Thursday, February 16, 2017

In the Arm, Please, Not the Face

Morning sky in Kansas. 

Back when the Boys were little, maybe when Boy#1 was five and Boy#4 was a newborn, or maybe when I was trying to help all four of them address valentines for their classes or perhaps when Husband and I were splitting up innings because we had baseball games every single night of the week on four different fields, someone a couple decades older than I would invariably look at our frantic activity and say "Enjoy this, because it goes really fast." And I would want to punch that person right in her empty nest because it wasn't going fast at all. It was a million sleepless details, punctuated by empty mouths to be filled and bedtimes that were never soon enough.

Back when I was working full time I heard it from newly-retired friends a couple times every week: "I don't even know how I had time to have a job." And again, my punching instinct would have to be curtailed, because DANG! Try putting eight or nine hours of clock-punching into that day and then tell me how busy you are.

But then the years passed and the Boys grew up, and it was so fast. One day they were sweet hugs and gap-toothed grins, and the next we were calling them for professional advice. And I found myself saying to a new mom at church "I know you don't want to hear this because the days are long, but the years go really fast." To her credit she did not punch me, but that probably was only because she was too groggy to make a fist.

Last week I realized that I had not blogged for weeks, the longest break I'd taken from this space since I started blathering here almost seven years ago. And the break was totally unintentional--I wasn't mad or stunned or any of the other emotions that have caused other shorter breaks. I was just...busy.

Being sorta-kinda-semi-retired has meant that I've had more time to do things I've wanted to do for years--having coffee with friends, trying new recipes, making a meal for a post-surgery acquaintance. Then I started working for The Other Boss (who is still delightful), and took on a freelance project that has been fun but time-consuming.

The spare hours I always thought I would have in sorta-kinda-semi-retirement have disappeared, along with the time I used to carve out for blogging. I've managed to keep up my exercise-every-day commitment (and am seeing some spectacular morning skies), but the and-also-clean-something-every-day resolution? It is to laugh.

So I'm just going to say it: I don't know how I had time to have a job.

Go ahead and punch me. I deserve it.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

My New Job

First day selfie
Between my jobs at newspapers and as a college administrator, I have worked in offices for the better part of four decades. I am (if I may say so) a whiz at word processing (do they still call it that?) and I know my way around a computer. Also, I know how to answer a phone, although the transfer function is not always my strong suit.

So it seemed perfectly natural to raise my hand when my CPA husband started to look for part-time tax season help at his office.

"Oh! Me! Pick me!" I waved my hand like a third-grader who knows the capital of Peru. "I can do it, and then you wouldn't have to pay someone else!"

It made perfect sense to me. My current "real" job is flexible and except for a few set hours, can be done at times I choose. I would just choose hours that weren't in the three afternoons each week Husband needs help, and put that income aside for the bathroom remodel I'm fantasizing about.

In my enthusiasm, I may not have noticed Husband turning a little pale at this offer. I mean, what husband doesn't want his wife invading his professional space, commandeering the thermostat and ruthlessly pruning the philodendrens? The fact that we can't write a Christmas letter together without me having a tantrum is completely irrelevant. But he agreed to a try-out, with the caveat that if it didn't work out we were still going to remain married.

Last week I had my first week on the job and thus far I have learned several things:

  1. The government requires a lot of forms. I mean, really a lot. 
  2. Printer settings matter. (An entire tax form printed out on a label maker is a fascinating artifact, though.)
  3. Transferring phone calls is haaaaaaard.
  4. Some people find beauty in leggy philodendrons, and do not appreciate the tidiness of a well-trimmed plant. 
  5. And finally, every person I tell about my employment situation will make a "joke" that includes a reference to sleeping with the boss. Every. Single. One. 
But also, I've found that my guy not only is a really good accountant, he's also a thoughtful and patient boss who laughs when I print a document on the label maker and has used the phrase "It's okay--they'll call back" without irritation. Thoughtful and patient are excellent qualities in a boss. Also, he's exceptionally cute. 

Maybe next year we can try another Christmas letter. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

It's a New Day

It is a new day in America.
Do you know how I know it's a new day in America? Because this morning, for the first time in 33 years, two months, and one day of marriage, Husband made breakfast.
I came to the kitchen ready to pour my customary bowl of bran flakes (Boy#3 says we have the most senior citizen selection of cereals ever assembled) only to find my beloved standing in front of the stove. And on the stove was a pan, and in the pan was the start of a ham-and-cheese omelet.
"I saw the ham in the refrigerator and decided an omelet sounded good," he said off-handedly.
What the what?
A couple minutes later we were sharing that omelet, along with a slice of whole-wheat toast, plus milk (for him) and a cappuccino (for me). It was delicious.
I'm choosing to take this as an omen.
As many of you know, I haven't been looking forward to this day. The animus that is swirling around us doesn't come just from one side, it comes from all sides. And the despair and heartbreak are not figments of our imagination, or we would not be at this point of division now.
But today started with an omelet, and it was so completely unexpected and lovely, that I'm feeling hopeful that I can find that same unexpected loveliness many places.
I'm declaring this my new day in America. If Husband can make an omelet, I can do something unexpected that might fix even a tiny bit of the unrest that has preceded this day.
It's an omelet day.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sitting By the Door

