Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Much-Needed Happiness


Please excuse the gap between the last post and this one--I've been busy being horrified at the national news. But today I'm turning off NPR and looking back at the recent trip to North Carolina and the birthplace of Andy Griffith.

I was SHOCKED (shocked, I tell you) that I had requests for pictures of Husband in Barney's sidecar. And because Husband is the best sport in the world, here he is, at the Andy Griffith museum in Mount Airy. What you don't see is that it had stormed the night before and the seat of the sidecar was covered with left-over rain so my dear one had to walk around for a couple of hours with water-cooled britches.

In practically all ways he embodied the original Barney's Sidecar episode:



Looking at the picture makes me happy.

Then when we got home from the East Coast we discovered that our tomato plants had finally decided to start producing with vigor. My annual (consistently-fruitless) quest to grow my own tomatoes was nearly derailed this year when my lungs tried to kill me right during tomato-planting season, but we still have three late-planted vines in containers in the only sunny space near the House on the Corner. (Okay, the three containers technically are on a corner of our neighbor's yard, but we were mowing that yard, so could we consider that rent?)

Anyway, just look at this:

We have been eating BLTs, and huevos con tomate, and all manner of dishes cooked with fresh tomatoes, and I grab a handful of the cherry variety to eat like candy every time I pass through the kitchen. I smile as I check my teeth for tomato seeds before I go out in public.

I'm looking hard for happiness moments these days, because I do not use the term lightly when I say the news is horrifying. This is not a one-run loss in the World Cup, or a pair of Hollywood stars deciding to divorce. The news of the last five days have been jaw-dropping, nightmare-producing.

Give yourself a break today. Turn off the news, and eat a tomato fresh off the vine while watching an Andy Griffith re-run.

Tomorrow, get back into the fray, and work to make us all better. But today, be happy.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Our Kind of People

Two and One with childhood friends

After the gigantic "whoosh" that was the sound of a collective release of held breath in the House on the Corner, Husband and I couldn't wait to jump in the car and travel to North Carolina so all of the Research Triangle could hear us yelling "Wahooooooo!" together. We stopped in Missouri to pick up Boy#1 to be co-pilot and for the next two days I Miss Daisy-ed in the backseat, reading and knitting while Husband and One picked out scenic side trips to break up the 1,300-mile trip. 

We were quite aware that this was probably our final trip to the Durham area, since Two already had his plane ticket toward the next (employed! Yay!) stage of his life, so we had to be selective in our activities there. What was the very most important thing we needed to do, in case we never make it back to North Carolina?

Why, Mount Airy, of course. 

What? You've never heard of Mount Airy, North Carolina?

Then obviously you are not a superfan of Andy Griffith, and you did not spend your childhood watching old black-and-white re-runs of a show that began with a whistle and ended with a laugh. Unlike you, one of our brilliant sons (*cough* Boy#1 *cough*) not only watched every episode TVLand had to offer, he can to this day quote verbatim passages and tell you which of the Darlings was the creepiest Darling. (That's a trick question. All the Darlings were creepy.)

Mount Airy is the home of Andy Griffith, also known as super-sheriff Andy Taylor, and even though "The Andy Griffith Show" filmed in California and there is precious little evidence Barney and Aunt Bee ever set foot in Mount Airy, a childhood buddy of the real Andy Griffith became the unofficial documentarian of all things Griffith. The result was (to our surprise) absolutely charming.

We expected a tiny, run-down town with a sad and dusty room holding old Griffith memorabilia, maybe a few shops filled with identical selections of t-shirts and mugs. Instead, Mount Airy has a perfectly-sized modern museum with items from Griffith's growing-up years, as well as mementos from the show (including Otis's vomit-stained coat--ick) and from Griffith's other projects (a Matlock suit, for example). I forced our Boys to pose with the Andy and Opie statue, of course, and Husband let me take his picture in Barney's sidecar outside the museum. (This shot available upon request.) 

Even the downtown was fun, with lots of individual shops that referenced the show but didn't go overboard. No one was running around yelling "Citizen's ar-RAY-ust!," which, to be absolutely honest, was kind of disappointing. 

