Monday, March 18, 2019



Oh, hello there! 

I know, it's been two weeks since I last updated you on the happenings around these here parts, but honestly, there has not been much blog-worthy activity in the House on the Corner. It was spring break, so I was not doing my normal accompaniment gigs that kick into high gear at this time of the year, but a dissertation with a hot due date popped up in my editing gig, and a deadline in one of my other editing jobs and an unexpected day spent car shopping with Boy#3 kept me plenty busy. 

(My contribution to car shopping mostly consists of phrases along the line of "Oh, I love that color!" and "Do you think a tuba will fit in the trunk?" Husband carved a few hours away from the W-2s and 1099s to help with the decision-making and negotiation, which was a huge relief. Perfect illustration of playing to parental strengths.)

Anyway, because none of this seemed worth blogging I'm delighted to announce that I experienced a medical issue and I'm back today to overshare my personal information with the internet. Here's the back story:

Thursday, as Three and I were wandering around in the Siberian wastelands that were Big City car lots (holy cow, it was cold and windy, alternating with windy and cold) I noticed that I had a little... something on the inside of my upper lip. Not a sore, but a sore spot. It was nothing I couldn't deal with though, and LOOK! PUSH-BUTTON STARTER! was occupying my mental space. 

The next day, Friday, the sore was sorer and I looked as if the upper right quadrant of my lip-al area had been Botoxed. (Me to Husband: Does this look swollen? Husband, peering through his progressive trifocals: Uh, maybe?" Obviously I could get some serious work done before he would notice.)

But then came Saturday. Saturday I was the spittin' image of Mr. Burns up there, except with a slightly better haircut. I've had no time for cut-and-colors, and things are getting out of hand, but the area between my nose and mouth? The inability to make my lips meet? That's accurate. 

Fortunately, everything's up-to-date in Small Town, and we now have an urgent care center. That center was the inspiration for today's post title.

Small Town peeps, this place is the bomb. No appointment necessary, wait time Saturday morning of maybe five minutes, and the loveliest nurse-practitioner ever. The assistant taking my history did give me a moment of pause when I explained I had a problem with my lip and she asked which lip, as if it could have been the normal-sized one rather than the one that looked as if it had been inflated with an air mattress pump. 

When the nurse-practitioner came in we chatted for a few minutes (she was so nice!) and I flipped back the air mattress lip to show her the spot. 

"Oh, I see it!" she said with delight. "Okay, we're going to need to treat that. All of us have bacteria on our skin and somehow that bacteria got into your bloodstream there and is causing an infection. We don't want it to turn into cellulitis, and you certainly don't want that going to your eyes or your brain."
And how might that bacteria have gotten into my blood stream?

"It could have been anything--a scratch from a popcorn hull, something crunchy you were eating, an insect bite..."

Oh. My. Gosh. An insect bite? In my mouth? A spider might have crawled into my open mouth as I slept to have a lip nip? Well, we're just going to lock that thought away in the nightmare vault and assume it was the popcorn. 

Anyway, a prescription for antibiotics later, I am well on the way to recovery. By yesterday only one church friend looked at me strangely and said "Are you feeling okay? You look a little off kilter." Today I was able to Blistex both lips without incident. 

So, what's going on in your world?


Monday, February 25, 2019

One Thing I'd Do Differently

I have just spent what may be my favorite six minutes ever on YouTube. (Considering that this includes countless viewings of a tranquilized bear falling out of a tree onto a trampoline, that is high praise.)  If you have six minutes, please use them to watch and listen to this four-year-old at hockey practice.

As the parents of four sons, Husband and I naturally had a few goals and dreams for our children when they were born. Two teams of doubles partners at Wimbledon? Battery plus first and third for the Royals? Surely a winning World Cup goal from one of them?

Yes. We had athletic goals for our children, in spite of what we fondly call the Parental Lack of Speed Gene (Dominant) that would be prominent in our genome mapping. Also, a Lack of Hand-Eye Coordination (Recessive) passed on by both of us. Also, while we are cutthroat competitors, neither Husband nor I particularly enjoy participatory sports (see also: We Always Lose At Sports). 

Athletic glory from our Boys? It is to laugh. And yet...

Just like every single parent of every single small child in Small Town, we started signing our children up for teams when they were just about the age of the kid in the video today. Boy#1's preschool teacher thought it would be good for his gross motor skills to play soccer ("At this age it's mostly herd-ball, but he'll be running around and that's always good") so we stepped onto the sports merry-go-round when he was four.

