Friday, December 30, 2011


Three sisters with the best mom in the world
My mother had certain phrases she used regularly.

As kids dressed to the nines we could count on her to send us out the door with "Act as nice as you look."

If we came home from school with sad stories about mean girls and the day-to-day trauma of junior high, she would spend a few seconds sympathizing, then remind us not to do battle in the mean wars. "Kill them with kindness," she'd say.

And she had little sympathy for the hormonal tears that left us awash during the teen years. "Wash your face," she would say tartly. "You'll feel better."

When her daughters, now with new babies of their own, called for advice, she had the wisest counsel: "Trust yourself. You have good instincts and you know more than you think you do."

And every time we pulled into the driveway at the farm, she shut off the car with "Home again, home again, jiggety-jog."

Two years ago today we let Mom leave, a day after the fall that had ended her life as we knew it. I don't question the divine wisdom that designated her time to die; she had started down the slope toward Alzheimer's and she feared this loss of dignity much more than she feared death.

But I miss her. I miss her wisdom and her sense of humor, her compassion and her common sense. Today I'm fighting tears, so I'll wash my face and feel better. I know she wouldn't have wanted her life prolonged past her mental expiration date.

She's home again.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Things I Learned: Christmas Edition

Christmas is not simply a day of religious wonder and family togetherness, it also is an educational experience. This year, for example, I learned several things.

1. I should probably check my pantry before I make out my shopping list for Christmas morning cinnamon rolls...

...or in 10 years I'll have 10 little bottles of maple extract with one tablespoon used out of each.

2. My children have inherited my mad skillz when it comes to wrapping presents.
In defense of the Boy who wrapped this, a bird feeder with multiple spikey thingies for the birds to land on is an uncommonly complex wrapping challenge. This, though? Looks exactly like what I would have solved that challenge. But...

3.  ...who cares? In an hour all that wrapping paper is going to look like this and no one will know which presents (Husband's) had lovingly-creased mitered corners and which (mine) did not.

4. Those ham-and-water products in the supermarket sale bins this time of the year cannot approach the deliciousness of the locally-cured ham provided by my farmer brother. This Christmas dinner centerpiece would have made a meat-eater out of Ghandi.
Also, I need a new cutting board. The first item on my 2012 Christmas list.

6. Snuggies don't fit into stockings, but now that all of the Boys suspect that Santa buys at Wal-Mart, that's not such a big deal.

6. If I had known how lovely it is to have grown-up children, I would have given birth to 20-year-olds. They are good-humored, adaptable, helpful, and (usually) good sports about their mother's blog. They also know how to work the camera timer so that I can take an out-of-focus shot and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas from the House on the Corner!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eve

It's the Eve.

If Clement Moore's children had been in college, he would have written about the morning before Christmas, rather than the night before Christmas. The time is approaching double digits, and the Boys are still nestled all snug in their beds. It will be the last calm moment until after the holiday festivities: Tomorrow morning I won't dawdle over my coffee as I scramble to put Christmas dinner in the oven before leaving for church.

Before I had children, I had a vision in my mind of how Christmas mornings would unfold. Shiny-faced poppets arranged on the stairway in their matching pajamas, bright-eyed with anticipation and squealing with delight at the sight of overstuffed stockings and Santa's generosity.

Sometimes that happened, but frankly, having four children exponentially raises the odds that someone will not get to sit in the spot he wanted to open presents, someone will be unhappy with Santa's thick-headedness in choosing gifts, someone will be inexplicably grumpy. In short, Christmas morning with toddlers and teenagers is an enormous sleigh-full of emotions, and as a mother who insisted on carrying the emotional baggage I was often bone-tired at the end of Christmas day.

Fortunately, I have matured along with my children. As I get older I put less pressure on myself to make Christmas magical. I only do the Christmas traditions that I love to do (baking bread and knitting) and have joyfully released the traditions that television's idea of a perfect Christmas forced on me (oh, my heavens, the hated decorating of sugar cookies). I don't stress about mailing my cards before the 25th; my friends will know I'm thinking of them as I address their cards next week. I trust the Boys to be happy, or not, knowing I really don't have much influence over this choice.

I'm deeply contented this Eve, and filled with joy that the birth of Christ is the event that brings us together in celebration.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good Eve.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Surrounded by Pestilence

All the boys are home. Aaaahhhh!

Last night I basked in the contentment of having these four lovable scamps within touching range. I was knitting, a couple of Boys were playing video games, one was reading quietly, another was checking Facebook. I was practically Mamsy surrounded by her Four Little Peppers.  Then Lovable Scamp #2 reached for a throat lozenge.

Cue the shower scene music from Psycho. Wreep! Wreep! Wreep! Wreep!

"Are you getting sick?"

"Yeah, I think I caught something on the plane."

Well, that is just peachy. Most of my memories from the past 20 years have been sanitized by childbirth amnesia, which is to say that I generally remember the touchy-feely warm glow of motherhood and have mostly forgotten the grittier details. One gritty detail I have not forgotten is that when one Boy gets sick, almost inevitably the germ finds us all, and then it is Not Pretty.

This is Christmas week. The next three days are packed with activities, followed by  the one week of the year that I have six lovely, uncommitted days and lots of leftovers in the fridge to keep me out of the kitchen. I will NOT get sick.

For the rest of the evening, I walked surreptitiously behind Two sanitizing surfaces he might have touched. I washed my hands at least a dozen times, and made sure someone else loaded the dishwasher. (Dirty cutlery, you know.)

