Monday, April 30, 2012

Gardening Hands

Last Thursday, four days ago, my manicure was new and shiny. My hands were freshly moisturized, and smelled of white tea and ginger. Except for the abnormally stubby thumbs and that one fingernail that never grew out right after I slammed it in the Suburban door 20 years ago, these hands didn't look too bad.

But then came the weekend.

On Saturday I built some containers that allegedly will make me the Tomato Queen of Small Town and Surrounding Area. (After last  year's disastrous tomato season I'd be glad to get a single BLT out of my garden, but hope springs eternal.) I used power tools! And spray paint!

On Sunday after my nap I mixed the grow medium for the containers in the wheelbarrow, scooping up potting mix and perlite and squishing the rich concoction through my fingers before I planted my four tomatoes. And two basil plants, and a cilantro plant, and another tomato for good measure.

By the time I had rinsed out the wheelbarrow and coiled the hose back into place my hands looked as if I had dug my way out of Alcatraz using a spoon. The manicure was destroyed, a stick had punctured my cuticle, and the saber saw had worn a blister on my index finger. An extended session with a nail brush didn't budge the rim of dirt under my nails, nor did a clipper, nor did a toothpick.

This morning I'm typing with gardener's hands, and it isn't pretty. So why is it that every time I look down at my fingers I smile?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blame It on the Dance

Okay, I know I'm getting older every day, which is not such a bad thing except when I am suddenly and forcefully slapped in the face with my older-ness. That happened to me (again) over the weekend, and I now believe I have irrevocably stepped over into the white-haired generation.

As a person of the public relations persuasion, one of my responsibilities at Small College is to oversee the taking of pictures. Not the actual taking of pictures; this job is delegated to the young and artistic student assistants. But I am a whiz (if I say so myself) at herding people into place for group photos so others can snap the shot. I am firm (bossy), and make sure the tall people are in the back and the short people in front,  and the photographer is right over here so if you can't see her the camera can't see you, and sir, would you like me to hold your nametag?

Not so long ago A few years back When I was in college, the girls in the photos would have posed something like the lovely maiden in the picture above. Staring straight at the camera, feet on the floor, arms just hanging off of shoulders. Now, though, something has happened to our beautiful young girls.

They have become posers.

Point a camera in the direction of any female between the ages of 5 and 25 and she instantly will throw her butt and bust in opposite directions, dip her chin toward a shoulder so that hair drips over her eyes, and prop one hand seductively onto a hip. She transforms from a sweet, nice-looking young lady into Jezebel the Seductress, and this happens every. single. time she's in a picture, whether the girl is Lolita or Velma Dinkley and whether the event is prom or induction into an honor society.

I do not make up the "or induction into an honor society" part of my claim. At last weekend's event I arranged the smart and talented young women and men who are the newest members of Small College's oldest honor society. The moment I said "Look this way, please," the smart and talented young men looked this way and the smart and talented young women turned into Rhianna at the Grammy awards.  (Oh, no, I'm not linking that. Google it yourself.)

"Oh, for heaven's sake," I muttered irritably. "Drop your hands to your sides, please." They looked at me in horror, but they dropped their hands and straightened into respectable posture.

I blame dance lessons. Back when I was wearing clothes awfully similar to today's illustration, no one took dance lessons. (Well, we did have two weeks of ballroom dancing at the start of seventh grade, but you can bet Mrs. Steiner would not have put up with any posing shenanigans while she taught us the foxtrot.) Now every little girl starts pinning her hair into a ballet bun at age three. At three, that sexpot pose that ends a dance is adorable but it gets slightly less adorable and slightly more squicky every time she does it until age 25 when she comes to her senses. When you've been doing this for 22 years, that has to affect your brainwaves.

