Thursday, September 27, 2012

Especially For My Friend

A dear friend read yesterday's post about my experiences in dealing with the sudden death of my mother, and wrote me a lovely e-mail. "You are salt," she told me, the highest compliment I know.

Only a few moments later, though, came a follow-up e-mail.

"Of course, I often wonder as I'm reading your reflections (especially the serious ones) 'Where does MomQueenBee see God in all of this?'" she wrote.  "Perhaps that's not the direction you want to go, and I respect that. But since that's the side of you that has ministered to me, I miss it."

Ouch. For the second time in two weeks, I had missed the main point--where did God fit into those days and weeks? This morning I looked down the row of funeral mourners at my friend L, the mother of the boy we were mourning. Her face was a mask of sorrow and pain, and I was praying that as she drowns in tears God is revealing to her the same things He reminded me when my mother died.

1. God is love. This one is hard to remember when all you are seeing is loss. God is big enough to handle the inevitable "why did this happen?," and the anger, and the frustration. When I hugged L last night and told her we'd get together next week, left unsaid was the knowledge that we'll be hurling questions at God, while knowing that He loved her son (and my mother) even more than we did.  

2. God is in control. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 139:5--"You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me," and I whispered it often after Mom died.  It reminded me that I am not just flopping around aimlessly in this world--God has put me into a me-shaped indentation in His hand, and is carrying me where He wants me to be. Which leads me to the final point:

3. God does not waste pain. I believe this. I believe it with all my heart. When we suffer (as we have been promised we will, as long as we're on earth) God will use that suffering for a greater good. We may never know what that greater good was--we cannot see God's face, only the train of His robe--but we can be comforted that He never takes pleasure in our pain and never, ever wastes it.

I was devastated by the loss of my mother, and I cannot even comprehend the pain of losing a child. But the bone-deep convictions that God is in control, and does not waste pain, are His promises to get us through.

We have to believe: Love overcomes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What I Learned

Until my mother died suddenly and shockingly, I had never been in the inner circle of a sudden or shocking death. Oh, I'd had relatives and friends pass away, but most of those did exactly what the words say--they passed away in old age or in illness, when moving from the they're-here-with-us stage to the no-longer-with-us stage was expected.

Mom's death was different. She was old, but still wonderfully herself until the fall and traumatic head injury that took her in the Biblical twinkling of an eye.(Her body lingered another day, but she was irrevocably gone after the fall.)

Here's what I learned when Mom died:

1. Tears have a life of their own and do not respect your wishes. No amount of saying "I'm not going to cry," or "I'll wait until I'm alone to cry" will stop tears, and a friend reminded me to carry tissues at all times and for at least a year. Tears are not a bad thing, they are God's way of reminding us He is present. I did sometimes wish He would announce His presence in ways that were not quite so nose-reddening, but I was not in charge.

2. Even if it made me cry, I wanted people to talk about my mom. Among the most comforting moments of the entire week were the few seconds during the funeral home visitation when one of her friends pulled me aside.  "You know, your mother looked so beautiful at church Sunday that I mentioned it to Raymond," she told me. "It's almost like she had a glow around her." Even now, I smile (and, of course, cry) to think of that moment.

3. If you take food to the family, use disposable containers. Food is a wonderful and useful way to let the family know you're thinking of them. In the first few days much food will be brought in, though, and having to keep track of casserole dishes and platters is a stress that they don't need.

4. Here are some things the family will need: Food storage containers. Toilet paper. Paper plates and paper towels. Kleenexes. Coffee. Soft drinks. A notebook for keeping track of who has visited the house. Folding chairs for visitors. Stamps. Gift certificates for pizza, to get through the numb days that will follow when visitors have gone home.

5. Cards are comforting. Before, I rarely sent sympathy cards because I thought the Hallmark moment was just too impersonal. I preferred a hug and spoken word to comfort the grieving person. I still do that if possible, but reading a card in private, especially one that contains a hand-written note, has healing power as well. The note doesn't need to be long or beautifully crafted--"Your mom always smiled at me" or "I loved to hear her play the flute" is enough.

6. Everyone grieves on a different timetable. My boss gave me wonderful advice at Mom's funeral. "Don't try to come back to the office too quickly," he said. "Once you're at your desk, people will expect you to work." So, so true. Also, it's considered bad form to shriek "Seriously? You think I care which headline font you use? My mother just DIED."

