Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

This week's FO&B photo was chosen to illustrate that it wasn't always Boy#1 who was the onion in the petunia patch of our group pictures. This shot was taken when the four were 4- to 10-year-olds, and six-year-old Boy#3 was cute but acting goofy. Or, to put that a different way, he hasn't changed a bit.

Husband and I are leaving today to take a second car to Boy#1 and Lovely Girl, followed by a Labor Day trip to see relatives in another state.

It marks the return to an almost-forgotten status for the House on the Corner, that of being a two-car family. We have always been folks who drove cars until they fall apart like the One Hoss Shay. But since the owner of the One Hoss Shay can't count on that shay to not fall apart at the least opportune moment, since the early days of our marriage we've kept at least one extra car around. (To those who have spare tires instead of spare cars, we say, "Whazzup, slackers?")

At one giddy point in our family's history when all four Boys were drivers and Husband's mother had given up driving but still needed the accessibility of a mini-van, we had seven cars in our family of six persons. It was a parking nightmare and a carbon footprint embarrassment. As the Boys have moved out and taken their cars with them, though, the number of combustion engines clustered at the curbs has diminished until as of Friday, we will have only Pearl and the pick-up.

The street sweeper is going to be delighted to not have to drive around our parked cars on the curb, but when we need to take one of the flivvers in for repair, I'm going to ask him for a ride to the grocery store.

I love this place
Okay, I know all of you QueenBee hive occupants know about these cool things a long time before I do, but if you live in Kansas, may I direct you to a resource that is fabulous? And will save you a ton of money? And will make your wobbly neck skin tighter? Well, maybe it doesn't do that last one, but so far it's doing everything else I ask of it.

The next time you are tempted to click on the fast-purchase button on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, click over to the Kansas State Library instead. Did you know you can download e-books OR audible books, in the privacy of your own home without having to put on your shoes? And that they are FREE?

During these past few weeks of long drives I have been happily whiling away the miles listening to best sellers on my iPad instead of  frantically trying to find NPR while I'm in radio station purgatory and silently weeping when I fail.

Of course, if you do not live in Kansas this resource is not available to you, and I'm sorry. Sorry that you can't access the library but mostly sorry that you don't live in Kansas. What is WRONG with you?

Ad astra per aspera, baby.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Day Is It?

I mentioned a few weeks ago that students are back and classes have started at Small College. Yay! What I didn't mention is that as a result my work group is being CRUSHED by deadlines right now. Crushed, I say.

And in my currently flattened state, I neglected to even mention shark week as it went whizzing past. This is a true shame because I had the perfect illustration for whatever I would have written, had it actually been written.

This hat, which I knitted with my own knobbly-knuckled hands, is perhaps one of the best craft projects I have ever done. It was created in honor of our webmaster, who had won a Sharkie award, and who wore the hat through the entire party celebrating his achievement.

Not only was it amazingly easy and quick to knit, the shark hat was made with scrap yarn which meant it was disposable. I did hear that the recipient's four-year-old son thought it was pretty cool, though, so it had a second life as a child's hat.

I bring up this hat because I no longer can keep up with what day we are celebrating in the world. Remember when the only special days were Mother's Day, Father's Day, and a handful of patriotic bank closings? I do, but of course I'm 150 years old.

Now there is an entire industry based around today being National Dog Day (which was yesterday, and I salute you, Our Late Dog Pepper), National Chili Sauce Day, National Just Because Day, and whatever.

Today is National Cherry Turnover Day.

Yes. It is.

I see you do not believe me, so here is proof. Oddly, the creators of that calendar could not find evidence of whom might have been the originator of National Cherry Turnover Day. I'm going to take a wild swing and say maybe McDonald's, with its delicious but mouth-searing cherry pies?

Mmmmm....excuse me, please. I need to go knit a cherry turnover.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Open Letter to the Grocery Sacker

Dear Grocery Sacker,

I love you.

Oh, I know, this is undoubtedly an inappropriate conversation between a woman such as myself, whose sell-by date has pretty much come and gone, and a young person such as yourself, who still thinks Axe body spray is just jim-dandy. But do you know how many groceries I have bought over the course of feeding up four sons from infancy to adulthoodcy?

Thousands of dollars worth. Tens of thousands. Maybe even hundreds of thousands.

