Thursday, March 28, 2013


This was at the bottom of the steps as I left work yesterday, and my first cursory glance had me grabbing my phone to call a haz-mat team for a clean-up and wondering what kind of animal had gotten into the stairwell.

But then I looked closer and realized the "deposit" was actually a bite-sized Snickers bar, and oh, the regret.

Regret over the wasted bite of deliciousness. Regret that even though I was the only person in the stairwell the toddler side of my brain wasn't strong enough to wrestle my adult reasonableness to the ground so I could pop that baby right in my mouth. (You'll appreciate the strength of my toddler brain when I admit I did briefly consider that. BRIEFLY.)

Regret that apparently the Easter Bunny's trainee is not working out so well, if this was delivered to wrong place (the base of a stairwell) at the wrong time (four days before Easter). My cynical Boy#2 would say that this Bunny obviously was being trained by FedEx.

Sigh. So, so much regret. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Raised Smart-Aleck Kids

Between tax season and impending graduations and especially my mother-in-law's decline, I've been giving God an earful the past few weeks.  Today I wrote about why I pray on The Train of His Robe, the shamefully neglected corner of the internet that I staked out so I could look as if I know what I'm talking about when I talk about God.

The very second he saw the post, Boy#1 instant messaged me.

"Ooooh! Is your religion blog rising from the dead in honor of Easter week?"

Pfffft.  How did I get such smart-aleck kids?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Herkiquat and the Twilight Cruise

I've worked with words for so long that I don't often come across one I don't know.

"Huh--herkiquat," I might say. "I've never seen the word 'herkiquat' before. I wonder what it means?"

And if I can't figure out herkiquat's meaning from its context, I look it up and am delighted that I have learned a new word.

Then, without fail, herkiquat will be EVERYWHERE I LOOK for the next week. It will appear in the book I'm reading, it will be in the hymn lyrics in church, I will hear a Ted Talk that delves into the aspects of herkiquat I had known instinctively but had never heard spelled out.

I had never really had aging parents in crisis before the last few weeks. My mother died suddenly, my father is still hale and hearty at 86. This was the life stage equivalent of herkiquat--it's been out there all the time, but I never had come into contact with it. But as we deal with my mother-in-law's steep decline, suddenly I seem to have friends and family all around me who are dealing with those same issues in their own lives. My sister. My best friend from high school. Friends at church.

In my working group of six, three of us are at this very minute wondering every time the phone rings if this will be The Call. A mother, a father, and a mother-in-law are at different stations as they near the end of the line but all are on the train. This morning we stood around commiserating.

"The thing that bothers me most isn't that she might be terminal, it's that she's in pain but the painkillers are dangerous for her, and this is so degrading and so opposite of how she's lived her life," I told my co-workers. "When I get to that stage, I want someone to put me on a cruise, then at a certain point in the ocean, the porthole flies open and whoosh!" I made a flying-out-the-window motion. By now I was really getting into this idea. "We could call it the Twilight Cruise!"

At that point, for some reason my co-workers suddenly realized they had a LOT OF WORK TO DO and went back to their desks, but that's okay. My generation is going to be encountering herkiquat a lot during the next few years, and we might as well laugh.

*Herkiquat is not really a word. I made it up, but now you're going to be seeing it everywhere.  I will define it as the uncertainty that accompanies transition in life stages, which can provoke laughter or tears, or both at the same time. You read it here first.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Living Day to Day

When I left for the Peace Corps in January 1979, my 86-year-old grandmother pulled me aside.

"I'm not in very good health and I doubt if I'll be around much longer," she said, "so I just want you to know that I don't expect you to come back for my funeral."

I served my two-year term in Costa Rica, extended my service for another year and a half to finish up a project I'd started, came home, got a job, met Husband, fell in love, got married, had Boy#1, moved to Small Town, had Boy#2, enjoyed my time as a stay-at-home mom, and had Boy#3.

