Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving Thanks

They're home. They're raking. Life is good.
Yesterday at WalMart three different people greeted me this way:

“It’s almost your favorite day of the year!”

And they were right. Thanksgiving is the best holiday, my favorite on-the-calendar rotation of the earth. But it occurred to me that I’ve never said in this space specifically what I’m thankful for in any given year. This year I am remedying that situation.

This year I’m thankful life still has the capacity to surprise me.

Think about it for a moment. What most of us assume we want in life is predictability, that we will accomplish the age-appropriate milestones without drama, that we will finish our education and find good mates and good jobs, that we will have happy families and move into retirement and die in our sleep.

This year life has surprised me. The railway of life between “good job” and “move into retirement” took a completely unexpected and spectacular detour just when the station was coming in sight. I spent the summer saying “I’m okay—I’m okay—I’m okay” to everyone who asked, but really, I wasn’t. 

Looking back, I was demoralized and humiliated and depressed. And the worst part was that the change in the route seemed to have taken my words away: My writing mojo was gone. 

Today, though, I’ve climbed out of that pile of rubble and guess what? I’m okay.

I’m better than okay. I’m writing again, and thinking “Oh, I need to blog that” when something makes me laugh. I’m sleeping well. I’m basking in being able to watch leaves turn outside the window of my home office. I love the college class I’m teaching, and the free-lance work I’m doing for other publications. My kitchen floors are clean. (Yes, that’s a big deal.) My children are all here for Thanksgiving, and I am verklempt with joy.

I look with grateful amazement at the people who pulled me back onto the track: My family (who not only loved and comforted me, but continue to serve as my anger surrogates because I can’t heal myself while I’m angry), my friends (who know me and pray), dozens of Small Towners (who hugged me and were indignant), my readers (who encourage me every time I post).

This is not the way I would have planned for this year to go, this interruption in the plan, but this is life. Life still has the capacity to surprise me, and life’s blessings can come out of letting go of the plan.

For this, Dear God, I am thankful. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

It's My Party, I'll Be Cranky If I Want To

Because the internet doesn't have enough elderly women wearing sparkly headbands

Wednesday, as Facebook kindly reminded all of my family and friends, was my birthday. And because I have the absolute best family and friends in the world (seriously, I would put them up against Mother Teresa's family and friends) everyone wanted to make sure I was having a great day.

Happy birthday! Happy, happy birthday! Happy, happy, happy birthday!

Every few seconds my notification chime would assure me that someone was hoping I was happy, and while I was truly appreciating the sentiment, I was not happy.

I woke up in A Mood, one of those weepy, foreboding funks that can strike even if it's not your birthday. And the funk plunged into a positive abyss when I found out seconds after I got up that my father was in the hospital after a freak mishap that resulted in use of both an ambulance and a blood-catching bucket. (He's fine now, thank You, God, and giving kudos to my rock star youngest brother for emergency action.)

So I started the day off jangling and jittery, and just couldn't seem to snap out of it. My lovely family and friends were reminding me how very, very blessed I am, but at one point during my birthday lunch with my best friend from adulthood I BURST into tears in one of those restaurant-clearing moments that embarrasses everyone within sniffle range.

Since it was Wednesday I played the piano that evening for the kids club at church, and when I walked in the door they all turned around and sang "Happy Birthday" to me, and I cried. Again.

And all four of my wonderful Boys called (one of them texted and called twice, because the first time he called he forgot to wish me Happy Birthday). After each of these calls I...well, you're already seeing the theme.

But do you know what? Yesterday morning I woke up and the funk had lifted. I re-read all of the Facebook greetings and smiled until my face hurt. And then I went to get the mail and my Much Younger Sister had sent me a card that not only assured me "You're cool! So cool! So cool you really RULE!" but also included a sparkly headband! Squeeeee!

