Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Much-Needed Happiness

Please excuse the gap between the last post and this one--I've been busy being horrified at the national news. But today I'm turning off NPR and looking back at the recent trip to North Carolina and the birthplace of Andy Griffith.

I was SHOCKED (shocked, I tell you) that I had requests for pictures of Husband in Barney's sidecar. And because Husband is the best sport in the world, here he is, at the Andy Griffith museum in Mount Airy. What you don't see is that it had stormed the night before and the seat of the sidecar was covered with left-over rain so my dear one had to walk around for a couple of hours with water-cooled britches.

In practically all ways he embodied the original Barney's Sidecar episode:

Looking at the picture makes me happy.

Then when we got home from the East Coast we discovered that our tomato plants had finally decided to start producing with vigor. My annual (consistently-fruitless) quest to grow my own tomatoes was nearly derailed this year when my lungs tried to kill me right during tomato-planting season, but we still have three late-planted vines in containers in the only sunny space near the House on the Corner. (Okay, the three containers technically are on a corner of our neighbor's yard, but we were mowing that yard, so could we consider that rent?)

Anyway, just look at this:

We have been eating BLTs, and huevos con tomate, and all manner of dishes cooked with fresh tomatoes, and I grab a handful of the cherry variety to eat like candy every time I pass through the kitchen. I smile as I check my teeth for tomato seeds before I go out in public.

I'm looking hard for happiness moments these days, because I do not use the term lightly when I say the news is horrifying. This is not a one-run loss in the World Cup, or a pair of Hollywood stars deciding to divorce. The news of the last five days have been jaw-dropping, nightmare-producing.

Give yourself a break today. Turn off the news, and eat a tomato fresh off the vine while watching an Andy Griffith re-run.

Tomorrow, get back into the fray, and work to make us all better. But today, be happy.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Our Kind of People

Two and One with childhood friends

After the gigantic "whoosh" that was the sound of a collective release of held breath in the House on the Corner, Husband and I couldn't wait to jump in the car and travel to North Carolina so all of the Research Triangle could hear us yelling "Wahooooooo!" together. We stopped in Missouri to pick up Boy#1 to be co-pilot and for the next two days I Miss Daisy-ed in the backseat, reading and knitting while Husband and One picked out scenic side trips to break up the 1,300-mile trip. 

We were quite aware that this was probably our final trip to the Durham area, since Two already had his plane ticket toward the next (employed! Yay!) stage of his life, so we had to be selective in our activities there. What was the very most important thing we needed to do, in case we never make it back to North Carolina?

Why, Mount Airy, of course. 

What? You've never heard of Mount Airy, North Carolina?

Then obviously you are not a superfan of Andy Griffith, and you did not spend your childhood watching old black-and-white re-runs of a show that began with a whistle and ended with a laugh. Unlike you, one of our brilliant sons (*cough* Boy#1 *cough*) not only watched every episode TVLand had to offer, he can to this day quote verbatim passages and tell you which of the Darlings was the creepiest Darling. (That's a trick question. All the Darlings were creepy.)

Mount Airy is the home of Andy Griffith, also known as super-sheriff Andy Taylor, and even though "The Andy Griffith Show" filmed in California and there is precious little evidence Barney and Aunt Bee ever set foot in Mount Airy, a childhood buddy of the real Andy Griffith became the unofficial documentarian of all things Griffith. The result was (to our surprise) absolutely charming.

We expected a tiny, run-down town with a sad and dusty room holding old Griffith memorabilia, maybe a few shops filled with identical selections of t-shirts and mugs. Instead, Mount Airy has a perfectly-sized modern museum with items from Griffith's growing-up years, as well as mementos from the show (including Otis's vomit-stained coat--ick) and from Griffith's other projects (a Matlock suit, for example). I forced our Boys to pose with the Andy and Opie statue, of course, and Husband let me take his picture in Barney's sidecar outside the museum. (This shot available upon request.) 

Even the downtown was fun, with lots of individual shops that referenced the show but didn't go overboard. No one was running around yelling "Citizen's ar-RAY-ust!," which, to be absolutely honest, was kind of disappointing. 

Not disappointing was the moonshine pie shop. We had missed lunch hour at The Loaded Goat Bar and Grill so we had a mid-afternoon lunch at the pie shop, splitting pulled pork and rhubarb pies. We passed on the moonshine pie, but the Boys report the peanut butter pie was excellent. 

And then we went home and watched the full episode of The Loaded Goat,  

It was a good day, as Husband and I walked around with two of our grown sons remembering when they were little boys and we watched this show together. I think Andy would have approved.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Per Aspera

His last day of school was last week, 21 years later.

My mother told this story about Boy#2:

They were playing Yahtzee, and Two was keeping score. He would add up the dice throws in his head and enter the results on the scorecard, and Mom reminded him gently to write the numbers neatly.

"But Grandma," he told her, "they haven't taught us how to write numbers yet."

He was three, and sure enough, his preschool didn't work on numbers until they were four.

Numbers, though, were Two's second language. They spoke to him as clearly and expressively as words speak to the rest of us. He taught himself how to work percentages before he was in grade school, and by second grade his compassionate and creative teachers (we love you, Mrs. Helzer and Mrs. Taylor) were working to keep him challenged. He was taking high school math classes while in junior high, and finished two semesters of college calculus before he got his high school diploma.

I don't tell you this because I'm bragging about Two's math ability, I'm explaining that I understand why my friends didn't understand when I told them I was worried about him.

Two's graduate school experience was hard. He had earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, and loved the problem-solving nature of that combination of math and theory. But doctoral research is about expanding knowledge, exploring a topic rather than solving a problem. He struggled to get the kind of results his advisor expected, and for the first time in his life he didn't like school. He began to wonder if he was up to the demands of the program and considered walking away with his master's degree.

"Don't take yourself out of the game, even if your advisor isn't happy with you," we told him over and over. "Make him take you out--don't do it for him."

So when I asked my friends to put Two on their prayer lists when he was scheduled for milestone exams or defenses, they always thought about the kid who loved numbers.

"He'll be fine, there's no way he won't finish," they would say. We weren't sure. We had never seen Two in this position of insecurity; the numbers seemed to have stopped speaking to him.

But then last week, as Husband and I paced the floor half a continent away, Boy#2 went into a room with a committee of five brilliant academicians. For the next two hours he explained and defended his dissertation, and when those two hours were done, he had been approved to receive his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from one of the top universities in the nation.

I cried when I read the dissertation's dedication page.

"To my parents," it said, "for believing in me every step of the way, even when I didn't believe in myself."

And then Two added the phrase we Kansans know and love:

"Ad astra per aspera."

To the stars through difficulties.

The little boy who couldn't write his numbers had reached his goal, through difficulties, and he was right.

We believed in him every step of the way.

Friday, July 21, 2017

That. Was. Awesome.

