Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Not to Brag, But...

via GIPHY


I'm not a big believer in bucket lists. If you are, great! Congratulations on your goal to float the entire Amazon in a dugout canoe, or plant a flag on the moon, or sample every flavor of Jelly Bellys, or whatever. Much luck with that.

Me? I'm more a believer in celebrating accomplishments as they come along, then adding them to my resume. During the past weekend I added a line to that resume and I intend to make the font of that line boldface AND italic, possibly in all caps.

I was chosen to play the tambourine in a women's chorus.

I know! Out of all of the 60 or so women in the chorus, which practiced a total of 20 minutes, I was the one the director looked at and said "Do you think you could play a tambourine for the final eight measures?"

Me! A featured soloist! Well, not exactly a soloist, because there was a tambourine to the left of me and a tambourine to the right of me, and I was probably picked because when your chorus is all amateur singers and it will only be practicing a total of 20 minutes it's best to keep your percussion section together. But she chose me!

People, I have dabbled in music for as long as I can remember and before. (My mama always claimed I sang "Happy Birthday" to her, in tune, when I was 27 months old but I suspect my mama had a love-enhanced memory.) In my role as the semi-competent but willing accompanist I have played in front of thousands hundreds lots and lots of people, often by myself during introductions and transitions.

Seldom have I been as nervous as I was in the sections of the piece leading up to the tambourine-enhanced big ending.

What if I miscounted and came in during the big rests before my cue? What if all my music knowledge suddenly deserted me and I couldn't remember which were the second and fourth beats? What if I DROPPED THE TAMBOURINE?

I'm sure you're waiting with bated breath to hear how it went. I will only say that when I look back on the experience, my recollection is that it was something like this:

via GIPHY

Or maybe this:

via GIPHY

Okay, fine. It was probably more like this.

via GIPHY

But yesterday I emailed the director of the group, who has the patience of a thousand saints to direct a chorus of voices that ranged from completely untrained to operatic, and I thanked her for her joyful encouragement of her group. She replied quickly:

"Thanks! It was an awesome weekend," she said. "You need to add 'Expert Tambourine Player' to your resume!"

Sorry, Pat. I'm ahead of you on that one, and it's in boldface, italics, and all caps.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What's In Our Purse


Back in the olden days when I was a child, I rarely got to watch television. That's because my family didn't own a television, which could turn into an entire post about the deprivation my cruel parents inflicted on their five children (who, okay, turned out all right). But when I was at Grandma Speer's house, I parked my fanny in front of the tube and didn't move all day.

Even as a little kid one of my favorite shows was Art Linkletter's House Party and one of the best segments of this show was when Art would wander through the audience and pick a lady with an enormous purse then start pulling items out of that purse. A can opener. A jar of olives. An ice scraper.

I thought of that segment last week when we cleaned out Pearl for the final time before she left to go live in the country on a beautiful farm with all the other beloved but aging cars that spend their days sipping 10W-40 cocktails under the oak trees. (That's where she is, and you're not convincing me otherwise.)

Anyway, there were three grocery sacks worth of items in the glove compartment and under the seats and tucked into the storage space. I stacked it on the stove to take inventory. (No, the masa seca in the upper left of the photo was not in the car. I had been making tamales and apparently was too lazy to move it six inches to the left so it wouldn't appear in the picture.)

Some of what we cleaned out was logical. An atlas. Menus so that we can remember what we have ordered before at Noodles & Company and not have to hold up the line trying to figure out what that deliciousness was. My handicapped parking permit which I had forgotten I owned because in just two months I am SO MUCH BETTER that I can walk into the grocery store from a regular parking space! Yay!

Some was logical to us because we yam what we yam. Plastic bowls and cheap spoons wrapped up in a grocery sack because we are the cheapest most frugal travelers imaginable and would rather buy a box of cereal than spend American dollars for breakfast when we're on vacation. Rain ponchos because when we go to ballgames after a shower we inevitably forget that we will want to sit down and will hate the resulting soggy bottoms.

But some of it...well, it defies logic.


Can you tell me why we needed to keep FIVE boxes of blown fuses that we stocked for the old Suburban because when we were pulling the pop-up trailer the back-up lights blew the dashboard indicators? And not one, not two, but three eyeglass repair kits, which don't really work so we carried the micro-screwdrivers as well? Or two sewing kits? Or a Swiss army kni--oh, never mind.

But I will reward those of you who have persisted today with a glimpse of the most useful item we carry in the car, the first thing I transferred into Earl.

Most of this is a hand towel, and it happens to be a fancy embroidered hand towel that we weren't using in regular rotation. But do you see those two clothespins that are attached by a cord? Those are the magic that turns this fancy embroidered hand towel into an actual bib. We acquired the magic when my mother-in-law was in assisted living and all the residents had these gizmos in the dining room. Voila. No more juice from your chicken wrap dripping onto your blouse as you eat in the car.