Not disappointing was the moonshine pie shop. We had missed lunch hour at The Loaded Goat Bar and Grill so we had a mid-afternoon lunch at the pie shop, splitting pulled pork and rhubarb pies. We passed on the moonshine pie, but the Boys report the peanut butter pie was excellent. 

And then we went home and watched the full episode of The Loaded Goat,  

It was a good day, as Husband and I walked around with two of our grown sons remembering when they were little boys and we watched this show together. I think Andy would have approved.



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Per Aspera


His last day of school was last week, 21 years later.

My mother told this story about Boy#2:

They were playing Yahtzee, and Two was keeping score. He would add up the dice throws in his head and enter the results on the scorecard, and Mom reminded him gently to write the numbers neatly.

"But Grandma," he told her, "they haven't taught us how to write numbers yet."

He was three, and sure enough, his preschool didn't work on numbers until they were four.

Numbers, though, were Two's second language. They spoke to him as clearly and expressively as words speak to the rest of us. He taught himself how to work percentages before he was in grade school, and by second grade his compassionate and creative teachers (we love you, Mrs. Helzer and Mrs. Taylor) were working to keep him challenged. He was taking high school math classes while in junior high, and finished two semesters of college calculus before he got his high school diploma.

I don't tell you this because I'm bragging about Two's math ability, I'm explaining that I understand why my friends didn't understand when I told them I was worried about him.

Two's graduate school experience was hard. He had earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, and loved the problem-solving nature of that combination of math and theory. But doctoral research is about expanding knowledge, exploring a topic rather than solving a problem. He struggled to get the kind of results his advisor expected, and for the first time in his life he didn't like school. He began to wonder if he was up to the demands of the program and considered walking away with his master's degree.

"Don't take yourself out of the game, even if your advisor isn't happy with you," we told him over and over. "Make him take you out--don't do it for him."

So when I asked my friends to put Two on their prayer lists when he was scheduled for milestone exams or defenses, they always thought about the kid who loved numbers.

"He'll be fine, there's no way he won't finish," they would say. We weren't sure. We had never seen Two in this position of insecurity; the numbers seemed to have stopped speaking to him.

But then last week, as Husband and I paced the floor half a continent away, Boy#2 went into a room with a committee of five brilliant academicians. For the next two hours he explained and defended his dissertation, and when those two hours were done, he had been approved to receive his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from one of the top universities in the nation.

I cried when I read the dissertation's dedication page.

"To my parents," it said, "for believing in me every step of the way, even when I didn't believe in myself."

And then Two added the phrase we Kansans know and love:

"Ad astra per aspera."

To the stars through difficulties.

The little boy who couldn't write his numbers had reached his goal, through difficulties, and he was right.

We believed in him every step of the way.


Friday, July 21, 2017

That. Was. Awesome.


I didn't look at the clock when I posted today's title on my Facebook page. I knew it was nearing midnight, I knew I was drenched in sweat, and I knew I kept breaking out in spontaneous laughter.

I knew I had just seen the best concert of my life.

I remember vividly that I was nine years old, sitting cross-legged on our classroom floor playing jacks with the other three girls in my class, when I first heard of the Beatles. "Did you see them last night? They were on Ed Sullivan," one of the girls asked. I don't remember her name; even our tiny, tiny school had transients, and the gypsies whose trailers were parked at the edge of town wouldn't be there more than a few months, but I remember that she had an oddly clumsy but efficient style in sweeping up the jacks, even on tensies.

Of course, I had not seen the Beatles. It would be another three years before my family got its first television, so I missed what would be the cultural touchstone of my generation. But I think we intuitively knew that for the next half century, the Beatles would provide the soundtracks of our lives. The girls wrote the names of their favorite Beatles on their notebooks, the boys grew their hair rebelliously long. We all crowed "she loves you, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH."

As the years went by I found that while I loved the Beatles' most popular songs (how could you not sing along to "Hard Day's Night"?) the songs I gravitated to were ballads, the melancholy lyrics of John and Paul. "Michelle." "Norwegian Wood." "Yesterday."
"One day, you'll look to see I'm gone, but tomorrow may rain so I'll follow the sun."
I didn't discover "I'll Follow the Sun" until 20 years after I first heard "She Loves You," but it became the theme song for my Peace Corps years.

