Monday, September 26, 2016

May It Be Permanent

I'm teaching a class at Small College this semester, a kind of vestigial tail of my involvement with the place I worked for 27 years. The division chair had asked me to take on the media writing course last spring, and I had been apprehensive. I knew I knew how to write; did I know how to teach how to write?

The jury is still out on that question, but there is no question that this has been an experience I should not have missed: Two of the six students enrolled in the class are from Saudi Arabia.

I knew less than nothing about Saudi Arabia before I met Turki and Maher. My impressions were formed by osmosis from the many times I've half-listened to Lawrence of Arabia (it's one of Husband's favorite movies) and even I know that watching a 1962 blockbuster is not a good way to learn about a culture.

In the last two months, though, my students often have been my teachers. While I've been explaining the clean functionality of the inverted pyramid style, they've mentioned that they get most of their news from Twitter, where trusted sources are not state controlled. Turki stayed after class to let me know that his wife is within a couple of weeks of giving birth, but he'd be sure to let me know so that he could get the assignments. He told me that although they have a three-year-old this will be a new experience, that at home his wife would move in with her mother for 40 days after the birth, and if her mother wasn't available the 40 days would be spent with her mother-in-law.

Friday was Saudi Arabia Independence Day, and before class ended Turki invited all of us to a celebration on campus that night.

Husband and I walked into the conference room not knowing what to expect but we were swept into a celebration that was joyous and welcoming. In a long white tunic and red-checked headdress,Turki was almost unrecognizable as the blue-jeans-clad student in my 8 a.m. class. He handing us dates and tiny cups of coffee and told us this was a traditional way of welcoming guests. Then he filled our hands with delicacies, explaining what each one was and beaming his pleasure that we had come.

The room was filled with Saudis, the men and boys dressed in full-length white tunics and women in clothing that ranged from simple head coverings to gowns that left only their beautiful eyes uncovered. For the next two hours they joyfully shared their food, their music and dancing, and their adorable children. Husband wiggled into an ankle-length thawb and Turki buttoned his cuff while another young man arranged the red-checked headdress for a picture.

Husband and Turki
I waited my turn to have henna free-formed onto my hand, chatting with the woman next to me about her beaming baby, and the fact that her sister and I have the same name. The artist squeezed the henna out of a gold cone, brushing on a flower, then a feather, and curling the design down my index. It looks like a quill pen, and I imagine words flowing out of my pointing finger. "Let it dry, then wash it off with water," she told me.

Dancing was still in full swing when Husband and I slipped out, at Turki's bidding signing the green banner that would commemorate the occasion. "All joy," I wrote.

The henna on my hand dried as Husband and I sat watching another old movie, and I was sad to scrape the last remnants away. The remaining stain seemed faded after the joy of the evening. Even as I rinsed the flower and feather design, though, I was thinking of the children I had met a few hours earlier. They are beautiful and beloved, just like the children at the Mexican refuge where I've painted houses.

And it occurred to me:

It is impossible to hate a nation if you have played with that nation's children. Should we maybe make playing with children a requirement for political candidates, for bloggers, for anyone who thinks Saudis, or Mexicans, or Syrians, or persons of any other race than their own, are hate-bait?

The henna stain on my hand deepened overnight, and I have smiled every time I see it curled around my trackball. Saudi Arabia is no longer just a spot on a map or an abstract concept. It is Turki, and Nussi, and Maher, and Abdulaziz. It is the tiny boy in an ankle-length white tunic eating a piece of pizza off the buffet line. And in spite of my arthritis-knobby knuckles and work-crooked fingers and age spots, the shared gift is beautiful.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Perfectly Parsley

When my adorable niece-in-law emailed to see if there was an extra bed in the House on the Corner during Small Town's annual music festivapalooza, I wrote back with a caution.

"Absolutely, and I can't wait to see you, but be aware that we're pretty much an old fogey house now. No toys, no kids books, no child-proofing."

"It's okay," she replied. "If you have pots and pans, we're fine."

