Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I'm New to This

Alligator log. Another photography class project, and you have to squint to see it.
Why, yes, this is me. Posting twice in two days. Or, as my Loyal Reader(s) might think, posting twice IN THE SAME DAY.

The last post about my photography class? Was posted yesterday. But you might not have seen it until today because Facebook is a terrible nag. Let me explain:

A couple of months ago I decided there might be people visiting this space who aren't my Facebook friends in real life (or IRL, as we hip web-sters say). These people might not give two hoots about my personal opinions on baseball results (oh, Royals, we grieve) or on whether the latest episode of Outlander was boringly Claire-centric, or at least boringly Claire-in-Boston-centric.

So I set up a Facebook page especially for this blog. It's right here: Empty Nest Feathers.* That page is navel-gazing and trivialities all the time.

What I didn't know was that Facebook is the biggest nag since Edith Bunker, but in a much less lovable way.

"You haven't posted for six days--your readers miss you!" this new page informs me if I look away for a moment.

"You could increase readership if you posted more often," it whines, as if I weren't aware of this pretty obvious fact.

"Where are you? Do you still exist?" it guilt-trips.

Okay, I made that last one up, but I am not making up that my blog's Facebook page nags incessantly.

That's why yesterday when I posted my positive review of my photography class I made sure to link it to the blog's Facebook page. That's the only reason I can think of that I didn't link it to my personal page, and instead set the privacy setting of that link to "groups."

What does that even mean? Does it mean my high school class reunion pals now have special insight into my non-skills in photography? Or the group that shares pressure cooker recipes? Or the fans of The New Yorker? All I know is that I did not get one single reaction to yesterday's post that didn't come from the blog's own Facebook page, and that meant either I had done something wrong or my Much Older Sister no longer loved me. (Thank you, MOS, for six decades of being my staunchest supporter. Mwah!)

This morning, when I discovered the errant setting and undid that goof, the world settled back into its normal groove. My Loyal Reader(s) read, my terrible photography prevailed, and Facebook nagged me that I could "Improve interaction with more posts, MomQueenBee!"

Ah. Back to normal.

*Thank you, thank you, if you have liked that page! It gave me a warm glow!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Say "Cheesy"

Over-edit much?
There is a woman in Small Town who takes the most beautiful pictures with her cell phone.

I am Facebook friends with her, and Mr. Zuckerberg's algorithms consistently pop J.'s shots straight to the top of my feed because I click the heart-y emoticon every time she posts. Sunflowers, people, architectural features--they're all good in a way that's inexplicably visceral, and she shoots them on her iPhone.

That's why I was in the first few students to sign up when J. agreed to teach an iPhone photography class.

I am a terrible, terrible photographer. Of all the classes I've ever taken in my life, my worst grade was in my (required) college photography class. Granted, that's only because I saw the Cyrillic handwriting on the wall and changed my Russian class from graded to pass/fail before a Deh was recorded in my transcript, but the psychic scars from that photography class left have persisted through a career in which I was regularly called on to take pictures.

But guess what? The iPhone is a magic gizmo that has none of the trauma of f-stops and apertures and ISO and film speed and whatever. (Maybe you're seeing why I got such a terrible grade in photographer? It was the "whatever" factor.)

And J. is a delightful teacher who acts as if each of her students is so clever for seeing that afternoon light, or that interesting bark texture, or look! It's a butterfly on a flower!

She and her co-teacher, E. (who is in charge of the Android users), continually encourage as they lead us old ladies--yup, all women in the class--through the different on-screen editing techniques.

So now I've been thoroughly converted. The pepitas I made Saturday suddenly weren't just a crunchy salad topping, they were texture! Color! Autumnal! And my phone wasn't just a camera, it was crop! Sharpen! Adjust saturation! Add golden glow!

Four classes and I've moved from someone who's afraid of photography straight to one of those annoying over-editors who think their snapshots are Old Master landscapes.  It's a shame I missed the interim stage of taking good pictures and leaving them alone.

But I'm finally having fun with photography. Now if I could only exorcise that Russian class....

