Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vacation Days (TBT)

I know, I know. ThrowBack Thursday is such a lazy way of filling a blog post that all the cool kids have stopped doing it. But hey, because I am lazy and un-cool, here we are again.

I love this picture, which was taken on vacation...somewhere. I'm guessing this was our trip to New Mexico when the Boys were 10, 8, 6, and 4, but my meticulous record-keeping (hahahaha!) has not helped me out on pinpointing the exact moment it was snapped.

It is, however, a fairly good representation of how the Ragtag Family (that would be us) looked when we were on vacation: happy but not exactly fashion forward. I mean, who dressed those kids?

This came to mind yesterday as I was catching up on my blog reading and came across a post by another vacationing mother. She took her three small children to Mackinac Island, and after seeing her gorgeous photography and the activities they did, I was feeling pretty bad about my own shortcomings as a mom. I mean, this was the caption to one of the photos:
"The lawn in front of Fort Mackinac–great for cartwheels, Frisbee, dancing, playing tag, people watching. My kids made friends with so many dogs there too."
Sigh. If I'd written a caption to the photo above, it probably would have said "Successful day. Everyone still alive after nine hours in the car. Found mechanic open when the Suburban blew a tire."

And we won't talk about how the children in the other blog are dressed like fashion models, and also sat quietly during their ride in the horse-drawn carriage. Did those kids pick out their own clothes? I don't think so, because if they had they undoubtedly would have chosen an Albert Einstein t-shirt and the striped shorts that I used to buy in multiple sizes and colors at WalMart. ($4 a pair, folks. Can't argue with that.) Phooey to those other children in their perfect rompers and long white skirts.

But I have the trump card: These Boys are now charming grown-up adults who arrange their own vacations and do the driving when we're traveling together. They also dress themselves quite nicely, all by themselves.

My work here is done.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Finishing Update

Well, here we are, almost out of July. You know what that means, of course? It means that summer is MORE THAN HALF OVER!  Wahooooo!

I have never been a fan of the middle third of the year. In the pre-self-tanning-lotion years of my teens when my friends were spending long afternoons slathered with baby oil and lying on a beach towel until they were broiled the exact perfect shade of crunchy sexiness (at age 15, which, ick), I could manage about 30 seconds in the sun before I was convinced bugs were crawling on me, and the sun was burning my corneas through my eyelids, plus this is boring and I hate it. So all my life, summer and winter, my natural skin color has remained the delicate shade of a goldfish's belly just before it is flushed.

But I digress. My point was that the year is half over so it's time to check in with the word of the year, which I'm sure you remember is finish. (You did not remember? Huh.) I've added several things to my finished list this year, and it is amazing how exhilarating it is to move an item from in-progress to DONE.

I present for your amazement Boy#1's T-shirt quilt, which my goal had been to get done by his mid-June birthday.

In 2012.

Yes. I have had that garbage sack of T-shirts from his youth and childhood around for quite literally years and years. There are shirts from his high school years, and I believe one was even older than that (I don't remember exactly when he began to work as an umpire for rec league T-ball games). But after I finished Boy #2's quilt--the sloppiest, sorriest piece of stitchery ever produced--I got to work on this one. I cut out the squares, then these squares sat in a heap in the sewing room while the earth circled the sun several times.

This spring, I was determined to make this quilt a finish. I simplified the sewing process, queued up Midsomer Murders on Netflix, and sat down at the sewing machine. Last week I stuffed the finished quilt in a used gift bag and handed it to One during our 24 Hours of Togetherness. Three years overdue, the quilt was done.

It isn't a work of art--a county fair judge would probably refuse to give this even a green participation ribbon. But it will be nice and warm on fall evenings on the screened porch of Boy#1 and Lovely Girl's new-to-them house.

And, coincidentally, at the same time I got done with the quilt I finished the final season of Midsomer Murders that Neflix offers. That's 15 seasons of quaint British sleuthery and one quilt finished and the year is only half over. That feels astonishingly productive, but perhaps I have a different scale of production than most people.

How is your finishing coming along?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Making a Deposit

Left to right in back are Lovely Girl and Boys #1, #4, #2, and #3.
The best thing about last weekend, of course, was the heart-filling evening we spent with people who appreciated what my father is and does and has done. But right behind that best thing, maybe even in a tie for best thing about the weekend, is another wonderful feature of the weekend: We were all together.