When Boy#3 was 19 days old, we got the phone call from my father that Grandma had passed away. That was 11 years and some odd months after she had informed me her days were limited.

I tell that story because it illustrates the suspended animation in which we are caring for Husband's mother right now. At 91, she probably doesn't have another decade left in her, but certainly my grandmother did not think she would live to be 97.

We do know that my mother-in-law is discombobulated and confused, in pain (she reacts badly to narcotics so she's limited to heavy doses of over-the-counter drugs), and needs help for every single aspect of her life down to guiding each spoonful of Jello into her mouth. She doesn't understand why she must wear the cervical collar that supports her broken neck or why she must not get out of her chair by herself.

Maybe in the next few days she will begin to feel better and her head will on longer ache from the whack on the corner of her bedside table that opened up her scalp. Perhaps the healing of this brain trauma will ease the confusion and we'll be able to get her out again for a chicken wrap and fruit parfait at McDonald's. Or perhaps she will slip away tomorrow, or even today.

All of our days are numbered, but my grandmother did not know the number of hers and we do not know the number of my mother-in-law's.

Only God knows.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We're Not Competing

I had texted my friends and co-workers Monday, letting them know about my mother-in-law's fall and injuries so that they wouldn't think I was taking this "spring break" (ha, ha, ha!) too seriously by jetting off to Cancun.

It wasn't an hour later that I got a text back.

****! FIL barricaded himself in his room.

And that's when I proved that I am a terrible person because I laughed for the first time that day. This friend is in much the same situation as we are, with an aging parent who doesn't always behave rationally. In her case, it's a father-in-law who is causing the assisted living staff to tear their hair. He, too, is not thinking clearly but unlike my frail mother-in-law he is burly and strong and had shifted all of the movable furniture in front of his door then lay down to take a nap. Eventually staff walked around to the outside of his room and tapped on his window until he woke up, then convinced him to unblock the entrance. Then they moved everything except the bed out of the room.

I tell you this story because it is one more reminder (as if we needed one) that there are very few in my age bracket who are not dealing with at least some issues of this type. And if they aren't dealing with the issues at this very moment, then they already have dealt with them, or they will deal with them soon.

Unless you were orphaned at an early age and eventually made your way to the forest where you were raised by wolves, you are going to be making decisions about aging parents. You are one of us.

Yesterday I wrote about how painful it is to be unable to prevent my mother-in-law from falling and hurting herself, and you, my lovely readers, made me cry with your outpouring of support. You are wonderful and I felt each virtual hug and prayer. Thank you so, so much.

But this is a reminder that all of us have (or will have, or have had) someone, so we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking we're the guest of honor at this pity party. Some will be lucky, and their parents will slip away quietly with their mental and physical facilities intact. Some will not be lucky and the end-of-life transition will be a nightmare of increasing loss spread out over years. Between these two extremes lie every degree of variation along the scale.

So please hear me when I say this: We're not in competition.

As I commiserated with my barricaded-father-in-law friend she mentioned she had just been on the phone with a vendor who supplies college T-shirts. This vendor has a father with Alzheimer's and a mother with debilitating physical issues, and she's trying to care for both of these loved ones as well as her own family while working full-time and trying to be a decent human being.

"Oh, wow," I said. "She wins." My wise friend reminded me that the pain Olympics are only a made-up internet thing, and that no one wins.

All of us just do our best to run the race set before us.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Same Song, Same Verse Repeated

We settled my mother-in-law into her chair yesterday with a copy of Women's World and her walker right in front of her. The cord to the call button was wrapped around a stuffed bear so that the signaling device couldn't  fall on the floor out of her reach.

Before we left the room Husband and I took turns stooping down so she could look straight into our faces. Her hearing aids were hidden under the cervical collar and we wanted to make sure she heard us.

"You cannot get up without help," we said with as much intensity as we could muster. "If you need something, push the call button. You cannot get up by yourself. Do you understand this?"