This morning I congratulated myself when I woke up feeling JUST FINE.

Then I got to work found an e-mail from the co-worker in the next office. The subject line was "Sick."


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Love From Your Elderly Aunt

Here's what I love about Christmas clothing: It is festive. It is colorful. It is seasonally appropriate. It never wears out. (Indeed, since it's only worn once or twice a year, Christmas gear is the "Wonderful One-Hoss Shay" of the clothing world.)

Here's what I hate about Christmas clothing: Apparently it is TOTALLY, EYE-ROLLINGLY, APPALLINGLY un-chic.

Well, huh.

This week my cool friends (and sons) on the internet have been attending Ugly Christmas Sweater parties. An entire seasonal industry has grown up around seasonal clothing if you believe NPR (and really, who doesn't?) and apparently the only ones of us who wear such stuff un-ironically are the seriously fashion-impaired and elderly great-aunts.

I offer the photo that illustrates today's post as proof that I belong in the first category. You see the 15-year-old velvet vest festooned with beaded poisettias, and the holly-berry mock turtleneck. You may not see the candy cane earrings, but I assure you they are there. (Also, you see that I put on not one speck of lipstick before posting my picture to the World Wide Web.Please disregard that part.)

As for the second category--hey! I am great-aunt to 16! And in my mind, great-aunts are the ones bring the rum-balls to the Christmas feast and thanks to their advanced age get go through the buffet lines first. I can do those things, too.

So merry Christmas to you whippersnappers, with your leggings and hair feathers. I'll keep rocking the velvet and poisettias. As an elderly great-aunt, it's only appropriate.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Gifts

I have given the Boys my Christmas list every year since they were old enough to read, and every year I hear the same complaint.

"You are so hard to buy for."

And I always defend myself.

"No, no, no. I'm easy to please. I like any kind of kitchen gadget, coffeepots and vacuum cleaners, almost anything as-seen-on-TV, things that warm me in the winter or cool me in the summer, things that are whimsical..." and I go on, and on, and on.

This morning as I left for work I glanced in the front window at the still-lit tree. The living room was peaceful and orderly but by the time I sleep again it will not be. Today everyone is traveling, one from four hours north and the others from seven hours south. A storm is blowing in from the west, and all will be racing to reach the House on the Corner before the snow does.

At the risk of sounding like a heartless mother, most of the time I don't yearn for the Boys to be home. We believe each was providentially guided to his current situation, and knowing that all are in good places for these stages of their lives fills my cup beyond overflowing. 

By tonight, God willing, everyone will be under the same roof. I'll have chili on the stove, and after the mountains of luggage and dirty laundry have been unloaded we'll sit at the same table to eat.

I'm easy to please. This is all I want for Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Tablespoon of Cream

When we moved to Small Town one of the first women I met was L. She was the school librarian, a tiny little lady who barely came to my shoulder, wearing a neat pastel pantsuit, and the expression on her face can only be described as a twinkle. I don't remember what she said to me at that first meeting, but I'm sure it made me laugh; I loved her dry wit from the first moment.

Although her hair was white, she seemed ageless--she could have been one of the wise and wonderful women who came to life in her books: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Mary Poppins. Miss Marple. She didn't have children of her own so all of the children who passed through the high school on their way to adulthood became her children, and she treated them with the respect and occasional tartness each deserved.

I knew her for a quarter of a century and she was changeless--her neat style, her height, her grin and sense of humor did not age.  Even after she retired she kept track of the the students who had passed through her library doors,and they stopped at her table at Wendy's to show off their new babies. Deep in my heart I believed she was immortal.

She was not immortal, though. Astonishingly healthy until just a few weeks ago, she developed a stubborn infection in her pacemaker wires, and yesterday she was gone. It was a shockingly swift transition.

I love coffee, especially coffee with cream. Over the years I have experimented with healthy alternatives to this high-fat additive, but I finally realized that I would rather have my coffee with one tablespoon of cream than with a quarter-cup of fat-free half-and-half.

Sudden death is shocking, especially in those who, like L. or my mother, have lived with warmth and wit and have touched so many others. Each could have had many more years of life, but quite certainly these years would have been of diminishing quality. Even as I mourn L. and continue to miss Mom, I realize the richness of their lives was pure nearly to the end.

God gave each of them a tablespoon of cream.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


The subject line on the Boy's e-mail was the same as the title of this post. When it arrived this afternoon, I opened the attachment to find a screen shot of his grades, then whooped so loudly that I was glad no one was passing in the hallway.

This kid had bitten off a big chunk of academic meat this semester, with four courses most people would consider extraordinarily difficult, as well as one general ed course and an hour of marching band. At the mid-semester mark he was wondering if he would make it through the semester with his academic standing intact.

School had always come easily to him, and it had taken him a few semesters to learn how to study. That homework can't be delayed until the hour before class. That difficult concepts must be mastered layer by layer. That there's no disgrace in asking for help from professors or from brainy roommates.

Unlike high school, when a poor semester grade point average would cause loss of driving and internet  privileges and earn a stern talking-to from his parents, Boy knew the stakes now are much higher. A poor semester here could mean loss of scholarship money, a consequence that could lead to...well, knowing how much he loves his university we try not to think of that heart-breaking consequence..

Today he learned that the studying has paid off, and sent the report card to share the joy.

"You know," he said, "this has been my hardest semester so far, but I've enjoyed these classes the most."

To learn that hard work pays off, and that tackling difficult concepts is more rewarding than filling a schedule (and a brain) with fluffier material?