She knew I wouldn't let her come if I didn't bring Parsley, who just turned two years old. (I've changed her name here, of course, to foil any crazy old ladies who might hunt her down just to pinch her squeezable cheeks. I'm looking in the mirror at you, MomQueenBee.)

I wasn't sure if I remembered how to act when there's a two-year-old in the house.

I had not forgotten that you don't swoop down and grab them out of their mother's arms, no matter how tempting that might be. No, you introduce yourself to two-year-olds slowly, sharing  an old gardening hat and the pompoms that were left over from a conference a couple months ago.

When you make muffins, you bring out a second Tupperware bowl and spill a little flour into it for some companionable stirring.

You dig around in the cupboard over the desk for the crayons you stashed there after Boy#4 graduated from third grade 16 years ago, and even though the crayons have sat untouched so long they've melted into their wrappers, they still draw perfect trace-around-the-hand turkeys and occupy Parsley for hours.

(I am in awe at her concentration and the length of time she could spend coloring--I'm pretty sure all four of the Boys, in all of their childhoods combined, did not spend a full hour coloring. WHHHHYYYYY???)

I'm not just being a polite hostess when I say that Parsley was the best-behaved, most charming, most biddable two-year-old I've ever spent the weekend with. (Sorry, Boys. I'll love you forever and like you for always and all that other misguided-family-dynamics stuff, but you were largely un-biddable.) When she was told to not mess with the television wires, she did not mess with the television wires. She didn't stick forks in the outlets, she didn't empty out drawers, she didn't throw non-throwable objects. (Although she did love our slingshot cow and giggled uncontrollably when it hit the ground and MOOO-ed after a mighty toss.) Her mom and dad are doing a masterful job of instilling manners, and I had to smile every time she said "Tank-oo ma'am!" 

But then, if I'm being totally honest, I had kind of forgotten how constant a two-year-old in the house can be. It was nice to have an hour or two of staring vacantly at the wall when Parsley and her adorable mother went to the festival for some bluegrass music, and I took a long nap Sunday afternoon when they were on their way home. 

A Parsley-sized washboard
There's a reason God gives two-year-olds to young parents and naps to old fogeys but I'm still sad Parsley and her parents don't live closer. I've had my nap--now I'm ready to throw a cow to a toddler again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Perhaps My Favorite Thing Ever

When I found out the New Normal meant I would be working out of the house instead of from a corporate office, I knew I wanted to make my office space one I loved. It didn't need to be big, it didn't need to be  fancy, but it had to be convenient and it had to be, well, me.

That's why nothing seemed to fit (literally) when I looked for a new desk to anchor my new space in the kitchen's unused breakfast nook. The nook is only 60 inches from front wall to back wall, and all of the desks in stores were either too large, too run-of-the-mill, or too Louis XIV for my taste. I was feeling a little battered by the process when Husband made an offer: How about if he made a desk for me? He offered to use a set of antique sewing machine legs I'd gotten on eBay for another project, and some wood that had been harvested from a century-old oak tree that fell on my parents' farm.

I won't go into the mechanics of what went on between that offer and last night, because they aren't the point of this post. I won't talk about the original set of legs missing a caster and the quest for another antique sewing machine.

The beautifully scrolled machine itself went to a museum in my home town.
I won't detail the elation when we found butcher block countertops at Menards that were exactly the right size for the desk top, which would have a pull-out keyboard drawer. 

I won't talk about the weeks the components of the desk spent upside down on the living room floor as plans were drawn up and measurements taken and "Will the trackball fit?" discussed.

I will leave alone the technical setbacks, especially the somewhat fraught discussion of physics and angles and whatnot when Husband discovered the legs needed to be braced or I would have a precariously wobbly work surface and was likely to end up with a lap full of computer components. 

Work space, keyboard space, and room left for Marie Antoinette.
I'll keep private our jokes that if he were being paid at his normal hourly rate for this labor of love he could have bought an original Louis XIV and still had change left over. 

