When we first moved to Huntsville I was worried about the high school situation—it was so far away! 

I remember praying about it and getting an answer somewhere along the lines of: It’s not going to be what you think. I will take care of you, but you’ll never believe what will happen if I tell you.

And when I think of Ruby attending high school here in Portugal, and then with the added COVID element, I think, no. Never in a thousand years would I have believed this.

I sometimes think about the verses in Jacob 5 where the trees that are planted in the poor spots of ground produce all good fruit and the tree planted in the best spot of ground produces a part good and a part bad fruit, while the Lord says, "Counsel me not."

Here’s Ruby in her new lab coat for Física-Química (Physics-Chemistry). They take their lab coats somewhat seriously here as they had a couple styles and the lady at the store had Ruby try on a couple and tried also to get my opinion about the fit. Both Ruby and I were like... it’s a lab coat... this one is great. 

Sometimes I think the English language or maybe only my own vocabulary is limited with the word “tired.”

I was tired the first week the kids were taken out of school; I was tired this week; and I was tired several times in the middle, but they were all completely different feelings. 

I tend to save words like “exhaustion” for true extremes like the time I was pregnant with Penelope and we were all struck with a flu whose sole symptom seemed to be a deep and overwhelming fatigue. Woo fell asleep on the floor during scriptures. I fought with everything I had to stay awake myself, but I couldn’t stand to spur the kids into motion and escort them to bed. I had to crawl, carrying Linus in one arm to his bed, and then up the stairs, while weakly driving crawling kids ahead of me like some slow-motion sheep dog before crawling into bed myself. I can’t remember if I could only leave Woo on the floor or if I was able to wake him, but he found his way to bed at some point during the night.

Anyway... this week was NOT that bad :). 

In fact, it really wasn’t bad at all. Despite being tired for a lot of it, I felt a lot more motivated and hopeful than last week.

Ruby comes home from school everyday with a smile on her face. One day she came home very excited because she and Moses had walked home from school with Moses’s friend and told him all about the Book of Mormon.
Linus: Did you give him a Book of Mormon?  
Ruby: You did! He still has it.
Linus has given him a Book of Mormon the first year we moved here and hadn’t even known it. 

We have once again learned that the kids’ schools are not run by unreasonable jerks. Herbie reports that some things that were hurting more than helping have already been revised. Like the plastic dividers in the classrooms. It turns out no one could see. Those have been taken down. 

Herbie and Moses also carefully cleaned a spare pair of shoes for gym and those were acceptable. Linus told his teacher right off the bat that he only had one pair of gym shoes and his teacher said he could use those as long as he cleaned them well before and after class. 

Linus also raised his hand and told his teacher that he only had a package of 10 markers (that I’d picked up at the grocery store), not the requested 12. Some teachers are quite strict about this, but his teacher said it was fine. Just get a 12 pack next time.

For some reason, fifth graders are scheduled the least amount of time in school. Linus hasn't complained. He found the school library on the first day and has already checked out and finished three books.

I correctly got the stagger time at the elementary school this week! It means I walk to and from the school five times every day, but once I was mentally committed, it was no problem. I need the exercise anyway. 

Archie runs out the school door every release, sees me, then immediately stops, hangs his head, slumps his shoulders and shuffles to me.
Archie: School was so boring.  
Penelope: Then why did I see you at recess, laughing and having a good time?

Archie (fighting down a smile): I hate school.
He’s clearly pretending, but why, I wonder? 

I accompanied kids almost every day to stores for the last of their school supplies. It was fun to spend time with only one or two of them at a time. We usually also got a treat. Herbie, Moses and Linus got ice cream. Ruby wanted a banana. 

Penelope says everyone in her class has a difficult time running and also their sprints run out of steam quickly. She feels like she’s running circles around everyone when they’re playing tag. Many of the kids in all the kids’ classes have gained weight, but there are one or two who lost a lot of weight. I wonder more about what happened to them. 

Anyway, Penelope has always been the fastest or second fastest kid in her class, but now she feels like a cheetah amongst a bunch of sloths. It’s almost the only thing she tells me about school.