I didn't look at the clock when I posted today's title on my Facebook page. I knew it was nearing midnight, I knew I was drenched in sweat, and I knew I kept breaking out in spontaneous laughter.

I knew I had just seen the best concert of my life.

I remember vividly that I was nine years old, sitting cross-legged on our classroom floor playing jacks with the other three girls in my class, when I first heard of the Beatles. "Did you see them last night? They were on Ed Sullivan," one of the girls asked. I don't remember her name; even our tiny, tiny school had transients, and the gypsies whose trailers were parked at the edge of town wouldn't be there more than a few months, but I remember that she had an oddly clumsy but efficient style in sweeping up the jacks, even on tensies.

Of course, I had not seen the Beatles. It would be another three years before my family got its first television, so I missed what would be the cultural touchstone of my generation. But I think we intuitively knew that for the next half century, the Beatles would provide the soundtracks of our lives. The girls wrote the names of their favorite Beatles on their notebooks, the boys grew their hair rebelliously long. We all crowed "she loves you, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH."

As the years went by I found that while I loved the Beatles' most popular songs (how could you not sing along to "Hard Day's Night"?) the songs I gravitated to were ballads, the melancholy lyrics of John and Paul. "Michelle." "Norwegian Wood." "Yesterday."
"One day, you'll look to see I'm gone, but tomorrow may rain so I'll follow the sun."
I didn't discover "I'll Follow the Sun" until 20 years after I first heard "She Loves You," but it became the theme song for my Peace Corps years.

I thought about those days when Husband read that Paul McCartney was going to do a concert in nearby Big-ish City.

"Want to go?" he asked, and I hesitated. Tickets were expensive, and even with top-of-the-line insurance the bills from my recent hospital stay were still coming in. And our car was dying, and we had made plans to remodel the bathroom ...probably shouldn't spend that money. But Husband had a way to get early reservations, so he found a couple of seats on the aisle six rows from the back of the arena, and Wednesday night we were there when the cute Beatle made his first appearance in the area.

The shaky, out-of-focus shot that leads today's post is from the first minutes of the concert. We were sitting so near the top of the arena's bowl that even standing seemed perilous--it was as if we were clinging to the back edge and could fall down into the bottom if we moved. But that's Paul McCartney on the screen. Paul, with his left-handed bass and sergeant's stripes on his coat sleeves.

Paul McCartney, the Beatle of my childhood, here and singing when I now mingle comfortably with the thousands around me in the new-knees-and-hips league.

He played for three hours, with no break for hydration on this 103-degree Kansas day. He played a grand piano and an upright piano, bass, ukulele, and acoustic guitar. He sang with his four back-up musicians and by himself. He told stories about the early days of the Beatles and pointed out his wife in the audience, and he kidded the iPhone-wielding audience about its preference for oldies.

"I can tell which songs you like by how many of you have your phones out," he said, sounding a little older than the Sullivan-era Paul but so, so familiar. "When we sing one of the old songs I look out and it's like a galaxy out there, but when we do something new, it's like looking into a black hole."

And then he summed up the Beatles entire career.

"But we don't care. We're going to do the new ones anyway."

He sang 39 songs. I knew all but three of them.

Take that in for a second--could you sing 39 songs in a row, even sitting down with the lyrics in front of you? I couldn't, and I'm a lot of years from 75.

It was the music of my life, and I found myself suddenly, inexplicably in tears when Husband held my hand during "And I Love Her," then laughing out loud when the camera focused on the tambourine player. (Woo, tambourine!) I jumped, as did everyone else, when the sole pyrotechnics of the evening accompanied "Live and Let Die." I sang with abandon--"Live goes on, BRAAAA!" on "Obladi, Oblada" and minutes and minutes worth of "Naaa, na na na-na-na-na-naaa,"  to finish "Hey Jude."

When it was over we walked back into the steamy night, laughing and holding hands.

I almost missed this concert because I was worried it would cost too much. Instead, Paul McCartney reminded me I was that girl playing jacks, and I was the young woman in the Peace Corps, and I am all the things the that have defined my life, and that experiences are more important than a remodeled bathroom.

Tomorrow may rain, so I'll follow the sun.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

They're Lucky They Found Him

Last week I visited my 90-year-old father on his farm.

As I've mentioned before, Dad has a lot of hobbies. He is the early morning guy at the natatorium, opening the pool at 5:30 and checking the chemicals, then monitoring the swimmers and throwing out the life ring if anyone seems to need a boost. He preaches in small town churches that need a summer fill-in or don't have a regular pastor. He serves on boards and advisory committees and is a quintuple Senior Olympics Games (sorry, trademark folks) swimming medalist in a multi-state area each year.

At this time of the year, though, Dad is best known in his neck of the woods as the local animal travel agent.

This year Shady Oaks Farm has been awash in raccoons. And with all due respect to all those lovable rascals who have made it big in television or the movies, raccoons are not welcome guests on a farm. They can destroy a corn field overnight, or in the case of semi-retired gentlemen farmers such as my father, they can climb through the cat door into the garage and poop all over the floor. This does not sit well with the wife of a certain semi-retired gentleman farmer, so my Dad has been trapping these critters.

But even though he is part of the Greatest Generation and a proud veteran of World War II, my dad cannot bring himself to shoot his captives (as most farmers would).

I mean, look at those eyes. Could you?

Instead, Dad loads the trap into the back of his pick-up and drives them 10 miles due south of the farm to Tanquery Bridge, where he opens the cage door and the raccoons scamper off. This saves his conscience and also saves his children the nightmare image of their 90-year-old dear one loading and shooting a shotgun.

So far he has relocated 15 raccoons this summer, and I'm pretty sure they have opened their own Tanquery Bridge Resort for the refugees. I envision them drinking mai tais by the pool and topping each other with their tales of escape from the horror that was prison.

They're happy, and so is he.

And seeing him, so am I.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sitting on My Hands

It's a real thing. 
Today it's a good thing this blog isn't one of those futuristic things our teacher Mrs. Frances warned us about in first grade.

"Some day," she told my class ominously, "you will be able to make phone calls and the other person will be able to see you."

I went to country school, so there were only four in us in my class but all of us gasped in horror. What if we hadn't combed our hair? What if we were NAKED?

So it has turned out that phones that let the other person see you when you're talking to them aren't the worst thing in the world, especially if you take care not to be naked while you're doing it. (I'm looking at you, teenagers everywhere. Life choices: They matter.)

If you were watching me blogging today, you'd see me trying to type while sitting on my hands, because today is Amazon Prime Day and today's illustration is an ACTUAL THING that is being sold.

Yes. You didn't know until this very moment that you needed a Beard King, did you? This is "The Official Beard Bib - Hair Clippings Catcher & Grooming Cape Apron - 'As Seen on Shark Tank'" (and I'm inserting a stet here to show that the weird capitalization and punctuation are compliments of Amazon, and not my own personal choices).