Yay, indeed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Boy Barometer

My younger sister was rummaging around in the baking cupboard at The Farm looking for ingredients for her swoon-worthy cinnamon rolls when she uncovered a bag of chocolate chips. Mom probably bought them for a baking project which means they are, at a minimum, two years old.

"You can tell these aren't in my house," R. commented. "They wouldn't have lasted a week."

Ah, memories.

Before the exodus of Boys from the House on the Corner, baking chips were on every week's shopping list. The Boys were bakers extraordinaire, although at that time this pretty much was the beginning and ending of their cooking prowess. So chocolate chips for cookies, butterscotch chips for Rice Krispie bars, peppermint chips because they were on sale, mini-chips for muffins--I bought them all. If the Boys weren't baking, they were snacking, and the opened half bag of left-over chocolate chips soon was a quarter bag, then just eight or nine chips rattling around in the bag. No one ever finished off the bag and threw it away, though.

After I got home from The Farm I checked the chips supply in my own baking cupboard. Nine bags. Nine bags of chips that have been untouched since the house quieted down in mid-August. We have enough chips to last most families for a good year or two.

But for us? That supply will last until Tuesday. The Boys are coming home Monday--I'd better stock up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Party Like You're 84

It's hard to follow up the spectacular day my Dad had last Friday, but Saturday was pretty cool, too.

He celebrated his 85th birthday with four of his five children, two sons-in-law, and two grandchildren, and you'll be glad to know we partied like octogenarians. Notice the dried fruit, beta-carotene-rich carrots, and the birthday bierocks that were our lunch.

Never fear, though. We had cake. Oh, did we have cake.

Of course, we were too cheap thrifty to bake a separate cake when the decorative centerpiece of the building dedication hadn't yet been eaten so my  frugal older sister edited the icing. (It gives a whole new meaning to "blue-pencil.")

Then it was time for presents. First opened was a new Nordic hat for his twice-daily heart-healthy walks. The crowd went wild.

"Try it on!"

"Try it on!"

Then the wraps came off to reveal a new holiday sweater. Again the chant went up.

"Try it on!"

"Try it on!"

The third gift came in recognition of Dad's five swimming gold medals from the Senior Olympics. He carefully unfolded the tissue paper and pulled out of the gift bag...a Speedo.

And at that point, the clamor for him to model his presents ceased.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Better Dream

My father did not grow up dreaming of being school administrator.

He was born during the Dust Bowl years and he dreamed of being a farmer. But back then, as now, farmers usually are farmers because they are born into farm families. Dad was born into a family that milked a few cows but didn't have enough land to support more than one son, and he was not that son.

So Dad became a schoolteacher, and because he had been shaped by genetics and circumstances to aim high and work hard, he became a topnotch schoolteacher.

He became such a good teacher (winning national awards) that he was recruited to the faculty of a newly-formed vocational-technical school, and within a couple of years he had been selected to be the school's director. It wasn't necessarily a great promotion; at that point the vo-tech had classes meeting in half a dozen classrooms across the tiny town where it was located and the final motion at every board meeting was that the business officer pay the bills "as far as the money goes." Honestly, no one would have been too surprised if the doors had quietly closed.

But my dad, who had dreamed of being a farmer, turned out to be spectacularly suited for his new job as the director of this school. He was organized and persistent, and he passionately believed in his institution's ability to prepare young people for the workplace, if they also were willing to aim high and work hard.

For 28 years he shaped the school, pushing it toward excellence with hard work and sometimes pulling it along with nothing more than his stubborn belief that the school needed to be better. Then, as he watched the campus take shape and students win national skills competitions and graduates make good lives with their new skills, Dad didn't let up. He kept pushing for better programs and better facilities, and for accreditation that emphasized quality. He still dreamed of farming, so in the early mornings and late nights he worked the land he and my mother had bought and where they were raising five children.

Last Friday, the day before Dad's 85th birthday, the vo-tech school (now a technical college) named its student union after Dad and Mom. The dedicatory plaque talks about Dad's "vision, commitment, and leadership," and about Mom's support of his vision. It doesn't list all the people whose lives were changed for the better because my father believed so strongly in vocational education; that list could have covered most of the walls of the building.

He might have been a fine farmer but that dream took a back seat to his vision, and thousands of graduates saw their dreams come true because his did not.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cranky, Again

Ever have one of those days where everything seems to fall butter-side down? That's today.

I instant messaged Boy#1 that I was cranky, and that every.single.thing was irritating me, including the snafu-d reorder of institutional Christmas cards that means they won't be here for another week, and the retirement home taking mother-in-law to her physical therapy appointment on the wrong day, and the annual Christmas play that I liked better when it was in the smaller theater space, and dadgummit who ordered those paper towels in the bathroom that shred when you try to pull them out of the holder?

This was his reply:

So, last night, I looked up Harry Morgan's Wikipedia page
And today he's dead
I wonder if I killed him.

He wins. No matter how crazy-making my day has been, at least I'm not worrying that I killed Colonel Potter

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Snow Magic

Last night when I went to bed my shoulder ached. I fidgeted for a while, trying to find a comfortable position, and finally took an ibuprofen to help me sleep. By morning I was feeling fine, so I finished off 30 minutes in the gym (aka: basement) and stepped out the back door for my walk-around-the-block cool-down.

Everything was white.

My reaction was instantaneous: I grinned like a six-year-old.

