Friday, February 26, 2016

Is It Monday Yet?

This week has been kind of a crummy week (thank you, all so dear to me, for the thoughts and hugs on Wednesday) so last night I decided I deserved some popcorn. Or five pounds of M&M's chugged directly from the largest punch bowl I could find. Since I was already in my pajamas and didn't want to look for the punch bowl, I threw the bag of 94% nonfat generic popcorn into the microwave. 

Oh, yes, I know how to party. 

Anyway, while I waited for it to finish popping I looked around at the top of the kitchen cupboards, where I have a motley assortment of copper teakettles and copper bowls and copper spittoons arranged "artistically."  "Hmmm," I was thinking to myself. "Maybe I should wash those some time? Or rearrange..."

And in that moment, when my head was tipped back, the thought of the dust that has probably accumulated up there overcame me and I sneezed and someone shot me in the jaw. 

Not really, but something about the combination of my chin-up position and the force of the sneeze combined to throw my jaw out of kilter and I thought I had broken it. Seriously. I would have held it in place except that it hurt too much to touch. I even considered calling Husband at the office (CPA in tax season, for you new readers) to come home and knock me over the head with a sledgehammer but I couldn't control my facial muscles enough to talk. 

Luckily for me and Husband (who might not have been able to locate a sledgehammer quickly), in a few minutes the pain settled down somewhat, and I was able to go to bed. When I woke up this morning the area under my right ear was decidedly Not Right, but I could open my mouth wide enough to insert a toothbrush, and when I did there was a POP and I began to think I would live. 

So all that is prelude to a discussion of what you will find if you come to work and google "intense jaw pain after sneezing"  What you will find includes the phrase "twitching is system wide but only continuous in right calf, SEVERE left thigh, buttocks..." 

"Whshew! How lucky am I that I did not have jaw pain radiating into my buttocks?" I was saying to myself just at the moment I got an email that my corporate credit card has been hacked. 

Could I borrow some M&M's and a punch bowl?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Ghosts We Believe In

My mother (on the right) and her siblings, 2004. Uncle E. is next to Mom.

I don't believe in ghosts. Really, I don't.

Things that go bump in the night are usually the creaky old House settling a little more deeply into the Corner, or precariously-balanced leftovers slipping when the refrigerator kicks on. The cool spot I walk through is the shadow of a tree or a breeze so subtle it only moves across my skin.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it, except...

Today is my mother's birthday. I know you're bored with me talking about my mother, and how wonderful she was and how she could fix broken me with a hug. How she was kind and smart and funny until she was beginning to be confused and tentative, and that's when she died after a fall, six years ago and a hundred years ago.

In those hundred years that have marked our new reality without Mom, I have thought about her every single day.

Every. Single. Day.

I'm 61 years old, and I still have not gone a day without thinking of how Mom would have reacted in a situation, or how she would have treated a laundry stain, or what words she would have used to show kindness, or how delighted she would have been with a grandchild's achievement. I find myself asking her questions and "hearing" her answers.

She is the ghost I believe in.

Today we have waiting for a difficult phone call. My mother's beloved older brother, her smart, funny, kind sibling, has been fighting pneumonia. We heard from my cousin last night that there was (as she put it) "no trajectory of recovery," and just now, in this very moment, I got a text from Much Older Sister:

"Uncle E. died about 8:45 this morning. Can you imagine how great it was that Mom was there to welcome him?"

I hope my cousins know that they will never forget their father. This, now, is the new trajectory of their lives, where their beloved one won't be laughing at their jokes in person but they can be assured he'll be laughing with them.

He can be the ghost they believe in.

But all the same, for my mom and for my uncle, I am weeping uncontrollably.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

We Really Can't Stay

I am so far behind in blogging that I haven't even told you about the delightful weekend Husband and I spent with Boy#1 and Lovely Girl a couple of weeks a full month ago. (Yikes! Time does fly when you're flailing around with the last remaining oar trying to keep the alligators out of the boat.)

Our favorite young married couple is also our favorite new set of homeowners, and now I see why my in-laws routinely came to visit us and stayed for a week at a time. Visiting your young adult offspring is so much fun, in so many ways.

