Monday, November 30, 2015

The Miracle of Compounding

Husband, by training and by natural bent, is a numbers guy. He married someone who is, by lack of training and general distaste for the subject, not a numbers gal. As a result he has tried to explain the miracle of compounding to me multiple times and I still don't understand its complexities, except to say that it's a miracle and I'm not supposed to understand it. 

But the group picture from Thanksgiving at the House on the Corner begins to make sense to me when I think of it in terms of compound interest.

We began hosting Thanksgiving for my side of the family at least a quarter of a century ago. At that point most of my siblings and my parents lived on one edge of Kansas and the House on the Corner was located on the other edge. That meant we were the ones who drove--to the holiday meals, the family camp-outs, the weekend get-togethers. And while it was always totally worth the effort, I suggested that for one day a year everyone else make the drive and I would make the turkey.

Thus was born the Best Day of the Year. Everyone would pack up the spouses and babies and I would make my famous cranberry sauce while they were on the road. It was wonderful.

Over the years the group grew both in size and in number. Want to know how many were at the original gathering?

With the exception of my mom (who we will miss forever and always) and a brother who called in from Australia, only those with stickers. My dad, siblings, three spouses (one of whom was taking this picture), and three grandchildren.

This year we had 33 people eating off plates. Ages ranged from six months to 90  years, a miracle of compounding.

I still can't explain it, but I'm beginning to see why economists are so enthusiastic about this principle: It's means there are kids old enough to do dishes, and more kids young enough to be sweet and cuddly and wildly appreciative of pie.

It's still the Best Day of the Year, and it's a miracle I'm not going to question.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Time After Time

Time after time you hear me say that I'm so lucky to be loving you...

I had never heard the song Boy#1 and Lovely Girl chose for their first dance when they were married. It was an old one, I knew that much, and the old love songs are the best, but I had never heard it.

"Time After Time" made me cry.

So lucky to be the one you run to see in the evening when the day is through...

A young groom, a young bride? They don't know what kind of agreement they're making on that wedding day. They don't know how they will react when the ceremony has been packed away with the toasting glasses and the guests have moved back to their own lives.

At least Husband and I didn't know on Nov. 19, 1983.

I only know what I know, the passing years will show you've kept my love so young, so new...

We didn't know that neither one of our audacious career dreams would come true--I wouldn't become Erma Bombeck, he wouldn't be governor of the state (yet). We didn't know we wouldn't ever live in a fancy house on an acreage with lots of windows for watching the wildlife. We didn't even know we would never again buy a brand-new car.

But we also didn't know we would have four sons who would be the joy and fulfillment of our lives. We didn't know we would survive each other's irritating habits (my hoarding tendencies, for example) and the craziness that is the melding of two independent personalities, two strong wills, two loving families.

We didn't know how much we would laugh.

And time after time you'll hear me say that I'm so lucky to be loving you.

Happy anniversary, Husband. I'm so lucky to be loving you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

So Lucky

One of my friends noticed it was my birthday.

In case you're wondering how to make sure everybody makes a big deal of your birthday, I have a pretty much foolproof method:

Tell the internet.

Yes, it turns out that if you blog about turning another year older, it's like saying "So, what do you think of my new dress?" People feel obligated to tell you nice things, and oh my, did y'all ever make my day.

Husband and the Boys made sure I was cherished and appreciated, and that was the foundation for everything else that happened. But the surprise of the day was how pleased I was by people who took time to send Facebook greetings.

This made up for the times I have rolled my eyes, silently or not-so-silently calling Facebook an idiot--it was the best thing ever on Monday. I heard from friends, so many friends, with whom I'm not in contact on a regular basis, and it reminded me how very rich my life has been. I had messages from friends who knew me before I could talk, and friends I've only known for a few months. Friends I met in grade school and in high school and in college and in the Peace Corps and through work and through church and through playing the piano and through my women's groups. There were greetings in Spanish and in English and I ran out of ways to say "Muchisimas gracias!"

By halfway through the day I was beginning to sniffle, and except for the ear-to-ear grin that simply would not get off my face, I would have been in full-out wails of nostalgia and thankfulness.

There are some things that are not so wonderful about being older. I'm not crazy about the memory and hearing, both of which are growing distinctly fuzzier. I regret the realization that there are places I'll never visit when I had intended to see the whole world, and that I'll never live in the country again.

But hearing from all those people, seeing their faces in my mind, being reminded of the moments we have shared and how our lives have intersected? I've been so lucky.

