Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Summing It Up Nicely

Icicles. It has icicles.
Yesterday my old office working group invited me to their Christmas party, which is one of the best afternoons of the year. These folks work hard, and when they party--well, let's just say I build in a couple of hours of decompression-from-laughing time after each party.

This year the new boss brought gingerbread house kits and each of the six of us decorated a house. And because we are who we are (Americans) we couldn't just decorate a house for the sake of decoration, we made it a competition. The chef at the restaurant would decide the winner.

Now, there is a crucial fact that should be known about the make-up of this group: Four of them are artists of some kind. One graphic designer, one videographer, one web designer, and one boss/photographer/graphics person. Two of us were writers. I believe the other writer would not take offense when I say that our design skills are the equivalent of whatever babies do when they smear strained peas around on their high chair trays--good-natured and enthusiastic, but woefully inept. Woefully. Also requiring much clean-up afterwards.

So I was a little shocked when my gingerbread house began to look as if it had some intentionality to it. I've decorated enough birthday cakes (ineptly) that I know how a decorating tip works, so I fixed the house to the base with some scallops. Then I piped shingles, and cut fir trees out of green fondant, and holy cow, this was looking halfway decent! And then, because just the night before I had watched Mary Berry add pizzazz to her gingerbread house (oh, Great British Baking Show, how I love thee) I dragged some icicles off the roof.

Those icicles, I am not ashamed to say, were the bomb. They added a touch of authenticity, a of fleeting poke of memory muscle that spoke of winter and hot chocolate and peering out of frosted windows.

All of the designers, meanwhile, were bemoaning their medium. The walls wouldn't stay together, they whined. The icing was too thick, they moaned. This is terrrrrible, they muttered. This is looking sooo stoooooopid, they whinged. Your icicles are the bomb, they said, as they stealthily piped perfectly-shaped messages onto the roofs and broke miniature candy canes into chimney tiles. Wow, look at those icicles, they said, sprinkling their own creations with perfectly placed snow sugar.

And the other writer? Well, I hate to besmirch the talents of my fellow writers, but ha! His house had collapsed within the first five minutes so he just slathered it with icing, slapped a gingerbread onto one side, and made his way over to the appetizer plate.

Finally all of the houses were done and lined up on the next table. My heart was pounding. This calendar year not been my favorite. Could it...would it...might it finally be...might icicles be the magic ingredient that would redeem 2016?

And then the chef pointed to a house. A writer had won. The wrong writer.

"This is a skating rink, right?" the waitress backed up the choice. "That's really clever!"

The winner. 
Stupid 2016. You were a stupid year.

Friday, December 9, 2016

What My Father Taught Me

My father and my first-born. 
How to drive a stick shift.

The importance of being present at funerals.

That hard work matters.

What a good husband and father looks like.

That you owe your community more than just paying your taxes.

That I'm more beautiful than I think I am.

To respect authority, and that if I got in trouble in school I could expect trouble at home.

To carry a handkerchief, in case you have a daughter who cries.

That getting along with siblings is a skill to be learned when you're young and a joy when you are old.

That a B is okay if that's the best I can do, but really, I'm capable of A work.

That keeping your word matters.

How to castrate a pig.

That you never get over being proud of your children, and being scared for them, and wanting them to be happy.

That a person can swear a blue streak without uttering a single four-letter word.

How lucky I was to be taking piano lessons when I was young, because he would have given anything to have the PRIVILEGE of practicing when he would rather have been blah-di-blah-di-blah.

That faith, true faith, is not the same as church attendance, but that church attendance is important, too.

That my short toes aren't a disfiguring handicap.

That fourth-grade boys act out crushes in some weird ways.

That love never faileth, and the greatest of these is love.

I've written here often about my dad, about his Dust Bowl childhood and his Navy service, about how he has been a role model for how to leave the world better than you found it and how he continues to compete even though his life hasn't been without some of the cruddy cards the universe occasionally deals.

Tomorrow is Dad's 90th birthday. We'll eat cake and greet people whose lives Dad has touched over the years. We'll look at pictures from his first nine decades and talk about how he's influenced us, but there isn't nearly enough time to list all the ways my father has influenced my life, and how deeply I love him.

Just like Boy#1 watching the best way to start a fire in the fireplace, from the time I was a toddler I've been peering over his shoulder to learn the very best way to do things, the best way to live my life.

Happy birthday, Dad. I'll never stop learning from you, and loving you always.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Our New Family Motto

Guest Tuba Player
Normally the two days following Thanksgiving are made up of equal parts leftovers and lethargy. We sit in our individual tryptophan comas, maybe bestirring ourselves to get up for another piece of pie, but with very little planned activity. This year was different.

