Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ach du Lieber!

Boy#2 is in the downhill slope of the long haul that will allow me to call him "My son the doctor," even if he can't tell me what this funny ache in my shoulder is. Being on the downhill rather than the uphill means he is finished with the required classes that have allowed him explain to me in great detail mathematical things that make my eyes glaze well before the first equals sign appears.

Instead, he is able to take a break from the lab and this semester he's taking German 101. This is a class that will come in handy if...well, I can't think of any reasons it would come in handy, but he's enjoying it.

This morning Husband and I received an email from him.
"For an assignment, we were supposed to write a postcard to a family member. I decided to write one to you guys! For the record, it's incredibly hard to write a postcard when you only know the simple present tense and about 10 verbs."
Then he wrote his message:
Liebe Mutti, lieber Vati,
Guten Tag von Durham! Wie geht es ihr? In diesem Semester, lerne ich Deutsch. Ich studiere oft, aber ich spreche gern Deutsch! Ich nicht mache Party. Mein Freund heißt John. Er trinkt viel Bier aber nicht mit mir. Heute, es ist sonnig und es ist schön. Ich jogge gern. Morgen, fahre ich Fahrrad. Ich vermisse (Boy#1, Boy#3, and Boy#4)!
Alles Liebe,
Now, I've never taken a German class in my life. I speak blathering non-stop English, fairly proficient Spanish, and Pig Latin like a son-of-a-gun, but German? 

You would think I wouldn't understand a word of Two's postcard, but you would be WRONG! I returned it to him with my translation:
Good morning, Von Trapp Family Singers!  Did you get this here? In this semester, I’m learning Dutch. I study it often, but ick! Dutch is gosh-derned. It is definitely not a party. My friend is John. He drank vile beer last night as he looked in the mirror. This morning, he is snoring and shiny. (He ran into some germs.) Morgan Fairchild was a fair actress. Ick! My brothers are vermin!
Always loving, 
 And to those people who say German is difficult I can only say: Pfffft. Nicht.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Up On the Roof

There are many, many aspects I highly recommend about the empty nest phase of a marriage, this phase I've described as "dating without the anxiety." It's awfully nice, for example, to have time for idle chats after supper. Those are the times when Husband and I talk about how we might use all the extra cash we're now swimming in, now that we're past braces (times three), first cars (times four), music lessons (times four kids times two instruments each), incidental school fees (free education times not so fast there), and all the related and sundry expenses that don't include feeding and clothing four boys whose capacity to consume milk and cereal was only exceeded by their capacity for their jeans to instantly be too short the moment they ripped off the tags.

"We could do one of those Viking river cruises," I said excitedly. "You know, like they advertise just before Downton Abbey? Or we could trade in the camper we haven't used in two years on a more tricked-out camper that we would never use at all."

Husband got into the swing of things.

"How about a new table saw? You know you've always wanted one," he said. "Or we could replace the garage, and make it big enough to have a workshop with air conditioning."

And this, my friends, leads to the most crucial advice I can give parents who are within a year or two of the promised land known as Kids All Grown Up: Don't ever, ever, ever talk about having even an extra nickel if you are somewhere your capital investments can hear you.

We forgot this cardinal rule of money management as we were having our post-dinner discussions, and the House on the Corner was listening as we made plans for our post-braces/music lessons/school fees riches last week.

I know we're going to just love our new roof.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

We open this episode of Friday Orts and a Blurb with something that made me say "Awwwww."

When Boy#1 and Lovely Girl moved back to God's country a few weeks ago they pre-mailed three boxes of books to save them from the packing melee. Two of these boxes were filled with old textbooks, law manuals, and other references. The third was filled with One's sentimental books--the first book Girl gave him, his childhood Bible, gifts from cherished friends. If you were to guess which of those three boxes arrived intact and which did not survive the trip, you would be correct. Their bookshelves are, sadly, now filled with reference books and law manuals and all that remained of the most beloved books was a packing label apologetically returned by the post office.

This week, though, a package showed up at our church. The folks in the dead letter box at the post office (or whatever it is now named) checked through the Bible and found an old bulletin with the address of our church. They mailed the Bible back to the church, and it's now in the House on the Corner waiting delivery to its owner.

