Tuesday, August 20, 2019

We Were in the Room Where It Happened

Boy#4, MQB, Boy #3. And some unnamed statue.

In the 48 hours since I posted this photo on my Facebook page, I've been asked perhaps two dozen times what I thought of Hamilton, and I've replied with perhaps two dozen different answers.


Rave, rave, rave, rave, rave.

Best money I've ever spent.

And while that last review was a bit of an exaggeration (there's a lot of competition for that title) I can say without hesitation that I do not regret a penny of the not-insignificant expense or a minute of the five hours we drove to the venue.

For years I had listened first to the buzz, then to the soundtrack, then to the friends who had seen a live performance of Hamilton. So when the traveling production came to Boy#4's city and he and Boy#3 invited Husband and me to join them for a Sunday matinee, I didn't hesitate. Yes, I wanted to go. Husband, who prefers a good TCM festival to rapped history, decided on a trip to Lowe's instead.

From the moment the first note was sung I felt my face split into a grin that was almost painfully large. During the next three hours I was amazed, thrilled, irritated (high school girls who love soundtracks should be segregated in a soundproof booth rather than seated behind crabby old me who doesn't want to hear them sing along), and was reminded that live theatre is a special kind of magic.

What kind of mind can conceive of and complete this opera, where every word of dialogue is rapped? What kind of artist devises the choreography that supports the music so seamlessly that it feels like part of your own imagination? How can this be so intricate but seem so effortless?

The night before I had been at the keyboard when the our community theatre presented its final performance of Shrek. Community theatre is filled with people I know and love, and the production has been so much fun. When it comes to artistic or technical brilliance, though, it is not on the same level as what is perhaps the greatest musical ever written.

But at the end of Shrek the cast, made up of my friends and the neighbors' kids and the lady who makes the doughnuts, spilled out into the audience and sang the final song. As they filled the little theatre with the joy of "I'm a Believer" I looked past the keyboard to see a couple of teenagers dancing with an abandon my muscles immediately remembered from half a century ago.

It's the same way I know I'll never forget my sudden tears when Lafayette and Hamilton sang "Immigrants! They get the job done!" and the Hamilton audience broke into applause.

Live theatre does that. The history, the love stories, the conflict and resolution--it's the emotional muscle memory of our lives, and we're in the room when it happens.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Did You Pronounce This Pot-Purry?

The taste of summer
Believe it or not, we are in a brief moment of my life when I have not much to overshare on the internet. (Hello, July!) I am happy, age-appropriately healthy, and my children are not doing much to inspire me to violate their privacy in a way that would attract the attention of Cambridge Analytica*. My time is being occupied by (badly) accompanying the local community theatre's latest production, and by (badly) sewing up some curtains for the spare bedroom's facelift. Neither of these is going well enough for me to blog, which is amazing since I blogged my heart attack so apparently that was going well.

But when I have a dearth of recent observations, I tend to turn for inspiration to whatever is on my phone's photo file. They could be filed in the category I pronounced as Pot-Purry before I started watching Jeopardy and became educated.

Here, in no particular order, are the things that have caused me to pull out my trusty iCamera:

1. Caprese salad, which is seen above. Oh, my, heavens. I do not even calculate the WW (the lifesaving organization formerly known as Weight Watcher) points for this magical melding of mozzarella, farmer's market tomatoes, and local basil. It is the taste of summer, and even Weight Watchers WW cannot deny me summer.

Adorable August
2. Every year my Much Older Sister's Christmas gift to her siblings is a calendar that features vintage and current pictures of our extended family. I love this gift more than you can imagine but as I turned the page to August this week I was struck by three features of this picture taken in front of the family home when we were 13, 12, 8, 4, and 2 years old respectively. First, I was quite sure in that moment in my life that I was destined to be the Fat Lady In The Circus. My self-image was that I was grossly obese, even though looking at this picture I realize I was a perfectly average size. Hmmm. Booo, Teen magazine. Second, just how stylin' were my younger brothers? Hubba-hubba bubbas, for sure. That spiffy plaid jacket was especially fetchin'. Finally, the cute centerpiece of this is now the the world's most beautiful grandmother. How did we ever get to be old enough for me to make that statement?

