Wednesday, November 26, 2014

House Hunting Under the Influence of a Migraine

Yesterday was the day I was supposed to be frantically cleaning the House on the Corner in gleeful anticipation of the arrival of four generations of family and friends for Best Day of the Year festivities. Instead, I spent the day shuffling between the bed and the couch and the recliner battling The Bear.

But that's okay! Because as long as there are four generations of family and friends around I don't care if the house is clean, and the Boys tell me that as long as there are homemade rolls and green bean casserole it's a great holiday dinner. (Did I raise them right or what?)

Being incapacitated meant I could spend the ENTIRE DAY in the company of House Hunters. This HGTV show is the perfect companion to a migraine, since it has enough plot to keep me mildly interested but so little plot, really, that if I slept for an hour or two I could pick up where I left off  uninterrupted.  Oddly enough, after eight solid hours of listening to entitled young professionals criticize perfectly lovely houses as if they were manure-daub huts, I have Opinions.

Allow me to share those Opinions:

1. If you are going to live somewhere, you may express your thoughts about certain aspects of a property, but your opinion does not have actual weight unless that aspect is in your bucket of responsibilities. For example, you may really really want a huge back yard with lots of trees and you may look up at your mate with puppy dog eyes and wax eloquent about the childhood memories you wish you could have made in a back yard but couldn't because you lived in a high-rise apartment, but you know good and well that your mate HATES yardwork and is seeing every one of those millions of leaves as a tiny little link in a chain that will bind his weekends in drudgery. If this is the case, back off. This is his call. On the other hand, if you have always dreamed of a kitchen so efficient you can touch both sides of it just by stretching out your arms, but you aren't actually the cook who will be preparing Thanksgiving dinner for four generations of friends and family and trying to figure out where to put the dadgummed turkey because the one tiny square of counter space has been claimed by the potato masher, it is your turn to back off.

2. If you are 22 years old and are starting a business in a foreign country, even if you have ALWAYS DREAMED of having a perfect view of The Arches in Los Cabos, do not exceed your budgeted $1,500 monthly rent by $400 to ensure you get those views. Really. Do not. Because not only are you a jerk (seriously, give those extra $400 to a Mexican family that could live on it for a month), you are an expat jerk who is giving all of the rest of us who live up north a terrible reputation, and I hate you.

3. In the grand scheme of things, really? You are staking your happiness on Italian Carrera marble countertops, and are willing to go over budget to have those countertops? Even though you didn't even have a house inspection that would have revealed criminally dangerous wiring and that a previous remodeler had CUT THE CEILING SUPPORT JOISTS to install (not up-to-code) plumbing? You would rather have those countertops than fix that support joist? Well, huh.

Seeing the picky and the whiny and the unpleasant who haunted my migraine-plagued day yesterday made me look around at our creaky old House on the Corner with new eyes. It doesn't have marble countertops or travertine tile, but today it has Boys sleeping in the upstairs bedrooms and roll dough rising on the Formica countertops.

Best house ever.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

Just a few leftovers this week while I'm working on today's deadline, the meeting of which will free me to concentrate on anticipation of the Best Day of the Year! Yay! The turkey is already defrosting in the House on the Corner.

So, what is that in the trunk of the car we rented during our North Carolina vacation? It is every single disposable grocery bag Boy#2 had collected since he moved into his apartment there more than three years ago.

No, I am not kidding.

His place seemed twice as large once we took them all to the Kroger recycling bin.

Husband's big question of the week was whether I'm going to change the paragraph on my blog template that describes me as "fifty-something." Sad trombone accompanies my decision that I probably will.

Then this morning, after I had sent a sheetcake to his meeting last night, one of the participants texted him that it was delicious--"it's one of my favorites and always reminds me of my beloved aunt."

That description has talcum powder sprinkled all over it.

Finally a blurb worth blurbing!

In my Dessert Disasterpalooza over the last few weeks, I needed egg yolks for the chocolate filling of the German Chocolate pies. I'm kind of a klutz when it comes to separating eggs, so I tried this method:

Oh, my gosh! The heavens parted and the angels sang. So easy, so mess-free, so wonderful.

I wasn't brave enough to try the six-eggs-in-ten-seconds brag from the video, but maybe next time I will.