Do you know how many sacks of these groceries had to be carried from the store to the car, and from the car to the house?

Every dadgummed one of them.

"But MomQueenBee," you are saying, with just a hint of adolescent arrogance, "didn't you claim you were having kids solely so that you would never have to carry grocery sacks again?"

Yes, young man, I did say that. I have since classified that with the other statements I made before I had kids that now make me laugh heartily. Statements such as "Oh, once you have all the stuff for the first kid none of the rest of them cost anything at all." And "It's just a little baby--it doesn't have a big enough stomach to barf very much."

You see, if I ever wanted a few minutes to myself while the Boys were growing up, all I had to do is go to the grocery store. Those seven gallons of milk that would last us exactly one week? The seven boxes of cereal that would get us through the same week? The fruits and vegetables, the by-the-bulk chicken quarters and the 20-pound sacks of potatoes? They all had to be carried in, and the carrying moment always hit at exactly the same time as the paper route or the piano lesson or the soccer practice or something that kept all those young muscles from helping an old lady out. The Boys were pretty much never around to tote the fuel that would keep them running for another week.

But you? You have been there for me. You and the grocery sackers who came before you in the past two decades were always beside me making polite chit-chat on the way to the car. (A word of advice: Please do not comment on how many Brussels sprouts I buy. I like Brussels sprouts, okay? And they're good for me, okay? Enough with the Brussels sprouts amazement.)

You loaded up the back of the Surburban or the Buick or whatever enormous vehicle I was driving at the time, and you laughed when I asked if you didn't want to come and unload them on the other end, and I asked every single time. I wasn't kidding, but we'll let that slide.

Now that I'm only buying for Husband and me, I still carry a fond place in my heart for grocery sackers. As you toss those three boxes of cereal in the car (all bran derivatives, enough to last six weeks) please know that your life is much easier than that of your predecessors. I won't even ask you if you would mind unloading these at the house.

But I still love you.

All my best,

Monday, August 25, 2014

So Much Closer

Oh, my gosh! Look who's back in town!

Well, not exactly back in town, but back in the Midwest, which is pretty much the same as in town when the alternative has been located planes, trains, and automobiles away. We are now only automobiles away from Boy#1 and Lovely Girl!

Ahem. I apologize for the overuse of exclamation points (and also for the lousy photography, but the restaurant was dimly lit) but our first-born and our first girl-other-than-me in the family are now living in an adjacent state. Over the weekend Husband and I took them their car, which had been stored at our house during their too-complicated-to-park days in our nation's capital, so that they could quit making their Wal-Mart runs in a 12-foot Penske truck.

We arrived Friday night when they'd been in their new hometown for only a day. This was enough time that they had moved everything from the truck into their new apartment, but clearly there was still work to be done. By the time we started back for Small Town 36 hours later, it was as if magical elves and bluebirds had transformed the place. The packing boxes were gone, art was on the walls, and except for one cable television wire that still needed to be tacked down, you wouldn't know they hadn't lived there for years.

I cannot take credit for a single bit of this transformation. That's because I'm still traumatized by my own reaction to my mother-in-law's lovely gesture of trying to clean the drip pans of my stove. That happened 30 years ago, and the way I carried on then pretty much proved that I was a total jerk.

Boy#1 and Lovely Girl, if you were wondering why I sat on the couch doing a crossword puzzle while you were putting away linens and trying to find the screws for the headboard, it's because I am a total jerk but also because I'm aware that it's easier to put away your own linens and find the screws for the headboard in the boxes you packed yourself, rather than trying to involve someone else in the process. Next time I'll bake cookies or something. (I won't clean drip pans unless you ask me to do so.)

And welcome back to next door to God's country! I may not have done any work, but my exclamation points are the barometer of my excitement!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

We start off this edition of Orts and a Blurb with a picture of fruit, for no reason except that suddenly our Kansas August weather is, well, Kansas August weather. It has been so unexpectedly mild most of the summer that we almost forget that the reason the Wicked Witch of the West melted was because she was wearing black, in Kansas, and almost certainly in August.

But refresh yourself with a picture of the fruit that was our break refreshment during the Mexican trip. It's sweating beads of pure refreshment, as opposed to the rest of us who were sweating buckets of pure sweat.