3. Finally, since I'm now retired I'm kinda-sorta looking for ways to earn yarn money, which is the money I would spend on yarn if it did not seem such a frivolous use of retirement funds. This job search isn't serious, but I did take an online aptitude test to see if maybe I'm overlooking potential opportunities. And because the internet does not lie, I now know that the way I will be earning my yarn money is as a (drumroll, please) SINGER. Yes. The internet does not lie, but it apparently is tone deaf, because no. And if I move to my second choice of new careers, that would be as an athletic agent. Hahahahaha! Internet, you stupid.

Okay, off to practice musical accompaniment and sew some curtains. I may do those badly, but not nearly as badly as I would do the next eight things the internet thinks I should do.

*Side note: If you have not yet watched The Great Hack on Netflix, close this browser and open your Netflix account in order to be transfixed and frightened.

Monday, July 22, 2019

It's MOM Already!

Marie Antoinette does not approve. 

So here's the takeaway wisdom from today's post:

Time flies when you're getting old.

It is MOM (Medical Overshare Monday) again, already. It seems only yesterday that I was regaling you with stories of my wonky shoulder, then heralding the miraculous healing powers of physical therapy (honestly, miraculous), and with a short break to talk about how wonderful my family is and how much fun grown-up children are, we're back to me, me, always me and my failing infrastructure.

If you check today's picture you'll notice that even Marie Antoinette looks disapproving at how much upkeep my corpus is needing, even though Marie's head pops off when you push the button on the back of her neck and she really shouldn't be all judgy-judgy about my meds. Up until a couple of years ago I was able to list my prescriptions on one line at the doctor's office (thyroid supplement and thank you, Mom, for that faulty gene) and my over-the-counters on one additional line (multivitamin).

Then came the discovery of clotting issues (that faulty gene was yours, Dad) and a lifetime prescription for blood thinners.

This week's addition to my ever-growing list of medicines came after a routine bone scan ordered following my annual check-up. I joked about it at breakfast, since the only risk factor I had for thinning bones was my status as a Woman of a Certain Age.

"No way this is a problem," I told Husband. "I'm a big-boned, overweight, dairy farmer's granddaughter with impeccable sin habits. No sir, I don't smoke and I don't chew and I don't kiss the boys who do, heh-heh-heh."

The universe picked up on that heh-heh-heh and the next morning the doctor's office called, because of course they did.

Osteoporosis, with a prescription for twice-daily calcium tables, once-weekly bone strengthener, and five-times-weekly 30-minute walks.

I asked if this was a severe case, and the medical assistant explained patiently that osteoporosis is a number on a scale, and once you pass that number you have it. It's like pregnancy--no such thing as being a little pregnant.

So to recap: In a short two years I have gone from being able to list all my medicines on one line to having a spreadsheet that enumerates not only the names of the medicines but also the times at which they should be taken (morning, evening, once/day, twice/day, once/week), plus the special instructions (remind pharmacy of coupon or be ready for sticker shock, take with water only and don't lie down for following 30 minutes, take with food, etc.).

As I was whining to my brother about this sad state of affairs, he reminded me that our dairy-farming grandmother lived to be 98, even with the osteoporosis she passed down to me.

"Aren't you glad you're alive now, when they're catching this really early and treating it aggressively?" he said.

Well, yes, there is that. I bet Marie Antoinette wishes there had been some way to remove that button from the back of her neck, and also to fix the arm that is held on with Scotch tape after I dropped her one day.

I'm thankful for the treatments, and that my faulty calcium usage was caught way early, but enough for now. I'm hoping the next Medical Overshare Monday is a long, long time in the future. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What It's Like

Mothers of younger-than-adult children sometimes ask me what it's like to have all of my grown-up, out-of-the-house, earning-their-own-salaries children back in the nest for a few days. (No, they don't really ask that. I'm just saying they do because I imagine they are asking it in their minds.)