 7. Finally, don't disappear. Be there, and allow the family to do whatever they need to do. They may cry, or need to walk away, or...well, anything. Don't be surprised. Just be there, with them in this sudden and shocking place they never expected to be.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Groans Too Deep for Words

Small Town is weeping today.

Two days ago my friends got the phone call every parent dreads. Their son, a beautiful, smart, talented 21-year-old, had died in his sleep. At this point no one knows the reason; autopsy reports take 10 weeks, and until then there's no way of knowing why an apparently healthy kid did not wake up.

We don't know why, we only know that he won't be coming home from college, and our hearts break.

The death mores of our society are inadequate for this grief. We hug, and confess to each other that we just can't stop crying and are ashamed of our inability to control our emotions. We envy the African women who mourn their losses with keening that can be heard for miles. We wish we could rend our clothes and throw ashes on our heads but that is not our custom. We can only call each other and sit in stunned silence, wordless with the unfairness of this death.

Because that's what it seems--unfair, and capricious, and unspeakably cruel. He was a good boy. This is a good family. His parents were limitless in their love and made the good choices the rest of us hope to make as parents. No one could point to a single moment that might have predicted this boy's life would end so soon.

And still....

In this village that has raised this child, we share the grief because we loved this child and we know this call could have come to any of us. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Date Night

Last night Husband and I went on our biennial date night. Guess where we went?

The Lion King! 

And if you wonder why we only go on biennial date nights rather than biannual date nights (and yes, I had to Google these words to make sure I was using them correctly--every other year, not twice a year) it's because of a little detail found in the upper right corner of this photo. See it? No? How about now?

We only go on dates every other year because holy cow, dating is expensive. We were four rows from the very back of the balcony, and our tickets cost $67. Each. On Thursday night, which is the "cheap" night of the week.

Fortunately, we were slightly paranoid about making the opening curtain so our romantic date restaurant was our favorite hometown burger-ish place and...I'm sorry, was I making a point? I suddenly had an image of hand-breaded onion rings and I think I passed out for a moment.

Anyway, as we waited for the animals to appear (and the animals were SPECTACULAR), Husband and I reminisced about our long-ago dating years when we didn't think twice about getting tickets for this kind of the show, what with the two incomes and the no kids.

Then we got married and had Boy#1, and I quit my job to stay home and not work. (Hahahaha! I always have to laugh about that not-working description. Ha.) We also moved to Small Town, where we knew we'd prefer to rear our children but where the concerts and theater productions are largely homegrown and free admission. We simply couldn't think of shelling out the cash for theater or Mannheim Steamroller tickets when all four Boys needed shoes and a free orchestra concert was going on right across the street.

Now, though, we've reached the stage where we're not paying for babysitting or school lunches or music lessons or any of those day-to-day kid-raising expenses, and $67 tickets don't seem like the exorbitant splurge they did a decade ago.As I was dithering over whether or not to order these, Husband pointed out that he'd spent more than this on the tickets to watch Boy#3's marching band show and accompanying football game.

Huh. The date night schedule may be going from biennial to biannual. Chalk it up to the win side for the empty  nest.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Looking Through...Well, You Know

Image borrowed from
I've hit "publish" on my last few posts with much cringing and covering of eyes.

"Who is this woman?" I imagined my reader(s) shouting. "Why does she pretend to be the EXPERT on raising teenagers? How dare she clutter up the internet with 'You'll get through it,' because this STINKS."

Oh, reader(s). I totally get it, and if I were in your shoes I'd be smacking my cyber-self in the back of the head. I have not forgotten the traumatic moments. "I just feel like all we do is fight," one reader (who, if I'd had to pick the perfect mother, would have been wearing a winner's sash) e-mailed me.

I do remember those days when every.single.word was a landmine. Is this the one that's going to blow up in my face and provoke a day of sulking, even though I was KIDDING? And a year ago he would have laughed? Is this the battle the mythical they were talking about when they said to pick my battles? Or am I just being over-protective/over-demanding/over-parentish?

Am I ruining this child?

Is he ruining me?

As you go through this stage, though, don't forget that there are some really nice things that are true about the teenaged years. I hereby present the list of the Top 10 Things About Having Teenagers as Opposed to Having Whatever You Had Before You Had Teenagers.