As you can tell from today's picture, this headband may have been intended for a six-year-old rather than for someone 10 times that old (Oh, all right. Ten times plus two.) who has an abnormally large head. Also, it probably wasn't intended to be put onto hair that has just come from being cut, because while I love my barber to distraction she puts much more effort into my styling than I do and when I leave her chair I always think that somewhere Dolly Parton is nodding approvingly.

Last night Husband brought me a brownie and chocolate ice cream, then I re-read my cards and the Facebook posts again and oh, my. I do have the best family and friends ever. Ever, ever.

I officially declare that yesterday was my birthday, rather than Wednesday. It was my birthday, and it was spectacular. Because I'm cool, so cool, so cool I really rule.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

So Much Better

This is not at all the picture I planned to use for my blog post today. 

No, I had planned to use one I texted to Husband last night. It was a screen shot of my computer, frozen with a pop-up box that began this way...
Dear Cox Communications inc. customer, 
Your IP has been blocked! A serious malfunction has been detected...

...and it continued in the same positive vein. I knew this probably was not from Cox (even though I'm not always happy with our internet provider and have their number on my speed dial, they at least know to capitalize "Inc.") so I did not call the toll-free number for how to correct the problem.

It was not a happy moment, and it became not happier as I realized the pop-up box was non-closable, and that what I had thought was normal slowing-down of my computer because of high post-election traffic might actually be DOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!  My not happier mood continued when I called the computer ninjas at work and they off-handedly told me that "Yeah, you probably have a virus so run a scan and if it comes back negative we'll wipe your hard drive." 

Say what again? If it comes back NEGATIVE you wipe the hard drive? Why, yes, ma'am! Because that means the scan hasn't detected anything which means that the something that is causing the problem is so terrible that DOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!

I ran the scan and nothing was detected and I sobbed.  But then Husband suggested that instead of putting this in the hand of the computer ninjas at work (who are, after all, student hires who may or may not have had extensive experience with this particular issue) we give his computer guy a shot at it. And because I had nothing else to lose, I hit control+alt+delete, and OHMIGOSH! Like magic the screen cleared off, and the antivirus scan let me know that all was well and that I could keep my hard drive. 

And that brings me to the deck picture in today's post. It's there not only because it was the most fall I've ever seen this late in the year (the impatiens in Husband's flower box are still blooming, and the maple tree is glorious) it also replaces the screen shot I had taken of the phishing message on my screen. That picture won't download onto my computer because the computer is running too slowly.

Hmmm. I may still have a problem.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day After the Day After

This has nothing to do with the subject, but Maine.
I very rarely re-post my own posts (this makes a total of one time that I've done it) but as the world woke up to a new United States president-elect yesterday and my social media channels exploded, I remembered that I had written about this phenomenon before. Just exchange the colors of the winning sides and it's history repeating. So here is my post from exactly four years ago, Nov. 7, 2012. I still believe it.

I'll start this post with an Andy Rooney-ism:

Have you ever noticed how the words "woe" and "woo" are only separated by one letter? No? How about now?



It's a difference that's just about as thin as the margin of victory/defeat that separated my WOO! friends from my WOE! friends. If you read social media at all, though, you would never, ever know this.

WOO! my blue friends say. "Woo! for four more years! And increased prosperity! And peace among all nations! And bluebirds and happiness!"

WOE! my red friends say. "Woe! for four more years! And bankrupting of the nation! And national weakness! And good intentions paving the road to hell!"

Well, in this post that already has just about worn out my caps lock, I have one more capitalized sentiment that sums up my post-election reaction:


The bottom line is that the United States is an enormous ship, and one person will not change the course of this ship. Electing either candidate would not have meant instant change; that is something that will  happen only slowly and only by all of us working together. Or if not all of us, a whole lot more of us working together than are working together right now.

So if you liked the results of this election, you'd better be talking with the people on the losing side--winning them over, and not just winning. This winning over will not occur through superior attitudes and clubbing about of the head and shoulders of those who did not win.

If you did not like the results of this election, you'd better be talking with the people on the winning side--because standing there with your fingers in your ears saying "I can't hear you" is not working. Not for your views, and not for your country.

