Thursday, May 26, 2016

Iowa Stubborn

My artsy take on the Meredith Corporation headquarters
Some of our favorite people live in Iowa. Husband's favorite most-older brother and his lovely family live there, as well as my mother's favorite brother's family, so we have made many, many a trip to our northern neighbor state over the past 30 years. And each and every time we passed the border into Iowa, I had to break out my rendition of "Iowa Stubborn."

The Boys, needless to say, loved it.  I'm assuming their rolling eyes and pained expressions were indication of delight.

I sang "Ooooooooh--there's nothin' halfway about the Iowa way to treat you" last week when Husband and I spent several days in Des Moines. For his 60th birthday present, he had decided to not have a party but rather to apply those party-hosting funds toward a woodworking seminar put on by his favorite magazine. (Well, his favorite magazine is Sports Illustrated, but a punt/pass/kick weekend probably isn't the best choice for a 60th birthday.)

Do you see why I love this man? It's was his birthday, but I got the present! Three days in a hotel with knitting and Netflix and naps, then evenings spent with my sweetie. It's my idea of the most perfect vacation ever.

I managed to bestir myself to go to the famous Des Moines farmers' market, which was just a block away from our hotel. Oh, my goodness, people. So much wonderfulness.

Only Husband's reminder that we would be at least 48 more hours without refrigeration kept me from buying All The Vegetables.

And I did give up some sleep to take a 7 a.m. tour of the Meredith Corporation headquarters. In case you don't recognize that name, I'm pretty sure you magazine readers recognize their products. Better Homes and Gardens. Family Circle. Midwest Living. Woods (of course). The list of magazines they produce goes on and on.

We got to see the test kitchens and where they do their photo shoots, and learned that in a lot of ways they are just like us:
Namely in the ways that make us forget to unplug the iron.
I got to eat multiple times at my very favorite restaurant chain (Panera, because I'm high-brow like that) while reading a book that made me laugh out loud

Half a spicy Thai salad, half a winter corn chowder and a great book. Perfection.
Then I got to spend the evenings with a guy who smelled like wood shavings and wasn't above braving Des Moines's maze of one-way streets chasing around a pedal bar that we thought maybe we had imagined seeing. 

Nope. It was real.
It was a fabulous four days, which I would happily repeat and repeat and repeat.

You really ought to give Iowa a try.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What Not to Say

When I don't have a photo, I have flowers. Thank you, Boys!
What should you say when someone you know has had a life upset--a death in the family, a divorce, a kid who's been arrested, an unexpected job change? (Hey, that last one hits kind of close to home.)

Let's start with what not to say. Here's the absolute worst choice:

"             ."

That's right. Nothing is the worst possible thing to say when someone you know is hurting.

I have known that, intellectually, for at least three decades. That's when my own boss lost his job. (Well, he didn't actually lose his job, but another layer of administration was put between him and the president, which so completely transformed what he did that it was the emotional equivalent.) I didn't know what to say to Max, so I said nothing. I went about my work in a way that distanced me from him as much as possible, rationalizing that I was saving him the embarrassment of having to talk about the demotion. A month later, though, when he had found a new job and was moving on, I was in his office to talk about something else and he suddenly burst out.

"Do you know how many people have TALKED to me in the last month?" he asked me. "One. One person had the guts to come in here and say 'Are you going to make this work or are you going to tell them to shove it?' Every other person at this university has acted like nothing at all has happened."

To this day I regret that I was not that person who said something but I also vowed I never again would let let my own embarrassment keep me from saying something to a hurting person. I've not always kept that vow, but I've been ashamed of the times I've failed.

So today, here is a handy list of things you can say when you are tempted to say nothing.
1. I'm sorry.
2. I'm thinking of you.
3. You're on my prayer list. 
4. I love you. 
5. I'll miss seeing you in the bathroom.
6. Hang in there.
7. I'll miss you the next time I have an apostrophe question. 
8. Thank you for all you've done. 
9. Good luck.
10. This sucks, doesn't it?
11. Let's keep in touch. 
12. You weren't very good at your job, but I know this hurts and I regret that. 

Yes, even number 12 is better than saying nothing.

You don't have to use them all of these handy phrases--please don't, in fact, use number five unless...well, use your own judgment. You'll be able to read the room and know if the person you're talking to wants to change the subject, but the elephant in the room will have shrunk to a manageable size. And feel free to make up your own something-to-say.

Just please, please, don't say this:

"                ."

Monday, May 16, 2016


Today is rainy and sure-chilly-for-May in Small Town. I'm sitting here looking at the picture above, and if thoughts could drool I'd have spit rolling down my forehead. Oh, people. Husband and I just got back from spending a couple of days "camping" and "fishing" with some of our oldest and dearest friends and I am still in a blissful state of relaxation in spite of the damp and chill. 