She told us she understood, but as we walked toward the door she was trying to push herself up to walk out with us so we rushed back into the room.

"No, no! You can't get up without help!" This time Husband knelt beside the chair and held her right hand, the one not bruised and swollen. "Mom, you just can't."

Then we hugged her gingerly and kissed her softly on the left side of her head, the side away from the 17 staples in her scalp, and told her we loved her, and in spite of her confusion and exhaustion, she replied that she loved us, too.

She had fallen three times in three days and we don't know what to do.

By law, we cannot put rails on her bed, or any kind of restraints that would keep her from getting up. If we move the walker out of reach she tries to get around without it. She has learned to disconnect the alarm that sounds if she leaves her chair, and in any case the alarm can only signal she's left the chair; it can't reverse the weakness in her legs or the unsteadiness that topples her. I understand this law against rails and restraints, really, I do. But still...

We don't know what to do.

Sunday's fall was the worst, with a day spent in the emergency room for repair of the ugly C-shaped gash on her scalp and more scans and X-rays that revealed a hairline fracture in her neck as well as the bruised but unbroken hand and thigh. She spent the night in the hospital, but she's eating and sleeping and her pain is manageable, so that's not the place for her to recuperate. She will recuperate, or not, in her own room.

She is confused and sad and inutterably exhausted, and so are we, so we hold her hand and sit next to her and pray that the next fall is less painful.

It's the only thing we can do.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Orts and Blurb

1. All who know that I am a lifetime aficionado of barbershop music will not be surprised to see that I'm leading with a video clip that's making the rounds these days. Although saying that I am a "lifetime" fan is an exaggeration--during my youth I was not such a fan when my father's Sunday evening quartet practices at our house meant that we had to HOLD IT DOWN, KIDS and were banished from any of the areas of the house where we might disturb those good ol' harmonies so as a teenager I was not so crazy about men's quartet singing. Now if Justin Timberlake had been in my father's quartet, I probably would developed my taste for SPEBSQSA a lot earlier. (Little known fact: One of our earliest disagreements about how our dream wedding would unfold was when Husband put his foot down about my father's quartet singing "Till There Was You" during the ceremony. I huffily agreed they could sing it during the reception instead, but that was only a little tasting sample of the dozens of ways in which two people in love could disagree about what their dream wedding should be.)

2. And speaking of dream weddings...guess who arrived late last night at the House on the Corner? Lovely Girl! I felt like Mama Bear eating my breakfast this morning, knowing that Goldilocks was asleep upstairs. It felt juuuuuuust right.

3. Oh, also Boy#4 arrived late last night. We are definitely in the new normal, when two Boys are still away at school and the house feels full. (Come home, Boy#2 and Boy#3!)

4. Despite last week's snow, two days of warm weather make me feel spring is here. Tra la la! I can't wait to plant some tomatoes, even though I know that is the path that leads to heartbreak. And blossom rot. And hornworms, which surely are one of Mother Nature's mistakes. But tomatoes!

5. And finally, the product placement of the week: The first night Boy#1 was home on spring break he talked to me while I made supper. We chatted about all sorts of things but when I started to prepare the fruit he stopped mid-chatter for an accusation. "We're only having pineapple so you can show off that gizmo, right?"

Thank you,, for loaning me this image
He knows me too well. Those aren't my hands, but that's my pineapple slicer/corer/peeler, and it ROCKS. Zip, zip, zip, done. Four stars.

(I believe it is UNICEF that requires bloggers to add a disclaimer when we are compensated for product endorsements, to which I reply "Ha! Ha! If only!")

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Not Today

This morning I brought the microwave instruction manual to work to remind me to call the toll-free troubleshooting number: After I cleaned the kitchen last night the appliance had begun to beep randomly and the display pad showed an ominous-looking SE rather than the time of day.