Instead, I'll talk about last night, when I moved the old church table out of the nook office and Husband and a friend brought the new desk up from the basement workshop. The drawer that holds the keyboard slides out smoothly, and the oak front closes as precisely as one would expect from someone with Husband's attention to detail. It fits perfectly under some of my favorite artwork, including Much Older Sister's annual Christmas calendar and a wonderful print by this wonderful artist. 

It's just a desk, but it is new and old, beautiful and practical, designed and assembled by a person I love. 

It's the perfect symbol of my New Normal, and it may be my favorite thing ever. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Do I Need This?

If you live in Small Town, you know what this weekend is. This is the weekend of erratic drivers who suddenly turn left when you were sure they were going straight, lines of cars parked under the No Parking signs on narrow streets, and hopeful-looking children trying to sell you warm cans of pop while their parents are trying to sell you, well, everything else.

It's Garage Sale Weekend in Small Town.

This is not an official designation, because there has been no need for proclamations. No, this is an organic outpouring of stuff onto lawns, the old-clothes-and-electronics equivalent of a Mento being dropped into a Diet Coke. There are garage sales on every street, every block, every place the thousands of tourists in town for the annual bluegrass festival might amble past.

Years ago this weekend would have been circled on my calendar. I would have made the rounds looking for bargains in old electronics, popcorn poppers, pressure cookers, air purifiers. Also handprint stepping stone craft kits, cutting boards, and electric rollers.

Today, because I have now been de-stuffifying for several years, I knew that I needed NOTHING. Zero, zip, nada, NOT A THING.

So I just stepped out of the car (which I parked under the No Parking sign) to take a couple of pictures of how good I was at resisting garage sales, especially since we had donated a full pick-up load of our own cast-off goods to the community garage sale just a few weeks ago.

And that was when I saw this:

Oh, gosh.

I love this bowl. So pretty, so amber (which matches my Thanksgiving dishes), so priced at $1 which is less than a Sonic slush costs and I wouldn't hesitate to buy a Sonic slush if I NEEDED....

And that's when I was glad I had left my wallet in the car. I do not need another specialized serving dish, especially at this point in my life when Thanksgiving dinner is less and less about the dishes and more and more about the people at the table.

You have to promise me at Thanksgiving, though, that when I'm holding a pot of mashed potatoes and wishing I had one more serving bowl, that you'll come around and give me a hug. Because I may not have needed it, but I really wanted that bowl.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Now It Has a Name

During the hundreds and hundreds of posts I have done in this space, I have talked about my children growing up and leaving home. I have chronicled the magic that was the engagement and wedding our our first-born. I have written heart-felt messages to my loved ones, passionately urged vaccination of children, and marked the passing of time and adding of wrinkles. I have posted a picture of myself making a fish-face.

But nothing (NOTHING) I have written has had the legs of an off-hand post remarking that Husband had decided to stop mowing a strip of our side yard.

People! It's grass. Unmowed grass, I will admit, and it comes from a highly unlikely source, seeing that my very own CPA is the man for whom straight edges and 90-degree angles were invented.

And still...

A few days ago I was stopped in the grocery store and asked how the Lawn Mohawk was progressing. This is notable for two reasons: First, I was in the grocery store, which is not someplace I frequent nearly as often now that the four Boys are out buying their own darned food. Second, in the original post I had called this the Lawn Mullet.  And while I admit that this style clearly is more mohawk than mullet (despite my feeble protestations that the front yard was mowed clean, so our grass was business in the front and...well, you know the rest) you are missing the significance:

Our lawn has re-named itself.

This morning Husband was pulling the garbage cans back from the curb when a passerby stopped to ask him about the new landscaping style.

"Are you letting it go to seed for a scientific reason?" the stranger asked.

"Naw, I'm just being contrary," my beloved replied.

So in honor of Husband, and of the lawn that re-named itself, I may rename the House on the Corner.

Just call us Contrary Corner.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Just Peachy

If you live in or around Small Town, you know that my previous post bragging about the Jalapeño Peach Jam was nothing special. Every single person I know is dealing with PEACHES! PEACHES! PEACHES! 