The picture above actually sums it up quite well: I asked the Boys to pose outside the Fancy Restaurant where we celebrated my retirement, and that's Boy#2 poking Boy#3 in the ribs and making him laugh, while Boy#4 grins at the camera, and Boy#1 is obviously waiting patiently for the chaos to subside. I am behind my phone saying "Oh, for heaven's SAKE! STOP THAT!"

So in short, in spite of those receding hairlines and professional certifications and graduate degrees, much of the time it's what it's always been: Like dealing with a pack of puppies in need of house training. But there are also other moments during the week of retirement festivities that remind me (again) how much fun it is to be the mother of grown-ups.

This week is the perfect time for any home projects that have been deferred for lack of manpower.  We're having professionals re-do our pathetic backyard, which is currently made up almost entirely of dirt and failure. The pros were going to charge $X.XX to replace two buried pipes between the downspouts and the driveway, though, so Husband decided to take advantage of all the muscle in the house to lower the cost estimate. Included in the photo above are two engineers, one of whom is an actual professional engineer who designs pipeline systems for a living but was thwarted in his argument that "I'm the manager--I don't have to dig." Ha! Not so fast, professional engineer, and grab a shovel. (When he found out how little the lawn folks would have charged to replace the pipe, the PE snorted that next time he would bring a crisp $100 bill to buy his way out of the job.)

Whether you're a child or an adult, being together on the Fourth of July means you get sparklers and spark-pooping chickens and the like, even if you're of an age to overrule your mother's fear of the more robust fireworks. 

Midway through the week is the perfect time to take a generational break and give the young'uns some time to reflect on the crazy that their parents have become. A river float trip is just the right venue, as long as you send an occasional photo as proof of life. This also is an excellent time to do the idiot things your mother would find, well, idiotic. ("How about we jump off this fallen log into the rain-swollen river?" "GREAT idea!") Do not tell your mother about this until later.

This kind of celebration  is the best time for complete abandonment of any dietary restrictions, and when Lovely Girl#1 says she has bought way too many cookies, you must prove her wrong, especially if they are MomQueenBee themed! You'll notice that I am in danger of becoming that overly-thematically-appropriate crazy lady, what with my bee cookie and my bee shirt. Have I mentioned I have a beehive dress? I also have a beehive dress.

But maybe the best part of the week is when everyone is lined up in the same church pew, filling it a little more snugly than when they were toddlers but now able to listen more. The dress code appears to be blue, and I know I shouldn't have been taking a picture during church but I couldn't help myself.

Mothers of younger kids, hang in there during the sleepless nights and need for constant vigilance and refusal to eat any foods that aren't white. Much as we miss them when they're not around, having grown-up, out-of-the-house, earning-their-own-salaries children back in the nest is simply the best stage of all.

Monday, July 8, 2019

My Best Work

We're fancy.
When the Boys found out that my final, I-really-mean-it-this-time, no-I'm-not-kidding last day of work at Small College would be June 30, they asked what I wanted to do to mark the occasion. As I've mentioned here ad nauseum, it's a retirement after 30 years but one that has occurred with more of a whimper than a bang. So did I want a party, they asked? A trip? A gift card for the yarn store?

What I want, I told them, was to have everyone home for the weekend. The geographical vicissitudes that accompany employment these days have meant that the four Boys and two Lovely Girls now live in four different states, so full-family get-togethers are few and literally far between. We were last together at the Wedding of the Century Part Deux, and the last time Boy#2 was home was 18 months ago. (To my horror, he reminded me he'd never even seen the Taj MaJohn.)

So they came home.

We were missing Lovely Girl#2, since the transitional days surrounding July 1 are the absolute worst for resident doctors, but by Saturday evening everyone else had gathered. Then we were together for an entire week, split between the House on the Corner and the adjoining-state home of Boy#1 and Lovely Girl#1.

That first night they took Husband and me out to eat at a place far fancier than their childhood experiences would warrant. (A rabbit trail about fanciness: During the years when vacation meant pulling the pop-up to a lake, our camper was stranded in rising waters after a torrential downpour. There was no fast-food option near by so we went into the local truck stop for breakfast pancakes. The Boys were wide-eyed at its opulence, which today would provoke scathing Yelp comments but was a step up from McDonald's. "Do we get to keep the silverware?" one asked in amazement. At that point we realized we needed to raise our fanciness aspirations.)