Boy#3 is the band director in a small-ish town a couple of hours away. This year that town's football team achieved the Holy Grail of small Kansas towns--state high school football championships. And if you are shaking your head in disbelief at that description rather than nodding in recognition, you obviously are not from Kansas.

Anyway, there cannot possibly be a state football championship without a marching band cheering on its team. As a result, while the rest of us were rhetorically asking if we were out of aerosol whipped cream, Three was back on the road to his home so that he could herd his band onto the bus bright and early the next morning. Sadly, though, some parents make Thanksgiving week plans without taking into account that their low brass player might be needed for the marching band at the state championship game so there were gaps in the instrumentation. (I know! What were they thinking?)

Enter Boy #2. He had been a band geek all the way through college and still can out-oompah most high school tuba players, so Three asked if he would be willing to provide a bass line at the game. He was, and the entire family became groupies for the day, sitting three rows behind the band to cheer them on.

It could not have been more fun. As you can tell by the clouds in the picture above, it was a spectacularly beautiful day that was not too hot, not too cold, but just right. The Fighting Greenbacks (Nope. Not even kidding.) were in control of the game from the opening drive so there was no nailbiting about who was going to win. And high school football game hot dogs are perhaps the only food more delicious than Thanksgiving leftovers. (Again, not kidding.)

The best moment of the day, though, came when Three was back in school on Monday talking to one of his eighth-grade students.

"Mr. W.," the student told Three, "I was sitting right behind the band, and I saw that tuba player and thought 'That must be Mr. W.'s brother.' Then I looked the other way and the exact same guy was coming up the steps and I thought, 'That must be Mr. W.'s brother.' Then I looked in front of me, and thought, 'Oh, there's Mr. W.' And then I looked behind me and thought, 'That must be Mr. W.'s brother.'"

Then, Three told us later, the eighth-grader shook his head in bewilderment.

"So many W.'s!"

His confusion is understandable. The Boys have always looked like two sets of twins (One and Three, Two and Four). Add matching hoodies and glasses and the distinction is almost impossible to the untrained eye.

Also, I've had that sentiment hundreds of times over the past 33 years so I'm declaring it our new family motto.

So Many W's!

Two, Four, Three, One

Monday, December 5, 2016

Still the Best

2016 Thanksgiving

I knew it! I knew all of you wanted to know what the busy rakers in the last post looked like from the front. And because I am a giver (a THANKS-giver! Ha ha ha!), here they are!

Here are the Boys, plus Lovely Girl, plus a bonus Special Girl, plus Husband, plus a very, very disheveled-looking MomQueenBee. This is what happens when pictures aren't taken until just before everyone leaves, when I am limp with relief that the food was ready to eat at the proper time, and that no one got sick, and that this was the BEST Best Day of the Year.

Because it was.

In spite of the frizzy hair and flushed cheeks as I faced the camera, I couldn't stop smiling. I know how very rare it is to have all of us together, and how the rarity of these moments is only going to increase. And so I made a conscious effort to be mindful of the joy of the Thanksgiving week.

I cherished having all of the leaves in the table for four full days, and picking up another gallon of milk every time I was in the store (and I was in the store every day).

I loved seeing our grown-up kids get along, and I wanted to time-travel back and tell myself as Mother of Teenagers Who Fight All. The. Time. that they're going to turn out fine, even if they never outgrow being cutthroat board game players, because someday they finally will be able to lose with (mostly) good humor.

I marveled at having so many girls in the house. We could almost outvote the boys, if one or two of the guys were off taking naps. I mean no disrespect to the men in my life, because my love for them is deeper than the ocean and wider than our new president's credibility gap, but I have learned that I am a complete sexist when it comes to entertainment preps. On the night before we hosted 35 for Thanksgiving dinner, the Girls organized set-up and decoration of the eating space while I made roll dough. It's not that the Boys and Husband wouldn't have been delighted to do that set-up (they were enthusiastic members of the crew), but I seem to have more innate trust in the outcome when the supervisors have Pinterest boards.

I basked in having friends give thanks with us who had never been at our annual feast before. The grown children of my father's lovely wife; my Saudi Arabian student T and his family, which included a 40-day old baby. (I laughed and laughed when, having tasted at least a dozen Thanksgiving-only delicacies, T. declared his favorite was "the one with the crunchy stuff on top." Yup, good ol' Green Bean Casserole.)

The day was not perfect. We missed Much Older Sister and her family, who were on pins and needles awaiting the arrival of an overdue grandchild. And of course, no Thanksgiving will ever be perfect because Mom won't be making the rolls.

But this? This was as close to perfection as we'll get this side of heaven.

This day is still the best.