Archive for October, 2009

Seeing Mr. Smithson’s stuff – VA trip, Saturday morning

As mentioned earlier, there’s no way to see all of even one of the Smithsonian museums in a day, and we were tackling two.  Once in the Natural History museum, we decided to take it one floor at a time.  First floor:  live coral reef and mammals by continent.

The mammals were good, but the coral reef was GREAT!  In a large glass tank we could see dozens of corals, anemones, sea urchins, etc., plus there were loads of brilliantly colored fish swimming around.  It was beautiful and amazing – a good choice.

On the upper floors, we sought unsuccessfully for large displays of butterflies and/or sea shells.  We did find a few neat specimens of each in various places, but no large collection of either.  = (   However, in our ongoing search for sea shells and butterflies, we did locate some other cool insects and snakes of all sizes. . . and skeletons!

The Smithsonian has many more skeletons than you could shake a rib at.  They range from hummingbirds up to elephants and include everything imaginable (and a few things unimaginable) in between.  We were both fascinated and impressed by room after room after room full of skeletons.

As our time in Natural History wound down, we decided to take in gemstones.  The Hope Diamond is displayed in a special case, and it that same room are many other gorgeous pieces of jewelry.  However, neither Katie nor I are deeply into that stuff, so we bypassed the layered crowds around and near the Hope Diamond and wandered on back through the other minerals – the one that were just taken from the earth and not polished or cut.

Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  For me, other than the live coral reef, NOTHING compared to those minerals.  I can’t even begin to describe them.  The shapes, the crystalline forms, the brilliance of the colors – Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  We could have spent another hour just admiring the amazing intricacy of the stuff God put underground.  I just can’t say enough about those minerals, but it was past noon and time to head to the Museum of American History.

(to be continued. . . )


From Sterling to D.C. – VA trip, Saturday

Saturday, Oct 3 – my 49th birthday!

I have figured out that people who work in Washington, D.C. have a mandatory minimum one-hour commute.  They must either drive themselves into town (45 minutes fighting beltway traffic + 15 minutes trying to find a parking place) OR take the Metro (30 minute drive to station + 30 minute subway ride).  We chose the latter.

Both of us had been to the Smithsonian several times before.  In fact, Katie and her friend, Nicole, had been there only two or three weekends earlier.  Given that, it was REALLY special for her to take me there again.  = )  We had decided that we would attempt to do the Natural History Museum in the morning and the American History Museum in the afternoon.  Of course, those were admittedly ludicrous goals; one could very easily kill a full day in either one,  but we decided we would only endeavor to peruse the things that were of great interest to us, so we’d be able to skip much and save lots of time.  It was a nice thought.

We hoped to arrive at the first museum around 10:00 or 10:30 AM, so we left Fairfield Inn at 9:00 AM, drove to the nearest Metro Station (the one at the far west end of the line from D.C.), with effort found our way into a parking garage, bought our tickets (boy, am I glad Katie was there to negotiate that machine for me!), and stood on the platform awaiting our train. As we waited, some other tourists appeared, and one gentleman asked Katie something about if he and his wife were going to the Smithsonian, should they get off at the Smithsonian station or the Federal Triangle Station.  Seemed obviously the former to me, and of course Katie and I were traveling paperless (we had no Metro map), but when Katie pored over his Metro and D.C. map, she ascertained that it we would all actually do better to get off at Federal Triangle – which we did.  In fact, we emerged into sunlight (though rain had been forecast for the whole day) less than two blocks from the Natural History Museum, and we didn’t even have to hike across the Mall.  How pleasant!

(to be continued. . . )


I forgot to say that the glasses were found

I found them the morning after I posted their loss.  They were on the lower shelf of my nightstand, behind a pair of tennis shoes.  Go figure.

In other lost and found news, I, the keeper of our kids’ mime team’s presentation gloves, went to get the glove box out a couple days ago, because the team had a presentation scheduled for today.  I went to where the glove box should be (up on the shelf in the playroom) and to my complete dismay, there were no team gloves there at all.

