Book Report: Jim Thorpe Original All American (by Jack)

Book Report:
Jim Thorpe Original All American
by Joseph Bruchac
Penguin 2006

This is the story of Jim Thorpe as told by the author.

100_7820Thorpe was born in Oklahoma to a half Indian family. They had, I believe, 8 other children. When he was older, his father tried to take him to school, but Jim would just run back home and be right there when his father came back. This continued until his father eventually took him to a boarding school when he was about 12. There he remained until supervisors from Carlisle, the major Indian school at the time, took a shining to his athletic ability. They offered him a place in their school, and soon enough, he was on the football team. He played without compensation for quite a few years, and became one of the most renowned players in the land. Then, a few of his buddies offered to take him with them to play baseball for compensation, which he did, for a year or so. Then he went back to Carlisle, and signed up for the Olympic Games of 1912. (I think.) He competed and won medals in everything that he competed in, along with praise from the king of Sweden, and two lovely cups. He went back to America with head held high.

But then, the baseball manager whom he had been with for a year told someone else, “I know that guy. He played baseball for me.” Soon, it became known all around the US – Jim Thorpe was no amateur. He lost everything that he had won, except his pride, and that is for this reason: most of the US thought that the sports committee had made the wrong decision.

The Boston Inquirer stated that: “Men wishing to sign up for the Olympic Games had better not play croquet, tiddlywinks, hide-and-go-seek, or button-button-who’s-got-the-button for any type of compensation or they may not run, hurdle, jump, or throw.” Thorpe started playing for the New York Giants’ baseball team soon after that, and married Iva Miller soon after that.

And that is the story of Jim Thorpe. The author puts emphasis on Thorpe’s feelings throughout the events in his life. For example, when he loses his medals, Bruchac dedicates a whole chapter to his feeling of profound loss, an element that I found intriguing, and involving.

All in all, I found that the book gave a fairly balanced perspective of the events, and at the same time quite fun to read. I would definitely recommend it to someone who wanted to learn more about this legendary football player.

Life in Australia (So far)

Slowly, slowly life has started to take on a rhythm. Maybe it will even settle into a sense of normalcy over time.

Home sweet home
Home sweet home – Rod’s sister, Ann, has welcomed us into her home for a few months while we get ourselves organized.  What an amazing sister!

When we first arrived, it seemed that life was a mad rush between doctor appointments for Rod and compulsory meetings at Centrelink.  Many days we would have one of each. (Centrelink is the agency that acts as the unemployment office, medical insurance agency, social services agency…and probably more.) I needed to get a tax number and get on the rolls for help finding work as soon as possible. In the weeks since then, Rod has been granted a disability pension, and I learned that I am exempt from working because Jack is homeschooled. I have also applying to be Rod’s full time carer, since he isn’t well enough to be left in charge of Jack all day. As Rod is better able to take over at home, I’ll look for something part time and maybe Rod will be able to work given more healing time.

Over the weeks we have been here, I have seen one appointment series after another finish. Rod has now gone as far as the therapists for speech, occupational, and physical therapy can take him. The rest is a matter of practice and healing. That’s three appointments he no longer needs to attend. The neuropsychologist has set him free, with an offer to help should he ever feel the need for her services. The cardiologist has given Rod a clean bill of health, and his regular appointments can now be spaced at every six months. I’m not sure about the pace with the neurologist and the supervising physician. They may continue to see him frequently, but we now have more time between visits if its now only two doctors.
On the other hand, Jack’s social life is picking up steam. Every Friday evening, he has a meeting of his chess club, which is small but enthusiastic. Jack was the “seed” they had been looking for to start an intermediate group between the beginners and the tournament players. As they pick up more intermediate players, the group will probably grow over the next year!

We have also started to make friends in the local home-school community. L and E (I don’t have permission to use names) have taken us under their wings and seen to it that we have been included in several outings in the last couple of weeks. Since most of those adventures so far involve swimming, Jack is getting lots of practice and we are both turning berry-brown.  We have started to meet other friendly people, some of whom I really hope will become friends over time.

We haven’t interviewed any dojos yet, but I think that will come with time. The number of new experiences every week is still overwhelming.  In the meantime, we are doing lots of walking and Jack has been teaching himself to ride a skateboard, so in addition to the swimming he’s doing, he’s still getting plenty of exercise.  Still, karate has been such a big part of his life for so long that I hope he won’t give it up now.
Jack and I have been working on finding our way around town.  We are now able to get into town by bus, around town on foot to do some shopping, and then home again. Our next adventure involves getting to the library to join on our own.  Then maybe I can add a trip to Centrelink before my next meeting,  That’s an afternoon appointment, so it should be possible.

I have been delighted to discover a little “village shopping precinct” a few minute’s walk down the hill from our home.  There, within a couple of blocks, is everything we might need – a butcher, a green grocer, a pharmacy, a grocery store, a bakery, a post office, a stationer, a florist, and even a wine shop.  We might have to make longer trips for some specialized purchases, but I have been walking down the hill every few days and I hope to support the local economy by making most of our purchases from those local proprietors.  (I was excited to find that one bakery also sells pastured pork from heritage hogs!  We tried it, and it’s phenomenal!) I also love the very European feel of walking to the shops and carrying home only what we need for a couple of days.  It’s a literary fantasy come true!

With the shops at a nice walking distance, the trips to town, my wanders every evening with Rodney, and a million other little reasons to move, I am feeling stronger and happier by the day!

On the lighter side, folks have asked me about the drains swirling in the opposite direction.  I haven’t noticed that since the drains I have experienced don’t swirl, but I have noticed that all the light switches are on “upside down” and all the electrical sockets require turning on before they will work. Also, 24 hour stores seem to be a rarity. Most shops seems to close fr the evening between 4:30 and 6pm.  That’s wonderful for the folks who get to be home with their families in the evening, but it;s taking this yank some getting used to.

Life is grand!  But it;s time I woke the boy for his studies.


We’re here!

I’m sorry for the long delay in posting. Life has been pretty “full on” since we left Los Angeles.

The night after my last post, we did manage to get seated on the flight! Even better, we were seated together and the seats were very comfortable (a new experience for me on a trans-Pacific flight). There were no over-tired, uncontrolled children nearby. It was pretty much perfect, and we were finally underway!

I used the flight to discover a “new” game, having tired of Mah Jong on the flight from Detroit. Bejeweled is interesting. It took over half of the time I was awake to start to see the patterns, so I guess it was probably a brain expanding experience, but it wasn’t so demanding that I was unable to do it once exhaustion set in. Jack and I each managed to doze for about seven hours, so when we arrived, we were tired, but not completely exhausted.
At Sydney, I was astonished at how quickly and smoothly customs and immigration went. Both were pretty much a “shoo through” experience.

At customs, though, we did meet the most adorable “inspection trainee”. She seemed to be a terrier mix of some kind, and she really, really liked the empty potato chip bag I’d forgotten was in my purse. Oops. But nonetheless, the whole process took about five minutes. Then we had a six hour layover with all of our bags in our possession. Again, I sing the praises of the engineer who invented roller bags with reliable wheels. (Next up, un-carpeted hotels and airports?)

Jack and I were pretty tired. Far too tired to do anything exciting with our six hours in Sydney, so we bought the tickets for the last leg of the journey and had a coffee. After a while, we discovered a baggage storage place so we could wander un-encumbered for a few hours. Then we wandered. I don’t really remember what we did, actually. It was a blur then and it’s gotten less clear over time. It did involve the purchase of lots of coffee and many bottles of water, some silly conversation, and a bit of people watching. Eventually, we were able to reclaim our bags and check them in to the last flight.
We landed at our final destination on Sunday evening, around the same time as we had closed and locked the door on our previous life the Sunday before.

It’s a small airport, so we climbed down the steps onto the tarmac and headed for the airport to claim our bags and our new life. Rodney was there, of course. As were sisters Ann and Trudi. The reunion was sweet, and I didn’t want to let go of my beautiful husband. Not then; not ever again. (It required two cars to get all of our luggage home.  Usually I like to travel light, but this time I was very glad for the extra bags – it means we were comfortable for a week in Los Angeles and that we had Jack’s study materials to get back back to our studies as soon as possible.10951627_10206241488182774_1260577901_o
Life since then has been wonderful but, as I said in my opening statement, pretty full on.  When I first arrived, Rod was still having several medical appointments each week, and we have also been dealing with Centrelink (the social services/unemployment/medical insurance agency) to get Rod on a disability pension, to either get me a job or registered as Rod’s full time carer while he needs one, and to make sure Jack and I have access to medical care should we need it.
I have also been learning the ropes as far as where to get what we need each day – groceries, medication, public transit, fountain pen ink, postage, and the like.  Ann and Trudi have been helpful with car transport for Rod, who can’t yet safely take the bus, and sister Karen has been an enormous help with learning the bus routes and the walking routes around Geelong and Melbourne.

