Friday, May 18, 2018

Of Course I'll Be Watching

I've wondered for some time why I'm fascinated by the current generation of British royals.

Maybe it's because I was a college kid when Prince Charles was being pressured to find a princess and as a person of the female persuasion in the heady early days of women's lib, I was just the right age to secretly find that search romance-y and magical. Or maybe it's because the two boys who were the product of that doomed search apparently have turned out to be excellent human beings (albeit with a few twisty turns along the way that proved even royals have young males whose judgment skills are completely lacking from time to time).

But when I saw the close-up of Boy#2 in his graduation regalia last week I finally knew the reason for this fascination.

"Oh, my gosh!" I shrieked to Two's Lovely Girl, who had snapped the shot. "It's Prince William!"

She was unsurprised.

"Yes," she said, "I've had several friends tell me they thought he looks like William."

I should have seen it before, but this is the first time I've seen the resemblance and now there are signs everywhere. The princes have only brothers, no sisters. The women they have brought into the royal family are smart and beautiful and kind.

They have appropriate senses of decorum but also appropriate senses of irreverence.

Brothers. Sheesh.
And, of course, their mother is the queen.

You can bet your sparkly tiara I'll be watching tomorrow, and I'll be waving a royal wave.

Image result for royal wave gif

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

It Was Important

You all know that last July Boy#2 officially became the kind of doctor who is not all that useful if you're trying to avoid a co-pay. He cannot tell you what that funny pain in your knee is, and whether you should block out a month this summer for a replacement or just slap a bag of frozen peas on it. No, he's the kind of doctor whose dissertation was filled with complicated mathematical formulas and diagrams of electrical...stuff that I don't even know what it was.

When Two successfully defended that dissertation in the final step of his doctoral studies Husband and I could not have been prouder. Two had come up against roadblock after roadblock and had persevered, and frankly, by the time he was finished he was not filled with patriotic pride toward the school where he'd spent six years. (Duke. It was Duke.)

So when he asked if it mattered to us if he went through the official pomp and circumstance that accompanies earning a Ph.D., we told him it was up to him. If he decided he wanted the official moment when the doctoral hood settled on his shoulders he could be sure we'd be there to witness it and shriek with joy, but since he'd already settled into his new job in Boston, and with the Wedding of the Century Part Deux* coming up in October, it made a lot of sense to save the money and vacation days for that event. We assumed he'd tell us he was giving the ceremony a hard pass.

But then, his Lovely Girl (who actually is the kind of doctor who can tell you what that knee pain is and had received her own hood a year earlier) reminded Two that he has one shot at this. If he decided to forego the ceremony, there would be no do-over.

So on Saturday, our second-born went through the university's graduation ceremonies, while his Lovely Girl, Boy#1, Husband, and I applauded until our hands hurt.

When it was over he was not one bit more qualified or educated or smart than he had been 10 minutes earlier, in the moments before his adviser climbed onto the step-stool to put the ceremonial sash over our 6'4" son's head. Something, though, had changed with the visual, audible, tactile marking of this moment.

Maybe these ceremonies are important to me because I'm from a generation during which ceremonies were, well, important. We did not graduate from kindergarten in tiny mortarboards and gowns, we rode the bus home on the last day and began our summers. There were no organized children's athletic teams before junior high, so no soccer participation trophies for everyone. An invitation to prom was a hallway "Want to go to prom with me?" instead of an elaborately choreographed production. Today, though, with all of these (plus gender reveals), ceremonies have become devalued.

By contrast, this ceremony that recognized persistence and pushing through as much as it recognized brilliance, was important and exclusive and I thought about that as I was trying to perfect my surreptitious tear-blotting moves. We had waited for for this imprimatur for decades, and it did not disappoint.

Later I asked Lovely Girl if Two was glad he had gone through the ceremony. She only hesitated for a moment to formulate her answer.

"He's glad because he thinks you're happy," she told me.

He was absolutely right.

*No, not the one that's Saturday. The real one, that's not until October. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Proud to be One

I have been an citizen of the United States from the moment of my birth, a proud voter since my eighteenth birthday, and a defender of freedom and choker-up-at-the-Star-Spangled-Banner for many, many decades.

What I have not been is a juror.

Oh, I haven't tried to duck this civic duty. In fact, as an avid watcher of television, I had secretly yearned to be the real-life female equivalent of Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men--truth, justice, the American way. And in spite of this willingness, nay, EAGERNESS to do my civic duty, the only time I had so much as received a letter indicating I was eligible for jury duty was the day after Boy#1 was born.