This was highly disconcerting, as I didn’t know if we had enough spare gloves to prepare a set for our now very large (19?  20?) team.  The children and I looked high and low – literally  – all over the playroom, Jessica’s room, the attic, our office, the pantry, the cellar, Jessica’s car, the van, and Andrew’s room.   We didn’t venture into Josiah’s room, because it’s a war zone in there.

No team gloves.

Now, these gloves are really hard to lose.  They were stored in a clear box that’s about 12″ by 8″ by 16″ high.  It’s not a small box.  It won’t fit under a bed.  It’s not the kind of thing that could just vanish from sight beneath or behind something else.   Realizing that I had responsibility to provide a lot of gloves in various sizes in two days, I pulled out all the new and/or extra gloves and started sorting and labeling them.  I was able to scrounge together enough, but some of them were those old baggy ones that won’t really stay on. I also went to Wal-Mart and bought another box to store/carry them in.

Back in the playroom, labeling the new box, and with gloves in three styles and four sizes spread all over the ping-pong table, I looked again up at the shelves surrounding me.  We store lots of an hand-me-down clothes for Andrew to grow into up there.  I scanned the marked boxes for the umpteenth time and my eyes landed on a U-Haul box (from our move 13+ years ago) that was neatly labeled “Misc Homeschool Books”  – in my dad’s handwriting!

Now, we do re-use boxes ad nauseum, but I can tell you that NO box in the playroom contains any homeschool books.  All our book are in the library, or in our office, or on the buffet, or on the dining room shelf, or any number of other places they’ve been set or left, but NOT in the playroom.  U-Haul boxes are really nice (to those of us who lust after storage in either the cardboard or plastic persuasions) and we had surely put something else in that one, but why on earth would anyone shelve a box with an old label out?!?  Either the box was empty, or else it contained something and whoever put it away labeled it and then shelved it with the label hidden.  Of course, there is one other logical possibility, but I’m sure that NO ONE in our family would EVER fill a box and shelve it without labeling it at all.

My curiosity piqued, I HAD to find out what was in that box.  I reached up and jiggled it, and it didn’t feel like it was full of clothes.  In fact, it felt kind of empty, with a roomy feel as I shook it.  I pulled it down.  Shock and awe for sure – someone had put it away without even folding shut the top flaps!  In the box sat the missing glove box, full of snow-white, sweet-smelling gloves, neatly clipped in pairs and color-coded by size.  Who’da thunk?

I was thrilled to have found the missing gloves and quickly reported their reappearance to those who were looking and praying with me, but I have not yet figured out WHO put the glove box inside another box and then shelved it so that only an eight-foot tall being could ever tell there were gloves in it, or WHY whoever it was did such a thing.  Was s/he trying to play a cruel trick on me?  Or maybe the spiders carried it up there at night?  Perhaps it’s just one of those hidden mysteries that will never be solved, but I can tell you that the gloves are now stored on a low shelf where I (and every one else in the family) can clearly see them at all times.

No more tests

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  Jessica has completed both the SAT and the ACT and she will never take either ever again in her natural life.   Scores on the SAT are expected circa October 31, and ACT scores will arrive by postal mail in “five to eight weeks.”

Will drive for food – VA trip, Friday evening

Well, it turns out there was a reason why we were driving counter to all the rest of the traffic as we left Mt. Vernon:  we were going the wrong way!  We were actually headed straight into D.C. on a Friday night, instead of heading west OUT of D.C. to our fine abode in Sterling.  However, navigatrix cum laude found a three-state map of the Carolinas and Virginia in one of Katie’s door pockets, and ascertained that if we continued north of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, we would eventually hit something that would take us to I-495, which is the inner beltway loop.  We’d be coming in at the south part of the loop and could follow it west and then north to Highway 7.  7 goes west out of D.C., and from it we could take 28 south, find Old Ox Road and be home free, so to speak.