Rod and I have been walking very regularly, and he has been able to go further and further as time passes.  He has also been swimming three times each week, and his progress has been phenomenal. Last week, he started to see the slowing and ending of some of his regular appointments.

He has been seeing a general physician, a neurologist, a cardiologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and a speech therapist as well as a neuropsychologist and even a nutritionist.  Total bill for many months of such complete care?  Less than $200.  I was amazed.

He has gone as far as the various therapists and neuropsychologist can take him. Thanks to his determination and persistent practice with the skills they taught him, the rest is just practice and healing time. The cardiologist has given him a clean bill of health – including superb blood test results, and switched him to every six months monitoring.  That has freed up a lot of time!

Now for the next adventure…!

Our days in Los Angeles

Note: If you’ve been around for long, you may recognize many of the photos in this and near term future posts. I have cleverly not provided myself with the cords required to get photos off either my camera or my phone.  Oops. Sorry for the boring repetition. I’ll go back to new pictures once I buy Australia friendly cords. [Not exactly the most sentimental of quotes, but information none the less…]

[Again, bracketed commentary by Jack.]

It’s Friday morning, and we are still in Los Angeles. I had felt really good about getting out last night, but we had been pushed back to places 7 and 8 on the wait list by new folks with higher priority and only the first 5 people left. Now, there are rumblings about travel not being likely for another week and a half. We will turn up every night anyway, though. We only need two seats and we can’t be seated if we aren’t there… [It’s really sad when the airport feels like home to you.]

Now lest our poor pining family think we are having way too much fun, here is the roundup of how we spend our days. [Please, no pesticide. Ha…ha… Bad pun. Sorry.]

a traffic stop sign burried in snow to just under the sign.
For my Michigan friends

Our days here in LA have started to take on a characteristic rhythm:

We arrive around midnight on the shuttle.  I wash out my travel clothes in the shower every other day or so and hang them to dry, then we read the Internet (to make sure the world is still spinning) for an hour and go to sleep. [More like turn into sacks of potatoes for 10 hours…]

Around 9am, just before the free breakfast is closed for the day, we crawl out of bed and make ourselves presentable, and go get something to eat. [Not today, unfortunately. *sigh*] I head right for the coffee, which is good, [Yes, if you don’t head for the coffee, you turn into a pumpkin in the middle of the day- you are quite talented at turning into all kinds of starchy vegetables…] and then we have powdered eggs as scrambles or omelets with CAFO bacon or sausage. [Scrumptious!]  Jack adds a yogurt and orange juice and I sometimes indulge in juice, too. I grab a second cup of coffee and some extra cream and we go back to the room. I make up the pot of less stellar room coffee, and we read Facebook, write thank you letters, read our books, and generally hang out. [Separately. In our own corners of the room.]  We have even fit in a few hotel workouts – push-ups, luggage lifts, planks, squats, etc. [We did that once…] I wish we were doing more of the workouts and less of the Facebook, but I am also not instigating it. [Which means I suggest it and she says, “Remind me later.” Only because you have the knack for instigating a workout when I m in the middle of a train of though! :p. Hmph.]

Most days I also go down to the front desk to explain again that 1) No, we are not checking out today, 2) Yes, our friend has paid for the room for tonight.  Yes, another friend. 3) No, we don’t know yet whether we will be staying tomorrow because we are flying standby and we hope to be over the Pacific by then, but we won’t know until late tonight. [When there is no turning back. I fail to see how we are going to get the room key back to them. They are electronic keys and completely interchangeable. We can mail them back later, but the stamp probably costs more. I see.]

At about 6:30 pm when we make sure our bags are packed and everything is accounted for, and then we go down to the shuttle. We ride to the airport, check in and check our bags, and have dinner. There are only a few gluten free options and the meat is CAFO, but the staff understand the question so I feel Jack is reasonably safe from gluten. [Do they really, though? Better than the MacDonalds across from the hotel, anyway. Some know more than others, though,  You’re right abut that. Well, it tastes better, but still…]

Then we walk around the terminal a few times, and then sit behind the gate where I can hear the announcements until the gate closes between 10 and 10:30 p.m.  Then we go back to luggage claim, get our bags, call the shuttle, and go back to the hotel…and start over.

a boy playing on an antique tractor in front of an old barn
July 2014
Redford New York

Today I let Jack sleep in because I know he needs more sleep than he has been getting lately. [Absolutely.] It’s almost noon and he hasn’t stirred yet [*clears throat loudly*] so I know he must have been as tired as he looked.  Once he’s ready, we’ll walk over to the 7-11  that I am told is nearby to see what we can find in the way of (probably)[possibly] gluten free calories for the boy’s breakfast, and I hope to drag him down to the mini-gym downstairs afterward to change things up a little.

Some observations on layovers:

  • It’s always a good idea to travel in comfortable clothes in layers. Airplanes and airports are very hot and stuffy, except when they are freezing. Rayon works well because it breathes when you’re warm and is quite cool if you get down to one layer but enough layers can be toasty warm and the layers aren’t bulky so they don’t take a lot of room in your carry-on when you need to stow them. On long layovers that stretch into the vast unknown, rayon is even better, because you can wash it in the shower at night, hang it in the shower, and it’s mostly dry by midmorning.  It doesn’t look any more rumpled than it did yesterday and it smells way better than it would have after a week without washing. (A little hotel shampoo can deal with the inevitable food spots.) [*end advertisement campaign for rayon clothing* Ahem. That was an informational campaign, thankyouverymuch. I don’t sell rayon. You’re welcome.]
  • There is no way to eat really clean when you don’t control the kitchen. But if you choose the same reasonably accommodating place for every meal, they get better and better at understanding the question. [Especially if you get the same waiter!] The good places generally have at least one person on a shift who knows where gluten is hiding. However, while you can avoid corn tortillas, sweet corn, and other obvious forms, catching corn starch, corn syrup, and the like is difficult, and catching the “derived from” sources is nigh on impossible in a restaurant unless it’s a very high end place that sources everything at the farmer’s market.  I can’t afford that level of indulgence, so I have had my ‘wheat stomach ache’ and my ‘corn bone ache’ pretty much constantly since the kitchen in Michigan was packed. Much more the latter than the former. Our snacks ran out days ago, too.  Another thing to look for at 7-11.  :p
  • Roller bags are a gift from the gods…or at least god-like engineers. In the 1970s and 1980s, I was hard pressed to carry just my own carry-on, and my packed luggage absolutely required assistance. That is the origin of my packing minimalism – ‘as long as I can manage, on as few outfits as possible’ is my MO. Today, with modern bags, even though Jack and I are moving across the planet, so minimalism isn’t an option, we have no trouble at all moving our six bags through the world on our own. Hotel carpeting is a bit of a pain (I wonder whether that will go out of style now that it slows roller bags…) but we can do it entirely unassisted without pain or exhaustion.  Wow!  I am so glad that I eyed our ratty old luggage and decided to invest in new matching sets for all of us. This would have been much harder with carry only duffel bags and old fashioned suitcases.


Back again!

July 12, 2014 at 12:37 pm (Forgot to hit “publish”.  Oops.

Hey, everyone!

It seems likely that the only folks who will ever read this have it set up so they get a notice when I post, but I’m back. :)

a black and white photo of Jack at 11, showing every sign of adolescence
Jack at 11

Looking back, I see that I have posted more recently than I remembered. That’s good. But life since November has been a whirlwind of cleaning, packing, and (hardest of all) paring down our possessions to what we really have to keep.

I am a bit of a packrat, so I had tonnes of treasures socked away in every corner of this 1700 sq ft house. Since we have to pay for every ounce we carry across, that had to be winnowed for the most important treasures. Since wood has to be funmigated before entry, it seemed wisest to get rid of it. (That means the furniture has to be replaced.) Since glass, ceramic, and crystal are fragile and likeliest to break enroute, I mostly passed that along, too. (Some things, like wedding gifts and dishes, I am taking my chances with.)

So now, virtually everything we are taking, but don’t need day to day, is packed up and stacked out of the way and the house is for sale. The stuff we actually need day to day looks pretty sparse and the place no longer feels like home…though it is a lot easier to keep it sparkling so we can show it on 30 minutes notice.  (If only my lovely boys remembered that that was the goal.  We can show on the weekend or on Monday morning, but by Wednesday we need way more notice.  *sigh*  Oh well, we have only had one viewing, which is what we expected.  The house is priced very high for the area.  But that’s what we owe the bank, and the bank isn’t feeling cooperative.  They don’t see any reason we can’t just stay put and keep paying the mortgage.

