Monday, January 30, 2012

Pip-Pip, Old Chap

Much Older Sister, Younger Sister, and me. Or maybe not.
Being sick has its downside. The aching. The sneezing. The endless nose-blowing and Kleenex-throwing-away-ing. This particular episode of the epizooties has had a definite upside as well, though: I've discovered Downton Abbey.

I know exactly what you're thinking-- Where have I been for the past two years and has anyone ever come quite so late to such a good party? The answers to these questions are "busy watching Cupcake Wars" and "no."

I'd heard of this PBS series, but because my PBS watching tends to be limited now that I no longer frequent Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine, I'd missed the opening episodes and didn't want to jump into the middle. A day or two at home with a virus-riddled attention span and Netflix was the perfect time to catch up on last season, and for the three days I've lived and mouth-breathed Downton Abbey.

Oh. My. Heavens.

That estate. Those dresses. The ironing of the newspaper to dry the ink and protect his lordship's fingers from stain. The romance, the plotting, the WAR.

I tried to describe it to Husband, who isn't a big fan of movies that don't feature either Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne.

"It's this family, see?, and they live in a castle in England and have all these servants, but they only have DAUGHTERS and Mary's fiance was on the Titanic so now who knows who's going to inherit  Downton? and oh, Anna and Mr. Bates and his horrible wife--"

At this point Husband interrupted me.

"They live in a castle?"

"Well, no, not a castle exactly because there isn't a king there, but it's like this really enormous--place?"

And I trailed off because if I couldn't get past the second line of my description there was no way of explaining the absolute crisis that comes from not having a footman serving the gravy because the footman is off helping the heir to the estate STRAIGHTEN HIS TIE before they go into battle against the Germans.

Then I watched last night's episode and went to bed. This morning I woke up sneezing and headachey (again). Husband took one look at my chapped nose and said, "Hey, don't worry about supper tonight. I can find something for myself."

I must have still been under Downton's spell because my vowels were round and plummy as I replied. "Oh, do you mind? It would be most awfully kind of you."

At least I didn't make him iron the newspaper.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Grown-Up Perks

I woke up this morning with a slight sore throat and the beginning of a headache. I'm not really, really sick, but I'm also not completely well.

In the olden days, I would have gone to work anyway, because tonight the Small College basketball team will face Big Rival in our own fieldhouse and my mantra as a mother always was "If you don't go to school, you don't go to the ballgames, either." I really want to go to that game.

But hey, guess what? As an adult I not only have sick leave, I also have vacation days so if I'm feeling up to it tonight, my sick day just turned into a vacation day.

There are times when I love being a grown-up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Desk Cleaning (Addendum)

Photographic proof of order
I imagine some who read my post yesterday turned up their noses in disbelief.

Really? Coupons from 2003? Hundreds of printed-off recipes? BABY TEETH?

I'm not a Hoarder, really. The problem with this corner of the House on the Corner is that mixed among the recipes for Impossible Pie and the dozens of honor roll clippings were concrete memories.

The autograph of Buck O'Neal, who happened to be in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum the day we toured it and happily signed a brochure for the baseball-crazy men in my family.
A work of art, handily labeled in case the subject matter was not immediately clear. (Oh, if only Picasso had been so thoughtful.)
Gift coupons from Boys too young to have cash to buy gifts. When I received them I had no trouble reading the inscription inside the card; as I cleaned it was a little more difficult because I think I had something in my eye.
These are things that we will do. These are coupons.
A cherished award, and a mother's day card.

This morning I was talking with a co-worker whose oldest son has just entered his teenage years.

"I don't even know him," she said. "This child, the one we've loved since we knew he was going to be born, and have cherished and taught to be the best person he possibly can--who is this person I don't even like any more?"

I reassured her that each of my four Boys went through a year when they were strangers to me. They were all unlikable in a different way (Mr. Surly, meet Mr. Uncooperative. Oh, hi, Mr. Cries-All-The-Time! And when did you get here, Mr. Eye-Rollingly Contemptuous?) but my mom had promised me that this stage would only last one calendar year. She was right, but for one year of each of my beloved offsprings' lives, I clung to that promise like a barnacle to a rock.

Eventually each would come back, and when they returned from their voyages in Unlikable Land, each was different. He had become the first stage of the man he would someday be, rather than the child he had been.