In spite of my bah-humbug attitude toward weather extremes, there's something magical about the first snowfall of the year. It's as if the tired landscape has had a makeover,  the drought-stricken lawn looking less stricken and the leafless trees suddenly less naked and more seasonally appropriate. This morning the final dregs of what the weatherman would call "snow showers" sifted down, sparkling under the streetlight. I circled the block noticing which neighbors left their tree lights on all night, and silently thanking them for adding to the atmosphere. Then I leaned back to catch a couple of flakes on my face, and went back inside, knowing that by noon this fluffy dusting would have blown away.

I won't be so delighted by any other snowfall this winter. I'll remember that snow is cold, wet, and often treacherous, and I'll watch forecasts and hope none of the Boys will be preparing to travel when the snowflake appears on the weather map. I'll sigh at the knowledge that I'm now old enough that my shoulders and knees are more reliable predictors than the TV guys.

But today? Today I was six years old again, and it had snowed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Open Letter to the Boys

 Ho, ho, ho, Boys!

It's that time of the year again: Santa Claus is on his way! (If the Santa in the illustration is any indication, you may want to double-lock your windows and doors and make sure any children are nestled all snug in their beds, because he looks kind of creepy, but I digress.)

As you know, your father and I are slightly deficient when it comes to coolness. We were never the parents who kept up with trends, and on the hipness scale we've veered away from "Uses Newest Slang Correctly" and settled squarely on "Get Off My Lawn." 

However, because we love you very much, we have spent a fair amount of time discussing Christmas gifts for the four of you. These discussions always go something like this:

Your father: So what should we get the Boys for Christmas?
Me: I dunno. What do you think?
Your father: I dunno., that wouldn't work.
Me: How about new cookware for everyone? I love the set I got last year.
Your father (wondering if I hit my head and now thought I had only daughters): ......
Me: I dunno.

So in the interest of seeing your eyes light up on Christmas morning at the sheer COOLNESS of your gifts, we need some lists. You know the rules--no live animals, no vehicles unless you want to relive the hilarity of the year Boy#4 got his Corvette and everyone except him thought it was sooooo funny we'd found that model of Matchbook car, no firearms or explosives, etc. And put on some speed, because ohmigosh only 14 shopping days left, allowing for shipping of online purchases, and if you think any of my purchases will not be online you don't know me at all.

Don't leave the choosing of cool gifts to your parents. Otherwise you might end up with a lovely new Dutch oven. 

Santa's Elves

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chicken Dinner!*

Among the many phrases the not-yet-grown Boys learned to parrot with accompanying eye-rolling was "Yes, we can afford it, we just choose not to buy it."

Back in the day when the young'uns were young and I was working full-time but non-salaried as a mother, this phrase was used often as we walked through Wal-Mart and were dazzled on every side by Lego sets, Star Wars paraphernalia, and stuff SO COOL it just didn't make sense to not buy it right then and there.

"Can't we afford it?" a Boy would ask after I marched by the fabulous toy without putting it in the cart, and I would answer "Yes we can afford it, but we're choosing not to buy it."

This was, of course, a total lie.

Okay, it wasn't a total lie. We were not poor in the sense that we ever lacked for anything important, including music lessons in multiple instruments for multiple children. But every dollar was pretty much spoken for, with not a lot of wiggle room for gratuitous Lego sets and light sabers.

That's why I was absolutely flabbergasted when my name was drawn for the gift card given away at Small College's health fair yesterday. Even now, with two professional salaries in the family, having FIFTY DOLLARS that are not earmarked and pre-tagged is just a mind-boggling embarrassment of riches. This little card could become new Christmas placemats, or a stash of yarn, or a plug-in-able kitchen appliance. I get goosebumps just thinking of the possibilities.

It occurred to me that I'm probably more excited about a modest gift card that will be used to support a big box store (albeit one that employs local folks) than Donald Trump is when he buys a new island. After all, he probably can justify buying a chain of islands easier than moms with four kids in college can justify buying a completely random kitchen gadget.

Donald, you could not possibly be as rich as I feel.

*Hmmm. Perhaps not everyone is familiar with the phrase "Winner, winner, chicken dinner." It seems to have puzzled some of my readers. Feel free to use it liberally in connection with yourself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Body Art

Every once in a while Boy#1 observes a discussion between Husband and me, and analyzes our relationship thusly: "You two are the cutest couple ever."

I'm sure he means it--my own son would never be sarcastic, would he?--but it does make me realize that  some conversations between my beloved and me are not what they seem on the surface. These idle conversations tend to be, shall we say, whimsical.  The other day, for example, Husband chose to poke one of my fears.

"I think I'm going to get a concealed carry permit," he said.

This is an old threat. He knows I have the same reaction to guns as I have to snakes: Both are probably okay in their proper environments, but keep them far, far, far away from me. Just the thought of guns or snakes gives me a visceral shudder. So, like the little boy on the playground who dangles the garter snake in front of a classmate just to hear her shriek, Husband always points out the concealed carry safety classes in the newspaper.

This time I reacted without thinking.

"Fine. You do that, and I'll get a tattoo."

Whoa. You'd have thought I was threatening to vote a straight Democratic ticket.

"Really? You'd mutilate your skin permanently just because I had a piece of paper, which I wouldn't even intend to use?"

And here is the weird part of this story: The thought of getting a tattoo wasn't nearly as odd to me as it was 20, or 10, or even two years ago. I no longer get the vapors at the thought that one of my babies might deface his porcelain skin with permanent art, although I still give my graduating student assistants the standard "if you must have a tattoo, make sure it can be covered for job interviews because that might make the difference between two equally qualified candidates, blah-blah-blah" speech. I'm not sure if this new-found attitude is maturity or simply erosion by exposure, but my once firmly-held conviction that only convicts get tattoos has mellowed to "Meh, whatever."