One reason that it has become urgent also changes the plan in Australia completely. Rod has had three strokes in the last 18 months.  He now drags his left side and has serious trouble speaking and writing.  The odds of his being able to work are slim and we have to get him home asap.  He has had his heart and circulatory system inspected and that isn’t where the problem is.  His blood vessels are clear as a whistle and his heart is strong. He had a treatment to repair the damage he did to his neck and head 20 years ago, and he has been functioning better since then, but it hasn’t really resolved the issue the way we had hoped it would. Has it reduced the chances of another stroke?  We hope so.  But we really don’t know.  We do know, my baby needs to be home, asap.  He isn’t one to complain or show it in social situaitons, but the strokes have really made a mess of his self image and his confidence.

A lovely sepia "selfie" of the bride and groom
Michael and Agnes (Nessie) Smith

Another really important reason we have to get home – there are important members of the family we haven’t met yet! Michael married his lovely bride, Nessie, on the 9th of July. We haven’t met Nessie, yet and we can’t wait to.

We also haven’t met Joel and Makita’s sons Rhazel and Rodney – and now they have another on the way around the beginning of the new year! So exciting!

The plan for the trip is shaping up nicely. My retirement date is 19 December, and we now think that our departure date is around 1 February. That gives us time to find a shipper and wrap things up here, after my visa application is approved. It could all move faster, but that would be very rushed.

The Adventure Begins!

If the hero in an adventure story walks out the door of his home and into the dragon’s cave without incident, kills the dragon on the first shot without incident, and then walks home with the gold without incident, it’s not much of an adventure story! That’s just all in a day’s work.  This, my friends, is an adventure! [ Be advised- no dragons have been harmed,  no caves trespassed, and gold stolen during this adventure. ]

[comments in brackets by Jack]

getting brighter …

Jack and I are now lounging in Los Angeles, waiting for the gods to turn the wheels of fate and get us upgraded to “passenger”. [Yes, passenger would be nice…] Our tickets were for standby, since we can’t really afford full fare.  Usually that doesn’t matter, but it seems that everyone in the country wants to go to Sydney this week and every flight is overbooked by impressive amounts. [ This may create serious over-crowding issues for Sydney.]

We arrived here in LA on Monday morning (having left Detroit very early) planning for a 12 hour layover and then to be off to Sydney.  We did our best to entertain ourselves at the airport, though the weeks leading in to our departure had been grueling and had involved short sleep and little real food, so we were exhausted.  (Have I ever mentioned how much my son impresses me? [Only 50 times this week. Thank you, though.] As exhausted as he has been, he has never been grumpy with me.  At worst he gets very, very quiet and solemn.  He clearly didn’t get that particular strength from me!  But I can be reasonable when I am exhausted, as long as no one else is unreasonable with me [which mean breathing too deeply], so we’ve been doing really well.  This young man is such a joy to travel with!) [*blush*]

Anyway, on Thursday, the movers came.  They were an hour and a half late, because the wind chill was -45 (a goodbye gift from my beloved Michigan winter), and the truck was cranky, and then they lost their way to our house when they missed a turn. That’s OK.  I was signing papers at the end before I realized that they had been late, and then only because they had written it on the forms.  I had been too busy to watch the clock. Anyway, remember I mentioned the wind chill?  Yeah; well, it was necessary to take the door off the hinges to get the dolly in and out with boxes on it.  It took four hours to load the truck.  It was a tad nippy even in the house (not much point in having the furnace roaring with no door) and my hands are still rough and red from cold damage.  It was hilarious, but I did feel very bad for the fellow who was hauling the boxes out into the freezing gale. He kept coming in from a load and huddling over a furnace vent trying to get warm. It was cold in the house; I can’t imagine how much colder it was out in the wind. [I was on a sleepover for most of that part, but it was pretty cold.]

Friday and Saturday were our days to say goodbye.  Jack had a party on Friday with his homeschool friends and I had an open house on Saturday for people to drop in to say goodbye.  It was wonderful to see everyone, but also overwhelmingly sad for both Jack and me. Before and after the parties, I was frantically sorting to make sure I had not forgotten anything.  On Friday, the moms of Jack’s friends spotted a closet I hadn’t even looked at yet and helped me to go through it. (Thanks, Nerida, Mary, and Stacey!) They found two pair of brand new shoes I had bought as backup and forgotten about!!!  (I have a miserable time finding shoes that fit, so when I order a pair that feels heavenly, I try to buy another couple of pair, since they always discontinue wonderful shoes right after I discover them! Whew!  That was close! Thank you so much, ladies!!!)

On Sunday, our last day in Michigan, we spent the day scrabbling to get done everything that we needed to do before we left. It seemed that no matter how hard I worked, no matter how long the hours, I never quite got “within cooee” of getting it all done. Thankfully, Linda is handling the stuff I couldn’t get to and then she and Paula and Nerida, and Jan will get the remaining stuff shipped.  In the evening, our dear friend, Mark, drove us to a hotel near the Detroit airport. We had an early Monday flight to Los Angeles, and Michigan decided to throw a blizzard to see me off, so rather than ask anyone to drive through that at 5 a.m. [Who sets these hours?] , we went to a hotel in the evening and took the shuttle to the airport in the morning. It just made more sense. [And it wasn’t borderline cruelty.]

Not making the flight to Sydney was a possibility that I knew about, but I was emotionally unprepared for it. We were devastated. All I could imagine was weeks taking turns with Jack sleeping on the airport floor.  Paula, who arranged the tickets for us, offered to bring us back to Michigan, but emotionally, we can’t bring ourselves to turn back now. We have said too many goodbyes and our lives are now ahead! [Well, right now they’re at a bit of a standstill…]

We were exhausted, near tears [We?] , and a serious mess, so I did what I always do under those circumstances.  I called my beloved Rodney. As he always does, just by being Rodney [And, you know, breathing, and maybe talking.] , my love talked [I rest my case.] me through it and calmed me down. The poor guy had to deal with my helpless [No.], doom-saying [Eh… I guess so…] , negative first reactions [dramatic might be a better adjective…], but he’s used to that I guess. [You think?]  He just keeps using his soothing voice and I start to feel my brain turning over and the world starts to look brighter. I usually just go with his advice no matter how unlikely it seems to me that it will work, because he is usually right. After a few minutes, my brain started to work and I decided that the first thing we needed was a good night’s sleep and a shower. [Not to mention food.] The flights to Sydney leave Los Angeles every 24 hours at 10:30 pm. It was going to be a long wait even for the next available flight, and I knew from discussions with the agents that every flight for a week or more is overbooked and this could take a while.

I started to research hotels in the area, but just as the page came up listing the hotels that have 24 hour shuttle service, my phone’s battery died. (Sunday night’s hotel had no electric outlets.  One down side of a cheap hotel.) The only hotel whose name I saw before the phone died was the one I asked the cab to take us to. (It was too late for the shuttle so I would have needed the hotel’s phone number to call the shuttle after hours – and my phone was dead. A cab it was.)

We settled in and got some sleep, and the next morning  – as I often do – I whinged on Facebook. I was already feeling better, but the challenge of many nights in the hotel taking me closer to the desperate need for an income immediately was still stressful. Several friends immediately offered to help us out with the hotel bill.  I gratefully accepted and they have been calling the desk and paying a night at a time.  That removed the last of the panic factors.  Now it is just a waiting game. [The Waiting Games… I like it.]

I hope to be on tonight’s flight.  Jack and I were #1 and #2 on the wait list last night, so if there are any seats we might we get them. (If no one with higher priority signs in today.)

When Rod and I dreamed about this day for 15 years, I never envisioned doing it alone.  Just as well.  I’m pretty sure I would have been terrified out of my mind. To some degree, it is true that this is an impossible task to do alone.  But I have never been alone in all of this.  Our friends have come together to lift Jack and me out of panic and to help us at every step.  Each friend has brought something different to the project, and all of the contributions have been vital. Not to downplay those very tangible helps, but I think that the greatest gift any of them has given to Jack and me, is the understanding that we are loved and we are not alone in this amazing adventure. With friends like these, no adventure is too much to handle. [ I agree.]

Finally on our way!

It’s been a long, grueling road over the last five months, with little time for introspection and blogging. My apologies for not making time – but when I am very emotional I am not terribly coherent and that made it almost impossible to find anything to talk about that would be even marginally interesting.


