Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Am An Anachronism

A hundred years ago when I went to college, I majored in journalism because I wanted a practical, always-in-demand career and I didn't want to be a teacher or a nurse. Journalism was perfect because I liked to write and newspapers had been around for hundreds of years. This industry wasn't a flash-in-the-pan fad such as television or radio.

Fast-forward to when Boy#1 was deciding a college major. He was the best writer I knew (still is) but he wanted to major in political science because that was what he loved.

"Don't be silly," I told him. "Major in journalism, then cover politics. What in the world would you do with a major in political science?"

His college didn't have a journalism major, though, so he stuck with his choice of major and his political science degree was good preparation for law school. The advice I had been pushing so vigorously could not have been more wrong if I had been suggesting he become a veterinarian specializing in dinosaurs.

Today I heard that one of our public state universities will no longer publish a newspaper due to lack of funding and that made me feel as old as the hills. My professional training now seems quaint, as if I had set out to become a wheelwright or a telegraph operator.

It made me sad, too, because now students at that school are unlikely to learn the skills they would have learned by working on a newspaper: How to meet deadlines. The art of writing to fit a space, one that usually is either smaller or larger than what you had intended. That a story in which you have invested heart and soul can be bumped off the front page by a puppy stuck in a storm drain. That you can't make everyone happy, but you must be fair.

These students won't recognize the adrenaline rush that goes with getting a story just right and on time, or the satisfaction of knowing that they were a link in the chain of truth.

I know, I know. Today the internet fills any need for news we might have. Social media instantaneously tells us what happened (sometimes before it has finished happening), and the "slow" media is television. No one is going to miss newspapers in a few years, when there aren't any left.

But something important will be gone from our lives when the extinction of this dinosaur is complete, and I will miss it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Only for Downton Abbey Fans

Image borrowed from Walking Primrose blog.
This post contains honkin' enormous spoilers from the Downton Abbey episode that aired Sunday night. If you still have that queued up on your DVR, close your eyes before you even finish this sentence. Really! Don't look! Also, what the heck are you doing with Downton Abbey still unwatched two whole days later? What are you, made of stone?

I'm scrolling down now, because I saw you peeking and I do not want to be the spoiler-person for this side of the Atlantic. (As a side note: Kudos to the Brits and Canadians who watched this season of the series months ago and did not leak the news that this was about to happen. Those stiff upper lips can really keep a secret.)

Scrolling down...


Okay, let's talk. 

I was verklempt. I admit it--I teared up as the Crawley family stood around Lady Sybil's bed and watched her gasping her last. Those who loved her were helpless (but still beautiful--no sleeping in yoga pants in that family) in the face of childbirth complications.

And I'm sorry about that Facebook post that may have caused some stress among the non-DA-watchers among us. (Again, what are you? Made of stone, that you can resist this delicious soapy confection?) I did not stop to think that my knee-jerk post of "Noooooooooo!" may have caused concern to you who know me in real life but perhaps don't know that on Sunday evenings I live in Downton.

Really, I do. I haven't decided if I'm part of the haughty, intrigue-ridden folks who are in charge of the abbey or whether I'm a member of the Crawley family. Sometimes I'm Daisy the kitchen maid, all huffy about how hard she works and no one ever helps her and WHY DO I HAVE TO WEAR THE SAME DRESS EVERY DAY? Sometimes I'm Mrs. Hughes, thinking "I really should put on some make-up because I could look so much better,, too much trouble."

Always, though, I'm one of the three sisters. They're by turns brilliant and idiots, they fight within the walls but stand in solidarity against the outside world, they boss each other around, they ignore each other. And now one of them has died.

As a veteran of preeclampsia myself, I knew what was about to happen as soon as I heard Lady Sybil mention off-handedly "my ankles are swollen." Noooooooooo!

So now we go on, having learned our lessons. Cherish those you love. Listen to your mother. Above all, don't trust a name-dropping doctor who wears a tuxedo to dinner because he's a big fat name-dropping IDIOT who wears a tuxedo to dinner.

Now if you'll excuse me, I believe I need to wipe away a tear with my tatted-edged hankie.

Monday, January 28, 2013

It's More Fun to Win. W-I-N. Win.

Want to know why I wrote the post I wrote on Friday? The one about my plans to compete in a  spelling bee? It's because I was afraid I would chicken out.

