Archive for February, 2014

A little pitchy

When we bought the house all those years ago, there were air fresheners everywhere –  odd-looking ones, and in strange places.  It took us several months to figure out why.

It seems that there was a strong, persistent dead animal smell, and the source turned out to be the chimney.  Birds, swallows, I think, would nest in there and lay eggs in there, and baby birds would hatch, fall, die, and smell.

So, at some point early on, we had a cap made and installed on the chimney.  It’s solid on top, to keep out most of the rain.  I will say that when rain lands on ashes in your fireplace, it makes your house smell lovely, too.  Not, of course, as bad as dead baby birds, but let’s just say that a definite “eau de campfire” essence greets you when you walk in following a rain.  We family members have gotten used to that, but it’s a little embarrassing when we have guests.

The cap is propped up off the top of the chimney several inches, to let the rising hot air escape.  There’s some wire mesh stuff around the sides – kind of like chicken wire, but stronger – and then there’s a metal band that encircles the chimney sort of like a belt.  It has clips that can be used to cinch it securely.  So the whole contraption is kind of like a huge, upside down shoebox lid, with a solid top and mesh sides.

Last fall we had the chimney cleaned, and the guy told me that the cap wasn’t secure and that he had fixed it.  I was appreciative.  Then last week we had a big wind.  It was actually a Really Big Wind, and many things in our area were blown all over the place, like a lot of small limbs in our yard, and like our neighbor’s trampoline which was air-lifted and wrapped, taco-style, around a pole!  It was, as I mentioned, a BIG wind.

Late that afternoon, Andrew and I headed out to his tumbling class, and when we opened the front breezeway door, what to our wondering eyes did appear, but something large and cumbersome across the door???  Turns out it was the chimney cap, which had evidently been blown off its perch.  Thankfully, it didn’t hit the Durango or break any windows on its way down!

Chimney cap temporarily 30 feet too low

Chimney cap temporarily 30 feet too low

Scott called our go-to handyman, Barry, to ask him to come and re-install the cap, but when Barry saw what was involved, realized it would be a two-man job, and noted the steep pitch of our roof – which one of the two men (most likely he) would need to stand on in order to do the deed – he declined the job.  However, while he was surveying the scene, he asked if I had noticed the curled-up shingles on one of our dormers.  No, I had not, but when he pointed skyward, I saw that those shingles were indeed flopped up out of place; another effect, I assumed, of The Big Wind.

The next day, I pointed out the shingle situation to Scott, and as you know, nothing motivates him like a trying to successfully accomplish a seemingly impossible task.  A couple days later, a ladder appeared in the front yard and Andrew told me, “Dad’s going to climb out the window to fix the roof.”  Hmmm. . .

Now, I’m not real keen about Scott on the roof.  It’s not that Scott is unable to walk around and work on a roof; it’s that the roof is quite steep, and it gives me the willies to watch him up there.  And I nearly always have to watch him, because I’m usually asked to hold the ladder; ladder-holding being a request with which I simply must comply.  I surely don’t want him climbing up there WITHOUT the ladder being held!!!

So, Scott wrapped a red strap around his leg (one of those ratchet-adjustable seat belt material type of straps; the kind you can use to secure, for example, a kayak to the roof of your car. . . but that would be another story. . . ), told Andrew hold the other end of the strap, asked me to please come out and take pictures(!), and climbed out the dormer window onto the roof, where he did, yea and verily, unflop and nail down the offending shingles.

Behold, husband on roof

Behold, husband on roof

Exactly how securely IS Andrew holding the other end of that red strap?

Exactly how securely IS Andrew holding the other end of that red strap?

Roberts Roofer in action

Roberts Roofer, one leg in, one leg out

He was fine, and all’s well that ends well.  Although the chimney cap is still earth-bound, I have communicated clearly to my husband that I’m beginning to hear birds chirping in ways that indicate they will soon be nesting, so I think I am absolved of responsibility on that little situation, but the steepness of the roof did bring to mind a phrase that our kids oft-repeated in the last election cycle.

Once My Hero was safely back inside, I delivered this wonderful little turn of a phrase:  “That roof was a little pitchy – but umm – good stuff, eh?”  Scott was VERY impressed,  = )  and I should definitely get pun points with the kids!

The glorious list

Please rejoice with me in the fact that I survived our wild weekend and, although I was quite tired, even did so in tolerably good shape!