The irony quotes in the previous paragraph are intentional. We were "camping" in the sense that we were surrounded by trees and at the edge of a river, but our digs were a two-bedroom cabin with full kitchen, bathroom, and satellite television for better reception of the Royals game. And we were "fishing" in the sense that our old friends, Nana A and the Trout Guru, are avid fisherpersons. I, myself, have never caught a fish in my life and I happened to mention this fact to to the Trout Guru. 


Before I knew it I was on the edge of the trout stream with a daily permit pinned to my hat and a fishing pole in my hand. The Trout Guru had threaded some kind of bait ball onto the tiny hook, and I was ready to go.

"Just bring the rod back, hold down the button, and FLING the line to the middle of the stream," Nana A told me. Back...hold down...FLING!

And that was how I "caught" the end of my shoe. 

While I practiced casting, the Trout Guru and Nana A got busy and caught our lunch. 

Husband pulled out a decent-sized trout, and how cute is that face? 

I continued to practice casting. Back...button down...FLING! Back...button down...FLING! The Trout Guru was beginning to feel sorry for me, as he reeled in keeper after keeper, but I assured him that I was perfectly happy not catching anything, and that I was just enjoying the gorgeous weather and my new-found ability to cast past the end of my toes. Back...button down...FLING!

I was, however, beginning to get a little tired so I decided to sit for a while. Back...button down...FLING! Transferring the rod to my left hand, I dragged the line through the kelp at the edge of the water as I walked up the beach toward my lawn chair.

You fishermen know what's coming next, right? The line got caught in the kelp, or algae, or whatever lives at the edge of otherwise clear trout streams. I was mildly irritated as I jerked the bait free. 


Yes, friends, my hook wasn't caught on kelp, it was caught IN A FISH! 

Allow me to introduce you to the dumbest fish in Missouri.

Not only did this fish allow itself to be caught by me, it allowed itself to be caught by the left hand of me. And then later, when it was on a stringer waiting to be released back into the stream, it tried to grab my bait as I was back...button down...FLING-ing to see if there was a second equally dumb fish out there somewhere. There was not, but the actual fisherpersons in the group were hauling in more trout than we could eat, so I sat back and enjoyed the scenery. 

I think I like "fishing."

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Middle of the Night Lies

If there is one thing I've learned during the past five weeks, it's this:

The middle of the night lies.

You ladies of a certain age know what I'm talking about. Every evening you are EXHAUSTED. You tell yourself you won't go to bed until a normal human being would go to bed, ten-ish or eleven-ish or whatever-ish you have decided is normal. And with that decided, you spend two hours before bedtime fighting the nap that bedevils you.

But you are sooooo tiiiiiiired. So you curl your toes and work crossword puzzles while you watch The Americans because as gripping as the story is, you find your head drooping and your eyes closing. Finally it is bedtime, and you crawl into bed where you fall sound asleep.

For one hour.

Then the awakeness that you were searching for during the evening finds you. SPROING go your eyelids. TWITCHY-TWITCHY go your calf muscles. And all of those trains of thought that you were trying to maintain at 8 o'clock are suddenly on the track and barreling down the line at 2 a.m.

Except that those trains are all running on the Disaster Line rather than on the Reality Line.

You will never find another job! You're too old to look for anything new! Old dogs not only can't learn new tricks, they're sent the pound and gassed! You are going to be poor! Your non-existent grandchildren will hate coming to your house because you can't afford cable! You'll never eat brand-name bran flakes again!

Yes. In the first days after the Thing happened, I spent valuable REM time bemoaning my reduced breakfast cereal prospects.

Because the middle of the night lies. It reminds me of my failures and predicts, as truth, worst possible scenarios.

In the bright light of the next morning, I have to laugh at what I have been fearing. I know all is working out as it should, and that the next chapter of my life is going to be even better and more wonderful than the last one has been. This is an enormous mouthful--the last chapter has been pretty spectacular. The light tells the truth, and I believe truth of hope in the deepest of my bones.

I'm landing on my feet, and I'm rejecting the hyperbole of doom predicted when the clock reads 1 a.m. I'm choosing the joy of the Mother's Day video conference call with Husband and all four Boys. I'm delighting in watching opportunities unfold that I have dreamed about for decades. I'm reveling in the happiness of seeing the miniature lilac I planted last summer bloom in tiny perfection. I'm choosing the knowledge that God is in control.

I'm choosing truth, because I know the middle of the night lies.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

This Is the Post You've Been Waiting For

Six weeks! For six weeks you've been waiting for this post, through the yards and yards of blue paint tape and the multiple pictures of my peonies and most of this gorgeous spring. I had hinted that the painting of the back entry was largely spurred by a Special Guest who was expected at the House on the Corner during the first weekend of April. Now, finally, you are getting your first glimpse of the source of all that scurrying.