A big event for Moses was finally seeing everyone's faces again in gym, where they were allowed to remove their masks. There was a lot of anticipation to finally see what the new kids look like.

Moses's downtime project for the week: build a suit of armor.

For years Penelope has loved burying her face in my belly when she gives me a hug. Now she's too tall, but she would still prefer to hit my belly with her nose than my rib cage, so her hugs have taken on an awkward downward dive at the last moment.

Woo is currently doing some contract work and also working on his own surfing app because he’s not entirely happy with what’s available. So now his (almost) daily surfs are no longer only for fun or exercise, but also to test the new app.

He came home laughing one day because he’d figured out why his app had failed. After adding all sorts of tracking factors, he’d forgotten the most important ones: latitude and longitude. 

We’ve done a bit of tidying and dejunking this week. I did the upstairs. Woo and Herbie cleaned the garage, and Penelope did a wonderful job on the kitchen. 

Herbie had one good surf where he did a snap, and one really bad one, where Woo brought him home early, it was clear he wasn't feeling well. After a blessing, he threw up, then napped for a couple of hours. Too much back-to-school stress.

I thought I was pretty dedicated, but following a prompting I started letting the Lord know each morning in prayer that the day was dedicated to Him. My days don’t look any different, really, but my heart has changed noticeably already in only seven days.

We saw plain marshmallows for the first time months ago and bought several bags. Saturday we went and roasted them for the first time. They were different, but still good enough for everyone to roast dozens. We weren't actually sure it would be allowed--there's been a fire warning on the interior of the country for awhile, but no one stopped us. 

A woman did come and asked us to help catch her traumatized and terrified dog. Several of us did try, but really, none of us has the slightest idea of how to deal with even normal dogs. In Woo's words: She picked the wrong family for this job.

Banana hold up.

And that's our week. Hope yours was great!


Back to School!

School started this week. It’s been a weird time because no one has been excited without reservation like past years (except maybe Linus). Ruby, Archie and I were dragging our feet. 

Every assignment I got from the school was like a physical “ugh” and a mind block where I would consider it nearly impossible. Then after a day or two, I’d slowly be able to come up with something that while not the full assignment would be enough to slide us by... for now. 

We managed to get all the school meetings done. Woo went to half and I went to half. In the past, I’ve gone to all of them, but after attending Archie’s and not understanding more than a couple sentences, Woo had to attend the ones we decided were the most important to actually know what was going on.

In looking back, Archie’s class meeting was easily the worst one. His teacher did not hand out any flyers, nor use any slides (so nothing for me to read simultaneously). She spoke very fast, did not give the usual back-to-school spiel, and I was sitting near the back, so couldn’t hear as well. 

Buying supplies from everyone’s supply list seemed like an unconquerable burden, so I just bought a bunch of likely things when we went grocery shopping and luckily, it appears to have been enough to get everyone started. 

Ruby had her back-to-school meeting alone. (Parents were invited to a separate meeting to keep numbers low, that Woo attended later that evening.) She was not very excited, but she walked bravely off to the high school, which was a mystery to all of us, to figure out what she was supposed to do.

She came home feeling better. Her main teacher appears to be a pleasant person, her class was almost entirely new people, and the new school building is intriguing.

And then everyone was off to school!

Penelope and Archie do not need to wear masks, but they do have a staggered entrance and release time, which is irritating when dropping off or picking up more than one kid, because they are 20 minutes apart. 

Archie was very hesitant to go into the school alone. I walked him through the gate to the door, without a mask (which I now know is against the rules), but he shuffled in from there. I watched him turn the wrong direction to his classroom and it wasn’t until later that I realized he hadn’t been allowed to the start-of-school meeting I went to and he had no idea where his new classroom was. Of course, the 1st grade teacher helped him figure it out. 

The country has a shortage of school books, because at the end of last year they told everyone to keep the books. Normally, they collect books at the end of the year and reissue a lot of them. The publishers did not foresee having to supply every student with new books this year, and they’re on back order. Our kids do not yet have their books, along with about a third of the kids in each of their classes. So far it has not been a problem because everyone seems to have agreed to start teaching from last year’s books (that everyone kept, from the grade before.) 