I was astonishingly nervous about this tiny little local competition in which I would get to do something I'm GOOD AT and that I ENJOY, so to help me ignore the fact that my heart rate sped up every time I thought about actually competing, I told the entire internet I had signed up. Can't chicken out of that one, Ms. McOversharer!

Then I spent the day coming up with legitimate excuses to not participate--I was tired from trustee meetings. My head was aching--was I coming down with a bug? But because I told you all I would be in the bee, I showed up at the coffee shop early enough to get REALLY shaky-handed.

By the time the actual bee started, I had lowered my goal from winning to just not being the first one out, because if I were the first one out it would mean I had lost to the second grader sitting behind me. Also, it would mean I had misspelled the word "cupcake," which was my first round word.

As it turns out, all those things I had told the Boys before their grade school spelling bees were actually true.

Spelling bees are essentially crapshoots: I would have misspelled the word that the lady next to me went out on, and would have spelled it exactly as she did, but because fate brought it to her instead of to me I stayed in and she heard the ominous "That is incorrect."

What comes out of your mouth is not always what is in your brain: The guy sitting down the row from me is a college professor, and has his Ph.D. in chemistry. He absolutely knows how to spell the word "tympanum" and will go to his grave believing he spelled it right. What came out of his mouth, though, was "t-y-p-a-n-u-m."

Being in the audience is not exactly a slab of chocolate cake, either: "It was just like being back at Small Town Grade School," Husband told me later. "You really hope the other people get the hard words." (Why, yes, the competitive spirit of our Boys comes from both tributaries to their gene pool.)

When we got back in the car to go home after the meet, I punched Husband in the shoulder of his padded coat. I had to confess what I had been denying to everyone, including myself, all day.

"I really wanted to win," I told him.

A gift certificate to the coffee shop. MUCH better than a trophy.
And I did! So thank you, Empty Nest readers, for not letting me chicken out.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What Do I Believe?

When you are a parent, you tell your children all kinds of things that you believe, in principle.

"You don't have to win every time--you need to do some things just because you enjoy doing them."

"It's good to challenge yourself!"

"It's better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all."

Oh, yes, I believe those things. In principle.

Last week a notice appeared in our institutional e-mail announcing a spelling bee at the local coffee shop. As I've mentioned here before, I LOVE spelling bees. I can tell you exactly which word I went out on every year of grade school, and one of my favorite community involvements is pronouncing words for the Small Town bee every spring.

Before I could think twice, I signed up. Almost immediately I regretted that decision.

What if I completely embarrass myself? I have trustee meetings all day today and even when I don't have that added stress my end-of-day brain is not as dynamic as my beginning-of-the-day brain. I often find myself fumbling for words--what if I get so nervous that I completely go blank on a word that is humiliatingly easy?

What if I am the first one to hear the pronouncer say "I'm sorry, that is incorrect."

Will I be gracious in defeat? Will I pout? Will I cry?

Do I really believe those things I told my kids about challenging themselves and doing things even though I'm not the best at them and trying? Or do I only believe them in principle?

Tonight I'll find out. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Things We Tried On

So by popular demand, here are the Things We Tried On during our sisters' weekend.

1. Knitted slippers, as modeled above by Much Younger Sister and moi. These may not be the very height of fashion (or they might be, because what do I know?, considering that pantyhose are making a comeback) but they certainly were perfect for keeping our tootsies warm when we propped them up on the ottoman in the sitting room. Yes! We had a sitting room!

2. This adorable sweater/scarf combination Much Younger Sister scored at the local consignment shop for NEXT TO NOTHING. To be perfectly accurate "we" did not try this on. However, Much Older Sister and I have made a life work out of dressing our baby sister (who is the cutest grown woman I know) in clothing we ourselves cannot pull off. Or put on, as it were.

And finally,
3. This hat perched atop the mirror, which some may have considered part of the decor but which MOS and I considered it our bounden duty to put on as we practiced our round, plummy vowels. Because look! The very next night, my favorite person on television was wearing this hat's first cousin and saying the EXACT THING our mother used to tell us fairly often:

Oh, yeah, Violet, Countess of Grantham. Preach it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Best Thing About This Place

No one answered when I first knocked on the door of the Victory Inn, the bed-and-breakfast where Much Older Sister, Much Younger Sister, and I were to meet for our first-ever sisters' weekend. I knew it was the right place, because Much Older Sister had put together this shindig and she hoovered up all the organizational skills in the gene pool before MYS and I were even born.

