedness frustrates me, so I didn’t have high hopes for today, but it went better than expected.

After class, I took Jasper sock shopping with me. He needed socks and I definitely needed socks that are long enough to wear with my huge new boots. It will take me a while to get used to walking with such huge feet. Right now it seems impossible that I would actually need anything that warm—but I’m pretty sure I will.

I still have some packing to finish up and grocery shopping in the morning, but in the afternoon I’ll be on my way to the airport in Dallas. This is not an ideal time for me to be gone, but my ticket was purchased months ago and obviously I am going to an event that can’t be moved. And I’ll still get back a week before my husband’s surgery. It will be interesting to see how I handle real winter weather!

False Alarm

Today was a day when I wished I was in another state—the state of Colorado, to be specific, so I could have gone to my daughter-in-law Tiffany’s baby shower. All that sewing I did last weekend was for the baby shower—6 sheets, 8 burp cloths, and a blanket. I sent them to Tiffany’s mother so she could take them to the shower. Everything was either space themed or dinosaur themed.

But since I was here in Texas, with way too much work to do, I did work—mostly for school, as my full teaching schedule starts up again on Monday and I am still trying to finish my grading from last semester.

At the same time, I had received an alarming email saying that my “local” World Market store would be closing. In my case, the closest store is an hour’s drive away—but I felt I had to make time to go and stock up on a few imported goodies for my Geography class.

I zoomed over to the store in very heavy traffic, and found the place doing a booming business with no sign of closing or going out of business. Today happened to be the day they were giving away free cookbooks, and a very patient young man helped me sign up as he was so determined to give me a cookbook. I asked him if the store was closing and he said no. I stocked up anyway. I mean, I don’t get over there all that often.

When I went to check out, the cashier looked in bemusement at the items I was getting. “That’s a very eclectic assortment,” he said. Yep. That’s me. Eclectic. I told him I taught a Geography class and had to get things from different parts of the world.

Meanwhile, Jasper took down the outside Christmas decorations and my husband heroically tackled the taking down of the Christmas tree. It is a huge job, and it took him much of the day. By the time I returned from my shopping trip, the tree was back up in the attic and my chair was back in its rightful corner. And Lucy and Tanner had returned from their day at the university.

We had our family dinner tonight because Walter and I have life group tomorrow, so Spencer and Jade came over to eat and visit with us. Jasper was at his gaming night but there’s not much we could do about that!

There are still a few decorations to come down, including my teacup tree, but I got all the ornaments off it this evening so the rest can wait until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, there is a stack of papers waiting to be graded . . .

Working My Way Down the List

Friday is my grocery shopping day, so the morning is taken up with list-making and then going to Aldi. Today’s Aldi observation: two young women buying zucchini (courgettes). A whole cart full of zucchini. Nothing but dozens and dozens of zucchini. What could it mean? My mind raced trying to think what possible need anyone could have for that many zucchini. I honestly don’t know.

This afternoon I had other errands to run and so much work to do. I am still trying to make my way through the stack of papers to be graded, but I have so many other responsibilities too. I need another week or two before I have to start teaching again! (Instead of two days.)

I had made time in my schedule to go to my writers’ meeting, so I got ready and then drove up to the other side of town to the restaurant where we meet. I was very surprised to see I was the first one there, as this has never happened before. Then the waitress came and told me that the meeting had been postponed until next week due to the threat of severe weather.

As I drove home, I wondered what I had missed. Why is everyone so freaked out about the weather? I had checked it multiple times and hadn’t seen anything to be unduly concerned about, especially that early in the evening. Yet I had heard of several events being canceled, including Spencer’s rugby game tomorrow which is scheduled for well after the storm has ended.

So when I returned home I watched a video with Jasper while knitting as knitting is important. I have less than a month left in which to finish this project.

I have spent the rest of the evening working on grading and other word-related chores. As I write this the big storm has arrived with a vengeance and the window beside me is being bombarded with rain and rattled by wind. Thankfully we still have power.