I have been married to a bearded man for all but six weeks of our almost-34-year-old marriage. He has trimmed his beard faithfully, and although he's a conscientious cleaner-upper of the trimmings, I will admit that I don't leave my coffee cup too near the bathroom sink when he's grooming. Beard trimmings have some amazing aerodynamic properties that carry them way, way beyond what you would expect a tiny little whisker to be able to fly.

But would I spend $29.99 for a Beard King to capture those occasional stray whiskers when the gizmo would need to be cleaned and stored and would replace a bath towel that is thrown into the washing machine after each trim? Would I?

I would not. I wouldn't even spend the $23.99 it costs today, on Prime Day, when that same amount could buy an ice cream sandwich maker AND an olive oil sprayer.

Instead I will continue to sit on my hands and pretend like Prime Day isn't even happening, which probably is my best option.

Life choices. Still difficult, but at least you can't see me making them.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hooray for Independence! And Ice Cream!

This picture is the Fourth-of-July-dessert equivalent of an old joke:
Q: Why did the golfer wear two pairs of pants?
A: In case he got a hole in one. 
Why did I put the ice cream freezer in a mop bucket and then put the mop bucket in a galvanized wash tub? In case the salty icy freezing mixture sloshed through the drain hole and into Earl's trunk. New-ish car, y'all. Can't be too careful.

Actually, it also was partly because it had been at least 10 years since the last time I pulled out the White Mountain and cranked up a batch of homemade ice cream. Or maybe 15 years? At any rate, the last time I home-made ice cream was right about the time that I realized the Boys did not cherish my own memories of hand-cranked Sunday night ice cream and that frankly, Blue Bunny had better flavors anyway. After all that time I wasn't really sure how stable the freezer would be to transport.

But I was determined to make this work. When we were invited to a July 4 get-together I offered to bring a dessert and what says "I cherish my freedom and independence" like a million-calorie frozen confection?

Wow. I had forgotten that homemade ice cream not only contains whole milk, it also calls for whipping cream AND half-and-half AND sugar AND nine eggs AND (in the case of this recipe) two bags of Ghiardelli 60% cacao baking chips.

But take another look at that picture up there. See the light shining through the ice as if angels were hovering were hovering in my kitchen? The kitchen sounded just like this right after I finished packing the ice cream for ripening:

Okay, it didn't sound anything like that at all but is this video a hoot or what? I plan to play it on a loop as the soundtrack of my life. It will remind me that high-calorie dairy products mixed with high-quality melted chocolate chips is pretty much the gold standard for deliciousness.

So to sum my up Fourth of July: Made ice cream, it was pretty good, I may have to do that again. And the triple-packaging meant it did not slop saltwater into the car.

God bless the U.S.A.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Now I'm A Real Blogger

People, I'm beginning to feel like a real blogger. I know, I know. I haven't blogged since...well, it appears since my debut/final performance as a professional tambourine player, which was literally weeks ago.

In spite of that absence, I'm earning my blogger stripes and carrying on the greatest and most revered of blogging traditions--Husband and I went on a short trip and I took a picture of every single thing we ate.

Well, not every single thing. I mean, even the Pioneer Woman doesn't photograph the Quik Trip cookie, does she? There was a good reason for this photographic documentation of our nutritional failings: When we started our three-day-away, Husband and I decided we would not eat at any chain restaurants.

This is more difficult than it sounds, especially since we are old and empty-nested and our mealtimes are no longer dictated by the whinings of teen-aged stomachs. It turned out that on this trip I spent a fair amount of time studying Yelp from Earl's passenger seat and saying "This one sounds good! Oh, wait, they close at 9:30 so never mind."

But we managed to eat. And eat. And eat some more. We only had one meal that I would describe as average. All of the others would rate from good to excellent, with two breakfasts I would push into the region of "sublime."

We started at the Doo-Dah Diner in Wichita. If you live anywhere near southern Kansas you already know about this mecca of deliciousness. Oh, my, gosh. Because we are old and empty-nested and there was no one to ridicule us, we split a breakfast. The Triple D consists of half-portions of banana bread French toast, crispy corned beef hash, and Timi's Benny (a glorified eggs Benedict). By the time I was down to the final bite of over-medium egg and avocado, I was pretty sure I would burst but was too far gone to be concerned about how that would read in my obituary. (Husband's smiling in the picture, but I was imagining him trying to explain to the nice folks at the next table that he was so sorry his wife couldn't resist that last bite and exploded all over them.) Rating: Sublime.

Next stop, many hours later, was The Feedbunk in Yates Center. We felt lucky to find this spot, as there is not much original dining at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon in this area of Kansas. Not only did this restaurant exemplify the only permitted use of the Western Font EVER, EVER, EVER (ahem), it had a dandy pork tenderloin sandwich. And put your finger in this spot, because we're coming back to the Feedbunk later. (Rating: Very good.)

And here is where I began to notice how few restaurants stay open past 9 at night. By the time we meandered our way to Topeka (stopping at many, many spots along the way) and checked into our hotel and cursed the construction cones that seemed to be mocking us everywhere we went, we slid into the Monsoon Grill with just minutes to spare before closing time. Indian cuisine that was really good, and delightful staff who didn't roll their eyes at people who arrive just before closing and order some kind of lentil curry that they can't pronounce. Rating: Very good.

Okay, you know that finger you used to mark your place at the Feedbunk? Go back to that place, because breakfast the next morning came from there, too. When we had finished our sandwiches and sweet potato fries we were still stuffed so we decided to save the homemade pie until later. "Stuffed" turned out to be the day's descriptor, so the pie was still waiting the next morning and became breakfast.

Friends, if you really want to have a vacation that's a vacation, eat gooseberry pie for breakfast. It's really not that different from a doughnut, right? And you're getting some fruit, right? And if it's gooseberry pie from the Feedbunk, you will smile all day long. Just writing about it makes my salivary glands tingle. Tart, sweet, flaky, tart. Double tart. Rating: Sublime.

So, I won't bore you with every single thing we tasted in the next two days, but we ended the tour at Tortilla Jack's in Topeka. It was once more really late when we were ready for supper and most non-chains were closed, and in spite of a Yelp review that said "This will probably appeal most to Washburn alumni with strong senses of nostalgia," we tried it. The restaurant was clean and apparently we were hungry because I forgot to photograph the untouched meal so you're going to have to take my word that this nasty-looking paper tray held a chili burrito at one time. Rating: Okay, or a little better than okay. Probably terrific on late nights if you went to college across the street.

As I conclude this run-down of our non-chain eating experience, I'm pleased to report that my technique for finding the best local restaurants held us in good stead.

And in non-related news, yesterday I signed up for Weight Watchers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Not to Brag, But...


I'm not a big believer in bucket lists. If you are, great! Congratulations on your goal to float the entire Amazon in a dugout canoe, or plant a flag on the moon, or sample every flavor of Jelly Bellys, or whatever. Much luck with that.