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Remembering the Day of No Time Left

I only used this twice, but it reminds me of when the walk from the car to the store was too much.

Six months ago last Monday I went to work thinking I might have pneumonia. I'd had a cold, and just couldn't seem to shake the breathless feeling that goes with all those viral bodies sharing mine. I felt worn-out, and even walking up one flight of stairs left me gasping for air.

Of course, if you've read this blog for any length of time you all know that it wasn't a cold. My visit to the doctor's office revealed that I was having a heart attack, which an emergency room scan showed was caused by multiple pulmonary embolisms.

Spoiler alert: I didn't die. But this is the kind of thing that kills (I'm trying to decipher the statistics, but it looks like about one out of five patients with my diagnosis don't make it) and certainly during that day I was coming to grips with the fact that I might be that one out of five. Instead I was sent home after two nights in the hospital with a prescription for blood thinners and orders to take it easy for a while.

Now, six months later, I'm always a little surprised when people ask how I'm feeling: That ambulance ride seems like a long, long time ago.

The short answer is that I'm feeling fine. Robust, even. I'm eating better and am back on the exercise bike routine. I have been more self-preservational in saying 'no' to new volunteer commitments, and Husband is solicitous about watching to see if I'm getting worn out when we travel.

But the experience has forever changed how I look at time.

When I was young, and even through the Boys' growing-up years, I assumed I had All The Time. There was time waiting for me out there to travel, to spruce up the shabby spots in the House on the Corner, to learn to quilt and to play the accordion. Most of the time, though, I was paddling so hard just keeping up with a job and a family that those things were put on hold until the house was clean.

The house was never clean.

As I neared retirement age, it occurred to me that time wasn't an unlimited commodity, but I still had Most Of The Time. I was healthy and privileged, and I could choose the best uses of my time--I'd be one of those people who see the world and run marathons while on Medicare. (See also: My father.)

That day in April, when I thought I had arrived at No Time Left, has left me acutely aware of my status as one with Not Much Time. This isn't because I necessarily think my lungs are going to try to kill me again, it's just a fact of life that I have arrived at the final quarter of my fourscore years.

And Not Much Time brings with it the realization I won't be traveling to all the places I had hoped to visit in my life, or reading all the books I had hoped to devour. The time I have to spend with people I love is not unlimited (if you're in the mood for a really good bout of depression, try the calculator in this story). Heck, even the good hair days I have left are probably trackable.

You may think this is the most awful thing in the world, to realize that you've arrived at Not Much Time, but I'm here to tell you that, mostly, it is not. Not Much Time, it turns out, is a wake-up call and not a sentence.

Instead, I find myself really appreciating moments and events so much more than I did when I had All The Time. Because I might have missed so much I'm really present in the good moments--discovering again and again that I won the Husband lottery; seeing all of the Boys finish school, and appreciating their persistence during the days when nothing was easy or enjoyable; wearing a hat to accompany two different musicals; taking my dad to South Dakota in the fall; heck, even the all-pie restaurant was part of the last six months.

I plan to live a good long time longer, but on the day I thought I had reached No Time Left I also realized that my plans aren't driving the bus or dictating the schedule. If tomorrow is my actual No Time Left day, I want to make sure I've done that day right. So now, I'm knitting when I want to knit, sitting when I want to sit, reading the good books and enjoying the great moments. Oh, and I'm hugging my loved ones as if...well, you know.

I'm feeling great.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Is This a Job?

Have I mentioned that I have a new job? I am now the proud accompanist of the middle school choir classes at the Other Small Town just down the road from Small Town.

However, "job" might not be the precisely correct word to use for what I'm doing two mornings each week.

It has all the trappings of a job--I had to fill out an actual job application, and be interviewed by an actual principal of the school, and I punch a time clock each morning (something I find inexplicably delightful), and I've been told I'll be sent a paycheck (although I haven't been here long enough to experience this).

But it's also unlike any job I've ever had.

For one thing, I have four Saturdays every week. I only work Mondays and Wednesdays, so on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and actual Saturday I wake up thinking "Oh, yay! It's Saturday!"