1. They can take their own baths.

2. When they vomit, they can reliably hit the bucket.

3. If you need an onion while you're making supper, yay! Someone else in the house has a driver's license.

4. You probably have more or less settled into the activities he likes, so you don't have to attend all those baseball games where you will live with stomach-clenching fear that the ball is going to be hit into left field. (Substitute debate, or dance, or scholar's bowl, or whatever activity he tried as a kid and was really terrible at.)

5. You never have to watch "Barney" again in your life. Ever.

6. On car trips to Grandma's house, even sullen silence is better than a toddler screaming for four hours because he just chewed through his pacifier and you are NOT buying any more pacifiers.

7. No more finding the farthest corner of the WalMart parking lot for an on-the-road emergency feeding! Wooooo! Bonus: You still remember where every single box store parking lot is between here and Grandma's house.

8. When you ask "Where does it hurt?" he can tell you, and you are still the one he wants around when he does hurt.

9. If the house is too quiet, there's no sudden panic that you didn't get that permanent marker put back in the cupboard above the refrigerator. 

10. They get your jokes. They may not appreciate your jokes, nay, they may RIDICULE your jokes, and ROLL THEIR EYES, but they get them.

Oh, yes, life as the parent of a teenager is just grand.

Hang in there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Main Thing

Matching shirts, completely different boys

Here's what I neglected to talk about in Friday's post concerning the rearing of teenagers, and the thing that was the most important factor of all in getting through the Boys' teenage years: Knowing that God was in control.

The teenage years are about the transfer of power from you to your child, and this is a tricky business. Up until now, if you've been a good parent, you've had the power over externals. You decided when he was going to bed and when he was getting up, you monitored when (and what) he was eating, you tried to surround him with other kids who appeared to be good influences. In all the ways that matter to a kid, you had the power.

During the teenaged years, though, all of that parental power gradually shifts to the teenager, and no one makes that transition without at least some chaos. Sometimes the chaos is epic in its scale.

Suddenly you're waking up at midnight, or 2 a.m., and his light is still on while he finishes homework (or a video game). He's bringing home a friend that doesn't seem quite...nice. He's "forgetting" to turn in the job application, and missing curfew, and talking to you in a way that makes you think "if I had talked to my mother like that...."

And you know you aren't seeing the worst of the teen behavior. As parents (and oh, I am so in this club) we only see a tiny fraction of our children's lives once they are out of elementary school. We don't see how they behave with teachers or friends. We don't see their online lives.

Nevertheless, we have no choice but to transfer our parental power to these kids who are being so utterly unpleasant. (After Friday's post Husband reminded me of the time we took a bedroom door off its hinges for a week as a reminder that doors were not for slamming.) This is not an optional exercise; for healthy children, this transition to independence will be made whether you are ready or not, regardless of your opinions concerning the teen's readiness.

The only way I was able to get from one day to the next was by turning them over to God.

Hundreds, no THOUSANDS of times during their teenaged years I reminded myself that no one loved these boys more than Husband and I did--except God. That no one cared more what happened to them--except God. We did our best to be good stewards of the lives that had been entrusted to us, to "train them up in the way they should go," but ultimately the One who was in control of their lives was not us--it was God.

So today when someone remarks that we have nice Boys (and we do have great Boys) my response is not one of false modesty. I am sincere when I say that we wouldn't have taken blame if they had turned out to be sociopaths, and we won't take credit for the terrific men they have become.

We thank God.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Deep In the Heart of Texas

"Does it seem like you and Dad travel a lot more now than when we were kids?"

Hmmm. Good question, Boy#2. We seem to travel more but go fewer places. Back in the day the old Suburban rumbled through "The Laura Ingalls Wilder Lived Here" tour, and the "Forts of Kansas" tour that took us more than 1,000 without ever crossing a state line (not as easy as it sounds, by the way) and it felt as if we covered quite a few miles. That may have just been the amplifying effect of "vacationing" (irony quote intentional) with four children. Now, though, we're out often and it doesn't feel like a big deal because our travel is of the "Which Campus Is This Again?" variety.

Husband and I were on the road again this weekend, this time headed due south to an unnamed university  whose identity could NEVER be discerned from today's photo.  This is a long drive, and due to its being due south from Small Town, there is really only one way to get there, and the state symbol of Oklahoma appears to be a "FINES DOUBLE IN CONSTRUCTION ZONE" sign. 

But, no moping and complaining here because at the end of the long drive were two Boys, and one Boy got to be the very tip of Texas during the pre-game show. 