The fuses are now gone, as are the eyeglass repair kit, the menus, and the dashboard GPS that was made obsolete by my iPhone.

But the bib? It's coming along for the ride. And the drips.

I bet Art Linkletter found one just like it in someone's purse.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

His Name Is Earl


Husband and I are not the kind of people who trade in cars every year. Or every two years, or every three, or...you get the idea. We trade in cars when one of us says "I do not feel safe driving out of town in that car any more."

(Me. I'm the one who says that, not Husband. But you already know that.)

A couple of weeks ago we were pulling into the Sonic stall for our final Mother's Day celebratory moment (because we are wild-and-crazy half-price shakes celebrators) when my beloved Pearl let out an ominous clunk. Husband and I looked at each other with wide eyes, then ordered our shakes so we could have a moment of delight as we discussed which of our friends we could call at 10:30 p.m. to ferry us home. And because we are old, old, old, we realized we have no one who would still be awake and welcome this kind of call.

Fortunately, Pearl managed to limp the two miles to our driveway and the next morning, after an inspection by our mechanic, Husband and I had this loving text exchange:
Him: Mechanic called and said he didn't see anything wrong with the car.
Me: Sounds good. I, personally, do not plan to drive it outside of Small Town because quite clearly he is wrong, but at least he doesn't think the wheel is falling off. 
I'm quite the charmer, am I not? That veiled sarcasm, the overt passive-aggression. Husband is a lucky, lucky man. But I had uttered the magic phrase that sets us car-shopping. Between the clunk, the need for new tires, and the rear-ending damage a year ago that we never had fixed, it was time.

Anyway, a few days later we were test driving Escapes and Rogues and Rav4s, and all sorts of medium-sized SUVs. And then the wonderful Subaru salesman took us to a white Ford hidden in the back row of the dealership. It wasn't quite as new as some we had seen, and had just a few more miles, but oh, when we pulled out on our test drive it was so comfortable. And it just felt right.

The salesman had heard me talk about how much I had loved Pearl, and I'm sure he was just making conversation but he asked: "How did you know that was the car for you?"

I couldn't even explain it.

"From the moment I saw her on the lot I knew she was the one I wanted. They could have said the engine was powered by squirrels and rubber bands, and I would have still wanted to buy her," I told him. "It was love at first sight."

The white Edge was more of a sweet-talker. While Husband was asking about mileage and warranties I was appreciating the back-up camera, and was delighted that I could would be able to listen to audiobooks over the car's speakers rather than carry a Bluetooth speaker on trips with me (yes, I did). I practically drooled at the individual climate controls for the always-too-warm driver and the always-too-cold passenger.

Finally we took her for a drive on the highway, where lovely Pearl's four cylinders made for a little engine that couldn't when it came to hills and passing acceleration and we knew this was our new partner in transportation.

Honk if you see us around Small Town. I'll always love Pearl, but our new ride is sweet.

His name is Earl.


Monday, May 22, 2017

The Best Way to Find Good Food, Guaranteed

Ugh. But the pie makes up for it.
My dad, I have mentioned before, had his 90th birthday in December. In the months since he celebrated the start of his 10th decade he has kept up his winning ways in the Senior Olympics (five more swimming gold medals last month), still gets up at 4:15 a.m. to be the fitness center pool attendant/lifeguard several mornings a week, continues to serve on the tourism board--well, I could go on and on.

He's pretty much unstoppable, is what I'm trying to say. This week, though, we had a conversation I hadn't expected:

Him: "You know, I've decided it may be time for me to stop driving at night."

Me: "Great idea! You have plenty of people who can get you places."

Him: "Oh, I just mean long trips at night. I won't start out from Kansas City after dark any more. I'll still drive to town and around here."

I guess it's a start. I mean, Kansas City is only FOUR HOURS from the farm where he lives, and I gave up night-driving from there when I turned 40, but whatever. And as Husband pointed out, Dad apparently has charmed all the deer between his farm and the small town where he hangs out, so they'll wait at the side of the highway for him to go by. (That was sarcasm, in case you didn't recognize it.)

The upside of this half-hearted nod to mortality was that I had the privilege of driving Dad to a conference a couple hours from his farm last week. And the double upside was that it was day 37 of the Noah's Deluge that has been this spring. My Younger Brother the Farmer declared it too wet to plow and hopped into the back seat for the road trip.