(That schedule is theoretical. I'm job-sharing with a lovely retired friend, so this week when she and her husband jetted off to Hilton Head, I also worked Tuesday. Next week, when she's back Tuesday night, I'll work Monday and Tuesday, and she'll work Wednesday and Thursday because I have the spelling bee on Wednesday. Fridays the real teacher is on her own. Fortunately, I am still at the point where this higher-level schedule-keeping is exciting.)

It's also unlike a job because when I walk out the middle school doors at mid-afternoon I am DONE. D-O-N-E. No lesson planning, no test grading, no rehashing of what worked or didn't work, no parent-teacher conferences, no calls. This leaves me time to concentrate on my other half-time job that is an actual job even if the hours are flexible, and on the half dozen other job-like things that I do on a freelance basis.

Also, because I am not an actual teacher, I can fully enjoy these middle schoolers. I have always been told that a person either loves or hates teaching middle school, and to my great surprise, I'm finding these students delightful. They make me laugh, except when they make me want to roll my eyes, and because someone else is responsible for their discipline and class comportment, I'm free to enjoy their wardrobe choices and the huggy-huggy-huggy nature of these creatures. (OH my GOSH! When did middle school become so huggy? I don't remember hugging a single person who was not related to me when I was that age.) (Sadly, they are hugging each other and not their teachers, or at least not this teacher-adjacent person. I love hugs.)

So, to sum up: I have to show up when I'm supposed to show up, I support the teacher but I don't have any real responsibilities beyond that, and in theory, they are going to send me a paycheck.

Is this a job? Next February, when it's finger-freezingly cold and I have to be on the road by 7:15 it will be a job, but so far, not so much.

(This post brought to you by the Society for Promotion and Propagation of Parentheses. In re-reading, I realize I had a lot of asides to share.)

Monday, September 25, 2017

It's a New Week!

Good morning! And how's your week going so far?

The bad news: I was trapped in the house by dangerous wildlife.

The good news: The wildlife was spotted before I was trapped in its silken web and consumed.

The even better news: We have several doors and I escaped, leaving my manly Husband to deal with the issue.

It's going to be a good week.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Yep, He's a Swell Guy

I know, I know. You all are sick and tired of me telling you what a swell guy Husband is. I mean, a man who would subscribe to Starz just because his wife is partial to Scottish accents? That's a swell guy.

I was reminding myself of his legendary swellness a few days ago when right after we got into the car for a trip to the Big City. We're remodeling a bathroom (which will be a WHOLE SERIES of posts if it is completed before the Rapture, something that is not looking at all sure right now), and we needed to check out plumbing fixtures at the warehouse.

Of course we went in Earl and Husband was at the wheel, because I have a daydreaming problem that is a little gasp-inducing when combined with driving. The first thing the love of my life did, even before he put on his seat belt, was flip his side of the temperature control to LO. LO means the goal temperature is colder than the 64 degrees that is the coldest number that registers, and Husband has the (mistaken) notion that this cools the car faster when it has been sitting in the sun. I set my side at 72 degrees. Then I fumed and froze, which would seem to be physically impossible but is not.

Individual temperature controls are a lovely concept, but I've discovered that they're a concept that is akin to having a no-smoking section in a restaurant or a no-peeing zone in a pool. Everything gets all mixed up anyway, so why bother?

And that's why I was furiously Googling "What happens to a car's engine when my husband sets his temperature control to Arctic and I set my temperature control to a reasonable temperature?" as we drove down the road. Google had no answer for this.

I stayed metaphorically and physically chilly as we evaluated shower heads and discussed vessel sinks, and I wistfully imagined that all the magnificent bathtubs filled were with hot water and me.

Finally we finished and were back in the car. I steeled myself for the cold air onslaught, but instead he turned to me with a suggestion.

"Let's go someplace different--how about you look up those 50 meals you shouldn't miss?"

And that's how we ended up eating bibimbap in a tiny hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant with decor that featured snapshots of previous diners. On my own, I would have gone to something familiar, some chain with a full salad menu.