We have packed up our lives into a stack of boxes, tied off all the threads that made up our lives here, and lived like squatters for months, making due with as few possession as possible so that everything stayed in its boxes rather than sneaking out to play and making packing later -now-more difficult.

We have said goodbyes, we have cried, and we have dreamed about an amorphous future on the other side of the globe. We have reached out to home-schoolers, dojos, and chess clubs in our new town. We have ignored it all and watched way too much TV. (On dvd on the laptop, but escape is escape.)

But tomorrow the movers come and take away our boxes.  We will be saying our goodbyes over the weekend, and then at dawn on Monday, we are on our way!

It’s amazing to me how having the flight settled has changed my mood.  For the last month, I have been near tears a lot of the time. We announced over a year ago that we were leaving and it seems like we have had a steady stream of “last times” and “goodbyes” since then, with the pace becoming breakneck once Rod left for Australia in September.

My permanent resident visa came through in mid-November and planning and packing went into high gear. I retired and started closing accounts and wrapping up day to day details in early December … and by last week it had all become too much emotionally.

Then the retirement money cleared the bank and Jack’s Australian passport arrived so we were able to make flight arrangements.  When my friend, Paula, who works at the airlines, called yesterday afternoon with itinerary, the sun came out for me. Now I feel like I can look ahead and I realize that I had spent many weeks and months looking backward.

I had spent more than 30 years making this area my home after a rather footloose youth. Each time I went somewhere that had been familiar in my past, I was painfully aware that the odds were that I would never see it again. You can only do that for so long before it all gets overwhelming.

Now my attention can turn to wrapping up the last details here and starting my new life in Australia.  What a relief.  As much as I will miss everyone here, I can’t take many more endings and knowing that beginnings will start in five days has made life so much easier.

Jack and I have been discussing that we will need a new look for the blog, though…this house goes back to the bank on Friday (that’s another long story for another day.) and is no longer Chez Smiffy.  We will be looking for a new look once we get there.

Oh, and I forgot to mention …

Shorn! Ugh

Another disconcerting new change…

I had my hair hacked off in acknowledgement of big changes afoot.

I don’t like it. It’s too hard to keep it out of my face and I think it looks ugly and graceless. Fortunately I am now old enough to understand that it’s just hair. It will grow back. I’m annoyed by it, but that was always going to be the case, and I am not emotionally devastated like I have been by haircuts in the past. I know that there is no way a stranger will ever be able to know what I will like, and I deliberately chose the haircutter with the first empty seat that I encountered. The poor guy was very wary about it – he had no clue about hair the texture of mine, but he was game to give it a go. I told him he was an artist and a gentleman and gave him a largish tip for taking th chance.

In transition

dark days, growing brighter

A few days to Yule. A few days since I retired. So, so much is happening so quickly.

My application for a resident visa was approved a few weeks ago, so I am good to go.  I thought I would have to wait a couple of years for a permanent resident visa, but they gave me that one straight up. An advantage to having been married to an Aussie for more than a decade and having an Aussie citizen son, I suppose.

I got word last week that Rod is really not well.  He is regaining function quickly, but the damage from his four strokes is  much more extensive than we could have guessed.  The damage is from both bleeding and clotting strokes, making it dangerous to try to treat the strokes.  That makes every transition from one medication to another really dangerous and the long term prospects very frightening if they don’t find a medication that works in the long term very soon.

I announced on the day that I got the news that I would retire at the end of the week, and I did so, on Friday.  Now, I am packing the remaining parts of the house and repacking the parts that had already been done so that I can make an inventory.

The toughest part of the packing has been dismantling my beloved home, so a group of dear friends came over to put everything into boxes to make it emotionally easier and it has been. I still haven’t managed the emotional endurance to finish my craft room…but the rest of the house is essentially done.  Once things are in boxes, I seem to be able to handle them more objectively.

On Monday we go to Chicago to get Jack’s Australian passport, and in the mix somewhere I have to request paperwork from work and that my retirement funds be deposited in my bank so we have something to live on when I get there.  My plan is to leave on december 25 and to arrive on boxing day. It has a nice symmetry since I arrived in the Detroit metro area on December 24, 1982.

I am so very grateful for good friends.  This is really hard and my instinct is to go hide somewhere, hoping it will all just go away.  It won’t, of course. And my friends are helping me immensely to keep going.  In our imaginations, Rod and I worked on all of this together.  It’s a big and very emotional job – and without Rod here to hold me when I feel overwhelmed, some days are harder than others. On the bright side, i will be with him again soon.

There is so much happening.  So much to say…but I am overwhelmed and not feeling terribly verbal.  However now that m ore fo my time is my own, maybe…?

Last day with Rod…for a little while

Rod’s flight is over Nevada right now. In 20 minutes he will land at Los Angeles and board a flight to Sydney.
An old barn door with worn wood
Life has just made a HUGE 180.

Jack and I have to go on without our rock for the next six months.  I can no longer say “Could you handle that, my love?” when something seems daunting.  It’s all mine now.

But I just keep reminding myself that in a few hours, Rod will finally be getting the medical care he needs with no ‘changes in course’ due to the expense.  By the time I see him in March, he may well have made his goal happen.  He intends to get therapy, get a job, and start supporting us.  From anyone else, I’d call it a pipe dream, but Rod has done so many astonishing things that I am not ready to write off the possibility.  But I made sure that he knew that as welcome as that idea is, I’m not counting on it.

Jack is torn. He is very sad about his Dad being away.  But he is so excited about the alternate arrangements – living for the day with his friends’ families – that he is having trouble thinking of all this as a really bad thing.

I know what he means.  We can now eat peanut butter and cheese and seafood  – foods that Rod is allergic to – without compunction. We intend to indulge.

I am looking forward to hearing from my honey in writing – the way we courted, but for which we had little use while we cohabited.  I wouldn’t have set him away to get letters – but getting letters does take some of the sting out.

I’m very sad and scratching for reasons that this is a good thing.

Looking backward

Wow, a lot has happened.

I intended to post a lot more and a lot more often, but our blog was on a corrupted part of a server, or something. (I never asked what happened.) It disappeared completely!

Our service provider was able to get it all back up (thanks, Steve!) but on a new version of the software, which has meant having to figure out the new software, reinstall Discuss, get my account straighthened out, and all that comes up with almost starting over. Fortunately, it looks like all the old posts are there. (I haven’t found the old drafts, but that’s not a disaster.)
As I’m sure you will remember, Rod has been having strokes for about 20 months now.  The first one was mostly annoying to him since it caused him to lose sensation on the left side of his body, but in May (on Jack’s 11th birthday, actually) he had the first of the more serious strokes.

That one left him unable to speak clearly or to write for several months. He later had a stroke that caused no discernable physical symptoms but had a serious effect on his cognitive function.  He became really confused and started to need to sleep a great deal.  At first it was 20 hours per day, which was really rough for poor Jack.

My honey is a fighter, and he is fighting his way back from these, too.  He is now intelligible unless he is very tired, but his diction is not clear and his voice is weak.  However he is able to function again and he is far less confused, though he still needs a long nap mid-day to get through the day.

The disruption of his cognitive function meant that it was no longer safe for him to drive, which means that all of his driving chores (shopping, taking him to the doctor, etc) are now on me. Fortunately, my manager is very understanding and he is happy for me to work from home and come and go from the office as needed to take care of things.

The good news is that Rod’s doctor has continued to research Rod’s difficult case.  (None of the “normal” blood pressure medications keep his blood pressure down for more than a few days, but all come with hideous side effects that last long after his blood pressure has returned to “scary high”.  He found an off label medication, intended for treating ADHD, that sometimes effects blood pressure.  It works!  It lowers Rod’s blood pressure so well that he found the upper limit when he passed out with blood pressure so low his meter couldn’t read it!  Yikes! That was scary, but it’s also a relief that he can keep the pressure down to protect his brain.

However the pill can’t treat the *cause* of the persistently high blood pressure and we simply can’t afford the tests that would be required to figure that out.  Our operating theory is that it may be scar tissue from a head injury he recieved 20 years ago.  The injury was serious enough to cause real trouble then, so it seems quite possible.  But that would requires a very long and involved MRI to locate and quantify the problem and then comes the treatment, which also wouldn’t be cheap.

So… *sigh*  Rod is returning to Australia in 13 days!  He can get free and low cost medical care there.  He will feel less “useless” than he says he feels here, watching Jack and I carry the load he has always carried, so it will be good for his mental health.  He already has a doctor there thanks to his sister, and his sister will take over his care. I’m eternally grateful to our friends Mark T and Paula M for, between them, making this possible!  No way could we have pulled this off without them.