Ruby, Herbie, Moses and Linus were issued a package of 3 school-approved face masks, and they are not allowed through the school gate without a mask.

Herbie, Moses and Linus also must each use a separate entrance into the school. Their classrooms have plastic dividers between the desks and the desks are also turned at angles to one another so no one is breathing directly in the direction of another. They say that it is difficult to see through the dividers and Linus, who sits on the far end of the room with the board at his right shoulder, has already been told he needs glasses (which to be honest, he might).

These three also tell us they need brand new athletic shoes to be worn in gym and only in gym to prevent the spread of spit and sweat from someone else on the gym floor spreading to their shoes that they wear everywhere else. 

Ruby’s back-to-school blessing said that she would thrive in a difficult environment, and we saw that by Friday already. Her philosophy teacher is also the theater teacher. Ruby came home with a poor impression of the teacher who was very dramatic, inappropriate and disrespectful.

Then Ruby said they were each asked to share something important to them. Ruby was near the end and considered a few things to say before settling on chastity. Which she said, I’m sure, with no nervousness or embarrassment at all. Can you imagine how courageous that must have been?

It was completely silent after she said that, and it turned out that many kids in her class had no idea what chastity was. The teacher explained and said she would respect Ruby and encouraged the class to also even though she was different, and afterwards the teacher’s manner was more respectful. 

Friday I went to pick up Penelope and Archie from school and found myself fighting against the strongest wind I’ve ever felt in my life. I even said a prayer to make it. I arrived to find one of the employees leading a child out of the school door, where both of them were immediately struck with such a terrific wind that they were both dragged to the east. The employee managed to grab hold of a window sill, hug the boy and inch them both back into the safety of the school.

Archie was just inside of the door, waving at me. I knew the employee couldn’t manage it, so I went inside the gate to get him myself where I was almost blown off my feet and had to hold onto the doorway of the school. I wasn’t leaving with only Archie. I asked for Penelope, but her teacher wouldn’t release her with some of Archie’s class waiting at the door.

I got in trouble and was sent back out to the gate, when the wind immediately lost it’s ferocity. Both Penelope and Archie were released to me, where immediately Penelope was upset because I was 20 minutes late for her (the first I’d heard of it; I was right on time for Archie). 
(Penelope made the Friend!--lower left)

This getting the stagger time right is clearly very important to Penelope. She’s mentioned it to me several times since then; I overhear her talking to the other kids about it; and she’s offered me a couple of plausible solutions I might consider. I guess I have to make a greater effort next week. *sigh* 

Moses decided he was really excited the night before school started and did not sleep well. He was a complete mess that first day and Woo warned him many times to pay attention so to not hurt himself.

Adding to Moses’s anticipation stress was that he had to wait to leave a couple of hours after Linus and Herbie has already gone. The middle school is staggered even more with Moses starting school in the afternoon some days. He gets out of school later than we normally eat dinner almost every day, which I was worried about until we saw that Ruby (who is also on a staggered late schedule) gets out at almost the same time. Her school is only about a quarter mile away, and they’re able to meet up for the walk home.

But until afternoon is a long time for Moses to wait, although he enjoyed his bike ride he got to take with Woo and I, even when it rained.

After the bad wind experience picking up Archie and Penelope I also struck out to meet Ruby and Moses coming out of school. The wind had died down quite a bit, but I still wanted to be sure. They were happy to see me and walking home with them and hearing about their day was the highlight of my rough day.

Herbie has put a lot of effort into organizing everything just right. It is important to him to get 30 minutes of family history in every morning before school. He and I worked together to get that figured out. He’s labeled all his notebooks, carefully placed dividers, post-it notes..., organized it all according to school day, cleaned his gym shoes, etc. etc. 

He and Woo apparently had a very fun surf playing around on a board Herbie busted.

Woo bought a new board from Decathlon. It came a day or two later and Herbie successfully encouraged Woo to toss his broken boards and take a few pictures. 