Me? I'm more a believer in celebrating accomplishments as they come along, then adding them to my resume. During the past weekend I added a line to that resume and I intend to make the font of that line boldface AND italic, possibly in all caps.

I was chosen to play the tambourine in a women's chorus.

I know! Out of all of the 60 or so women in the chorus, which practiced a total of 20 minutes, I was the one the director looked at and said "Do you think you could play a tambourine for the final eight measures?"

Me! A featured soloist! Well, not exactly a soloist, because there was a tambourine to the left of me and a tambourine to the right of me, and I was probably picked because when your chorus is all amateur singers and it will only be practicing a total of 20 minutes it's best to keep your percussion section together. But she chose me!

People, I have dabbled in music for as long as I can remember and before. (My mama always claimed I sang "Happy Birthday" to her, in tune, when I was 27 months old but I suspect my mama had a love-enhanced memory.) In my role as the semi-competent but willing accompanist I have played in front of thousands hundreds lots and lots of people, often by myself during introductions and transitions.

Seldom have I been as nervous as I was in the sections of the piece leading up to the tambourine-enhanced big ending.

What if I miscounted and came in during the big rests before my cue? What if all my music knowledge suddenly deserted me and I couldn't remember which were the second and fourth beats? What if I DROPPED THE TAMBOURINE?

I'm sure you're waiting with bated breath to hear how it went. I will only say that when I look back on the experience, my recollection is that it was something like this:


Or maybe this:


Okay, fine. It was probably more like this.


But yesterday I emailed the director of the group, who has the patience of a thousand saints to direct a chorus of voices that ranged from completely untrained to operatic, and I thanked her for her joyful encouragement of her group. She replied quickly:

"Thanks! It was an awesome weekend," she said. "You need to add 'Expert Tambourine Player' to your resume!"

Sorry, Pat. I'm ahead of you on that one, and it's in boldface, italics, and all caps.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What's In Our Purse

Back in the olden days when I was a child, I rarely got to watch television. That's because my family didn't own a television, which could turn into an entire post about the deprivation my cruel parents inflicted on their five children (who, okay, turned out all right). But when I was at Grandma Speer's house, I parked my fanny in front of the tube and didn't move all day.

Even as a little kid one of my favorite shows was Art Linkletter's House Party and one of the best segments of this show was when Art would wander through the audience and pick a lady with an enormous purse then start pulling items out of that purse. A can opener. A jar of olives. An ice scraper.

I thought of that segment last week when we cleaned out Pearl for the final time before she left to go live in the country on a beautiful farm with all the other beloved but aging cars that spend their days sipping 10W-40 cocktails under the oak trees. (That's where she is, and you're not convincing me otherwise.)

Anyway, there were three grocery sacks worth of items in the glove compartment and under the seats and tucked into the storage space. I stacked it on the stove to take inventory. (No, the masa seca in the upper left of the photo was not in the car. I had been making tamales and apparently was too lazy to move it six inches to the left so it wouldn't appear in the picture.)

Some of what we cleaned out was logical. An atlas. Menus so that we can remember what we have ordered before at Noodles & Company and not have to hold up the line trying to figure out what that deliciousness was. My handicapped parking permit which I had forgotten I owned because in just two months I am SO MUCH BETTER that I can walk into the grocery store from a regular parking space! Yay!

Some was logical to us because we yam what we yam. Plastic bowls and cheap spoons wrapped up in a grocery sack because we are the cheapest most frugal travelers imaginable and would rather buy a box of cereal than spend American dollars for breakfast when we're on vacation. Rain ponchos because when we go to ballgames after a shower we inevitably forget that we will want to sit down and will hate the resulting soggy bottoms.

But some of it...well, it defies logic.

Can you tell me why we needed to keep FIVE boxes of blown fuses that we stocked for the old Suburban because when we were pulling the pop-up trailer the back-up lights blew the dashboard indicators? And not one, not two, but three eyeglass repair kits, which don't really work so we carried the micro-screwdrivers as well? Or two sewing kits? Or a Swiss army kni--oh, never mind.

But I will reward those of you who have persisted today with a glimpse of the most useful item we carry in the car, the first thing I transferred into Earl.

Most of this is a hand towel, and it happens to be a fancy embroidered hand towel that we weren't using in regular rotation. But do you see those two clothespins that are attached by a cord? Those are the magic that turns this fancy embroidered hand towel into an actual bib. We acquired the magic when my mother-in-law was in assisted living and all the residents had these gizmos in the dining room. Voila. No more juice from your chicken wrap dripping onto your blouse as you eat in the car.

The fuses are now gone, as are the eyeglass repair kit, the menus, and the dashboard GPS that was made obsolete by my iPhone.

But the bib? It's coming along for the ride. And the drips.

I bet Art Linkletter found one just like it in someone's purse.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

His Name Is Earl

Husband and I are not the kind of people who trade in cars every year. Or every two years, or every three, get the idea. We trade in cars when one of us says "I do not feel safe driving out of town in that car any more."

(Me. I'm the one who says that, not Husband. But you already know that.)

A couple of weeks ago we were pulling into the Sonic stall for our final Mother's Day celebratory moment (because we are wild-and-crazy half-price shakes celebrators) when my beloved Pearl let out an ominous clunk. Husband and I looked at each other with wide eyes, then ordered our shakes so we could have a moment of delight as we discussed which of our friends we could call at 10:30 p.m. to ferry us home. And because we are old, old, old, we realized we have no one who would still be awake and welcome this kind of call.

Fortunately, Pearl managed to limp the two miles to our driveway and the next morning, after an inspection by our mechanic, Husband and I had this loving text exchange:
Him: Mechanic called and said he didn't see anything wrong with the car.
Me: Sounds good. I, personally, do not plan to drive it outside of Small Town because quite clearly he is wrong, but at least he doesn't think the wheel is falling off. 
I'm quite the charmer, am I not? That veiled sarcasm, the overt passive-aggression. Husband is a lucky, lucky man. But I had uttered the magic phrase that sets us car-shopping. Between the clunk, the need for new tires, and the rear-ending damage a year ago that we never had fixed, it was time.

Anyway, a few days later we were test driving Escapes and Rogues and Rav4s, and all sorts of medium-sized SUVs. And then the wonderful Subaru salesman took us to a white Ford hidden in the back row of the dealership. It wasn't quite as new as some we had seen, and had just a few more miles, but oh, when we pulled out on our test drive it was so comfortable. And it just felt right.

The salesman had heard me talk about how much I had loved Pearl, and I'm sure he was just making conversation but he asked: "How did you know that was the car for you?"

I couldn't even explain it.

"From the moment I saw her on the lot I knew she was the one I wanted. They could have said the engine was powered by squirrels and rubber bands, and I would have still wanted to buy her," I told him. "It was love at first sight."

The white Edge was more of a sweet-talker. While Husband was asking about mileage and warranties I was appreciating the back-up camera, and was delighted that I could would be able to listen to audiobooks over the car's speakers rather than carry a Bluetooth speaker on trips with me (yes, I did). I practically drooled at the individual climate controls for the always-too-warm driver and the always-too-cold passenger.