Not only were all of my siblings able to attend the celebration, all of the Boys and Lovely Girl were there as well.

This doesn't happen often, what with them living in four different states. We feel so, so fortunate that everyone gets together a couple of times each year, and certainly we had banked a whole lot of togetherness time when they were growing up and we always traveled in a pack. It's a funny thing about this kind of banked time, though. You've heard the old story about the rich man who was asked how much money was enough, and he replied "Just a little bit more."? All that banked time just makes me want a little bit more and last weekend I had that.

So in the less than 24 overlapping hours we had after Boy#1 and Lovely Girl arrived from Missouri, Boy#2 flew in from North Carolina, Boy#3 drove over from western Kansas, and Boy#4 was in from Texas, we made the time count. We talked, we laughed, we visited the World's Largest Ball of Twine, and we spent hours putting together jigsaw puzzles in the hotel lobby.

The completed puzzle in the picture is composed of coffee labels, which might explain the manic expression on my face, but we also completed one of cookies and started a final one that would have been ice creams. The good folks at the Super 8 probably did not intend for us to run through their entire stock of puzzles but as it turns out, puzzles are a good way for us to be together with no screen time and very little competition. (I say "very little" because Boy#3 is a fierce puzzle completer. Go for the same piece he is looking at and you will realize you are old and slow.)

As we gathered around the table and discussed whether this piece had a tiny blue line through it or whether the one with two innies and three outies was actually missing, no one was checking a phone, no one turned on the television, no one updated Facebook.

I am not very good at jigsaws, but that wasn't a problem. I sat back pretending to look for a piece and just took in the hubbub around me. My reserves of family time had been running low and I was banking time.

Yes, definitely tied for best thing about the weekend.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

He's Not Like Other Dads

The student union at the school he led is named after my parents.
Identifiers are blocked to thwart stalkers.
I've mentioned before how very fortunate/lucky/blessed/pick-your-PC-adjective-of-choice I was in my growing-up years. I didn't realize it at the time because at first I was a little kid and little kids are notoriously oblivious to this kind of fortune, and then I was a teenager and teenagers are notoriously teenager-y.

I mean, living on a farm was pretty much the worst, especially since we were isolated by a 10 p.m. curfew when our friends' cruising of Mill Street was just getting going at that hour. And what about having a father who didn't hunt, golf, smoke, cuss or have a cold beer after a long day in the hay fields? It was as if we were living in a convent, except that we had to get up early to do chores.

But deep down my four siblings and I knew that in spite of the curtailed social lives and conservative lifestyle, there was something special happening in our family. We had a mother who was brilliant and compassionate and talented and the best cook in the world, a woman who believed in us beyond what was reasonable even as she was telling us to wash our face because it would make us feel better.

Then there was our dad. I've talked about him before, how he grew up setting his alarm at 4:30 a.m. so that he could milk cows on the family dairy farm before school. How he needed his parents' signatures to enlist in the Navy at age 17 and served in the North Pacific during World War II. How he was a scrappy teacher who built a passion for education and a conviction that everyone should have a chance to make a living into leadership of an award-winning technical college. How very, very proud he is of his five children and what they've made of their lives. How much he loves us.

Last Saturday the people in the tiny town where he grew up and led that technical college honored my father as the very first recipient of a county-wide community service award. At the gala celebrating the award all five of his children and all but two of his grandchildren were in attendance--27 direct descendants.

We heard a parade of speakers talk about my father's accomplishments. These speakers went back to his first year as a teacher, when my father required all of his vocational agriculture students to participate in speech contest. This, the presenter said, started him on his own lifetime of community service by giving him the courage to stand in front of people and present his ideas. Other speakers described my father's faith and spiritual leadership, his work in community service groups, his encouragement of young people in having the courage to put feet to their dreams.

Then Dad got up to accept his award. At 88 he is quieter in groups than he used to be--his hearing is not what it was, and ambient noise eats up group conversation. But behind the podium, he is still an articulate and compelling presence.

"I am humbled by this," he told us. "It doesn't seem right to get an award for doing things I like to do."

We teased Dad that this was kind of like being at his funeral without needing to feel sad, so I will add my own word of eulogy:

My father didn't hunt or golf. He didn't smoke or drink or cuss or encourage others in those habits. All he did was aim high, work hard, and enable others to do the same.