Thanks for the reminder.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Milestone Monday (With a Giveaway!)

It is a momentous Monday! A magnificent Monday! One might even say a monumental Monday!


Yes, friends, this is a big day for several reasons. First of all, it is my birthday, and while I loved birthdays more when they seemed to only come around once in a while instead of every blessed week, I still love birthdays. They are the one day each year when anything is allowed.

Chocolate for breakfast? Why not? Come in to work a few minutes late? Sure. Watch the reunion show of Project Runway even though you know brain cells are being killed every time Blake opens his mouth? Go for it.

Or, in my case, spend the first hour of your work day learning how to use the selfie stick Boy#2 sent you for your birthday because apparently he thinks his mother is a 16-year-old Asian tourist? Treat yo-self!  And look! It's me from across the room, in all my squinched-left-eye, scrunched-up-jacket-shoulders-ed glory! Also look at my new office chairs. Pretty, no?

But my birthday is only the first of the milestones we are celebrating today: Last week I hit "publish" on post number 1,000 of Empty Nest Feathers.

Holy moly. This is a milestone that may never come again, unlike birthdays, which as I've mentioned, come every three days or so. I introduced my Nest to the interwebs on June 29, 2010, and since then have just about used up all the words in blathering on about my world. Alas, it is possible I might not hit 2,000 posts because all those birthdays have added up to an insatiable desire to nap rather than post, but I will persist.

Nonetheless, this milestone deserves a giveaway, and since all I do is nap and knit, the grand winner will get a choice of those loves of my life.

If you choose KNIT, you will receive the project I was working on during our charmed vacation in Michigan:

Yes. This blob of stitches, which I have not yet finished but intend to do so soon. The pattern says it is a shawl, this shawl to be precise:

However, I am skeptical that it will be quite this large when I finish. It will be more of a pretty neck thingy. The yarn is spectacularly beautiful and my fuzzy photography does it no justice--it's alpaca and as soft as a baby's cheek, variegated in soft pink and orange (the yarn, not the baby's cheek) and it is not at all as garish as it sounds. It's yummy, is what I mean, and you will receive the scarf/shawl if you are the lucky winner of KNIT!

If you choose NAP, I will give you permission to take a nap. There. Done. And if anyone questions why you are sleeping in the middle of the day, you can tell them you are a Milestone Monday Giveaway winner, and the prize must not be wasted.

Just comment here or on my Facebook page before noon on the Best Day of the Year (Thanksgiving), and I will have a guest draw-er draw a lucky winner, after which I will take a picture of that lucky winner's name.

From across the room with a selfie stick.

Thank you for sharing my milestone moments!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Food, Glorious Vacation Food

Here is what to eat when you are on the perfect vacation in Michigan:


That was the motto Husband and I followed, and it worked well for us, at least until we stepped on the scales after we got home but that was not when we were eating everything.

We started off acting like the restrained senior citizens we are, splitting a sandwich at Schlotzky's as we drove between Chicago and Paradise.

But by the time we reached the first evening stop it was all caloric caution to the winds. We were going to experience every kind of food that isn't available in Small Town, which is to say everything except Mexican food and fast food. So we ate this:

Indian food that came thiiiiis close to setting off the fire alarm! And this:

Really, really good fish! I counted it as restraint that I only got the basket and not the all-you-can-eat, because all the other patrons at Buddy's Bar and Bowling Alley (not kidding) were having the all-you-can-eat. I felt quite virtuous. So I ate this:

Spinach and feta spanikopita in the airport, because at our own airport I normally limit myself to coffee and the apple I brought from home and this was yummmmmy. And perhaps best of all, we ate...

Pie! Oh, my gosh. This was not just any pie. This was Sweetie-licious pie baked by the national champion pie-baker for multiple years running. Don't believe me? Here's proof:

Husband was able to close his eyes and ignore the sadly out-of-order championship certificates, because we had driven 30 miles to get there with my horrible navigational skills getting us lost not once but twice, and because PIE. We actually forced ourselves to buy two of the pint-sized desserts and they were not only delicious when we dug in that night, they were delicious the second and third nights as well.

But just to reassure you that we did not eat everything, I bring to you evidence of the night we ate at Jen's Five-Star Pizza.

It was two-for-one night but we did not realize this until after we had ordered this pizza (black olives on my side) so we took the leftovers from this one and an entire second pizza back up to the Loft refrigerator, where the second pizza stayed until we the morning we checked out, at which time Husband took it away and let me know it was happy at its new home on the farm, making friends with all the other pizzas.