Fortunately, win or lose, woo or woe, the sun came up this morning and we have another chance to do this whole messy process again, and to do it better next time.

Also, God is in control.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Voted.

This morning when I went to my polling place (at mid-morning, when I'm normally the only voter in the room) the lines had snaked out of the voting area, completely around the huge adjoining room, and halfway down the sidewalk to the street outside. I didn't count, but I'm guessing the number of people waiting to vote at this one precinct in Small Town might have gone into the multiple hundreds.

My friend, a precinct worker in the overflow room, saw the expression on my face and hurried over.

"You know, you can request a paper ballot and go to the front of the line," he told me.

I did, and do you know how long it to me to cast my ballot, from the time I walked in the door until I walked back out that door? Six minutes.

I talked with friends outside on the sidewalk twice that long, and had to go back inside because I had forgotten to get my sticker, but from the moment I pulled into the parking lot until I was back on the street it was less than 15 minutes.

Do you see how amazing that is? I voted, and had an influence (however tiny that influence might be) over the future of the greatest nation on earth, and it took me less than 15 minutes.

Then I went to the grocery store, where I ran into a guy I know from church. "I voted for Trump this morning!" he told me gleefully. "And I cancelled you out!" I told him just as gleefully.

Do you see how amazing that is? I voted, and I talked about my vote without fearing persecution or loss of friendship, even though this has been the most horribly divisive campaign I've experienced since I voted for Richard Nixon in my very first presidential election.

Tomorrow the election will be over. If 240 years of history is any indication, the opposing sides will shake hands and deal with the results. We will be either glad or sad, but we will deal. And we will continue to be the greatest nation on earth.

Do you see how amazing that is?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Maine: What We Did

Last Thursday in the span of two hours I donated blood, got a flu shot, and walked right past the carts full of discount Halloween candy at the grocery store. (And there were pumpkin-shaped Reese's in those carts!)

I was feeling so righteous that it would not have surprised me had I been taken right up into heaven in a whirlwind a la the prophet Elijah, but suddenly I realized I had not yet blogged about the promised places of Maine. So there I was on Friday, as yet un-raptured and overloading the cyber-circuits with my pictures. Then I waited another two days.

But finally, without further ado, What We Did in Maine.

Well, just one more tiny bit of ado, which is a disclaimer: We arrived in the very nick of time to see much of what we saw. In fact, the picture above was taken on Peak's Island, where we were greeted by Mike of Mike's Golf Cart Rentals.

"You ah the last customers of 2016, and ya got one hour," he announced. Well, alrighty. But after we had taken possession of the cart and started out on the 35-minute circumnavigation of the island, we realized we were not really up for much more than that. People, it was COLD.

Husband checked his weather app and at that moment back at home it was a balmy 82 degrees. We were in the low 50s, but the brisk stiff ferocious sea wind made it feel like we should be chipping ice off of our barnacles. We had planned to do some beach-combing but we jumped out of the cart only long enough to have a passing stranger snap a picture of us (I apparently was smuggling pumpkins under my skirt), then it was back to the island inn for lobster rolls. Be ye not fooled by the beautiful blue skies. Cold.

So attractive. So cold.
Fortunately, the beaches in the areas where we alighted were not particularly amenable to combing so braving the wind was not much of a temptation. This shot was taken on the other side of the island, and even Mike warned us to be careful on the rocks.

In fact, the weather was not particularly cooperative for many of the four days we were there, but we mostly didn't complain because we were there. One of the best things about Maine is that it's relatively small. In Kansas, if you want to see Boot Hill, and the Big Ball of Twine, and the Agricultural Hall of Fame, and the Garden of Eden, you'd better be blocking off several days because mileage. But in Maine, you could get anywhere in an hour. (That proclamation was in the rulebook that also said every meal would cost $20.)

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for example, was about that far south down the road, and we spent a delightful day in this sailing town that had really spooky fall street decorations.