Update on my mother: they were able to stabilize her more quickly than expected and this afternoon my dad worked to transfer her back to the nursing home, where they have a new set of protocols for caring for her. Unfortunately, they also discovered that she has contracted yet another urinary tract infection, an ailment which seems to keep coming back to plague her. So pray they will be able to get her on an effective antibiotic right away.

A Word Fitly Spoken

I have become pretty good at compartmentalizing my emotions when necessary, and today it was certainly necessary, because I had so much cooking to do and a class to prepare for and I just had to brush aside all my anxiety about my mother and my husband so I could do what had to be done. In fact my husband had to go to his appointment with the surgeon without me, since it overlapped with my class.

We were studying Scandinavia today, so Jasper helped with some food prep. I made Swedish fish soup, Norwegian coleslaw, Danish creamed mushrooms, and Danish rice pudding. While Jasper and I greatly enjoyed the food, the others were considerably less enthusiastic. They did, however, love the beautiful photos of Scandinavian countries!

Meanwhile, Walter returned from the doctor while we were still watching a video, so I was able to follow him into another room to get a brief report. His melanoma surgery is scheduled for Friday, January 31st. It will be a big incision and I’m sure a very impressive scar. It is an outpatient surgery so I will be able to bring him home right afterward.

My mother is still in the hospital and they are still trying to fine-tune her medications to be as advantageous as possible. She is very limited in how much liquid she can have as they don’t want her to start retaining too much fluid again. She is expected to be in the hospital for another couple of days. Once she is stabilized, she’ll be released back to the nursing home with new care protocols. This is not something she’ll “recover” from. The goal is to manage her various health problems without making them worse. Thank you all so much for your continued prayers.

Lucy and Tanner returned from Austin at supper time. Students are starting to return to the university!

As I’m sure you can imagine, this has been a tough day thanks to my concern for both my husband and my mother. And in the middle of it the mail arrived and I received a padded envelope from England. Inside was a card and newsletter from my sweet friend Adrienne (whom I visited in September)—and a gift of a lovely tea towel. The quote on the tea towel could hardly have been more appropriate:

Hope. Right now we’re hanging onto hope for dear life!

In Which a Miracle Occurs

Huh. I guess I missed posting on Twelfth Night. I fell asleep at my computer trying to prepare for today and I guess I figured maybe I should go to bed instead of struggling to be alert enough to write something coherent. And our Twelfth Night festivities have been postponed due to Lucy’s being out of town (with Tanner visiting his grandparents).

Yesterday ended up being another very intense sewing day because I was trying to meet a deadline and I also had to make it to the post office to mail a couple of things before it closed. (I succeeded.)

I also stopped by the clinic and finally made an appointment for Jasper. His severely infected toe is not getting any better, despite his protestations, and I really do not want a repeat of what we went through with Flynn when he was a teenager. After a couple of years of treatments, including surgery and intravenous antibiotics, and thousands of dollars, he still ended up getting both of his big toenails permanently removed. The bad news is that Jasper’s appointment isn’t until the 27th, so he will have to suffer a little longer. If the subject of permanent removal comes up, we will jump on it.

For the rest of yesterday, I was knitting and also preparing for today’s tutoring session. My English classes don’t officially start until next week, but I have some new students starting with my younger class, so I had them come today so I could do my best to prepare them for jumping in midstream, as it were. I think it went pretty well.

After lunch I set off with dread in my heart. I could no longer put off a task I’ve been avoiding since July, which is when I bought plane tickets to Spokane for next weekend. Unfortunately, Walter won’t be able to accompany me after all, but I still plan to attend a reunion up there in the frozen north. My problem? Footwear.

I have no footwear suitable for wearing in snow, or even very cold weather. In fact, I have exactly four options: my three-year-old men’s flip flops, which are my everyday wear; men’s leather sandals; men’s clogs; and a pair of neoprene slippers which I pretend are shoes and which I wear when I am trying to dress “up.” None of these things will work in real winter conditions.

