Friday, September 30, 2011


This has always been one of my favorite trees at Small College. I drive past it every day on my (one-block) commute home.

This maple was planted when the science building was built half a century ago, and has grown into one of our most gorgeous harbingers of the changing seasons.

It's the first to leaf out in the spring, and its branches burst with fire at the first touch of fall weather.

This year I haven't loved the tree as much. Can you see why? Maybe you'll see if I give you a different view.

Husband thinks the tree-hugger in me is out of control ("Woodsman, spare that tree!"), but I'm devastated by this mutilation. I understand that branches need to be trimmed away from utility lines, but this?

This makes me want to weep.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Curmudgeon's Lament

My Free Space group is working through a study on God's grace and last night our leader had us close by singing "Amazing Grace." There weren't many of us, and none has a voice that is more than passable, but the melody and message stayed in my head all night and woke me this morning.

In the world of church music, I am a curmudgeon. I have been dragged into the world of contemporary Christian music much as I have been dragged into the world of pre-made pie crusts: Everyone else is doing it so it must be the right thing even if what we're making doesn't seem to be as good as what we used to have.

Reading the words written by a reformed slave trader so many years ago, though, made me remember what I love about my favorite hymns. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come. Great Is Thy Faithfulness. They are not only tradition (which, I confess, I love) but are solid explanations of a theology to which I adhere: God's grace has brought me safe thus far, and it will lead me home.

By contrast, I find most praise music the equivalent of those teen-aged girls you see hanging around in the mall--beautiful and stylish, deeply emotional, but tending toward the shallow and mind-numbingly repetitious.

That isn't to say I don't appreciate the mall girls. They can be fresh and cute, they're usually inoffensive, and they often make me smile. They may even grow up to be wise and wonderful adults. But if I want depth or something that prompts me to think, "Yes, this is what I believe," I go to my old hymnbook.

Its message is amazing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Role Model

When my father was 69 years old, he had quadruple bypass surgery.

He is not the guy you expect to have heart problems--he was a school administrator so he put in his fair share of desk time but he was the kind of school administrator who isn't behind the desk very much, and if you didn't find him roaming the halls at school his "hobby" farm meant he was probably bucking bales or shoveling hog feed or scooping out grain trucks. He didn't smoke, and my dietitian mother cooked meals that were filled with vegetables and whole grains even before the food pyramid was built.

In1996, though, my 13-year-old nephew was chosen to throw out the first pitch at a Royals baseball game.  Dad was there to cheer Josh's strike to home plate, but as my father walked down the ramp from the stadium to the car, he felt a tightness in his chest, a shortness of breath. Being the man he is he didn't say anything about the discomfort. The next day, when he experienced the same symptoms in a less strenuous moment of taking out the trash, he did.

Three days later he was in the operating room where doctors opened his chest and rebuilt his heart's circulating system. Dad came through the surgery beautifully, but a few weeks later was back in the hospital. He had developed clots in the leg incision where the reconstruction vein had been removed, and some of the clots already had moved to his lungs. Then he developed an allergy to the heparin used to dissolve the clots.

Any of these health crises could have killed him--the heart attacks, the blood clots, or the allergy.

Instead, Dad fought back. He recovered from the immediate health crises, then set his sights on recovery perfection. He would eat right. He would walk the prescribed two miles, twice each day, in every kind of weather. And he would swim, lap after lap, in the school natatorium that his own fundraising made possible a decade earlier.

When the natatorium had trouble finding personnel to staff the early morning hours, Dad became certified as a lifeguard then volunteered to open the pool several mornings a week at 6 a.m. for early exercisers.

Last Saturday my father climbed into the pool at the state Senior Olympics five times. Five times he climbed back out as the gold medal winner. If you were to ask him about the competition he would say that the level of competition in the 85-89 age group is limited, and that he's just glad he didn't have to be towed in. He would say it's just a game, no big deal.

To which his family would say, "Dad, we couldn't be prouder if those medals were pure gold and you were Mark Spitz."