Herbie and Linus are school buddies, having the same start and return times every day of the week. 

Linus has been anxious for a sewing kit to repair a few of his favorite things and we finally got one this week. Saturday he carefully sewed the button back on his suit coat, then made several attempts at fixing his swimsuit, but it was beyond his ability and he ended up very frustrated. I did it for him. He’d clearly done his best, so it was time for me to step in. 

He ended the day on a high note with this collage for his HGP (History and Geography of Portugal) class. 

Our branch joined a new stake a few weeks ago. The stake president, a councilor and a high councilman visited today. They were all three very impressive.

And that’s our week! Hope yours was great!


Russians, Italians, Portuguese

I decided to put some of my goals up along with the kids’ when we put the Children and Youth stuff up on the window. I wanted the kids to see I’m doing stuff too. 

Possibly the biggest benefit to me is to realize that I do make goals. I’ve always hated talks/lessons, whatever, about goals because they’ve never made any sense to me. I hate the thought of making a 5 year, 10 year, 20 year plan, etc.

But the truth is I do make goals, almost constantly, but I never write them down as goals. Sometimes I write them down as revelation, but mostly I don’t think about them much. I just do them when I get the prompting for as long as the Spirit tells me. 

I knew that the kids were also working under the same “goal” plan as I was (probably because it’s what I’ve taught them), and I’ve always kind of disliked these external goal programs that are well, external.

BUT, I’m trying to be obedient and follow the prophet closely (big goal), so I had a prompting (little goal) that this would be something worth trying, so we posted our stuff on the window, according to the Children and Youth outline. 
And it has helped. Like I said, the kids and I are realizing that the things we are already doing are goals. Almost all the kids are remembering their small, daily goals better. Ruby was already pretty well self-sufficient. Herbie and Linus do many things on their own, but sometimes need a little extra boost to remember a new goal. Moses sometimes needs a little extra boost to continue a goal and see it through, and Penelope and Archie are still working on both those.

Also, it helped me too. In putting up my post-it notes, I realized I’ve been eating 1 piece of fruit so successfully for so long (over 2 years!), that it was time to up my game to 2 pieces of fruit a day. To no one’s surprise, in the past two weeks, I’ve found I have more energy. I notice it especially when I’m running intervals. 

Woo got a haircut this week. He probably would like everyone to know that he thinks it looks stupid, he looks older, more bald, personality-less, etc. It wasn’t his idea, and if it were up to him he’d still have several months of hair-growing to go. The only reason he did it was for me.

I am grateful that he did what he didn’t want to do only because I asked.

Herbie and Penelope keep telling him he looks younger and handsome, but he doesn’t believe them. (And he’s not going to believe you either, so best not to mention it.) 

A couple from our branch (he’s Portuguese, she’s Italian) bought a new house a couple months ago and invited us to dinner. One of their sons and his family (from Italy) were also there.

It has been probably a year (since we were in Utah) since we’ve been to someone’s house for dinner and the kids stayed up late playing with their kids. It doesn’t quite seem like summer without a few of these.

They had a pool and basketball hoop and swings and a looong strip of land (like down one valley and up the next rise), four orchard trees wide, from which they sent us home with a bunch of apples and pears. We all loved it. 

Every member here seems to have an amazing story of finding the gospel (against all odds) and then living it successfully for so many years (against all odds). I love everyone of them for it.

For this couple, he was one of the first baptisms in Portugal in the 70s, and almost immediately went on a mission (without ever having been to the temple). She also was a missionary in southern Italy... they met after their missions in the Bern Switzerland temple and the Spirit immediately told them that they were to marry.

It’s been a lifetime of living and working in small branches, long trips to the temple, raising kids in an hostile environment, not having the support of even their immediate family, etc.

Their son had gone on a mission and when he returned home, there’d been a new baptism in his home branch(?)... his wife. 