I/we had the following events:

Thursday – 5:30 PM Andrew’s tumbling class; 6:30 PM Scott and Andrew to attend a LTW dinner and bring 4 LTW guys home; 7:00 PM Patty choir.

Friday – 8:00 AM LTW guys + Andrew to VE; 5:15 PM Scott and Patty attend drama presentation and potluck dinner.

Saturday – 9:00 AM Andrew worship practice; 12:00 PM Scott and Patty to Richard’s birthday party (an hour away).

Sunday – 8:30 AM Andrew worship practice; 10:00 AM church; 12:00 PM lunch guests here; 2:00 PM Andrew drama practice here; 6:00 PM Life Group here.

There was also lot of food prep going on prior to and during this weekend – Cookie Dough Brownies and Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies for the guys; breakfast for the guys for two days (I chose to cook for them, including Breakfast Casserole and Raisin Bran Muffins one day and Scrambled Eggs and Cinnamon Raisin Bread Toast the next day); a main dish and a side dish to the potluck; lunch (Onion Roasted Chicken and Vegetables, Chef’s Salad, store-bought rolls, and leftover deserts) for our Sunday guests; and chips and dip for our Life Group.

For one who is not inherently gifted in the hospitality realm and who also hates to cook, the prospect of all the above was overwhelming.  When I realized that I was stressing about it in pretty high gear, I decided to make a list of what all had to be done when.  I definitely do have a “compulsion for doneness,” as my mom used to say, and my need to for closure is extreme.  I have learned, however, that I can tolerate delay of closure if I at least have a plan for HOW I’m going to eventually achieve it, and hence the list below.

The formatting is probably confusing, because I can’t figure out how to copy and paste an Excel spreadsheet into this post, but I hereby present for your viewing pleasure my to-do list.


8:15 AM

cut Andrew’s hair

thaw breakfast casserole

make cookie dough brownies (set some aside for Irons)

thaw muffins, tub butter

make juice

get 2 black folders


make Big Fat Chewy cookies

5:05 PM

leave for tumbling, take 2 black folders


4:45 AM

get up, walk at 5:15

6:00 AM

pre-heat to 350

6:15 AM

bake breakfast casserole (shower)

7:00 AM

eat breakfast (cass, muffins)

thaw GG chick

thaw creamy cheese potatoes

7:35 AM

leave for VE

write Richard’s birthday card

10:00 AM

make cinnamon raisin bread


3:30 PM

pre-heat to 400

3:45 AM

bake GG chick & creamy cheese potatoes

4:45 AM

leave for VE presentation & dinner, take GG chick, cr ch pot, serving utensils


5:00 AM

get up, walk at 5:30

6:15 AM


7:00 AM

make scr eggs and toast, more juice?

7:30 AM

eat breakfast (scr eggs, cinn raisin bread)

make 8-layer dip

8:50 AM

take Andrew to WP

clean for group

review Gungor video

11:00 AM

leave for Richard’s party, take directions & card

thaw and chunk 6 B/S chick, scrub potatoes, bring up carrots

prep onion-roasted chick/veggies

thaw dark rolls

prep salad stuff:  L, T, P, M; boil 3 eggs, thaw ch cheese


5:55 AM

get up

7:00 AM


7:45 AM

put salad together

straighten up 1st floor

8:20 AM

Andrew to WP

8:35 AM


9:25 AM

put meal in cold oven, covered, set oven to 300

9:30 AM

leave for church

12:00 PM

lunch w/  Robert & Kathy here

2:00 PM

drama team practice here

5:30 PM

ready for group here

It ALL got done(!!!), and the plan actually worked very smoothly.  Clearly, for me, time spent planning on the front end eases the process on the back end and preserves sanity.  I should remember this in the future.

Delightful gentlemen

We’ve had the honor of hosting four guys from the Louder Thank Words mime team this weekend.  They are one week into their three-week mission trip circling through Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and North Carolina, doing service projects, church services, and mime workshops – like the one they did today for our homeschool co-op.

I will say that these gentlemen are all not only excellent mimes, they are also polite, punctual, and helpful.  I very much like being around guys like that.  They never complain, they always say, “thank you, Mrs. Roberts,” and they act as if my word is law!  It’s neat to see Andrew having fun with them and know that he, too, will one day have an opportunity to make a similar mission trip.

What do our cellar door, a pressure cooker, and my daughter all have in common?

They all have vents.