My Facebook pals already know this, but a "highlight" of last week was going to see Guardians of the Galaxy with Husband. It was our only actual true movie seen in a movie theater in quite a while, so we were a bit confounded when the price was so cheap. That's when Husband checked the ticket and discovered we had been charged the senior citizen rate.


I didn't know whether to be insulted or delighted, but then it occurred to me that the difference between the entrance price for young'uns (apparently not us) and for faux senior citizens (apparently us) is exactly the price of a large popcorn, so delighted it is.


It's been a while since I updated what's on my needles and what's on my reading list, so this week's blurbs review what I've been knitting and reading.

In the knitting realm, I'm working on what I'm calling Madeline's Stole, even though its official name is Cyrcus Rectangular Lace Shawl. Isn't it purty? Two words of advice for any knitter who is new to lace: stitch markers, and lifeline. (Okay, that was four, but you get my point.) YouTube them--they will transform how much you enjoy the process.

The books I am reading now are:
  • On the fitness trail: The Last Romanov. I wanted to love it, but...ick. I'm more than 50 pages in, though, so I must persevere.
  • On the bedside table: Snow Falling on Cedars. Oh, this is so lovely and so sad. I'm only halfway through and I tear up just thinking of it. 
  • On the e-reader: The Devil's Star. And you can substitute any title by Jo Nesbo until I'm finished with all of his books. If you like melancholy Scandinavian detective stories (who knew this was such an enormous genre?) you will LOVE these. 
And what are YOU reading these days?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Keep Waving That Duck

ca. 1992
It's the first day of school in Small Town this week! Wooo! And for the first time in, oh, FOREVER, we are not sending at least one darling moppet off to school. (We are excluding anyone who has already received at least one college degree, and Boy#2, I'm looking at you when I say I hope you wrote your name on each and every one of your crayons before you showed up in the lab for your fourth year of doctoral studies this morning.)

My Facebook feed has been positively lousy with shiny-faced first day students and I was feeling a little left out until I remembered that this is TBT* and who cares if I've never participated before? Today is a whole new shiny-faced day. 

The picture that illustrates today's post is not from the first day of school but it was taken shortly thereafter, and it makes me laugh. In it the Boys range from seven months to six years old (clockwise from top: #1, #3, #4, #2) and I distinctly remember the taking of that picture among the hundreds we've taken over the years.

It was shot at the preschool where Two and Three spent two mornings each week, and I had brought One in from the "real" school where he was now a first grader so that we could have a Christmas-letter-worthy portrait. The photographer was waving a stuffed duck over the camera to bring out the smiles but because he was a first grader One was just too cool for this baby school and he was. not. going to smile.

"Ooooh, look at Mr. Quackers!" the photographer cooed. "He's going to quack up if everyone doesn't smile!"

The youngers thought it was hilarious. One did not.

"Come on, One, smile," I coaxed him.

Still nothing. So I brought out the big guns.

"If you don't smile, there will be no Happy Meal for you. Just one little smile."

So one little smile, a tiny little fake quirking up of one side of a mouth. was just what we got in that picture. That, and an indication that we were at the starting line of a run during which we would be reminded over and over again that as parents, we can be the boss of when and where they go to school, and of when and where they eat and sleep, and pretty much of any external you can name, but we are not the boss of their emotions and you can wave that stuffed duck as much as you want but a big smile is not happening.

Good luck, all you parents of school-aged children out there. Keep waving that duck.

 *Throwback Thursday, aka the day bloggers who don't have a topic are off the hook.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fitting Reward

In all the out-of-routine uproar of the trip to Mexico, I completely missed documenting an important life event in the MomQueenBee extended family a couple of weeks ago.

My father, as I've mentioned here many times, is a pretty amazing guy. He grew up on a hardscrabble dairy farm, getting up before the sun so that he could milk cows before going off to grade school. Then when he was 17 his parents signed permission for him to join the Navy and he was off to load torpedoes on the U.S.S.Richmond. He worked his way through college with the help of the GI Bill, married my mother and co-raised five children, then earned his doctorate while he building a vocational college into an industry leader. Today he spends his time in volunteer work while he's not off winning gold medals in Senior Olympics swimming competitions.

That's why we weren't really surprised when he was asked to throw out the opening pitch at a national baseball tournament. It was senior citizen recognition night, and let's face it, there aren't many 87-year-olds who can get the ball over the plate. He had plenty of people who loved him cheering as he walked out to the pitcher's mound, took his wind-up and let fly.