We followed that plan, found 7 west (which looks and acts like a freeway in those parts), and realized with the clock pushing 7:00 PM that we were both quite hungry.  Not to worry:  Scott had given me a generous meal allowance, and I decided that this was the night for us to splurge and enjoy our one non-fast-food dinner.  We weren’t aware of any Golden Corrals in the Greater D.C. metroplex, but Katie, who could subsist for a semester on chicken fingers, said that Italian sounded good, “like maybe. . . Olive Garden!”  That sounded good to me, too, and just then one of those nifty blue signs announced “FOOD NEXT EXIT.”

As we exited, I noticed that there were arrows indicating food to the right or the left.

Katie:  “Which way do you think we should turn?”

Me (scanning rapidly):  “Uh. . . how about left?”

She turned left and we started looking for food.  Usually, when one exits a freeway at a ramp announcing FOOD, one can see the Golden Arches or the KFC bucket or something like that just a few blocks from the freeway.  We did not see any such. In fact, the road we turned left onto (four-lane, divided, like all roads in northern Virginia) looked dark and neighborhood-ish.  However, we were optimistic.  Perhaps we’d have to travel a bit, and beyond the residential stuff, we’d come to the colorful neon stuff.  I said, “Let’s go about a mile.  If we don’t find any food by then, we can turn around and go back, because it said FOOD to the right, as well.”

We went a mile.  We couldn’t believe that there had been no food thus far; surely it would appear just over the next hill.  Lots of people how lived in the residential areas off this four-laner were coming home from work.  There were stop lights every few blocks.  Traffic was not zipping merrily along.  We were probably averaging 28.7 miles per hour, and the situation continued to look bleak, when what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a pair of gold arches, so high and so clear.

Neither of us wanted McDonald’s; we wanted REAL FOOD, but just past that lone fast food joint was a Safeway!  Aha.  The mystery solved at last.  There was FOOD to the left, but it wasn’t food-served-ready-to-eat.  It was the kind of food that you bought, took home, cooked and then ate.  Well.  7:30 was coming upon us and trust me, neither of us was about to cook that night!

We turned around and very slowly made our way back to the Highway 7 overpass.  Now that we were heading “to the right,” we were sure to find lots of restaurants just waiting to take my plastic.  At least we can claim to be eternally optimistic, because we drove three miles that direction before coming upon anything edible at all, and what we found at the three-miles-to-the-right point was a Giant, which is another supermarket.  So, my analysis had been correct.  In northern Virginia, the blue highway signs that say FOOD NEXT EXIT mean that a grocery store is located an unknown number of miles off the freeway at that exit.  Now you know.

Hungrier and somewhat discouraged, we plodded back to Highway 7 and got on in the westerly direction.  It continued to be a divided highway, but I guess we were entering yet another city.  (Cities, towns, villages, and incorporated areas are strung like pearls along Highway 7.  It’s basically one big long metro area, with occasional signs indicating that you have entered a different jurisdiction. )  It may have been Tyson’s Corner, and no, I don’t know what Tyson did there or which corner he did it on.

So, we’re tooling through Tyson’s Corner and it’s nighttime, and the area is like those places just a few blocks removed from downtown in major cities.  The buildings are high, but not skyscrapers.  It looks like downtown, but there’s no parking along the streets.  There are fancy boutique type shops in the ground-level floors of some of the taller buildings.  It’s a night life kind of place.  And suddenly on the far left corner, in the first floor of what looks like it might be a hotel, IS AN OLIVE GARDEN!!!  As I live and breathe.

The traffic dodging queen zipped into the left lane, whipped around a corner and into a parking garage and there we were.  It was quarter to eight, and neither of us could truly believe that after driving and steadily searching for food – any food! – for over an hour, we had stumbled upon the one restaurant Katie had wanted most.  Yes, we were in jeans and t-shirts, but yes, we strode right in like we owned the place and had a very nice meal.  And yes, Katie had chicken.  And cheesecake minus the raspberry sauce for dessert.

So, full and happy at last, we did continue our drive west, and after much more time we did come to our hotel, where we did play a grand game of Hail to the Chief which I lost miserably, and it was to all a good night, during which Katie slept ten hours and I slept something less than that.

Lost and found?