Santa apparently thought Lovely Girl's feet were cold, as she received three pairs of socks in her stocking. 
Oh, Dear Reader(s)!

I can barely speak, I'm so excited, but I had to check in here to let you know that I'm going to miss you. Truly, I am. But after today you may not be seeing me much around these parts. After today, I'm going to be busy, busy, busy...

MAKING IT RAIN! (Here, I should be inserting a make-it-rain gif, like this one or this one, but coincidentally, in my class today I will be talking about the perils of using copyrighted material on your blog without permission, so please image your own make-it-rain gif. I do not want to go to jail.) And why do I suddenly have so much wherewithal that I can strew dollar bills around as if they're falling from heaven?

Allow me to back up. This story begins at 6:45 this morning, while I was still dreaming of the possibility of a snow day. That's when my phone rang, but it was not the automated calling-off-school notice I expected. Instead, it was a nice young man with this message:

"Congratulations! You have just won $2.5 million in the Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes!" he told me in a somewhat halting accent.

Well, I can tell you for sure, that sat me straight up in bed.

"WHAT?" I screamed. "What time is it?"

"Uh, I think it's maybe a little before 7?" he answered. "And you've just won $950,000 from Publishers Clearinghouse."

Now, I was just a little confused by that.

"You mean you're charging me $1.55 million for asking what time it is?" I mean, I didn't want to act ungrateful, but I did the math, in my head, so go me.

He ignored my question.

"Will you be around later today so that we can bring you your Mercedes-Benz?" he asked, and I could practically hear the keys jangling as he spoke, although the background of noise that seemed to be other Publishers Clearinghouse recipients of $2.5 million was making it difficult to hear him, and he seemed to have the same accent as the deposed King of Nigeria.

"I'll be here waiting for the doorbell to ring!"

And with that promise, I jumped out of bed and began waiting for my Major Prize to arrive. So far no big check is in sight, but I'm making plans for that money and I'm not sure I'll have time to keep things going here at the Nest. It does make me a little sad that I will no longer be contributing to the literary community--where will you get the pictures of Lovely Girl and Boy#1 in their whale and shark slippers on Christmas morning?
Or Boy#2 wearing a Yoda hat and Western-cut jacket and pointing to a sousaphone in my sewing room?
No judgment of the messy shelves, please.
Well, maybe I'll keep checking in until the Benz arrives. I know you'll all want to go for a ride so get your touring hat on! I'm sure that prize is arriving any minute!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's 2017!

How can he be 27? He was just born yesterday.

People! We made it!

We are done, done, done with 2016, and are now in 2017. If you are kind (and I am confident that you are) you will not point out that nearly half of the first month of 2017 is now over, and I have not even checked into this space to assure you that 2016 did not save a giant sinkhole to swallow me as a final act of mwahahahaha-ness.

No, the final week of the Year That Shall Not Be Named was filled with Boys!LovelyGirl!OtherRelatives! and all kinds of marvelous reminders that in spite of my complaining, life continues to treat me as if I'm a treasured jewel.

I didn't chronicle our Christmas in this space, though, because I was busy cooking. Apparently childbirth is not the only time that mothers are gifted with amnesia. I had totally and completely forgotten that family in the house expect to eat, and quite often this includes three meals a day. (I know! Outrageous!)

Apparently they do not, as I had assumed, live on good feelings because we ate a LOT during the two weeks that the House on the Corner was filled to the brim with love and laughter. And power cords. Oh, and size 12 shoes. We had soups (white bean chili, red chili, bread bowls, sweet potato and baked potato chowder, Italian vegetable), snacks (peanut brittle on demand, Muddy Buddies, Chex mix, peppernuts), TWO Christmas dinners (ham, four-cheese garlic lasagne), and more desserts than have been in the house for the past two years (peppermint pie, lemon cheesecake with blueberry sauce).

By the time we reached the final dessert, the carrot cake that celebrated Boy#3's birthday (can we all just agree that January 2 is the worst day of the calendar to have a birthday?), all of us were done with food. Finished. Over it.

I was afraid they were going to harvest my liver for foie gras.