Cleaning off the desk reminded me of the children they were, and how much I loved those children. But it also reminded me of the men they are, and much as I love my clean desk, that was the best thing about the day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

La Casa Encima

Every once in a while during the years I lived in Costa Rica my little Tica mama would look around and in a wildly dramatic voice proclaim "Tengo esta casa encima!"

That was the signal for everyone to quietly back away and disappear: Chena had just declared that she had the house on top of herself, and that she was going to turn into a cleaning machine. If you didn't want to be furiously swept out with the dust, best make yourself scarce.

The punchline to that story is that the house Chena needed to crawl out from under was always immaculate, a veritable poster child (poster house?) for the Costa Rican tendency toward order and cleanliness.

This weekend I had a rare Saturday not committed to meetings, rehearsals, or travel. I stood at the kitchen sink, looked across at my "desk," and channeled my inner Chena: "Tengo esta casa encima!"

For years this spot across from the island has been the catch-all for papers, cookbooks, mail I didn't want to deal with, and all manner of what-nots and tchotchkes. Every once in a while I would take a stab at beating back the collecting creep, but I always wore down before putting a stake through its heart.

Not Saturday.

Saturday I pulled everything off the desk and off the shelves above the desk. It was a revealing look into my personality. Apparently I think I can cook, if the 39 (yes, thirty-nine) cookbooks are any indication. But apparently I think I can't cook, because I had over the years cut apart and saved three separate recipes for Impossible Pie.

Oh, yes, I did.
Also, I am under the misapprehension that I write letters. I threw away approximately four quintazillion address labels, keeping only enough to last me through the next decade (two sheets of 10).

I discovered a secret cache of coupons. Do you suppose Apple Market will still take these?

The expiration date on them, in case your screen isn't clear, is 2003.

But the best thing I found was in a little white plastic treasure chest. I pried open the clasp and realized that maybe I should clean a little more often.

Why, yes, those are baby teeth. They are not mine.

I have thrown the teeth away, but I still haven't decided what to do with the 25 cookbooks that have no place in my de-cluttered kitchen.

At least they're no longer on top of me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012



That's the word that took me down in the junior high spelling bee during eighth grade, the year I had determined the state championship would be MIIIIINE! I was a crackerjack speller, but apparently not a biscuit speller because when I drew that word I stepped to the front of the room and proudly enunciated B-I-S-Q-U-I-T.

Then I spent the next half hour crying in the bathroom, victim of Bisquick advertising that apparently had stealthily etched itself into my brain wrinkles. The long hours I had spent poring over the Topeka Daily Capital word lists? All for naught. N-A-U-G-H-T.

Yesterday I was the pronouncer at Small Town's city spelling bee, perhaps my favorite community service role. I love seeing a third grader stretch to reach the microphone, then nail the word perfectly. I love saying "That is correct" when the fidgety sixth grader declares "Sphere. S-P-H-E-R-E. Sphere."

I love it so much that when the tiny youngster came to the microphone to say "Afraid. A-F-R-A-I-D. Afraid." I must have been thinking of how much I loved spelling bees instead of listening, because I said, "I'm sorry, that is incorrect."

Oh, yes, I did.

I only realized my error when the three judges sitting beside me practically whiplashed themselves turning to me with "Whaaaa...." expressions.

Little girl with the blonde hair and bedazzled pink BFF sweatshirt, I am so, so, so sorry. To make up for my gaffe (G-A-F-F-E), I'll write the first paragraph of the blog post you'll be finishing in 40 years:


That's the word that scarred me for life when an incompetent (or sadistic?) pronouncer erroneously called me out during the 2012 city spelling bee. I have never recovered from the humiliation, and I trace my life as a gun for hire to that moment, when I promised myself I would never be A-F-R-A-I-D again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wearing Her Clothes

My mother grew up believing she was not beautiful.

She was wrong, of course, but in a world that values thin-legged blondes, Mom was the un-Barbie. She was tall and dark-haired and her legs were decidedly sturdy.

But because she believed she was not beautiful, Mom became stylish. She chose clothes that were perfect for her and gave them her own touch--an oversized piece of jewelry, or an unexpected scarf.

And because she was stylish, my mother grew more beautiful every year of her life. She didn't care that the skin around her eyes was wrinkling; that was a product of smiling, and she was nearly always smiling. She was comfortable in her clothes, and in her skin, and her attitude reflected her belief that all would be well.