And he would be wrong, and we would be right.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Good Report

When the Boys were younger my least favorite day on the school calendar was one that rolled around just about this time of the semester. It's the day blocked off with an ominous-looking X that was labeled "NO SCHOOL. PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCES."

This didn't actually become my least favorite day until we'd had children in school for a few years and had been lulled into complacency by the feel-good reports that had marked preschool and kindergarten.

"He does a great job!" "So nice and well-behaved!" "Reading well above grade level!"

Why, you'd have thought we were raising a whole pack Osmond children based on the reports of well-mannered overachieving.

Then came Boy#2's kindergarten year. Husband and I parked ourselves in the tiny little chairs they provide in the first grade room and prepared ourselves to respond humbly to the report we expected about the wonderfulness that was our second-born.

Mrs. P. didn't disappoint. He was so bright, and such a leader, and blah-ba-dee-blah. We cast our eyes down modestly.

"There's just one thing," and Mrs. P.'s sweet kindergarten-teacher-ish voice dropped to a whisper. "It's about...the spitting."

And at that point I died.

We had a nice, long family chat about spitting that night, but from there on out school conferences were accompanied by a wary expectation that someone was going to want to talk to me about spitting.

This weekend was Parents' Weekend at the university where Boy#1 and Boy#4 are enrolled. While it doesn't have carry the same dread of the unknown as school conferences did, this kind of weekend is designed so that moms and dads can see how things REALLY are going with their bay-bees. Are they healthy? Getting enough sleep? Keeping up in classes? Making friends? It's a wonderful relief to be able to answer yes, yes, yes, and yes.

It's also a wonderful relief that One and Four still like to hang out with us, and with each other, even if a certain oldest kid makes fun of his mother's favorite hobby, and so is getting his picture published in said hobby:
Also known as smart-aleck.

Ha. Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel, or with a woman who blogs. And because I've always been the mom who wants to keep things fair (hahahahaha!) a picture of the youngest kid as well:

Spiffy new band uniforms
I was glad I got this shot because I spent the rest of the evening squinting at the field and saying, "Is that him over there?" No, that's a trumpet player. "How about there?" Nope, that's a baritone.

At least there wasn't any spitting.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Road of Good Intentions

We're off on a road trip today to see Boy#1 and Boy#4--it's parents' weekend at the university where both are conveniently enrolled. (This location was formerly referred to as "Far University" but since we now have a Boy studying at a University that is even Far-ther, I'm going to have to rename. Far University South?)

Since we started this college merry-go-round I've been racked with guilt at not being a very good college mom, or at least I've thought to myself, "Hmmm. I wonder if I should be doing something now that the Boys are all far away? Naw, Top Chef is on." My friends are terrific college moms who send their children care packages and little notes and other reminders that even though the young'uns are far away, they are still present in their hearts. I, on the other hand, THINK about doing those things but the thoughts mostly stay in my head.

So last night I decided to whip up a batch of cookies to take along today. My go-to recipe* is the Molasses Crinkles recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook we got as a wedding present. It's kind of like my chocolate sheetcake recipe--foolproof, and guaranteed to be good.

Except when it is not, which is the case when you open the cupboard to get out the baking soda and the container of cupckake liners drops into the bowl of the mixer as it is in the process of whipping up the shortening and molasses and eggs. It is astonishing how many cupcake liners can be incorporated into batter during  the frantic lunge to turn the mixer off.

I pulled the sticky papers out and did the best I could to scrape off the goo before I finished adding ingredients, but I think the detour might have affected the final product, since instead of being flattish and crinkled the cookies are roundish and smooth.

It's the thought that counts, right?

*Hey! I just found the recipe online! It's here, but if you don't want to click over, I'm copying it in. It's a BETTY CROCKER recipe. I did not create it myself. I'm giving credit, Betty, so don't send your lawyers after me.