The Smiths in our last family portrait in America
(c) 2014 Erika Woolams

That leaves me to sell the house.  It’s been on the market since June but since it is at the price we owe the bank no one has been willing to buy.  We lower the price this week.  I got the paperwork from the bank that didn’t *say* they would accept less, but did ask if we had an offer and how much it was for…which I am taking to mean that we can offer it at market value.  It can’t close in two weeks, even if someone grabs it the day the price goes down, but I am hoping it sells so I only have to handle packing and signing on my own. (Well, and moving to an apartment, and arranging to have all our goods shipped to Australia, and…) I lean really hard on my honey and all of this is pretty scary.

Rod and Jack have built an amazing group of friends, who have all kindly taken me in, too.  They have offered Jack a place in their homeschools so that I can continue to work – and I am hoping that with so many of them splitting the job, it won’t be too onerous for anyone to have an extra kid around.  I am truly amazed at how loving and generous this group of friends is.  Actually, when I think about it it makes me cry.  So, for part of September, October, November, and part of December, Jack will tour his friends lives and see how other families do home education – and they tell me that they are looking forward to seeing how Jack does his.  (But he will be cutting way back for those months, since his studies take three hours per day, which would be way too much to ask of his friends. He will take one book per day.)

I packed my craft supplies over the weekend.  I miss crafting, but there really hasn’t been time lately. It seems like every time I think I have time to pack the last few rooms, we have a viewing so that I spend the time polishing the house for that instead. I also need a completely dry weekend so I can put the last of the stuff at the curb.

Anyway, that’s what we’re up to.  I hope that all is well with any of you who are still around.  :)


Back again!

Hey, everyone!

It seems likely that the only folks who will ever read this have it set up so they get a notice when I post, but I’m back. :)

a black and white photo of Jack at 11, showing every sign of adolescence
Jack at 11

Looking back, I see that I have posted more recently than I remembered. That’s good. But life since November has been a whirlwind of cleaning, packing, and (hardest of all) paring down our possessions to what we really have to keep.


I am a bit of a packrat, so I had tonnes of treasures socked away in every corner of this 1700 sq ft house. Since we have to pay for every ounce we carry across, that had to be winnowed for the most important treasures. Since wood has to be funmigated before entry, it seemed wisest to get rid of it. (That means the furniture has to be replaced.) Since glass, ceramic, and crystal are fragile and likeliest to break enroute, I mostly passed that along, too. (Some things, like wedding gifts and dishes, I am taking my chances with.)

So now, virtually everything we are taking, but don’t need day to day, is packed up and stacked out of the way and the house is for sale. The stuff we actually need day to day looks pretty sparse and the place no longer feels like home…though it is a lot easier to keep it sparkling so we can show it on 30 minutes notice.  (If only my lovely boys remembered that that was the goal.  We can show on the weekend or on Monday morning, but by Wednesday we need way more notice.  *sigh*  Oh well, we have only had one viewing, which is what we expected.  The house is priced very high for the area.  But that’s what we owe the bank, and the bank isn’t feeling cooperative.  They don’t see any reason we can’t just stay put and keep paying the mortgage.

One reason that it has become urgent also changes the plan in Australia completely. Rod has had three strokes in the last 18 months.  He now drags his left side and has serious trouble speaking and writing.  The odds of his being able to work are slim and we have to get him home asap.  He has had his heart and circulatory system inspected and that isn’t where the problem is.  His blood vessels are clear as a whistle and his heart is strong. He had a treatment to repair the damage he did to his neck and head 20 years ago, and he has been functioning better since then, but it hasn’t really resolved the issue the way we had hoped it would. Has it reduced the chances of another stroke?  We hope so.  But we really don’t know.  We do know, my baby needs to be home, asap.  He isn’t one to complain or show it in social situaitons, but the strokes have really made a mess of his self image and his confidence.

A lovely sepia "selfie" of the bride and groom
Michael and Agnes (Nessie) Smith

Another really important reason we have to get home – there are important members of the family we haven’t met yet! Michael married his lovely bride, Nessie, on the 9th of July. We haven’t met Nessie, yet and we can’t wait to.


We also haven’t met Joel and Makita’s sons Rhazel and Rodney – and now they have another on the way around the beginning of the new year! So exciting!

The plan for the trip is shaping up nicely. My official retirement date is 19 December, and we now think that our departure date is around 1 February. That gives us time to find a shipper and wrap things up here, after my visa application is approved. It could all move faster, but pushing to make it that would be very rushed. I have had enougha ll work and no play these last few months. :p

In one of my more recent posts – January, I think — I mentioned that we were going to go for a more strict interpretation of paleo. We did that, and it “worked so well” (at reducing my apetite) that I started to eat later and later in the morning. I am never hungry in the morning, but I was getting to 1 or 2 pm before I wanted more than my coffee on many days. I noticed that my trousers were getting more snug, but I put it down to the fact that I hadn’t had the energy to walk as much as usual (which I blamed on the Augean Project at home).  However I had the chance to test my blood sugar a few weeks back and was alarmed to find that it was high forst thing in the morning and went *higher* as the day wore on even with no food!

That made no sense to me because I never had symptoms of hypoglycemia.  However I did some research and discovered that fasting has that effect on two groups of people.  People who already have pancreatic dysfunction (me!) and women, especially post menopause (again, me!).  So…Rod has again started making “breakfast cookies” so I can have one with my coffee.  It makes me hungry all day, but evidently that’s better than not being hungry. Oddly enough, I now have the energy to walk again!  Oh well.

When Rod’s choir and Jack’s Sunday school quit for the summer, Rod started taking Jack to karate.  That meant that I have not been sitting somewhere that I couldn’t be packing or cleaning, and so my studies have stalled – probably also for the summer.  That and crafting have been on a back burner for quite a while.  And now it looks like my first order of business once we are in Australia will be to find a job, so I don’t know when I will pick them up seriosuly again. Oh well, the piecemeal I had been doing can resume once Choir and Sunday school start up again.

Well, while I haven’t been studying or blogging, I have managed to have *some* fun.  I have started making our own saurkraut.  That came out so well that after my second batch, I decided to try dill pickles.  It’s easy, so I hope it works out.  Real fermented pickles at the store are super expensive and I can’t have the cheap ones because most are pickled in corn vinegar.

Ahh, well.  I hope to do this every weekend now that packing and cleaning are essentially done.  Have a great weekend!

22 March 2014

Fun news – our copies of Jack’s book have just come in!

We have agreed that the next installment should probably have a slightly bigger foint, but otherwise we’re pretty happy with it. And Jack is well into part 2! He was so excited about the fantastic response that he was inspired to get to it, dropping his work on the cat book he was working on for the time being. A PDF of part 2 will be available to purchasers of part 1, but we will also publish parts 1 and 2 together in a new release of the book.

Jack in a suit January 2014
In preparation to start taking charge of Jack’s middle school education I have been doing a great deal of research. In the process, I discovered that there is a whole new level of reading that I had never learned or even been aware of. I picked up a used copy of How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and have been working my way through it, using The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman as a practice book. (I had picked that up last spring and read it through, but came away pretty sure that I had missed a lot.)

Since it was a used book, and the previous owner had taken Adler’s advice to heart and had marked the book up thoroughly, cleverly missing the point of almost every paragraph, I have started making my notes in a separate notebook, which I find makes it easier for me to slow down and really think about Adler’s points.

It’s a long, slow process, but I am enjoying it very much.  I think I will be able, by the end, not only to read better myself, but also to share the process with Jack a little at a time so that he comes away able to read more deeply than is usual in anyone with (as Adler describes) less than a Ph.D.

Am I nuts that this is my idea of a really good time?  It’s right up there with hiking in the woods.  :)

15 March 2014

Hello, friends! The biggest news: Jack has cut his hair for the first time.  (Pay no attention to the copyright – I have been too busy with lots of packing to do much photography and had failed to update it when the year turned.)

The reason: I can now talk about it openly because it’s official at work. I am retiring at the end of the year (or very early next year) and we will be leaving for Australia around this time in 2015.  Our family cut out hair when our lives are changing dramatically.  Jack feels that the change has already begun for him and it was time to acknowledge that.  (Living in a house full of packed boxes and living without all the stuff you need enough to be shipping it across the planet has that effect, I guess.)  Rod and I will cut ours as we get closer to the day.

Jack has started work on part 2 of his serial.  This is called “The Exodus”.  He is very encouraged because he has sold 32 copies of part 1!  Way beyond our wildest hopes!!  I hope he will have it finished by the end of summer.