It was a full decade of soccer, t-ball, baseball, basketball, tennis--if the ball was round there was one of our Boys on a team for it somewhere. To everything there was a season, and unending schedules and practices and games and orange slices and finding of lost shinguards. One summer we spent every single weeknight of the year at the baseball complex, trading bleachers after the bottom of the fourth inning so that both parents could watch some of each kid's game.

Oh, I have plenty of good memories. I will always remember fondly One picking flowers at mid-pitch and running over to press them into my hand while the ball dribbled past him for a goal. I remember less fondly the year Boy#2 was hit in the side of the face by a fast pitch that knocked off his braces and left him bleeding and slumped over home plate. (As he re-wired Two's mouth the orthodontist reassured us he was actually lucky--without the braces he might have been left without the teeth. Yay? I guess?)

I wonder, though, if our boys might have enjoyed sports more if Husband and I had focused more on having fun and less on competing.

If you watch the YouTube in today's post, you'll see a kid who is having quite a bit of fun, even if his teammates are better skaters. That child is spending a lot of time just sliding around and looking forward to eating at BaDonald's. 

In our defense, after they had tried one season of any sport we never required that the Boys sign up for athletic teams--they could decide to not participate, but if they signed up they had to finish the season. The exception to this was piano lessons, which their mean mother made mandatory through eighth grade. Two continued to take lessons through high school, a third regretted having quit early, and the fourth--well, he plays a mean Solfeggietto, and I regret nothing in this decision.

The Boys have turned out just fine in spite of their genetically doomed competitive athletic careers. All have found health-ifying physical activities they enjoy, and they are avid sports fans. They're vaccinated and insured and know how to read, so we weren't completely awful parents.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if I were parenting again with what I know today, I would try to be more like the laid-back parent in today's video. He's a hockey coach, for heaven's sake, but he isn't all stressed out about making sure his four-year-old has the best stick skills on the team.

Next time? I would skip the kid sports. BaDonald's anyone?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Saying 'I Love You' During Harvest

During my growing-up years on the farm I knew that June and November were not times to bother my father with trivialities: His mind was filled with harvest. Would the old combine hold together for another year? Is that a storm looming in the west? What are the grain markets doing?

January through April are harvest season for a CPA, months of working long hours to  juggle regular client work with the client appointments that come only once a year.

Husband's work day begins after I leave for my public school accompanying gig, so I only see him for a moment in the morning as I'm going out the door. At the end of the day he dashes home for a quick dinner together then it's back to the office until late, sometimes until the clock has clicked over into the following day. I try not to bother him with trivialities because his mind is filled with tax season: How will the new tax laws affect his clients? Is there a problem with the computer program that's popping up a new dialog box? How can he find enough hours in the day for everything that needs to be done?

These weeks are grueling, and as the wife of a CPA my self-defined role is to be flexible and supportive.

This winter has been the kind of winter we Kansans point to when we talk about our pioneer spirit. It's been mostly warm with  brutal cold snaps and two ice storms last week alone.

Yesterday another winter storm moved in. A frigid wind blew from the east and then it started snowing. Several inches of  heavy, wet snow piled up during the afternoon hours, so instead of coming home for dinner Husband ate downtown and went back to the office.

This morning I had gotten dressed and was looking for my snow boots when I glanced outside. The world was covered in snow, except for the long sidewalks that stretch along two sides of the House on the Corner. Husband had cleared them after he got home at nearly midnight. And at that moment he passed me on the stairs, pulling on his hat and gloves. He had set his alarm early and was already dressed for the outdoors.

"I need your keys--I'll get the car started," he told  me.

Ten minutes later I got into a warm car. The snow and ice had been cleaned off the windows, and the seat warmers were fully engaged.

I wouldn't have asked him to do this, but Husband's pampering reminded me that the language of love isn't always spoken with flowers or words. During harvest the gift of time is the most eloquent love language of all, and my husband is fluent.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The First of the Greatest

Dad (left) and Bill after the war
I don't  remember how often I have posted this picture of my father and his older brother on this site, but I'm quite sure you've seen it at least three times, maybe more. It is my favorite picture of the two of them: They are the shoulder-to-shoulder epitome of the Greatest Generation, and I've written of the anguish my grandmother must have felt as she sent her 17- and 18-year-old sons off to World War II.

Like me, my grandmother had four sons. Three of the four have lived most of their lives within 30 miles of each other, and the fourth was close enough to visit frequently. And nearly every time they got together, they took a picture.

The four brothers often lined up in order of age as someone snapped a shot, so we can watch them age through the decades. Floppy-haired teenagers morph into husbands, fathers, grandfathers, retirees. They are witness to wars, job changes, health scares, successes and failures. Their parents, their wives, their children flow in and out of the pictures, and the brothers look older but still recognizably products of the same gene pool.