Molasses Crinkles
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  •  1 cup packed brown sugar
  •  1/4 cup mild-flavor molasses or full-flavor molasses
  •  1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
  •  2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Granulated sugar  
  • Mix shortening, brown sugar, molasses and egg thoroughly in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients except granulated sugar. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Heat oven to 375°F. Grease cookie sheet. Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Dip tops in granulated sugar. Place balls, sugared sides up, 3 inches apart on cookie sheet. Sprinkle each with 2 or 3 drops of water. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or just until set but not hard. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    My People: Addendum

    As I had anticipated, yesterday's post about my people, specifically Husband and Brother#2, and their freakish knowledge of the Weather Channel personnel stirred the pot in the House on the Corner. It created a low level disturbance, you might say.

    Anyway, this was the first exchange of e-mails after the post:

    Husband to Me: I figured this would end up in a blog.  I don’t think you’re quoting us correctly but I’ll let it slide this time.  Nice picture of Nichole Mitchell, by the way, but she’s not there anymore.

    Me to Husband: And, bang! My point is proven! :-)

    He replied something along the lines that it proved nothing, and just because he knew Nichole Mitchell was going to law school doesn't indicate any kind of superfan status. (Yes, we do discuss this kind of thing in e-mails. Don't you and your husband?)

    The discussion continued this morning over breakfast, since we simply cannot let a good thing die a natural death. Husband contended that while he may know the goings-on in the lives of the Weather Channel personnel that it's no different from my following the comings-and-goings of hosts on the Today show. To which I pointed out that I don't even watch the Today show.

    Husband: "Okay, well what about Top Chef? Why isn't Tom Colicchio hosting any more?"

    Me: "That is totally not a good comparison. It's not even Top Chef season right now--we're in Top Chef Just Desserts, and that's hosted by Gail Simmons and Johnny Iuzzini, and ..."

    At that point I trailed off, hoist by my own petard. I think maybe knowing the hosts of Top Chef and Cupcake Wars may be even higher on the nerd and dweeb scale than knowing the weather girls.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    These Are My People

    I spring from a family of nerds and dweebs, and I married into a family of nerds and dweebs.

    Would you like to know what underlined this fact over the weekend, and added a handful of exclamation points for emphasis? That would be the conversation I overheard between Husband and Brother#2 as I was gathering provisions for our trip to Small Town's fabulous music festival. (You'd think I was setting off on the Oregon Trail if you were judging by the provisions I packed, including both sunblock and rain ponchos, but that's another story.)

    We were scheduled to leave just as Small Town was hit by a thunderstorm that included lots of wicked-looking lightning so the men in the house checked the Weather Channel to see if we should brave the storm for a chance to hear my favorite band. (Names in the following exchange have been changed because my brain is a leaky sieve and I don't remember what the names were, but the essence of the conversation is EXACTLY RIGHT.)

    Husband: "Oh, good. It looks like Michelle's back from maternity leave."

    Brother: "Yeah, I think she had a boy. Did Janie get done with her military service?"

    Folks, my husband and my brother know the Weather Channel women BY NAME. I can barely keep my sons' names straight, and these two not only knew the weather-chickies' names, they also knew their work schedules, their weather specialties (I didn't even know you could be the Low Pressure Girl) and apparently, their due dates.

    As soon as I stop my eye-rolling, I'll let you know how proud I am.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Fashion Queen

    I have some definite fashion do's and don'ts dos and don'ts do's and don't's preferences when it comes to dressing in public: 

    No jeans for me, unless I am in my own home behind closed doors. I am shaped in such a way that I would doubtlessly end up on People of WalMart and never be able to show my face (or badonkadonk) in public again.

    No bare legs except with sandals. Age and genetics and giving birth to four children have conspired against the kind of beautiful legs that can pull off nakedness. (Liz Lemon and I agree that pantyhose are God's gifts to women with spider veins.)

    So how was I dealing with the mud and slop at Small Town's fabulous music festival Saturday? Rocking the tennis shoes and crew socks with a skirt. Oh, yeah, I'm a fashion queen.

    Fortunately, as Brother#2 pointed out, we were surrounded by this:

    and this:
    and this:
    His exact words?

    "As long as there are tie-dyed muumuus in the world, you will not be the least fashionable person here."

    Thanks, Bro.