The guy in the Kansas shirt is not part of the decorations

Or you could get to the L.L. Beane headquarters in Freeport, and find out they're having a pumpkin carving contest.

For years Husband has given Stonewall Kitchen jams and jellies as major client gifts at Christmas, and if you stop at this company's mother ship in York you will be able to eat your body weight in sample jams and jellies, although your body weight will continue to increase as you eat those samples so you're continually having to stuff more jam into your mouth to keep up. Yummmm.

We also took the aforementioned ferry ride to Peak's Island, freezing our keisters but loving the view of Portland from the east side.

Perhaps my two favorite stops on the trip, though, were unplanned. As we drove through Brunswick toward L.L. Bean, we decided to sidetrack at Bowdoin College. Husband remembered that Joshua Chamberlain had been a professor there before he fought in the Civil War, and later was the hero of the movie Gettysburg. So we set off to find Chamberlain's grave in the cemetery near the college.

We drove up one tiny lane and down the other, circling back and peering at stones that have been worn almost smooth by a hundred New England winters. Finally, on what we had decided would be one last look, we found it.

A more modern stone now marks the grave of this man who became president of the college after the war (and was the last person to die of Civil War-related injuries), and visitors leave tiny tributes on top of the marker. A stone, or a penny, or a beautiful leaf. It was a lovely remembrance and one of those pennies is mine.

A cemetery also adjoins the tiny country church where we worshiped Sunday morning. We met every single person in the congregation, not a difficult task when there are only 20 or so in attendance, but the kindness, gentleness, and self-control reminded us that geography is a man-made overlay on the spiritual map.

And then we walked back across the street to our AirBnB home for the four days, a studio apartment in a residential neighborhood that fit our schedules and personalities perfectly.

Oh, Maine. I miss it already. The next time I'm as righteous as I was last Thursday, I hope the whirlwind drops me right back there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Maine: What We Ate

The Good Sport
When last we met I was promising that this post would tell you what we ate during our four-day Maine vacation. If pressed, I could do that fairly succinctly:

We ate everything. The end. 

But because you know me well, you know that I am not going to stop there. Oh, no. You are going to get descriptions and photos and rankings of practically everything on our plates (as well as some foods we didn't even bother to use plates with). Sit back and grab yourself an Alka-Seltzer for the sympathetic indigestion. 

Before I start I should add a disclaimer: As a general rule, in order to gobble down every edible morsel, we limited ourselves to two meals a day, mid-morning breakfast and an adventurous dinner. Also, we have reached the age at which "Hey, let's get one and split it" seems like a swell idea rather than something to be ridiculed, which reminds me that I owe my late in-laws an apology on this front. 

So off we go. Let's start with breakfast:

I had permission to take this picture
The Holy Donut is a Portland institution, and is ranked as one of the top doughnut shops in the entire nation. It is so popular, in fact, that you must ASK PERMISSION to take photos of their doughnuts. There is a tiny bit of Soup Nazi feel to this shop: Know how many you are going to ask for in advance, step to the front quickly, everyone else seems to know the rules and you don't, etc. We didn't arrive until mid-morning, and maybe that's the reason we were somewhat disappointed in the product. Potato doughnuts have a different texture and taste and I'm sure that taste is acquired, but we had neither the time nor the inclination to fight lines to acquire it. In spite of the dozens of interesting flavors, I'd take a Daylite Donut baked cinnamon roll any day over what we bought there (and a single Holy Donut cost $2.25). Grade: C-

After messy meal division 
But, oh, breakfast connoisseurs. Do not leave Portland without eating your first meal of the day at the Bayside American Cafe. This place.... Well, excuse me for moment while I drool a memory. I forgot to take a picture before I slopped half of my corned beef hash onto Husband's place and slid one of his Crabcake Eggs Benedicts onto my own plate, but not much later the plates looked like this:
I resisted licking it.
If I could only eat one meal in Maine, I would eat this meal. It was soooo good, from the coffee you are invited to serve yourself while you wait for a table, to the corned beef that wasn't so much hash as the tenderest slab of deliciousness to ever come off a cow, to the crabcake that was all crab instead of a little crab and mostly breadcrumbs (which is the way we Kansans do it). It wasn't cheap (this was where I formed my hypothesis that every meal in Maine costs $20, whether you're eating lobster or an Egg McMuffin) but sooooo good. Grade: A+

