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?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Taj MaJohn: The Little Things I Love

Full disclosure: We don't always have fresh flowers in the newbathroom, but when we do, they're red carnations. 

First of all, I owe a big apology to C., who asked a week ago when I was going to have another post about the new bathroom. "Tomorrow," I told her. "I promise--tomorrow!"

And then a week went by and that week was filled with love and laughter and the hosting of TWO meetings and the touring of the bathroom by 27 women (no, I'm not exaggerating for comic effect) and the promise became a good object lesson on why I shouldn't make promises. But just for you, C., here is more!

I've written a couple of posts about the big things I love about the Taj MaJohn--the vanity! The tile! The white fixtures! This post is about the unsung heroes of the remodel, the small touches that I love to distraction but which wouldn't mean much to anyone who isn't me, which means, well, everyone minus one.

So, first up: The outlets that are hiding behind the carnations in the anchor photo. A total demolition of walls is a good time to bring in an electrician and start flinging pointer fingers in every direction. "I want an outlet THERE! And another one THERE! And one down THERE! And another one just for luck THERE!" I can now plug in the hairdryer at the same time as the WaterPik, and the Google Mini and the nightlight never have to be unplugged so that Husband can charge his razor. Ahhhhh!

Many things in this bathroom have back stories which, again, might not be significant to the non-me contingent of the world but which make me smile every single time I see them. The wire baskets now holding extra towels and toilet paper in the open-shelved vanity, for example. I had known I wanted wire baskets for this purpose, but was having no luck finding the size/price/vintage provenance I wanted until last summer when some high school buddies and I visited the old Rexall drugstore my friend D.'s brother and wife had bought and were remodeling just 20 miles from where I grew up. The basement was a treasure cave of old greeting cards, Christmas decorations, shelving--and a stack of wire shopping baskets. They are perfect.

One of the most memorable trips I made with the Boys during their college years was in 2011 to install Boy#2 in the city where he would live and study for the next six years. That city was as far as it could be from Small Town without falling off into the Atlantic, so I drove out with him and a carload of electronics and clothes, then we made the rounds of Goodwills and thrift shops to furnish his new apartment. In one of those Goodwills was a print I loved, but the print cost $25 and that was significant percentage of our budget for that day. I couldn't get it out of my mind, though, and years later I found it was well-enough known that Googling "couple dancing beach rain red dress" came up with the name of the print: The Singing Butler, by Jack Vettriano. An eBay purchase of this work became the color palette for the new bathroom, with its grey, red, and black touches.  "You only want that because you think that's you and Dad dancing on the beach," one of the Boys teased me. Wrong, Son. We're the maid and the butler. (Except for the metaphorical times when we're dancing.)

Apart from the Singing Butler most of the Taj MaJohn's decor came from scavenged pieces we've picked up at antique shops over the years. The most serendipitous find among those pieces may be the porcelain lever now providing entrance between the sink room and the shower room. We replaced a narrow (24-inch) antique door with a wider (32-inch) door for better accessibility as we age, but learned that the hole bored for the door handle also was larger than those bored on antique doors, and the original doorknobs no longer fit. We had bought this rose-embellished brass version years ago just because we thought it was pretty, but it fit the new door perfectly. And we were able to find it in the basement, which was even more amazing.

Finally, this is one of my favorite design elements. Not the chamber pot that holds bathroom reading material, or the reading material itself, which, many thanks to Time and Reader's Digest for making red the principal color in their designs. No, what I love here is what you don't see.

Before. So pretty!

If you are not too distracted by the wallpaper or the harvest gold toilet or the nasty-looking vanity, you'll see a hatch on the far wall that gave access to the shower plumbing. I HAAAAATED that hatch. I know it was not the worst-looking thing in the room, but it was just such a clunky-looking announcement of Mechanical Workings Ahoy! If you look very, very carefully at the "after" pictures, you'll see...well, you won't see anything, because our genius carpenter very carefully sliced down the joints of the beadboard, shortened that beadboard so it sits just behind the baseboard, screwed the beadboard in with four tiny screws, then painted over the screws so that they're essentially invisible until (God forbid) we need access to the plumbing, at which time we can get to it.

I could go on and on about the things I love in this room (I didn't even get to the hard-wired magnifying make-up mirror, or the hotel spittoon that holds the soft soap and hand lotion for my flu season compulsions) but that's enough for today.

Will it be the last bathroom post? Hmmm.  I'm not making any promises.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Simply the Best

There was a wild moment, when our bathroom remodel was just a glimmer of a dream, when that dream included doing much of the work ourselves. I mean, how hard is it to strip wallpaper? Slap on some paint?

Friends, if you are considering a remodel the very best investment you can make is hiring the very best people to do the work. I would offer as proof of this the four stitches in my left forefinger that were necessary a few days ago when a razor blade being used in a craft project went seriously off track. Power tools? Not likely. But at least we know now that my blood thinners are working just fine.

From first day to last, the craftsmen we hired were superb. I could rhapsodize all day about how wonderful the carpenter was, how I appreciated his matter-of-fact, this-isn't-a-problem, let's-get-it-done attitude, how he cleaned up every single day so that we were traipsing through as little disruption as possible, how he CARRIED A CAST IRON TUB DOWN THE STAIRS PIECE BY PIECE, how he was a non-disruptive presence in the house. (Well, as non-disruptive as possible while a cast iron tub is being carried down the stairs piece by piece, but you get my drift.)