Taking into account the senior citizen discount (one bounce) Dad's pitch was straight over the plate and into the glove of the whippersnapper catcher who bounded out to congratulate my father.

It took Dad about 10 minutes to get back to his seat behind home plate. Fans stopped him to shake his hand and to congratulate him, and he heaved a sigh of relief as he sat down. That's when one fan stepped up beside him and handed him a plastic bag containing three perfect homegrown tomatoes.

"Sir, I want to thank you for fighting for our freedom," the man told my father.

I'm not sure what this man had planned to do with those tomatoes when he arrived at the ballpark; it's not as if a farmer's market was likely to spontaneously erupt in the bullpen. But what an apt tribute to the essence of my father's life. Homegrown tomatoes are the gardener's reward for the hard work that produces a successful garden.

My father has worked hard. He will say he's been blessed by God, and he's not wrong about that, but each of those blessings has been accompanied by sweat equity. Any recognition he receives now is a nod to the decades of time and effort he has invested.

I can't think of a more fitting reward than a perfect homegrown tomato.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

I know you've missed seeing what I'm shoveling into my mouth so we begin this week's edition of Friday orts with a look at one of the meals put in front of me during my week in Mexico.

Yes. This was ONE MEAL. It was all for me, and in the interest of being a good guest and not an Ugly American, I "forced" myself to eat all of it. Plus, the beautiful 17-year-old senoritas at the table were eating exactly this same plate of food and they weighed about 98 pounds each, so how could it be fattening?

And that, my friends, is how you manage to gain four pounds on a one-week mission trip.

But don't worry. While I was fattening like a foie gras goose I remained beautiful and classy on a Lauren Bacall scale. Don't believe me? I have proof:

That parbroiled glow. That hat. The paint-speckled shirt. The yellow "manicure" (not shown here). I was movie-star glamorous.

This was move-in week at Small College and here are some of the things I love about having students around again: Their energy. Their wardrobes (because oddly, administrators don't dress like that). Their joie de vivre. Their payment of tuition so that I can be employed in a job I love.

Here are the things I don't love about having students around again: Their parking in all the parking spaces. Boooo.

And finally, a blurb: There are women in this world who humble me every time I read what they've written. Harper Lee. Erma Bombeck. Julia from Here Be Hippogriffs. And then, in a class completely by herself, there is Anne Lamott.

If you are not following Anne Lamott on Facebook you should be, because there is way too much time between her books and you surely need a booster shot of her wisdom when you are running low on your own. I read and re-read a post this week that started this way:
It has been one of the worst week in years, and that's saying something. You know exactly what I'm talking about, no matter how much you love your life and your pit crew; no matter how hard you strive to present a good face. It is so hard here. It's like Old Yeller meets the Hunger Games; plus the parking is terrible.
 If I could write like that I would be unable to fit through doorways because my head would be so enormously swelled.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Super Powers

Chuy, who is four years old
I may look like an ordinary young-ish middle-aged kind-of-old ageless woman on the outside, but the children we met this week at Children's Haven International know better. They know that I have two super-powers: I sweat on a scale heretofore unknown to humans, and I can touch my tongue to my nose. And because it was unbelievably  hellishly really, really hot in Reynosa last week, they were able to see both of my super-powers in action. 

You know that old saying that ladies glow, men perspire, and horses sweat? I think I have some equine DNA in my ancestry because hooboy, when I am warm every drop of moisture in my body suddenly departs through my facial pores. I practically projectile sweat, which is a nice natural safeguard for my personal space but does not win me any points in the charm department.

I was outside playing my role as the Reina de Burbujas when the kids discovered both of my super-powers. A drop of sweat ran down my nose and because my hands were occupied with cheating preschoolers and the soapy bubble wand, I absent-mindedly flicked the sweat drop off with my tongue.

This super-power, that of being able to touch the tongue to the nose, is one that a person either has or does not have. My father has it, I have it, none of my siblings or children have it. And apparently none of the children at CHI have it, if I'm to judge by the sudden silence that gripped those who had seen me. Four-year-old Chuy, who was waiting his turn in his Spongebob t-shirt, looked at me as if I'd just pulled a flaming baton out of my ear and for the rest of the evening I saw the moppets who surrounded me streeeeeetching their tongues upward.