Anyway, after we had stuffed ourselves with steak and asparagus and appetizers filled with upscale cheeses, Boy#1 reminded us of the event we were marking. My full-time employment at Small College started when Boy#4 was in pre-school, so our family had grown up while I was working there.

"We've had a lot of good times at SC," he said. "Let's talk about some of them."

The lump in my throat started growing while they reminisced about riding their bikes to the college and lobbing pebbles at my second-story window so that I could toss down Hershey's Kisses from my candy bowl. Or when they were ballboys at football games and learned a whole new vocabulary. Or the piano lessons they had with the head of the performing arts division, and how kind and encouraging he was.

And then it was my turn. So I talked about the man who hired me, and the man who was my boss for 17 years, and how they had believed in my abilities and encouraged me, trusting my professionalism even as I was learning from them how to lead and manage. I remembered the excitement when our department won the sweepstakes award of the professional organization for academic communications, in competition with universities dozens of times our size. I remembered the day spent with Helen Thomas, one of my journalistic idols who was a Commencement speaker. (She called me her Scout leader, and hand-wrote her address and phone number on a scrap of paper--"If you're ever in Washington, call me," she said.)

By then I was having trouble talking around that throat lump.

"But of all those things I did at the college," I managed to speak-sob, "I realize as I look around the table what my best work actually was. You all are my very best work."

It was corny and tear-stained but I'm okay with that valedictory on my career.

It was true.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Out of Limbo

So do you like what I'm doing with the sun room these days?

No, not the gloom in the back yard that augurs more rain. (Noah! Swing by here, please!) I'm talking about the three bright elastic bands artfully draped on the doorknob. Those resistance bands are a symbol of a momentous event this morning: My first physical therapy session.

You have no idea how delighted I am to be able to write that sentence.

Remember a couple of posts ago when I was oversharing about my wonky shoulder?  I mentioned that the soonest I could see the orthopedist was a full month away, and I may have passed that off with a carefree tra-la in print, but deep down my psyche was not so cavalier. Recovery from shoulder surgery is no joke and I was foreseeing the things I love to do--play the piano, knit, engage in at least minimal personal grooming--disappearing under the very real possibility of weeks of recovery.

People, that was one long month during which I tried to prepare for what might happen. I was hopeful that I would not need the surgery that the MRI report seemed to indicate was inevitable, but I also wanted to be practical in case I did need weeks of upper-right-quadrant immobilization. I made a list of British procedurals on Netflix and Acorn for occupying my mind during the non-knitting weeks. I started a Pinterest board of ultra-short Haircuts That Flatter Women Over 50, anticipating I wouldn't be able to handle a hairdryer. Truth be told, I even began to convince myself that it would be a nice two-month break from a lot of adulting if I couldn't cook or clean or weed. Summer was put on hold as we waited to see if I would be able to travel (or not) or host guests (or not) or wear regulation underwear (or not).

Weirdly, during the weeks of limbo the shoulder started to feel better, largely because I began treating it as if it were an inconvenient accessory to be carted around rather than a utilitarian body part. Mentally I considered it the equivalent of a fur handbag: Useless and only marginally decorative.

Last Friday I finally met with the orthopedist. He put me through the standard push-as-hard-as-you-can, now lift-your-arm-as-far-as-you-can evaluations I've done several times in the past couple of months, and within minutes he had a diagnosis:

"You have excellent strength and range of motion. You do not need surgery."

My mouth may have actually dropped open. Say what now?

"Your pain is being caused by inflammation. You'll get three shots in your shoulder today to relieve that inflammation, and you'll do a short course of steroids, then physical therapy to build up the muscles around the shoulder."

But the MRI report--the complete tears, the atrophy, the retraction, the stuff I didn't even understand?

"You do not need surgery."

An observation:  A medical specialist's answers tend to shorten in direct proportion to the extent to which the patient seems to be questioning those answers. Or at least that was the case in this situation.