Last week, after a few years of failing health and a couple of months of precarious survival, the oldest brother became the first to move out of the frame. Uncle Bill was 93; his surviving brothers are 92, 89, and 87.

My father was one of the speakers at the funeral, and his remarks were some of the most honest I've ever heard in a eulogy. He talked frankly about how and he and his brother, only 19 months apart in age, had personalities that were worlds apart. Even as children they were always competitive and often combative.

"When Dad would say 'Jump!' I would say 'How high?','' Dad told the mourners. "Bill would say 'How come?'"

He told of the memorable day when he could take no more of what he considered Bill's picking on him, and the two ended up in a fight loud enough that it brought both parents running to break them up. Somewhere along the line, though, their relationship changed and grew up and when it was time to choose a branch of the service for enlistment, Dad knew he wanted to be in the Navy--because that was what Bill had chosen.

I thought about those two scrapping boys and their brothers, and once again I channeled Grandma. I don't have to imagine how tired she got of her sons' squabbles; I lived that life. But I've also lived long enough to see our Boys become best friends who have created a brothers-only Facebook page where they share plans and dreams and discuss their aging parents' foibles. I have watched the look on one of my son's face when he sees one of his brothers come into view. Grandma lived to be 97, and she must have felt the same delight when her boys enjoyed each other.

All of those pictures of my father and his brothers. Dozens of them, and now the next picture will have a brother missing.

Last week, though, as we gathered we were grateful for the nine decades during which being together had been important to these men and we knew that their true relationship will continue to exist. They're still brothers, and Bill's still leading the way.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Blow Out the Candles

Yesterday I posted this pictures on my Facebook page. It was snapped 27 years, almost to the second, from the moment the handsome young man on the right blinked for the first time and yelled his disapproval of the bright lights and activity surrounding him. Boy#4 had joined our family.

He'd already had an eventful morning: We arrived at the hospital early to find that sometime between my final prenatal check on Friday and the Monday scheduled induction, this child had decided to flip and was now sitting Buddha-ish with his head right between my ribs. The fact that I did not know that almost 10 pounds of human being had done a complete flip INSIDE MY BODY is a tribute to  his five-year-old, almost-four-year-old, and two-year-old brothers, who had been competing for my attention during that weekend. Also, we had an unexpected house guest, so there was that.

Anyway, my obstetrician happened to be the only person in Big City Hospital who had been trained to perform an external cephalic version which is a fancy way of saying "turning the baby." And because this  pushy-pully maneuver was something the doctors at BCH normally did not attempt, enough extraneous hospital personnel (interns, nurses, aides, other doctors, janitors, etc.) gathered to observe   that Husband remarked we could get a pretty good start on Four's college fund if we charged admission--but this was not at all the blog I planned to write today.

I was going  to write about birthday cakes, and how they've morphed in our family since the frog-themed Dairy Queen cake that marked Boy#1's first birthday. I've made dozens of cakes over the year, maybe as many as a hundred when you count Husband's birthdays.

I would begin planning the cakes weeks in advance--what were the Boy's interests? How could I symbolize those in buttercream? The results weren't Pinterest-worthy but that wasn't a problem because for most of those years Pinterest didn't exist. And they usually turned out whimsical and fun, like this Winnie the Pooh that I freehanded on top of a cake into which love had been added with every ingredient:

Yesterday's celebratory dessert was different. Husband and I took Four out to church and lunch in the Big City to the South where he  lives, then we went back to his apartment where I pulled out a book of matches  and some candles....

...and stuck them into a pie.

Which was purchased. 

By the birthday boy.

As Husband and I sang "Happy Birthday" Four was urging us to double-time the song because "the smoke alarm in here is really sensitive and it's horrible to turn off. Open the windows, quick!"

It occurred to me that all those years ago I would not have believed I would arrive at this point, where the candles and "cake" would be less satisfying than seeing Husband and Four working on his tax return together.

Like birth experiences, birthday traditions don't always turn out the way you think they will. It turns out maybe/probably I was the only one obsessing over those cakes--when I polled the Boys last night, no one could remember which had been the recipient of the Winnie the Pooh cake. (I had to look for photographic evidence. It was Boy#2.)

All those years ago I thought the cake was the centerpiece of the birthday celebration, but it turns out all we needed was a birthday and some family to celebrate with.

Happy birthday, Boy#4. You still take the cake, even when the cake is a pie.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Report From the Cult

The test recipe, in disguise. 
Back when I was in the downward trajectory of my employment bounce and couldn't yet hear the sproing sound that the bounce would make when it started back up, I was worried I wouldn't have enough activities to occupy my time.