Finally we took her for a drive on the highway, where lovely Pearl's four cylinders made for a little engine that couldn't when it came to hills and passing acceleration and we knew this was our new partner in transportation.

Honk if you see us around Small Town. I'll always love Pearl, but our new ride is sweet.

His name is Earl.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Best Way to Find Good Food, Guaranteed

Ugh. But the pie makes up for it.
My dad, I have mentioned before, had his 90th birthday in December. In the months since he celebrated the start of his 10th decade he has kept up his winning ways in the Senior Olympics (five more swimming gold medals last month), still gets up at 4:15 a.m. to be the fitness center pool attendant/lifeguard several mornings a week, continues to serve on the tourism board--well, I could go on and on.

He's pretty much unstoppable, is what I'm trying to say. This week, though, we had a conversation I hadn't expected:

Him: "You know, I've decided it may be time for me to stop driving at night."

Me: "Great idea! You have plenty of people who can get you places."

Him: "Oh, I just mean long trips at night. I won't start out from Kansas City after dark any more. I'll still drive to town and around here."

I guess it's a start. I mean, Kansas City is only FOUR HOURS from the farm where he lives, and I gave up night-driving from there when I turned 40, but whatever. And as Husband pointed out, Dad apparently has charmed all the deer between his farm and the small town where he hangs out, so they'll wait at the side of the highway for him to go by. (That was sarcasm, in case you didn't recognize it.)

The upside of this half-hearted nod to mortality was that I had the privilege of driving Dad to a conference a couple hours from his farm last week. And the double upside was that it was day 37 of the Noah's Deluge that has been this spring. My Younger Brother the Farmer declared it too wet to plow and hopped into the back seat for the road trip.

It was lunchtime when we dropped Dad off with his fellow Rotarians so the Farmer and I went foraging and I was able to show off my guaranteed way to find the best food, no matter where you are. Here are the crucial steps of that method:

  1. Take out your phone.
  2. Google "Best pie in (town where you hope to eat)"

That's it. Unlike the treacherous Google Maps, which once deposited my family at the loading dock of Lowe's instead of at the hotel we were trying to find, Google's "Best Pie in Town" search will tell you that the best pie in Topeka is at Bradley's Corner Cafe, and the best pie in Abilene is at Joe Snuffy's. Google graciously let us know that the best pie in Hays, Kansas, was at Al's Chickenette, and the best pie tends to hang around with fabulous comfort food.

Al's Chickenette not only had the best chicken soup I've had in years (with homemade noodles swimming in a perfectly salty broth) and fried chicken that the Farmer described as the perfect ratio of coating to white meat,

it had what was undoubtedly the best pie in Hays: strawberry-rhubarb with homemade crust and sweet juices dripping into my spoon. Also, a waitress who knew that a spoon is the only way to eat pie because forks are for foods that need stabbing and not scooping.

Al's had restroom doors that were identified for hens and roosters, which may have been a twee bridge too far, but we're going to forgive that in the face of that pie.

Well done, Google, and thanks for giving up long-distance night driving, Dad. I'll make that road trip any day.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Taking a Deep Breath

I am taking a deep breath before I hit "publish" because I know this will not be the kind of eyebrow-obsessing fluff you have come to expect in this space. I have dear, dear friends and loved ones who will be disappointed in the opinion I am about to express. But after I saw the monologue by Jimmy Kimmel last week, I knew that I would be saying something.

Did you see it? If you didn't, please click on the video and come back after you've watched it. If, for some reason, the link isn't working, go to YouTube and search 'Jimmy Kimmel baby monologue.'

Seriously, watch it. I'll wait.


Are you back? Could I offer you a tissue? Because if you are not in tears after watching that raw, emotional, tender heart being poured out, you have stronger emotional control than I do.

Or maybe I found myself sobbing deep sobs as I watched because I know exactly what Jimmy and his wife were feeling. Exactly.

Boy#3 was born with a congenital heart defect. We didn't know this until his well-child check when he was turning two. That's when his wonderful, wonderful pediatrician was tipped off by Three's abnormal blood pressure (measuring sky-high in his tiny arms, drastically low in his legs) that he had a coarctation of the aorta.

I know. I'd never heard of it before, either. If you don't want to click on that link, a coarctation basically is a drastic narrowing of the big artery that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. Three's heart pumped blood as far as the narrowing, then because it couldn't get through, the blood backed up and found other ways to travel. His tiny chest was criss-crossed with blue veins that were doing the job of that defective artery. So a few weeks later our baby was wheeled into an operating room where skilled doctors threaded a catheter from his groin into his heart and a tiny balloon was expanded into that narrowing. His blood pressure suddenly normalized, and although he sees a cardiologist every year, he has lived a normal, active life.

We were still celebrating this miracle of modern medicine when his pediatric cardiologist looked Husband and me straight in the eyes, to make sure we were listening:

"Don't ever lose your job," she said soberly. "This child is uninsurable."

Say that out loud, and think of your baby. Think of knowing that you might have to choose between the heart catheterization that will save your child's life, and selling your house to pay for that procedure. Think of how much it cost last time you had an emergency room visit for a kid who needed stitches, and multiply that by the cost of a cardiac ICU stay, then find the money from your savings to pay for that stay.

We had insurance. Three got the treatment he needed, and oh, he is such a fine man today. You just can't imagine.

But what if we hadn't had insurance? What if we had lost our jobs and couldn't find positions that came with benefits? What if we had been forced to find insurance that was not part of group coverage? How could we have lived with having three of our four sons insured?

The thought of being forced into that Sophie's choice makes me shudder now, a quarter century later.

And for everyone who thinks I'm some kind of fairy-dust pink-o, I know there is no such thing as a free lunch. We pay a healthy percentage of our income for our medical insurance, and everyone with an income should pay at least something toward their medical security. But I can't help but agree with Jimmy Kimmel:

"If your baby is going to die, and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make. Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we can all agree on that, right?"

Monday, May 1, 2017

Things That Are Making Me Happy

I Photoshopped my neck wrinkles. I regret nothing.

Four weeks ago today I had way too much time to think gloomy thoughts as I was waiting for the scans/enzyme tests/ambulance, and one of the thoughts that crossed my mind was that this space was going to be left hanging out in cyberspace with no conclusion. When I realized that the last post before The Event was titled "I Write Because I'm Happy," it was a good moment.

"Yes," I thought. "I am just fine if my lovely reader(s) are left with my declaration that I'm happy."

So just so you know that I'm still me even when I'm moving at quarter-speed and taking naps whenever the thought occurs to me, here are the things making me happy today:

The Hat

Last week was a week for winding up commitments I'd made when I was still in full-speed mode. Teaching last classes of semester? Check. Accompanying high school students at state music contest? Check. Final performances of the community theatre's production of Church Basement Ladies? Check. 