Our family flies a lot.  Our oldest three children categorically hate flying.  Oh, they’re not afraid of flying.  They aren’t the phobic types, but they have all learned that flying is a never-ending series of “hurry up and wait (and wait and wait and wait) and then be (mildly, significantly, intensely) frustrated” events.

Katie’s experience of trying to get back to Virginia from Branson last year on Southwest was an extreme example.  I don’t remember all the details, but it was something along the lines of them cancelling a flight – twice – and then forcing her to pay to re-schedule.  Katie’s generally pretty calm under pressure, and she’s not prone to blow up of fall apart, but she was pretty darn upset that day.

I think today’s situation trumps that.

She was scheduled to fly from Dulles to Hong Kong, with a connection in Chicago, to spend a week with her sister.  This was Katie’s Christmas present to Jessica, and to say that a LOT of effort has gone into the planning would be an understatement.  A significant amount of money.  Working extra in order to squeeze out enough vacation days.  Packing to leave an area that received a foot of snow yesterday to travel to a humid area with expected temps in the sixties.  Oh.  And do all that when you’ve been living in a hotel for the past month and can’t access or even find some of your stuff that was packed away in boxes by some moving company after your apartment flooded.

In MO time, she was scheduled to leave Dulles today (Feb 14th) around 8:30 AM, arrive Chicago about 10:30 AM, leave Chicago around 1:00 PM, and arrive Hong Kong about 5:00 AM on Feb 15th.

Her roommate dropped her at the airport, and she found out that United had overbooked her flight out of Dulles to the tune of 25 folks.  Sigh.  She was traveling with a carry-on (which she was forced to check, due to the requested-by-Jessica peanut butter within) and her laptop bag.  The odds of her getting on her scheduled flight didn’t look good.

She texted us this information and we prayed fervently on her behalf.  Scott encouraged her to go to the gate and find out what was up.  She did and texted us the results:  “nothing.”

While she waited in a long line of similarly stranded folks to talk to an agent, she heard rumors.  The airline would pay them (I said it’d better be in cash and not in miles); it looked like she could get to Chicago by 7 PM tonight (while she did have with her what she needed to fly, due to her bag being checked, she nothing for an overnight if she got stuck in Chicago); United would send them on other airlines; they’d be sent from Reagan or Baltimore (United booking shuttle service), etc.

Hours went by, and then this message:  “Well, apparently they forgot about me they called  everyone up one by one and then “Is there anyone else who was bumped from the Chicago flight?” Me and the other guy going to Hong Kong both got up. This was about an hour ago. FINALLY have an agent looking for flights for me now, but I’ve already missed the good flight through Newark. sigh”

She told Scott on the phone that the agent told her, “Hmmm. . . they should have let you on that flight because you have a connection.”  DUH!!!  And an international connection at that!!!

Then some three hours after her initial flight had left, this:  “tomorrow. I am SO mad. and if I hadn’t checked the bag, it sounds like I could maybe have gone today. so mad.”

I don’t know when tomorrow, or how she’ll get home from the airport or back to it, or where her checked bag is, but I know she is probably about as angry as she’s ever been, and rightly so.  As hard as she has worked to carve out this time with Jessica, to have a day of it stolen is just fiendishly CRUEL!

And now, having joined the cellar door, a pressure cooker, and my daughter, I am done venting.

Full circle and the ironing board

A few weeks ago, I bought an ironing board.  Andrew was with me for our weekly Wal-Mart run, and when I asked him to wedge the ironing board into our cart and then drive it over to the grocery section, he looked at me askance.  In fact, it was hard for him to look at me at all – or even drive the cart very handily – what with the ironing board limiting visibility.

I told him it was a less expensive alternative, that it was adjustable, and that I thought it was a brilliant solution.  The problem the ironing board solved has to do with tomatoes, namely my tomato seedlings.

It is my habit to start tomatoes from (purchased) seeds in February.  In former years, I have used small peat pellets.  When water is added, they fluff up, and I plant two seeds in each, put the seeded pellets in a tray with a clear plastic lid, and set it on the server, our network computer.  The server sits on the floor of our office closet, and the tomato seeds sit on the server because it’s warm and they like their bottoms warm.

Once the little guys sprout, I move them upstairs to the attic where I have a PVC frame holding fluorescent tube lamps on a timer.  The tomato plants need to be very close to the light, so they don’t grow “leggy” trying to reach the light.  The lamps are hung from chains, so they can be raised as the tomato plants grow.