As Bugs Bunny would observe, it is to laugh.

Being  part of the gig economy means I'm plenty busy with jobs, nearly all of which have found me rather than me having to look for them. But it's also meant I've had time to volunteer for positions that will never pay the rent but which I find absolutely delightful. Maybe my favorite of these is my "job" as a recipe tester for America's Test Kitchen. 

As I've blogged before, I am a fully vested member of the cult of ATK.  I subscribe to their magazine, I read their newsletter, I search their website for recipes, and heaven  forbid I should buy a spatula that hasn't been thoroughly vetted by their equipment testers. Husband has suggested that perhaps I should stop buying the odd spices they suggest (duukah, anyone?) until I've used up enough old spices that the cupboard closes again.

I'm also one of the hundreds of home cooks who try out America's Test Kitchens' unpublished recipes.

Now before you get all googly-eyed with admiration that your very own friend (yes, I consider you my friend even if we're only acquainted through the computer) was actually selected by this prestigious institution to advise them on their recipes, a disclaimer is necessary. It was less a selection process than clicking on a "Hey, want to sign up for this?" link on their website, and I'm pretty sure they were seeking out people like myself who are mediocre-at-best cooks so that they can find the weak spots in recipes real cooks would sail past but which leave us m-a-b's weeping salty tears into batter.

Every few weeks I get an email that contains an as-yet-unpublished recipe. I can either try it then fill out an online evaluation of the results, or I can ignore it and wait for the next one. ATK has explained that at least 80% of their in-home testers must answer positively to the question "I would make this again" to move the recipe to the next stage of development.

The offerings tend to be fairly typical ATK fare--they use every pot and pan I have, are significantly more fiddly than the thrown-together fare I usually serve, and the time investment is significant. And the results have ranged from "That is WAY too much work for a pizza" and "Seriously? I'm going  to chop up an expensive cut of meat and put it in a taco?" to  "Hey! I'm a pretty good cook!" and "Whoa, where did that come from?"

A few weeks ago my inbox held instructions for a dessert that was popular back when I started grade school. That was a long, long time ago, in an era that was best known for Jello "salads" and meatballs made with grape jelly, so I wasn't optimistic. I had been tagged to bring a dessert to a friends' lunch, though, and professional chefs had developed this food, so I pulled out all the pans and measuring cups I owned and got started. Two hours later I flipped the cake seen above onto a vintage Fiesta place.

Friends, this thing was on the far end of the "Whoa, where did  that  come from?" scale. Yummy, yummy, yummy. And even though we recipe testers agree to not disclose what we're testing, I don't think I'll be turned out of the cult for saying that the caramel sauce was one I would drink from a pitcher.

It was a totally unexpected result, and while it may be a stretch to compare this dessert to the hodgepodge of gigs I currently juggle, it is a reminder that some faith and taking a step at a time can result in something so much better than what we expect.

It's a delicious reminder, and it was covered in caramel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Deep Winter

It is deep winter in the House on the Corner.

Last Saturday we woke up to find the corner blanketed in wet, heavy snow. I peeked out the window as soon as I opened my eyes, then pulled the covers over my ears and went back to sleep. My friend J, though, woke up, grabbed her camera, and plunged into the snowfall. Later the day she sent me the picture above, a shot of the House on the Corner taken from across the street.

It is pure magic.

I love the way she framed our cast iron birdbath in the exact center of the stone gate that marks the entry to the college across the street. I marvel at the glow of the streetlamp in the snow, its harsh yellow glare softened to pink. I smile at the sculptures formed by wet flakes on bushes that will bloom in a few months.

And I am delighted by the image, even though I am in the throes of deep winter, the post-Christmas dark that feels just a degree or two off plumb. I knew that within hours our predictably unpredictable Kansas weather would melt that snow and my snow day excuses for sloth.

Everything that was postpone-able during the holidays is now coming due: The closet that desperately needs cleaning. The resolution to return to healthy eating. The start of the spring fundraising project. The writing project I promised myself I'd begin "as soon as I have time."

Of course, all of these are good and virtuous and I will be so delighted with myself when I have jumped into them. Until I take that jump I will feel guilty that I'm dithering here on the diving board.

Nevertheless, more snow is predicted for this weekend so I think I will live one more day in J's snow-covered House on the Corner. It's a place where I can pull the covers over my ears and sleep a few more minutes, then finish the socks I'm knitting and watch an episode of The Good Place.

Next week the the days will be just a little longer and I will dive in, but right now it's the deep of the winter and this is where I burrow.