A dozen eggwhite-free thumbs way, way up.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Am Her Biggest Fan

Thank you, SB, for the picture. 
Ann Lamott doesn't know who I am. 

I know pretty much every detail about her life: That she's 60 years old. That she has dreadlocks. That she was a self-described mess of an alcoholic when she converted to Christianity 29 years ago. That she gained her sobriety 28 years ago. That she writes about the life of the soul so beautifully and simply I must weep while I read her books. 

She knows nothing about me, so last night when I heard her talk I wanted to tell her about me. That she is the person I want to be when I grow up, except without the alcoholism and single parenthood (and, frankly, the dreads). 

My friend who loves Ann's books as much as I do sat beside me and I glanced over at her often as Ann talked about grace and grief and joy and our broken world. This friend had the perfect description for the Ann's talk--cranky, quirky, lovely, honest and earnest. The author is in the middle of her book tour, and she was sick, hates the cold, and had just come from Denver where the altitude gave her headaches. And still, she radiated the holiness she has touched. Wearing a t-shirt and jeans, she teased that she had put on make-up and her cute glasses for us.

She repeated her most famous belief about grace--“I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” She told her own story, of how she was welcomed into a tiny congregation when she was still a mess, and that the congregants didn't try to fix her, they simply said "Me, too." She talked about her writing process, and how she never, ever wants to sit down and write but she does sit down and write every single day and that in that habit the creative pull ("or the Holy Spirit") sparks ideas that make their way into her books. 

After an hour, talking without notes, she took questions. The final question was "What do you think God is going to say when you meet face to face?"

She straightened the sweater she had thrown over her shoulders and paused. Then she leaned into the microphone. "I think God's going to say to me, 'You. Are. Amazing.'" Then she grinned. "Then He'll say, 'Now there are a few things we need to talk about...but you. are. amazing.'"

When it was my turn to have my book signed I wanted to say something that would let Ann Lamott know how inspirational her work has been to me. I wanted to tell her that I've repeated her method for discerning the will of God to each of my Boys. I want her to know that I've muttered "bird by bird" hundreds of times as I've sat down to write a story that isn't working. Instead I stammered like a tween at a One Direction meet-up. 

"Would honor to meet you." 

Ann Lamott smiled at me with her tired eyes, and signed my book, then posed for a snapshot.

She knows nothing about me but I'm her biggest fan. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

As a Cook I'm Self-Delusional

A Family Feast is a better cook than MomQueenBee.
A week ago today I was scheduled to be the co-hostess for one of the women's groups I belong to. This means that I don't have to clean house or stress over whether the coffee is strong enough, all I have to do is bring a dessert to keep the natives from getting restless during the business meeting.

I don't make many desserts, now that it's just Husband and me splitting up all of those extra calories, but I am incapable of passing up food porn so I pin the recipes instead. Pumpkin Cheesecake, Peanut Butter Torte, Chocolate Lasagne, an embarrassment of richness all waiting for me on Pinterest when my turn to co-hostess comes around. It's just a matter of choosing which delectable treat to put out on the little plates.

Last Tuesday I decided on the German Chocolate Pie. A tantalizing picture of this had been posted by several of my friends, and who doesn't like Germans and chocolate and pie?


Except that the crust was terrible, and the chocolate layer was hard and the coconut layer was sticky and I was hugely relieved when the speaker cancelled and the meeting was postponed a week and I could dump both pies into the trash.

So for tonight's meeting I chose a different recipe, this one a Toffee Pecan Bundt Cake that its inventor (a food blogger) described as foolproof and delicious. Surely even I couldn't mess up this droolworthy confection.

Judge for yourself:

 Are you drooling?


Monday, November 17, 2014

Standing on Another Step

I had a birthday Saturday, and it was a big one.

I know, I know, once you stop counting age in months (and that should occur at approximately 18 months of age) every birthday is a big one, but this was a really big one in that my new age ends in a zero. That makes everyone do a nudge-nudge/wink-wink when they talk about the day, as if life is is measured on a series of seven or eight or nine huge steps, rather than seventy or eighty or ninety smaller steps that really look more like a slope.

This was the year that I hoisted myself up onto the 60 step, and full disclosure, I was taken a little aback by that ginormous leap.