Hello, Brownsville! You've never looked better!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Parenting Teen-Agers

Yesterday Swistle (she of the genius-level Spite Charity, which is saving my molars from being ground completely to nubs during this political season) commented right here in this little corner of the internet. She had two requests--one was a picture of the in-progress T-shirt quilt. Done! (Unlike the actual quilt, but one of these days I'm sure there will be numerous posts about it.)

The other request was more much more difficult to complete.

"I am dying of discouragement with my first teenager, and he is only on the CUSP of all the really scary teenager stuff. If you felt at any time like writing survival-tip posts, I would hang on your every word," she said.

The reason this is difficult to complete is because we parents of post-teenagers have a dirty little secret that we don't normally share with any parents just starting that stage. We don't normally share it, but since Swistle asked so nicely, I'm going to whisper it in your ear. The secret is this:

There is no secret.

There. It's out. We all, and I include every single parent in the world in this generalization, are making it up as we go along. We are doing the best we can every day, then getting up the next day and doing it again, but we don't have any Magic Keys to Contentment for You and Your Teen. 

I did not imagine that would be the case, back before I had teenagers. Then I knew exactly how I was going to parent them through this moat between childhood and maturity. I would be firm but fair. I would love them unconditionally. I would listen to their side of their story, but I be the PARENT not the friend. I would remember that my relationship with their father took precedence over my relationship with them. I would remember that I was the adult.


Ahem. Oh, they're terrific "rules" and I still believe in them, but occasionally I would look back on my list of Magic Keys and shake my head because those rules assume an orderly progression in the universe and the teenage years are the anti-orderly progression. Then I would do the best I could until the end of that day, and get up the next day and do it again.

That said, because you asked for survival tips, here are a few that helped me. I preface these by saying that they helped with MY teenagers in MY family, and your mileage may vary. Even now, when the Boys have emerged from the teen years and have not yet served jail time, I remind myself that far better parents than I cannot say the same thing. (You are reading Woulda Coulda Shoulda, aren't you? If not, you should be. Next to my own mom, this may be the wisest mother I know, and she's dealing with heartbreak beyond heartbreak.)

1. Remember that at this point the brain housed in your beloved's skull is completely wack-a-doodle, to use a technical term. NPR had a really good story about the teenaged brain, and it helped me realize that the hijinks that left me drop-jawed were not necessarily designed solely to drive me crazy. The question "What were you thinking?" may elicit sullen silence not because they're sullen  but because they really don't know what they were thinking. Or they may be sullen, because they are up to their beautiful blue eyes in...

2. Hormones. They have a lot of them, and the control mechanisms for these hormones apparently were made in a third-rate sweatshop because they are defective. I won't go into this in detail because Hi, Boys! but you know how you feel from time to time? That feeling that your skin is just too irritating to wear and that you would like to take it off and iron it because it is making you mad? They feel like this quite a lot. Of course, being aware of their hormonal imbalances does not help one bit when they've just gone into a sulk because of the way you chew your gum.

3. The worst of it doesn't last forever. My mom, the best mother EVER, always talked about the transition to teen years as being the only times she did not enjoy her children. She said this transitional stage took exactly one year, and that you could set your clock by it. So the first time Boy#1, my pleaser, looked at me and said "Yeah? So?" I marked it on the calendar. Sure enough, exactly one year later Mr. Defiant disappeared and sweet One was (mostly) back with us. This held true for all four of the Boys, although Hell Year started when they were as young as 11 and as old as 13 years.

4. There are moments that will delight you. Every once in a while you will look up from swimming the moat, and your child will look up at the same moment, and you will see the man he is becoming and you will like that man and be proud of him and know you're not wasting the time you spend helping him across the moat. Because that's what you're doing, you know. He's not having much fun, either. (Can you imagine walking around in that irritating skin all the time? Shudder.)

5. Your child is still there. If you loved him before, you will love him again. Just do your best, every day, then get up the next day and do it again.

Also, chocolate helps.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Coming to My Senses

Right now I am knitting a scarf for a friend (next to my chair, almost done), working on my Beekeeper's Quilt (project bag in my purse, components to be thrown away by my heirs after I die at age 107 with this Sisyphus task still not completed), a T-shirt quilt for Boy#2 (partially sewn, in pieces on the living room floor), a braided rug made of the left-over scraps of T-shirt (half-done in bucket under the end table), a baby sweater for a baby who was born in June (almost finished, size 9 months and it hasn't been cold yet anyway), and the repurposing of a small table into a work-at-home desk to be used in the kitchen nook.