So to sum up: The vacation food was glorious. We ate pie and enjoyed life, we showed no restraint at all, and now we are re-committing to salads.

How soon is Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Posh Life

I have written here so often about my love for the House on the Corner and what it is (homey, rambling, quirky, convenient, ours) that I have not really detailed what it is not (fashionable, edgy, stylish, compact, up-to-date).

That's why Husband and I really felt as if we were on vacation when we checked into The Loft: It was all of those latter adjectives.

Oh, people. If you are within the sound of my voice, you must reserve a few days at The Loft in Lake Odessa, Mich. Unless you are a snotty and overpaid hipster from Washington, D.C., this is as close as you will ever be to living in an HGTV location, and you will be able to accomplish this without seeing the rodent infestations that the HGTV "befores" always seem to have.

The Loft is (surprise!) a loft apartment located above the consignment shop in downtown Lake Odessa. Before you turn up your nose at the noise and traffic associated with a downtown, be aware that Lake Odessa is home to 2,018 souls and apparently all of them are asleep by mid-evening because we did not hear a peep.

Our host, Bill, bought this run-down building several years ago and remodeled both the consignment shop and the loft above it. I had always assumed a loft apartment would be big and drafty and unhospitable but Bill is a genius.

See that chair above, with the knitting plonked on the arm and Parenthood streaming on Netflix? That was my chair. See this sofa, with the comfy pillows and historic pictures behind it? That was Husband's sofa.

See this fireplace, which springs into flame with the touch of a button and was the perfect accompaniment to rain drumming on the windows? And the flat-screen TV above the fireplace where a certain team of destiny was on its way to winning the World Series?

That was what we saw when we looked up from our knitting and reading. It was heavenly.

Here's the full tour:

Living room. With an oversized clock that made my heart flutter. If you turn 180 degrees, you will be looking at the... and dining room. On the other side of the mirrored panel beyond the round table are two comfy Murphy beds, that are opposite...

...another sitting area, in case you have completely lost your mind and don't want to sit in front of the fire and watch the Royals.

I didn't take pictures of the bathroom, which is fantastically fantastic, because my photographic skills blah-blah-blah. Be assured it is in keeping with the spectacularity of the rest of the loft. Just carry over the 11-foot ceilings, white-washed brick, custom-made cabinetry, and the mood lighting. Oh, plus spa-quality toiletries that made me wash my hair 14 times in the four days we were there

There is only one minor downside to The Loft, and that is this:

Twenty-six steps from sidewalk to the door of the loft and no Sherpa to help with the ascent. But Bill had left chocolate-covered strawberries in the kitchen for us, and we would have had to share them with the Sherpa, so not such a bad deal.

The Loft was not the House on the Corner. It was not ours, and we are not the type of folk who would have such stylish digs, but for a few days, it was fun to pretend that it was and that we were.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Things We Didn't Buy

Going on vacation in a faraway state and traveling there by train and back by plane make a lot of economic sense. Husband and I love, love, love to browse through antique stores but when you are limited to the number of pounds you are able to schlep around in an airport or lug onto a sleeper car, you think twice about some purchases that otherwise would make perfect sense.

Take the top photo in today's post, for example. People, it is a JEWELED FEZ. I know! Christmas is coming and I have possibly as many as four but at the very least one son (Hi, Boy#2!) who would think himself the stylin'est of stylin' dudes wearing a jeweled fez. What? Your son wouldn't be caught dead in a jeweled fez? I bet your son(s) also did not win a state scholars bowl championship wearing a chicken nuggets box on his(their) head(s) for good luck.

We did not buy the jeweled fez.

Or look at this!

It's an antique Queen Bee slot machine! And can you believe that it was 75% off? I know! But it did not have any keys, and might have been difficult to cram into my carry-on, so we walked away from it. 

One item we almost did not walk away from was this:

Oh, my. This was rough. Just look at that face. 

Husband has in his hands an industrial siren. It is a siren that can be mounted at the top of a water tower to warn dozens of square miles of impending tornadoes or zombie apocalypse. And they were SELLING IT for only TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! He was beside himself with excitement. 

I, personally, did not think we had much use for such an item so I texted the Boys. 

And a few minutes later:

Husband even convinced the store owner it would be a good idea to let him plug in the siren to make sure it worked. I did take a short video of this good idea, but did not capture the looks on the faces of the various antique store patrons whom I'm fairly certain had to re-start their pacemakers when the siren blast happened. 