If you are ever asked to accompany a rock-star ensemble in a tribute to the women who work in church kitchens, do not miss that opportunity, because there is a good chance the property master will walk up to you with her hands filled with hats and say "The church pianist would be wearing a hat. Here." Then you will put on that hat and a pearly necklace, and suddenly your regular concert black accompanist outfit is a COSTUME! It is so much fun, even if you haven't had as much time to practice as you would have liked (because naps) and quite likely will screw up a different section of the accompaniment for every performance. 

Small Town and Its Wonderful, Wonderful People

We have lived in the House on the Corner for almost 31 years, and for at least 30 of those years we have been trying to grow grass in the strip between the sidewalk and the street. We have seeded, sodded, weeded, coddled, and watched all of our efforts either be shaded out by the three trees in that strip or washed out by the gullywashers that lapped over the curb of our halfway-down-two-hills location. Last summer we gave up and hired the local landscaping genius to take a crack at the area. He turned it into a limestone-edged shade garden that makes me happy every time I look at it. 

The Saturday before The Event I spent three hours giving the spot its spring cleaning. I dug up hundreds of grape hyacinths (the cursed kudzu of the Midwest), trimmed back the liriope, and scooped out clots of leaves that had accumulated curbside. 

Knowing now what I did not know then, it was probably not the optimal activity for one whose lungs are trying to kill her. (Ha! Foiled, lungs!)

I gazed at the spot in admiration when we drove home from the hospital Wednesday night. Wow, I did a great job. I continued to think this until the next morning when I tottered out to get the mail and realized that while I had made a good start, someone else had finished the job for me. New mulch had been spread, the straggler hyacinths were gone, a general nip and tuck made the strip gorgeous. 

I suspected the local landscaping genius had sent a crew to finish what I had started, and confirmed my suspicion with an email. A's response? "So glad you are feeling better. You had us very concerned and we knew the landscape maintenance was just one small way we could assist." 

Yes, of course I cried. 

What's making you happy today?

Monday, April 24, 2017

At the Bottom of the Box

My dear Boys and Girls knew my favorite flowers
How am I doing?

I've been asked that question dozens of times in the past two weeks, and it fills my heart every time someone looks at me with concern and checks my well-being. I always answer truthfully, and depending on how deeply you want me to answer I will tell you just the first few or all of the following--

I'm better every day. I'm figuring out my new physical boundaries. I'm sitting more, and moving slowly and pacing activities. I know now that if I try to do too much on one day that I will spend the next day feeling terrible.

What I probably won't tell you is that the hardest thing I've had to deal with hasn't been physical. In fact, I don't know exactly how to categorize this tough thing. Is it mental? Psychological? Spiritual?

What is fear?

My recovery from this episode has been a reverse Pandora's box, filled with wonderful people and encouragement. It has been love and hope and messages and cards, hugs and cookies baked with dark chocolate. It has been flowers whose scent follows me through the house and reminds me how very many people are pulling for me. But every once in a while at the bottom of the box I suddenly sense a cold tremor that all of that goodness can't quite squelch.

Sometimes it's mental, when I don't know how to respond to what my body is telling me. I know all the classic symptoms of a heart attack (chest pain, sweating, nausea, feeling of doom) but as I was told over and over again when I was having none of these symptoms but was by every clinical measure having a heart attack, women's heart attacks present differently. So when my heart unexpectedly beats hard and fast, and no amount of calm thoughts or steady breathing stops the disruption, should I be heading for the emergency room?

Sometimes it's psychological, when a chance remark by one of my medical caretakers that "Yeah, you really had a lot of embolisms" gives me information I didn't have before and even though nothing has changed, suddenly I'm aware of how close to the cliff I had been standing and fear washes over me.

Sometimes it's spiritual, when my deeply-held belief that God is in control of my life seems to be buried under appointments and prescriptions.

A dear friend was at her husband's side in the emergency room when, with no prior indication of heart problems, he was found to be having a heart attack. I had sat with her after his multiple-bypass surgery, and took a meal when they got home. So I asked her--am I crazy?

She looked at me sadly.

"We were in the emergency room several times after the surgery," she said. "You just don't know."

And that's where the fear originates, I think. You just don't know this body, this schedule, this life.

How am I doing? I'm doing very well, better every day, and I expect to be looking back years from now and marveling at how modern medicine (science!) helped a fearfully and wonderfully made body cope with a glitch in the works.

But it can be scary.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Surest Sign of Spring

A couple of weeks ago, when all things healthwise were topsy-turvy in my world, I got a text from Boy#4.

"Are you having surgery?" he asked my cell phone. "J. texted me saying that he'd heard that (and asking if you were OK), so I just wanted to see who has the better information."

To see why this is significant, you should know that my son lives out of state, as does his friend, J. I love living in a small town partly because everyone looks out for everyone else, but once in a while the news accuracy is just a hair off plumb.

I was able to reassure Four that he had the better information, that I was not having surgery, but was being treated with high doses of blood thinners and TLC.

"OK, I assumed that was the case. Learning your mom is having surgery via text from your friend would probably be worse than hearing about it from her blog."


Well, Four, if you get a text from J. that I was seen hobbling down Main Street and that I didn't seem to be walking well--polio, maybe?--be assured that I was just welcoming spring.

You can keep your robins, your crocuses, even your groundhog. In my world, the surest sign that spring has sprung is the pedicure that ends winter toes. From October to April I am frugal and be-socked (or be-pantyhosed, as I confessed here recently). I shine up my own toes and rub in my own foot softeners because no one is seeing those bare feet except me. But when tax season ends, I skedaddle over to my favorite pedicurist and she pampers me with an orange-scented leg-and-foot massage that makes me practically drool into the hot whirlpool at my feet then finishes with nail polish in a color I would never buy for myself.

Yesterday, though, I hadn't planned ahead and didn't bring my own post-pedi footwear, so all of Small Town saw me shuffling down the block in the fashionable spa-issued slippers. My gait may have indicated a serious health setback, so I'm just clearing up any confusion here:

I'm fine, Four, and my toes are looking sharp.

It's spring.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

This Is What Happened: Part 4

I am thankful for the woman who brought me this chicken ceasar parmesan on pita. It was wonderful, and so was she.

(Feel free to backtrack and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this story. Really. They're more exciting than today's entry, and do not lead with pictures of hospital food.)

Well, believe it or not, we are closing in on the final episode of this chapter in my life. I know! Who knew so many words could be used to say "Welcome to my new life!" (That, to summarize, is essentially what my New Best Friend the Hematologist told me when I met him this week. Blood thinners forever, and grapefruit no more than once a week, and while you're here, how about let's draw eight vials of blood? EIGHT!)

But this whole experience has been enormously educational. Here's what I have learned:

I have learned that I am surrounded by the very best, very finest, very dearest family and friends anyone could have. I realized in the 10 minutes that I thought I was going to die that I have not told these dear family and friends nearly often enough that I cherish them, and that I have lived the most blessed life because of them.