I don't even want to know how many hundreds/thousands/tens-of-thousands of peaches have flooded into our little corner of Kansas from Colorado during the past week, thanks to a fund-raiser perpetrated by a good cause. And yes, I chose the verb "perpetrated" (as in "carried out a harmful or immoral action") deliberately. Did the organizers not know that just thinking of these run-down-your-chin juicy peaches would cause us to salivate in the local grocery stores, where peaches are pretty routinely rock-hard, and ripen to tastelessness?

One friend, a fellow empty nester, ordered two cases just for herself and her husband. She Facebooked her own peach jam photo yesterday, and humble-bragged that the two of them had disposed of the second case unprocessed, one sticky chin at a time. That is 20 pounds of peaches in less than a week, which is true dedication for a good cause.

I've seen pictures of peach pies, peach cobblers, peach muffins, and clicked on links to "What to Do With Peaches" and "How to Freeze Fresh Peaches." The result was 29 jars of jelly (half spiced, half jalapeño*), one cobbler, and half a dozen meals in which the salad course was accompanied by a stack of napkins because chin dripping is messy. 

Now we are down to one final peach, and while I am amused at the sight of Marie Antoinette staring at it with horror (Honey, a gigantic peach is the least of your worries) I am a little sad that peach season is over. It only lasts one week before perfect ripeness becomes inedible mush, and that week has come and gone. 

I'm eating this peach for lunch then wiping off my chin until next year.

*One of my favorite readers asked for the recipe to the jalapeño version of jam. Here's the link: Jalapeño Peach Jam. I made a double batch and used half of the peppers hollowed out and half with innards complete. This gave the perfect hotness, as far as my timid palate was concerned. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

What I've Been Doing

Okay, I haven't been here for a while. Or rather, I haven't been in this space on the internet; I've been HERE here, as in the spot where I am at any given moment, for pretty much most of my life. (Except for that brief period of dental work when nitrous oxide...never mind.)

Anyway, for someone who is only partially employed, I have been awfully busy doing other things besides writing blog posts. I have:

1. Sung in a women's chorus, which is something I hadn't done since...huh, I think I've never done that before. It was a charming, wonderful experience, and all you Small Town peeps need to be joining this group. Even if you can't sing. Or especially if you can't sing, because this director is magical. That's the only way I can explain how he gets music out of us and makes us do body percussion at a concert, in front of people, which yes, I did.

2.Watched my body weight in Olympic sports. I did not think that it was possible I would ever tire of the Olympics, but here we are at that point. During that time when I was crying with every single parent in the stands (except the Raismans, who irritated me mightily although I think their daughter is swell), I had several notes:
  • It's highly disappointing that the Jamaican national anthem is not reggae, especially since we heard it many, many times. 
  • A commercial can be delightful the first eighteen times you see it, but that is before you want to crawl through the screen and strangle every one of the butt-dialers and their being-proposed-to sisters. 
  • My new role model is Wayde Van Niekerk's coach. How much do we love her? 
  • Do you think maybe Rio paid Ryan Lochte to take the focus off of anything that might have gone wrong during the games? (see: Mountain Dew-colored diving pool
  • And final Olympic note, Kerri Walsh Jennings, my other new role model. Hope Solo, take a lesson. That's how you finish. 
3. Taught a class. Today was my first day of teaching a college media writing class, and I thought about posing on the front steps to show off my new earrings for a Facebook post. It's interesting that even though I know how to DO something, it doesn't give me a great deal of confidence that I can TEACH that same something. We shall see.

4. Finally (finally), 16 pints of Jalapeño Peach Jam! It seemed like a great idea to buy a 20-pound box of peaches from the fundraiser, but they all ripen at once and even two dedicated peach eaters such as Husband and myself can only eat so many peaches. I hadn't canned for years and the sound of the "ping!" as each jar seals is one of life's most satisfying moments. Bonus points for the foxy kitchen towel, thank you Much Older Sister.

So, what have you been up to?