Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why Road Trips Are Better Now

Husband and I love to travel, and we've done our fair share of this during the past 33 years. We did not let the ages or dispositions of our Boys keep us off the road because we wanted them to grow up to love travel as well. Our first camping trip, in fact, was during the weeks before Boy#1 had his second birthday and Boy#2 was four months old.

Around the House on the Corner we fondly refer to those 16 days as "The Trip From Hell."

Yes, we do. Because even though we did/do believe that traveling is a wonderful family experience, traveling with small children, as one friend pointed out at the time, is like going fourth class. In Bulgaria.

Last weekend a quick run-out to the Memphis wedding of one of our pseudo-sons reminded me why I love traveling with my family so much more now. We left after work Thursday and met Boy#4 at the halfway point, then arrived in Memphis just in time to meet Boy#2 (who had flown in) at the hotel.

Oh, people. Traveling with grown-up children is so much better than traveling with small dictatorial beings who dominate schedules, conversations, and mood. Why is that?

Well, older children do all the driving while I read books and nap.

Older children are up for interesting food, and are okay with hanging around for an hour waiting for a table to be available at a brunch restaurant where they make lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry sauce.

Older kids know that Mom is too warm in every single hotel room in the world, and they pack their own blankets instead of whining. Nope, not kidding.

They put up with the elderly members of the party insisting on taking pictures of the "kids" from home who are marrying and being married...

These are not all my actual biological children, but I'd claim any of them.
...although they aren't above 'jacking Mom's phone for a selfie while they wait for the happy couple to get done with the professional pictures.

But the best part comes when they get to choose a day-after-the-wedding activity (because they have endured having the old folks scout out the antique malls) and they choose the lamest Putt-Putt golf course ever.

And when, in the hugest upset in memory, the most unlikely member of the putting party wins the game...

Truman beats Dewey!
...there is no whining, no pouting, no stomping and silent rage. They are happy! They are happy for me!

I do wish Boys#1 and #3 and Lovely Girl could have joined us, but because they are grown-ups they have other obligations. Probably just as well, though; I might not have been able to stand the wonderfulness. 

And we didn't eat a single McNugget.

El Plato Cubano at Ronaldo's in Fort Smith, Ark. Que rico!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why I'm Not a Fan of Efficiency

People, I appear to be cresting a veritable wave of efficiency.

What you see in today's illustration is the photo for my new driver's license, which is the worst picture ever taken of me IN MY LIFE and that is saying a mouthful when you consider my second grade picture in which my mother, understandably overwhelmed by trying to get five kids including an infant ready for school pictures, apparently sent me to school with my hair in I-give-up style.

And I would have guessed that this new photo was also taken with the I-give-up filter as well except that I hadn't given up, I was just surprised.

I've had a new license or ten in my life and I knew that the hallmarks of driver's license examination stations are long lines and crabby employees so I made my plans carefully. Even though my license doesn't actually expire for another six weeks, I'd go today while I had a couple hours of free time. I'd jump in line as quickly as I could, then go to the restroom to fix my hair and lipstick.

That was my plan until I opened the door of the station and there was no one there except two friendly ladies.

"Just stand right there in front of the blue screen and I'll get your picture before we start," Friendly Lady On The Right told me.

That look of surprise in the photo? It's nothing compared to the look on my face when FLOTR did this:

This is my old license, one of my two forms of identification.


With no warning whatsoever Friendly Lady bisected my license, slowing my world to an underwater dream sequence in which I was shouting "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" in a bubbly bass voice.

That's because in exactly nine days, I will be flying to Chicago for a business meeting. Know what you have to have to get on a plane? A driver's license. Know what I don't have right now? The same.

Friendly Lady assured me that there will be no problem using my temporary shocked-looking paper license to fly out of our nearly-local airport, "but getting back might be more of a problem."

So, to recap, I was being super-efficient and renewing my driver's license before it was actually on the verge of expiring. I super-efficiently was the only person in the DMV line, and had everything I needed for the renewal.

Remind me of that in two weeks when I'm living in the Chicago airport, unable to return home. That may be where the efficiency breaks down.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Updates, Because You Were Waiting Breathlessly

There may be some out there who are getting a little tired of my constant updates about Husband's new lawn-mowing scheme. Or rather, his non-lawn-mowing scheme.

The lawn mullet (I know, I know, lawn Mohawk) is now in its second month of life. This may be the final update because while it's thrived well into the first week of fall, tell-tale signs of impending dormancy are starting to appear.

But last week I got a Facebook message from a young friend who lives a couple of blocks away:

"MomQueenBee! Husband has started a trend! K. has officially jumped on the bandwagon and is growing and maintaining a yard Mohawk. Lol!"

People, look!

The lawn mullet has a little brother! We could not be prouder.

Oh, and in another, less exciting update, I can now say how long a henna tattoo lasts. For me, that would be just under a week. I'm a faithful handwasher (in addition to all of the regular eating-and-bathroom washings, I head for the sink any time I get home from someplace outside the house because pretty sure I grabbed handrails and grocery cart handles) and this devotion to sanitation has not been good for henna maintenance. I only have the flower on my wrist remaining.

Nonetheless, this experience of having a henna tattoo has been a hoot. When one is the approximate color and squishiness of a loaf of Wonder Bread, a hand tattoo is an unexpected accessory. Pretty much everyone noticed, but absolutely no one commented.

And that was a shame, because I had a whole list of responses ready, including "WHAT? WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?"

I am becoming what my Boys have dreaded I would become.

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.