Doesn't 60 sound old? It does. And while I'm in full agreement that 60 is the new 39, it still is...60. That's the age my middle school math teacher was when we called her "Old Miss Matheis" and thought we were being charitable by not calling her "Dead Miss Matheis." That's the age at which female movie stars have officially had so much work done that their faces don't resemble their names any more.

It is 60, and it is old.

In fact I went to bed Friday night sporting a little bit of an attitude. Husband and I had planned to meet Much Older Sister and her husband for lunch on Saturday but the snow that was forecast at the meeting place exactly halfway between where we each live scuttled that idea. None of the Boys would be home, and while that wasn't unexpected, I knew that Husband was fretting that he wasn't doing enough to CELEBRATE. (For my 40th birthday he arranged the biggest surprise party ever pulled off, and for my 50th he took me to Costa Rica for the weekend. Oh, yeah, the bar was high for decade celebrations.)

But in the wee hours of Saturday morning I woke up with the clarity of thought that only comes in the wee hours: This could very well be the best decade of my life. I have amazing family who love me, and friends who absolutely pickle me in joy. The Boys and Lovely Girl all are in good spots, which is a rare thing to be able to say for such a diverse herd. (Usually there's at least one who is underemployed or under-romanced or whatever.) Husband and I, thank you God, have each other and good health.

A few hours later I crawled out of my warm bed and made my morning cappuccino. Then I sat, in my ratty chenille robe, with an afghan over my lap in my favorite recliner, alternately reading a good book and drifting off to sleep for the next four hours. Over the course of the weekend Husband and I had meals with two of our very favorite sets of friends, I bought yarn, and I heard from dozens and dozens of people who love me to varying degrees, each of whom I cherish. As an eye-roller who had always thought Facebook birthday wishes were hokey, I found myself getting misty as I read through the lovely/funny/touching comments, some from people I've known pretty much for all 60 years of my life and some whom I've met in this very space.

The Boys called on a conference call and I remembered how much fun it is when they're all being idiots and talking over each other and we made plans for The Best Day of the Year which is coming up in less than two weeks.

And then, to put the maraschino cherry on top of this birthday Sunday of brilliance, I WORE A GIANT SOMBRERO! Oh, yes, I did. And the Mexican restaurant's wait staff "sang" a song to me in Spanish, a song of which I understood not a word even though I speak that language. (I believe I was distracted by the guitar, which until moments earlier had been wall decor and had not been tuned since...ever.)

I had never before worn a giant sombrero and been "sung" to on my birthday, even though I've had a whole passel of birthdays. It was lovely, and symbolic of other milestones that are still to be conquered.

I'm pretty sure--being old is going to be okay. I'm going to like standing on this new step.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Wind's in the East

The view just outside my office when I got to work this morning. Ahhhh, Kansas.

I have a well-documented and too-often expressed hatred of Daylight Stupid Time because it is stupid and makes me feel logy and unproductive for several months of the year. There is, however, one lovely advantage of this atrocity: The skies over Kansas, which normally are lovely, elevate their status to breath-taking just during the hours I'm most apt to be in transit.

Sunrises and sunsets painted from an extravagant palette, bracketing blue skies filled with clouds so perfect they look as if they were painted by Bob Ross.

Okay, hold up just a second, MomQueenBee. What the heck kind of sentence was that? It's the kind of sentence that makes perfect sense when you're walking around the block in the morning, a sentence so wonderfully descriptive that surely the angels will sing when they read it.

It's the kind of sentence that accompanies the fleeting thought "The wind's in the east, there's a mist coming in, like something is brewin', about to begin," and makes me wonder whether this evocative sentiment was versed by Longfellow or by Keats or by Robert Burns.

But then I remember that I actually know all the words to this verse so it couldn't be an actual poet who said them, and it strikes me: This verse was intoned by the well-known philosopher Bert the Chimney Sweep in Mary Poppins.

So, I'll just say that it's a beautiful day in Kansas with the wind from the east.

Bert and I wish you a wonderful Friday, with whatever's brewin' being a lovely cup of tea and good book to go with the blizzard that's forecast for tonight.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cooling Off Period With Interruption

The weather in Small Town went from 70 to (almost) 0 in less than a couple of hours a few days ago. It was like a Lamborghini drag racing backwards into a freezer, and it has left me with a hitch in my get-along. I'm usually a pretty good walker, thanks to my morning obsession routine of exercise. But now? I have this painful click in my left hip that makes me walk like Grandpa McCoy (see video above).