Young ladies, please listen to this public service announcement: This S-shaped pose is not a good look for you. Feel free to continue to do it, as I continued to wear the wildly flowered 70s garb until I came to my own senses. But believe me, you will regret these dozens of pictures later because frankly, you don't look sexy, you look like a dork.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Better With Age

Some parts of marriage get better and better with age. After 27 (and a half) years Husband knows that I'm not much for expensive jewelry or roses. Nope, the way to this girl's heart is through the produce department at WalMart.

Costa Rican honeydew, out of season and tasting as if it had been personally hand-crafted by the gardening gods.

Oh, my.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More Rewards

Do you remember a post a few days ago when I talked about "willing semi-competence" and implied that the warm glow of beneficence was the only reward we volunteers can count on?

That would be a wrong implication.

Yesterday I accompanied a community chorus of 30 singers or so in a Rodgers and Hammerstein tribute, and folks, this group puts the "mixed" in "mixed chorus." The youngest member is in her 20s; the oldest is in his 80s. A couple are music teachers and others are almost-professional quality, but some don't read music. They met every Monday night since January, belting out "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'!" and "Bali Hai," and the old favorites that made R&H the old favorites.

I was at my spectacularly mediocre best for the performance, which is to say that I followed the group gamely when they skipped measures or double-counted the rests, but that I botched the piano interlude in "Climb Every Mountain." Again. Dang it.

But even though I cringed when I missed the interlude's cursed and oh-so-exposed leaps from the bottom to the top of the keyboard, I was smiling. Before the program started, one of the ladies had pinned a corsage on me and thanked me for playing. Every single member of the choir had made a point to thank me for making the trip to Neighbor Small Town for rehearsals, and acted as if my frequent flubs and missed accidentals were merely Rachmaninoff clearing his throat.

When the final note of the concert sounded ("OKLAHOMA--Okay---yah!") the audience applauded, then stood, and we walked off the stage in a rosy glow of acclamation. I followed one of the women who doesn't read music but nevertheless had sung a solo.

"So how much fun was that?" I whispered to her as we crossed behind the curtains.

She looked back at me, cheeks flushed and eyes bright.

"That?" she said, "was wicked fun."

And that, right there, is the best reward.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Suitable Reward

Normally I try to avoid desserts, telling myself (and truly, believing) that yummy! fruit! is what I prefer. But three times each year Small College's trustees meet, and while the company is delightful, the days are long and the breaks are infrequent. They are my bosses, after all, and their judgments on my performance matter to the continuation of my paychecks.

During these days, I look forward to the carrot cake after lunch with enthusiasm that borders on the unseemly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What Today Looks Like

Here's what today looks like--a clock that reads 11 a.m., and I'm resisting calling home because I know SOMEONE might still be in bed.

It looks like a steak dinner, which (with our dual quests for low cholesterol and manageable restaurant bills) is a rare sighting in the MomQueenBee household.

It looks like a stubbled neck, unshaven today what with the office locked and the sign on the door reminding clients to call back another day.

It looks like old Jimmy Stewart movies and baseball games watched on the big television with the recliner tilted back, sometimes through closed eyes with the accompaniment of snoring.

It looks like Accountant Parole Day, one of the year's most eagerly-anticipated holidays.

Tax season is over.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Navigating the Uncharted Waters

There are certain sentences that I never expected to say.

"Could you make that tattoo a little bigger, please?"

"I'm sorry, I'm just not a fan of chocolate."

And of course, "I'm having lunch tomorrow with my father's fiancee."

But there I was, explaining to the pastor why I would be leaving church early and couldn't play the final hymn, and suddenly those words were coming out of my mouth. (The words about my father, not about the tattoo or chocolate. I still never expect to say those words.)

It must have been dreadfully hard for Dad to tell us in January that he and a lovely widow had been keeping company. Even though Mom had been gone for two years, he knew we all still missed her terribly. She had been the foundation of our lives, and we had been filling in the empty spot beside him with our memories of a woman who was the kindest, most gracious, most give-the-benefit-of-the-doubt person who ever lived.