Dang! I had thought to myself, mentally beginning to compose a blog post about how there's nothing sadder in the world than a fatal error message, whether it's on the computer screen or on the microwave. I thought of the anecdotes I would weave into the post about how haaaaard life is when there is no microwave popcorn or toasty rice bag for my cold feet. I reminded myself to underline the seriousness of the situation by mentioning that Boy#2 and Lovely Girl will be arriving tonight to spend the rest of their spring breaks in Small Town, and how am I going to manage extra mouths without a microwave?

It was going to be a very funny blog post.

But then the phrase "nothing sadder in the world" underlined itself in my imagination, and I was reminded of my two Small Town friends whose husbands have died at shockingly young ages during the past two weeks, and of my mother-in-law's long days now that her television remote control has become too complicated for her declining reasoning skills, and of the hardships that are being caused by our incalcitrant politicians who are destroying lives with their bullheaded inability to compromise.

And I was ashamed.

I'll be funny tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Only Slightly Disappointed

This (free) clip art is named "Priest With a Chainsaw." I offer it as proof that someone, somewhere, thought this illustration would be used. That someone was correct.

The white smoke has just announced a new pope has been elected, and apparently none of the Boys made the cut.

Rats. One more possible career path down the drain.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lead Us Not

I have worked at Small College for a long, long time. Since 1989, if the commemorative clock I was presented on my 20th anniversary of joining the administration is any indication. (Although that clock doesn't keep good time, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions.)

Anyway, over the course of that career I have taught only two classes. Two, which is fewer than the workload of your average first-year graduate student.

"Why, MomQueenBee!" I'm sure you are saying at this very moment. "Why in the world have you not taught more classes than that? You are undoubtedly BRILLIANT. You are without question LEARNED. You are the CUPCAKE QUEEN. Why has Small College not taken advantage of your brilliance, learning, and royal status?"

Well, it's like this. I am a horrible, horrible teacher but I didn't realize this until I tried to teach.

Many years ago the professor who taught public relations took off for greener pastures right before the fall semester. The dean managed to find fill-ins for her other courses, but the public relations spot remained unfilled and the dean knocked on my door. Would I be willing to adjunct this course?

Sure! I'd love to! After all, I'd been working in public relations for a long time, and I was pretty good at my job. I imagined myself dressed in Socratic robes, sitting under a tree with adoring students hanging on my every plummy pronouncement.


Did you know that if you sit under a tree in Kansas during January you're more likely to get frostbite than adoration? That's a fairly stretched metaphor, but let's just say that the class didn't go nearly as well as I had foreseen it would, so I swore I would never teach a class again and I didn't--

--until just a couple of years ago, when once again the dean was in a world of hurt with no Spanish teacher at the start of the semester. After mucho tiempo spent in Costa Rica I'm fluent in the ol' espanol, so he asked me to take the beginning course. Sure! I'd love to! Let's just say again that it was a muy mal idea.

And still, when I saw the e-mail from a colleague in my inbox this morning my pulse quickened. An adjunct is needed to teach public relations next fall--do I have any suggestions? And my first impulse was to say "Me! Pick me!" Then I smacked myself in the forehead and replied with the names of several trustworthy professional public relations folks with whom I've worked.

I truly regret that I am not a born teacher. My father was, and 70 years later his early students remember what they learned in his classrooms. Much Older Sister is, and I've seen how she influences young lives and advocates for her profession. But me? I'm the one students remember as "brought doughnuts to fill time." I simply do not have the natural ability to teach, nor, frankly, the burning desire to acquire the skill through hard work.

So I'm providing contact information for public relations professionals to my colleague, and wishing her good luck in the search for the next Socrates.

Because that person ain't me.

Monday, March 11, 2013

F in Paperwork

Before you ask, this horrifying graphic is a pointing finger. Even though it's shockingly pink and looks like a mutated foot with the big toe serving as the pointer and a spare toe wrapped around as a thumb, it is what you get when you try to find free clip art.

The message remains the same, though: When I point the big toe of my mutated foot at someone else, I have three toes pointed squarely back at me. (I know, I know. My stubby toes would have to be broken in three places each to actually curl this way, but work with me on this.)

