Friday, June 28, 2013

But I Don't FEEL Old

When I was in college, there was a woman who lived down the hall and became a dear friend. With most of my college buddies, I would have said there was a "girl" who lived down the hall and became a dear friend, but this woman was a non-traditional learner who had been out in the world and had a real job but was returning to complete her degree. Although her name was Carol we called her "Mom" because she was old. Old, old, old. Plus she was wise, gave great advice, and cut our hair, just like our own moms did.

When I was in the Peace Corps, there was a woman who was in my training group and became a dear friend. Sixteen of the 17-person group were new college graduates but Solema was a grandmother and she was old. Old, old, old. Never mind that when she threw her back out it was because she fell off the mule she was riding to reach a school the bus couldn't reach.

Know how old Carol was when I met her? 28 years old.

Know how old Solema was when I met her? 52.

I introduce you to these women because when the seven of us leave on our trip tomorrow our ages will be 13, 17, 24, 25, 51, 52, and 58. Why, yes! That would be me bringing up the rear, the caboose on the age train.

But I don't feel old. I don't feel as mature as I thought Carol was when we were in college, or anywhere near as venerable as Solema was in the Peace Corps. Inside, I'm still the doofus I was at 13, albeit now with a driver's license. I'm surprised when a skillet full of scrambled eggs is now too heavy for me to lift with one hand, and when that crepey neck in the mirror is mine.

I need to remember, in the coming week, in the seven days of cramped quarters and unfamiliar conditions with co-travelers, that all of us feel like we're the same age inside and there wisdoms in each age. The younger ones have agility (both physical and mental) and those of us on the other end of the time spectrum have experience.

Then, in spite of the "old woman doing aerobics" graphic my free clip art source kept insisting I should use, I will let the kids help me with my luggage.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Messages Without Words

A week or so ago Boys#3 and #4 were at the dinner table when they began a conversation across the table.

"Did you know Mom was going on a mission trip? I did not."

"Nope. No one ever tells me anything."

"I asked Boy#1 and Boy#2 if they knew, and she hadn't told them, either."

Then two sets of eyes turned accusingly my way.

Whoops. I apparently had forgotten to tell my offspring that I was going on a one-week mission trip to Mexico. It had seemed so far away when I first signed up for the experience that I didn't want to get anyone's feathers in a ruffle; life was happening so fast and furiously all around me that who knew if I'd actually end up going? But then the days passed, and the weeks, and the months, and now--well, in 48 hours I'll be well down the road toward our southern neighbor.

If they'd thought about it, though, the Boys would have known this was going to happen someday, even if I hadn't told them in so many words.

For as long as I can remember I've known that if our congregation ever organized a mission trip to a Spanish-speaking country I would go. This trip seemed especially fitted to my skills, which are minimal. I can't do construction, I don't do plumbing or wiring, I don't even climb up on the kitchen island to change the burned-out light bulb, so I'm not exactly the one you want around when there's REAL work to be done.

But this group is going to be working in a orphanage. I can rock babies, and the vestigial remains of my former Spanish fluency are enough to communicate with little ones. I can clean, and paint. I also can blather on the internet, and I plan to do that in real time if we have internet access and post-return if we don't.

I'm not so naive as think I can make a difference in the lives of the people we'll be visiting for a week. I was a Peace Corps volunteer for 3 1/2 years, and certainly I didn't save the world in that amount of time.

I feel called to do this, though, and any of my readers who are as churchified as I am know the truth of this: Simply to be called is an honor. Any change that occurs, especially the change I hope to see in myself, is a bonus.

Meanwhile, if you're a praying type person, would you put my group of seven on your list for the next week? If the Owner of the orphanage is trying to tell me something during this experience, I don't want to miss it. Not even if He doesn't tell me in words.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Read Yesterday's Post Before You Read This One

If you have not read yesterday's post, it will make no sense to you whatsoever that I shrieked and jumped (yes, literally jumped) when I walked through the sun room doors this morning. Shrieked and jumped and palpitated. If I had been a cat, I would used up all nine lives repeatedly dying at this point.

But if you have read yesterday's post, you will not think it crazy that I was momentarily convinced that a nude door-opening snake had curled itself around my doorstop philodendron.