It was dark, though, and after a few seconds I wondered if I had inadvertently rung the doorbell of some OTHER stately mansion in this small town. That's when the porch light flipped on and the door opened.

"Oh!" said the smiling, grey-haired woman who answered. "I expected you at the back door!"

The rest of her greeting was swallowed up in the shrieks and hugs of sisters who haven't seen each other for way too long (okay, it had only been two weeks) but later it struck me that this was the perfect characterization of the inn--it's the kind of place where you're back-door family from the minute you arrive.

I won't bore you with details of the how cleverly the rooms were themed or how gorgeous the antiques were because, well, they were and they were, and you can find pictures of those on the official website. However, I will add this picture which seems to be missing from the beauty shots the inn is using to try to entice you to visit:

Yes. I ate ALL of this for breakfast, carbs be damned. Plus coffee with cream and orange juice. The casserole tasted just like Much Older Sister's favorite meal from childhood and Margaret ran off copies of the recipe for us.

I could go on and on (and already have) about how wonderful this facility was but it strikes me that the thing I liked best about the Victory Inn was that it backed off and let us enjoy each other. We oooohed and aaaaahed over the cute little child's settee in the corner, and mentioned what a great space this would be for a family reunion, and when we needed something from our hosts ("Hey, could you take a picture of us?") they magically appeared. But what we wanted was time with each other.

The best part of the Victory Inn? It was this:

Monday, January 21, 2013

Never Had to Have a Chaperone, No Sir

I was four and Much Older Sister was five when our parents brought our Much Younger Sister home from the hospital. In the intervening half century we've all grown up, married, acquired possessions and professions (one of us is an honest-to-goodness doctor with prescribing privileges and everything), had children (almost a dozen of those, distributed among the three of us) and grandchildren (half a dozen, the market on which seems to have been selfishly cornered by only one of us, hrmph), and shared laughter and tears and hugs and fears.

This weekend we shared our very first sisters' weekend ever.

I'll probably be talking about it all week, but I'm still too delighted by the experience to pull a coherent theme out of the overnight trip.

Maybe the theme should be mattresses, which a night in a bed and breakfast convinced all of us need replacing in our own homes. Yes, we pulled the sheets off to check the brands of both the mattress and the bedding (oooh, so comfy) so we could try to duplicate the blissful rest in our respective homes.

Or maybe the theme should be good grief, what is up with the small town where this bed and breakfast is located? We're all Kansas girls, so we know that most small towns have a tinge of decay on the wind and to really enjoy them you have to acquire a selective blindness to empty storefronts and count your blessings if there is a greasy spoon open during the lunch hour. But in this town? We SHOPPED. And we ATE. And we SHOPPED SOME MORE. There were so many people downtown that we had to look for parking places. Also, according to the town's website, we could have gotten free dog registration in January, so there's that. This town is doing something right, is what I'm saying.

I could do a whole post on Things We Tried On, including antique hats and some really old-lady-ish beautiful knitted slippers Much Older Sister brought everyone as door prizes.

We talked, then we slept, then we ate, then we talked, then we shopped, then we talked some more, then we ate, and we talked, then we hugged each other fiercely, tightly, and promised we would do this again because we truly are the luckiest women in the world to have each other.

We said that the only thing that could have made the day better would have been to have our mother with us, too, and then we realized she'd been there the whole time.

Truly. The luckiest women in the world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Read This Instead

Dear Oldest and Dearest Friends,

Of the many, many, many things on the list of traits that make you my oldest and dearest friends, I think maybe our shared love of reading is close to the top. (What? You thought I was going to say our craft ability? Ha!)

Remember what a good idea it was to read the same book before our annual get-together, giving us something we could discuss like intelligent and thinking adults instead of reminiscing once more about the cute guy who lived across the street from C when we were in high school? And remember how difficult it turned out to choose a book we all wanted to read?

I am so, so, so sorry about my recommendation, the one we eventually each bought and read a single chapter of before we realized it was total dreck. Who knew that someone who writes such an entertaining blog could come up with such a complete waste of paper by expanding this short and ephemeral medium to that long and lasting medium? I've also apologized to the trees that were sacrificed in its publication, and will be doing penance for some time for having contributed to the production of that memoir.

Since then, of course, I've read half a dozen books that have made me think "Oh! I wish we all could have read THIS one," or "Wow, we could have talked for half a day about THAT one."