It was lunchtime when we dropped Dad off with his fellow Rotarians so the Farmer and I went foraging and I was able to show off my guaranteed way to find the best food, no matter where you are. Here are the crucial steps of that method:

  1. Take out your phone.
  2. Google "Best pie in (town where you hope to eat)"

That's it. Unlike the treacherous Google Maps, which once deposited my family at the loading dock of Lowe's instead of at the hotel we were trying to find, Google's "Best Pie in Town" search will tell you that the best pie in Topeka is at Bradley's Corner Cafe, and the best pie in Abilene is at Joe Snuffy's. Google graciously let us know that the best pie in Hays, Kansas, was at Al's Chickenette, and the best pie tends to hang around with fabulous comfort food.

Al's Chickenette not only had the best chicken soup I've had in years (with homemade noodles swimming in a perfectly salty broth) and fried chicken that the Farmer described as the perfect ratio of coating to white meat,


it had what was undoubtedly the best pie in Hays: strawberry-rhubarb with homemade crust and sweet juices dripping into my spoon. Also, a waitress who knew that a spoon is the only way to eat pie because forks are for foods that need stabbing and not scooping.


Al's had restroom doors that were identified for hens and roosters, which may have been a twee bridge too far, but we're going to forgive that in the face of that pie.

Well done, Google, and thanks for giving up long-distance night driving, Dad. I'll make that road trip any day.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Taking a Deep Breath


I am taking a deep breath before I hit "publish" because I know this will not be the kind of eyebrow-obsessing fluff you have come to expect in this space. I have dear, dear friends and loved ones who will be disappointed in the opinion I am about to express. But after I saw the monologue by Jimmy Kimmel last week, I knew that I would be saying something.

Did you see it? If you didn't, please click on the video and come back after you've watched it. If, for some reason, the link isn't working, go to YouTube and search 'Jimmy Kimmel baby monologue.'

Seriously, watch it. I'll wait.

****
****
****

Are you back? Could I offer you a tissue? Because if you are not in tears after watching that raw, emotional, tender heart being poured out, you have stronger emotional control than I do.

Or maybe I found myself sobbing deep sobs as I watched because I know exactly what Jimmy and his wife were feeling. Exactly.

Boy#3 was born with a congenital heart defect. We didn't know this until his well-child check when he was turning two. That's when his wonderful, wonderful pediatrician was tipped off by Three's abnormal blood pressure (measuring sky-high in his tiny arms, drastically low in his legs) that he had a coarctation of the aorta.

I know. I'd never heard of it before, either. If you don't want to click on that link, a coarctation basically is a drastic narrowing of the big artery that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. Three's heart pumped blood as far as the narrowing, then because it couldn't get through, the blood backed up and found other ways to travel. His tiny chest was criss-crossed with blue veins that were doing the job of that defective artery. So a few weeks later our baby was wheeled into an operating room where skilled doctors threaded a catheter from his groin into his heart and a tiny balloon was expanded into that narrowing. His blood pressure suddenly normalized, and although he sees a cardiologist every year, he has lived a normal, active life.

We were still celebrating this miracle of modern medicine when his pediatric cardiologist looked Husband and me straight in the eyes, to make sure we were listening:

"Don't ever lose your job," she said soberly. "This child is uninsurable."

Say that out loud, and think of your baby. Think of knowing that you might have to choose between the heart catheterization that will save your child's life, and selling your house to pay for that procedure. Think of how much it cost last time you had an emergency room visit for a kid who needed stitches, and multiply that by the cost of a cardiac ICU stay, then find the money from your savings to pay for that stay.

We had insurance. Three got the treatment he needed, and oh, he is such a fine man today. You just can't imagine.

But what if we hadn't had insurance? What if we had lost our jobs and couldn't find positions that came with benefits? What if we had been forced to find insurance that was not part of group coverage? How could we have lived with having three of our four sons insured?

The thought of being forced into that Sophie's choice makes me shudder now, a quarter century later.

And for everyone who thinks I'm some kind of fairy-dust pink-o, I know there is no such thing as a free lunch. We pay a healthy percentage of our income for our medical insurance, and everyone with an income should pay at least something toward their medical security. But I can't help but agree with Jimmy Kimmel:

"If your baby is going to die, and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make. Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we can all agree on that, right?"

Monday, May 1, 2017

Things That Are Making Me Happy

I Photoshopped my neck wrinkles. I regret nothing.

Four weeks ago today I had way too much time to think gloomy thoughts as I was waiting for the scans/enzyme tests/ambulance, and one of the thoughts that crossed my mind was that this space was going to be left hanging out in cyberspace with no conclusion. When I realized that the last post before The Event was titled "I Write Because I'm Happy," it was a good moment.

"Yes," I thought. "I am just fine if my lovely reader(s) are left with my declaration that I'm happy."