We had hoped to put the house on the market by the end of the month. Then we had hoped top have it ready for May.  Now..I just don’t know.  Progress has been very slow and I feel very overwhelmed.  Rod and our friend Troy have done a great job at all the maintenance that had been neglected and the furniture and other things we don’t need and won’t be taking with us are largely moved to new homes,  but the sorting and packing has to be tucked into the time I am at home, and after my “keeping the house  functioning” chores are done.  It feels like it is taking FOREVER.  It got to the point where I started to have anxiety attacks when I started thinking about how much there is left to do.  I think I will just have to breathe deeply, keep my shoulder to the wheel, and believe that I will finish “in time” even if it’s not on the schedule I would have preferred.

On a far cheerier subject, Jack is about 2/3 of the way through his Rome unit and I am hard at word digging up the materials we will need for his Early Middle Ages unit.  (Remember, we describe the units by the historical period we are concentrating on, but we cover much, much more than history.)  Now that Jack has made an intellectual leap, we are going to move from “grammar stage” learning to “Logic stage” learning.  We had already begun some of that of course, but we will be moving more toward learning how to learn and away from simply absorbing facts. I am pretty excited about that.  :)  Once we are in Australia, the plan is for me to be at home studying with Jack while Rod supports us .  That will be lots of fun for me and while Rod is an excellent teacher, I think he will be glad to get back to his more familiar and comfortable role as wage earner.  :)

OK, the packing and cleaning won’t happen if I spend all day on the computer.  Catcha on the flip side.  :)







Jack’s first novel

Jack’s first novel, part one of a science fiction adventure serial, has just been published. He has already sold five copies (we have such good friends!) and he plans a book signing in the next couple of months.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

From the cover: Îhil Gidnol was platforming and texting on his new jPhone, when he bumped into a billboard that said “Don’t text while platforming!” Fortunately he had slowed down to 5 miles per hour while texting, and just sat down hard. “Darned signs!” he grumbled as he picked himself up “There’s one of them every 20 feet.” He continued a bit more carefully and managed to get home before rush hour. He was at a loss at what to do next. He had just passed into manhood. “What next?” He asked himself aloud. Then he decided that, before money ran out, he’d better get himself employed. Little did he dream what adventures his first job would lead to!

Changes for a new year

Happy New Year!!

Wow, the snow is coming down with a great deal of dedication today. Rumour expects 10 to 12 inches, followed by the lowest low temperatures in decades. A whole lot of folks are hoping for a snow day or two. I am enjoying the snow, whether I get a snow day or not. I love winter! Of course, it’s now me who shovels the drive..

The holidays were lovely, and I really celebrated being able to find cookie recipes that were more or less “safe”. Come to find out, though, my body doesn’t agree that they were safe. At least not in the quantities I ate them. I feel pretty dreadful, as does Rod. We discussed trying a month or so of stage 1 GAPS, but on re-reading the list of allowed foods, I don’t think that would work. It basically amounts to lots and lots of stews…and that would be a pain to carry to work and hen eat cold. Besides that. it rules out my beloved coffee. Nope. Not going there.

So we are thinking we’ll go super strict with primal/paleo for a few months. That we can do. Mostly, that we do anyway, except for the occasional potatoes and safe cookies. Sadly, the potatoes have gradually stopped being occasional as have the cookies. I generate a fair amount of coconut pulp when I make my coconut milk and Rod has regularly turning that into low sugar cookies. They are yummy – but Jack doesn’t like coconut. so mainly Rod and I eat them. Even low sugar cookies can become a problem if you eat enough of them. Now, what can we do with the coconut pulp other than compost it…?

Continue reading Changes for a new year

December 16, 2013: on periodontal disease, baking soda, and tooth remineralization

As I have blogged about before, back in 2006, I was diagnosed with periodontal disease. By 2010, I had gotten it under control and I was very pleased.

My routine had been to swish my mouth with hydrogen peroxide and tea tree every morning before I brushed my teeth, and to brush my teeth once per week with baking soda along with nourishing teas and the daily drinking of stock.

At some point, I got lazy. When I ran out of toothpaste, I just brushed with baking soda.

I knew the risk. Baking soda is pretty harsh to use every day, and at the back of my mind was the thought that I should look into less harsh toothpaste recipes, but I never got around to it.

Then a few weeks ago, I started to notice that my teeth were back to being very sensitive. When I looked closer, I realized that my teeth were very white – but no longer shiny.

Uh oh. I was lazy too long and I seem to have damaged the enamel of my teeth. Oops.

I dug out my copy of “Cure Tooth Decay” and started doing some research. I’m not sure yet that it is possible to completely heal my teeth, but it’s worth a try. Even if I can’t grow the enamel back, it sounds like I can strengthen the dentin and resist more trouble.

I have switched to brushing and oil pulling with coconut oil, I have renewed my efforts to eat lots of stock and drink plenty of nourishing teas, and I have been taking fermented cod liver oil with butter oil twice per day.

After a few weeks, my teeth are far less sensitive – that could simply be from not using the baking soda, though. They are starting to be shinier again, though far from as shiny as before. I’d say the jury is still out, but I’ll try to keep you posted on my remineralization experiment.

Oh, and Jack has finished his fractions book and is begging for the next book – decimals and percents. I’m glad he likes maths but I am having trouble keeping up with him. I should figure what he’s “supposed” to know in fifth grade and maybe slow him down a bit or relax and go with it until he’s done as much as his peers. …or maybe we can get the next book from the library…

Have a great week everyone!

December 15: Dishwasher detergent and peppermint chocolate cookies

Wow, two days in a row…amazing. It’s been a very quiet weekend. The only time I left the house all weekend was to help Rod load the laundry into the car! This doesn’t happen very often, but it’s nice when it does.

I was very excited recently to come across a new recipe for dishwasher detergent that actually works! (Even better than the stuff in the green box that we had been buying.) We have been using it for a few weeks now and are on our second batch. No streaks, no haze. We do use vinegar in the rinse aid compartment but we have done that for several years now. I don’t know how clean the dishes would be without it.

Jack and I have been baking this evening, making peppermint cookies baked in chocolate.

Several people requested the ercipe, so here you go:

2 ½ cups almond flour
½ teaspoon  sea salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
10 drops of peppermint essence
½ cup coconut oil, melted
½ cup of honey

In a bowl, mix the almond flour, salt, and baking soda with a whisk
Add the coconut oil, peppermint, and honey
Roll out dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper to about ¼ inch thick
Remove top piece of parchment paper and cut out the cookies (we used a small glass)
With a metal spatula, put the cookies on the baking sheet
Bake at 350° until brown around the edges, 5-8 minutes
Cool completely on a cookie rack

Melt one bar of good quality chocolate and two tablespoons of butter over a double boiler.  Add 10 drops of peppermint essence.  When th cookies are  cool, dip them into the warm chocolate and put them on parchment to cool.



December 14 2013 Beautiful, beautiful winter

What a gorgeous day! It has been snowing to beat the band – we had 6 inches by 3pm! Perfect! I was really, really hoping for a “good” winter this year. lt looks like I am going to get one.

This is one of the shots from this year’s photo shoot. Our friend Vera, who takes simply amazing photos, agreed to take our photos this year, and I think she did a fantastic job! Especially because, as you might guess from looking at his expression, Jack started out rather unenthused about the project. Vera, genius that she is, managed to turn that into a hilarious and beautiful portrait! She got several really fun shots, and even a few that were perfect for our traditional New Year card to the family. We don’t send Christmas letters, but we do send a new year letter with a photo card. I was delighted to find that a few people kept them – and even displayed them. (Maybe only because we were going to be around, but, hey, they knew where to find them!)

Our big holiday card project is done and most of the cards have gone out. We have salvaged the parlour from under the heaps of paper generated by the card project. I bring the card project downstairs in part because it’s just to big for the small space in my craft room, and in part because it takes about three months – months I don’t want to be cloistered away from my guys. But that means that the room is gradually buried in more and more paper, ink, ribbon, and “stuff”. We finally got that all cleaned up we have even decorated for the first time in several years! Jack did much of the decorating – which means I am more likely to be happy to do it next year.

The season is off to a good start!

We ended up skipping the UMS Orchestra’s Handel’s Messiah this year because we decided that, under the circumstances, laundry took priority. Well, that and Jack, when asked how sad he would be to miss is, said “Well, it is VERY long…”. Long it is, and he has been going since he was three, so if he doesn’t want to go he surely knows what he’s turning down.

