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. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

It's My Party, I'll Be Cranky If I Want To

Because the internet doesn't have enough elderly women wearing sparkly headbands

Wednesday, as Facebook kindly reminded all of my family and friends, was my birthday. And because I have the absolute best family and friends in the world (seriously, I would put them up against Mother Teresa's family and friends) everyone wanted to make sure I was having a great day.

Happy birthday! Happy, happy birthday! Happy, happy, happy birthday!

Every few seconds my notification chime would assure me that someone was hoping I was happy, and while I was truly appreciating the sentiment, I was not happy.

I woke up in A Mood, one of those weepy, foreboding funks that can strike even if it's not your birthday. And the funk plunged into a positive abyss when I found out seconds after I got up that my father was in the hospital after a freak mishap that resulted in use of both an ambulance and a blood-catching bucket. (He's fine now, thank You, God, and giving kudos to my rock star youngest brother for emergency action.)

So I started the day off jangling and jittery, and just couldn't seem to snap out of it. My lovely family and friends were reminding me how very, very blessed I am, but at one point during my birthday lunch with my best friend from adulthood I BURST into tears in one of those restaurant-clearing moments that embarrasses everyone within sniffle range.

Since it was Wednesday I played the piano that evening for the kids club at church, and when I walked in the door they all turned around and sang "Happy Birthday" to me, and I cried. Again.

And all four of my wonderful Boys called (one of them texted and called twice, because the first time he called he forgot to wish me Happy Birthday). After each of these calls I...well, you're already seeing the theme.

But do you know what? Yesterday morning I woke up and the funk had lifted. I re-read all of the Facebook greetings and smiled until my face hurt. And then I went to get the mail and my Much Younger Sister had sent me a card that not only assured me "You're cool! So cool! So cool you really RULE!" but also included a sparkly headband! Squeeeee!

As you can tell from today's picture, this headband may have been intended for a six-year-old rather than for someone 10 times that old (Oh, all right. Ten times plus two.) who has an abnormally large head. Also, it probably wasn't intended to be put onto hair that has just come from being cut, because while I love my barber to distraction she puts much more effort into my styling than I do and when I leave her chair I always think that somewhere Dolly Parton is nodding approvingly.

Last night Husband brought me a brownie and chocolate ice cream, then I re-read my cards and the Facebook posts again and oh, my. I do have the best family and friends ever. Ever, ever.

I officially declare that yesterday was my birthday, rather than Wednesday. It was my birthday, and it was spectacular. Because I'm cool, so cool, so cool I really rule.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

So Much Better

This is not at all the picture I planned to use for my blog post today. 

No, I had planned to use one I texted to Husband last night. It was a screen shot of my computer, frozen with a pop-up box that began this way...
Dear Cox Communications inc. customer, 
Your IP has been blocked! A serious malfunction has been detected...

...and it continued in the same positive vein. I knew this probably was not from Cox (even though I'm not always happy with our internet provider and have their number on my speed dial, they at least know to capitalize "Inc.") so I did not call the toll-free number for how to correct the problem.

It was not a happy moment, and it became not happier as I realized the pop-up box was non-closable, and that what I had thought was normal slowing-down of my computer because of high post-election traffic might actually be DOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!  My not happier mood continued when I called the computer ninjas at work and they off-handedly told me that "Yeah, you probably have a virus so run a scan and if it comes back negative we'll wipe your hard drive." 

Say what again? If it comes back NEGATIVE you wipe the hard drive? Why, yes, ma'am! Because that means the scan hasn't detected anything which means that the something that is causing the problem is so terrible that DOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!

I ran the scan and nothing was detected and I sobbed.  But then Husband suggested that instead of putting this in the hand of the computer ninjas at work (who are, after all, student hires who may or may not have had extensive experience with this particular issue) we give his computer guy a shot at it. And because I had nothing else to lose, I hit control+alt+delete, and OHMIGOSH! Like magic the screen cleared off, and the antivirus scan let me know that all was well and that I could keep my hard drive. 

And that brings me to the deck picture in today's post. It's there not only because it was the most fall I've ever seen this late in the year (the impatiens in Husband's flower box are still blooming, and the maple tree is glorious) it also replaces the screen shot I had taken of the phishing message on my screen. That picture won't download onto my computer because the computer is running too slowly.

Hmmm. I may still have a problem.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day After the Day After

This has nothing to do with the subject, but Maine.
I very rarely re-post my own posts (this makes a total of one time that I've done it) but as the world woke up to a new United States president-elect yesterday and my social media channels exploded, I remembered that I had written about this phenomenon before. Just exchange the colors of the winning sides and it's history repeating. So here is my post from exactly four years ago, Nov. 7, 2012. I still believe it.

I'll start this post with an Andy Rooney-ism:

Have you ever noticed how the words "woe" and "woo" are only separated by one letter? No? How about now?



It's a difference that's just about as thin as the margin of victory/defeat that separated my WOO! friends from my WOE! friends. If you read social media at all, though, you would never, ever know this.

WOO! my blue friends say. "Woo! for four more years! And increased prosperity! And peace among all nations! And bluebirds and happiness!"

WOE! my red friends say. "Woe! for four more years! And bankrupting of the nation! And national weakness! And good intentions paving the road to hell!"

Well, in this post that already has just about worn out my caps lock, I have one more capitalized sentiment that sums up my post-election reaction:


The bottom line is that the United States is an enormous ship, and one person will not change the course of this ship. Electing either candidate would not have meant instant change; that is something that will  happen only slowly and only by all of us working together. Or if not all of us, a whole lot more of us working together than are working together right now.

So if you liked the results of this election, you'd better be talking with the people on the losing side--winning them over, and not just winning. This winning over will not occur through superior attitudes and clubbing about of the head and shoulders of those who did not win.

If you did not like the results of this election, you'd better be talking with the people on the winning side--because standing there with your fingers in your ears saying "I can't hear you" is not working. Not for your views, and not for your country.

Fortunately, win or lose, woo or woe, the sun came up this morning and we have another chance to do this whole messy process again, and to do it better next time.

Also, God is in control.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Voted.

This morning when I went to my polling place (at mid-morning, when I'm normally the only voter in the room) the lines had snaked out of the voting area, completely around the huge adjoining room, and halfway down the sidewalk to the street outside. I didn't count, but I'm guessing the number of people waiting to vote at this one precinct in Small Town might have gone into the multiple hundreds.

My friend, a precinct worker in the overflow room, saw the expression on my face and hurried over.

"You know, you can request a paper ballot and go to the front of the line," he told me.

I did, and do you know how long it to me to cast my ballot, from the time I walked in the door until I walked back out that door? Six minutes.

I talked with friends outside on the sidewalk twice that long, and had to go back inside because I had forgotten to get my sticker, but from the moment I pulled into the parking lot until I was back on the street it was less than 15 minutes.

Do you see how amazing that is? I voted, and had an influence (however tiny that influence might be) over the future of the greatest nation on earth, and it took me less than 15 minutes.

Then I went to the grocery store, where I ran into a guy I know from church. "I voted for Trump this morning!" he told me gleefully. "And I cancelled you out!" I told him just as gleefully.

Do you see how amazing that is? I voted, and I talked about my vote without fearing persecution or loss of friendship, even though this has been the most horribly divisive campaign I've experienced since I voted for Richard Nixon in my very first presidential election.

Tomorrow the election will be over. If 240 years of history is any indication, the opposing sides will shake hands and deal with the results. We will be either glad or sad, but we will deal. And we will continue to be the greatest nation on earth.

Do you see how amazing that is?