News Flash!  Scott’s glasses have gone AWOL.  If you see them wandering aimlessly, kindly return them to us ASAP.

Mt. Vernon – VA trip, Friday afternoon

Friday, Oct 2

We didn’t have a map, but I guess in 2009 that is not a problem.  I had had the foresight to print out directions from Purcellville to Mt. Vernon, so while my excellent chauffeur deftly dodged the traffic, I navigated us successfully to our destination.  I think it was about an hour or so drive, but some 15 minutes into it, I asked her if she had the tickets she had purchased on the family credit card a week or so ago.  “Hmmm. . . now that might be a problem.  I forgot to print them out.”  Well.  We discussed our options and decided that (since Robertses never go back – ha ha!) we would press on, hoping the Mt. Vernon folks would be able to locate her payment in their computer, and if not, she would pay for a new set of tickets.

We did pretty well at following our printed directions, and we did, yea and verily, arrive at the gates of Mt. Vernon.  There, Katie explained our ticket conundrum to the very nice lady-behind-glass.  She indicated that without tickets we would be unable to enter the grounds, and this would be a significant problem, as intricate hedges and stone walls effectively prevent you from seeing even a glimpse of anything Mt. Vernon-ish without a ticket.

Katie asked the lady-behind-glass if she could look up our electronic payment.  There was some hemming, a bit of hawing, and much grinding of computer gears, and shortly she triumphantly announced that yes, we had paid, and yes, she could print out our tickets, so yes, we could go in.  Our God is merciful (and so was the lady-behind-glass)!

We spent several really fun and interesting hours touring parts of the place.  We walked through the main house – amazing.  Mr. Washington loved bright blues and greens, so several of the room were painted very deep and bold colors.  They were ornate, lavishly furnished, beautifully decorated.  We oohed and ahhed appropriately.

We relaxed in the rockers on the “back” porch, watching the Potomac River flow along.   Then we roused ourselves and strolled among and through many of the other buildings.  I didn’t realize that Mt. Vernon was more like a small village than what I think of as a farm.  Cobblers, blacksmiths, spinners and weavers, coopers, gardeners, cooks, and many, many more each had their own buildings for living and working.  Just the fact that all those buildings are still standing after some 250 years is remarkable.

We walked through intricate gardens where George Washington had instructed his slaves to experiment with various flowers, fruit trees, vegetable plants.  He had an incredible mind and was interested in many different disciplines.

One of the things I most enjoyed at Mt. Vernon was “meeting” Lady Washington.  She sat in a rocking chair in one of the restored cottages and told us all about her life with The General.  The setting was a few months before he died, although she surely didn’t realize how soon that would occur. She spoke completely extemporaneously, simply answering whatever questions we visitors posed.  She was truly a delight, and I learned a lot about her famous and noble husband.  We visited for about 20 minutes, but I could have listened to her for two hours.

Having neither the time nor inclination to do the full hike down to the wharf and back, we completed our time at Mt. Vernon with a stroll through the orchard to the General’s and Mrs. Washington’s graves.  Afterward, I stopped in the gift shop for a souvenir book.  = )

As we left the parking lot, we noticed that ALL the traffic was going to the left in an exceedingly long and slow-moving line.  We were really glad that we needed to go to the right, where there was no traffic at all.  We tooled merrily along the George Washington Memorial Parkway and wondered why we were so blessed to be traveling opposite all the rest of northern Virginia.

(to be continued…)

Back to school – VA trip, Friday morning

Friday, Oct 2

After arriving back at the hotel VERY late Thursday night and sleeping quickly, I roused myself and returned to the campus in time to attend Dr. Spinney’s US History I class.  I must say that I really enjoyed his lecture.  He asked us what the founders’ views were on religion, and then proceeded to de-bunk all our ideas!  He explained that if we want to know what the founders thought, we should look not to the Bill of Rights, but to the individual states’ constitutions.  This is because views varied widely from state to state and were encoded in each state’s constitution.