    Monday, September 19, 2011

    Definition of Perfection

    Lunch perfection
    Brother#2 and I didn't spend nearly as much time at Small Town's fabulous music festival as we had intended. After a full summer during which we prayed for rain nearly every day, Mother Nature chose to throw open the clouds during the four days of the year during which we'd have been okay with some sunny weather.

    I'm no fair-weather fan but I don't especially like being soaked with the prospect of no dry clothes (wait--I think that makes me a fair-weather fan) so Brother and I waited for the Weather Channel radar to stop showing ominous red patches over Small Town before heading for the festival grounds.

    Just for the record, more rain fell during the festival than during the three months before the festival. Still, except when lightning was actually setting nearby transformers on fire, the music plays on. People put on their boots and ponchos and spend time between sets laughing at the small children getting stuck in the mud. (Really! Brother and I giggled and giggled at the youngster turning slow circles around a muck-entrapped left foot. Because we're compassionate like that.)

    In fact, the cool weather added a certain coziness to the proceedings that a sunlit day would have lacked. Clouds and moisture wrapped around the boundaries of the festival until it felt like its own idyllic little world.

    I found myself  watching my favorite band on stage, while I slowly chewed the most perfect reuben sandwich I've ever eaten (charred exactly right, just to the point of almost-burned, and with sauerkraut salted to perfection) and sipped a cappucino.

    Brother looked at me and said, "I don't think there could be a more perfect moment than this."

    Nope. There could not be.

    My favorite band, as seen over my sandwich

    Saturday, September 17, 2011

    A Sad Commentary

    No Froot-Loops? What the heck?
    Brother#2 is here for the music festival so I put out all the cereals for his breakfast selection.

    It was at that moment that I realized the Boys don't live here any more.

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    My Cup of Tea

    Contentment in a cup
    When I went to bed last night I hadn't decided what I would be doing this morning.

    Normally I don't give that question much thought: If it's a weekday I'm getting up, watering the drought-surviving flowers, and going to work. If it's a weekend I'm getting up and heading out for a football game or church.

    But earlier this week I had gone through the formality of requesting time off so I could spend the day with Brother#2 at Small Town's fabulous music festival. Except that, whoops, it turns out that Brother isn't arriving until tonight.

    Normally I would think, "Well, I have plenty of work to do, I'll go to the office after all and use that vacation some other time."

    But today dawned chilly and grey, exactly the kind of day I always arrive at the office and announce "I wish I were at home with a cup of tea, a good book, and an afghan."

    So I am.


    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Bring On the Stupid

    I like to think of myself as a moderately bright person.

    Oh, who am I trying to kid? I like to think of myself as an extremely bright person, although that self-image is severely damaged every time I stand next to a champagne-colored small SUV for several puzzled moments, wondering why my key won't open it, before I realize Pearl is on the other side of the parking lot. Whoops!

    I can spell "accommodate" without wondering which letters are doubled. I can multiply 8 x 12 in my head and come up with a reasonably close approximation of the right answer. I know the difference between a direct object and an indirect object.

    So why is it that I turn into The Stupidest Woman In The World when faced with insurance options?

    Please realize that I am in no way complaining about having insurance. When, one year ago today, Boy#4 decided to forgo the brakes and use his face to stop his bicycle, our total out-of-pocket expense from the $10,000 hospital bill? Forty bucks. God bless America.

    This morning Small College held its annual open enrollment session for insurance, which is the opportunity  employees have the option of changing the benefits we earn with our employment. Folks, bring on the stupid. Between this option and that frill, I was completely bumfuzzled.

    Have you changed your marital status since last year? Only if you count "every day older and wiser."

    Have you changed your number of dependents since last year? Hmmm. They've been less dependent on my help with Spanish homework, but more dependent on their father's tax expertise. What does that net?

    Are you interested in a vision supplement? Yes, please, I like to see. A fitness center membership? No, thank you, I hate to sweat in public. AAAAAFFLLLLLAAACCCC? (Sorry, I had to do that in a duck quack.)