We had a senior couple visit our branch from Brazil that I was also so happy with. They had been baptized 20 years ago in Brazil (the same time Woo and I were on missions). And here they were, a senior missionary couple in Portugal. Probably no where near where they ever thought they would be 25 years ago. And here they were! Being awesome :).

We had a short period of a handful of missionaries condemning the members for lack faith (because of the lack of baptisms). Unfortunately, it really made me mad when I thought about it. If those missionaries had any understanding of what faith really is... they would have been honoring and learning all they could from these amazing members.

Anyway, back to the Italians... their two little girls only spoke Italian. Our kids could mostly understand them, but were powerless to answer them (and the Italian girls were too young to get the jist of Portuguese?).

The oldest little girl developed the impression that Ruby was really shy and didn’t like to talk, and we laughed to think that no one has ever thought that of Ruby ever. 

Someone told Herbie that Woo was the best surfer he had ever seen on a foam board. Mostly this was fun for Woo to hear, but also a frustration because Woo has broken all his foam boards and only has a fiberglass board that he was talked into getting almost 2 years ago as the next progression, but it hurts his feet a lot and is not as fun. He’d rather have fun on a beginner board and be in less pain.

In other events, Woo fasted for a personal concern last week, and as so often happens when God is blessing you, a bunch of humbling and trying things happened. I won’t mention any specifics here because they’re, well, humbling and trying.

Herbie chipped a tooth while surfing somehow. I’m not sure we have a kid that doesn’t have a chipped tooth now. 

Moses came to say good night with a giant smile on his face. He’d just gotten the revelation to write a book. Then he said he was going to dream about it that night and get his story, and he ran off to bed eagerly.

When I checked on him before going to bed myself, I saw that he’d already written a flowchart with a title—Dragon Fight, and some character names (Incendoroar, Salascorch) with some arrows and rough drawings.

He’s spent a lot of time on it this week, and also illustrations. He didn’t want to share it with his siblings (I think partly for fear they wouldn’t like it), but I encouraged him to read it out loud to all of them and they were all so admiring (especially his younger siblings), that I’m sure it boosted his confidence. 

Linus built a dragon out of legos for Ruby and those two spent a lot of their free time together playing legos. This isn’t normal for Ruby. Possibly because she doesn’t have her own legos, but Linus was eager to share.

We’d heard from the teachers of all the kids, but Ruby. There was also nothing on the school’s website, so Ruby called. She spoke with someone who was very annoyed (too many calls with the same questions?) who told her to come into the school or check the website.

We checked the website again, and yep. There it was. 

One of Linus’s new goals is to give 5 compliments a day. One thing he is already good at is immediately after evening scriptures, going upstairs to pray, review his day and repent. This means that sometimes he comes back down in a rush, trying to get his 5 compliments out before going to bed. 

Penelope’s birthday blessing mentioned that she would help prepare Archie for baptism and she has taken that admonition very seriously. I overhear her talking to him about it sometimes.

I finally gave up on trying to get to a printer and hand wrote all the kids’ blessings I have for them in the last 6 or 7 months. It took me two evenings. Penelope read one from April (not her birthday) that I wrote out for her the first evening and she said, “Didn’t you forget something in my blessing, Mom? The part where I’m supposed to prepare Archie for baptism?” 

We have some very friendly Russian downstairs neighbors. They were closing an apartment (an Airbnb?), had a bunch of stuff, and gave us a few puzzles and games. 

Archie is old enough to no longer be a terror to any puzzle set up... I mean, people can actually do a puzzle in his presence. But, he also isn't helpful on anything over 200 pieces. He was in the way when he tried. Luckily, our neighbors also gave us a couple of board games. They are complete jibberish to us. So much so that we can't even google if the game exists in English, but Archie has had plenty of fun making up his own games with the pieces.

Ruby’s English writing and typing skills really improved with seminary last year. Now she’s writing entire discourses, quoting conference talks, scriptures, etc in her discussion questions. 

Herbie’s still excited about seminary and wants it quiet while he sings his hymn and says his prayer before every class. This makes me smile as I’m surprised he’s so dedicated to singing that hymn all alone in front of the computer.

That's our week. Hope yours was great!