The Tana French  Dublin Murder Squad series. Ohmygosh, so well written, so completely engrossing. I just finished the last one and I'm DYING for the next one to be written. Hurry up, Tana! Write!

Or the new Anne Lamott book that I'm itching to read. One of the things I like about us is that we can disagree and still love each other, and I bet this one could provoke some deep discussion.

But I'd like to propose a book for next year, or maybe for a virtual discussion before then. I'm reading My Year With Eleanor every morning as I slog along on the elliptical, and after the first two chapters I'm hooked. The author loses her job at age 29 and decides to spend the ensuing year doing one thing every day that scares her. (This, of course, follows the late First Lady's famous admonition that one should do one thing every day that...well, you know.)

Even if the next 20 chapters don't live up to the promise of the first two, this book has already made me think. You are my oldest and dearest friends, so you know how timid I tend to be. You've seen me hang  back from meeting new people. You've watched me turn pale as I approach the front row of a balcony. You know that my dislike of driving on ice borders on the pathological. What would I stare down if I did one thing each day that scares me?

So, what do you think? Want to read a book together? And can we invite anyone who reads this blog to read along?



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I Will Wear Purple

This morning when I got dressed the outdoor temperature was in the teens so I put on my mother's Norwegian sweater with my black skirt and black tights. This seemed a little monochromatic, though, so I dug through my closet for something to cut through the somber tones and found a purple silk scarf.

"Really?" I thought to myself. "A purple silk scarf? That coordinates with exactly nothing in the rest of my outfit?"

And clear as day I heard my mother's laugh.

"Sure! Why not?" she was asking.

Today I'm enjoying Be Kind to Me day and my purple scarf that reminds me of her.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I'm Only Kidding Myself

I was inspecting a pineapple at the grocery store Saturday when a young man from church greeted me.

"All those Boys left yet?" he asked.

"No, but tomorrow morning Boy#4 leaves at 5 a.m., and he'll be the last one," I told him.

The computer cords have disappeared from the television room, the rolled-up socks have been pulled from under the sofa cushions, and the house is settling back on its foundations. The Boys are back at school.

I miss them. They're at a really delightful age to have around--they sense moods, are grateful someone else is cooking, and they carry in groceries.

I don't miss them. While they're gone I conveniently forget that one boy cannot walk into a room where another boy is taking up space without, at the last, bumping into that space-taking boy and, at the most, putting him into a headlock and wrestling him to the floor. "You guy-eeeees," I whine, "don't do that! Stop it! You're going to break something! You guy-eeees!"

I miss them. It's nice to be able to talk about family craziness in a safe forum because there is craziness in every family but it's not polite (or kind) to talk about it outside the family.

I don't miss them. Even though the shoes in today's photo are guest shoes courtesy of the best-behaved grand-nieces and grand-nephews EVER, they are representative of the shoes scattered in every single room of the house while the Boys are at home. (Really? You take off your shoes to go to the bathroom?)

I miss them. I like their friends, and I love hearing them laughing downstairs late into the night after I've gone to bed, and I love the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies they make in their marathon baking sessions.

I don't miss...oh, who am I trying to kid? I miss them.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Still Walking

When all the Boys are home, the curbs around the House on the Corner look like overflow from a used car lot. In addition to Pearl and Husband's pick-up (which claim the driveway), parked vehicles include three Tauruses, Grandma's mini-van (which lives at our house now that she's in assisted living), and the 1991 Blazer that was Boy#1's car during high school and now is the in-town loaner for anyone who needs it.

For his first few years of college Boy#4 decided he'd rather not have the expense and inconvenience of trying to park at a major university; he had brothers at the same school, and they were amenable to letting him borrow their vehicles for the occasional WalMart run. Last summer, though, he decided it was time to look for a car.

"Fine," Husband and I said. "We'll check out the Taurus pipeline." This made complete sense to us, given that the Taurus happened to have been the model we had found for the first three offspring and the three Fords had been reliable, albeit stodgy, choices.

"No, I don't want a Taurus," Four informed us. "I want a Mustang."


Ahem. No, not happening (all that horsepower has to go somewhere, and that includes to our insurance rates) but we were willing to expand the selection of possibilities to almost any non-sports-car model that fell within his admittedly low price point.