There was, of course, the "new" house, a 1940s bungalow that has been lovingly updated to keep the charming parts intact. Some of the charming parts are no longer in their original use (see above: Doc the Dachshund, which I knitted for their first Christmas together, now making his home in the old telephone nook) but the built-ins! And the cedar-lined closets! And the non-open concept which, mark my words, they will love so much more than all those people who have opened their kitchens to the living areas and will regret this decision when they have to stare at the chaos of Thanksgiving dinner preps while they're trying to enjoy their turkey in dining area and pretend it took no effort at all. That whole open concept will scream LIAR! at them.

Ahem. I believe that's what's known as a tangent.

Anyway, the weekend felt extremely passing-of-the-torch-ish. We always had a list of to-do's for Husband's parents when they visited, partly because we needed things done and partly because they came from hard-working German stock and if we didn't have work for them they would find it for themselves, which led me to make some regrettable decisions.

So while Husband and Boy#1 reinstalled a door that had been removed from a stairway, Lovely Girl and I replaced the canning jar sconces inside the front door. (Seriously, previous owners? You made so many lovely and tasteful choices then do a belly-flop on the first thing you see inside the house?)

We also ate at interesting food joints, worshiped with them in their new congregation, visited their new office (after hours), and watched several backlogged episodes of The Price Is Right. We talked, and we talked, and we talked.

It was a lovely, lovely weekend. I hope we can do it again soon. And I promise, One and LG, we won't stay a full week. Track record to the contrary. I would really rather not make regrettable decisions.

Monday, February 22, 2016

It's Come to This

I'm guessing that every mom has in her arsenal one meal that is the go-to grub for when she has HAD IT with the cooking all the danged time and the baby bird mouths are still opening and closing in front of her. We were raising our Boys at the same time some friends were raising 11 kids (really!) and I asked that mom how she coped with one of those days. Eggs, she told me. My mom's go-to was peanut butter sandwiches.

In my case, that anti-starvation arsenal was loaded with cheap cereal. I  bought cereal by the multi-box pack, by the duffel-sized bag, and by the grocery cartful. With six of us and the price of cereal going up all the time I had to be canny in choosing brands, but I was a cereal bargain hunter and gatherer par excellence and no one starved. I did try to keep the nutritional value of the cereals at least a notch above the nutritional value of cardboard packaging, but once in a while a box of Reese's Puffs sneaked into the cart and lo, there was great rejoicing.

Recently Boy#3 was home and feeling peckish so he headed for the cereal stash. I found him there with the cupboard open, shaking his head slowly.

The cupboard contained raisin bran (of course), but also bran flakes (two brands), Crunchy Raisin Bran, Cracklin' Oat Bran, and Fiber One. Needless to say, there were no Reese's Puffs.

"This is the saddest thing I've ever seen," he told me. "It's an old folks home cereal cupboard."

Well, yeah.

This weekend we upped the ante. See that raisin bran above? It appears for all the world to be Post raisin bran, which looks like this:

But no! Ours is, in fact, Kiggins brand. 
I'm sure it's just coincidence that the font, the color choice, and the arrangement of the photo are practically identical.
Yes. Kiggins. 

You were not even aware this brand existed, were you? Nor was I, but because it was half the price of the name brand, when I saw this on the shelf I bought Kiggins raisin bran. 

This, of course, is during the time of our life when we are not exactly Uncle Scrooge McDuck crawling around on piles of doubloons but we are through with braces and piano lessons and tuition payments, so I could afford to pay twice as much and get the name brand cereal without toddling off to the poor house. 

But old habits die hard. Hunters and gatherers don't lose their finely tuned skills when they get old. 

It's not Reese's Puffs but the Kiggins raisin bran wasn't too bad. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Downton Endings (Nothing But Spoilers)

Much Younger Sister, Much Older Sister, and Me
My BFF sent me an email yesterday.

"Well, I thought that Julian Fellowes was going to wrap up every character's issues in a neat, tidy package and leave all of us happy at the end. But after last night, I'm not so sure. What do you think?"

She was, of course, referring to Downton Abbey and our mutual fascination with the Crawleys, whose name I keep insisting on spelling Crowley because that's the way they pronounce it.