That's why the trash guys found two scavenged dresser drawers on the curb this week. These drawers will not see a second life as storage ottomans, no matter how easy the internet makes that conversion look. I do not have time for that project.

Besides, after driving around with them in Pearl for two days I realize there's an issue even more pressing than my lack of spare time: They smell funny.

Bullet dodged.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Shocking. Simply Shocking.

My favorite youngest aunt read yesterday's post about shocking words and responded with a link to an excellent National Public Radio story. Here, go read it while I have a cup of coffee.

All done? I am, and the coffee was excellent, thank you.

So what do you think? Do you agree with the article's thesis that kids use profanity because they hear it, and continue to use it because it causes a reaction (either laughter or, in my case, a slight attack of the vapors)?

I can promise you that I grew up not hearing profanity on The Farm. In fact, in spite of recalcitrant livestock and thumbs hit with hammers and the general cantankerousness of some days, even mild profanity was so rare as to have been made part of the eulogy I gave at my mother's funeral:

"... in all those years of raising five of what must have been the most smart-alecky of children, we only heard her swear once--and that was after she backed over the harrow and punctured the fuel tank of the car. (Much Older Sister and I were delightful eight- and nine-year-olds, who poked each other, wide-eyed, and whispered "Mother said 'dammit!'")

My father was similarly circumspect in his vocabulary: I once heard him mutter something under his breath about a singularly unhelpful store clerk, and thought "that old heifer" must be the worst possible thing one human being could call another human being.

There was no giggling about childish imitation of bad language in our house, not ever. As a junior high kid I decided to model myself after the sophisticated ladies on the soap operas who, when provoked, responded with a languid "Oh, good lord." My mother heard me say this exactly once, and my protestations that "it's not really swearing" were unsuccessful. "Oh, really? 'Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain' was, what, a mis-quote?'" (It was unwise to argue with my mother when she had God on her side.)

Now, some five decades later, I have heard (and I admit, occasionally used) a lot of profanity in my life. It rarely shocks me; my reaction is more one of distaste. It's kind of like seeing a large zit--I suffer a momentary internal cringe, then move on.

Except when it's kids, kids who have not made a choice about whether they want their speech to be zit-laden but are merely imitating what they hear in their music, in their movies, in their homes.Then? Ewwww.

I'm sorry these kids didn't have the experience of growing up with my parents' sensibilities. Then they'd know the worst swear words I've ever heard:

"Dammit" and "that old heifer."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sign of the Times: Graffiti

When I was in seventh grade my parents decided it was time for their five children to start attending school in the nearby town slightly farther away from our home than the tiny town where we had been enrolled. Up until then we had gotten our education in a farming community that was basically a cluster of houses around a grain elevator. My class, with four students, was the largest of the eight classes housed in the two-room school.

I loved that school, but today's story is not about that. Today's story is about walking to school in town. My Much Older Sister and I rode to town with Dad when he went to work at 7:30, then walked the dozen blocks or so to the junior high. It was on that daily trek that I saw a puzzling word written in chalk on the sidewalk. The word rhymed with "cluck" and I had no idea what it meant.

People, I was in junior high and I didn't know the most notorious dirty word in the English language. (Friends from my youth, does that explain a lot about me?) I had to ask Much Older Sister what it meant, and she rolled her eyes and ridiculed my innocence but explained.

I knew this was a word whose primary function was to SHOCK. I mean, if it weren't meant to be shocking, the bad boys with chalk would not have written it there where it jumped off the pavement and into my mind forever.

This morning during my around-the-block cool-down I came across scribblings on our front sidewalk. Some kids with chalk obviously set out to shock me and the other fogeys who live around here, because there under my feet were anatomically-correct drawings and helpful labelings.

Instead of being shocked, though, I found myself laughing. Unlike the graffiti of my junior high words, these drawings were labeled with the "correct" terms for these body parts. This diagram and these terms could have been used as a visual aid in the fifth grade birds-and-bees talk the school nurse gave every year when I was a kid.

But then I thought of a couple of years ago when I mistakenly sat next to the seventh grader cluster at a basketball game. Oh, my. Not only did they know what my cluck-rhyming word was, they used it in every.single.sentence. They weren't trying to shock, they were conversing.