Every once in a while she sent me home from a visit with a bag full of her hand-me-ups. "That jacket looks better on you," she would say, and because she knew my style better than I did, she was usually right.

Now that Mom is gone, I find myself going through my closet and touching the clothes she gave me. Somehow her essence has survived wearing and laundering and dry cleaning, and it's comforting to know that the fabric I touch also touched her skin.

My extended family is sailing into some uncharted seas right now. We have full confidence that God is captain of our ship, but we don't know what kind of voyage He may be taking us on, and there may be some rough waters before we reach port. (Have I milked that metaphor enough?)

This morning, I put on a vest and skirt Mom gave me, and as I look down at the clothes she once wore I borrow some of her style and her calm.

I trust that all will be well.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Farewell Food

Maybe its the vestigial remains of the mother's responsibility to feed newborns. Maybe it's a habit reinforced by decades of making sure kids were nourished. Maybe it's simply something I do to keep my hands busy while I'm trying to stay appropriately composed as I prepare to say "drive carefully."

Whatever the cause, I seem to believe my loved ones will starve to death if their cars are not filled with food when they pull away from the curb.

Friday night my father was in the guest room at the House on the Corner. He had promised to contribute dessert to a chili dinner Saturday, so I was up even before dawn cracked (thank you, long winter nights) to get a couple of pies in the oven.

Then a few hours later Boy#4 became the final one to clear out after Christmas break. Packed in among the five loads of freshly-laundered clothes, computer, trombones, music stands, and other detritus of a month-long break were two boxes of Cheerios, most of a sheetcake, and two dozen bierocks.

Some people say "I love you" with flowers--I say it with calories.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mudengruber (A Political Parable)

One of my reunion buddies is a first grade teacher in Alaska. Her school attracts an interesting diversity of students, but this is the first year she has had a student from Germany. She noticed an interesting phenomenon, which I retell here. Make of it what you will.

Chris, the German child, didn't speak any English when he arrived in Alaska, and his new classmates were fascinated by his native tongue and anxious to make him feel welcome. One Alaskan child tried to speak to him in "German."

"The Alaskan kid thought he could just say anything that sounded German and Chris would be able to understand it," my friend recalled.

"Mudengruber, Chris," the Alaskan boy said enthusiastically. It sounded good, but it was gibberish, and Chris stared at him without responding. "Mudengruber! Mudengruber, Chris!" the first child said, this time a bit impatiently.

Now the rest of the class was beginning to think they, too, could speak "German."

"Mudengruber! Mudengruber!" they chorused.

Finally, they left Chris alone and went back to playing, and Chris wondered why he couldn't understand what everyone was trying to tell him when they said it so loudly, convincingly, and enthusiastically.

And now, as I listen to the various candidates and their followers speaking loudly, convincingly, and enthusiastically, I will end my string of political posts at two.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


This portrait was borrowed from a campaign site. Thank you!
Have I mentioned that I'm not much into politics? I've delegated the political interest duties to Husband and Boy#1, who are passionate history and making-of-history buffs.

Right now, though, it's impossible to avoid politics even if you're only interested in the MSNBC front page as a gateway to the winners of People's Choice awards. (Not that I'm saying that personally applies. Not to me. No, sir.)

That's where a picture of the Romney family caught my eye. "Huh," I thought. "They certainly seem to have an unconscionable number of children, but they seem quite...familiar."

And then I pulled out this shot:

You know, I think if the Queen Been family were plunked down in the middle of a baseball field, we could act as stunt doubles for the Romneys. All we need is one more Boy. And a gabillion more dollars. And a shorter skirt. And some hair dye.

Okay, maybe not.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Not a fabulous picture, but also not an easy shot to take
Of all the 348 posts that have so far graced this little corner of the internet (I know! Three-hundred forty-eight! So. Much. Blather.) the one entry that has provoked the most reader comment is this one I wrote about the fashion faux pas that is the pantyhose. (That are the pantyhose? Pair of pantyhose, like pair of pants, has never made good grammatical sense to me.)