So now we're living on salads and clear-broth soup, and I'm beginning to feel like a functioning human being again, enough to thoroughly appreciate how wonderful the end of The Stupid Year was. I'm marveling (and more than a little embarrassed) that I am so blessed that I can complain about TOO MUCH FOOD.

Welcome, 2017. You're just what we need.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Summing It Up Nicely

Icicles. It has icicles.
Yesterday my old office working group invited me to their Christmas party, which is one of the best afternoons of the year. These folks work hard, and when they party--well, let's just say I build in a couple of hours of decompression-from-laughing time after each party.

This year the new boss brought gingerbread house kits and each of the six of us decorated a house. And because we are who we are (Americans) we couldn't just decorate a house for the sake of decoration, we made it a competition. The chef at the restaurant would decide the winner.

Now, there is a crucial fact that should be known about the make-up of this group: Four of them are artists of some kind. One graphic designer, one videographer, one web designer, and one boss/photographer/graphics person. Two of us were writers. I believe the other writer would not take offense when I say that our design skills are the equivalent of whatever babies do when they smear strained peas around on their high chair trays--good-natured and enthusiastic, but woefully inept. Woefully. Also requiring much clean-up afterwards.

So I was a little shocked when my gingerbread house began to look as if it had some intentionality to it. I've decorated enough birthday cakes (ineptly) that I know how a decorating tip works, so I fixed the house to the base with some scallops. Then I piped shingles, and cut fir trees out of green fondant, and holy cow, this was looking halfway decent! And then, because just the night before I had watched Mary Berry add pizzazz to her gingerbread house (oh, Great British Baking Show, how I love thee) I dragged some icicles off the roof.

Those icicles, I am not ashamed to say, were the bomb. They added a touch of authenticity, a of fleeting poke of memory muscle that spoke of winter and hot chocolate and peering out of frosted windows.

All of the designers, meanwhile, were bemoaning their medium. The walls wouldn't stay together, they whined. The icing was too thick, they moaned. This is terrrrrible, they muttered. This is looking sooo stoooooopid, they whinged. Your icicles are the bomb, they said, as they stealthily piped perfectly-shaped messages onto the roofs and broke miniature candy canes into chimney tiles. Wow, look at those icicles, they said, sprinkling their own creations with perfectly placed snow sugar.

And the other writer? Well, I hate to besmirch the talents of my fellow writers, but ha! His house had collapsed within the first five minutes so he just slathered it with icing, slapped a gingerbread onto one side, and made his way over to the appetizer plate.

Finally all of the houses were done and lined up on the next table. My heart was pounding. This calendar year not been my favorite. Could it...would it...might it finally be...might icicles be the magic ingredient that would redeem 2016?

And then the chef pointed to a house. A writer had won. The wrong writer.

"This is a skating rink, right?" the waitress backed up the choice. "That's really clever!"

The winner. 
Stupid 2016. You were a stupid year.

Friday, December 9, 2016

What My Father Taught Me

My father and my first-born. 
How to drive a stick shift.

The importance of being present at funerals.

That hard work matters.

What a good husband and father looks like.

That you owe your community more than just paying your taxes.

That I'm more beautiful than I think I am.

To respect authority, and that if I got in trouble in school I could expect trouble at home.

To carry a handkerchief, in case you have a daughter who cries.

That getting along with siblings is a skill to be learned when you're young and a joy when you are old.

That a B is okay if that's the best I can do, but really, I'm capable of A work.

That keeping your word matters.

How to castrate a pig.

That you never get over being proud of your children, and being scared for them, and wanting them to be happy.

That a person can swear a blue streak without uttering a single four-letter word.

How lucky I was to be taking piano lessons when I was young, because he would have given anything to have the PRIVILEGE of practicing when he would rather have been blah-di-blah-di-blah.

That faith, true faith, is not the same as church attendance, but that church attendance is important, too.

That my short toes aren't a disfiguring handicap.

That fourth-grade boys act out crushes in some weird ways.

That love never faileth, and the greatest of these is love.

I've written here often about my dad, about his Dust Bowl childhood and his Navy service, about how he has been a role model for how to leave the world better than you found it and how he continues to compete even though his life hasn't been without some of the cruddy cards the universe occasionally deals.

Tomorrow is Dad's 90th birthday. We'll eat cake and greet people whose lives Dad has touched over the years. We'll look at pictures from his first nine decades and talk about how he's influenced us, but there isn't nearly enough time to list all the ways my father has influenced my life, and how deeply I love him.

Just like Boy#1 watching the best way to start a fire in the fireplace, from the time I was a toddler I've been peering over his shoulder to learn the very best way to do things, the best way to live my life.

Happy birthday, Dad. I'll never stop learning from you, and loving you always.