If you had guessed that we were hosting the Pope, you were wrong. It was this Special Guest!

Husband and I had met her before, when we were visiting Boy#2 where they are both going to school (hint: see her t-shirt), and we had fallen in love with her. She is off-the-charts smart, which is so much fun to be around. She's funny, which is also fun to be around. She's beautiful, which is a nice bonus. She can make sushi, which matters not at all to me but is interesting. So we had gotten along swimmingly in their end of the country.

But there is always a tiny niggle of concern that things will go south when someone new is introduced into the chaos that is our household. All of the Boys and Lovely Girl were coming home to meet this Special Guest, and even I (who love them with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns) will admit that this is the equivalent of a box of (very, very large) puppies and while a box of puppies is adorable it can lose its charm quickly and deteriorate into a big ol' pile of yipping un-housebroken stinkiness. (Wow. Sorry, Beth. That sentence escaped its leash.)

This could happen, people.

Anyway, I shouldn't have worried. Halfway through the second day I realized I couldn't tell from the kitchen whether it was Lovely Girl or Special Guest who was shouting smack at her opponent in the game of Pandemic, She fit in as if we had saved her a place and marked it with her name.

Which brings up a difficult point, one that Two also had been thinking about when I asked him whether this girl would mind if I blogged about her.

"What are you going to call her on the blog?" he texted me.

"Well, for now I'm calling her Special Guest because I don't want to be jumping the gun on anything," I wrote him back. This is, verbatim and copied, the next exchange of texts:
Two: Ah, that's too bad. I was really hoping you'd take requests. 
Me: Go for it.
Two: She haaaaaaaaaaaaaates the name Pookie. So I was wondering if you could do me a solid here.
Me: No. Just, no. Because I like her a lot. 
Two: Do you not love me more?
Me: Well, at this point I have more loyalty to you.
Two: I may have led her to believe that I had the power to select her Blog Name. 
Me: Uh-oh. Well, huh.
Two: And so unless you want to embarrass me in front of my friends...or...friend...

You see? You see what a special person it will take to put up with this kind of balderdash? Now you understand why I was nervous about her visit.

She was a Special, Special Guest and I hope she returns soon and often, until she's not a guest at all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Big Reveal

So. A hundred years or so ago, before The Thing happened, I was consumed by the painting of my back stairway. That's because the back stairway hadn't been painted since, well, at least not since we had moved into the House on the Corner back in 1987, and in the intervening three decades a certain amount of reversion to natural state occurred. (I am just assuming the natural state was dingy, splashed with Diet Pepsi, and that the woodwork was painted black. Also, that the natural state included some places where the plaster had given up the ghost.)

This was in spite of knowing that at least half of our visitors enter the house through this stairway, and were getting a first-hand, close-up look at this:

Yes. They were. And I knew they were. Also, this:

And this: 

The next view has a special quirk. Notice the framed nothingness on the left side of the steps into the kitchen? We wondered what this was until we had a visit from the daughter of the man who built this house in 1927. She was able to explain that there used to be an actual cupboard door that opened into the icebox in the kitchen. The milkman could deliver the milk without having to come all the way into the kitchen. Cool, eh?

Anyway, we were due to have a Special Guest at the house, so I began to scurry and whine. (Those two are inextricably linked in my mind. If I have pressure, I have complaints.) You heard me whining here and here, and I would bet a silk pajama that you thought I didn't finish the painting.


I did finish the painting. It took several weeks, uncounted rolls of blue tape, and half a dozen barely-touched sample cans of paint (because, 30 years of evidence to the contrary, I apparently am picky about the way this hallway looks). But I did it!

And now, as Joanna Gaines would say, are you ready to see my new house?


I'm going in the order these were shown above, just so you can ooooh and aaaaah in an organized way.

So, the next shot includes what turned out to be my favorite thing about the project. Remember the milk cupboard? And how weird it was to have what appeared to be a boarded up window in the hallway? 

It's now a blackboard! Yes. And although Husband's first reaction was "Who uses a blackboard these days?" even he was impressed when I was able to welcome our Special Guest and all the Boys home for the weekend. (Ignore the cleverly-placed stickers that were added to protect the identities of the special ones.)

So, to sum up. I now love my back stairs. I love the buttery color and the faux carpeting that required all the tape in the world. I love the not-quite-red shade that was such a complete and total pain in the patoot to match. I should have done this at least two decades ago, but I'm glad it's done now, and I am developing painting amnesia about all the little irritations involved in the process.

Because I love it.