So Husband, go ahead and get that concealed carry permit. I have the address of a tattoo parlor and a design all worked out in my head: It's a heart surrounding the words "Cutest Couple Ever."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Few Minutes With MomQueenBee

Andy Rooney left a void in the media hubbub that surrounds us when he retired a few weeks ago and shortly thereafter REALLY retired. Until last month that void  had been filled with Andy's 60 Minutes essays kvetching and complaining about things that didn't really matter, but now that he's no longer with us, I plan to step up to the plate and fill that that void. (I know! It's like I was born for the job.)

Here's my complaint of the day: What's up with newfangled plumbing fixtures?

Pictured here are the beautiful new sinks in the gorgeous new bathroom down the hall from my office at Small College. Friends, I'm here to tell you that this is a huge improvement over the 1950s bomb shelter motif that had featured prominently in the pre-renovation john. Now the toilets flush automatically (and can provide an inadvertent thrill to anyone who's a little slow in vacating the premises, if you get what I mean), the lights are classy and mellow, the counters are granite. The sinks are shiny--and four inches deep. Or I should say, four inches shallow.

You think I am kidding? I am not.

Hmmm. Even this does not show the depths shallows of the sink. How about if my camera case demonstrates the problem:

See? My point-and-shoot case is darned near too large to be submerged if I wanted to submerge it, which I do not because it has two memory cards inside. So even though the bathroom is lovely and I do appreciate the upgrade, my moderately-sized hands, even with their preternaturally stubby thumbs CANNOT BE WASHED in these sinks.

My life, it is difficult. Andy Rooney would have understood.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Sweetgum Tree Off the Back Deck

For the past several days its colors have been so vivid they make me forget that within a few weeks I will be cursing the spiked gumballs that make walking across the yard an adventure in navigation, then will fill two trash barrels when I finally get tired of walking on nature's ball bearings and rake them up.

Nicely done, God.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Unbroken Family

After the pie and coffee, but before the cleaning up and the recliner naps, the final official moment of Thanksgiving dinner is the family picture.

I have nothing to say about yesterday that doesn't show in this picture. In spite of those who were missing--and don't even imagine that we didn't miss them--it was a day filled with laughter and love, and appreciation for the blessings of the year.

Also, it was filled with food. We had about a dozen less mouths at the table than last year but somehow I didn't adjust the amount of food at all. We'll have leftovers until Christmas, except for one item. I made 12 dozen dinner rolls--144 rolls for 17 persons. This morning this many were left:

The Boys are blaming Grandma.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful in the Present

Among the recipes I pull out every Thanksgiving is this one for Harvest Cranberry Sauce. It was one of the first I used as a grown-up hosting other grown-ups at a holiday dinner: I had worried to my boss that my recipe for cranberry sauce included throwing whole oranges into the blender, and I didn't think my new husband would like it, because I certainly didn't. Susan brought me her own handwritten recipe for an easy, foolproof cranberry sauce that will convert the most rabid anti-antioxidant.

Three years later, I cried as I made this recipe; Susan had just died of breast cancer at age 41.

Life changes, whether we are ready for it to change or not.

This Thanksgiving dinner gathering will be smaller than some years. One sister and her family are dealing with health crises in aging in-laws, and they will eat turkey with these in-laws. A brother is in Australia. Boy#2 is in school half a country away and cannot come home for two major holidays within a few weeks. One nephew is in boot camp, another is studying overseas. My mother-in-law's ever more precipitous aging process may keep her from being at the table. And of course, the chair that until two years ago would have been filled by my wise and wonderful mother will be vacant again this year.

Live moves on, whether we are ready for it to move or not.

Tomorrow I'll serve Susan's cranberry sauce to 20 or so of us gathered in gratitude. Later in the day I'll knit some stitches into the sweater my mother had on her needles when she died, a sweater that will keep a child warm when I finish it. I'll Skype with my Boy who's not here, and be astounded at the opportunities these young'uns have.

Life is good, whether we recognize the goodness or not.

It would be tempting to mourn the gaps around the table this year, but the gaps are part of life, in all its changing, moving goodness.

I'm thankful in the present.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Hills Are Alive

All the Boys are good musicians but none of them can sing "Happy Birthday" worth a hoot. And not to brag about my own unlovely voice, but the family chorus suffers when I am not relentlessly keeping it on course with my braying alto.

My music major son (trombone) solved this dilemma by hanging around outside the choir room and asking for volunteers to brighten my special day. It didn't get posted to YouTube until today but it's already made me smile a dozen times.

As competitive as the Boys are, I can't wait to see what Boy#3's brothers come up with to top this production next year.

Monday, November 21, 2011


This picture has nothing to do with this post but it's a touch of brightness in my dark, dark world.
It is Monday of the week that contains the official Best Day of the Year. I am still in my fluffy chenille robe at 8:30 a.m.; I am officially on vacation. I broke out the good brand of beans to make today's extra-bracing cappuccino and it's steaming on the table beside me.

So why am I so cranky?

I think I may have a touch of the poor pitifuls along with the horrendous virus that has invaded my sinus cavities and bronchial tubes. Yesterday the preacher told us to give thanks in all circumstances. (Pffft. He doesn't have my bronchials right now.) Anyway, I thought I would give a point-by-point comparison of things I'm cranky about and things I'm thankful for, beginning with the fact that I resisted the temptation to call this post "cranky/thanky" and thereby maintained my self-respect.