Pantyhose clearly are out of fashion, but what do we women who are past the first blush of youth do about our no-longer-beautiful legs? It would be nice to think that my legs have the shape and skin tone to stand up (Haha! See what I did there?) to public nudity, but the sad truth is that their shape is mostly derived from spider veins holding hands. Can I still cover them with pantyhose or is that just too, too, opposite-of-de rigueur? I asked you, my Fashion Council, to weigh in on this weighty subject.

Weigh in you did.

"No pantyhose! Never, never, never!" some of you cried.

"Pantyhose are permissible, but only sheer, and only with closed-toed shoes in a formal setting," one fashionista declared.

The grand majority, though, were like the Who's down in Whoville raising your voices in a mighty and united chorus:


Tights are the ONLY way to be fashionable without sacrificing warmness, you said, and there was no wiggle room whatsoever in this opinion. So rather than risk being a Fashion Don't it was off to WalMart to see what was available in the way of tights. I came home with all the colors of the rainbow, assuming the rainbow is made up of dark brown, heather grey, and black tones.

This morning I pulled out the brown pair and prepared to be fashionable. This is what I found:

People, this is the fully-extended top of the tights. It is intended to travel past my milkmaid calves, pudgy knees, and way-too-amplitudinous hips to settle around a waist permanently extended by lugging around 30 pounds worth of unformed humans for a total of three years.

Maybe you don't quite understand the full import of the photo above. How about this?

These tights are the same size at the top as my camera case.

Still, I've never been one to shrink from a challenge. I squirmed my fist through the right leg and started pulling it on. Surprisingly, I was able to get it all the way on that leg, although I had to stop and rest before I tackled the left leg.

As it turns out, tights apparently are made of some kind of modern miracle stretch fabric. I not only got them on, they make me feel young and sleek.

Kind of like this.

Oh, it's good to be fashionable.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Things I Worry About

I try to not worry about things I can't control. Weather. Politics. The Boys.

But I do like to get things right when I can, so this morning I'm wondering: What happens if you accidentally put the earbud marked "R" into the L ear and the earbud marked "L" into the R ear? Could you permanently damage anything that may be located between the two?

Because I care about my brain. I never watch re-runs of Cupcake Wars--one time of hearing Florian say "Dees ees 'evvy, 'evvy, 'evvy" may have already done damage and I can't afford to lose any more neurons.

L to L and R to R it shall be.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


There was a time in my life when I set out toward perfection every January 1. It was a New Year! A blank slate! In the new year I'd be nicer, and smarter, and thinner, and more disciplined, and, well, perfect-er.

I'd remain glowingly perfect until the enthusiasm for these traits wore off, which was normally around January 3 when I realized again that I am a mass of imperfections and irresolution.

New Year resolutions, in my experience, are only successful during the rare alignment when I begin something on January 1 that I want to do anyway and would have done no matter what the calendar said. New Year's just happened to be a convenient moment to drive a stake into the resolution and pin it to the wall. (Obviously my newest resolution does not deal with non-mixing of metaphors.)

This year, though, I'm serious about taking a step toward perfection. For some time I've known I needed to be more physically active, but I have made a science out of physical inactivity. Folks, I'm really, really good at not moving. I work in a sedentary occupation, sleep like a log, am incredibly efficient in using as few motions as possible to accomplish any physical task. This is, of course, the exact opposite of how a late-middle-aged woman who hopes to live long enough to see her grandchildren should behave. I should be moving! Stretching! Working both my aerobics and my strengths!


So I already knew I should be moving and then I watched this video. Go ahead--it's less than 10 minutes and worth your time.

So my resolution is that this year, I'm going to be in motion for at least half an hour five times each week. I'm not doing it to lose weight (although that would be a most wonderful side effect), or rather, I'm not doing it only to lose weight. I also want to be healthier, and more energetic, and yes, dang it, I want to play with grandchildren some day. (That wasn't nagging, Boys, just observing.)

So far, I've kept my resolution for six weeks because I started this new year the Monday after Thanksgiving. I've loaded the app on my iPhone and downloaded A Game of Thrones onto my Nook (the better to distract myself from exercise with) and actually look forward to both the music and the medieval intrigue as I ride the exercise bike and slog away on the elliptical at 5:45 every morning.

Sooner or later, though, I know I'm going to get bored or tired or sick, and that's when I'm counting on you, my loyal reader(s), to keep me encouraged and accountable. Ask me how my resolution is going and sheer embarrassment may keep me sweating.