The food was delicious (my first time to try kimchi) but even better was the adventure, laughing at my laughable chopstick technique and comparing which sauce was the hottest. The sizzling hot stone that held the bibimbap warmed me right up and by the time we left I had gotten over Husband's questionable choices in thermostat settings.

He's a swell guy, and I can wear a sweater.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Not Just a Game

Almost as soon as I volunteered to drive my father to South Dakota I regretted it.

It's not that I don't love my father (I do, almost to a you-need-a-session-of-therapy degree). I had a big work deadline, though, and the trip sounded grueling. With four sons and a husband, all of whom are better drivers than I am, I rarely take the wheel for more than a few miles, and the distance from my father's house in northern Kansas to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Googles out at just over six hours if you allow no flex for bathroom breaks or blood-clot-prevention walks.

But my father is an Olympic champion and the games were on.

Dad swam a few times a year when I was growing up, mostly when we were on vacation. In those days he was a full-time school administrator who also had a working farm, so his spare time was spent on the tractor or hauling feed for hogs. But then, as he neared retirement from his job as director of a vocational college, he got the harebrained idea that the college needed an indoor swimming pool. The itty-bitty town where I grew up was way, way too small to have that kind of facility so I'm sure there may have been some eyerolling behind his back about this idea.

However, when my father gets a really good idea, no matter how harebrained that idea, he is a hard-headed, stubborn, persistent snapping turtle of a man. He wrote grants and schmoozed politicians and talked local philanthropists into writing hefty checks, and soon people in that tiny town were swimming laps and doing aquacise year round.

Then, when they couldn't find lifeguards to cover all the hours the pool was open, he took a Red Cross course and certified as a lifeguard. He began swimming laps every day, and in his mid-70s discovered the world of Senior Olympics.

Now that Willard Scott is no longer on the air, Senior Olympics provide an excellent reward for people who reach age milestones. By the time he was in his mid-80s the competition had thinned out dramatically, and when he hit the 90-95 age category he had pretty much become the sole survivor.

"I don't outswim people, I just outlive 'em," he explains casually.

This assessment is not incorrect. Dad's swimming form is not the stuff of which YouTube tutorials are made, but the whippersnapper 52-year-olds flinging themselves off the starting blocks and doing flip turns at the end of each lap shake his hand in admiration of his persistence.

I had seen this before at previous competitions, so when my Older Younger Brother (who usually chauffeurs Dad to his meets) couldn't make this one, I volunteered.

Then I regretted and fretted until we got on the road early last Wednesday morning.

Dad is almost deaf now, so we didn't talk about trivialities in the car. No politics, no commentary on the news. We only talked about important things: Family. Bill Snyder. How beautiful that field on the edge of Iowa looks.

Every once in a while he would sigh deeply, happily, and say "You just don't know how much I enjoy this, to have one-on-one time with one of my kids."

He has acquired the habit of holding hands while he prays over food, so as he blessed our Dairy Queen chicken strips my fingers were enveloped in his still-calloused farmer hands. These prayers of grace were an extension of the typical all-day-long conversation he carries on with God, speaking to the Creator as to a good friend.

In spite of some pre-race jitters (mostly centered around whether the course would be the usual 25 yards or a more taxing 50 yards) Dad went into the pool five times and emerged as winner in all five races. Local athletic hero Frank Farrar was in China, but even he wouldn't have changed the results; Dad was once again the only competitor 90- to 95-year-old age group.

We started back for home as soon as the last race was finished, and the sun was setting. Dad was tired and quiet for many miles, and then I heard a voice from the passenger seat. He was talking to his friend again.

"You know how this morning at 4 a.m. You told me You'd be with me all day, no matter what happened?" Dad said. "Well, You weren't kidding, and I really appreciate that."

All of my worries, all of my fretting about whether I'd have the stamina to drive 800 miles in two days, all of the concerns about navigating through cities at rush hour were behind me.

You don't know how much I enjoyed it, one-on-one with my dad.