I was in the throes of a sore throat and self-pity so I didn't respond yesterday but I spent the day wondering how in the world all these loose ends were going to be tied up in the next two weeks. I think I have them figured out, so I'm sharing my predictions. (Needless to say, this is pure spoilery.)

(If you don't want spoilers, STOP READING HERE.)

The easy predictions first:

Robert and Cora will continue to live obliviously and happily and beautifully dressed, playing with the puppies and the grandchildren and occasionally wondering what happened to that Gutenberg Bible.

Edith and her beau will get married and live happily ever after. Duh.

Molesly and the jewel thief's moll also will get married and live happily ever after. She will occasionally come in to his classroom to teach the civics lesson, because of her extensive experience with both sides of the law.

Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore, of course, because too cute.

Mrs. Hughes-Carson is going to smack Mr. Carson-Hughes over the head with the heaviest cast iron skillet she can find , and that will teach him all he needs to know about criticizing the cooking of a wife who has been on her feet serving other people all day. An all-female jury will acquit her.

Then more speculative:

Andy and Daisy will get together, I'm pretty sure, and will take over the farm while Mr. and Mrs. Mason-Patmore move to the B&B. (I haven't yet figured out the stalker--TripAdvisor rater, I'm assuming.)

Sadly, I think Thomas is not long for this world. If he lives happily ever after it will be the most red-herring-ed ending ever, and I don't think two episodes, even with a Very Special Final Episode included, are enough to pull that off. We must remember what a jerk he was when we cry about the waste that was Thomas.

Isobel and the doctor, I think. The other guy (whose name I can't remember) was fine but his children were THE WORST, pure evil from their navels to their backbones, and I can't imagine Julian would millstone her with them for the rest of her life. The doctor, on the other hand, has been a true blue pal and at their ages, that's a pretty good recommendation. Or at any age, actually.

And the straight-out wild guesses:

I'm pretty sure the sexy editrix was introduced into the mix to throw us off. She is NOT going to marry Branson, because she, sadly, is going to perish in her office when the cigarette she keeps waving around all that cheap copy paper catches the place on fire.

No, Branson is going to end up with (out on a limb here) Mary. I know! Not gorgeous Henry Talbot, but hear me out. Mary is the most practical and clear-eyed of all the Crawleys. She sees the big changes coming (partly because Julian Fellowes has been BEATING US ON THE HEAD WITH THEM) and realizes the only hope of keeping Downton alive is by partnering with someone as practical and clear-eyed as she is. And Branson, while he is her brother-in-law, is really quite a catch and already knows everyone so he can avoid that awkward "Are you the first butler or the second butler?" moment. They make a good team, and given her willingness to sacrifice for the cause, I have placed my five-bob note on this ending.

And Henry Talbot? Will marry Violet.

Boom. Done.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Blow Out the Candles, Boy#2!

Abraham Lincoln.

Charles Darwin.


Yes, it seems right that they would all have birthdays on the same day, these smart, innovative, handsome men. Also, add Robert Griffith III to the list because he and Two shared the football field while they were at Baylor together. We won't split hairs by noticing that RGIII was throwing the ball and Two was carrying a tuba, and that it's highly unlikely the Heisman Trophy winner worried as much about Two's embouchure as Two did about RGIII's ACL.

Anyway, I am up to my ears in alligators these days with deadlines and on-campus administrator interviews and all kinds of accompanying shenanigans going on, so this post will be short, but I encourage you to go back to read Two's birth story which was published in the early days of this blog. I take pride in pointing out that this post still embarrasses the Boys more than any other of the 1,043 posts I've written.

Just doing my job, sons.

And happy birthday, Two!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Update! Update!

He skedaddled over here from over there
I've left you hanging on two very important events that have happened in the last nine days. I'm sure you have been refreshing this spot hourly in hopes of hearing how the Friends of the Library received my presentation last night, and also wondering about my reaction now that we knew if Lord Grantham and the hospital would intersect.

I will save the Downton Abbey update until last so that if you are not caught up with the last two episodes, you will have time to close your eyes, because SPOILER ALERT!

But first, the Friends.