I'm cranky because: This cold makes me feel all kinds of horrid and all I want to do is go back to sleep on a day when my schedule called for me to revel in the exuberance of being alive and unscheduled for the day.

I'm thankful because: My big deadline came and went on Friday, and I don't have to worry about this particular deadline for the next three months! Woo!

I'm cranky because: It was MY birthday and MY anniversary last week and Husband was swept up in taking care of his aging mother and even after 28 years it would be nice to stop for just a moment and gaze into each other's virus-riddled eyes.

I'm thankful because: Wow. Twenty-eight years. And he's still the one that makes me laugh, still the one who's my better half, we're still havin' fun, and he's still the one. (Sing it with me!)

(I could add a cranky about Orleans's mis-use of "that" and "who" in the lyrics of this song, but that might be perceived as nitpicky.)

I'm cranky because: Today I was going to sleep in until Cinderella's bluebirds of happiness awakened me, but instead I was up at the crack of dawn (for someone in a particularly northern latitude) to call the doctor's office to make an appointment for someone, and it was not for my own disease-ridden self.

I'm thankful because: All of the Boys are healthy! (Well, except for Boy#4, who sprained his foot during a particularly exuberant marching band maneuver, but while I'm sympathetic, I'm more amused than concerned.)

Okay. Feeling better now that I've shared my pain with the internet. Y'all are pretty good medicine.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sign of the Times

Know how to tell when the Boys are home? Boy#3, who tooled in last night, pointed out that our breakfast selection was pitifully middle-aged, so I went to the grocery store this morning and bought four boxes of cereal that does not contain bran or extra fiber.

If we are what we eat, Husband and I are pure roughage.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Question for My Fashion Council

When my Free Space group gets together on Wednesday nights, we don't bother discussing the unimportant things of life. We rarely delve into politics, we don't spend much time on favorite sports teams, we ignore new-release movies and books.

No, we spend our mental energy on deeper subjects. GraceMiracles. Pantyhose.

I am enduring a fashion crisis. As I've mentioned here before, because I am a humanitarian I do not leave the house in pants. (The horror! The horror!) Up until the past few years that has meant I also was a year-round wearer of pantyhose. And because I remembered the years before pantyhose were invented (oh, yes, I do) these all-in-one stockings have always seemed relatively convenient and even comfortable in a way that minimizes jiggle. (I also remember panty girdles. Shudder.)

Now that pantyhose are completely and utterly out of fashion (facing extinction, if this Slate article is correct), I am in a quandary.

What do I do with the 12 inches of exposed skin between the hem of my skirt and the top of my shoes? My odometer has spun past middle-aged, and while those exposed legs are useful they are not beautiful.

In the summer it's not a problem. I really like long, swirly skirts that distract from the blue veins on my ankles and feet, and if I'm sitting, I tuck those ankles and feet modestly under the skirt. In the winter, though, I not only have the blue veins showing even more prominently because there's not even a hint of tan on those ankles and feet, my legs quite frankly are cold.

Last night when my group met to discuss grace and faith and I brought up my pantyhose crisis, these founts of wisdom were NO HELP AT ALL. Several of them don't wear skirts, ever. The rest  have come to terms with their middle-aged legs and flaunt them proudly.

Oh, I hear you screaming "TIGHTS!" at the tops of your lungs, and I'm right there with you when I'm wearing my trusty Danskos, but while tights put the casual in business casual, they're not quite the ticket for trustee meetings or funerals. I've become one of the throwback pantyhose wearers who, as the Slate article pointed out, "aren't dying out at a fast enough rate."

What's your advice, fashionable ones? If Kate Middleton can't turn the non-pantyhose tide, what hope do I have?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Start of the Season

When the Boys were young, I became (of necessity) quite frugal. With four kids and only one teacher's salary for income, Husband and I squeezed our pennies until Abraham Lincoln yelped.

I mention this because as I was looking for a suitable illustration for today's post I came across this picture.The reason I include this photo is not to embarrass the Boy shown because, woochy-woochy-woochy, isn't he the cutest thing, with his inept wearing of his birthday hat? No, I include the photo because I still have that very same hat tucked away in a corner of the kitchen cupboard, along with five more pointed cardboard chapeaux.

A couple of decades ago, with birthdays rolling around more or less constantly in the House on the Corner, I refused to spend the $2 it would have cost to buy new celebratory paraphernalia for each Boy's birthday. The wearing of gently-used hats became a tradition.

Today I'm thinking of those hats and of all our birthday traditions because today is the start of the seven-week period that begins with my birthday and ends with Ephiphany. Between those bookends are an anniversary for Husband and me, the official Best Day of the Year (Thanksgiving), Christmas, Christmas break, and New Year's.

I. Love. This. Season.

I love Husband waking me up with "Happy Birthday!" this morning and the calls from the Boys, and the cards from family and friends. I love the dozens of greetings on Facebook and being reminded how extraordinarily varied and interesting the people in my life are. I love Thanksgiving's turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce--but not nearly as much as I love the family that will gather and feed my soul by bringing me pie. I love the cold weather and hot soup and warm rice bags on my feet when I sleep. I love the two weeks of off of work that don't count against accrued vacation (wooo!). I love the music and the smell of pine trees and the clanging of the Salvation Army bell-ringers.I love that the Boys will start gathering in a few days, and (full disclosure) I will love the quiet of the house when they leave again.

It's the best season of all, and my appreciation of this time of year started back when we were frugally re-using birthday hats and I was realizing that the things I loved were rarely things. 

