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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Our New Family Motto

Guest Tuba Player
Normally the two days following Thanksgiving are made up of equal parts leftovers and lethargy. We sit in our individual tryptophan comas, maybe bestirring ourselves to get up for another piece of pie, but with very little planned activity. This year was different.

Boy#3 is the band director in a small-ish town a couple of hours away. This year that town's football team achieved the Holy Grail of small Kansas towns--state high school football championships. And if you are shaking your head in disbelief at that description rather than nodding in recognition, you obviously are not from Kansas.

Anyway, there cannot possibly be a state football championship without a marching band cheering on its team. As a result, while the rest of us were rhetorically asking if we were out of aerosol whipped cream, Three was back on the road to his home so that he could herd his band onto the bus bright and early the next morning. Sadly, though, some parents make Thanksgiving week plans without taking into account that their low brass player might be needed for the marching band at the state championship game so there were gaps in the instrumentation. (I know! What were they thinking?)

Enter Boy #2. He had been a band geek all the way through college and still can out-oompah most high school tuba players, so Three asked if he would be willing to provide a bass line at the game. He was, and the entire family became groupies for the day, sitting three rows behind the band to cheer them on.

It could not have been more fun. As you can tell by the clouds in the picture above, it was a spectacularly beautiful day that was not too hot, not too cold, but just right. The Fighting Greenbacks (Nope. Not even kidding.) were in control of the game from the opening drive so there was no nailbiting about who was going to win. And high school football game hot dogs are perhaps the only food more delicious than Thanksgiving leftovers. (Again, not kidding.)

The best moment of the day, though, came when Three was back in school on Monday talking to one of his eighth-grade students.

"Mr. W.," the student told Three, "I was sitting right behind the band, and I saw that tuba player and thought 'That must be Mr. W.'s brother.' Then I looked the other way and the exact same guy was coming up the steps and I thought, 'That must be Mr. W.'s brother.' Then I looked in front of me, and thought, 'Oh, there's Mr. W.' And then I looked behind me and thought, 'That must be Mr. W.'s brother.'"

Then, Three told us later, the eighth-grader shook his head in bewilderment.

"So many W.'s!"

His confusion is understandable. The Boys have always looked like two sets of twins (One and Three, Two and Four). Add matching hoodies and glasses and the distinction is almost impossible to the untrained eye.

Also, I've had that sentiment hundreds of times over the past 33 years so I'm declaring it our new family motto.

So Many W's!

Two, Four, Three, One

Monday, December 5, 2016

Still the Best

2016 Thanksgiving

I knew it! I knew all of you wanted to know what the busy rakers in the last post looked like from the front. And because I am a giver (a THANKS-giver! Ha ha ha!), here they are!

Here are the Boys, plus Lovely Girl, plus a bonus Special Girl, plus Husband, plus a very, very disheveled-looking MomQueenBee. This is what happens when pictures aren't taken until just before everyone leaves, when I am limp with relief that the food was ready to eat at the proper time, and that no one got sick, and that this was the BEST Best Day of the Year.

Because it was.

In spite of the frizzy hair and flushed cheeks as I faced the camera, I couldn't stop smiling. I know how very rare it is to have all of us together, and how the rarity of these moments is only going to increase. And so I made a conscious effort to be mindful of the joy of the Thanksgiving week.

I cherished having all of the leaves in the table for four full days, and picking up another gallon of milk every time I was in the store (and I was in the store every day).

I loved seeing our grown-up kids get along, and I wanted to time-travel back and tell myself as Mother of Teenagers Who Fight All. The. Time. that they're going to turn out fine, even if they never outgrow being cutthroat board game players, because someday they finally will be able to lose with (mostly) good humor.

I marveled at having so many girls in the house. We could almost outvote the boys, if one or two of the guys were off taking naps. I mean no disrespect to the men in my life, because my love for them is deeper than the ocean and wider than our new president's credibility gap, but I have learned that I am a complete sexist when it comes to entertainment preps. On the night before we hosted 35 for Thanksgiving dinner, the Girls organized set-up and decoration of the eating space while I made roll dough. It's not that the Boys and Husband wouldn't have been delighted to do that set-up (they were enthusiastic members of the crew), but I seem to have more innate trust in the outcome when the supervisors have Pinterest boards.

I basked in having friends give thanks with us who had never been at our annual feast before. The grown children of my father's lovely wife; my Saudi Arabian student T and his family, which included a 40-day old baby. (I laughed and laughed when, having tasted at least a dozen Thanksgiving-only delicacies, T. declared his favorite was "the one with the crunchy stuff on top." Yup, good ol' Green Bean Casserole.)

The day was not perfect. We missed Much Older Sister and her family, who were on pins and needles awaiting the arrival of an overdue grandchild. And of course, no Thanksgiving will ever be perfect because Mom won't be making the rolls.

But this? This was as close to perfection as we'll get this side of heaven.

This day is still the best.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving Thanks

They're home. They're raking. Life is good.
Yesterday at WalMart three different people greeted me this way:

“It’s almost your favorite day of the year!”

And they were right. Thanksgiving is the best holiday, my favorite on-the-calendar rotation of the earth. But it occurred to me that I’ve never said in this space specifically what I’m thankful for in any given year. This year I am remedying that situation.

This year I’m thankful life still has the capacity to surprise me.

Think about it for a moment. What most of us assume we want in life is predictability, that we will accomplish the age-appropriate milestones without drama, that we will finish our education and find good mates and good jobs, that we will have happy families and move into retirement and die in our sleep.

This year life has surprised me. The railway of life between “good job” and “move into retirement” took a completely unexpected and spectacular detour just when the station was coming in sight. I spent the summer saying “I’m okay—I’m okay—I’m okay” to everyone who asked, but really, I wasn’t. 

Looking back, I was demoralized and humiliated and depressed. And the worst part was that the change in the route seemed to have taken my words away: My writing mojo was gone. 

Today, though, I’ve climbed out of that pile of rubble and guess what? I’m okay.

I’m better than okay. I’m writing again, and thinking “Oh, I need to blog that” when something makes me laugh. I’m sleeping well. I’m basking in being able to watch leaves turn outside the window of my home office. I love the college class I’m teaching, and the free-lance work I’m doing for other publications. My kitchen floors are clean. (Yes, that’s a big deal.) My children are all here for Thanksgiving, and I am verklempt with joy.

I look with grateful amazement at the people who pulled me back onto the track: My family (who not only loved and comforted me, but continue to serve as my anger surrogates because I can’t heal myself while I’m angry), my friends (who know me and pray), dozens of Small Towners (who hugged me and were indignant), my readers (who encourage me every time I post).

This is not the way I would have planned for this year to go, this interruption in the plan, but this is life. Life still has the capacity to surprise me, and life’s blessings can come out of letting go of the plan.

For this, Dear God, I am thankful.