We made it to Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village, last night thanks to my employer. As always when I visit Greenfield Village, I had an absolute blast! But visiting i winter is even more wonderful to me. There is something so satisfying about wandering around in the cold and snow in a gas lit village from the 1840s, peeking in to shops and houses and seeing life taking place much as it might have 150 years ago. Maybe it’s the combination of a good long (three hours or more) walk, the snow, and the immersion for a few hours in history.

I still hope to get to Detroit Zoo’s Wild Lights program before the season is over. Again I think the enchantment is one of a beautiful park, a nice long walk, and a lot of happy people.

Other than that, our holiday will consist of a group of friends coming over on solstice to sing in the sun with us in the form of carols and other seasonal songs and a small gift exchange – not nearly as big as Samhain. I might make a seed cake.


Edited to add: We just got word that our newest grandson, Rodney, has arrived. Mama posted at 2am Monday, so we don’t know yet whether he shares her birthday (October 27) or the day after. Welcome little Rodney and congratulations Joel and Makita!!

Hey, all! Happy “end of October”!

This post may have to be “unillustrated”. Last week, I spent all my blogging time trying to attach a picture, with no luck. This week I’m blogging, picture or now. (I have always assumed that the picture helped you to know at a glance whether you’ve read this post or not. I guess the occasional pictureless post does the same job.)

A few months ago, I read about adding minerals back into reverse osmosis filtered water to replace the minerals that are filtered out. It seemed like a good idea, so I bought a bottle of mineral drops and started adding them to my drinking water. I used them for weeks, and gradually started to notice that I was feeling “corned”. I was achy all over and losing strength in my joints. You are probably figuring right now that the the obvious move is to stop using the mineral drops. In retrospect it *is* obvious. But I spent weeks trying to figure out where corn had sneaked in to my diet. Stupid, right? Anyway, I eventually figured it out. Duh! In food “minerals’, “spices”, flavours, or any other nonspecific ingredient is most often derived from corn. Why not bottles of minerals? I eventually figured it out, but it is taking forever to push the corn out. I am still aching all over and still have little strength in my joints. Rod says that minerals are absorbed very deeply so it will take a while to get them out of the tissues they were absorbed into. So far (three weeks later) he seems to be right. I think it would be better for me to stick to getting my minerals from pastured stock.

Gads, my WordPress (or my computer) is still acting up. If this looks weird, please accept my apologies. I just went through and deleted a bunch of code from the visual format. I hope it wasn’t needed.

Jack’s education is rolling right along. He has decided that maths is his favorite subject! Wow. That must be the Smith genes, because it sure isn’t in the Delaney genes.

But it wasn’t always that way. Rod was teaching Jack maths the way he learned them. It was working, but very, very slowly. He was nine years old and still working at multiplication. He could do it, but he was slow and inconsistent.

Then, last autumn, I pulled out a second grade math test. Not for the math, but because we want Jack to have some experience with tests just in case he ever needs to take them. He took it, assuming that it would be easy. He was devastated. He did very poorly. Partly because tests are not written in a straightforward way. It is very often not clear what exactly they are asking – that’s the part I wanted Jack to have practice with. But he was also way behind in the maths he was expected to know.

When Jack found out that he was “way behind the school kids”, it kicked his competitive nature into high gear. Come to find out, a part of his lackadaisical attitude is that he assumed that addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division was all there was, and he figured he was almost there. Now that he knew that there was more to be had and that he was behind, he was eager to go. He got his times tables down very quickly. Then we bought the Life of Fred curriculum. Many of his friends love it, and seeing all those books ahead of him kept Jack aware that there was much he didn’t know yet. In eight months, he went from kindergarten math with Fred to the sixth grade. The he also started spending much of his free time on the Khan Academy math program. His new goal is to start calculus by the age of 13. I have no idea whether he can do it, but it’s nice to see the new energy behind his approach to his education. Even better, that new energy seems to have splashed onto many of his other subjects.

Over the last few months, as Jack has begun to study with enthusiasm, he has also decided to add another subject each day so that he can get through this unit and get to the next Harry Potter book. In the beginning, he studied just two subject each day. It was slow, but it did the job.

By this year, he was studying five subjects each day, which takes him about two hours, unless one of the subjects is writing. That always takes longer. Then we added a math sheet to his five subjects for the drill he needed to get faster and more accurate. Next we added a grammar sheet. And then last week, Jack asked to add one more book each day, unless he has writing or his Scientific Method book that day. And he is still finishing in a reasonable time. I hesitate to add too much more, because at some point what he reads won’t make it beyond short term memory if he has too much to load. (It is fun, though, watching our latest movie, and hearing him predict correctly what the before the commercial break foreshadowing is referring to. Something is sticking.

It’s that time of year again! I am hard at work on my holiday cards. It’s going slowly though. I have been at it for three weeks and am now about 30% of the way to my goal. That means I need another 12 weeks and that’s not going to happen, so I have been sticking to a handful of pretty quick and easy designs that I can make up fairly quickly (12 minutes each or five per hour). So, really, I just need to find 20 hours in the next four weeks. (Oddly enough, birthdays don’t stop just because we’re busy.) It would help if Michael’s would deign to carry single colour paper. I need green paper for the next set of cards. Christmas green. The only answer Michaels has for me is to buy a package that contains a few of the green I need and a whole bunch of colours I don’t. It’s time to gird up and head to Joann’s – but that’s a much longer walk. (See the “corned” issue.) I just hope Joann’s are selling single colour packages.

Jack has wanted me to watch Star Wars with him for years. I have tried, but attempt after attempt found me wandering off to relieve the almost painful boredom. Then a few weeks ago, we found a way that I can manage to sit all the way through. We watch the movies with Lucas’ commentary and with the subtitles on. Jack can watch the movie, and with Lucas explaining what’s happening and explaining the choices he made, I actually find it interesting. Then we watch the clips and documentaries. The clips are about the right length to keep my interest and the documentaries are positively interesting. Success!

I saw my doctor for my biannual checkup recently. For many years, I struggled with my cholesterol. It was usually too high, and even more frequently, my HDL was far too low. Always, my triglycerides were sky high. In the last few years, though. my doctor stopped checking my cholesterol regularly because it had been so consistently perfect. That continued with this last checkup. To my doctor’s delight, my total cholesterol was 123 and my triglycerides were 81. (Once upon a time, 250 wasn’t all that unusual, and triglycerides of 300 or so were common.) It looks like we won’t need to test those for a couple more years. It may be a pain to be so limited in eating out, but I have to say my body clearly likes it!

Have a great week!

Pumpkin Custard a la Chez Smiffy

1 1/4 cups winter squash or pumpkin, steamed and mashed
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
2 eggs
2 cup coconut milk or milk (or heavy cream – yum!)
Mix them well and bake for 1 hour in ramekins or a glass

The photos are our beautiful daughter in law, Makita, with her three oldest children, Joel, Autuma, and Rhazel. Makita is the fiancée of Rod’s middle son, Joel. They are expecting their fourth son, Little Rodney, in about six weeks.

Happy Saturday, all!

First off, for any one keeping track of my thumb injury, it has now been 6 weeks and a bit.

The wound is now closed, though the skin is still thin and fragile. The wound has been shrinking and now resembls a fairly small blister.

The thumb itself is still quite swollen, too. However I can now leave the bandage off most of the time, though I regularly bash the wound in the course of daily life and am tempted to go back to using a bandage just for protection. (I’d be more tempted except that I think that the bigger target made by the bandaged thumb may have actually gotten it bashed more often.)

The developing scar tissue is tiny compare to the original wound. I had no idea a wound could shrink like this! In the end, except that the thumb is now a slightly different shape than before (flatter in top), it’s not going to be evident without an inspection. All is well.

I have been working hard to get back to walking every day. I finally put a finger on why it had gone from my default to being so “hard to fit in” again. It was Spanish class!

Last November, I started studying Spanish for work, since part of my job involved translating Spanish documents into English.  I spent a chunk of time living in the Republic of Panama and was once semi-fluent, but that was  35 years ago.  I had forgotten a great deal, and much had been “overwritten” by the Swedish I had been trying to learn from about 33 years ago.  So, the Spanish is coming back pretty easily, and I am actually expanding my vocabulary a great deal.  It’s been great fun and a lot of help.

However the class is after work, three days per week.  That means  that when I walk on those days, I am starting out very late.

Before that, I had been pushing for further and faster every day.  I had started with a destination .7 of a mile from my office and was then regularly making it 3.2 miles in the evenings, most evenings.  Starting out later meant that I didn’t get picked up until quite late, making dinner very late.  Not good during the week.   By Christmas, it had become so dark that I also felt that i was taking my life into my hands in crossing streets.  So I still tried to walk, but I walked less and less.  Not good.  I missed the feeling of strength I got from moving a lot.