So just so you know that I'm still me even when I'm moving at quarter-speed and taking naps whenever the thought occurs to me, here are the things making me happy today:

The Hat

Last week was a week for winding up commitments I'd made when I was still in full-speed mode. Teaching last classes of semester? Check. Accompanying high school students at state music contest? Check. Final performances of the community theatre's production of Church Basement Ladies? Check. 

If you are ever asked to accompany a rock-star ensemble in a tribute to the women who work in church kitchens, do not miss that opportunity, because there is a good chance the property master will walk up to you with her hands filled with hats and say "The church pianist would be wearing a hat. Here." Then you will put on that hat and a pearly necklace, and suddenly your regular concert black accompanist outfit is a COSTUME! It is so much fun, even if you haven't had as much time to practice as you would have liked (because naps) and quite likely will screw up a different section of the accompaniment for every performance. 

Small Town and Its Wonderful, Wonderful People

We have lived in the House on the Corner for almost 31 years, and for at least 30 of those years we have been trying to grow grass in the strip between the sidewalk and the street. We have seeded, sodded, weeded, coddled, and watched all of our efforts either be shaded out by the three trees in that strip or washed out by the gullywashers that lapped over the curb of our halfway-down-two-hills location. Last summer we gave up and hired the local landscaping genius to take a crack at the area. He turned it into a limestone-edged shade garden that makes me happy every time I look at it. 

The Saturday before The Event I spent three hours giving the spot its spring cleaning. I dug up hundreds of grape hyacinths (the cursed kudzu of the Midwest), trimmed back the liriope, and scooped out clots of leaves that had accumulated curbside. 

Knowing now what I did not know then, it was probably not the optimal activity for one whose lungs are trying to kill her. (Ha! Foiled, lungs!)

I gazed at the spot in admiration when we drove home from the hospital Wednesday night. Wow, I did a great job. I continued to think this until the next morning when I tottered out to get the mail and realized that while I had made a good start, someone else had finished the job for me. New mulch had been spread, the straggler hyacinths were gone, a general nip and tuck made the strip gorgeous. 

I suspected the local landscaping genius had sent a crew to finish what I had started, and confirmed my suspicion with an email. A's response? "So glad you are feeling better. You had us very concerned and we knew the landscape maintenance was just one small way we could assist." 

Yes, of course I cried. 

What's making you happy today?

Monday, April 24, 2017

At the Bottom of the Box

My dear Boys and Girls knew my favorite flowers
How am I doing?

I've been asked that question dozens of times in the past two weeks, and it fills my heart every time someone looks at me with concern and checks my well-being. I always answer truthfully, and depending on how deeply you want me to answer I will tell you just the first few or all of the following--

I'm better every day. I'm figuring out my new physical boundaries. I'm sitting more, and moving slowly and pacing activities. I know now that if I try to do too much on one day that I will spend the next day feeling terrible.

What I probably won't tell you is that the hardest thing I've had to deal with hasn't been physical. In fact, I don't know exactly how to categorize this tough thing. Is it mental? Psychological? Spiritual?

What is fear?

My recovery from this episode has been a reverse Pandora's box, filled with wonderful people and encouragement. It has been love and hope and messages and cards, hugs and cookies baked with dark chocolate. It has been flowers whose scent follows me through the house and reminds me how very many people are pulling for me. But every once in a while at the bottom of the box I suddenly sense a cold tremor that all of that goodness can't quite squelch.

Sometimes it's mental, when I don't know how to respond to what my body is telling me. I know all the classic symptoms of a heart attack (chest pain, sweating, nausea, feeling of doom) but as I was told over and over again when I was having none of these symptoms but was by every clinical measure having a heart attack, women's heart attacks present differently. So when my heart unexpectedly beats hard and fast, and no amount of calm thoughts or steady breathing stops the disruption, should I be heading for the emergency room?

Sometimes it's psychological, when a chance remark by one of my medical caretakers that "Yeah, you really had a lot of embolisms" gives me information I didn't have before and even though nothing has changed, suddenly I'm aware of how close to the cliff I had been standing and fear washes over me.

Sometimes it's spiritual, when my deeply-held belief that God is in control of my life seems to be buried under appointments and prescriptions.

A dear friend was at her husband's side in the emergency room when, with no prior indication of heart problems, he was found to be having a heart attack. I had sat with her after his multiple-bypass surgery, and took a meal when they got home. So I asked her--am I crazy?

She looked at me sadly.

"We were in the emergency room several times after the surgery," she said. "You just don't know."

And that's where the fear originates, I think. You just don't know this body, this schedule, this life.

How am I doing? I'm doing very well, better every day, and I expect to be looking back years from now and marveling at how modern medicine (science!) helped a fearfully and wonderfully made body cope with a glitch in the works.

But it can be scary.