The tile guy I've already written about, the plumbers and electricians dealt with the quirks of a century-old house with good humor and excellent advice, and even the shower door installation guy showed up on time and cleaned up when he left.

But in addition to kudos for the carpenter I have to shout out once more to the craftsman who built the vanity.

You see today's anchor photo? These science lab tables were sold in an auction of surplus property from Small Town's old middle school, and Husband was the successful bidder for the heavy old beasts. We had been talking about converting a piece of furniture to be a vanity, but none of the old buffets or dressers we had inspected in antique shops spoke to us.

And then, those old tables literally did just that:

Our woodworking craftsman is just a kid: C. is the son-in-law of a friend who had worked closely with me at Small College, a guy who is the same age range as our Boys. I had seen pictures of his projects, though, and they were gorgeous, so we called him over to see the beastly science tables.

Could he make something beautiful out of them? Oh, and it had to fit in the same space as our old vanity. And we didn't want to do a lot of intrusive plumbing work. Also, I love the graffiti--any chance of saving that? And one more thing--our first Lovely Girl, unlike the family into which she married, is tiny. Could he make the vanity taller than usual for those of us who don't bend as well as we used to, but add a little Lovely Girl Step that could be stowed when not in use?

C. grinned. Then he loaded one of those horrid tables onto his trailer and drove away. Two weeks ago he and a burly assistant hauled the renovated vanity up to its new home.

Oh, people. This vanity. To refresh your memory, here it is in its beautiful, useful entirety.

But it's the little touches I love most. See the toilet paper holder and towel rods that C. made out of old-looking industrial pipe? They are better than what I could have asked for.

The Lovely Girl Step we wanted? Here it is ready for action:

 And here it is folded up and held in place by a magnet backing:

C. is an artist and he created exactly what we wanted, down to the preserved graffiti under its waterproof finish.

It still speaks to me.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Introducing the Taj MaJohn

I am assuming there will come a day when the doorbell will ring and I won't fling open the door and say "Come on in! Want to see the new bathroom?"

The mailman is hoping that day comes soon.

You know how you plan a project, and you wait and wait and wait and save money for it, and you put up a Pinterest board with nine sections and 209 pins, and you spend five times more than you originally thought you would, and then you hate it?

One of those things did not happen at the House in the Corner.

People, I flat-out love our new bathroom. It is everything I hoped it would be, and I'm just going to go ahead and show you all the before-and-afters then spend the next few six months boring you with the process and the decision-making and what we'd do differently if we were remodeling another bathroom. (Spoiler: Exactly one thing. One minor thing. Also, we're never remodeling another bathroom.)

So. Let's refresh your memory.

The upstairs bathroom had last been remodeled sometime in the 1970s, which we could pinpoint by the use of harvest gold fixtures. (I could do an entire post on how I would vote for any candidate promising a law banning all fixtures and appliances in any color but white, but I will spare you that post.) Some time around 1996 we slapped a coat of lipstick on that pig by painting the (veneer) vanity and putting up some wallpaper and then for the next two decades we spent all of our money on gallons of milk and shoes that were outgrown between the time the Boys tried them on and when they walked out of the shoe store.

Finally, last year, the bathroom remodel rose to the top of the expenditure queue and on January 2 the first workman showed up. Last Saturday the last workman left, and hey! Come on in! Want to see the new bathroom?

Don't disparage my wallpaper--I loved it 22 years ago.
Again refreshing your memory: The bathroom is actually two rooms, the east room (above) that contains the vanity and toilet, and the west room that contains only the shower. This is a dandy set-up for a large family in which modesty is prized because tooth-brushing and showering could be accomplished by two Boys simultaneously. So the door you're looking at goes into the hallway.

This vanity. Oh, my heavens, this vanity. A complete post will ensue, but this is the artistry of a young Small Town craftsman who repurposed a middle school science lab table Husband bought at a surplus auction. It is very possible our own Boys did experiments at this very table, and it is my favorite.

Now you have walked over to the east door, and you're looking all the way through the two rooms to the laundry room door. Notice that it is no longer possible to get a harvest gold toilet seat replacement. It's an advance of civilization.

But a new tall height toilet comes with a matching toilet seat! You can see here the only structural change: The connecting door was widened to accommodate what we assume will be matching walkers some day, as we plan to age in place in this bathroom house.

And now you have walked all the way into the laundry room and are looking back at the tub. So pretty! (I did that tile work myself, hear me roar.)

No more harvest gold tub! In fact, no tub at all (there's one downstairs) because a friend who's a designer pointed out that we're not going to want to step over the side of a tub to get a shower when we're old(er) and decrepit(er). She was also the one who suggested the black grout with the subway tile and that right there is why she's a designer.

And that's enough for today. As threatened promised, I'll be delving into some of the details in the next few posts, including the reason I'm calling it the Taj MaJohn. (Hint: It isn't just because it's a splendid wonder of the world.)

Now, though, I think I hear the doorbell.

Come on in! Want to see the new bathroom?