The problem is that the darn plants never all grow at the same rate!  This means that I have to stack books or video tapes under different ones to get them up close to the light.  And then when they get taller, I have to remove portions of the supporting stacks.  this makes for a lot of crawling around on the attic floor, and that is a pain.  Then, eventually, their little threadlike roots start growing out of the peat pellet, and I transplant them into larger peat pots, which, of course, are taller, and even more adjustment is necessary.

At some point, it occurred to me that, rather than constantly raising and lowering pans holding individual plants, perhaps I could put them on some kind of a table.  This would mean less bending and my body would be happier, but it would have to be a table whose height was adjustable.  Hmmm. . .

In the days when we pastored a church, we received a vast array of junk mail; everything from cassette tapes to floor mats to church insurance to communion supplies to church furniture.  Our church closed many years ago, and we filled out some form somewhere that made all the junk mail stop, but I guess the cessation was only granted for a decade, because in the last year or two, it has all resumed.  Sigh.  I normally just ditch it all, but a few weeks back, when one of those church furniture catalogs came, I leafed through it looking for adjustable tables.

Yes, such things do exist, in both wood and plastic versions, but they are quite costly.  The cheapest one I found was $85 (which I was not about to pay!) and from there one could spend up to $329.  Now, my tomatoes are pretty valuable, but there’s no way I’m spending that kind of money on an adjustable table.  Shoot!  They’re only even under the attic lights for about six weeks!!!

So, as the calendar marched into January, I kept thinking about what a pain it was going to be to find enough things the right height to prop up these seedlings – and then to lower them again.  Frankly, I was seriously not looking forward to that part of the gardening year.

And then one day I got out the ironing board.  I squeezed that little bar on it, propped its one end on the floor and whipped it out, and as I did so, I thought, “Hey!  I could make this ironing board any height I wanted it!  It’s like my old crockpot, fully adjustable.”  (The new crockpots only have low, medium, and high settings – a great loss of function, if you ask me.)  I played with the ironing board for a moment, raising and lowering it.  Although I always use it at maximum height, if I wanted to, I could set it a mere foot off the floor.

Hmmm. . .

Say!  An ironing board for the tomatoes in the attic!  It’s cheap.  It’s metal.  It won’t be damaged if some water spills on it.  I can set it a height (under the lights) at which I don’t have to bend much.  In fact, I could set the lights as high as possible, and then just lower the ironing board over time as the tomatoes grow.  I might still have to put the slow growers up on something, but that wouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t have to crawl on the floor to do it.


So I spent $14.95 and bought an ironing board.

On February 6, 2014, I planted my tomato and pepper seeds and set them on the server.  On February 11, the first eight plants sprouted and were moved to the ironing board.  On February 12, Scott ate on his sandwich the very last ripe homegrown tomato of the 2013 crop.

We have come full circle, and as Scott said, tomatoes are now officially a year-round activity.

Changing my answer

At our life group last week, the ice breaker question was this:  “If your only options were summer or winter, which one would you choose for it to be all the time, and why?”  Now really, what kind of a choice is that?!?

I stewed a long time on that one, because my initial thought was winter – that’s when it SNOWS!  But things are also pretty dead-looking in winter and I do dearly love to watch things grow.  I like green.  Finally, after hemming and hawing with my partner of and on for several minutes, I chose summer because I couldn’t stand to see nothing green and growing forever.

In the back of my mind, though, I felt a little guilty for betraying my deep, deep love of snow.

Then the very next morning, during church, it SNOWED great guns!!!  When we came out of church, the snow was already about three inches deep and it was snowing so hard it was difficult to see through it!  Scott tried to take Sister Jean (age 82, I believe) home in her car, with Andrew and me following in the Durango, but we had gone only about a mile past F toward Forsyth – over completely snow-covered roads – when the that had been inching along ground to a halt.

As I used my transmission and not my brakes to slow down, keeping a great deal of distance between Scott and me, I glanced in my rearview and saw that in the past m.inute or so, a car four cars behind me slid off the road into a ravine and was sitting at about a 45 degree angle.  Ugh.  The scene was not pretty.  Well, it was actually gorgeous, what with the heavy snow and the trees and the hills, but getting home from church was not going to be easy.

We stopped and sat. And prayed.  Highway 160 is a two-lane, curvy, hilly strip of blacktop with no shoulders to speak of.  We were stopped on a relatively flat and straight stretch, but the line of stopped cars ahead of us curved out of sight some seven cars up.  I had no idea what was stopping our forward progress.  Was there a wreck?  Had someone slid across the road, blocking it?  Was some driver simply scared to keep going?  Was there an emergency vehicle up there doing something?  No one knew and there was no way to find out.