I called the clerk of the court to explain that I was so, so sorry, because I really, really WANTED to be a juror but my baby...and my inability to sit comfortably...and breastfeeding...and...could they call me back later?  Whether it was the logic of not impaneling a woman in the throes of postpartum hormones ("That murderer was once someone's newborn baby!") or the accompanying copious tears, I wasn't called for jury duty again until I had passed out of my childbearing years.

A couple of months ago, though, I opened the mailbox to find an official-looking letter. I knew it had to be from the government, because really, who sends things through the mail these days? Not only had I been called for jury duty, I had been called for federal grand jury duty. Last week was the first meeting of this group.

Now I can't tell you what all being a grand juror entails because if there was one thing that was emphasized two or three or a hundred times during the first two days, it was that grand jury proceedings are secret. Secret, secret, secret. We watched a little television program about service on the grand jury and the juror's husband and family and friends all but tickled her on the bottoms of her feet to get her to talk about what had gone on in the jury room but she did not spill the beans and I won't either.

But I can tell you (because Google already knows all this) that a grand jury doesn't decide guilt or innocence, it only decides if the government has enough evidence a crime has been committed to charge a person with said crime. Also, that the grand jury serves for 18 months but only a couple of days each month. Also that all of the cases presented are federal crimes, not local or state.

I can also tell you that there are 23 persons on this jury, and because we cannot bring liquids into the courthouse the Diet Pepsi drinkers in our midst were just a tad cranky that the court provided coffee but not other forms of liquid caffeine.

What really surprised me, though, was how seriously the judge and prosecutors and clerks who are part of the process took this whole thing.

We weren't just 23 average schmoes from off the street, they told us, we were part of a constitutional safeguard that goes back to the founding of the nation. We were keeping the government from accusing citizens of crimes with no evidence, they said, and whatever we needed to do our job would be provided. We could subpoena documents. We could call witnesses. We were an important step in  the justice  process. Not many people get the chance to do this, the judge told us, but you do.

It was a good reminder that we live in a country that is different from any other. I have been saddened to the point of despair by the direction our country is headed, a direction that seems so counter to the promotion of general welfare that our founders envisioned. But serving on this jury is pulling a couple of my other favorite phrases out of the Preamble to the Constitution and giving me a chance to live in them--to establish justice, and ensure the blessings of liberty.

I'll never be Henry Fonda, but I'll do what  I can.


Monday, April 23, 2018

An Open Letter to Mothers of Young-ish Children

Photo credit goes to my friend the English Professor. Thank you, MB!
Dear Mothers of Young-ish Children,

This letter is for you, mother of the newborn who is not sleeping. You are so tired your teeth hurt, and oh, I am so sorry. I remember those days, when you deliberately do not make your bed after you crawl out of it in the morning. You are hoping against hope there will be a moment later in the day when you can crawl back in because your beloved baby cried with uncanny accuracy at the start of every one of your REM cycles during the night that just ended.

This letter is for you, mother of toddlers who are just so THERE all the time. Are you trying to go to the bathroom in peace? That child is there, staring at you, or is right outside the door saying "Mama? Mama? Mama? Mama? Mama?" Are you trying to make a phone call? Your child is there, pulling out cabinet drawers and clambering to the countertop to access the knife block. Are you trying to put on your makeup? That child is clinging to your leg like an adorable Ecuadorean sloth. There comes a moment when you want to swing your arms wildly just to clear a space around your body.

This letter is for you, mothers of teenagers. These kids can take their own baths (wahoo!) and hit the barf bucket when they have the flu (rejoice!) but all that independence is a mixed blessing. When you have tossed them the keys and they are out with their buds enjoying a summer evening...well, I don't want to fuel your lively imagination about what might be going on. I'll just say that you will find out things later in  their lives that will make you glad you didn't know about those things in real time.

I say this as a mother who loved all of those stages. Those adorable newborns with their soft heads and kootchy-koo cheeks! Those lisping toddlers who think you hung the moon! Those teenagers who are so funny and get your puns and carry in groceries! Seriously, I loved them all.

But Mothers of Young-ish Children, grown-up children are the best.