I have known for months that I would have to find boots of some kind by this month. But when shoe-shopping is fraught with frustration, disappointment, and humiliation every time for decades, it’s hard to make yourself do it. It’s not just that my feet are large due to my height, and wide due to growing up barefoot. I suffered a very serious injury to my left foot and ankle as a teenager, which was not properly treated, and the resulting arthritis has made it almost impossible to wear anything but sandals, flip flops, and clogs, no matter how high the price tag might be.

I trudged into the sporting goods store with very low expectations. I knew better than to even look in the women’s section. I glanced at the knee-high wellingtons and hoped that wasn’t my only option. As I expected, most of the boots on offer fell into the categories of very expensive work boots or even more expensive cowboy boots. After looking at all my options, I decided to try on a pair of “tactical” boots. Apparently these are designed for law enforcement.

This is when the miracle occurred. First, I was actually able to get my feet into them, and do the laces up over my misshapen arthritic ankle. Secondly, I was able to stand up and walk in them without gasping in pain. They aren’t by any means the most comfortable footwear I’ve ever worn (that would be my men’s slippers!) but I think I should be able to wear them for short forays outdoors while I’m in Washington, especially if I make myself wear them to walk in for a little while every day until I leave. I’ll just have to schedule my walks in them for times when someone is home to help me take the boots off, because it was a bit of a struggle in the store. Downright embarrassing, to be honest.

There is nothing cute or fashionable about my new boots. No woman my age wants to be out and about wearing police boots. But, if they’re functional, and if I can wear them without being in actual agony, that’s more than can be said for 99% of the footwear I’ve tried on in the last 20 years, so I’m calling it a win. And I found them at the very first store I tried!

I went for a walk around the campus at sunset (NOT wearing my new boots) and enjoyed the dropping temperatures and deserted landscape. Over the next few days the students will return and the school will roar back to life. I am already into class mode, trying to catch up with the grading that fell by the wayside during my holiday travels.

Mission Accomplished

If you’ve been reading this journal for long, then you may have noticed that I tend to sew in spurts. I can’t seem to find time to fit in a few minutes of sewing in my daily life, so every now and then I work really hard on a project for hours or days until I get it done.

Because I start teaching again next week, and because I’ve done so much traveling recently, I knew today was going to have to be a sewing day if I was going to do what I had committed to do—make some sheets for the baby bed I took to Flynn and Tiffany last month.

I had all the materials. All my fabric had been prewashed. Still, I had other things I had to do this morning, including running a couple of errands, so I didn’t even get the table all the way cleared for cutting out until noon. And I still had to do all the math to figure out what size rectangles I needed to cut.

Since this bed takes a cradle-sized mattress, I had to measure the mattress, figure out how the sheet would cover it, and add seam allowances, etc. Fortunately, I have a mattress here that goes with the cradle, because it would be really hard to fit the sheets properly without it.

The first sheet was a prototype and fit a little too snugly, so I made adjustments before cutting any more out. Once I had it all figured out, I could form an assembly line of sorts. Cutting out, ironing, serging, sewing, etc. I had to take several little breaks because nonstop sewing is really hard on my back and shoulders these days. During my breaks I worked on vocabulary for my students.

My goal was to get six sheets cut out and sewn today, and I did it. Whew! I know it doesn’t seem like much. Sheets are not complicated. These particular sheets are designed like an envelope with an overlap on the bottom, so they can’t come off the mattress no matter how wiggly a baby might be. But simple or not, it still took me all afternoon and much of the evening to get them done. I made four flannel sheets and two that are plain cotton.

In addition, I cut out a blanket and 8 burp cloths which I hope to assemble soon. I felt I had to take advantage of having the table cleared off, and cut out as much stuff as possible.

So for once I feel like I had a pretty productive Saturday. Meanwhile, Jasper did some blacksmithing with a couple of friends this morning and then helped fix a car and went out for coffee. Lucy and Tanner went to a wedding and then went out for coffee too. Walter did some work around the house this morning, but he is still pretty sick so he spent most of the afternoon napping. I think this illness is dragging on so long because he doesn’t get enough rest, so I’m glad he was able to today. Now that my sewing is done, I am looking forward to resting my aching back . . . .