We also did not buy this set of cereal bowls. 

That is because we already have this set of bowls at home, and we still use them. When did I get old enough that items I bought new are now antiques?

Finally, we did not buy either of these:

I again went to our brilliant offspring for advice on this potential purchase. 

"I'm thinking of buying one of these--which should I get?" I messaged the Boys. Boy #1 was the first (and only) to respond.

"The underwear one." 

I believe that Boy may have a future in politics.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

We're On a Train!

He's on a train
Our Vacation of Charm, as I mentioned yesterday, had everything we love about travel, including our favorite transportation methods--planes, trains, and automobiles.

We started out on the Silver Chief (which runs between Los Angeles and Chicago via New Mexico), which was scheduled to pull out of the station at 3 a.m. Would it surprise you to learn this is my my least favorite hour of the day to be awake? It's true.

However, there had been a freight train derailment in Gallup, New Mexico, which led to all sorts of scrambling by the Amtrak folks and involved turning trains around and busing passengers around the derailment and I don't know what all except that it meant that at 3 a.m. Husband and I were blissfully asleep at home and we didn't All Aboooooooard! until 10:30 a.m. It also saved Husband from the top bunk in our sleeper compartment, which he described after the last trip we took as closely resembling an MRI without sedation.

So we were quite late and that was wonderful! It meant that we got to see the best parts of our route, including Kansas, in the daylight. It was spectacularly beautiful, and all you doubters who think that Kansas is flat or boring or colorless have never seen my state in the fall, from a train track. Being on a train is like slipping through the margins of the world, traveling on the thin lines drawn between fields and behind storefronts, while a giant hand gently rocks you in a cradle. (And that is exactly the kind of florid prose a train provokes in me, which leads me to think maybe Amtrak knew what it was doing when it did not select me for its writers' residency program.)

Unfortunately, my love of the train was not being shared by everyone with whom we were sharing the rails. Our schedule, which was seven hours behind when boarded, slipped even more. Husband and I had no connections to make, no schedules depending on our timely arrival, so you couldn't have wiped the smile off my face with Magic Eraser. The other folks on the train? Not so much. Apparently a good way to provoke the cranking up of the crankiness for an entire trainful of passengers is to force the train that is already running seven hours late to pull off a siding for 45 minutes to let another train go by.


And then they served supper, which clearly was dumped out of cans the chef found in the back of the pantry. That's not totally Amtrak's fault, since they had thought all of us were going to be disembarking by mid-afternoon and by 7 p.m. the crew would be sitting around eating the last of the leftover cheesecake from lunch. Instead, the chef was pouring what appeared to be Dinty Moore Beef Stew over...well, it wasn't immediately apparent what it was poured over.

"Is this rice or mashed potatoes?" I asked Husband, poking the lumpy white mound with my fork. People, I have the most nondiscriminating palate in the world but that was a plateful of ick. (It was rice, but rice cooked until individual grains were indistinguishable. So wallpaper paste?)

So, to sum up, it was a day that started late, found us surrounded by grumpy passengers, ending with our evening meal being one Our Dog Pepper would have refused and her preferred cuisine included dirty Kleenexes. And still, when we finally pulled into Chicago's Union Station at 11:30 p.m., I wasn't hating my life. I was trying to figure out the next time I could get back on a train.

A pretty good start to a vacation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Charmed, I'm Sure

Waiting for Amtrak
This morning I was trying to describe last week's vacation to a friend.

"You know how when you're on vacation, there are times when two different things can happen and they're both fine, but one of them is really fine? On this vacation, every single time there was a fine thing and a really fine thing, the really fine thing happened."

She knew exactly what I meant.

"It sounds like your entire week was charmed."

And it was.

Husband and I used the excuse of a tax seminar in Michigan to spend 10 days in that state, a planes/trains/automobile trip that had all of our favorite things: Fall. Food. Antiques. Fabulous living quarters. Movie marathons. Knitting. Sleep.

Each other.

I didn't even include the World Series in that list of favorite things because we didn't know it was our favorite until it actually happened. It has been added to the list, and people who were in Chicago hotel rooms adjacent to ours Sunday night, we apologize. You should be thankful you couldn't see as well as hear us, because the victory dancing I was doing was not charming.

I'm sorry I didn't even check in last week, but oh, people. There's so, so much this week to tell and show you (pictures of food! pretty leaves! a jeweled fez! PIE!).

We're back from vacation, and Michigan? You've charmed us.