It occurs to me that we have gone full circle when anatomical terms are used to shock, and shocking words are used conversationally.

I have to admit, I find that shocking.

Monday, September 10, 2012

All Decked Out

When the Boys were young we would occasionally resort to trickery to entice them to do something on their own rather than having us do it for them. And by "occasionally," of course, I mean constantly and all the time.

"Oooh, that's not something a little kid can do," we'd say. "Only big boys get to [tie their own shoes, take their plates to the kitchen, put the VHS tape back in the case, etc.]."

I admit this without shame, and if you say you never did anything like this with your own children, I am going to scoff and point at the smoldering cuffs of your pantalones en fuego. Little kids are shockingly easy to manipulate, until they aren't, and you need to take advantage of every single manipulatable moment. Go ahead, call them teaching opportunities; I see through those semantics.

Anyway, the Boys learned to do many, many things just to prove that THEY WERE TOO BIG BOYS!

When the millennium-long deck reconstruction project finally finished last summer two summers ago, we were so relieved to be able to step out the back door and not fall to the ground that we didn't stain the darned thing. It was new and smelled good, and we didn't care that it looked raw until this summer, when Husband and Boy#2 spent Two's vacation power-washing away the impressive accumulation of bird droppings and drought detritus. They didn't get the stain on before Two left to go back to school, though.

"I'm not worried about it, though," he told me with a wry grin. "I know it will be sitting there waiting for me to stain when I get home for Christmas."

So for the past couple of weeks Husband and I have spent our spare hours slopping oil-based stain all over our arms and legs and amusing ourselves by saying things like "I've always wondered what I'd look like as a redwood." Hahahaha!

Yesterday enough of the stain had accumulated on the deck that we stood back and said, "Hey! That looks great! WE ARE TOO BIG BOYS!"

Oh, well played, Boy#2. Well played.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Chalk One Up for the Internet (Cast Iron)

I'm sure the internet was feeling just TERRIBLE after the way I besmirched it in my last post. I implied (or honestly, said flat out) that the internet causes us to do things we ordinarily wouldn't do. No, not porn or online gambling; I'm talking about crafts.

 Last summer a surge of posts popped up in my Google Reader about seasoning cast iron skillets, and because (all evidence to the contrary) I like to think of myself as a good cook, I was intrigued. I'd had a cast iron skillet once, and the danged thing got rusty and gross almost before I got it home from the store. But people who use and love cast iron are liked reformed smokers: After talking to one of these evangelists for a few minutes you find yourself wanting to take up smoking just so you can quit. I can DO THAT, you think.

So when I saw a set of three old cast iron skillets for sale in our local buy/sell/trade site (for TEN DOLLARS! Ten dollars, folks!) I snapped them up.

They were old and obviously hadn't seen much use in the past few weeks. Or years, or decades. But I found a bookmarked site (which, unfortunately, I cannot now relocate) that explained how to clean them off.

First you take pictures of the "before" because some day you might want to blog about it, even if it's months and months later. (See pics above.) Then you cover that sucker with oven cleaner. The "how to" will remind you to wear a mask. They are not kidding. It turns out to be hugely inconvenient to try to hold your breath the entire time you do this, putting the pan down and running to the end of the block every time you want to replenish oxygen flow to your brain.

Next, slide the spray-covered pans into trash bags and leave them in burning heat of a Kansas July for two or three days. If possible, arrange to do this in an especially lovely section of the yard, where the drought has decimated the grass. It gives a certain je ne sais quois to the landscaping, kind of a poor man's substitute if you can't afford a junked car to put up on blocks in your yard.

(True story: We already had friends living here when we moved to Small Town 25 years ago. "The first thing you have to know about Small Town," one of them told us, "is that there is a slum on every block. Once you get used to that, you'll be fine." He was correct in his assessment, and over the years we've wondered if we are now That Slum.)

After the pans have marinated in oven cleaner for a few days, remove them from the bags and clean off the slime with paper towels. Unlike me, document this step photographically.

Repeat. Repeat. See what I did there? I compressed eight days of marination into two words, and now the accumulated years of dirt, rust, and baked-on grease are almost gone.

Now scrub-scrub-scrub the pans with a wire brush, or a grill cleaner if that's what you happen to have on hand. You will have reached bare cast iron and it's beginning to look something you'd be willing to put actual food in.