Then he handed out a sheet that listed excerpted (religion-related) paragraphs from several of the state constitutions, and I was AMAZED!  Some states went so far as to require a commitment to and financial support of the protestant religion in order to qualify for elected office, while other states left the whole matter of religion or lack thereof entirely up to the individual.  Very, very interesting.

Racing like the wind out of Founder’s Hall, I followed the crowd to “Town Hall,” (a meeting room in the lower level of one of the guys’ dorms) where the entire campus gathered for chapel.  Chapel is a daily requirement at PHC, with some days the students meeting in small groups with professors, some days the students meeting – possibly in PJs! – with the other students in their wing of a dorm, and some days the whole gang (some 320 students plus faculty) meeting in Town Hall.  This was one of those days.

The student-led worship was really good.  I was impressed with both the musicianship and the heart of the leadership team.  I cannot say as much for the guest speaker, who is the pastor of Graham Walker (Mr. Bow-Tie), PHC president.  The guy was nuttier than a fruitcake.  He did read some passages from the Bible, but the points he supposedly drew from those verses followed neither logically nor scripturally.  The one that stands out in my memory is his impassioned assertion that Jesus was resurrected because he prayed.  Huh?

After chapel, we had just a few minutes to hike back to Founder’s Hall for Western Literature II with Dr. Hake.  WHAT a nice guy!  He’s been a real blessing to Katie and he is a very interesting man.  He lectures sitting down, often with his eyes closed.  His shirt was slightly rumpled, his corduroy slacks worn.  Katie says he simply doesn’t care what others think about him – not in a bad or snooty way, but in a refreshing way.  He clearly knows his stuff (Frankenstein, in this case) and generated some pretty cerebral discussion among the students.  I got the feeling that he mainly wants his students to care as much about literature as he does.  Though I doubt that most of them will, he certainly challenges them to think and analyze.

Katie and I zipped to the cafeteria for a quick meal that she said was her favorite of the week – chicken tenders – then we rushed to her room to change, pack for the weekend, and head to George’s house!

(to be continued. . . )

Delightful Kucks – VA trip, Thursday evening

Thursday, Oct 1

Leaving the Blue Ridge Bible Church, Katie drove us (roommate Amy Kucks, her 17 yo sister Julie Kucks, and me) through some of the most peaceful, scenic countryside one could ever wish to see.  Rolling hills with lovely, LARGE homesteads surrounded winding, wooded, two-lane roads.  It was so beautiful!

Some fifteen minutes from town, we arrived at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Kucks (“cooks”) and their dog, Duffy.  Dr. Kucks is a physics prof at PHC, and he had already headed back to the college for an evening meeting of some sort, but Mrs. Kucks had a wonderful meal of an Italian persuasion waiting for us.  It was delicious, and there were many laughs around the table.

Amy and Julie are both high energy, outgoing, very dramatic people, and you never have to wonder what either of them is thinking or feeling.  Their mom is a really neat lady who has homeschooled four kids, so we had a lot in common and talked for several hours.

Near the end of the evening, Dr. Kucks arrived, so I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with him, as well.  They are such a great family, and they have accepted Katie as one of their own – providing her free room, board, and laundry facilities on the weekends.  I was very honored to meet them and be able to thank them in person for their many kindnesses to our daughter while she is living so far from home.

A good time was had by all, and around 10:30 PM, Katie chauffeured Amy and me back to the dorm, handed me the car keys, and said good night.  I then drove (without getting lost!) back toward Old Ox Road and my bed at Fairfield Inn.

It had been a superb day!

Back to school – VA trip, Thursday day

Thursday, Oct 1

Yummy continental breakfast, drove back to PHC without getting lost!

With Katie, attended Freedom’s Foundations I (Dr. Mitchell).  Interesting lecture/discussion about Aristotle, including concept of natural slavery.  Seemed like a combo philosophy and history course.

Spent an hour at the piano in a lovely practice room in the Hodel Center.  Since I was already in there for Freedom’s Foundations, the fact that you can’t enter that building wasn’t a problem.  Afterwards, in an attempt to exit the building, I looked out and beheld the tennis courts.  Knowing that the tennis courts were on the side of the building from which I didn’t want to exit, I began moving clockwise through its massive hulk.  When I finally found the exit I sought, it was facing the tennis courts.  Hmmmm.