But Dad, without a life partner after 58 years of marriage, had been desperately lonely. He hated going to Rotary dinners alone. He cringed every time he sat by himself in church. He rearranged his schedule so that his swimming was done as late in the evening as possible, so that he didn't have to come home to the big empty house where he and Mom had raised their family. He and the Lovely Widow had known each other for decades; he and her husband had been in a barbershop quartet together, and this quartet sang at my wedding. When he saw her sitting alone in church last fall, he invited her to lunch.

The rest, we might say, is history, except that it is a history in the process of being written. As I cryptically wrote a few months ago, these are uncharted waters. I have been sorting out my feelings, one moment overwhelmed with delight that Dad will be sharing his life with someone who also shares his love of music and swimming, the next moment overwhelmed with grief because at age 57, I still miss my mom and knowing that her house will belong to another woman feels a little bit like an erasure.

Mom, though, put the joy of her family above everything else. One of the worst descriptions I ever heard her use about someone was that he was a "dog in the manger"--comparing him to the snarling dog who couldn't eat the hay but insisted on frightening away the animals who needed the nutrition. She would be ashamed if our memories of her kept our father from finding happiness again with a woman who both loves him and honors the memory of his first wife.

So I was at peace as I chatted with Lovely Widow Saturday night, watching Dad's face light up as he came into the room. "I haven't taken my evening walk yet," he said to her. "Do you want to come with me?" She smiled, held out her hand, and they walked out the door together. The next morning their engagement was announced in the paper, along with all the other young couples who plan to spend the rest of their lives together.

We're still finding our way, but the waters are getting calmer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

At the End of the Road

Boy#3 was thinking about signposts in his life's journey as he waited for the results of an honors recital competition at his university last Friday night.

He thought about sixth grade, when his cardiologist told him he should consider not playing the trombone, and if he did continue with this lung-stressing instrument he should always be aware of how his body was reacting.

He thought about his freshman year in high school, when a college instructor brought in for a last-minute consultation before music contest was so cruelly (and unnecessarily) critical that he and his accompanist mother both left the lesson in tears.

He thought about his junior year, when the desperately-yearned-for I rating at contest was not awarded.

He thought about his senior year, when he was turned down for entry into the trombone studio at a university where he would have loved to study.

He thought about the first week in his beloved university marching band, when he was chosen as an alternate for the marching corps and wasn't selected to perform on the field.

He thought about all of those moments, when he could have easily chosen an off-ramp and decided on a different career, instead of continuing down the road that included thousands of hours of practice and had led to this moment. He knew he was competing against all the music students in this major university--the graduate students as well as the undergraduates, vocalists, instrumentalists, everyone.He had survived two preliminary selection rounds, and was among the final eight who had performed brilliantly.

Then he heard his name called as one of the three winners in the competition, the only undergraduate among the winners, and he knew where that road had been leading, and that finally, he had arrived exactly where he had set out to be.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

End of the Season

Spring has sprung early in Small Town this year. Our lovely mild winter (thank you, Kansas, and please remember how much we love you when we're cursing you in August!) has meant our phlox and whatever-the-heck-that-pretty-purple-flower-is are several weeks ahead of their usual blossoming date.

For most people the early spring was not a problem, but for those of us for whom the year has only two seasons (Tax and Non-Tax) the warm weather has led to a clash of priorities.

My accountant Husband normally takes the week after tax season ends to catch up on chores that have been postponed, and this usually is perfectly coordinated with the first lawn mowing. This year, though, the overachieving lawn was way ahead of his schedule. (Oddly, Mother Nature turns out to be much more flexible than Uncle Sam.)

Last weekend I went so far as to pull the mower out of the garage and try to start it. My I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar attitude lasted just long enough for my right shoulder to start hurting as I yanked the starter cord over, and over, and over to no avail.

So Monday at breakfast I mentioned that I might be trying to mow the lawn with the hedge clippers. I came home for lunch to find the following:

Hooray! It's a mowed lawn! With a Mohawk haircut!