For the several minutes that we sat there, I grew more and more uneasy.  I was trapped by the traffic.  I surely couldn’t go forward, and it appeared that I couldn’t go back, either.  Or could I?  Hmmm. . . Maybe I could, somehow, but even if I could figure out how to get my monstrous SUV extricated from that line of parked cars, what about Scott and Sister Jean?  We surely couldn’t leave her standing in the middle of a snowstorm, and I was Scott’s ride home or back to his Honda at the church.  What to do?

While I debated my very limited options, Scott called and said, “I think we should just go home.”  Well, yes, so did I, but HOW ON EARTH could we do that?!?!?

I surveyed the space between our two vehicles.  There were no driveways in sight, and the road was narrow, and there were no shoulders, and the road was totally snow- (and ice?) covered, and the Durango is of a substantial length, but there was also no on-coming traffic, so maybe, just maybe, if I were extremely careful, I could inch the Durango forward and backwards a whole bunch of times and get it turned around and go home.

I told Andrew to please say nothing about my driving – he is prone to offer such comments – and, in fact, to say nothing at all; that only praying and being quiet would be appropriate.  And thus I began my 15-point turn.  After the first five points, a truck slowly edged its way toward us in the westbound lane.  This could cause a problem.  I was obviously using every inch of pavement in both lanes to endeavor to turn myself around.  I could only do my maneuvering so quickly, as stepping on the brake each time was clearly risky business.  After all, in just three miles coming from the church, how many cars had we already seen sliding or having slidden off into ditches – probably because they applied their brakes.  So, I clearly had to proceed cautiously and slowly. . . but this truck was approaching, and it would be problematic (if not disastrous) for him to brake, too.  If he hit me, we’d probably both slide off, and although the north side of the road just had a ditch and then a bluff-y uphill, the south side was a deep ravine (that section of U.S. Highway 160 having been constructed on the side of a beautiful Ozark “mountain”).

“God, help me do this safely!” I prayed, and kept inching up and back, up and back, up and back, up and back yet again, in no more than two-foot increments.  Since I couldn’t see where the pavement ended, I wasn’t taking any chances.

Meanwhile, I was so focused on the task at hand that I had completely forgotten about Scott and Sister Jean in the car her car in front of – or hopefully soon to be behind – us.

One last turn, with the truck very, very close, and I swung the Durango westbound.  Thank you, God!!!  And I began creeping toward home.  And Andrew breathed.  And my phone rang.  It was Scott, telling me to pull over and park at the Christian Church at F and 160, and he’d leave Sister Jean’s car there and we’d all go home in the Durango.

Which we did.  While we waited for him in that parking lot, a couple other friends from our church pulled in to do the same thing.  Some of them appeared rather shook up, but all was well.  Everyone seemed to be safe.

Later, I learned how Scott extricated Sister Jean’s car.  Still facing east, he eased into the westbound lane and backed up about half a mile!  In the wrong lane, till he came to a driveway where he could turn around.  WOW!  He later told me that Sister Jean was praying the whole time, and Sister Jean later told me that Scott was the best “backer-upper” she had ever seen in her life.  = )

We ate soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and visited for a while.  Around 3:00 PM, Scott and Andrew took Sister Jean home in the Durango.  They went slowly and had no problems, but oh, the stories we heard from other folks as they attempted to get home from church!  As far as we know, all our friends did eventually make it to their homes.  However, some of them were stranded in for various amounts of time (a few minutes, a few hours) in various places (against a guardrail, at the Hong Kong buffet, at the bottom of a hill), and they told or texted us stories of a multi-car pile-up on Roark Valley Road just down from 76, another one on 165, several street closings, and innumerable cars off in ditches.

It was an exciting afternoon, to say the least.

Now I’m writing about nine days later.  Slow, I know.  I’ve actually been working on this post off and on since then.  Today, Katie sent me a blurb about the up to 14 inches of snow(!!!) that she’s expecting in her neck of the woods in the next couple days.  Her subject line was “be jealous.”  I’m so happy for her – except for the possible travel delays it might cause – but I really have no right to be jealous.  We’ve had significant snow on the ground for nine days, and back in December we had two HUGE snows.

I am a blessed woman, and the next time I’m asked if I’d rather it be perpetual summer or perpetual winter, I will be honest and say WINTER!

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