…in which I answer the question of where I’ve been lately.

Where to begin? I am really tempted to whine about how busy I’ve been—and you would be impressed, trust me, because I have been really, really, impressively busy—but I feel that might be boring. I do want to mention the 8-night period in which I had guests 6 times, although in fairness I should tell you that I missed Ilsa’s choir concert on one of the free nights, as I was too tired to do anything more strenuous than cook dinner for the family and stare at the wall for a while. Who needs TV?

You will grasp my level of busyness when I tell you that I am turning down free books.

It’s long been a dream of mine to have a secretary. I don’t want to work in an office, I just want someone to organize my life and bring me coffee. This remains a distant dream, but I have managed to get an intern for the summer. I’ve never had one before and I’m feeling very grown-up. Her name is Leslie and she is enthusiastic, energetic, and pretty much perfect. The Iraqis love her. We are putting on an ESL clinic for Iraqi women and children and she’s going to teach it. I’m her mentor (don’t laugh!), which so far involves me talking a lot and sharing all my opinions on life. I can see how this could be very bad for me. She also made me coffee once.

In addition to planning out our ESL clinic and curriculum and doing lots of visiting so I can introduce her to everyone, I have been picking up some hours at a couple of different English centers, since working with refugees doesn’t pay as well as one might think. Last week, I subbed every day at a center downtown, which ended up being a lot more fun than it sounds. For example, Wednesday was a day of private lessons, one after the other, and half of my students didn’t show and then we had an international potluck! And I got paid for it.

I would take the MAX train downtown every morning, teach all day, have Leslie meet me at the MAX station, and go visiting. Then I’d go home and work on getting ready to leave. The plan was that I would leave important things in piles near the front door, and on Friday, while I was at work, my family would clean the house, empty the garbage and the fridge, unplug the stove and coffee maker, put ALL the important piles in the car, no really, ALL of them, no judgement calls required, and then pack themselves into the car and pick me up from work. From there we would hop onto the freeway and make our way to Southern California, to spend two weeks lazing by my in-laws pool and hopefully getting over these daily tension headaches.

All went as planned. They met me downtown and off we went. We made good time and it was a gorgeous day, the distant mountains a deeper blue than the sky and the sun differentiating between all the many shades and textures of greens. We stopped for a quick light supper and kept going into the mountains.

And suddenly, on the pass between Oregon and Washington, the car started to die. We couldn’t get it to go any higher than 20-30 miles an hour. The enormous trucks were passing US. It was bad. We limped to the top and thankfully began whizzing down the steep downgrade on the other side. We stopped at the first rest area and could tell something was seriously wrong. The car shook like a washing machine on spin cycle, and we jostled uncomfortably inside.

A random guy at the rest area said it was our lifters. This made sense to Donn (but not to me). Just a couple of weeks ago, on my way home, the oil light flickered and went off. I stopped quite soon but not right away, and the car spent several days at the mechanic’s. This might be connected? Or not? I don’t know.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, which involved a LOT of phone calls and some wild ideas on the part of my father-in-law, who didn’t want their annual housecleaning to be for nothing. Basically we put some additive (?) in with some more oil and turned around and drove home, arriving at 3 a.m. totally fried.

I was really proud of my family. We were all bitterly disappointed, but we all made the best of it, even though it was very late and people could have legitimately been grumpy. We may often be curmudgeonly and not at our best in everyday situations, but we do well when faced with life’s disappointments. When life gives us lemons, we get sarcastic and laugh a lot. The atmosphere in the car, as we sped home through the black Oregon night liberally besprinkled with stars (and my does Donn get tense when I lean out to look at them! I knew that curve was coming!), was warm and loving.

I wasn’t too surprised to note, next morning/afternoon when I got up, that the garbage had not been taken out, nor had the fridge been emptied. Carpets had been vacuumed though, and I guess one can’t ask for more. Also, everything made it into the car, which was the main thing.

So we’re home. Maybe we’ll make it down later; maybe not. Regardless, my goal is keep my life simpler. As Nancy Reagan used to say, “Just say no!” I’m working on it.

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