Honestly, I wasn't questioning either the doctor's expertise or his judgment, I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. It had the feel of one of those horrible practical joke gift lottery tickets, in which the gift recipient thinks he has won a small fortune, but the fine print on the reverse side reveals the cruel zero value. I kept waiting for the fine print to emerge and for everyone to laugh heartily at my gullibility.

I was finally convinced when the first of the shots went into my shoulder joint. Again, surprise! Apparently complete lack of muscular tone is an advantage in this situation because in contrast to the horror stories I had been told, these shots hurt less than most flu shots I've had.

The immediate pain relief was astonishing, and to my delight, I've felt so, so much better. I'm still to avoid lifting heavy objects (especially from some vulnerable angles) but no other restrictions were put in place. I'm cleared to play, knit, travel, and do all the things I had thought would be off the table after surgery.

This morning I was evaluated by the physical therapist, and from now on my days will include a regimen of arm lifts ("I's, Y's, and T's," for you physical therapy geeks), resistance bands, and scapular retractions and depressions (which apparently also are a thing). Of course this also means I'm cleared to clean and cook, but who cares? 

I'm out of shoulder limbo. Let the summer begin.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


I chose both the title of this post and its beauty shot carefully.

Antediluvian. Before the Flood.

I wanted to remind myself that just a few weeks ago I had snapped a couple of shots of the flowers in our front garden because this truly has been the most beautiful spring I can remember. Abundant moisture over the winter (both snow and rain) meant that flowers were blooming with wild abandon. Roses, impatiens, irises, geraniums, day lilies, rhubarb, basil, box elders, mint, one gift marigold, and that pretty light-green sticker bush that I can never remember the name of were all jostling for space in the tiny space in front of our porch.

It was glorious, and this picture doesn't do it justice.

But then there is this, taken eight days ago from the porch just behind that garden:

And this, looking north instead of south:

Those are the same roses, the same box elders, the same irises after more than eight inches of rain in a 24-hour period.

Really, I'm not complaining. We are so very, very lucky.

There has been so much rain, and it has lasted so long, but we are still okay.

The full name of the House on the Corner is "The House on the Corner at the Bottom of the Hill and the Intersection of Two Drainage Streets." The flooded shots above were scary, as I waited to see if a downpour would push run-off from the hill and the two streets past the bottom step of the porch and into the house. (It has not, in our 31 years in this house.) But within hours the water had drained away, and left our yard damp and puddled but our house dry.

So many others in the middle section of the nation are not as lucky. We watch in horror the television footage of houses sliding into flooding rivers. We marvel that the interstate highway that passes near Small Town has been closed. Our grocery store conversations start "Is your basement okay?"

And even these are not the worst: When my text alert chimed at 1 a.m. and Boy#1 reported that they were safe after a killer tornado passed within a couple miles of their home in a neighboring state, we were thankful but horrified.

In the past few days we've finally seen the sun, after weeks of unremitting storms. We're Kansans, so we emerge pale and blinking and with our senses of humor intact.

Small Town fairgrounds, which had just begun to dry out after flooding a month ago, were inundated again and I'm sure city workers chuckled as they posted the notice:

They knew they'll be the ones cleaning the up-to-their-eaves buildings behind the sign that apologizes "Sorry. No Camping."

And yesterday, with the sun finally out, Husband decided to see if the surface pump that has kept our basement dry-ish could also drain the swamp in the front yard.

Two hours later things were looking better:

By the end of the day the left-over puddles had soaked into the saturated ground.

It's not a lawn, but it's progress.

Today we're watching the forecast again. The sun was out this morning but the forecast calls for rain to begin again at 1 p.m., and the weather guys have told us to get the cars into the garage--"storms, possibly severe" are probable in the late afternoon.

One of my favorite bloggers, who writes wisely and frankly at swistle.com, describes my mental state perfectly with her tagline: "I acknowledge my luckiness without giving up my claim to the suckiness."

We are so lucky. We are not under water, we are not cleaning up tornado debris. But I mourn my flowers, and I am so, so tired of having rain in the forecast every day.

I am ready to be postdiluvian.