Today I got a message from the bursar's assistant at Small College. The e-mail was friendly and upbeat.

"Hi, MomQueenBee. I just wanted to shoot you a reminder that you have a balance on your student account. If you have any questions or concerns please let me know and I'll be happy to help."

Ha, ha, ha! I thought to myself. Obviously they don't realize that I'm a GROWN-UP, and not a STUDENT, and that I don't pay Small College--Small College pays me! So I replied in the same cordial tone.

"I'm sorry, what is this about?"

"No problem…we’re showing a balance on your account of $289.28."

And with that, the rusty cogs of my memory engaged. Back right after Christmas, when I was more rested than I would be later, I was talking with a faculty friend about a class she would be teaching. It delved into how we use language, and before I knew it my fascination with words stampeded right over my calendar and signed up to audit the class. After the class began, I turned out to have a job at which people expected me to WORK on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (hrmph) and I missed class after class. I worried about this to my friend.

"That's okay," she told me. "Just drop by when you can."

"When I can" turned out to be at varying odd hours of the week, but never on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and I finally gave up. 

Except that I didn't exactly drop the class. I just stopped even pretending I could attend, and merrily assumed (tra-la-la!) that the little wood elves who take care of all the other paperwork in my life also would take care of this. I should have known better. 

For their whole lives but especially during the past eight years since Boy#1 left the nest, Husband and I had preached to our children the importance of paperwork. Ignore it at your own peril! we declared. Your scholarships will disappear! we told them. Your applications will be denied! we warned. Your life will be so much harder if you don't remember that when you are in college paperwork is EVERYTHING! we drilled into them. 


Because even though I am friends with the academic dean and he's a good guy and probably will waive the drop-add deadline for me, I kind of forgot everything I had preached to the Boys about the first basic rule of how to succeed in college and that is why the three stubby toes are pointing right back at me.

Give me an F in paperwork.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sniff. So Proud.

The picture of this medal arrived in my inbox last night. Boy#4, who has only taken up running this spring, got THIRD PLACE in the race he entered last weekend and wanted to make sure we knew.

"Have you ever been more proud of any of your sons?" Four added.

I'm not sure I have.

Of course, I'm beaming at the fact that my baby entered a race, a race in which he had to run. Husband and I have always known that the laws of genetics doomed our children's athletic aspirations before they were even born, what with their mother's coordination genes and their father's speed genes.

But our sons have something some racers don't have: They are wily and wildly competitive.

You see, this race was not merely running a pre-marked course to see who could cross the finish line first. No, this was the Gut Pak Run. In case you are not familiar with this event, it is a tradition at Far-Away Big University in which participants run from the center of campus to Vitek's Barbecue (1.1 miles), eat their signature dish (the Gut Pak) and then run back to the starting point.

The Gut Pak is built in a full-sized take-out container and contains: 

  • A layer of Fritos.
  • Beans.
  • Sausage.
  • Onions.
  • Lettuce.
  • Cheese.
  • Jalapenos (optional).
  • Pulled pork.
  • BBQ sauce.
  • Pickles.
  • And two slices of bread.
So essentially, this "race" is a two-mile run interrupted by a week's worth of calories. And Four did not barf (which would be the overwhelming inclination) but was the third person over the finish line. His older brother explained this achievement:

"We may not be fast on our feet, but we are very fast eaters. I'm guessing Four probably made up like three minutes there and on a two-mile race that's a lot."
Yup, we're wildly competitive and select our competitions carefully. It's a strategy that works for us.

So, so proud.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Crazy Book Lady

"Read at every wait; read at all hours; read within leisure; read in times of labor; read as one goes in; read as one goes out. The task of the educated mind is simply put: read to lead." 

- Cicero, Roman Statesman, Philosopher, and Lawyer

In the past week I have won TWO free books from Small Town Public Library's book sale cart.