Last Saturday was the grand finale of my women's group's major fundraiser of the year. We sell bedding plants to support scholarships, grants, and loans for education of women of all ages, and it's a big deal for us. We want every single woman to have access to a better life, and these plants make a difference. We take orders for the plants during March, then they're delivered at a pre-set date in April.

Unfortunately, on Saturday the "rain or shine" clause of the delivery agreement kicked in. The rain was not only coming down in buckets/cats-and-dogs/Noah-build-Me-an-ark fashion, it was also cold. Very cold. Our group's members dressed in layers covered by more layers but we were soaked and freezing from the time the carts of flowers arrived at 7 a.m. until they were all gone at noon.

I now direct you to the photo illustration of today's story. Do you see the three guys on the right side? I claim them. That is Husband (with the beard), Boy#3 in front, and Boy#4 pulling a flat down from the top of the cart. All of these men are educated professionals, and a CPA, a music teacher, and a civil engineer are way overqualified for the grunt-level labor that this unloading and sorting required, but they were there. They were unloading and sorting and taking orders from their wife/mother (who, in the photo, is standing there with a pen and paper and not moving) and they were doing this with good humor and not one word of complaint.

Me? I was complaining. I was miserably cold and wet and while I was grateful for the first rain we've had in months, I did make mention to the Creator of Rain that perhaps this liquid gift could have been rescheduled in light of our good intentions.

But my sons, each of whom had driven in the night before because they knew our group of middle-and-older-aged females needed some brawn on the team, complained only quietly and to each other.

They will not know how proud of them I was until one day far in the future when they have raised their own children. Then, on some occasion that resembles last Saturday's, my future grandchildren will wordlessly demonstrate to their dads that they have grown up to be kind and hard-working and empathetic adults.

Mothers of Young-ish Children, when you reach this stage, you'll look back on all those other stages that you loved but that often were so hard, and you'll smile because of this pay-off stage.

It is the very best of all the stages, and Saturday, I smiled.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ready for a Change

I usually try to make this blog's photo illustration actually illustrate something I'm trying to say. Rarely, though, is the day's picture filled with such on-the-nose symbolism as these sad-looking carnations.

These are the flowers that were part of the Easter dessert table. No, I'm not so fancy that I have a dessert table at every meal, but Easter dinner comes hard on the heels of the final Easter cantata warm-up, the cantata presentation itself, and the triumphal worship service. It's a lot of crashing chords for the piano player (moi) and a dessert table can be assembled the night with the carrot cake positioned a handy arms-length from where my tired self is planted for dinner.

Anyway, I had a cheery bouquet of red carnations and yellow something-or-others decorating the dessert table, and the table had a lovely spring-ish feel.

But Easter morning also featured a winter reboot that ushered in the final hectic weeks of tax season, and music contest season, and my women's spring plant fundraiser for which I happily devise copious spreadsheets of orders and vendors and  how many flats of mixed vincas need to be delivered to which customer and which buyer gets red impatiens.

All of these are good things, as Martha Stewart and I like to point out, with the exception  of the winter reboot. (Curse you, winter reboot and hard freeze that shriveled the foliage of my day lilies.) I love music contest season and its thrill of victory and agony of defeat. The flower sales are the only fundraisers I've ever participated in that make me feel like a better person. (Flowers! Education for women!) And until the two final days of tax season when I serve as the office intern (I make coffee and  mistakes) my involvement is mostly limited to telling my favorite CPA "Bye, dear! I'll see you in  the morning!" as Husband leaves for the office again every night after supper.

I had plenty of time to replenish the blossoms in the yellow vase but there was cinnamon tea to drink and a new season of The Last Kingdom on Netflix that I had to get watched before the return to remote-sharing, and some things just did not get done. Blogging. Taking down the dessert table. Throwing away the Easter flowers.

The carnations and something-or-others were hardy until just a few days ago, when I took this shot. Then I left them two more days before I threw them into the composter. It felt like the proper symbolic gesture:

No more winter reboots, please. We're ready for spring.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

It Was Spectacular

I had to stop for a moment yesterday at this spot in the alley next to the building where I would be spending the afternoon as Husband's office intern. It was the very same spot I had stopped exactly one year earlier when I realized I could not catch enough breath to walk the next few hundred feet to the office door.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was dying.

My grammar geek friends (Hi there, both of you!) will recognize that verb tense as "past continuous"--I was in in the process of dying, but I had not actually completed the action. Exactly one year later I realize how many miracles were involved in the interruption of that continuum.