Here I obviously was bored by the whole process because I quite taking pictures, but you'll need to season the pans. This process is thoroughly documented on the evil internet, in so many places I don't even want to choose a single link, but I used something like this method. Preheat oven to a gabillion degrees, coat pans with cooking oil, put in oven for 45 minutes or until the smoke detectors are making you crazy, turn off oven, go to bed. Repeat the next day.

When you've baked that oil on a couple of times your cast iron will look like this:


Now, in addition to the original $10 investment you have spent $8.50 for oven cleaner, a few cents for trash bags, $12 in batteries for the smoke alarms, and approximately $50,000 worth of time (assuming you bill out at $5,000 per hour). But you have a fantastic set of cast iron cookware, and you can make this:
Fried chicken and cornbread for July 4.
Worth it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Evil of the Internet

Here's the evil of the internet: It makes you think you can DO things.

Oh, not do things like date Brad Pitt (who I'm sure is very charming, but would he climb to the very top of the stadium if Angie had left her prescription sunglasses under the seat up there after the game, and was very, very upset about it? No, I'm quite sure he would not, and that's why you're lucky to have Husband.) or summit Mt. Everest (because you also read, and after reading Into Thin Air there are not enough oxygen bottles left in the world to make you take that hike).

It makes things that actually take a fair amount of skill look like things that you, who do not possess a fair amount of skill, could actually do.

"The zither!" you think. "I've always wanted to play 'Let it Be' on the zither, and it looks perfectly easy. I think I'll do that some day."

Or "Wow, I think I'll toilet train a cat. That's a great idea, and it looks pretty easy."

You're safe in thinking these things, because you don't have a zither, or for that matter, a cat. But then one day you're walking around the block on trash day and you see an abandoned dresser waiting for the garbage truck. You remember this cute dresser-into-a-bench tutorial you saw on the evil internet the other day, and wasn't there another tutorial about making dresser drawers into footstools? Those would be fun for the TV room, where there are always too many feet and not enough places to prop them. Those would be great projects, and they look easy!

You ignore the fact that you have never, ever, not even once, driven a nail that didn't bend before it was all the way driven, and that you are afraid of power tools. (What? Husband's grandfather lost a finger in a router. Shudder.)

And before you know it, you're waving to the garbage guys as their truck turns down the street, and you're driving away with Pearl's cargo hold looking like this:

The internet is evil.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Son, Brother Healer

Part of our Labor Day weekend was spent with Boy#3 at Big University, where we went to a marching band concert with a football game that wasted time between the pre-game and halftime shows. It was, as always, delightful to see Three in his element. We arrived in time to see him warming up his section (which may have seemed unnecessary in the 95-degree heat, but apparently trombone players' lips do not warm up with the remainder of their bodies), and I am never prouder than watching Mah Bay-Bee! as he conducts the brass section, not even when I see him in his role as an ordained minister.

What? I didn't tell you Boy#3 is an ordained minister? It became official this summer, when all the Boys were home. We were sitting around after supper chatting about the world and about the fact that the four young'uns are in a stage of life when you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one of their friends who happens to be getting married AT THAT VERY MOMENT.

Three, who is scheduled to be a groomsman in at least three weddings next summer, wistfully mentioned that what he'd really like to do is conduct those weddings, rather than just standing up there in a tuxedo looking pretty.

"You know," he said, "like Uncle S. did for Cousin A.'s wedd..."

He trailed off, and the thunderbolt hit all of us simultaneously: He has a smart phone, and we have internet. He could be ordained!

Seconds later he was texting his engaged friends.

"Hey! Could I officiate at your wedding?"

They may not have been taking him completely seriously because moments later a reply was back.

"Sure. Why not?"

And then they realized who had asked, and were wise enough to cover some bases.

"Wait a minute--are you licensed in the state of Kansas?"

In the 14 seconds it had taken the friends to text these two messages, Three had been busy on the internet. He was able to reply truthfully, dictating his reply as his flying thumbs tapped the keyboard of his phone.


He decided to not pay the extra $32.99 to get the doctor of divinity degree, but the Universal Life Church allows its ordinees to choose their own honorifics. Reverend, Pastor, Father, Your Holiness, Brother, and all of their feminine counterparts are allowed, as well as, well, anything. We decided "Brother Healer Three" was appropriate.

So far Three has not presided at any weddings, but he has continued to offer his services whenever he hears of upcoming nuptials.

I believe the caption on the band members' capes express my emotions perfectly.