So we spent the summer perusing ads, and passed several days in nearby Big City test driving trade-ins and chugging McDonald's drinks while we scoured the latest website listings. (Or, as you see in the photo, that's what Husband and Four did; I was having an iced coffee and reading a novel in the adjoining booth.)

Anyway, after coming thiiiiiis close to buying a spiffy and sporty model, Four's feet got chilly and he decided to wait until Christmas to take advantage of year-end sales.

So we spent the Christmas break perusing ads and our persistence paid off. A used Escape at just exactly the right price point appeared on the lot of a local dealer, and we took it for a drive with me in the back seat making oooh-ing noises and pointing out how much I loved Pearl and wouldn't it be cool that her cousin will be in the family now? and gosh, this is PERFECT!

And it would have been perfect, except that it turns out an Escape is a girl car.

I will leave that paragraph as a single, mind-boggling sentence, because....what? I mean, I know it's not a Mustang, but except for the fact that your mother drives one, what is so anti-masculine about....oh.

It will not surprise you to learn that Boy#4 is leaving for Big University on the train this weekend.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Miss CrankyPants. Or Miss Crankypants.

You know my kindness resolution? I've been trying. I managed to smile and thank the fellow in the  dealership who misplaced the used car Boy#4 and I had made an appointment and driven three towns away to drive (but, really?), I cheerfully held the door open for someone behind me as I arrived at work, I called for clean-up when I tripped and spilled my coffee all over the sidewalk instead of looking around to see if anyone had seen me make that mess before I walked away from it. Mostly, I'm trying and doing okay.

Still, all this kindness is wearing. It puts a strain on me, a strain I discovered a few hours ago when I got an e-mail from a vendor who is working on my college's website.

I am employed at Small College, one of the nation's multitude of directionally-named institutions. It's not Northwestern University and it's not Northeastern University, and it's not Southeastern Louisiana, but our name is related to those in that none of us have gratuitous capitalization in the middle of our names. We are NOT NorthWestern, or NorthEastern, or SouthEastern, or, well, you get the idea.

But people WANT to capitalize that middle letter. Oh, how they want to do that, even though there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER TO DO SO,and it drives me crazy. So when our fancy-pants consultant e-mailed to ask "Do you want these postcards to go to Smallcollege or SmallCollege?" I was a little, uh, vehement in my response.

"If, for some reason, SmallCollege were used," I replied, "I would burn every one of those postcards in a fiery furnace and we would reprint."

Wow. Apparently it's haaaaard to be kind.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

We're Still Planning Their Wedding

Fainting goats are more likely than Boy#1 and Lovely Girl's families and friends making this happen.

Also, more entertaining.

Monday, January 7, 2013

What I'm Going to Miss

This Christmas vacation (and this is where I'd be flashing irony quotes if that were not out of style) has been a stellar example of calendar misalignments. Instead of having several days with many Boys around, we've had good quality time with Boy#2 and Boy#4, and a few fleeting moments with Boys #1 and #3. Three was off at a year-end conference and trombone-ily encouraging the nobler (if losing) team at a bowl game. One, for some unknown reason, now prefers the company of his younger, cuter, wittier, fiance-er Lovely Girl to his old family and spent most of his time with his NEW family. Hrmph.  Not that I'm bitter. Much.

Anyway, yesterday lunch was one of the few meals we had together as a mostly-intact family, missing only Three and Lovely Girl as we scarfed down after-church pizza. Naturally, the conversation turned to wedding plans.

"Yes, I was discussing the dowry with Lovely Girl's father, and I suggested he should hand over a goat at the altar," One mentioned. "But then one of LG's friends reminded us of the bride price."

Boy#2's eyes lit up. "I could make that happen," he said, excitedly. "You could have an exchange of goats instead of a unity candle."

Boy#4 pulled out his SmartPhone and dialed in the YouTube video now embedded here.

"And you could make them FAINTING GOATS, and instead of unity sand you could make them FAINT IN UNISON," he cried.

This is a perfect example of typical lunch conversation, and probably the reason One is leaving the bulk of the wedding planning to the bride's family.

I'm gonna miss those kids.

Friday, January 4, 2013

With Resolution

This is the time of the year when many of those who share my internet oversharing compulsion do something I've always considered slightly precious: Bloggers choose their Word of the Year.