Oh, my gosh, people, it was so much fun. This was the best audience ever, and because I had packed it solid with some of my favorite people, they laughed at the right places and aaaah-ed at the right places, and just generally treated me with love. They speculated that, since I was the third choice to speak, first choice would have been almost too much to bear.

However, I was not the best speaker of the night. That honor belongs to our children's librarian, Miss Jo, who in addition to being the daughter of one of the Boys' very favorite teachers, is exactly what you would choose if you could order the perfect children's librarian. She's funny and warm and unflappable and has the most wonderful laugh. And as part of her report to the Friends she uttered the following sentence, which was better than any single sentence I have uttered, ever:

"I booked a ventriloquist today."

Mic drop, done.

Okay, you have been warned about the DA spoiler, so from now on I take no responsibility for revealing a televised moment that was...I don't even know.

Lord Grantham, who has been wincing about his innards ever since the utterly boring hospital plotline began, NEEDED A HOSPITAL! IMMEDIATELY!

Who could have known? Oh, yes, I DID!

What I didn't know was the sheer volume of blood that would make that hospital necessary, and the spewing thereof that would utterly ruin Cora's dress. I know that final fact because I read the enlightening and hilarious story in Vanity Fair that contains the following paragraph:
Because it was a very complicated sequence to film, and because it relied on Bonneville’s human-blood-spewing power—“He just has a capacity, Hugh, and can hold a huge amount of liquid in his mouth”—rather than a special-effects pump, there were variables. And although the costume department had prepared table-setting changes and costume changes for Robert, Isobel, and Mary (the last two of whom were sitting on either side of Robert), they soon realized they had not adequately prepared for Bonneville’s herculean hemoglobin ejection capacity.
Really, go read that article. It is almost as comical as the looks on everyone's faces when the bloodbath began. They obviously didn't realize it was going to be a literal bath of blood, but it was.

And I called it!  

Friday, February 5, 2016

Truth in Advertising

A couple of weeks I got a phone call from a friend. She's a wonderful, wise woman who is in a women's group with me and she's also a Friend of the Library in Small Town. I don't mean she's a friend of the library (lower-cased) as I am, in that she loves the place and regularly takes advantage of its teeny-tiny late book fees to take a month to read an English mystery novel. I mean she's a Friend of the Library (upper-cased) and has an official card to prove that she has paid her dues to the library's fan club.

This fan club meets monthly and my friend was in charge of the program for February. I'm going by memory here, but here's how her call to me went:
"I loved the program Other Friend gave to our women's group, and I asked her to do something like it, but she's going to be out of town, so I asked Another Friend if she could do it but she teaches on Monday nights, so I was wondering if you could do it?"
Now wait--before you rush to the conclusion that I must have been highly incensed to have been chosen based on the stepping-down-the-rungs-of-the-ladder method of selection, rest assured that I could have not been more delighted. Being the first choice is a LOT of pressure. That means the inviter thinks you are the very best, the top notch-est, the cream the cat licks off its whiskers. Being the second choice means you are a heartbeat from that exalted state. But being third choice? That's being Alexander Haig and rushing in to the White House press room to say "I am in control here!" and people looking at each other and saying "Uh, no, you are not."

So it's absolutely no pressure at all, but is a lot of fun because the Friends of the Library are the bim-bam-bomb and many of them are also MY friends.

At least I thought it was no pressure until I saw the promotion for the meeting, which is being published in Small Town's newspaper, and in the Chamber of Commerce newsletter, and going out to all of the dear Friends.
"The program this month, 'Love and the Written Word,' will be presented by MomQueenBee, (what I do for a living) and author of the blog 'Empty Nest Feathers.' In honor of Valentine's Day she will be sharing aloud with us several of her written pieces on love and relationships, including a short story and a number of her poems."

It reminded me of the picture of Young Bride, which I've published in this space before. The girl clutching her stephanotis-studded bouquet and gazing dreamily out the window? Well, she's technically me but not in a way you would recognize. There is no truth in advertising here. Add 30 years, ermphityjangle pounds, some wrinkles around the eyes and sensible shoes, and it starts to look like me.