Doesn't that sound like fun?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

(Insert Adjective Here)

I've tried at least half a dozen adjectives as the title of today's post but none seemed to exactly fit my emotions right now.






This morning Boeing officials told 2,100 workers that their plant not far from Small Town was being shut down and that by the end of the year no one would be working there. The announcement came just months after this same company told the Kansas congressional delegation that they PROMISED, they PINKY-SWEARED, that if those elected officials could help Boeing get a tanker contract the plant would stay open and that ON THEIR WORD OF HONOR another 7,500 jobs would come to this very plant.

Oops! I guess the Boeing guys had their fingers crossed, because after this morning's announcement not only are those 7,500 jobs not coming to our state, 2,100 families now working in Wichita will have to find different jobs.

I am not so naive as to think that corporations (and politicians, for that matter) are always honorable in their dealings. This, though, seems like an unusually egregious breach of honor.

Boy#1 described it best: This is Boeing announcing it was getting a divorce, after it had an earlier affair and somehow managed to convince Kansas that it was its fault Boeing had been cheating, and Kansas had bought it a whole lot of diamond necklaces to try to hold the marriage together.

The only adjective that can describe the aircraft company, One said, is "despicable."

He could not be more correct.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back at Work: An Accounting

There are certain days that employees really shouldn't be paid for their attendance at their job. Those are the days immediately after long breaks, when "being at work" doesn't necessary equal "working." (The day immediately before a long break is the same not-equal-to equation, but we won't talk about that today.)

If I were to account for all the minutes I've spent at the office so far today, it would look something like this:

15 minutes: Re-plugging in all the computer equipment I had unplugged last year (that makes the break sound like so much more than a week, doesn't it?) as a hedge against lightning hitting the administration building.

5 minutes: Thinking of euphemisms for curse words after hitting head, multiple times, on the desk as I crawled around looking for the proper connections to make the gosh-darned computer work again. Also, shoot and diddly-dang.

25 minutes: Comparing breaks with co-workers. Woo-hoo! We didn't experience the pink-eye that infested the designer's family. Boo-hoo! No new car in the parking lot, unlike the registrar's assistant.

20 minutes: Taking Pearl to the dealer for a minor interior repair. What the heck, I wasn't doing anything useful.

12 minutes: Figuring out (again) how to re-record the message on my phone to reflect my re-establishment of office hours. For future reference, the button-pushing sequence is 100, password, 3, 2, 2, 1, pound key. You're welcome.

28 minutes: Realizing my e-mail inbox is almost full, in spite of my careful monitoring of its contents over break. Turns out that all those panicked last-minute e-mails about the ads that needed to be done before break add up to a heapin' helpin' of kilobytes.

And here we are, at mid-morning. Whooo-eee. I'm worn out just writing all these activities down.

I think I need a break.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Boy#3

January 2 may be the worst day of the year to have a birthday.

On January 2, the whole world is tired of celebrating. We have just come through the official Best Day of the Year, followed by the run-up to Christmas, followed by Christmas, followed by the last gasp of festivity known as New Year's Eve, followed by the gaping stupor that is New Year's Day, and then we have "What? A birthday? Do we have any leftover cake we could put a candle in?"

Happy birthday, Boy#3!

In spite of the disservice done to him by making him the not-quite-New-Year's-baby of 1990, Three has grown up to be a wonderful young man. I know that because when he asked me to make some kind of special treat for the trombone section as it loads the bus for a nine-hour trip to a bowl game and I suggested sugar cookies, he did not recoil in horror.

I know! What was I thinking? I am the world's worst sugar cookie maker, but I never remember that until I have put six hours of stress and a full pound of butter into the World's Worst Sugar Cookies. I envisioned this batch as four dozen snarling purple PowerCats, the perfect pre-game chow for a major bowl game. Instead, well, they're kind of lavender and globby.

"What you do is tell your friends that I ordered them from the bakery," I told Three, "and that I am never, ever doing business with that store again. The nerve of them sending such a mess...."

He's a good kid, so he laughed.

I'm sure it was an oversight that the lavender globs were accidentally left on the kitchen island when Three packed his car and left this morning. Fortunately, he'd only been gone a few minutes so Husband was able to catch up with him at the first stop sign and the World's Worst Sugar Cookies made the trip after all.

You're a good sport, Three, and I hope your whole year is as terrific as you are.