Many, many persons who have embraced this art form of graffiti with punctuation look deep into their souls and decide one single word that will determine their actions for the upcoming year. Explore! or Yes! or Forward! or something they hope will inspire and shape the coming 12 months. This practice is to New Year's Resolutions what blogging is to, well, to real writing: shorter, less thoughtful, more public. But as I look at the words bloggers are choosing, it's not such a bad idea.

Last year, I suppose, my word for the year (although I didn't call it that) was exercise.

At about this time in 2012 I shared with you that I wanted to begin a regular exercise program. I honestly didn't know if I would keep this resolve because I am notorious for noble beginnings and lackluster follow-through. But by golly, I did it. I decided I would exercise every day I went to work, and after a full year of adding 45 minutes of sweat to my day, I definitely see improvement in my stamina, my flexibility, my general ability to keep up with life. It wasn't always FUN, but it was always possible and I don't plan to quit doing it.

So this year I'm choosing another word, and that word is (drumroll, please): Kindness. (Oh, what, did I spoil the surprise by not being able to find a graphic that didn't SPELL IT OUT on the pinky finger? Huh.)

Anyway, as I look at the women I most admire in the world (my mother, my sisters, most of my dearest friends) it's obvious that one trait they all share is that they are kind. Not saccharine or treacly, but deep-down thoughtful and generous in a way that doesn't require notice.

I want to be that kind of person.

This goes against what I tend to be, which is sarcastic and snarky to a large extent, but I want to make kindness my knee-jerk reaction rather than my obligation, and the only way that will happen is if I become intentional about being kind to people, to the environment, to myself.

As I analyzed what went right about my dreams of starting an exercise plan, it seemed that the simplicity and no-excuses nature of the plan (exercise every day I work) were key, so my plan for kindness is that I will recognize one instance each day where I have been kind, and write that instance on a calendar. And that means that if I'm coming to the end of a day and haven't written anything down yet, I'd better put out some recycling or pet Our Dog Pepper or write a thank you note.

I'm setting the kindness bar intentionally low, hoping I'll clear it with room to spare, but if I find I'm not nearly as kind as I could or should be, this at least will point out my deficiencies.

Last year I worked on my cardio. This year I'm working on my soul.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hold a Mirror Under My Nose

My first six years of formal education were spent in two schools. I lovingly call my present hometown Small Town, but those schools were in REALLY small towns, each consisting of a grain elevator and a post office and not much else. The first school (where I completed grades one through four) was six miles from our farm, and when my father left his teaching job there to become administrator of a school in the opposite direction, my siblings and I transferred to an even smaller school only two miles from home.

In Even Smaller School there were only two classrooms--one for the 11 kids in grades five through eight, and one for the dozen or so in grades one through four. Two teachers taught academic subjects, plus music, phys ed, and art; collected milk money; and supervised our recesses in the windbreak behind the school. It was glorious fun and amazingly good education.

Mr. Tilley, the teacher in the big kids' room, was also the principal of the school and he was conscientious about safety. He knew that our big old building would go up like a Roman candle if fire ever broke out so he sat us down and gave precise instructions for that eventuality.

"If your hear the fire alarm go off and I'm not in the room, the eighth graders [who happened to be three boys] need to take care of the fifth graders," he told us. "That means if for some reason you can't get out the door, you may have to climb out the windows, and if that's the case and the younger ones are scared, they may need to be pushed."

It was such an exciting prospect that when Mr. Tilley scheduled a fire drill and blocked off the north door the eighth graders didn't even check to see if the east exits were clear. These strapping farm boys just pushed the screens off our second-floor classroom and began flinging out fifth graders like bales out of the hayloft at feeding time.

I can only imagine the horrified look on Mr. Tilley's face as he saw us fifth-graders landing in a heap (having missed the concrete sidewalk by inches), but the story has a happy ending: The worst injury was a sprained ankle, and certainly we learned to check other exits before jumping to a conclusion.

I thought of that incident last night as we were wheeling the final boxes out of my mother-in-law's apartment. In addition to the 20 boxes of Christmas decorations (no, I am not exaggerating) we packed up the most horrifying animatronic cat ever manufactured, and I once again gave instruction to the Boys who were doing the heavy lifting.

"When your father and I breathe our last, just carry out our bodies and set the house on fire," I told them.

That's when the image of our grade school fire drill crossed my mind. I hollered down the hallway after them.

"Hey! If we pass on a Sunday afternoon, check our pulses before you strike the match--we might be napping and not dead."

No, I did not try to explain that conversation to the residents in the other apartments.