    And then, I realize I may be only moderately bright but 28 years ago I married an accountant, and that these are the kind of questions he answers for a living.

    That decision? Extremely bright.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Design Flaw

    The renovation at Small College continues apace outside my office door and has reached the point of real lights being installed. I was glad to wave good-bye to the work lights dangling from extension cords, but I laughed when I saw these lovely fixtures.

    If you have reared boys you know that these lights will be an irresistible attraction to the male half of the school's population. I guarantee that every single testosterone-laden student that walks down this hall will do so smacking each light: Whap. Whap. Whap. Whap.

    I spent the past two decades scrubbing fingerprints off the tops of doorjambs--four Boys testing their height and jumping abilities left their marks where most housekeepers would not think to clean.

    The architect for this project obviously has only daughters.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Where I Was

    The last-minute off-to-school flurry was at its chaotic apex when 13-year-old Boy#2 appeared in the door to the kitchen. He moved stiffly and spoke anxiously.

    "Mom, I can't move my neck. I've been in the shower trying to loosen it up, and I can't turn my head."

    The terrible things that this could be flashed through my mind. Meningitis. Encephalitis. Polio. Before I had reached Boy's side the tasks that had been so crucial a few moments before were forgotten, the lunch sandwiches still open-faced on the kitchen counter as I picked up the phone to call the doctor.

    I didn't turn off the radio, though, and as I spoke to the nurse I vaguely heard the puzzled note in the NPR announcer's voice as he informed us that a plane had flown into a World Trade Center tower. I'm sure I paused to listen for a moment, but I'm also sure that in that moment the welfare of my son was much more crucial to me than what I expected would turn out to be a minor news bulletin.

    Even later, as I sat with Two waiting until it was time to leave for his doctor's appointment and we saw the Twin Towers fall, I couldn't comprehend that we were seeing the end of our illusion that Americans are beloved around the world. I was much more preoccupied by the lump on my son's neck, and whether this child, my child, was in danger. I resisted the almost irresistible urge to drive from school to school picking up my sons and my husband, yearning to have them close enough to touch.

    Much later that day Two's doctor, in tones that were sombered by the events of the world, told me  that a lymph node in my son's neck was reacting to a virus, and that in a few days he would be fine.

    Then, with my own child safe,  I could begin to grieve for the other mothers and wives and husbands and children who lost loved ones that day, and to think about how really, we would never feel completely safe in this world again.

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    They Do It All!

    The remodeling at Small College that has displaced my office group includes the installation of a new men's bathroom. Yesterday I walked past this box from a plumbing supplier.


    Apparently that famous bathroom fixture maker not only makes toilets, they also make repositories for the ashes of our dearly departed ones.

    That's bold of them.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Uh, What?

    So, MomQueenBee, what's it like to have an aging brain?

    It's like this: When I was younger, I could knit and watch television and read a book, all at the same time. Or I could simultaneously talk on the phone, plan supper, and decide what color to paint the living room.

    My brain was a multi-tasker extraordinaire.

    Nowadays my brain is more focused, which is to say, I can do exactly one thing at a time. I can walk into a room, or I can remember what I was walking into the room to do.

    It's as if my brain is a bulletin board but instead of using push-pins to keep a task up on the board I use PostIt notes, and the sticky part has lost its stickum. I put up the note "Hey! Remember to (task)!" and the note sticks until the next note is posted, then the first wafts gently to the floor, where it lands face-down.

    Hey, there's something I need to remember! I see it there, but I can't read it because it's face-down on the floor!

    I want my brain's push-pins back.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Things I Love

    I've used this space lately to rant about several things about which I am not so fond these days. Grasshoppers. Summer heat. Congress.

    If you didn't know me better, you might conclude that I am something of a hater, but nothing could be less true. There are dozens, nay, hundreds of things things that don't annoy me, and right in the middle of the cluster of Things I Love are sunflowers.

    Did you hear the angels sing and the little birds in the trees clap their hands (wings?) at the mention of that word? I loooooove sunflowers. Love them. And I'm not one of those trendy folks who have come to loving sunflowers in the past few years when they have been country trendy or shabby chic. No, I've loved sunflowers since I first associated these sturdy blossoms with the onset of fall weather.