It took me  quite a while to sort out what was happening.  If I didn’t have time to make the 3 mile walk, I was often tempted to skip it entirely – especially when it was cold, or raining, or … well, just about any excuse worked.  So, I started to rethink my goal.  Now, if I “don’t ave time to walk”, I still walk – to the .7 mile destination.  It takes me roughly the same 20 minutes as it takes Rod to drive from home to pik me up.  It’s not a long walk, but it’s a great deal more than nothing.

That freed me up to ponder when I *can* take the long walk.  On Tuesday, I don’t have Spanish class *and* Jack has a late art class.  So I take that opportunity to stretch my walking time.  I can start earlier and Rod has to start later, so it works out.  On Friday, I feel like we can afford to be later, so I also try to make the longer walk then.  When it’s raining, I still wimp out.  I have to carry everything with me and I don’t want everything I care enough about to carry it all the time getting soaked.  Maybe I’ll pick up a plastic poncho that’s big enough to cover my backpack one day…but meanwhile, I stay indoors.

I don’t feel as strong as I did when I was walking further, but I’m not sure whether that’s because of less walking or because of the “healing exhaustion” I have been dealing with for the last 6 weeks.  Time will tell.  But I am getting out and stretching my legs more anyway.


I am working on gearing up to cut my hair short.  It will probably take my most of a year to get comfortable with the idea.  My hair isn’t “magazine” pretty.  Actually, when it’s down, it’s really pretty “underwhelming”.  Thin and wiry on the ends and sort like a silver cloud. Nonetheless, I really enjoy my long hair. It looks pretty good up, and that’s how I prefer to wear it in public anyway.  And in the few minutes that it’s down to be combed before my shower, I love how it feels tumbling down my back and brushing my hips. My long hair may not be gorgeous or even particularly flattering,  but it makes me FEEL beautiful, and really that’s all that matters to me.

About seven years ago, my doctor changed my thyroid medicine on me.  She changed it from a medicine that actually works to what amounts to a placebo.  It took me a year of exhaustion and falling hair to figure it out – all the pharmacy bottles look the same and I hadn’t taken a moment to actually read it. (Have I mentioned that cloudy thinking and poor memory or major symptoms of unmedicated hypothyroid?) I lost over ha;f of my hair and had bald patches throughout.  It was heartbreaking.  There wasn’t a lot of point in cutting at that point; it would just make the bald patches harder to hide.  But now, the new hair that grew in has grown to a decent length, and the ends are looking more and more ragged.

It’s time to cut it short and start over.  *sigh*  One of these days.

22 September: Goodbye Vitamix

*Deep sigh* It’s almost time to declare my 53 year old Vitamix no longer viable. I can no longer get parts- they were discontinued a few years ago when we were struggling financially and unable to buy spares. And I can’t justify a new Vitamix at $500, either.  However the “action dome”, the part that keeps the fod inside is so cracked that I can only use half of the pitcher without losing a large part of the food to leaks.

Rod has been amazed at the symbolic meaning of this machine in my life. He has recognized it for years, but he didn’t really understand it. It is, after all, just a machine.  An old machine.  A very. very loud machine.  I discovered that this morning when I finally made my peace with giving it to my friend who has the same model. Linda, at least, will have spare parts for a while.

TJ and I at Citadelen in Landkrona

So…how can I love a machine?  It’s a long story, but I bought the Vitamix very used in 1983. It was a 20 year old machine that had been reconditioned and resold by the Vitamix folks.  We were very poor at the time, and I saved and paid it off over a couple of years with whatever spare change I could lay my hands on.

I had always been very interested in health and nutrition, but we were unable to afford the kinds of things I wanted to feed my family.  The Vitamix allowed me to take our health into our own hands – it allowed me to use raw, unprocessed foods in a way that was yummy and also convenient.  A handful of wheat berries, a few eggs, an apple and a piece of cinnamon stick and we had very fresh, very wholesome pancakes!  A couple of quarts of frozen fruit and a splash of milk and we had “no added sugar” ice cream. It was extremely empowering.

Over the years, through better times and harder times, I built a lifestyle around that stainless steel machine.  You know how wonderful home baked bread is?  Well home baked bread from fresh-ground flour is that much more amazing.  I could make hot applesauce from fresh apples – so much more flavour than cooked.  I could make baby food from whatever we were having. I could make coconut milk for pennies, rather than the dollar per can the stores charge.  I could make extra-special canned tomato sauce with the skins pulverized right into the sauce for more flavour, more colour, and more vitamins!

The message in my heart was always about having control over what went in to my “home processed” foods.  Scary ingredients didn’t have to scare me because I had a choice.

TJ and Rod walking in the Park in Landskrona

So losing the service of the Vitamix feels sort of like losing my freedom.

Except that, in looking at the situation , I am coming to realize that there are other choices that would work now.  We no longer eat grains or legumes, so grinding them ourselves is no longer an advantage.

In 1983, the Vitamix was, as far as I can tell, one of a kind.  Now there are many other options – the BlendTec seems capable of everything the Vitamix can do.  And with what we actually still use the Vitamix for – making coconut milk, smoothies, applesauce, tomato sauce, and other canning purees –  we might even get away with a Ninja blender. At 10% of the price that’s looking pretty good.  (I am having trouble with the idea of paying $500 for plastic.)

So…it’s been a week of losses.  Some more meaningful and some less.


Jack loves video.  He adores is. On one hand, I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of video as a primary educational resource.  On the other, it seems that Jack retains a lot MORE of the detail from video than from reading.  So, we do the reading which generally contains a lot more information, and then I try to use video to reinforce what he has learned.

Over the last few weeks, I have found several that  are worth mentioning: World History Crash Course is funny and concise.  I think it’s meant for much older children than Jack and the humour annoys me, but it’s worth a look if you are looking for a high level review of world history.  I watched enough to feel comfortable letting Jack watch it when the time comes.

Khan Academy, of course.  It’s got videos, but oddly enough Jack has been mostly ignoring those.  What he LOVES is that it is set up like a game.  You can earn “awards” for you work.  You can see the colour spreading in your progress grid.  And you get “credit” once you get five in a row correct!  I find Khan to be the “monkey method” of teaching math.  They show you HOW to solve the problems, but they don’t tell you why.  Not why you might want this skill, not why it works that way.  But he has Life of Fred for that – and I love that for Jack, math is FUN!  He wants to get through calculus before he turns 13.  I can go with that!  :)  (And I have given myself the challenge to get through elementary arithmatic before I explore the “more interesting” parts of the Academy…like science and humanities!)

I am also exploring the Big History project.  It is right in line with the approach that we have been taking.  It explores history, starting with the big bang and moving through anthropology.  I don’t think it goes deep enough to be an entire history education – it is supposed to be a one-year course.  But it’s aimed at the high school level, too, so what an excellent review when we get to modern times!  And the information is likely to be way more up to date than the 19th century stories we’ve used as his childhood resources.

I think Big History is intended to be a part of the Core Curriculum movement, and I have found that to be the case with all of the Common Core State Standards.  There is nothing wrong with them, per se, but they don’t go very deep into anything.  They are a pretty decent review, but I can’t see them as curriculum materials.

Over the last few years, I have come across several stories like this and this.  It does, of course, start me thinking.  Beyond the first, most obvious, question (how does one decide that a 12 year old is “finished with high school”?) it got me to wondering how we would handle something like that if it did happen.  It crossed my mind again when my sweet little velcro boy used to cry at the very idea of growing up and going away.  He was much littler then and I think he is adjusting to the idea nicely, but it reinforced the idea that we won’t be sending him to University until he is socially and emotionally ready, regardless of the state of his current education.  That sent me hunting for resources for continuing his education at home.  We have found several resources.  Great Courses, of course, has audio and video courses on hundreds of subjects.  They aren’t cheap, but they are often available at the library or used. Then there are the  free college level courses available on-line at Coursera and  EdX. I’m not sure that they could all be built up into a real curriculum, but they could keep us busy in the time between whatever it is we decide is “the end” of high school.  (I am very interested in those for myself, too. I have  always wanted to earn a Ph.D.  That may never happen – but the Ph.D. represents for me “being really educated”, and *that* could happen!)

Oh, and on the subject of “college at 12″, Penelope Trunk thinks much like I do.

Have a great Hobbit day (today, September 22, is the shared birthday of Bilbo and Frodo baggins) and a great week!