Given a choice between $8 for lunch in the PHC dining hall with folks I don’t know and $5 for lunch at the Golden Arches alone, I picked the latter.  Purcellville is a very small town.  I think it has maybe two stoplights.

After lunch, I – with some effort – found my way back into the Hodel Center and asked Dana (I remembered her name!) to direct me to Latin 3 (Dr. McRoberts).  There I nabbed a seat on the second row, with an empty seat beside me for Katie.  When Dr. McRoberts had ascertained that it was time for class to start, he looked around at all the students and paused at me.  It went something like this:

Dr. M:  And, uh, you are. . . um?

Me:  I’m Katie Roberts’ mom.  I’m visiting the campus and she said it would be all right if I sat in on this class, if it’s okay with you.

Dr. M:  Oh, yes.  Welcome.  (Katie had emailed him to ask if I could attend and he had said, “yes,” but I guess he had forgotten that.)

Me:  Thank you.

Dr. M:  So, are you here in Katie’s stead?

Me:  No, sir!  It’s been 30 years since I studied Latin, and I have not read today’s assignment.

Dr. M:  Then, where, exactly IS Katie?

Me:  I’m sure she’s running from Point A to Point B and she’ll be here shortly.

She was.  Her schedule and the logistics of when she has to be where are pretty challenging.  She slid in beside me a couple minutes later.

Tough class.  Some 25 vocabulary words (all starting with “C” – how maddening) that he went around the room with.  I may have known one of them.  Then ten students went to the board to write Latin translations of English sentences from the book, and Dr. M evaluated and critiqued each one.  Finally the grand poobah:  From a Latin text in the book, several students were assigned a few sentences each to scribble down an English translation before he called on them.  Nothing like translating a little Livy under pressure.  And Katie got the longest passage!  She did pretty well with it, but had it been me, I would have been sweating BULLETS!

I did have a year of Latin in college, but terms like future perfect, ablative, and cum clause all completely escaped me.  Yet another area in which my children are surpassing me.  Glory to God.

We flew from the Hodel Center back to Katie’s room in the Monticello dorm, where we both changed in 37 seconds from business casual to jeans.  Racing to her car, we then zipped from PHC, through downtown Purcellville, out into the suburbs to Blue Ridge Bible Church, where the DELTA mime team meets.  That car ride took approximately four minutes, and Katie wasn’t speeding.

I was introduced to the whole team, plus Mrs. Schraeders and her daughter, Anne.  I can remember some of their names and others of their faces.  Not sure I could put more than three or four of those together, though.

Keegan Newton led a Bible study on God’s omnipotence.  He did a good job of it.  Then we broke up for ten minutes of private prayer.  After that, Amy and Katie had planned some team-building time for the group, so I excused myself and took her car for an hour.  I had noticed that there was a card for the local public library on her key chain, and I hoped to go there and try to locate a copy of “The House at Pooh Corner” for a read-aloud at the hotel.

It is possible to drive all over all of Purcellville and not find the library.  Finally, I turned around and went into Giant (grocery) and asked a lady there to give me directions.  Which she did.  In broken English.  It is a fact that in all of northern Virginia and in Washington D.C., there are no service people (restaurants, tourist sites, hotels, gas stations, etc.) for whom English is their native language, but after a couple days of various accents, I had become fairly skillful at interpreting – or at least at saying, “excuse me?” repeatedly and politely.

Armed with directions indicating that I had driven within a block of the library three times, I did indeed find it, and it did indeed have a copy of the volume I sought, and I did indeed check it out, feeling very smug and oh-so-satisfied.

In that hour, Blue Ridge Bible Church had relocated to a position only two blocks from the library, so I managed to get back there by 6:00, as instructed.  However, the mime meeting went long, so I sat in the car and made a bit more progress on proofing Josiah’s research paper.

(to be continued…)

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