Strong work, postal service. Strong work.

I'm taking the afternoon off for some routine maintenance. I tend to put off this kind of routine maintenance (see also: crushing deadlines) but Wednesday evening my women's group spent much of our time clustered around one of our members who has just found out she needs chemotherapy for breast cancer. The following morning I received a text from my Peace Corps roommate, letting me know of her diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer.

Both of my friends are upbeat, and positive, and both are surrounded by good support systems. Neither is asking for boo-hoos, but my ex-roommate did have a request:
I am sharing this info with you now because it is my hope that you and your friends will schedule a mammogram in case you have not done so recently, and secondly, because I would like you to add me to your prayer list.
You've got it, MAK. I'm heading to the radiology lab this afternoon, and will be whispering your name and S.'s name to the Great Healer as I go.


Photo from Taste of Yum
This week's blurb subject got a mixed review in the House on the Corner.

When we got back from Iowa with Pearl loaded down with farm food, one of the delicious goodies was a home-raised chicken. I did not know this chicken personally, so I was able to happily pop it into the Crockpot and Monday night we had an enormous (and delicious) chicken dinner. That consumed approximately one-eighth of the bird.

They raise chickens BIG in Iowa.

For the remainder of the week I have been scouring the internet for recipes that use cooked chicken, and my favorite has been this Creamy Chicken Quinoa Broccoli Casserole from Pinch Of Yum. I thought it was, indeed, quite yum. Plus it didn't include any canned soups, was low in fat, and was packed chock-full of healthy ingredients. (Quinoa! Broccoli! Chicken!)

Husband, on the other hand, found it meh at best and barely leftover worthy. (Quinoa? Ick.)

Okay, I can take a hint. I'll make it again but I don't plan to share.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Not That Good

Halfway done
I was first introduced to cinnamon pickles when I joined Husband's family. My mother-in-law made these delicacies and brought them out on Very Special Occasions, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving or Wednesday. I had never tasted them before, but it was love at first bite.

Oh, but they were good. Crispy, crunchy, sweet, spicy, pretty much the perfect accompaniment to ham or turkey or anything else being served. (If it was Wednesday, tuna casserole.)

After my mother-in-law stopped canning my sister-in-law K. continued the tradition, using up the past-their-prime cucumbers from her garden and bringing me a jar of the results for Christmas every year. Then K. stopped canning them, and the past few years a good friend (who knows how much I love these pickles) has brought me a jar from her kitchen because she's a sweetie.

When we were in Iowa a couple of weeks ago K. was loading our car with garden sass for the trip back to Kansas and started to throw out a couple of honkin' big cucumbers she deemed were too over the hill for consumption. I stopped her.

"Wait! I'll take those home and make some cinnamon pickles!" And she didn't say anything, she just stuck the vegetables into a sack. Because each was roughly the size of a loaf of French bread, they filled a sack by themselves.

Here and now I want to apologize to my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my pickle-supplying friend. I have been known to pop open a jar of these pickles and stand in front of the refrigerator eating them. I did not cherish each bite as a representative of time and effort, laden with love and cinnamon sticks.

I am so sorry.

Because holy hannah, these puppies are complicated. I am now into my FOURTH DAY of converting those two cursed cucumbers into cinnamon pickles, and they still aren't ready to eat.

You start with the cucumbers, which must be peeled and seeded and sliced. Then these slices are soaked in water and pickling lime for 24 hours. Then the pickling lime is drained and the slices are rinsed in cold water for at least three hours, changing the water at least once per hour. Then they're simmered two hours in water, vinegar, and red food coloring (and alum, but I didn't have any alum so I left this out because the internet said I could), followed by soaking for a day in a syrup made of vinegar, water, red hots, and all the sugar in the world. The next day you drain off the syrup, bring it to a boil, and pour it back over the pickles and let them soak for another day, then you repeat this step once more.

People, I gave birth to children who required less coddling than these pickles do.

This doesn't even take into account that the recipe calls for three gallons of cucumbers and because I had only two cucumbers, I have to cut down the recipe in a way that begins like an eighth grade math problem. ("If three gallons of cucumbers leave the station traveling east with 10 cups of sugar on board, how much vinegar does it take to pickle two cucumbers if you are in Central Daylight Time?")