It is not at all an attractive look, which as I watched that intro was exactly the opposite of what Richard Krenna had during the McCoys's glory years. That would have been, according to IMDB, in 1957, which means....

Holy cow!

We interrupt this blog post for an earthquake! In case anyone from California is reading this, I won't complain too much because really, it was just a little tremor in the grand scheme of things. But it doesn't seem quite fair that now Kansas is having tornadoes AND earthquakes.

Compared to the one that rolled Husband and me out of bed in Costa Rica a decade ago, this was pretty tame, but earthquake! In Kansas!

How can we blame this on Oklahoma?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

I would like to promise that this will be the final picture from our October vacation, but I cannot make promises I know in advance I will break. Still, how sweet is this shot of Boy#2 being kissed by a bear? And not just any bear, a Bearfootin' Bear of Hendersonville. We happened to be in town the day they auctioned off these ursine adorabilities, and naturally that reminded me of the question that has plagued mankind since the beginning of time: What good is having a blog if you can't use it to embarrass your children?

Speaking of the vacation, lovely reader Viviane had a question following one of the countless We Rode a Train! entries. I quote: "American trains have showers????" Yes! Yes, they do, although the showers are only open to the sleeper car folks, because when you have a ROOMETTE you are exceedingly special. The showers were surprisingly spacious and there was plenty of hot water and lots of towels, so A+ for Amtrak showers in spite of the whoops! moment that occurs when the train goes around a curve unexpectedly.

I haven't figured out how to adequately annotate the word ROOMETTE. Is all caps enough? Or should I figure out some kind of fancy hieroglyph to indicate my appreciation of the mirth that word produces in me? Every single time I write it I'm pretty much this:
The blurb this week is for a recipe that is from a Betty Crocker cookbook I received as a wedding present. (Well, I guess it was actually to both Husband and me, but I am the one who has spilled ingredients all over its pages for 30 years.)

Two had a couple of culinary requests in return for his giving up his bed to aging parents and sleeping on the couch for a solid week--bierocks and molasses crinkles. So while he was at work one day I made use of every pan in his bachelor kitchen and filled his freezer.

I was reminded again that molasses crinkles are pretty darned good, especially if you undercook them just a tad and have a glass of cold milk standing by when they are (barely) cool enough to eat.

If you only have one recipe in your repertoire, make it this one--so easy, so delicious.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Rose in November

Please forgive the blurry picture. It was early.

Living in this country is an amazing privilege, isn't it? 

Tuesday's election has caused about as much anguish in Kansas as any I can remember. We Sunflower Staters were deeply divided, and I've never seen so much dirt being flung. Nearly all of the races that counted were close so about half of the voters were terribly sad on Wednesday morning.

But as I made my cool-down lap around the block after my pre-dawn exercise bike time, I noticed this remarkable sight: Growing out of the honeysuckle bush that's diagonally across the block from the House on the Corner is a rose.

It is November in Kansas, and that rose is still blooming. 

In spite of the chilly weather, in spite of what is obviously the wrong season for roses, in spite of, well, EVERYTHING, this rose has defiantly survived and bloomed. 

Democracy is a funny thing. We vote, then either we rejoice or we despair. It's woo! or woe! every time we leave the ballot box. But (as our dining companions on The Great Train Ride pointed out), we are Americans, and Americans adapt. 

We do our best, and we listen to each other, and we support our views with fervor, and then no matter what the outcome we adapt and thrive.

We are roses in November. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

At Home in North Carolina

Lest you think that all we did on vacation was ride on the train, let me assure you that is not true: We also stayed in a house. I promise that I will not take you through the same kind of minute-by-minute commentary on our three nights in this house that I dragged you through behind our train, but this experience also was a first for us.

No, no, no. We have stayed in a house before (and if you thought we were yurt-dwelling Kazakhs, you may be new to this blog). This was the first time, though, that we have rented a house sight unseen from a vacation rental company and you may be wondering what this is like.

Well, first of all, if you end up renting this particular house, be sure you have Boy#2 available to drive you up the mountain. He is an unerring navigator, unlike his mother who was safely stashed in the back seat of the rental car where she could do the least harm to chances of arriving at our actual destination instead of in another state.