I thought about those days when Husband read that Paul McCartney was going to do a concert in nearby Big-ish City.

"Want to go?" he asked, and I hesitated. Tickets were expensive, and even with top-of-the-line insurance the bills from my recent hospital stay were still coming in. And our car was dying, and we had made plans to remodel the bathroom ...probably shouldn't spend that money. But Husband had a way to get early reservations, so he found a couple of seats on the aisle six rows from the back of the arena, and Wednesday night we were there when the cute Beatle made his first appearance in the area.

The shaky, out-of-focus shot that leads today's post is from the first minutes of the concert. We were sitting so near the top of the arena's bowl that even standing seemed perilous--it was as if we were clinging to the back edge and could fall down into the bottom if we moved. But that's Paul McCartney on the screen. Paul, with his left-handed bass and sergeant's stripes on his coat sleeves.

Paul McCartney, the Beatle of my childhood, here and singing when I now mingle comfortably with the thousands around me in the new-knees-and-hips league.

He played for three hours, with no break for hydration on this 103-degree Kansas day. He played a grand piano and an upright piano, bass, ukulele, and acoustic guitar. He sang with his four back-up musicians and by himself. He told stories about the early days of the Beatles and pointed out his wife in the audience, and he kidded the iPhone-wielding audience about its preference for oldies.

"I can tell which songs you like by how many of you have your phones out," he said, sounding a little older than the Sullivan-era Paul but so, so familiar. "When we sing one of the old songs I look out and it's like a galaxy out there, but when we do something new, it's like looking into a black hole."

And then he summed up the Beatles entire career.

"But we don't care. We're going to do the new ones anyway."

He sang 39 songs. I knew all but three of them.

Take that in for a second--could you sing 39 songs in a row, even sitting down with the lyrics in front of you? I couldn't, and I'm a lot of years from 75.

It was the music of my life, and I found myself suddenly, inexplicably in tears when Husband held my hand during "And I Love Her," then laughing out loud when the camera focused on the tambourine player. (Woo, tambourine!) I jumped, as did everyone else, when the sole pyrotechnics of the evening accompanied "Live and Let Die." I sang with abandon--"Live goes on, BRAAAA!" on "Obladi, Oblada" and minutes and minutes worth of "Naaa, na na na-na-na-na-naaa,"  to finish "Hey Jude."

When it was over we walked back into the steamy night, laughing and holding hands.

I almost missed this concert because I was worried it would cost too much. Instead, Paul McCartney reminded me I was that girl playing jacks, and I was the young woman in the Peace Corps, and I am all the things the that have defined my life, and that experiences are more important than a remodeled bathroom.

Tomorrow may rain, so I'll follow the sun.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

They're Lucky They Found Him


Last week I visited my 90-year-old father on his farm.

As I've mentioned before, Dad has a lot of hobbies. He is the early morning guy at the natatorium, opening the pool at 5:30 and checking the chemicals, then monitoring the swimmers and throwing out the life ring if anyone seems to need a boost. He preaches in small town churches that need a summer fill-in or don't have a regular pastor. He serves on boards and advisory committees and is a quintuple Senior Olympics Games (sorry, trademark folks) swimming medalist in a multi-state area each year.

At this time of the year, though, Dad is best known in his neck of the woods as the local animal travel agent.

This year Shady Oaks Farm has been awash in raccoons. And with all due respect to all those lovable rascals who have made it big in television or the movies, raccoons are not welcome guests on a farm. They can destroy a corn field overnight, or in the case of semi-retired gentlemen farmers such as my father, they can climb through the cat door into the garage and poop all over the floor. This does not sit well with the wife of a certain semi-retired gentleman farmer, so my Dad has been trapping these critters.

But even though he is part of the Greatest Generation and a proud veteran of World War II, my dad cannot bring himself to shoot his captives (as most farmers would).

I mean, look at those eyes. Could you?

Instead, Dad loads the trap into the back of his pick-up and drives them 10 miles due south of the farm to Tanquery Bridge, where he opens the cage door and the raccoons scamper off. This saves his conscience and also saves his children the nightmare image of their 90-year-old dear one loading and shooting a shotgun.