There were the people in my path: My primary care physician and his staff, who realized that what I thought were left-over cold symptoms were actually a heart attack in progress, and personally drove me to the Small Town emergency room. The ER doctor and staff who, God bless  them, did not blame the extra pounds I was packing and confirm that diagnosis but sent me for a lung scan that showed multiple blood clots in both lungs. The ambulance drivers, and the intensive care personnel in Big City Hospital who were able to be simultaneously warm-hearted and cool-headed.

But there were also the miracles that didn't show: My Bible study friend who woke suddenly in  the middle of the night before this happened, and felt urgently compelled to pray for me--"I didn't know why, I just saw your name as if it were written in the air and knew you were in trouble." The skyrocketing blood pressure that dropped during the ambulance ride, at the exact moment one of my oldest and dearest friends learned I was in that ambulance, and began her own prayers.

All of these big and little miracles meant that yesterday I celebrated what I've been calling  my bonus year.  And oh, what a year it has been.

I have seen, really seen, the moments that make my life so rich, and they are too many to count.

The way Husband pampers me, and puts what I want before what he wants every single time. Every. Single. Time. (Well, except when it comes to the choice between watching The Great  Escape  for the umpteenth time or watching one of my British procedurals, but we'll give him this one.)

The embarrassed look on the face of Wagner, Boy#1 and Lovely Girl's dog, when they dress him for holidays, and their delighted laughter at his chagrin.

Another cherished Lovely Girl joining the family.

The text from Boy#3 yesterday after this music teacher saw some of his own students in concert--"One of the kids was accompanied by his mom, which brought back some of my fondest memories of high school."

Knowing that all four Boys are graduated and settled into jobs they enjoy and are challenged by.

The trip with my father to the Senior Olympics in  South Dakota, where I cheered as he won medals and held his hands while he said grace.

Our new bathroom, which at last count has been toured by 32 persons who are not related to us.

My new gigs as a middle school accompanist where I have learned to love these quirky transitionals even as I roll my eyes at some of their choices, and as a dissertation editor where I see students in the final triumphant phase of their educational process.

Family. Friends (including the ones in  my computer). British procedurals. A Gentleman in Moscow. Knitting. Xarelto, the blood thinner that almost certainly will keep my clotting issues at bay. A new pie crust recipe. Indian food in the Instant Pot.

So many large and small joys and miracles that have delighted and blessed me, and that I may not have even noticed in other years.

A year ago, "was dying" did not become "died," and I am so, so thankful for this pause in conjugation. I am trusting that this will not be my only bonus year, but if it is, I will have had more than I thought I would as I stood in that alley. It was more than I deserve.

It was spectacular.

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Dessert Desert

Back in the olden days, when the House on the Corner was filled with teenage boys equipped with hollow legs and healthy metabolisms, I baked fairly often. Cookies for church group. Sheetcakes for potluck dinners. Pies when apples or blueberries were in season. And in early spring I was the Queen of the Cupcakes as unfortunate spacing of birthdays meant three different Boys celebrated with their classes during the first six weeks of the year. (So. Many. Cupcakes.)

Today, though, the House on the Corner is occupied by two old folks whose metabolisms have reached absolute peak efficiency, meaning they could probably survive quite well on a single pea pod every six weeks. Baked goods are no longer welcomed here, and I miss buying specialized kitchen gadgets that make their production easier.

That means I bake three times per year--Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. It also means that if you like one of the desserts I bake you'd better remember it fondly because it probably isn't happening again. The internet has way, way too many yummy-looking options to repeat, even if I'll never see the Milk Chocolate Cheesecake from last Christmas again (insert drooling sad face).

Yesterday we sat down to a new carrot cake recipe. Carrot cake is my favorite of all cakes, and when Cook's Illustrated came out with a version that stacks into a smallish square, I knew it would be my choice. With the addition of a bird's nest of Easter eggs, viola! It's a genuine Easter Dessert! And I have a brand-new offset spatula for spackling on the frosting!

The Boys who were home gave it a thumbs-up ("Did you realize that the slice you gave me was almost all icing? That's okay, because I like icing.") and it made a pretty slice on my grandmother's Fostoria dessert dishes.

But I'm bidding it a fond farewell because while it was good-ish, it was not worthy of one my baking slots. I'm already dreaming of next year and imagining what kind of new kitchen gadget I'll need to buy in order to use it once. I'm thinking maybe a butane torch.

Flan, anyone?