Four days, people. Four days to make some pickles and I haven't even reached the stage when I can sample one.

Tomorrow I am going to put a nice tablecloth on the table, bring out Grandma's china, and eat a plate of pickles by candlelight.

I want to make sure the experience is special because as much as I love these things, me making pickles? It's not happening again.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Walk a Little Faster, Dear

I have confessed here often that I am not a cat person. Not so crazy about these animals that, I have heard, will try to kill babies by SUCKING THEIR BREATH. (Okay, maybe that isn't so true, but would the internet have gone to the trouble of making it up if there weren't at least some truth in it? I didn't think so.)

As I've gotten older, though, I've gotten softer. I've even been known to pet a cat and think "Huh, this thing is really soft." And last week when we were in the state of mind also known as Iowa, I even sat for a few heady moments with a cat in my lap as I rocked and stared out the window.

I know! Who is this person?

It was in this beneficent state of mind that I turned the corner on my exercise-cool-down-lap-around-the-block this morning and saw a cat hopping down from the step that leads up into our back door. Small College is just across the street, and because its mascot is a black cat (really!) I felt a thrill of excitement that I had been visited by school pride.

And then.

Then I noticed that this black cat was not our school's live-in mascot, but was instead something almost the same but entirely different, which is to say it was this:

I t'ot I taw a Puddy Tat but instead I taw Pepe Le Pew.

And while I'm as much a Looney Tunes fan as anyone in the world (my children grew up thinking that Bugs Bunny wrote The Barber of Seville) revisiting cartoons of Pepe LePew make me realize that hmmm, he was kind of creepy, which is the ONLY reason I turned around and speed-walked the opposite direction.

It was a cultural statement.

Friday, September 5, 2014


You know the inspirational poem "Footprints in the Sand"? Written by, well, we don't really know who it was written by because at least three possible authors would like to claim the a share of the proceeds for all the coffee mugs and framed prints and other tchotchkes based on this poem I had thought was written by the prolific "Anonymous."

If you have not read this poem (and if you haven't, congratulations on getting out of the sensory deprivation chamber because isolation is the only way you could have avoided it) the poem recounts the author's dream of walking along the beach with God, and seeing two sets of footprints where God had accompanied the dreamer through life. But at a certain point the second set of footprints disappears and the dreamer realizes this occurs during low periods.

"Where were you, God?" the walker cries out in the dream. "I needed you!" God replies, "My beloved child, that's when I was carrying you."

I have heard an appendix to this story, and I was reminded of that version this week as I saw several of my loved ones dealing with issues in their lives. The author is still looking for an explanation:

"And God, there is a part of my life where all I see are my footprints and two long furrows in the sand. What's up with that?"

"My beloved child, those are still my footprints. That's where I was dragging you."

Grace and peace to you, my best beloveds, as you are being dragged.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Iowa Way to Treat You

My absolute favorite musical of all time is The Music Man. I had an LP of the soundtrack when I was a kid, and I played it over and over and over until I knew all of the songs by heart. The Boys thought it was oh, so special when every time we crossed over the state line into Iowa I had to sing "Iowa Stubborn":

Ooooooh, there's nothin' halfway
About the Iowa way to treat you!

I didn't actually burst into song when I sat down to this meal during our Iowa weekend but those lyrics were going through my mind. I grew up on a farm but I've become a city girl who assumes the ingredients for her meals will be found shrink-wrapped in Dillons--but every single ingredient here came off the farm where we were consuming it. 

The smoked chicken had just days earlier been scratching around in the yard. The sliced tomatoes and the cabbage for the slaw came out of the garden. Heck, even the ice cubes were made from rural water, although the tea may have come from the local Dillons equivalent. Husband and I oooooh-ed and aaaah-ed over the deliciosity of the meal, and took seconds (and thirds) of the healthy goodness. It was aaaaah-mazing.

But our lovely relatives were not finished treating us. When we got in the car to come back to Small Town, the back seat was filled with this:
and this:
and this:
oh, and don't forget the chicken:

Nope, nothing halfway about the Iowa way to treat you. 

You really ought to give Iowa a try.