I have learned that being in the hospital is the next best thing to being an exotic dancer, because hoooo-boy, does everyone just have to go about their business while you are inadequately covered.

And I have learned so much about how to pray for a person who might find herself (or himself) in a similarly precarious situation.

I hope I have been clear in this space that I am a praying person, and I deeply believe in this spiritual practice. I know to the very marrow of my bones that dozens, maybe hundreds, of people (including many, many of you) have been praying for me in the past few weeks, and I am weeping as I consider the magnitude of this gift. Because I know these are the things you've been asking as you lifted me up to the Divine:

That the right people be put in my path. I cannot express completely how this played out, because it was inexpressible. Every single person I met, from the moment my initial EKG was read until this very minute, has been the right person at the right time, doing and saying the right things. There was the medical assistant who drove me to the hospital and asked me to tell her exactly what the Boys are doing these days. I saw you, Esther, and I saw what you were doing, and I loved you for it. There were the emergency room nurses who brought warmed blankets, and Dr. V., who diagnosed me. There were the firefighter/EMTs who went to school with the Boys and lifted me into the ambulance, then talked to me about Costa Rica and upcoming weddings. The nurses in the cardiac ICU--Jessica, Steve, Kensie, Kayla--who joked with me and told me enough but not too much. Even the food service aide who brought my lunch and was just so delighted that I was able to have a regular diet was magnificent. Every single person was encouraging and competent and cheerful.

That I would not be afraid. I knew I was in a perilous state for at least 10 hours, and I'm not even counting the days before when I was probably at risk of sudden death. Do you know how much of that time I was afraid? Ten minutes. I remember it vividly: I was on my back in the emergency room, my blood pressure had been going up for two hours and the doctor had just given me the news that a heart attack was confirmed. I looked at Husband, who was sitting in the chair next to the bed, and I thought "I don't think I'm going to make it out of this, and I am so very sad for the years I will not have with this man, and with my Boys and Lovely Girls." But then I thought of the woman who had that very morning brought me a refrigerator magnet her mother had made. "No Fear With God" the magnet says, and even though I had accepted the gift off-handedly, I remembered the fiery furnace and the witnesses who said "We know God can deliver us out of this, but even if He doesn't, He's still God." And from that moment there were times when I was concerned, times when I was shaky, times when I was confused, but no more times when I gut-wrenchingly afraid.

That I would know how much I am loved. Oh, people. Again with the tears over here, because you cannot imagine. You simply cannot imagine how I have been touched by the messages, the cards, the flowers, the concern. I know you have been praying that I would feel that support, because I do.

I'm only glad that I am here and can tell that you are the very best, the very dearest, the very finest. I love you, I cherish you, and I have lived the most blessed life because you are in it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

This Is What Happened: Part 3

(If you haven't read Part 1 and Part 2 of this Story That Never Ends, I encourage you to go back and do that first. There is a through-line that will help you make sense of the following flogged-beyond-recognition analogy.)

I certainly didn't set out to confuse and frighten you, my lovely peeps, especially the ones who made me cry with your hugs at church yesterday. But as I look back on the past two entries, I can see why some of you were waiting for the next installment to be picked up by Boy#1, who is my designated blog poster if I am ever too feeble to talk about my personal medical history on the internet. (Oops, One! Did I forget to tell you that?)

But I probably should have added a spoiler alert when I ended the last post by being pushed into the ambulance. The spoiler is this: Hi, everyone! Waving from over here! At home!

The truth is that an initial diagnosis of a heart attack that is changed to a diagnosis of pulmonary embolisms is a tire-screeching veer into a treatment path that is quite different from the original treatment path. Heart attacks require tremendous activity; blood clots in the lung require the exact opposite.

When they closed the doors on the ambulance I was expecting to arrive at Big City Hospital and be rushed to the heart cath lab, maybe to be followed up by a visit from a surgeon who would explain surgical options and lifestyle changes. Instead, I was met by a team of nurses who let me do my own antiseptic wipe-down then hooked me up to monitors. I already had been jabbed in the stomach with a dose of blood thinner before we left Small Town, and there was nothing more to be done.

Let me see if I can explain this using a tortured analogy, which is my favorite way to explain things:

Either a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism has the potential to kill a person. The typical heart attack, though, is like a bomb exploding. It hurts, it knocks you off your feet, it damages things that may or may not be able to be fixed later.

A pulmonary embolism, on the other hand, is like one of those unexploded World War II landmines you read about being found under beds in London. (And a side note: I'm a terrible housekeeper, but how terrible a housekeeper must the owner of that flat be? VE Day was in 1945--you haven't cleaned under the bed in SEVENTY-TWO YEARS? Seriously?)

Anyway, that unexploded mine might never explode. It might stay there undetected for decades more. But something--deterioration, humidity, the knowledge that we're living in Trump's America--might cause that bomb to re-activate, and when that happens it's best to scurry off to the air raid shelters, because a PE can take. you. down. It stretches, yawns, then enters the blood stream to cut off circulation to the brain (a stroke) or the heart (a heart attack).

I don't know how long blood clots had been forming in my lungs. I'm guessing they'd been there for a while. Looking back on the spring Husband and I realize how many times I said "Man, I am so tired," and I found I no longer could walk up the 77 steps of Small College without panting, but I thought those were just normal signs of aging. It wasn't until the strain of breathing overtaxed my heart and sent me to the emergency room that I realized I had a landmine under the bed.

So what does one do to defuse a landmine that is still dangerous? Very little, as it turns out. One checks for collateral damage (and a 2D echocardiogram showed that in spite of the heart attack symptoms, my ticker is strong and undamaged, thank You, God). The shots of blood thinner in the stomach transition to a lifelong regimen of oral medicine, and a referral is made to a hematologist. A night in the cardiac ICU and another night in a ward bed end with discharge orders to "take it easy."

And now we wait. We wait for the wonderful, astounding creation that is the human body to absorb the clots, or to isolate them up scars that are stable and cannot enter the blood stream. That waiting could take several months.

The cliffhanger stages of this story are over. I have a couple more chapters to write about things that happened along the way, and I'll be meeting my new best friend (the hematologist) tomorrow to see if we can flesh out the orders to "take it easy."

In the meantime, though, it's been kind of nice to have permission to take a nap any old time I feel like it.

"Gosh, I'd love to vacuum, but I really need to take it easy."

The landmine is still there, but I'm a terrible housekeeper--the odds are excellent it's going to stay undisturbed for another 72 years.

(Wait! Don't leave! I have a few more things to say, so please come back tomorrow.)

Friday, April 7, 2017

This Is What Happened: Part 2

No, this isn't the same photo as yesterday. 
(If you haven't read Part 1 of this saga, you might want to do that first. Otherwise today's installment might not make sense.)