I knew then, as I know now, that I could not be richer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Two Roads Diverged

It was the weekend, and the canna lilies in the front garden look like so many frost-bitten cornstalks right now. Saturday morning the temperature was a balmy 60 degrees, and the sun was shining. It would have been the perfect time to clean out these flower beds and pull up the quilts for winter.

But that same morning a group of women more or less my age gathered with needles and scissors and colorful threads to learn a centuries-old needlework technique.

I wanted to be there.

Sunday afternoon the plants in my garden that had been gorgeous during the hot, rainless summer had both frozen and drowned and looked terrible. It was another beautiful day, and I probably should have spent the afternoon tidying up and putting away.

But on Sunday afternoon Boy#3 and 300 or so of his closest friends proved that when it comes to marching band music even four overtimes isn't enough, and they played a concert for family and friends.

I wanted to be there.

This morning I walked past the cornstalk cannas and the bedraggled begonias and thought of how anyone else passing our house must have thought I wasted a weekend.

And in my flowerbed I saw this:

and this:

and I completely forgot to look at the cannas and begonias.

A wasted weekend? It was not.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I Love Instant Messaging

When I was in college my parents never had the chance for interchanges such as the one with Boy#1 that took place this morning. My life is richer because of technology. Or maybe it isn't, but I certainly laugh more.

Boy#1: The most disturbing thing I've discovered recently: (this link)
Check out the ages of George, Jane, and Judy and do a bit of simple math
Me: Oooh, creepy.
Boy#1: George should be in prison.
Me: And I am astounded that you have ferreted out this piece of information.

Boy#1: I'm both proud of and horrified by this discovery
Me: I understand both of those emotions.
Boy#1I think Boy#2 summed it up best: "One, I think law school isn't taking up enough of your time."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blurbs and Orts

What's with the title of this post? Why blurbs and orts? Well, from time to time I leave some business unfinished on this site. I talk about a subject, but never go back to say, "Oh, yes, I guess Boy#2 did make his plane after all." Or someone asks for a recipe and I forget to leave a link.

An ort is a bit of leftover food, and we all know what a blurb is, right? Wrong! Unless you are among a tiny percentage of English-speakers, you do not know exactly what a blurb is. A blurb, technically, is the gushing endorsement a fellow author writes for the back of a book cover, or the "I laughed! I cried!" description that shows up in trailers for a movie. Even though I like to think I have a fairly good grasp of vocabulary, I have used "blurb" to mean any short paragraph of information. A story-let, shall we say. In fact, that's what I intended with this title, but since I now know better, I'm using this word just because it's fun to say.

Blurb. Blurb. Blurb.

So here are a few orts:

1. This morning I opened my e-mail to find that The Reading Site is refunding yesterday's ill-advised investment. I'll be darned. The message says to expect to see the money back in my PayPal account within five days, and I'm saving my wahoo until then, but I was surprised my indignant e-mail demanding a refund got a response at all.

2. Several of my Faithful Readers have asked how my friend S is doing, and I shake my head in amazement as I report that she's nothing short of a walking miracle. This week, a little more than two weeks after she was shot in the face, she is in Boston nanny-ing her delightful granddaughter. She faces some dental reconstruction down the road, but has been released by all of her doctors. She told her story to her church family Sunday and gave credit where credit is due: God is good.

3. Speaking of violence, if you want a sobering but empowering read, I strongly recommend this. And Boys, please do read the article. It's not advice I ever would have given, but it makes so much sense. Have a plan.

And on that happy note, enough orts for today, and here's a blurb:

I laughed! I cried!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Back in the day, when I was a just out of college and working as a cub reporter on a newspaper, I wrote a weekly column. It was kind of like this blog, mostly stream of consciousness and oversharing and wildly uneven in terms of quality.

The column was important to me because I loved to write, but it also gave a purpose to life's irritations. Lost a contact? Good for a column. Someone backed into my fender? I could make an amusing anecdote out of it.

I flashed back on those days this morning when I did something so utterly naive that right now I can't believe I'm allowed out and about without a keeper: I responded to an e-mail that sounded too good to be true.

I know! How many times and in how many ways have I told the Boys  "There's no such thing as free," and "A fool and his money are soon parted," and "You won't get something for nothing, especially on the internet"?

Many times, and in every way I could possibly think of.

But this morning when I got the e-mail from The Reading Site, my Spidey senses must have been on break. The pitch seemed legitimate enough--download books, including recent best-sellers, and pay only one subscription price. And today (woohoo!) through a special offer, the subscription price is half off! That sounded great to me, since I love my Barnes&Noble Nook but hate paying for e-books.

You cannot imagine my chagrin as I re-read that last paragraph and realize what a sucker I am. I had a couple of bucks of birthday money, so I signed up for The Reading Site and thereby got access to a whole lot of books in the public domain that are free to download in any number of places, plus links to e-books that can be purchased through major bookstores. Those, of course, are the recent best-sellers, for sale at the same price as at Barnes&Noble but without the advantage of the free cloud storage.

There are two faint silver linings to the giant cloud of despair The Reading Site has put over my day. I used PayPal so my credit card information isn't in danger, and I've now used The Reading Site's name as many times as I can in this post in hopes it will rise to the top of Google searches when people try (as I did) to investigate its legitimacy.

The Reading Site is a scam.

The Reading Site is a scam.

The Reading Site is a scam.

The Reading Site is a scam, and I'm an idiot.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

No, this is not the part of the sky that is falling. These are leaves that are collecting in a cushiony pile right beside the back door, and are so beautiful that I can't bring myself to rake them away.