    "Take heart!" they always seemed to say cheerfully. "We survived, and so did you!"

    Husband and I spent part of the long weekend on the farm, and this is prime season for the wild sunflowers that grow in that part of the world. When we left for home it took us 40 minutes to drive the two miles along the gravel road that leads from Shady Oaks to the highway because every few yards I'd yell "Stop! Stop here! Those are the most perfect ones! I need to take a picture of THOSE EXACT SUNFLOWERS!"

    I loved the ambitious clumps next to the big hay bales, which were attracting little yellow butterfly-like creatures that I've heard are actually the final life stage of some kind of devastating variety of cornworm  but looked beautiful as they fluttered and darted.

    I loved the fields completely packed, fencerow to fencerow, with sunflowers growing wild and useful for nothing but beauty, and I loved the single stalk sturdily growing in the roadside gravel just because it could.

    Even common weeds seemed uncommonly beautiful, as if they'd been posed at the edge of the cultivated field for my enjoyment.

    The sunflowers were so cheerful, and the sky was so blue, and the noises around me were all about how much there is to love about where I live--who could hate?

    Thanks, Kansas.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Ask the Grammar...Person

    Question: MomQueenBee, I hear you think you're pretty hot stuff when it comes to the Grammar-ing of America.

    Answer: Why, yes, and if this blog had video you'd see me blushing prettily as I admit that.

    Q: Then why is this blog not named something like Grammar Curmudgeon, or Grammar Goddess, or even Grammar Grouch?

    A: Because those names are already taken by people who know a lot more about grammar than I do. Also, because this frees me up to make mistakes, then say "What? You expected the Grammar Goddess?"

    Q: So if you were a grammar goddess, what would be on your mind today?

    A: Thank you for asking! I'm thinking about apostrophes. Or, as many of the young writers in this country would say, apostrophe's.

    Q: Which of those is correct?


    Q: MomQueenBee, you are going to damage that desk if you keep banging your head on it like that. Do you have any easy rules for using the apostrophe?

    A: Yes. The first and most important thing to remember is that the apostrophe is not used to create a plural. Not now, not ever. Not yesterday, not tomorrow. If you have more than one of something, add an s. Or an es. Or make a different word altogether. Hamburgers. Coaches. Children. BUT NEVER ADD AN APOSTROPHE. Those signs you've seen outside of people's houses that say The Smith's? THEY ARE WRONG.

    Q: You know, MomQueenBee, it's not all that attractive when spit flies out of the corners of your mouth like that. I think we need to continue this lesson some other day.

    A: I need a cup of coffee. Please make it decaf. 

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    An Open Letter to the Summer of 2011

    Stop. Now.
    Dear Summer of 2011,

    I give up. I'm waving the white flag. Please stop with the heat and dust, with the grasshoppers and crickets, with the humidity and sweat.

    You win.

    You have been a horrible, mean, vicious season, and I see you there with your "Mwahahahaha! Have some more heat TODAY!" Oh, there are moments of unintended beauty, such as this morning when the sunlight streamed through the dust cloud that enveloped the ENTIRE CAMPUS after Husband mowed our lawn, but I am over you. I concede that you have beaten me with your relentless efforts that make me feel as if my entire life is a hot flash. (Oh, sorry, Boys. I promised to warn you before I used Those Words, didn't I?)

    You have set the record for the most 100-degree days, a record that had stood since 1936. You realize how long ago that was, don't you, Summer of 2011? People in 1936 didn't even air conditioners to keep them cool while they watched "Toddlers and Tiaras." The horror!

    But now that you have won, please go away. It is September. We want to see autumn leaves drifting by our windows, autumn leaves of red and gold. We're ready for pumpkins and scarecrows.

    Yes, I know that in February I'll be wishing you were back because by then I'll be whining about how cooooold I am, and how tiiiiiiired I am of slush being tracked into the house. That's a whine for another day though.

    For today, Summer of 2011, go away.