A Glimmer of Hope

My husband’s cancer diagnosis isn’t exactly a surprise, given his family history. Both his grandfather and father died of cancer, and his aunt and uncle have both had it too. I knew he was at high risk for skin cancer because he is very fair-skinned and he worked outdoors in the sun for years. In my mind, it was not “if” but “when” he would get it. Somehow, though, that doesn’t make it any easier to accept when it actually happens.

So today my husband received in the mail the actual printed report from the dermatologist about his cancerous mole, and it definitely cleared some things up for us.

When the doctor’s office had called the report in to him, he was working in the garage and had no way of writing anything down. What he heard was “stage IV melanoma.” But looking at the report today, I saw that it actually says “level IV” melanoma, which is a completely different thing. After a few minutes of research, I had a much better idea of what has actually been discovered so far.

Level IV means that the cancer had spread down into the next two layers of skin, but NOT into the fat layer below. The thickness of the tumor was under the size that is usually associated with aggressive spreading, so it is actually unlikely that the melanoma has spread to other parts of his body.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s still cancer and it’s still scary. But after reading the report and looking everything up, I find I can be cautiously optimistic for the time being. He was able to make an appointment for a consultation with the surgeon for next Thursday. Maybe we’ll know more after that appointment, but in the meanwhile the situation doesn’t seem as dire as it did on Monday. I’m so glad he requested to have the report mailed to him!

Today everyone was back at work. Despite being sick for the last week and a half, Walter went to work, and so did Jasper. Lucy was back at her job in the library. And I had to start organizing my papers so I can have some hope of being ready to start teaching next week!

I also made an excursion to JoAnn’s in Tyler to pick up some fabric I ordered. I’m hoping that Saturday will be a big “sewing-for-the-baby” day so I wanted to make sure I had all the materials I might need. And I enjoyed the rainy drive. It wasn’t raining hard at all—just sprinkling.

Our Revels Now Are Ended

Did you all have a wonderful Christmas? I hope so. Ours went by so very fast. Tuesday we were preparing for our Christmas Eve festivities and for the arrival of Mercy and Daniel.

Spencer was playing for the Christmas Eve service at his church, so he and Jade were unable to join the rest of us at Lucy’s church, where we have gone for Christmas Eve the last couple of years. It is a short candlelight service and they sing real Christmas carols—a big plus in my book.

Afterward, the girls helped me make the cheese fondue and get the table set with the gold chargers and the candelabra and the Christmas crackers. We had our late fondue dinner and the holiday goodies and eggnog after that. There were only nine of us this year: my husband and me (obviously), Lina, Mercy, Daniel, Spencer, Jade, Lucy, and Jasper.

I wasn’t up as late as I often am, but I still had to assemble the breakfast casserole and do some planning for the next morning.

Christmas morning I was up at 5:00 making hot cross bun dough. By 9:00 our breakfast was ready but the diners were not! Some found it hard to get out of bed and Spencer and Jade weren’t here yet, but we couldn’t postpone the meal indefinitely because we had a video chat date with Flynn and Tiffany!

The last few years I’ve made a gluten free/keto version of the breakfast casserole in addition to the “real” one, but since Mary wasn’t here to share it with this year, I found I was quite happy with eggs and sausages.

We spent about half an hour with Flynn and Tiffany, opening each other’s gifts and chatting. When they had to leave to go to Tiffany’s parents’ house, we said goodbye and opened the rest of our gifts here. It was a pleasant couple of hours and I think everyone received something they really wanted. I got two new themed cookbooks to add to my collection—a Star Wars one and a Firefly one. I need to start doing special themed meals again—but this time just for my own family since I no longer host a book club.

We squeezed in a video chat with Mary and Jordan also and we roasted a big turkey and the girls helped me with all the trimmings, including making our traditional trifle for dessert.