So far he has relocated 15 raccoons this summer, and I'm pretty sure they have opened their own Tanquery Bridge Resort for the refugees. I envision them drinking mai tais by the pool and topping each other with their tales of escape from the horror that was prison.

They're happy, and so is he.

And seeing him, so am I.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sitting on My Hands

It's a real thing. 
Today it's a good thing this blog isn't one of those futuristic things our teacher Mrs. Frances warned us about in first grade.

"Some day," she told my class ominously, "you will be able to make phone calls and the other person will be able to see you."

I went to country school, so there were only four in us in my class but all of us gasped in horror. What if we hadn't combed our hair? What if we were NAKED?

So it has turned out that phones that let the other person see you when you're talking to them aren't the worst thing in the world, especially if you take care not to be naked while you're doing it. (I'm looking at you, teenagers everywhere. Life choices: They matter.)

If you were watching me blogging today, you'd see me trying to type while sitting on my hands, because today is Amazon Prime Day and today's illustration is an ACTUAL THING that is being sold.

Yes. You didn't know until this very moment that you needed a Beard King, did you? This is "The Official Beard Bib - Hair Clippings Catcher & Grooming Cape Apron - 'As Seen on Shark Tank'" (and I'm inserting a stet here to show that the weird capitalization and punctuation are compliments of Amazon, and not my own personal choices).

I have been married to a bearded man for all but six weeks of our almost-34-year-old marriage. He has trimmed his beard faithfully, and although he's a conscientious cleaner-upper of the trimmings, I will admit that I don't leave my coffee cup too near the bathroom sink when he's grooming. Beard trimmings have some amazing aerodynamic properties that carry them way, way beyond what you would expect a tiny little whisker to be able to fly.

But would I spend $29.99 for a Beard King to capture those occasional stray whiskers when the gizmo would need to be cleaned and stored and would replace a bath towel that is thrown into the washing machine after each trim? Would I?

I would not. I wouldn't even spend the $23.99 it costs today, on Prime Day, when that same amount could buy an ice cream sandwich maker AND an olive oil sprayer.

Instead I will continue to sit on my hands and pretend like Prime Day isn't even happening, which probably is my best option.

Life choices. Still difficult, but at least you can't see me making them.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hooray for Independence! And Ice Cream!


This picture is the Fourth-of-July-dessert equivalent of an old joke:
Q: Why did the golfer wear two pairs of pants?
A: In case he got a hole in one. 
Why did I put the ice cream freezer in a mop bucket and then put the mop bucket in a galvanized wash tub? In case the salty icy freezing mixture sloshed through the drain hole and into Earl's trunk. New-ish car, y'all. Can't be too careful.

Actually, it also was partly because it had been at least 10 years since the last time I pulled out the White Mountain and cranked up a batch of homemade ice cream. Or maybe 15 years? At any rate, the last time I home-made ice cream was right about the time that I realized the Boys did not cherish my own memories of hand-cranked Sunday night ice cream and that frankly, Blue Bunny had better flavors anyway. After all that time I wasn't really sure how stable the freezer would be to transport.

But I was determined to make this work. When we were invited to a July 4 get-together I offered to bring a dessert and what says "I cherish my freedom and independence" like a million-calorie frozen confection?

Wow. I had forgotten that homemade ice cream not only contains whole milk, it also calls for whipping cream AND half-and-half AND sugar AND nine eggs AND (in the case of this recipe) two bags of Ghiardelli 60% cacao baking chips.

But take another look at that picture up there. See the light shining through the ice as if angels were hovering were hovering in my kitchen? The kitchen sounded just like this right after I finished packing the ice cream for ripening:


Okay, it didn't sound anything like that at all but is this video a hoot or what? I plan to play it on a loop as the soundtrack of my life. It will remind me that high-calorie dairy products mixed with high-quality melted chocolate chips is pretty much the gold standard for deliciousness.

So to sum my up Fourth of July: Made ice cream, it was pretty good, I may have to do that again. And the triple-packaging meant it did not slop saltwater into the car.

God bless the U.S.A.