An exception to my price guide above was this meal:
At the Sacko, Maine, Grange Hall
We noticed an ad in the a small-town newspaper for a community bean feed so we decided to go all local and see what they serve at the Sacko Grange Hall on a Saturday night. Husband, good sport that he is, is not a fan of beans. This is a sadness in my life, as I would choose beans over almost any other food, but he agreed to put aside his personal preferences because we'd never been to a Grange Hall bean feed before. 

While we'd never been to a Maine bean feed, though, we've been to about a thousand of these meals in our lives: A Maine bean feed is exactly exactly exactly the same as the Small Town soup supper for Habit for Humanity, or the Boy Scout pancake feed, or any other small town benefit. The beans are different (I had expected big pots of navy beans with ham but these were more like my Calico Baked Beans) but the wonderful homemade pies, the kids refilling our water cups, and the powdered creamer on the table made me smile with recognition. Also, at $8 each, this was the cheapest meal we had in Maine. I would give it my highest rating except that there was some kind of jerry-rigged support system on the ceiling and I was a little afraid I was going to be beaned by a rafter at any time. Grade: A

But this is the meal you've been waiting for a report on, right? 

Well, as Husband's bib suggests, let's get cracking.

Neither of us, at six-plus decades on this Earth, had ever eaten a lobster. We truly are pathetic. So with this the top priority on our culinary list, we asked our local hostess where she would recommend we go. We ended up at Docks Seafood, which she assured us is where the locals eat their own lobsters. 

It was a good choice. This is an order-at-the-counter place where a two-lobster meal with two sides will set you back $23. The lobsters are small, the friendly guy at the counter told us, so why didn't we split one of the two-lobster meals and try something different for the second meal? 


Because I have always read too much, especially books about Scotland and the islands off the coast of Maine, I had heard the words "finnan haddie." The people in those books about Scotland and the islands off the coast of Maine love their finnan haddie, and when I saw it on the menu, I didn't even ask what it was before I made it our second choice. That was a mistake.

Finnan Haddie, which sounds much better in books than it tastes
It turns out that finnan haddie, rather than being a charmingly fresh and flaky seafood, is haddock smoked over green wood and cooked in a concoction of white sauce and hard-boiled eggs. It was edible, barely, but we are not fans of finnan haddie, and I am now doubting my Scottish sympathies. Grade: D+

And I'm sorry to say that (spoiler alert) we also were not fans of the lobster. I know! What kind of plebeians are we? Maybe it's because we were incredibly inept with the crackers and in spite of the "Let's Get Cracking" bib I ended up with lobster juice in my hair, covering both arms, and in my eyebrows. Maybe it was because that gross green liver ooze was smeared over every bite I took. Maybe it was because it just seems so wasteful to have this much trash for what turned out to be about six bites of lobster:

Whatever the reason, Husband and I agreed that at the risk of unhinging the jaws of everyone we know (LOBSTER IS SO DELICIOUS! was the common reaction to a Facebook foodie post) we would prefer a good ribeye any day. We did not enjoy the taste enough to put up with the hassle.

And there is the added bonus that you are not required to look your ribeye in the bulging eyes immediately before it is dropped into boiling water from which it reappears a few minutes later with those same eyes staring accusingly back at you from your Styrofoam plate. Grade: D

However, I did love lobster rolls, in which the lobster is thoughtfully removed from the garbage before it is served to you. In fact, I was so busy snarfing lobster rolls (seasonal price: $20) that I did not take a picture of either of our lobster roll meals. You are welcome. Grade: A, both times. 

So now we have eaten everything in Maine. Four days, four million calories. 

Worth it. 

(Next post: What we did.)