Mercy and Daniel didn’t even get any trifle because they had to leave right after supper so that Daniel could get a good night’s sleep before going to work this morning. Walter and Lina also worked all day. It was an abrupt end to that cozy Christmas feeling. I miss the days when everyone was able to stay longer!

I had a big project to work on, and it should have taken a couple of hours, but it took much longer and it was very frustrating. But I got it done—and still had time to zoom over to the bookstore for a few minutes.

Now I’m mostly packed up for my drive to Tennessee tomorrow. Please pray for safety on the road as I go to spend time with my parents. One of my brothers is already there and the other two will be joining us also.

Out and About

This morning of course I got up and fried the rice cakes for Flynn’s breakfast. I had no idea he was out of Marmite or I would have brought him some! He enjoyed them with ketchup instead.

After he left for work, I drove to JoAnn’s to shop for fabric and meet up with Tiffany’s mom, Deanna. I was looking for flannel fabric to make sheets for the baby bed I brought up. My instructions were to look for dinosaur and space-themed fabrics, and I found both!

While browsing through the rest of the store, I came across something that I could not pass up:

A stellar addition to my literary cookbook collection. This one has a hundred recipes, each from a different classic book! And it was on sale!

After checking out, Deanna and I went to Panera where we could enjoy hot drinks and conversation. Flynn and Tiffany’s baby will also be her first grandchild, so I’m sure you can imagine that we are both pretty thrilled!

From there I drove straight to my friend Jane’s house to visit. Jane was the first person I ever stayed with in Colorado Springs, back in 2008 when I brought a vanload of kids up here for their annual writers’ group get-together. Poor Jane fell and dislocated her shoulder on Friday, so she has her arm in a sling and isn’t allowed to move it at all. Fortunately she was up to talking as we had a lot to catch up on.

When I left Jane’s house the sun was shining and it was 50 degrees. During my 15 minute drive, the sun set behind the mountains and when I pulled into Flynn’s driveway it was already down to 38! I arrived back at Flynn’s house shortly after he did and made them some of my famous chicken enchiladas for supper, after which we watched another Christmas movie.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, Jasper finished baking and delivering all his cookies and Walter finally went to a dermatologist and had a worrisome mole on his arm removed. They will be testing it for cancer but we don’t expect to hear the results for several days.

My mother is still in the hospital and is unlikely to be home for Christmas. She is doing very poorly but may be moved to a rehab facility tomorrow.  Please continue to pray for both her and my dad.

A New Snowman

It’s not a secret that I collect teapots. Any student who comes into my dining room, which is also my classroom, soon notices that there are 36 teapots on display (plus a few more in another room, but they don’t have to know that). So it’s not surprising that over the last twenty years or so, some of those teapots have been given to me by students.

Today was my last day with the blond brothers until after the holiday. They came bearing a beautifully-wrapped gift—which turned out to be a teapot shaped like a snowman.

I am delighted. I have two other snowman teapots, gifts from previous students, and have always thought it would be nice to have a group of three. Now I have three cheery little snowman teapots. This evening I made my evening tea in my new pot. I always like to use them right away!

Meanwhile, the brothers had a vocabulary test to take and then I went over their stories with them. They both did a great job!

After they left, I had to go out running errands again, as I think I have every day this week. We have our last Geography class tomorrow, so we will be making the food that Jasper enjoyed most from this last semester: chicken kebabs and fried plantains. Which meant I had to go to the Mexican grocery store, Aldi, and Walmart! Now the chicken is marinating so that it will be ready when Jasper fires up the grill tomorrow.

I have spent the evening working on my craft project and preparing for tomorrow’s Geography test. And working in the kitchen. Lucy turned in her last paper today and is done with her semester! She and Tanner celebrated by watching a movie this evening before Lucy had to go to work.

I talked to my mother this evening for a few minutes. She is still in the hospital and they are still waiting for some answers to questions about her health issues. Bloods tests indicated that she may have some kidney problems—which may in fact be the source of her excruciating back pain. So please pray that the medical staff is able to help her and that she can begin to have a meaningful recovery.