He's the best possible dad and I'm lucky to be his daughter.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Living the Dream

It's hot, hot, hot in Kansas these days. Go figure, what with it being mid-July. And Kansas. A side effect of these temperatures, though, is that I get to water my tomato plants much more frequently.

I am the world's laziest gardener. Several years ago (three? four, maybe?) I invested a fair chunk of change in building materials and put together a couple of Earthtainers. Oh, wait! I think I blogged about it at the time--yup, here they are, with bonus picture of Our Dog Pepper. Awww, Pepper. What a sweet dog.

Anyway, I'm still using those original containers (MacGyvered out of faux-Rubbermaid) and every year I throw a few plants in the recycled soil along with some fertilizer and hope for the best. This year I did my throwing-in so very late that the greenhouse across the street was closing out its stock and all I had to choose from was yellow cherry tomatoes. (Are they still cherry tomatoes if they're yellow and not red?)

"You'll like them, though," the greenhouse guy promised. "They're really sweet."

At close-out prizes my investment was $1.48 so I planted them. I also water them whenever I think of it (every four or five days or so) and last week my four plants turned into the little tomatoes who could. I walked into the backyard after a few days of neglect and there were dozens of little yellow fruit on the vine.

I popped one off the stem and the greenhouse guy was right--these are like eating juicy, nutritious candy.

This morning I realized hat I was the Little Red Hen of this operation. I was the one who made the containers, I was the one who purchased the plants, I was the one who planted the plants and water the plants and care for the plants.

So this morning as I watered I ate every single ripe tomato directly off the vines. (Oh, don't look at me like that--I picked the bowlful in above two days ago, so there were only a dozen or so ready and they were small.)

I did not regret my spur-of-the-moment foraging one bit. For an old farm girl like me, that faint taste of tomato leaves mixed with warm juice running down my chin? It's living the dream.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This Will Be My Defense

When Husband and I got married he was living in a sweet little house roughly the size of my current (small) closet. But because I loved him, I thought the house was adorable and romantic, even though I immediately had Opinions. My first Opinion concerned the color of the house.

He was getting ready to paint, and he asked what color he should use.

"Yellow," I told him, "with gray trim."

Just like that. I had an Opinion, and I shared that Opinion, and we bought yellow paint. We will fast-forward through when we were scraping the old siding and it was 140 degrees in the shade and I first heard the phrase "A job worth doing is worth doing well" come out of his mouth. That is not relevant to this story, but it was a learning experience for both of us as I realized I was marrying a perfectionist and he realized he was marrying someone who would frequently say "Fine. Then we are HIRING someone to do this."

When the person we had hired finished painting we stood back and gazed at the darling little yellow-and-gray house. It was so pretty! So fresh! So romantic! But then Husband pulled his avocado green Buick into the driveway next to the house.

Oh. My. Gosh. Suddenly, rather than looking pretty and fresh and romantic, all of the green tones in the yellow popped to the foreground in solidarity with that car, and immediately the color of our house appeared roughly the same color as the face of someone with both morning sickness and jaundice. Kind of yellow, but with a green under-tinge that smelled of death. We gasped in horror, called the painter, and had it re-painted in a shade didn't turn evil when the Buick was near.

I tell that story because Husband and I have been painting another bedroom, this time the one with dinosaur wallpaper. (Yes, I do know how old my children are. They were even sadder than I was to get rid of those dinosaurs.)

Because our last foray into choosing paint colors really went quite well, and Husband's office turned out absolutely gorgeous* in spite of his apprehensions about the paint darkness and the non-white ceiling, I wasn't even going to consult him about the color of this room which he will only enter to make sure sheets are clean for the next guest. (He does all the laundry in the House on the Corner. In nearly every way I married a saint.) I showed him chips of several possibilities, and we discussed them thoroughly--very, very thoroughly--and then he said "You know what? I trust you. You pick the color, and I'll help you paint."

Still, there he was beside me in the hardware store when I ordered paint.

"Are you sure?" he said anxiously. "Don't you think that may be too dark? How about this color? Really? Have you thought about how it will look when we put that quilt up next to it--is it going to--"

I stopped him with a hiss louder than is usually heard in Hometown Hardware.

"Do. Not. Confuse. Me. Just do not." And I swept out of there with my two cans of paint as if I were the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey.