It took the space of three (extremely elevated) heartbeats before I remembered that last night I had been using this floor as a cutting surface when I reupholstered the seats of the old dining room chairs Boy#3 bought at a garage sale last weekend. I'm not one for cleaning up in-progress, but thought I had gathered up all the scraps when I finished.

Ooops. Guess I missed one.

To apologize to anyone scarred by yesterday's video, I offer up my absolute favorite internet find of the past year or so. Anyone who has had any contact at all with a two-year-old will...well, just watch it for yourself.

I can only hope I'm as imprinted by images of princesses as I was by images of the horrifying door-opening snake.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Surrounded by Wildlife

Exhibit A
Even when school is not in session and we lack student-generated noise and activity across the street at Small College, we do not lack for wildlife at the House on the Corner. Take Exhibit A, which was WITHIN INCHES of my feet as I did my cool-down (ha!) walk around the block yesterday.


I'm sorry for shouting, but did you catch the implication in this statement? Not only is there a skinless snake slithering around my neighborhood, that nude snake is less than a block from WHERE I SLEEP. Oh, heavens. It could be THIS SNAKE:

Is this the most horrifying video you have ever seen? Yes, I thought so, too.

After I saw, shakily photographed, and scurried away from the snakeskin, I went into the backyard to give Our Dog Pepper her breakfast. That's where I saw this:
Exhibit B
Ewwww. Not so horror-producing as a snakeskin, but Exhibit B chronicles (in my signature out-of-focus style) where mulberry-eating birds have snacked upon Our Dog Pepper's food, then left their tips in the form of purple poop.

Our Dog Pepper is now old enough that she just watches the starlings chow themselves into a Purina-induced stupor before they poop and waddle away.

Awww, it's okay, Pepper. You invite your friends over to breakfast any time you want.

We just love living in the middle of a game preserve.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A(nother) Moving Experience

Oh, hi there, people who just Googled "switch plate missing" and found my obviously professional-quality photograph of, well, a switch plate missing. The internet has not led you astray, people.

A MomQueenBee family member is on the move again, and I'm the designated photographer for family moves. In some clans this would mean taking a picture of a person carrying boxes, or a happy relocator holding keys and pointing to a new address on a mailbox, or something of the like.

In our family it means we document every single thing that is amiss in the new digs in hopes that someday the rental deposit will be returned intact.

Hahahahaha! I know! The very idea that someone would get a full rental deposit back is patently absurd, isn't it? Still, we try. So Friday afternoon as we were schlepping boxes of music into Boy#3's new digs I also was snapping pictures of a barely-visible scratch in the new hardwood (It was there when we moved in! Honestly!) and deciding whether available light or flash would best capture the truly horrendously dirty oven.

Don't believe me about the oven?  Look at this:

Oh, you can believe me that before he cooks a single cupcake in that monstrosity it will have been Easy-Off'd within an inch of its life. By his mother. Who is frantically documenting previously-existing damage and  trying to pretend that she's not going to miss this kid when he moves away from home, permanently this time, in a few weeks.

I snap pictures and clean ovens because there is a sense of finality to this move that has not been present in any of the other Boys' moves so far (all of which involved non-permanent education or internship relocations), and I'm just a little verklempt about it.

Please excuse me. I think I need to put my head back in the oven.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Happy Birthday, Boy#1!

Almost 27 years ago. Sunrise, sunset...
Happy birthday, Boy#1!

I'm sorry you're not home with us to celebrate, but in lieu of baking you a cake I have published a baby picture of you on the internet. This is in direct response to your law school classmates who, when I met them last month, specifically requested "more embarrassing baby pictures of Boy#1 in your blog."

It's a gift for everyone!

I'm glad you're my kid--you laugh at my jokes, you keep your brothers in line, and you brought Lovely Girl into our lives. Plus you're still the smartest, coolest, and best-looking.

We'll just forget about that time your intramural basketball team christened itself using a double-entendre term that made me scratch my head and say "Does that mean what I think it means, and if so, why is the school LETTING THEM MAKE T-SHIRTS WITH IT PRINTED ON THEM?"

You're a keeper.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

That Hurt

In spite of the sad mouth, this could look worse: I cropped off the saggy neck.
My Saturday wasn't all sunshine and roses, in spite of the cousins and the brotherly love that permeated the day. We stopped at the farm to leave a Father's Day card for my dad, who was becoming a swimming quintuple gold medal winner in the 86-90-year-old division of the Iowa Senior Olympics because he's just that awesome.

I'm sure Dad appreciated the card, but because he lives on a farm and I do not, I forgot to check the doorways for stinging insects and a yellow jacket nailed me on the chin. I repeat: I WAS STUNG. ON THE CHIN. BY A YELLOW JACKET.

It hurt.

Fortunately, my brave brother-in-law (Much Older Sister's chivalrous husband) not only knocked down the yellow jacket nest on the doorframe and sprayed it with something chemical and lethal, he dashed back into the house for a bag of ice the application of which gave immediate relief to my pain and panic.

By the time I reached the House on the Corner my chin was lumpy, red, and swollen, but it did not hurt. The pain didn't set in until I pointed out the lumpy, red, swollen injury to Husband and the Boys.

And they said, "Really? You can't even tell."


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Word of Encouragement for Mothers of Boys

Before our Boys were adults, it often felt as if parenting could be summed up in a single phrase, one I first spoke when they were newborns and repeated endlessly as they grew older.

Leave your brother alone.

We thought we would only need to say this when the inquisitive toddler had to be stopped from pulling up the baby's eyelids "to see if he was asleep," but we were wrong. We hoped we would be able to remove those words from our vocabulary when they reached the age of reason and knew that grabbing someone else's Legos would result in immediate chaos, but we couldn't. We dreamed that empathy and consideration would keep the teenager from slamming doors just because he knew his brother was sleeping but we were still wrong.

There were days when I thought these Boys would always be more Cain and Abel than Band of Brothers: Non-stop bickering and poking invariably  escalated to shouting and shoving. I remembered, though, that my two brothers had experienced much the same dynamic when they were growing up. At one point my mother decided they were fighting so much that they should formalize the arrangement and she handed them boxing gloves with which they whaled away at each other non-stop. When my brothers reached their late teens, though, they inexplicably morphed into best friends, each other's go-to-guy for laughs, advice, and comfort.

The same inexplicable transformation has happened with our Boys. The kids who couldn't be in each other's presence for five minutes without conflict have grown into best friends, and there is nothing (NOTHING!) that warms a mother's heart like the sight of her children enjoying each other. Seeing Boy#2's face at the first sighting of his brother, and watching him vault out of the car and sprint across the parking lot to exuberantly bear-hug Boy#4 when we reached Far Away University a few weeks ago--well, I suddenly had something in my eye.

Saturday night I came home from my cousins' reunion exhausted. It had been a long day of emotions and driving, and I mostly wanted to sit in a stupor and catch up on backlogged episodes of Chopped. But then Boy#3 and Boy#4 decided to go fly kites at the practice field, and Husband looked at me.

"Let's go watch them," he said.

It was a gorgeous evening and as the sun went down, Three's train kite and its 50 tiny kite-lets formed an arch across the sky. The Boys shouted encouragement to each other and ran before the gentle breeze in bare feet.

I wish I could share that moment with you, mothers of boys who are still in the endless bickering-to-shoving do-loop. One of these days your boys will kick out of that loop, and your hearts will soar like a train kite at sunset.

That moment, that one moment, is enough.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cousins, All Grown Up

The cousins, minus three
Okay, I'll be the first to admit that I did not really want to leave the house on Saturday. It's been a strenuous spring (boo-hoo, poor me) and with Husband's surgery on Thursday, I had a good excuse to stay home and plead nursing duties instead of making the trip to my childhood hometown for a family reunion. I wasn't looking forward to the seven hours I'd spend in the car for this meet-up.

But my oldest uncle isn't doing very well, and it was his birthday,  and his daughters had arranged the entire shindig and all I had to do was SHOW UP, for heaven's sake, so I bestirred myself and got in the car.

People, do you have any idea how much I would have hated missing this? In this generation of my father's family are 14 cousins, and 11 of us were there. There were cousins I hadn't seen in 40 years (no, I'm not exaggerating; yes, I'm really, really old) and people came from Virginia, New York, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Colorado as well as from the far-flung corners of our own state.

It was So. Much. Fun.

Somehow with the passage of time we have become the generation I think of as being my parents' age, and instead of being old and fun-less (as I had imagined they were when I was young) this is a great age to be. We've passed the age of becoming, and we are what we are going to be instead of what we hope to be some day, and we're okay with ourselves. We barely mentioned our jobs; all the conversation was about family and who is living where and how many grandkids and "Do you remember when Grandma..?"

I can sum up the afternoon by relaying a conversation I had with my cousin M. If you look at the picture above, with the cousins artfully arranged in chronological order, you'll see that there was a passel of girl cousins before any boy cousins were born. We played together by the hour, sometimes at their farm and sometimes at ours, but M was generally the ringleader. She was adventuresome and outspoken (and gorgeous) and she had BOTH a horse and a motorcycle. Oh, yeah, M was the real deal.

In recent years we've reconnected on Facebook, but apparently she is not a complete fan of this blog because she's never clicked through the links I add to my profile when I've pushed more blather onto the internet. Saturday she brought her dessert over to the table where Much Older Sister and I were finishing lunch and began to quiz me.

"Just what is this Empty Feathers thing you have going on? Is it some kind of club? Do you meet every single day? Why do you keep talking about it on Facebook?" she pinned me with her older-cousin stare. Much Older Sister began to giggle.

"Uh, no, it's a blog, and I just write about whatever I'm thinking about," I told her.

"Well, good, because I came over here to tell you that your kids are grown up! Get over it! Get a life!"

Then we laughed until we cried, but it was touching as well as funny because she was concerned about me and thought I needed to shape up, and only cousins and siblings can tell you that kind of thing.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A More Patient Patient

Back when Husband and I were young and newly wed and starry-eyed just to be in each other's presence, my beloved ran every morning before work. I'd hear the door to our little house in the Big City close, and then he would stretch out next to the garbage cans before setting off on his route.

Except for one morning, when the I heard the door close, then a thud, then the sound of something being dragged across the porch. The dragging sound turned out to be Husband pulling his own body across the porch. He was not dead, but for the next few days he was not sure that this might not have been a better alternative: As he bent to stretch his notoriously tight back muscles had rebelled and the ensuing spasm pain felled him as instantly as if he'd been clubbed over the head.

This was the first time I had the opportunity to prove what a wonderful nurse I could be so I immediately called my boss and told her I would be unavailable to proofread the college catalog that day, because my Husband needed me. I lovingly supported my poor sweetie as he limped into the house and helped him change out of his running clothes and into a comfy velour (it was the early '80s) sweatsuit. Then I called the doctor, drove to the pharmacist for muscle relaxants, pulled out the sofa bed so Husband could be near me as he slept, and made sure he had the television remote control in case he woke up and was bored.

A few hours later the pain medication had kicked in enough that I took my proofreading to the back bedroom so I could work as Husband slept. It was then that I heard a pathetic voice from the living room.

"Honey? Honey? Are you there?"

"Yes, Husband, I'm here!"

"Could you bring me a mirror, please?" Husband's confident baritone had been reduced to a sad whisper. But what might he need with a mirror? Had he injured something when he fell on the porch? Was there maybe a bone sticking out?

I grabbed a hand mirror and rushed for the living room, where I found Husband sitting up in his convalescent couch.

He took the mirror, held it at an angle juuuuust so, and announced "Look! I can bounce the remote signal off all four walls and still get the television to go on!"

I looked at him for a long, silent moment. Then I got in the car and went back to my office.

I tell that story to explain why I had been anticipating Husband's surgery yesterday with more than a little apprehension. In normal times he's the most stoic person I know--those notoriously tight back muscles I mentioned? They're the pits, and I don't even notice the bad days until I see that the tips of his ears have gone white. But as a patient? Well, let's just say it's a good thing I was the designated birther in the family or Boy#1 would have been an only child.

The surgery was not completely unexpected (many, I would venture to say most) manly men who lift heavy objects have it at some point in their lives, especially if their notoriously tight back muscles sometimes interfere with proper lifting techniques. But in the weeks leading up to the scheduled operaiton I did not look forward to being the home health aide to this recuperating man.

Today, 24 hours later, I am pleased to announce that all went well, and that Husband is being about the best patient I could imagine. No excessive pain, no whining, and no requests for hand mirrors make for a pretty boring blog post, but I'm not complaining.

Also, thank you, Percocet.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

^;;^ (That's a Spider)

From here
Are you sick of me talking about how wonderful my Much Older Sister is? Yes? No? Well, I don't care, because you're going to hear about her one more time today.

During our weekend at the convention during which MOS worked her fingers to the bone and I ate breakfast in the bathtub, we found that humans aren't the only ones who think she is the bomb and someone to get to know better. Arachnids apparently find her irresistible as well.

My sister went home from the convention with a brown recluse spider bite.

I know! We shared a room and bathroom (and I was in the room about 400 percent more time than she was), went to all the same places, wore basically the same type of clothes (although I wore mostly skirts and she wore mostly slacks) and still I came home unbitten and she went home with a dime-sized bite behind her knee that got worse and worse until she visited a doctor and found she had been nibbled by this innocuous-looking but dangerous beast.

Please, do not Google "brown recluse spider bite." The resulting images will scar your retinas, making it impossible to be sure that it's just Charlotte building a web in the corner and not something far more ominous. is responsible for the picture of a penny and spider that illustrates this post, and also gives the following advice on identifying a brown recluse:
These spiders usually have markings on the dorsal side of their cephalothorax, with a black line coming from it that looks like a violin with the neck of the violin pointing to the rear of the spider, resulting in the nicknames fiddleback spider, brown fiddler or violin spider. Since the violin pattern is not diagnostic, and other spiders may have similar markings (such as cellar spiders and pirate spiders), for more assurance in identification it is imperative to examine the eyes. Most spiders have eight eyes; recluse spiders have six eyes arranged in pairs (dyads) with one median pair and two lateral pairs.
Well, that's a relief. Now I can can check the cephalothorax for a violin and count the pairs of eyes to make sure I properly identify the assassin spider before I run shrieking from the room, flailing around and trying to whap every bug I see with a flip-flop. Or I can just hang around with my sister, and assume they'll bite her instead of me.

Obviously, she's much sweeter. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Beware, Apostrophates!

Bing wouldn't tell me where this originated, so if you're the original owner, thank you!
Yesterday the preacher began his sermon saying he was going to talk about apostasy. Well, that perked my ears right up, and I had a internal snit-fit in which I said things to myself such as "Finally! Someone is going to straighten out our terrible punctuation habits once and for all!" and "I hope he really comes down hard on the difference between the possessive 'its' and the contraction 'it's," before I realize he was not referring to apostrophes and concluded my snit-fit with a Miss Emily Litella moment:

Apostasy, as I now know because I listened to the sermon, refers to the abandonment of a religious or political belief. An apostrophe, of course, is the punctuation mark we use upon the abandonment of COMMON SENSE AND REASON.

Ahem. I'm so sorry. I may be more Rosanne Rosannadanna than Emily Litella. (Although was Gilda Radner the funniest person, perhaps ever?)

But it annoys me beyond reason when I see apostrophes misused when they are perhaps the easiest of punctuation marks to use, or at least among the three easiest, and many grown-up intelligent human beings act as if they're splitting the atom when they have to decide whether to use one.

Are you one of those people? Okay, then, here are two easy rules for apostrophes, and if you always apply them you will be right most of the time.
  1. Are you making two words into one word? Put an apostrophe in the space you are leaving out the spare letters before you slam the two parts together. It is=It's. She is=She's. They are=They're. Will not=Won't (which admittedly is slightly more complicated, but you get the idea).
  2. Can you replace the apostrophe you want to use with the word "of"? Go ahead and throw it in. Carol's Volkswagen=the Volkswagen of Carol. Sheila's questionnaire=the questionnaire of Sheila. Frank's mustard=the mustard of Frank. (Except for the possessive its, which is a special snowflake. Memorize this: The possessive 'its' does NOT have an apostrophe.)
That's it. Those are the only two questions you need to ask. There will be occasional exceptions to these rules, but not enough that you won't look fairly competent in using apostrophes. You will not make hysteria-inducing mistakes such as INDICATING A PLURAL BY INSERTING AN APOSTROPHE.

I'm so sorry for shouting, again, but heavenly days, people, what have we come to?

And thank you!
Two words into one? Open of Sunday? I think not! Out, errant apostrophe! Or this:

And also thank you!
Two words into one? Greek of cheese? Nope and nope.

I have more than half-seriously proposed a tax on apostrophes, so that we would stop flinging them around with such wild abandon. So far it has not been adopted by our state legislature, but I bet if we had to pay a surcharge on each one (say a dollar a pop?) we'd think twice before throwing one in a word just for ornamentation. Also it could completely solve the state's budget issues.

Until that happens, I will leave searching for apostasy and apostates to persons holier than I. I'm going after apostrophes and apostrophates.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A New Record

One of the many, many perks of being the Much Younger Sister of my Much Older Sister is that I've pretty much skated through life as the tail to her kite, wafting along on the breezes without having to do any of the work. That's certainly the case this weekend when I have been her roommate at a big convention.

I have a very (very) minor role at the convention but MOS is one of the Big Wigs. This means not only does she have to work from way before dawn to way after dark, her hair always looks great.

No, no, that's not what it means--that was suposed to be funny, because I called her a Big Wig. Although her hair does look great this weekend. What it really means is that she gets the Big Suite the Big Hotel comps the Big Wigs who do all the work on the convention. The only catch is that the second room of the Big Suite is used for board meetings and guest speaker getaways, but that's not a problem because those events happen during parts of the day Much Older Sister is occupied elsewhere.

And who is MOS's roommate? Yes! The tail of the kite gets all the perks without the work, remember? (Also, I may make that my life motto. All the perks without the work.)

Anyway, this morning my meetings didn't start until later than my sister's, and when I woke up she had left me a fresh-brewed pot of coffee and a sausage McMuffin, because did I mention she's the nicest person in the world? For two days I had been eyeing the Jacuzzi, which is the kind I always see with envy on HGTV but never have the opportunity to try. I had an extra hour before my meeting, fresh coffee, a good book (which I own so it doesn't matter if it falls in the water)....

Breakfast in bath turns out to be so, so much better than breakfast in bed, because there's not the pesky crumb issue when you're done.

However, when you hear a tap on the door, then the sound of the pass-key clicking in the lock, then the sound of someone saying "Hello? Banquet services!" you discover in the mirror beside the tub that your face can look exactly like Lucy's when Ricky calls "Lucy, I'm hoooome!"

And that's how I found out just how quickly I can go from wet to dry to dressed: Three minutes flat.

It's a new record.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I Wasn't Talking About You

The upside of a blog is that it's short and doesn't take long to read or, usually, to write. I normally don't spend a ton of time composing and editing and polishing and shining the jewels of wisdom that I drop into this space. The downside of a blog is that sometimes you, my dear reader, may get hit over the head with a jewel so unpolished it more closely resembles a hammer than a diamond. 

I'm so sorry! I wasn't talking about you!

If you were offended because I expressed irritation at parents who appear completely tone deaf to the disturbance they and their kids cause during solemn occasions, I apologize. I wasn't looking at you when I said that. I know you are trying to teach your children how to behave in this kind of occasion, and you can't do that unless you are AT this kind of occasion. I know you have prepped your children in advance that this is a Quiet Place, and a Sit Still place, and you have age-appropriate quiet activities in your bag that you distribute during the age-appropriately boring sections of the occasion.

(Although, if you are letting your child jump on the pew beside you without making it a teaching moment and firmly returning said child's fee to the floor, I'm looking at you.)

My feelings on this are exactly the same as are expressed right here--"That Mom" says eloquently what I meant to say, which is that I'm glad you are here with your children. 

But learning how to be age-appropriately attentive during church or a commencement service or a movie is a skill that must be taught, and even if your kids aren't quite there yet, I see you working hard to teach them this skill. Keep up the good work! Could I mop your brow or bring you a glass of cold water? I know this is grueling and often discouraging.

When the Boys were small and Husband and I were trying to herd the four of them into silence during sermons, my mother promised me that once they were older church would become worship again and not a battle of wills and don'ts. She was right, and there is no greater joy than seeing your children beside you in church as adults. 

So if you are one of the hard-working parents who are teaching their children age-appropriate behavior in public places, good for you! I'm proud of you, and this investment of sweat equity will pay off down the road.

I wasn't talking about you.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

No Se Habla Espanol

Back in my salad days I could speak Spanish.

Really! At the risk of sounding braggy (or presuntosa, as we apparently say according to Google translate), during my Peace Corps years in Costa Rica I once had an actual native tell me he thought I was a Tica because my accent was so good. Now, at the time I was 24 and naturally blonde so the guy may have been trying to make up the eight inches he was shorter than I by throwing some sweet talk my way, but whatever. I believed him. I believe now, though, that no one would say that to me today, even if were magically once again 24 and once again naturally blonde.

In a few weeks Boy#2 and some of his college buddies are taking a trip to Costa Rica, and I've been cyber-corresponding with the family I lived with during my stay in Central America. When I wrote to ask for hotel recommendations, I even wrote out what I wanted to say in English first so that I wouldn't make any mistakes.

"Hi, Vital! My son is going to visit Costa Rica with some friends. Would you happen to know of a good hotel in San Jose that doesn't cost much but would be safe? I would be so grateful to you if you could give me some recommendations."

"Hola, Vital!" I wrote my older "brother," starting out all easy-peasy. And then I was stumped.

What was the proper conjugation for the future tense? The conditional? The dreaded subjunctive?

Uh, "mi hijo" is correct when it refers to my son. And I'm pretty sure "va a visitar" is still the proper translation of "going to visit," but what about "I would be grateful to you"? Direct objects, people. They're hard.

I began to throw tenses and "les" and "las" and accent marks against the screen as if I were trying to clear my board in a multilingual online Scrabble game. I'm pretty sure when I finished it read like a Chinese menu, all quaint and quite incorrect.

But I think, perhaps, Vital will forgive me. He was a very nice guy back in my salad days, and will understand that during the intervening three-mumble decades since I lived with his family my Spanish has lost a step. Or perhaps dos steps.

Muy amable, Vital. Gracias!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Commencement Speech I Wasn't Asked to Give

This actually isn't me--I found the picture here.
Hey, new graduates! Thank you for asking me to speak to you today and congratulations! You're wonderful! You're fabulous! You're the hope for the future and the remedy for the past! Blah-blah unicorns and leprechauns!

Okay, now that I have reassured you (and your parents) that you are particularly stellar specimens of humanity, let me take off my commencement speaker hat and talk to you as someone who from time to time hires people. Unless you have been especially astute in your choice of careers (hey, congratulations, computer systems analysts!) or plan to go into the family business (and congratulations to you, Donald Trump's children!), you are going to come face-to-face with me or someone like me in the near future. I am particularly good at hiring people (if I do say so myself) so I'm going to confess that there is only one thing I will be asking myself as I interview you, and I will ask it from the moment I first open your cover letter until I contact you to offer congratulations or condolences. That thing is this:

Will this person make my job harder or easier?

That's it. That's the whole basis I use to evaluate job candidates.

Do you have a spelling error in your resume? That will make my job harder, obviously. Did you use Comic Sans as your font of choice? Yes, professional ridicule tends to make my job harder. Are your tattoos or cleavage distracting my attention? If you're showing that much skin in the interview, I worry about how much you'll reveal after you're hired and my job is harder when I lose my train of thought because I'm trying to figure out how to tell you to cover those things up.

But when you tell me that you already know a computer program we use, that makes my job easier. When you say that you've noticed an improvement that can be made on our website, that also makes my job easier. When you show up on time, look me in the eye when we shake hands, know what your strengths are, and act like a grown-up, that makes my job easier.

Then if I hire you, remember that times are tough all over and no job has a lifetime guarantee any more so you want to make it difficult for me to let you go. Be a good employee and act like a grown-up. When you decide whether to show up late and leave early, does that make my job easier or harder? When you take three days on a project that we all know should take three hours, easier or harder? When you're unavailable to work the special weekend event even though you knew this was a requirement when you were hired, easier or harder? When you show up dressed like the end of a hard night...well, you know the question.

It's not that your boss is lazy, it's that she's busy--busy making her own boss's life easier instead of harder, so if she's having to deal with your special issues (Really? You think it's appropriate to bring your dog to work?) that brings you to the front of her mind when she's having to make the list for possible downsizing.

Unless you're the Trump children, and if that is the case, congratulations on your graduation!