The meeting notice, while technically me, needs to be slightly rewritten since it appears to be someone who knows something about love and the written word, and has written a short story, and has completed a poem that does not include the word Nantucket.
Friends of the Library, please come to the meeting Monday night. MomQueenBee will be reading the most wonderful story about love (which she did not write) and her favorite love poem (which she also did not write) and then she will sneak in a few of her sensibly-shod-and-wrinkly-but-all-her blog posts. Also, she does love your group, and the library so please welcome her with a smile and a hug. 
 There. Completely true.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Happy Birthday, Boy#4!

As I write this, I know exactly where I was 24 years ago this moment.


That's because one does not forget the sensation of balancing on one of those no-sided medical gurneys with Husband on one side, the Best Nurse Ever on the other side, the Best Doctor Ever peering north at me over the lumps-of-flesh-formerly-known-as-my-feet, and the entire staff of a couple of floors of Wesley Medical Center gathered around.

I do not exaggerate. Ordinarily the slot where that gurney was parked would have been curtained off from the next gurney's slot, but there were so many people packed around my bed that all the curtains had been drawn back to give a better view. (That next door gurney, fortunately, was unoccupied.) There were nurses and interns and residents and a stray doctor or two and all were seeing me at my very best: Hugely, enormously, unbelievably pregnant, in one of those gowns that provide easy access for medical procedures and absolutely no privacy for the wearer.

But unlike the rest of my life, when I'm a pretty modest woman (Boy#1's high school civics teacher asked if I was Amish. No, I'm not kidding.), I was okay with all of those folks being around me in this state of exposure because I was beyond excited. I was about to give birth for what I knew would be the final time.

This baby, wanted and loved even before he was conceived, would be the caboose on our train of kids.

And while I had often said I would never stop wanting just one more baby, I was okay with that. I was in the oh-so-charmingly-named "Advanced Maternal Age" category with this baby, and that meant more testing and more worrying. The three Boys already in the House on the Corner were all under age five, so I had felt creaky and tired for much of the previous nine months.

Now, though, in an appropriately dramatic exclamation point to the gestational stage of my life, Child#4 had, sometime between my final prenatal exam on Friday and my induction on Monday, flipped 180 degrees. The baby's head was cradled next to my heart, which is a lovely metaphor for motherhood but a lousy position for birthing.

We discovered this when the Best Nurse Ever couldn't find the heartbeat. I wasn't worried; I knew the baby was alive because I was being kicked in the bladder with great regularity, which, come to think of it, should have tipped me off that the head was not leading the way toward the exit. So BNE began prepping me for a C-section and let the Best Doctor Ever (who was performing a surgery while he waited for me to get a move on) know that he would be going into another surgery.

"Hold up on that C-section prep," the word came back. Best Doctor Ever was going to try to an external cephalic version, a movement also known as "turning the baby."

This prompted a whirlwind of excitement on the labor-and-delivery floor. Even though this was a major medical center, Best Doctor Ever apparently was the only obstetrician in Big City who had been trained in this procedure and I was the perfect candidate (multiple pregnancies, not in active labor, etc.), so everyone wanted to watch. Woohoo!

We had to a bit as Best Doctor Ever cleaned up from the previous surgery and everyone else jockeyed for front row seats, but when he arrived BDE was most reassuring.

"You know I'm not going to do anything that will put the baby or you in danger, right?" he asked me. "We're going to give this one shot, and if it doesn't work, we'll go for the C-section."

And with that he stepped up to the side of the table, put one hand on the baby's head and one on its butt, and pushed them counterclockwise. It didn't take long, maybe 10 seconds, and suddenly his hands slid off the baby's butt--the tiny body was back where it should be for a non-surgical birth. The residents standing on chairs cheered.

A couple of moments later I was on my feet walking down to the delivery room (the medical pros weren't taking any chances that the 180 rotation would turn into a round trip back to breech) and six hours later, Boy#4 was born.

I've wondered from time to time if it was this dramatic entrance into the world (with such a great cloud of witnesses) that prompted Four's aversion to the spotlight, but I'm pretty sure it's just his nature to love his friends and family more than being the center of attention. Still, he will play a piano on the street just because his mother wants to take a picture of him doing it.

Happy birthday, Boy#4. You were worth all the dramatics.