But I had my own doubts as late as this morning, when we put paintbrush to wall. The color went on rather rosy, and I was prepared to change shades for the second coat but it dried perfectly, to exactly what I had in my mind. I'm sure Husband will agree when he sees it, or at least he will say he agrees.

Because he knows that when I finally snap and murder him, it will be over paint colors, and the homicide will be justifiable.

But that's just my Opinion.

*I know I owe you pictures of that office, but I can't find my camera. It's under the drop cloths somewhere. It will turn up.

Friday, July 10, 2015

All Over Again

Anyone remember this picture?

I'll give you a hint--it was posted here almost exactly a year ago. The post that accompanied it talked about moving Boy#4 into a new apartment, and how (boo-hoo!) this was the last child I would be moving into a grown-up apartment and (waaaaah!) where had the years gone? and (sob-sniff!) I was now old and unneeded.


As it turns out, I was JK-ing all over the place about that, except for the feeling old part, which was true, and the boo-hoo-ing part which was most definitely true at the time. Yesterday Husband, Four and I spent the day apartment-hunting. It turns out that engineering jobs in the oil industry are volatile (Ha, ha! See what I did there?) and that if your company is bought out and your division divested, you may be moving.

But guess what? A new job just might be FIVE HOURS closer to the House on the Corner, where your mother is doing a happy dance that not only is the job geographically more accessible, it is in a field that is much less likely than the oil industry to require piano-playing fingers be sacrificed to machinery.

However, it does require another apartment and another move, and so there we were again, talking to perky young things about security deposits and on-site maintenance crews and fitness centers with flat-screen televisions. It took me back decades to when my mother and I were looking for my first grown-up apartment, and I was SO EXCITED by the thought that there was a clubhouse and a swimming pool. Know how many times I used the clubhouse and/or the swimming pool during my two years in that apartment? Once. For a get-together for family and friends immediately after the Best Wedding Ever, after which I moved into Husband's house and never lived in the apartment again. Base your apartment decisions on whether the carpet is stinky and not whether there is a fitness center, is what I'm saying.

Anyway. It was a good day, and Four now has some excellent options for apartments. I have cautioned him against stinky carpets, his father has harrumphed about desirable neighborhoods, and both of us have realized that Four is a grown-up and this is completely his decision and we're backing out of that now.

Oh, and we've reminded him that his new grown-up job comes with a moving allowance, which means he will be hiring someone else to schlep the couch and washing machine down the stairs of his current apartment and up the stairs to his new digs.

I love being the mother of grown-ups. It's all opinion and no muscle, which is just the way I like it.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Very Good Day

The end of the day
These are things that happened yesterday:

1. I woke up realizing that I had not spent one dime on fireworks, and that rather than braving the crowds and mosquitos at the Small Town celebration I had watched my favorite movie musical of all time, which gave me a lovely afterglow of "'Til There Was You" and relief that I wouldn't have to dread fireworks for another year.

2. I did the New York Times Sunday crossword in its entirety, and figured out the theme in exactly the right amount of time (not too soon, because that would mean it was overly easy, but not too late because then I would have been totally frustrated).

3. I went to church, and had not only Husband but also Boy#3 and Boy#4 in the pew with me as someone else played the piano so much better than I do and I sang with gusto so much worse than anyone else around me.

4. The four of us went out to eat after church and because Small Town's Mexican restaurant was closed in honor of U.S. independence, the non-Mexican restaurant was packed. The poor waitress was running off her feet and we waited for our food for more than an hour, but this restaurant is located in an interior design store (no, really, it is) so we could look at home furnishings while we waited. We all agreed we would not pay $600 for a painting of a dog that had been hanging in a bathroom (the painting was hanging, not the dog), and the food was excellent.

5. I took a nap, from which I woke up just as Eric Hosmer hit his walk-off double for a Royals win. Wooo!

6. I ate left-over potato salad for supper, and since potato salad is always better the next day, I made a meal of it.

7. The four of us watched the women's World Cup game, and I was so, so proud to be an American woman. Our team played with heart and skill and without the whiny theatrics that are part of every. single. one. of the top-level men's games. I believe that we could win!

8. The guys taught me how to play a new board game and it was so, so much fun. (Also, I won.)

9. The winner of the game had to serve the dessert, and while I wouldn't want to get rid of my old recipe, this Sour Cream Blueberry Pie was danged tasty. Also, served on red and white dishes, quite patriotic.

It was a good day. A very good day. And what did you do?