You will hit the road for the four-hour trip after Two gets off work, and drive for miles and miles in the dark, but then you will arrive at a red house clinging to the side of a mountain and the porch light will be on and the key will be in the mailbox:
Photo taken in daylight. The porch light was not this bright.
You will be very, very tired and will drag your heavy suitcases into the house prepared for almost any kind of disrepair and/or nastiness, but instead of disrepair and nastiness you will find this:
Fresh flowers and books everywhere, plus quirky decorating choices that will make your face smile and your heart sing. 

When it turns out that the house owners live right next door and that he was a college professor (in computer science) and she was one of the very first Peace Corps volunteers (in Colombia, in 1964) and that they love a country diner breakfast almost as much as you do, you will know you have found your people here in the mountains.

So you spend three days tooling around the area and come back  each night to World Series baseball and cheering on the Royals (we still love you!) with these guys, 
and you will know that there is no place like home, and that home is where your heart is, and that for these three days, your heart is right here. 

It's good to be home.

Monday, November 3, 2014

We Rode a Train! (Part 3)

So, when we left off I was whining about the Amtrak roomette being tooooo tiiiiny and tooooo hooooottttt and you would have thought that I hated the whole experience because you do know me. But in point of fact, I loved our 30 hours on the train. Loved them. And here is why:

1. The Scenery. I have very little photographic documentation of how beautiful it was to ride through the northeast in mid-October because in addition to being a terrible photographer I am a slow photographer, and the train waits for no one to frame that one flame-colored tree just perfectly. Plus much of what you see is the backside of America. You are, after all, on the wrong side of the tracks from Main Street, but this is very much the more interesting side. And when you're on the train for 30 hours, you also get to see the outside during all hours of the day and night, which leads me to my next favorite aspect...

2. The Rock-a-bye Baby Effect. Want to sleep more soundly than you have slept since you first heard the word "deadline"? Place yourself in a comfy bed, with darkness and stars just outside that window where you can wake up to see more darkness and stars, then add a swaying train car and the rhythm of the wheels for white noise and you will sleep oh, so soundly. You will, that is, if you have glommed onto the roomette's bottom bunk. The Boys placed bets on who would have the lower bunk and who would have the upper, and quite wisely not one single penny was on Husband for the comfy spot. Husband got the fold-down bed, and his sleeping experience was less than ideal. (His description of "like an MRI without sedation" spoke to both the size and windowless aspect of the coffin-like upper berth.) I, however, woke up to blue skies rushing by outside after some of the best zzzzzzz's I can remember. I did manage to bestir myself in time for breakfast, where we met the third best part of the trip...

3. The People. When you have a sleeper car on Amtrak, all of your meals are included in the (not inconsequential) cost of the trip. However, seating is community style so we had different dining companions at each meal. ("You WILL make a friend" the seating announcement ominously ordered us.) And guess what? We did! The delightful young lady above is Mary, who is a professional storyteller from England. I know! Is that the person you would have thought you would chat with over a Western omelet and sausage? We shared life stories and giggled with her about the biscuits on the breakfast menu (that word means something different entirely in England) and I made her promise she will at least consider visiting Small Town on her grant-funded swing around the colonies. At another meal we shared our booth with newly-met retired companions traveling back to Florida from California. They had accidentally been booked into a roometiny instead of larger accommodations "but we're Americans and Americans adapt so we'll be fine," one said. (I'm making "We're Americans and Americans adapt" my mantra during this election season, by the way.) But the very best part of being on the train was...

4. Nothing at All. What did I like the most? Nothing at all. When you are making airline connections or driving, there are constant decisions. Should we stop here? Is this the right route? Where do you want to eat? When you are on a train these decisions are in someone else's hands, so for hours on end I knit and listened to Madeline L'Engle on an audiobook, with breaks for catnaps and looking out the window. I didn't have to feel guilty about not working (limited internet access) and the most pressing decision I made was whether to shower now or after another nap. Enforced nothingness can get old, but a few days of it was delightful.

So there you have it. We had an uncommonly wonderful trip, with no derailments in spite of my boss's dire predictions. And we had connections scheduled loosely enough that a two-hour delay for heavy freight traffic didn't bother us at all.

Our train trip was heavenly. I can't wait to do it again.

The End