I was properly enthusiastic about the mowing, but when I asked Husband why he had left the one little strip unclipped, he looked at me blankly.

"You know, at the time I thought it would be funny, but I don't remember why."

You may not want him to do your surgery this week--I think sleep deprivation is setting in.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fruit of a Different Color

In an excess of willing semi-competence, many months ago I agreed to do a program for a Small Town women's group.

"You write a blog, don't you?" the program chairman asked me, with just a touch of the frantic in her voice. "Just talk about blogging."

And even though there probably are half a dozen bloggers in the group I'll be addressing, the combination of flattery (she thinks blogging is program-worthy!) and the aforementioned willing semi-competence led me to agree to do the program. Then I promptly forgot all about it.

Funny thing, though, how pages keep flying off the calendar like the transition animation in an old movie, and that program is getting closer and closer every day. I'm finally beginning to think about what I'm going to say, and realizing that these ladies may think they're getting an apple when they're really getting an orange. Or a kumquat, or some other fruit that bears no relation to an apple at all. In this case, the apples are the big, well-read blogs, and the other fruits are the rest of us who overcrowd cyberspace.

A comment on yesterday's post brought that back to me and made me laugh. Out loud.

Swistle is one of my favorite bloggers, and she has thousands of followers. She is raising multiple children, she is funny and outspoken, and she thinks and writes about interesting things in a way that makes me say "huh." I loved her post on Spite Charity, and when I commented on it she clicked back over to this humble corner of the internet, and brought along HUNDREDS of her readers. It was astonishing fun to watch the site meter click up and up that day.

Today Swistle commented on yesterday's post about my car's new vanity plates.
Oh, that is so fun! And what blows my mind about things like that is that 
one of your readers might actually SEE you! And be like "OMG THAT'S HER!!"

Hahahaha! What the big bloggers who routinely watch their site meters click up and up and up don't know is that we fruits of a different color usually can wave at each and every one of our readers individually. (Hi, Dad! What's up, Boys? Hey, Husband, love you!) Most of the comments we get on our posts either come from the person standing next to us in the check-out line at Wal-Mart, or during greeting time at church.

That doesn't bother me in the least--really, it frees me up to be semi-competent. I'd have to work awfully hard if this blog were one of the big ones, if it were a Pioneer Woman or Electric Boogaloo. Instead, I can write about anything that strikes my funnybone or grows in my yard or lives in my heart.

Being an apple would be fun, but I'm kind of enjoying being an orange or a kumquat. Hi, there! I'm waving at YOU!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Bling

Hey, look! My Christmas present from from Husband and Boy#4 finally arrived!

Now when you see one of the 18 gazillion champagne-colored Ford Escapes on the road, you will know which one is MomQueenBee and honk a friendly "howdy."

Or stay really, really vigilant.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Nom, Nom, Nom

I think I may need more practice in cooking holiday meals now that we're down to two normal-sized appetites (Husband's and mine) and one small-sized appetite (my 90-year-old mother-in-law's).

Leftovers after the Easter dinner include nine pounds of spiral sliced ham (minus three slices), four dozen crescent rolls (one batch, minus two each), three quarters of a small cheesecake (which wasn't very good, and will be given to the garbage disposal today), and most of a bowl of broccoli salad.

We ate all of the asparagus and strawberries because we are so healthy, and because the batch of crescent rolls actually was minus several quite a few more than two each.

Friday, April 6, 2012

In Defense of Willing Semi-Competence

I am at best an okay piano player. Oh, I am not without certain talents. I'm a fabulous sight-reader, and I can make the offertory end at the exact moment the collection plates reach the front of the church. But I hate sharps, and my stubby thumbs make running octaves impossible. Nevertheless, I never say "no" when I'm asked to play the piano.

What I have is willing semi-competence.

 I know without a doubt that there are better, more accomplished, more polished pianists in Small Town, most of whom probably wince when they hear me fumble the measures following a page turn (as I always do). I also know, though, that if there is any way to fit a request into my schedule I will play for any funeral, wedding, music contest, community chorus--well, anything that requires me to pull out my black accompanist skirt and sit down at the keyboard.