The part of the sky that is falling is the part of the sky that is INSIDE THE EARTH.

Yes, folks, we in the humble little corner of the Midwest that never experiences earthquakes have felt the ground shake at least twice in the past four days. Because I am such a naturally sanguine person who takes unexpected occurrences in stride, I sat quietly last night when I noticed my chair shaking, and calmly watched the lampshade shake for a few seconds.


Of course I didn't. Just like every single person with an internet connection and a laptop, I jumped online and posted "Hey! I just felt an earthquake!" on every social medium outlet to which I have a password. This prompted me to wonder: How did the cavemen know when an earthquake was happening?

Oooka: Ground shake? Gods of underworld angry?
Mooka: Not know. Facebook down.
Ooka: Facebook? 

The whole experience reminded me once again that extraordinary is defined by the ordinary. During my Peace Corps years I lived in a country where the ground is practically dirt-colored Jell-O. We didn't even notice tremors; unless pictures started falling off the walls it was just another day in paradise. But the people with whom I lived and worked were terrified by the idea of tornadoes.

"Why?" I remember asking someone. "Earthquakes are much scarier--with tornadoes you have warnings, and can get to the basement. A big quake means the earth SWALLOWS YOU WHOLE." 

Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, killer bees--when it comes to natural disasters, just pick your poison. Then read about it on Facebook.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Here's Your List, Honey

This is not a blurry photo. The camera is shivering.

Oh, I'm sorry. Did that seem a little hypercompetitive? Would you still think so if I told you the right team won the game 48-7? And that as a result Husband will be doing the grocery shopping for the next month?*

Yes, the boys in black made me proud Saturday night as they pretty much clobbered Husband's alma mater. That wasn't the story of the evening, though. The real story was the weather.

It was cold. So, so cold.

We had run the air conditioning on the three-hour trip to my hometown and my phone said the temperature was 57degrees--refreshingly brisk, it described the conditions. I put a decently-heavy coat over my patriotic garb (orange t-shirt and black sweater vest, as close as I could come to my high school pep club uniform) and laughed (Ha! Ha!) because silly me hadn't brought hat or gloves.

As it turns out, "refreshingly brisk" must mean something different on the north end of the state than it does in the sunny south. Adding a 20 mph wind to the mix made it feel arctic. After a summer during which I complained about the heat, oh, 112 times per day, I felt as if I'd been dropped off the end of the Titanic into the ocean and was waiting to slowly freeze to death. I found myself envying the second stringers on the sidelines who may not have been part of the glorious win but who had wonderfully warm-looking parkas.

At halftime Husband took pity on my chattering teeth and blue lips and suggested we listen to the rest of the game on the radio. Forty years ago I would have lost my left foot to frostbite rather than leave before the final gun but by that point on Saturday, even though the teams played another half, the game was over and I'm a lot smarter than I was 40 years ago.

Plus, I needed to get started on my shopping list.

*Husband claims the terms of the bet are invalid since (because I was too insecure about my team's talents) I designated both his and my antes. Hrmph.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

As We March on to Victory...

A friend once asked me whether the Boys had inherited their competitive natures from Husband or from me. I just looked at her. Had she even met either one of us?

Husband and I have been married almost 28 years, and we realized 27 years and 11 months ago that we should not play board games against each other. If I lost I pouted. If he lost he got really, really quiet. Either way, it made for an unpleasant aftermath.

Fortunately, we've mellowed with time. We've reached a point where we can play board games, as long as they're not card games (which I always lose) or Scrabble (which I always win).

Tonight our high school alma maters are playing each other in a state football play-off, and much more than just advancement in the championships is riding on the outcome--if the right team wins, someone else will be grocery shopping for a month, and if the wrong team wins, I'll be doing laundry for the same amount of time.

I feel fairly safe in making this bet because I can still sing my high school's entire fight song (with simulated cymbal crashes) and Husband can only remember the first line of his. Also, my school is the home team and we will be in attendance, the first time I've been in that stadium since, well, probably since they gave up the leather helmets. I just can't imagine the good guys will let me down.

BHS! BHS! The orange and the black forevvvvvvver!

Stay tuned for updates. Or pouting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Little Tree That Could

A couple of summers ago a fairly significant storm blew through Small Town. It wasn't a tornado, but in about four minutes half the trees in the backyard of the House on the Corner decided they'd had enough of that whole standing upright nonsense. The resulting bloodbath (sapbath?) of lumber meant we carted out the tree that had provided shade to most of the back of the house, and I wept sweaty tears.

Obviously we wanted to replace the tree, so we called our local landscaping guy and told him what we wanted: A tree that would be beautiful in both spring and fall, one that didn't shed a lot of trash (we already have a sweetgum back there, and holy cow, if there were a market for sweetgum pods we would be millionaires), and one that would grow fairly fast. Oh, and we didn't want to spend much money.

Local landscaping guy had just the thing--a young maple that had been hanging around for a while, so he could give it to us half price. It would be a year ahead of the others we were planting, and soon would provide shade for the whole back yard, he enthused!

Now, after two years, we know we bought the remedial maple. It's charming and likeable, but those few red leaves you see above? That's the whole crop.

By contrast the trees in the next door neighbor's yard that are the same age are in the gifted class. See?

But because we are tenderhearted and generally root for the underdog, we're giving our well-meaning-but-inept maple another year before we decide to put it out of its misery. It may be lousy for shade, but at least we don't have to rake many leaves.