Fast-forward to the next day. Boy#2 and I were in the un-air-conditioned dining hall waiting for lunch when Chuy climbed up on the chair next to me. I was absent-mindedly wiping super-power off my face with my bandana when I glanced at the moppet in the next chair.This is what I saw:

Chuy may not be able to touch his tongue to his nose, and certainly he is much more acclimated to the climate than his pale, avoirdupoir-intensive dining companion, but he has a super-power I'll never been able to claim:

That kid is adorable.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The International Language of Moms and Boys

Around these here parts I'm known as MomQueenBee. In parts more southerly, though, I have become known as the Reina de Burbujas, or the Queen of Bubbles. That's because I was the Benevolent But All-Powerful Monarch of the bubble jug  last week at Children's Haven International.

The guy in the group who has a lot more experience with kids than I do had brought along the giant economy size of bubbles for the kids to play with while we were outside in the evenings and his thought was to just put the jug on the table and walk away. Ha! HaHa, even! What occurred next was a scramble of such soapy intensity that I had to wade in saying sternly "NO ONE IS GOING TO PLAY WITH THE BURBUJAS IF WE CAN'T ALL PLAY WITH THE BURBUJAS NICELY!"

I haven't been a mom for 28 years for nothing: I parked myself next to the bubble jug, firmly (and arbitrarily) setting the personal limit on bubble blowing at five dips of the wand per turn for each child, and for the next four evenings I kept track of how many wands'-worth each child had blown already, determined who was next in line for a turn, and refereed whether each turn counted. (If not a single bubble emerged, either due to faulty blowing technique or mis-dipping, it did not.)

I was in my element. And if you don't believe me, look at the face of Juan, shown above, who had just told me "I've only done one!" to which I replied "No, you've done four." He wordlessly showed me what he thought of that (completely correct) judgment:

Just as with my own Boys, I was the meanest person ever in the world and the preschoolers were cheating cheaters who would cheat. It made me positively homesick. So I swooped him up and nuzzled his neck, and we were friends again, just as I would have done with my own boys. 

Moms and little boys are pretty much the same in any language.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Do Work, God

Boy#3 is a sports fan, but when it comes to watching his alma mater play football, he is a fanatic. I was watching a game with him once when the Wildcats had fallen behind but were making a furious comeback. It was the fourth quarter, and they had just gotten the ball.

"Do work, 'Cats. Do work," Three encouraged his team to get down to business. And they did work: They dug deep and scored to win the game.

I thought of that phrase often last week during my second trip to the Mexican children's home that has stolen my heart.

I've mentioned here before that I'm a woman of faith, one who could probably be described as a conservative Christian. Sometimes I feel as if I'm a Christian who's out of step with her denomination, though. I don't believe God has any opinion whatsoever on gun control or taxes or any other political issues except insofar as how they have an impact on how we treat each other. I also believe that the hungry and cold are unlikely to be looking for spiritual guidance until they are full and warm.

That's why I love Children's Haven. This organization removes children from the most unimaginably hellish conditions (including jail cells, drug dens, and abusive parents) and raises them in family settings where they are fed, clothed, educated, and loved. They are throw-away kids in one of Mexico's most dangerous cities, and they are given a second chance at life because of people who believed Jesus when He said "‘Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me."

When I'm there, I see God doing work.

Our group of eight drove 16 hours each way to paint houses and prepare classrooms for "the least of these." It's work our unskilled group could do, freeing the house parents to deal with the serious business of loving the children into a new way of life. 

After we had finished our work days we played with the children. My cold, hard heart swelled 16 sizes to see Boy#2 (who had given up a precious week of vacation to go on the trip) bantering with giggling eight-year-old Yerica. "Eres un tomate!" "No, eres una zanahoria!" They accused each other of being vegetables until they both ran out of vocabulary. I loved seeing the high school athletes in our group bending down from their 6'5" height to help a tiny child bat a Wiffle ball.

I saw God doing work on the children, and I saw Him doing work on me. I believed, again, that a cup of water given in His name is His will--that He is so much bigger and more capable than political opportunists would want us to think. I remembered why I love Him, and these children, and these people who have followed His call to step in beside Him. When I got home at 1 a.m. Saturday I was already counting the weeks until I will go back next summer.

Do work, God. Do work.