Me! The woman who never wins anything! TWO BOOKS!

I could not be more excited about this because (1) I never win anything, and (2) did you not see the word "books"?

Husband is slightly less ecstatic, if the barely-concealed rolling eyes are any indication. He knows that I collect books like the Kardashian girls collect boyfriends. They're often trashy and a little well-traveled, but I do enjoy the heck out of them. Unlike the Kardashian boyfriends, though, I have a terrible time getting rid of the discards.

We have boxes of books piled into every spare corner of the House on the Corner. Some I have loved and may want to read again some day. Others I have started but not finished because either I didn't have time or because the book didn't meet my 50-page rule (if I'm not interested in 50 pages, I have no moral obligation to read every last word). I'm like a crazy cat woman who feeds every stray, only with stray books. (Is that metaphor a little stretched? Well, you know what I meant.)

So to keep peace in the house, when I went to pick up my two (FREE!) books I took along a box of strays to contribute to the book sale cart. I know they'll go to good homes, maybe even to the homes of other crazy cat book people.

And now if you will excuse me, I believe I'll go read.

*What am I reading? This and this and this. Yes, all at the same time.

**Also, thank you Small Town Public Library, for the books and for the Cicero quote I stole from your Facebook page.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Party Animals

So what kind of celebration does a CPA have when his birthday, year after year, falls smack dab in the middle of the busiest season on the calendar? Oh, it's a rip-roaring par-tay, complete with a microwave brownie for one, messily mixed together in a coffee cup.

Aside from calls from the Boys, the highlight of Husband's big day was lunch with his mother at her retirement village. The staff is wonderful and had set a table for three in a private area so that we could talk without interruption. After as much togetherness time as we've had in the past week (see: emergency room and hospital stay) we didn't have much to talk about, though, so we were glad that the nine-year-old son of one of the nursing staff was serving as our waiter.

Kaden was conscientious about his responsibility for clearing away the dishes ("Are you done with that plate yet? How about now? Going to eat that? Almost full?") and time was passing too slowly for him. Finally he sat down at the table's fourth chair while he waited for us to finish our pot roast.

This child does not suffer from shyness and we heard about his teachers and about his trips to the principal's office (of the 15 times, at least five hadn't been his fault), but the highlight was when he discussed his romantic history.

"I had a girlfriend in kindergarten," he informed us,  "but she broke up with me in first grade because I didn't like Justin Bieber."

Oh, man. Love hurts.

Happy birthday, Husband! Here's your brownie, and it's just fine with me if you don't like the Beebs. I love you anyway.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Orts and Blurb

Here are the subjects that didn't make the full-post cut this week:

1. My tiara! So, so cute. Thank you, S, for this gift that will mark me as the Homecoming Princess of Snow Days from now on. Yes, the glitter writing says "Birthday Girl" but we all know what it really signifies. In fact, I may never send out a weather advisory e-mail again--I'll just send this photo and watch the wild rumpus begin.

2. An observation: Husband learned something this week when he pointed out that someone has been filling up the DVR with trash television shows. When he swatted my upraised palm I had to explain to him the difference between a high five and a talk-to-the-hand. This was the latter.

3. Mother-in-law, recovery thereof: She's much better yesterday, thank you all so very much for the lovely comments. We are all in this tide pool together, aren't we?

4. Discombobulation: Because, holy cow, I have more than my share of it right now and cannot remember which day of the week it is. A snow day, an almost snow day, and a day spent in the emergency room means that every morning I wake up and wonder what clothes I should wear. Unfortunately, on only one of these occasions has the answer been my jammies.

5. And finally, the blurb: If you love garlic, you need this gizmo.

Yes! It's a rolling garlic chopper, and you will laugh when you roll it around your kitchen counter and it perfectly chops your garlic while you make vroom-vroom noises. You can find it here. The FDA (or someone) requires that we bloggers add a disclaimer when we are compensated for product endorsements, to which I reply "Ha! Ha! If only!"