That's because my mother taught me that willing semi-competence trumps unwilling perfection, and she was right. If I waited until my skills were perfected, I wouldn't have spent my spring Monday evenings playing for a community chorus of mostly octogenarians as they belt out Rodgers and Hammerstein classics. I would have missed encouraging a sixth grader as she played her clarinet solo with the piano accompaniment for the first time and grinned at producing "REAL music!".

The truth is that most times, when people ask you to do something, they know what they are getting and they don't care. When you are asked to host a meeting, they know that the remodeling of your living room was done imperfectly, and that each Sheetrock seam shows. They don't care. When you are asked to bring a dessert to a funeral dinner the organizers know you will use a cake mix rather than bake from scratch. They don't care.

What you are being asked, when you are asked to do something, is whether you are WILLING. And if you are willing, you probably will be asked again, because willing is a lot more rare than perfection. (Just ask anyone who has tried to find volunteers for, well, for almost anything.)

You also will find that there is a great satisfaction in being willing. You will be part of the group that meets in your imperfectly-remodeled house, and find friendship and support there. You will be right beside the kid who has just nailed that solo, and be splattered by the overflow of joy. You will know that even if you messed up the introduction to "Climb Every Mountain," the program wouldn't have happened at all if you hadn't been willing.

Of course, there are times when willing semi-competence is not enough. I would not look for this quality in my surgeon, for example, or in my mechanic or my kids' teachers.

But in an awful lot of the parts of life that are filled with satisfaction, I'll still take willing semi-competence over unwilling perfection. Something is almost always better than nothing, and unwilling is nothing.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Double Asterisk

It's no secret that I think the Boys are brilliant, or at least as brilliant as one could think any four humans are  when one has seen those humans through the succession of haircuts they have had. (If it can grow out or be washed off it's not worth fighting over. That was my mother's motto, and I have appropriated it as my own.)

In the past few weeks, though, I've received confirmation that at least one of my offspring is brilliant.

Three of the four Boys communicate with me mostly through instant message. Because I'm at my computer much of every day, they know they can let me know they're still alive, as well as get my super-secret chili recipe, simply by logging on to Google Talk. They also know, though, that because my time at my computer is spent editing, I DO NOT LIKE instant message shorthand.

I've made my preferences clear to my sons: Do not key in "how u doin" and expect an answer from me. No, sir. Spell out words, with proper capitalization and punctuation. And if you decide to use a word such as "'sup," you'd better know that the Urban Dictionary defines this as A term that cool people use because they are too d--- lazy to say What's up. (Too much effort involved there man.), and use it ironically.

Anyway, the older Boys let me know that if one makes a spelling mistake in a text or instant message, etiquette says the next line should be *correctspelling. I could be a perfectly proper IM-er thusly:

Hey, were you coming hom for Easter?

Easy, huh? But now Boy#2 has come up with an even better solution. If the misspelled word is one that's obvious, he simply types in two asterisks. 
Hey, were you coming hom for Easter?

This means, he says, that you know you made a mistake, you regret the mistake, and you are moving on. Brilliant, no?

It set me to thinking of all the times when I wish other life situations had similarly simple "moving on now" signals. I could serve the over-salted potatoes, announce "Star star," and no one could mention that I'm really not a very good cook. Or I could accidentally cut a driver off on the bypass, lean out the window and yell "star-star," and the other driver would know I wasn't really a jerk-faced idiot. (Although given the way cut-off drivers usually react, maybe the apology needs to be a hand signal, since that seems to be the lingua franca of the road.)

Texting may be killing the English language, but the least we can do is be polite while we watch its demise. 


Monday, April 2, 2012

Raindrops on Roses, Whiskers on Kittens

...and $5 bouquets of alstroemeria from the grocery store that will last for days and days and days.

Much better than girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes.