Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

It's been so long since I've done Friday Orts that you don't know my opinion on several important topics. That is something up with which we cannot put.

Subject one: The color of the year, which you all know by now is Pantone 18-3224, Radiant Orchid. My opinion on this is "Well, huh."

According to the Pantone people who make these pronouncements, "Radiant Orchid blooms with confidence and magical warmth that intrigues the eye and sparks the imagination. It is an expressive, creative and embracing purple—one that draws you in with its beguiling charm. A captivating harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones, Radiant Orchid emanates great joy, love and health."

All I know is that it's the exact same color Much Older Sister wore to light candles in my uncle's wedding when she was 13, and that was many, many, many years before this year so if we're going for new trends this one is not it.

Subject two: Toast apparently is the new cupcake. All of you lovely reader(s) are so hip and happening that you undoubtedly knew this months ago, but I was unaware that toast has now moved into the food arena's spotlight as the most supercool overpriced item on the menu. After looking at some of the examples of artisanal toast, though, I think I could get behind this trend.

Subject three: My efforts to get MY OWN MONEY back from the company that holds it until I need reimbursement for something I've spent on MY OWN MEDICAL CARE, SUCH AS TEETH CLEANING. On second thought, I think I'll leave that one for another week because I'm having a nice morning (mmmm, toast!) and I don't want to stomp all over that mellow.

Subject four, in which I learned something about myself. If you found a fully-wrapped fun-sized Hershey bar on the ground, what would you do? Now supposing you found a package of gum (all individual pieces fully wrapped) on the ground? Yesterday I was placed in a position to answer both of those questions within a few hours and my answers turned out to be "duh" and "ick." Apparently the thought of eating a Hershey bar is irresistible to me, even though said bar has been on the ground, because chocolate. The gum, however, made me turn up my gross-discerning nose because it had been on the ground. Again: Well, huh.

Subject five, today's blurb: I have an informal multi-tiered ranking of the blogs I read. Some I read only if I'm sitting in the car and don't have any knitting with me. Some I try to catch up on when I can but if I miss a day or two, it's not a problem. For the four or five writers in my top tier, though, I pretty much drop what I'm doing and read as soon as they come across my feed.

Linda Holmes, the National Public Radio commentator on pop culture, is at the top of the top tier. Her blog, Monkey See, says what I think so many times that I sometimes feel she's my long-lost much-younger twin. She makes me think harder about what I see in movies and television, and has great insights on the way something we may think of as sonic wallpaper actually influences our lives. And she writes beautifully.

For a good introduction, read her take on the recent study that showed women prefer men who drive pick-up trucks. It contains the following paragraph, which made me laugh:
This is a study, for real, that imagines that a group of women are sitting around, Sex And The City-style (the only way women do anything according to studies like this), and one of them says to the other one, "My new boyfriend drives a minivan." And everybody makes a little face. You know, they're all judging. Like we do. And then another one says, "My new boyfriend drives a UPS truck." And everybody else goes, "Well, GAME SET MATCH, I cannot compete with that."
 Spend the weekend reading her archives. It's an investment in your brain.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Cautionary Tale

I had hoped  my head would be far enough above the water to let me to write Friday Orts and a Blurb last week. It wasn't and I didn't, but I had my blurb all ready to go, I realized today I probably shouldn't wait until another week has gone by to publish it, because it could save someone else from the sad fate that befell  me.

Husband and I are trying to be the kind of healthy people that grace the front page of the AARP newsletter. They are shiny-haired and smiling and too busy to look at the camera because they are scuba diving and parachute jumping and whatnot. If you know Husband and me, you know we have not yet been called to model for this publication. But we still want to be that kind of healthy.

To this end I've started stocking bags of almonds for the times when we're too famished to wait for the pureed cauliflower to reach the table. A handful of almonds, according to nutrition experts, are practically health in a bag. They lower your cholesterol and higher your potassium and I don't even know what else, but Dr. Google is very impressed by them.

So, anyway, I've been buying the big bags of almonds for snacks and last week I saw that Blue Diamond sells a dark chocolate flavored variety. I checked the calorie count, saw it was identical to the regular almonds, and threw the bag in the cart.

This was a very, very huge mistake.

These almonds taste like a Hershey bar that has been inverted onto itself, leaving the most delicious parts behind. Except that unlike a Hershey bar that is finite and makes you quit eating because you have finished the whole bar, these almonds are in a nice big gigaquintillion-calorie bag.

"I'll just have two more," you say to yourself when you have finished having the recommended serving size of a dozen nuts. That original dozen were healthy, but the excess two (or four or 14 or however many handsful) go straight to your waist and hips.

"That's okay!" your waist urges you. "Those are so delicious--eat some more!" "Don't forget that if you eat them while you're standing up the calories don't count!" your hips chime in.

If you decide to ignore my warning and buy some dark chocolate almonds, don't blame me. A waist is a terrible thing to mind, but the hips straight-out lie.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Queen, Not a Princess

Today I am offering you a rare view into my bottom desk drawer. The top drawer is filled with office supplies--extra rolls of Scotch tape, staple puller, letter opener, quarters for the vending machines, that kind of thing. The bottom drawer, though, is my comfort drawer.

In this drawer are hand sanitizer to keep me healthy, lemonade mix to keep me hydrated, notecards to keep me connected, and the most important element of all, a rice bag to keep me from running into the hallway shrieking "It is so cold in this office that I CANNOT WORK. OR LIVE."

What, you don't have a rice bag? Where do you live--Equatorial Guinea? Obviously you do not live anywhere near God's State. We have been in a weather pattern that means it's 60 degrees on Monday-Wednesday-Friday and 15 below on Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, with possibility of weather change on Sundays. It is the weirdest weather ever, and means we have no chance to acclimatize to the cold.

I'm prepared for this variability, though, because years ago my mother made rice bags for everyone she knew. I had never seen one of these rice-filled pillows with the cozy flannel covers before, but it only took approximately six seconds to become an adoring fan of the idea. Stick the rice bag in the microwave for a couple of minutes then apply it to anything that is needs to be warmed up--feet, hands, neck, nose, anything that's chilly feels better instantly and the heat lasts for hours.

I have rice bags everywhere. There's a basket of bags at the bottom of the stairway, ready to be heated and slid under the covers for a few minutes to pre-heat sheets. There's a rice bag next to "my" television watching chair so I can have warm hands while I pretend to be Lady Grantham. And there's a rice bag in the bottom drawer of my desk so that the stone walls of our 100-year-old administration building don't give me chilblains. (Wow, you will so regret a click over to that Wikipedia link. Ick.)

The only problem is that my rice bags have led to a moment of discovery about myself. This morning I woke to find that the rice bag I preheated my sheets with had been so cozy that I fell asleep before I scooted it out of the bed. I had spent the night rolling around on two pounds of rice, and the lump in the bed didn't even wake me up.

Apparently I am not a princess. How disappointing.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Preserve Your Memories

One of my oldest and dearest friends e-mailed me last Thursday. The gist of the communication was "Everything okay? You aren't posting and I want to make sure you haven't died or something." (That's the New American Standard translation, and liberties may have been taken from the original Greek.)

Everything fine here. Last week was trustee meeting and between that and the frozen brain cells that have resulted from Mother Nature's latest blast of let's-stick-you-in-the-freezer-and-see-if-you-have-more-sympathy-for-English-peas-now, I didn't find the three minutes I usually use to think about blog posts during the latter part of the week.

Then on Saturday I was busy de-stuff-ifying.

The process has been going quite smoothly so far. Every Saturday I don't have to be out of town I have committed to removing four garbage bags and/or boxes of stuff from the House on the Corner, so after three weeks I have lightened the load on its weight-bearing beams by TWELVE BAGS! Woooo!

The experience has been strangely liberating. I have two keep-or-dispose-of litmus tests--Have I used it recently? and Does it have sentimental value to my children?, and if the answer to both of those questions was "no," out it went. Bags of old birthday cards and lists from 1997 went into the trash. Counted cross-stitch kits that I will never finish went into the Goodwill pile. Books that I will never re-read were earmarked for the library book sale.

And then we came to the records.

When Husband and I married, we each brought into the union a healthy stack of long-playing vinyl that we played on our fancy turntable with the three-foot-tall speakers. A few years later, though, we moved to the House on the Corner, where we discovered that it's not only humans who get a little shaky after 100 years on the planet. Walking across the living room floor while the stereo was playing would cause the needle to skip, so we stopped playing the albums until the problem could be fixed. Meantime, here came digital recordings, MP3 players, all kinds of gizmos that made LPs obsolete. Our stacks of records sat properly on their edges (to avoid warping) for almost 30 years. We loved those records--they were the soundtrack of our angst years, and just hearing Elton John croon the title song of his Friends album could transport me back to my moody high school self.

Saturday we decided it was time to let someone who would actually play these records have a chance at them. I called a local collector, who said he was interested, and we carted the 150 or so albums down to the dining room table. As it turned out, though, the collector had a different perception of the desirability of our albums than we did. He shuffled through a few, grabbed a handful out of the stacks, and was out the door before we could explain that this was IMPORTANT MUSIC.

This was the Switched-on Bach that was my very first album! That was the Jesus Christ Superstar recording that I played until it was etched into my brain! Those were the Broadway cast recordings that made me love Music Man and West Side Story and Cabaret! Over there is the recording of The First Family that I can still quote verbatim ("The rubber ducky? Is mine.")! He didn't even glance at any of these, or at the Carpenters or the Eagles or the Marshall Tucker Band, or Peter Paul and Mary. It was heartbreaking.

But then I remembered, again, the rules I'm using in this process. We haven't listened to any of those records for at least 25 years, and they have no sentimental value to my children, so they're leaving the house. I am de-stuff-ifying and that makes me happy, but these records have taken me back to a time of innocence, a time of confidences, and that makes me melancholy.

I think I'll go listen to some Simon and Garfunkel.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I'd Like to Speak to His Wife

Several days ago a young friend tagged me in a post on Facebook. He had just read an online article about rearing kids, and he wanted to know my opinion. I read the article, and stewed for a while. Then I stewed a while longer. If you're not into stewing about rearing kids, you might want to go ahead and skip out this post, but if you've thought about this issue, I'm going to give you my opinion. (I have an opinion? How shocking!)

Okay, go read it. It's provocatively titled "How I Made Sure All 12 of My Kids Could Pay For College Themselves."  That title, my friends, is pure Google bait. I bet he gets a gazillion views because what parent doesn't want to know the secret to that? Anyway, go! Read!

(humming and filing my nails)

Are you back? Good. Let's discuss.

I found this article perhaps one of the most supremely irritating articles on child-rearing that I have read in my entire life, but for a long time I couldn't pin down exactly what I found irritating about it. Finally I realized it's because this screed apparently was written by a man who believes wholeheartedly that he has FOUND THE SECRET TO PARENTHOOD. That if you follow and check off these things that he (and, we assume, his wife, although she's barely mentioned) did in raising their 12 children, that you, too, could have offspring who are college-educated, married, "thin, athletic, and very healthy," and able to pull the engine of a '65 Mustang. The article said to me "We had perfect children because we did this, and your children are LOSERS because you did not check off this checklist."

Husband and I have only four children, not 12. We are different from this man in that while we are more than fortunate to have good jobs and have never been homeless or hungry or even truly worried about where the next mortgage payment was coming from, we could not have written out the checks to send our children through the colleges of their choice. But mostly we're different from him in that we knew we didn't have all the parenting answers. We did the best we could every day, then we got up the next day and did it again, praying all the time that we weren't screwing the Boys up too badly while they were under our watch.

All parents raise their children according to what is important in their own lives. In our case, that meant that I read to any child who asked me, any time and no matter what else needed to get done. The Boys had to take piano lessons until they were in eighth grade. They could sign up for any activity, but if they signed up they could not drop out until that season was finished. The Boys had paper routes as soon as they were old enough to carry the bags, and part-time jobs when they turned 16. They did not have cell phones until they had their unrestricted driver's licenses, and they didn't have their learner's permits until they had taken driver's ed. We had set meal times and didn't watch television while we ate. They had savings accounts as newborns and checking accounts as soon as they could sign their names in cursive, and what they earned went into college savings with only a fraction kept out for spending. Each Boy did his own laundry after the age of 10 or so, and help with the house and yard was assumed. Church and youth group were not optional, and each Boy was expected to go to church camp.

So which of these things do I credit with the fact that we raised (in my totally unbiased opinion) the greatest kids in the world? None. They're productive, good-hearted adults through God's grace and sheer luck.

If you have children, you will know that your children often are reflections of what is important to you--in our case, faith and work ethic and music and fiscal responsibility and so on. Our kids are not athletes because quite frankly, I find throwing and catching a ball the most boring thing in the world. They are not mechanically-inclined because Husband and I are not bent that way.

We were lucky that they're smart and good test-takers, and that my job provides for tuition exchange at many fine colleges so they had options in education most students only dream of. We were lucky that they were able to find part-time jobs in this era when jobs for teenagers are harder and harder to come by. We were lucky that quirks of nature did not leave them with random diseases (mental or physical) that would changed their life trajectories as children. We were so, so blessed.

As for the article? I'm glad the author was blessed as well, because it gives him the illusion that he controlled how his children turned out. (Parenthetically, I'd like to talk to his wife, who I'm fairly sure was the one tasked with carrying out the child-rearing methods he lists so proudly.) Personally, I find the thought of 5:30 a.m. breakfast appalling, especially for teenagers whose circadian rhythms have been proven to be different from those of adults. The thought of sending a five-year-old on an airplane to Europe by herself makes me hope they tipped the flight attendants generously, and apologized to the person sitting in the next seat.

I'm glad your children turned out so well, author. You, like all the rest of us parents, did the best you could every day and then you got up the next day and did it again.

It's all any of us can do.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Unexpected Plot Twist

Was this in the movie?
Husband and I are continuing our unprecedented streak of actually going to movies before they are so old they are un-findable either in theatres or on Netflix. Friday we decided we were grown-ups with no responsibilities whatsoever so we left our respective jobs an hour early (promising ourselves we would make up the time later, which we did) and went to see if Chris Pine is a worthy successor to Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan. (Spoiler: Yeah, I think he is.)

People, if you ever wonder where everyone is on Friday afternoons, now I know. The cinema was PACKED with retirees, and with families, and with more people than I've ever seen in the middle of the wheat field where Small Town's multiplex is located. Apparently we were not forging trails in trying to get the matinee prices, because we stood in line to get tickets and the concessions queue was backed up to the entrance.

"You get the drinks, I'll go get seats," I told Husband, ready to elbow my way through little old ladies and preschoolers to stake out our preferred spots on the aisle. I dashed up the ramp and to the right and down the hall to where Shadow Recruit was being shown.

I was the second person in the room! Woo! My choice of seats!

For the next half hour I surfed the net on my phone as I watched the theatre slowly fill, all the while waiting for Husband to come around the end of the entry ramp with our popcorn. I watched all the ads through multiple cycles, turned off my phone when the previews started, and wondered what was taking him so long.

And then the movie started, me still without my date and my popcorn. I was surprised to see how violent the beginning of the movie was, but I stayed through a good 10 minutes before the credits started to roll and the light dawned: Husband wasn't the one who was missing. This was Ride Along, and I was in the wrong place.

I sheepishly ducked out of that theatre and across the hall to where Shadow Recruit had been playing for 10 minutes and where Husband was thinking that losing his wife was a plot twist he had not anticipated.

Some day Shadow Recruit will be on television and then I'm going to watch the first 10 minutes and see how it starts. Until then, don't tell me--I want to be surprised.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

The 2013 Christmas season came to an official close last night in the House on the Corner.

I know, I know, for most of you Christmas had been over for some time, but do you see that box on the puzzle table? Those are my half of the QueenBee family Christmas cards. We don't send out many, because most of our friends see us every day and many of the remainder read this blog (hi, friends!) so they're already full to the gills with our news.

The 25 or cards were ready to address and stamp almost exactly a month ago, but did I get them done before Christmas? I did not. Did I get them done before New Year's? No. Did I get them done during the 12 days of Christmas? Once again, nope.

For some reason I had a total mental block about sitting down and writing "Hope you have a great 2014!" at the bottom of our (tacky) pre-printed letter. But last night, when Husband was delayed with a client and supper was already to go on the table, I pulled out a pen and started addressing. The process took me about an hour, start to finish, and that's approximately 1/100th of the amount of time I spent cringing in guilt every time I passed the accusatory open lid of the box of cards.

So if you are one of those whose cards were supposed to be in the mail, today they are!

Well, what do you know! There are a whole lot of us out there who want to de-stuff-ify during 2014. I was delighted to not be the only one who feels that creeping accumulation is beginning to strangle me. Thanks for the words of encouragement--I'm four bags down on my goal of 100, and ready to do another couple tomorrow.

For all of those who have said you'll de-stuff-ify along with me, how about a giveaway to sweeten the pot? Comment here (or on my Facebook page, if you prefer) and set your own goal (bags of stuff out of your house). The goal can be anything from 1, which is not much of a stretch if you ask me, to 1,000, which may be too much of a stretch. Let me know by the end of January that you're playing along.

Prizes will be something from my own little knitting fingers, but I don't know exactly what will be given away. (Why, yes, I'm really good at this giveaway thing. Why do you ask?) Probably a hat since I seem to be the hat queen right now, or socks if you prefer, or a stack of dishcloths. Or maybe you'll get the gorgeous shawl I have on my needles at the moment. It is PURTY.

Whatever, come and play with the rest of us de-stuff-ifiers. I'll send you some GOOD stuff!

A gourd? Really? Did not know.
The ort this week will cause most of you to say "Pfffft, MomQueenBee, where have your taste buds been all their lives? Are you just now discovering this product?"

To which I will reply, "Go away, mockers. I'm thinking of butternut squash and I don't want to be distracted."

I had never cooked this bulky gourd (yes!Wikipedia says it is!) until the past six months or so, and people, I am converted. I am now buying a butternut squash pretty much every time I walk into the grocery store; it's become what jars of peanut butter were to my grocery list when the Boys were around.

We have squash roasted, pureed, baked, in stew, as a thickener for soups and chili, just about any way it can be cooked. As a rule Husband doesn't really like squash unless it has butter and brown sugar on it, but he'll go back for seconds of this variety in pretty much any form.

If you aren't yet a butternut user, don't be intimidated by the idea of peeling it. Use a large-ish knife (NOT a carrot peeler) and lop off the top and bottom inch, then peel down the sides. Oh, look! Here are instructions with photos.

Butternut squash. Get some today. Then share it with me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Amended Retirement Plans

Because we are cultured and high-brow, those of us who live or have lived at the House on the Corner have been known to watch an occasional game show. Jeopardy, of course, and we are insufferable when we get an answer the contestants miss. Wheel of Fortune because I would DOMINATE if I ever got on this show and a girl can always dream of half cars and prize puzzles. The Price Is Right because we love the yodeling mountain climber. And Family Feud.

Oh, Family Feud.  You sleazy, worthless show where the answer is usually some variation of "make love" or the name of a private body part. How many hours have I spent with my darling offspring, hooting at contestants who are sure that Chicago is a state?

Over the Christmas break we happened to be watching the show when one Boy looked at another and said, "Hey, there are four of us and with Lovely Girl, we could be a team."


That started the ball rolling and before the current sleazy host could call out "SHOW ME NUMBER FIVE!" they were all on their computers to see what it would take to become a Family Feud family. (Oddly, they did not ask Husband or me to be part of the team.)

All of this is background to the actual story I wanted to tell today.

In the past couple of months I have been noticing that Facebook is targeting me with more and more ads. For some reason most of them are for retirement villages, weight loss, or clutter control, which makes me think Facebook might be reading messages to me from my friends, but I digress again. One of the ads that seemed to be popping up with astonishing frequency was for Family Feud.

"Oh, stupid FF," I would think. "I don't care to name something that married people might have that single people do not, and I don't even want to think about something a man might do in the bathtub that would make you think he’s really immature."*

And that was when I realized that my computer had been one of those grabbed by a Boy researching the how-to-get-on-the-show issue. And that said Boy had used my Facebook account to "like" Family Feud. While I didn't want accuse anyone of this without proof, I was sure enough that said Boy's name rhymed with ToySlumberNun that I informed his brothers of this. "Off with his head!"

Last night I got a call from Boy#3, and he was giggling. 

"I hear you think One liked Family Feud on your Facebook, but it was me. Your account was already open and I figured 'why not?'" 

Confession is good for the soul, son, but you might have wanted to keep this transgression quiet. You know that plan your father and I have to split our retirement time between you Boys? You just bought yourself an extra three months because I had to see "Name something a marriage counselor might advise a couple to do more often..." before I hit the un-like button. 

You'll love having us around. 

*All of the examples used in today's post are ACTUAL QUESTIONS from Family Feud. And now I need to go wash my brain.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

For Shame

I'm delighted with the response to my Word of the Year post, and I'm going to get back to that with much vigor in a couple of days. However, I'm interrupting the usual flow of banalities found here to talk about something that is sitting like a rock on my heart.

Yesterday I went grocery shopping after work. It was the first time I had been in the store to buy healthy food since the Christmas gobblefest began and I was concentrating on finding everything on my list when out of the corner of my eye I saw a little boy carrying a sign. He was eight or 10 years old, a skinny kid with black hair. I assumed the sign would ask me to buy popcorn from the Boy Scouts, or something similar, so I smiled as I turned to see what he was advertising:


My smile became a shudder. It was as if I had stuck my hand into the silverware drawer and touched a snake. It was shocking, unexpected, distasteful, scary.

Beside Andrew was an angry-looking woman who was matching him step for step down the grocery store aisles and around the corners. She may have been his mother, or his guardian, but because she was wearing the same color shirt as the store employees I don't really know what her relationship to Andrew was. But I wanted to stop and talk to her for 30 seconds.

I wanted to tell her that what she was doing was wrong, and that public shaming of a child is unlikely to have the effect she hopes. That carrying a sign that says "I am a thief" is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That there are better ways to discipline kids--make Andrew spend some time cleaning out the rotten produce to pay for what he stole. That a publicly humiliated child is either broken or reinforced and you don't want an eight-year-old to be either of these things.

Instead, I turned away as quickly as I could so that maybe Andrew would think I hadn't read his brand.

Please don't think that Husband and I raised perfect angels, or that I was a perfect angel myself. Our boys are the products of all kinds of discipline--talking-to's, time-outs, writing 'I will nots" 500 times, and yes, spankings. But the bedrock rule of parenthood is that you don't publicly humiliate your child. You remove the child from the situation and discipline/teach him in private. To do otherwise is more about the parent's lack of control than the child's lack of character--it is child abuse.

If I had seen a parent beating a child in the grocery store, I would have stepped in. I would have offered to watch the child while the mom took a moment to cool down. I would never have walked past and done nothing.

Andrew, I'm sorry I did nothing yesterday. You were being abused. I won't turn away again.

Monday, January 13, 2014

2014 Word of the Year

Faithful readers in the Empty Nest may remember that for the past two years I have chosen a Word of the Year. In 2012 that word was exercise,  and last year the word was kindness. 

The first worked out swimmingly. I am quite able to stick with something that doesn't require any choices, and when I decided on exercise I decided this was not a choice and that I would get up and work out every single day I went to work. That way I wouldn't have to decide if "Am I getting sick?" or "I didn't sleep well" were good enough excuses to hit the snooze button. If I was well enough to go to work I was well enough to work out, and I have not missed a day since the Monday after Thanksgiving 2011.

Last year's kindness, on the other hand, I would consider at best a partial victory. My original resolution is that I would do something kind every day and document that kindness. But then the documentation became a problem--what constituted kindness? Could I count not getting irked with the sloooooow check-out clerk? How about letting that side-street driver into the long line of cars getting out of the parking lot? I found myself judging my kindnesses and giving them passing or failing grades, which kind of defeats the purpose. So I stopped the documentation and just tried to be mindful of being kind, which worked for a while, then I forgot about it altogether except for the occasional "oh, yeah, I'm supposed to be working on kindness" that wafted guiltily through my mind.

This year, learning from experience, I am choosing a word that can be quantified and does not leave room for choices. My 2014 word is.....(drumroll, please):


Okay, technically that probably isn't a word, since I think I just made it up. But the only synonym I could come up with was "downsize" and that implies we're moving from the House on the Corner to an assisted living condo and I didn't want to give that impression. (Although I do like the idea that someone else would do the cooking and cleaning...hmmmm.....)

Anyway, as I've mentioned before, I am a sentimental hoarder. It hurts me to throw away old programs, baby teeth, each crooked clay creation my Boys made during their summer rec center classes when they were six years old, a book I loved and may want to read again some day. As a result, the HotC is stuffed to the gills with stuff that someday my heirs will rolls their eyes to see, including the sweater I wore for my senior pictures in 1972. (Yes, really.)

This year, my goal is to get rid of 100 bags or boxes of stuff. On Saturday I started four piles of stuff--one of clothes, one of books, one of trash, one of Goodwill-worthy tchotchkes. I was able to fill the three bags and a box, and started another set of bags for next week. Husband is more than enthusiastic about this project and contributed some of his frayed-collar shirts to the clothes bag.

This is going to be a tough word for me to follow through on because I do love my stuff, but I also love my sleep and the exercise thing is going fine.

Get your final look at my senior sweater while you can: 2014 is the year I'm de-stuff-ifying.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

So Bored

Poor Boy#4 is still on Christmas break.

I hesitate to write that sentence, because all of us schlubs who have been back at work for a full week now can't quite pair "poor" with "Christmas break." Also, since this is the final Christmas break he will have for quite a while, what with the graduating from college in May and already having a job in the non-academic sector, it's kind of like The Sound of Music when Uncle Max announces sadly that this is the last time you'll hear the Von Trapp Family singing and you want to shout "Hey! You just won a huge enormous festival! Enjoy the moment! Raindrops on roses, folks!"

Anyway, Four's three brothers and new sister-in-law have all gone back to their respective workplaces, and all of his high school buds are back in their own college towns so our youngest son is stuck in Small Town, in the House on the Corner, with his boring parents.

And I am not even kidding when I say that. We are BORING.

After the hubbub of Christmas, by the time our final holiday overnight guests left Monday morning I was already missing everyone but also kind of ready to settle down in my chair with a new knitting project and enjoy the polar vortex from the depths of my favorite afghan. Or fall asleep, which is what I actually do every single time I'm in the depths of my favorite afghan. Husband is FINALLY shaking off the virus that hit him in early December but he's not yet back to his assigned role as the life of the party.

Four is used to a little more activity, what with being in COLLEGE, here the people around him TALK and LAUGH and DO THINGS. He's been a good sport about it, but last night at supper he sounded just a little sad when he said "So, do we have any plans for tonight?"

Husband and I looked at each other. Bowling? Not while I draw breath. Movies? We have been so efficient in seeing the good movies that we're down into choices such as Anchorman 2 and I will not stoop to that even though I regularly watch Flip This House and know which brother is Armando Montelongo and which is David Montelongo.

And that's why last night Boy#4 was with us while we watched the final episode of the truly terrible Hostages (DVR'd since Monday) and I finished another hat.

No wonder our kids have loved going to school.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chip Off the Ol' Block

This was under the tree! For me!
 Husband and I come from very different schools of thought when it comes to wrapping Christmas presents. He is from the If It's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Well school of thought. I am from the It's Not Worth Doing But I Have to Do It Anyway So I'm Not Going to Spend a Lot of Time On It school of thought.

This means that each of Husband's presents is a loving vision of sharply creased corners and end tucks. Each side of the paper is folded over before being taped, ensuring that no raw edges mar the occasion with their unfinished vulgarity. He is a master of precision and artfulness, and his presents sip their tea with upraised pinkie fingers.

My attitude is that if nothing shows through it's a win. I am slapdash and sloppy, and much tape covereth a multitude of wrapping sins. My presents wouldn't even sip tea; they're all cuppa joe types.

I did not wrap the package above, but it filled me with motherly pride. Faced with the (admittedly difficult) task of wrapping a fat separator, Boy#2 just started wadding paper around until it was covered, then threw up his hands with a tah-dah!

I thought back on that present last night when Two sent me last-minute proofreading request. He will be presenting research at a conference this week and wanted to make sure he hadn't goofed up any of his PowerPoint slides.

That was the exact moment I knew he had officially outgrown my help with his academic work. One slide was titled "Simulated Sferic Waveforms." Another contained the phrase "Filter multiple systems to verify results: EMI BF4 System (150 mHz – 700 Hz), Quasar Federal Systems (QFS) Sensor (2 Hz – 25 kHz)."

In the entire presentation the only words I understood were the conjunctions and prepositions and there were precious few of those. I e-mailed Two back, and let him know that I hadn't found any words of fewer than two letters misspelled but he was on his own for the others. 

For a couple of minutes I was kind of sad, thinking of how much I had enjoyed sharing my knowledge with our sons, and how the knowledge sharing now is flowing the other way, what with my inability to figure out how to unplug and re-plug the modem when the cable goes out and OH MY GOSH IT'S ALMOST TIME FOR DOWNTON ABBEY!

But then I remembered that package containing the fat separator and I knew things were okay. 

He's still mah bay-bee.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Christmas Traditions

First of all, thank you, thank you, thank you, all of you wonderful and affirming dear ones who commented (favorably) on my glasses. I have grown to really like them and am no longer recoiling in horror when I see my reflection in a window.

I am surprised that no one commented on my earrings in that picture, though. Gingerbread men, people. I had gingerbread men dangling from my earlobes. I've decided that my new Christmas tradition is to forgo the tacky sweaters and concentrate my holiday merry-making on my earwear because it's easy and fun to have a different set of earrings for all the days of Advent as well as the 12 days of Christmas.

This is in keeping with my new policy that whatever I decree to be a Christmas tradition becomes a Christmas tradition and whatever I decree is no longer a Christmas tradition is no longer a Christmas tradition, amen and amen. In this way I plan to keep myself sane and guilt-free in the coming years.

All the years the Boys were growing up I tried to make sure our family had cherished traditions that made the Christmas season a magical treasure chest of beloved memories. The drive around Small Town on Christmas Eve to see the lights. The orange and unshelled peanuts in each stocking. The six nativity sets strategically placed where some could be rearranged and some could not. The endless crunching of sugar on the kitchen floor as we decorated sugar cookies and made homemade candy for Husband's clients.

In spite of all those beloved memories, when I asked Boy#2 a couple of weeks ago what traditions he remembered from his growing-up years, he could only think of one thing: Dueling Santas.

The Dueling Santas started out with a Bongo Santa, a gift from the Boys' grandmother. She sent it when they were in their early teen years having apparently forgotten that they were still not in pre-school. This little battery-powered St. Nick played tropical drums and gave Christmas carols a tinny reggae beat that was funny every. single. time. we hit the play button between the bongos. We laughed and laughed, but not as much as we laughed the next year when another Solo Santa showed up, identical to the first one. Not only were two Bongo Santas twice as funny as one Bongo Santa, they could DUEL! Which would finish the Jamaican version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" first if you pushed the 'on' switch at the same moment?

And you know what? Having Dueling Santa races was so much easier than sugar cookies and homemade candies that I stopped my holiday cooking, and so much more fun than oranges and peanuts that I stopped stuffing stockings with food on Christmas Eve. 

Now we're down to Dueling Santas as our only Christmas tradition, and that's just fine with me. Except I'm declaring Christmas earrings a tradition, too. Because they're easy and fun and because I say so.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

Well, happy Friday, all! I think I may like this two-day-work-week tradition. And since I haven't had orts and blurbs since last year, it's time for catch-up.

First up, of course, is the long-promised picture of the new hipster glasses. I wanted to wait to have this shot taken until Christmas so that I could pose with Boy#1 in his almost-identically-framed specs. He's a darned good sport, because is there anything a handsome 27-year-old wants on the internet more than proof that he and his mother chose the same glasses?

You may be distracted from the glasses by the background, though. It is exactly what you think it is--we had Christmas dinner in a firehouse and that is a firetruck! My youngest brother is a volunteer fireman in a town so small that the firehouse is also the city hall and since the extended family has outgrown even our ancestral home on  The Farm, we set up the soup there. While the Marthas were in the meeting room putting out bowls and spoons, the Marys were climbing on the trucks and trying on coats and helmets. My brother was a spoilsport, though, and kept the keys to the trucks safely out of our reach.

This is the picture I originally wanted to go with yesterday's post celebrating Boy#3's birthday, but I didn't find it until after I had hit "publish" on his pants-less pose. But is this the cutest kid pic you have ever seen in your life? Or at least seen today? I don't remember why the pan was on his head, but Three obviously demonstrated his musical talent early.

Did you know there is a fish called a wahoo? I did not, until last night's episode of Top Chef. I had to verify the name of this creature on Wikipedia because I was pretty sure they were using it as a euphemism. "I grabbed the wahoo before anyone else could get it," was what Nina said, so you can understand my confusion.


Blurb(s) of the Week

2013 was an uncommonly good year for me in terms of pop culture. Husband and I have seen an astonishing THREE of the movies being bandied about as possible Oscar contenders, I knew the definition of the Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year (selfie) before it was announced, and I have already read two of the New York Times picks for the top five fiction books of the year. This may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but for me to be so timely is almost unprecedented.

I finished Goldfinch during the Christmas break, and my two reactions were "Wow! That was good!" and "Wow! That was long!" By the time I had slogged through the completely hopeless middle section and reached the end I was good and tired of this book, but also ready to go back and read the first chapters again. Life After Life, on the other hand, was fascinating both in its subject and its construction and I was ready to re-read it immediately.

Read them both and let me know what you think of them.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy Birthday, Boy#3!

At exactly this moment 24 years ago, I was thinking a thought I had only two other times in my life. That thought was this:

"Oh, crap. I'd forgotten how much this hurts."

On that day, the day I again remembered that I was chair of the Committee Promoting Sainthood for the Inventor of the Epidural, Husband and I were preparing to be introduced to our third child. And as with our first two children, we did not know what to expect.

I pretty much knew this one was a girl. This baby had nestled high under my ribcage instead of snuggling into my pelvis like the two boys at home had, and the heartbeat on the obstetrician's speaker-equipped stethoscope was fast and light, running upwards of 145 when the two brothers' prenatal pulses had been closer to 130. I was so sure this child was a girl, in fact, that my hospital bag contained an adorable, frilly onesie to use in taking our daughter home and nothing suitable for a bouncing baby boy.

But then, surprise! It was a boy!

This was the first of dozens hundreds countless surprises Boy#3 has had for us over the years. I was  surprised by how fearless he was: I've always been reluctant to approach strangers, even store clerks, so Three became my designated price-checker in department stores. We were surprised by how hard he worked: What child practices a trombone for hours at a time, without being reminded? And what kid visits the newspaper office at age 10 to see how soon he can be a paper carrier? Boy#3, that's who. We were surprised by his determination, and the goals he set, but rarely surprised when he reached those goals.

The picture that heads today's post was taken before his senior recital last year, and I mentioned to Three that it's one of my favorites.

"Yeah, I like that one, too," he told me. "I wasn't wearing pants."*


Happy birthday, Boy#3. You never fail to surprise me, and I'm glad I'm your mother. 

*He did later clarify that he'd been wearing shorts when the shot was snapped. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How to Begin?

It's 2014!

I'm beginning to believe that the Millennium Bug may not be going to happen after all, although (true story) Husband and I raced to the laptop to check our savings account balance in the seconds after midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, and we had suddenly accumulated several million dollars that evaporated within the next few moments. Easy come, easy go. You may ask, "What kind of people do that, instead of swigging champagne and kissing strangers to welcome in the new millennium?" Temporary millionaires! That's what kind!

Anyway, happy new year to you! I had avoided catching Husband's vicious cold through the extra-long vacation we have at Small College at this time of the year--until last night, when the last of the Boys had packed his car and headed for home. Then I started sneezing and my shoulders started aching, and I declared myself officially cold-ed. I plan to spend New Year's Day huddled under an afghan, knitting and watching old BBC episodes on Netflix.

That's because I believe isolation and self-indulgence are the surest routes to health, unlike Husband, who believes in Powering Through. I will not comment on that tactic, except to observe that it is not for nothing that "in sickness and in health" are included in the wedding vows.

But it was a lovely, lovely Christmas break, and I am rosy with warm memories which I will be sharing over the next few days.

Unless I am only rosy with rhinovirus, and if that's the case, I'll try to keep it to myself.