I wasn't entirely sure I trusted the emergency room doctor when I met him. I mean, this was no Doug Ross. Dr. V. was rumpled, and needed a shave, and I wasn't sure his level of urgency was the same as my own. (He did not once bark out the word "Stat!," which was both concerning and disappointing.)

But that doesn't mean he wasn't paying attention. You may have noticed a clue to the theme of today's post yesterday in the paragraph wherein I talked about giving my medical history over and over. If you noticed it, bravo, and I want you for my doctor because I certainly wasn't paying attention while I was saying it.

Dr. V. was.

He heard me mention that I'd had a superficial blood clot in my leg several years ago. It was so insignificant in the grand scheme of the day (BLOOD PRESSURE EMERGENCY) that I glossed over it, but after Dr. V. had let me know that my symptoms had won me an ambulance ride to the Big City for a heart cath, he came back to it.

"The ambulance can't be here immediately so I want you to have a CAT scan to make sure you don't have any clots in your lungs."

"And that," I thought to myself, "is why insurance costs are so high. Unnecessary and expensive medical procedures."

I didn't say it, of course, because as the senior medical staff in the room he also could have ordered the removal of my left pinkie and I probably would have agreed. So the lovely radiology technician wheeled me down to the coldest room south of Siberia, injected iodine into the crook of my elbow, and scanned my lungs. (Side note: If I were Queen of the World I would not promise tax breaks or more vacation time as the best things that could happen to my subjects. No, I would hand out those heated hospital blankets to everyone in the queendom. They are...I have no words for the wonderfulness that they are. I have mentioned often that they make the pains of childbirth worthwhile, and I will now amend that to include the pains of a heart attack.)

And speaking of pain, I had none. No sharp pain in my chest, no dull radiating pain into my jaw, no lower back pain because women experience heart attack pains differently than men do. No pain, except maybe (and the quiet, genteel doctor was thrilled to hear this description) "you know, that kind of pressure when your bra is too tight? Like you want to take a deep breath but it's kind of difficult?"

Husband was still keeping track of the blood pressure numbers while I gave him a list of people to call to cancel obligations and appointments. At one point he looked up at me: "I think when this is over we probably need to talk about your schedule." Point taken.

Finally the ambulance arrived and they strapped me onto the transport gurney. Just as we moved toward the door Dr. V. came hurrying back from radiology. He lowered his voice to let the ambulance attendants know, but I overheard the diagnosis.

"She has bilateral pulmonary embolisms."

And that's when I said "Well, CRAP."

If you have just been told you have bilateral pulmonary embolisms, please do not Google bilateral pulmonary embolisms because the information will discourage you from buying green bananas. I knew this because my father had pulmonary embolisms following his heart bypass, and my brother had pulmonary embolisms following a long airplane trip. I had Googled the term many times in the past, and it's horrifying.

So there I was, being loaded into the ambulance for a trip to the Big City, having just heard that while I had thought I was not having a good day I was actually having a really bad day, and my ruined pantyhose were in the wastebasket of the emergency room so my bare feet were uncomfortably stuck into my leather shoes, and the ambulance driver told me they weren't going to use lights or siren so really, what was the fun of an ambulance ride?

Well, CRAP.

(To be continued.)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

This Is What Happened: Part 1

Here are two of the things I thought as I lay flat on my back in the emergency room Monday afternoon:

I really should have cleaned out the refrigerator. I'm going to be so embarrassed when my compassionate friends come in to do that for Husband.

This is the absolute worst time of the year to die. 

I'm not sure what this post is going to be like. Over the past couple of days I've written it in my head several times. A couple of times it was funny, although more often than that it was quivering and shell-shocked. I suspect that today's installment will be the latter, but because I can't seem to tell this tale with minimal words, I'm sure to take more than one post to tell this story and I'll get to the funny parts before I'm done. Just maybe not today.

It's a story that began Monday as I was walking the few hundred feet from the parking lot to Husband's office. It was my morning to be his intern (as the lawyer down the hall teases me) and I knew there would be a stack of tax returns waiting for me to sort. I'd had a cold a couple of weeks ago and ever since then I seemed to be uncharacteristically short of breath when I walked up a flight of stairs, but suddenly I realized I was not going to make it from the car to the elevator without leaning against the alley wall to catch my breath.

"Well, this is not normal," I thought, and when I reached the office I called my doctor before I separated and stamped and filed tax returns. That pesky cold must have given me pneumonia.

A few hours later, though, the doctor listened to my lungs, and they were clear. His technician came in to set up an EKG, and ten seconds later, the word was back: The doctor wants you to go immediately to the emergency room. You appear to be having a heart attack.


I'm sure there are other ways of getting one's attention than this. Maybe "Madam, a velociraptor seems to be gnawing on your foot." Or "Did you realize that you are giving birth to a giraffe?" In my case, though, "You appear to be having a heart attack" were by far the most attention-focusing eight words in the English language.

They were pounding through my head as the doctor's assistant drove me the ten blocks or so to the local hospital. They were ringing in my ears as I called Husband, in tears, to ask him to meet me there. They were pulsing in my mind as I encouraged the ER nurse to tear holes in my pantyhose to attach diodes to my ankles, and admitted to her that I am the final woman in the Western hemisphere to wear pantyhose "and I always wear tights in the winter and bare legs in the summer, but right now it's too hot for tights and too cold for bare legs and...." I could not stop babbling about my pantyhose, and still the babble could not drown out the reality of YOU APPEAR TO BE HAVING A HEART ATTACK.

By now Husband had arrived and was watching the monitors. In the doctor's office my blood pressure had been shockingly high for me, a person who has taken great pride in her historically low numbers. (I'm out of shape everywhere else, but by golly, my diastolic and systolic are always stellar.)

"What was it in Dr. D's office?" he asked. 168/88, I told him. "Okay, you're still under that."

On the left side an efficient and calm nurse was taking my history. On the right an aide was sliding a large-bore access point into the crook of my elbow. I unclipped my Fitbit and handed it to Husband to stash with my purse and clothes.

And over and over I told the same story. A cold a couple of weeks ago. Undeserved good health all my life. Knee surgery in 1984. Four mostly-uneventful childbirths. A superficial blood clot in my lower right leg in 2008. Worked in the yard for three hours two days before. Shortness of breath. Shortness of breath. Shortness of breath.

I told the nurse, the student nurse, the ER doctor, while blood was being drawn and Husband watched the monitor readings go more and more dangerously high. He did not tell me the numbers but I could read on his face that they were not good.

They hit their peak when the doctor came back with the blood test results: My troponin levels were elevated. I had just graduated from "You appear to be having a heart attack" to "You are having a heart attack." Alarms sounded as my blood pressure hit (Husband told me later) 198/110.

And that's the moment I thought about my refrigerator, but the troponin was lying.

My word counter is telling me I'm going on way too long. I'll pick it this up tomorrow.

Monday, March 27, 2017

I Write Because I'm Happy

This recipe has been used a bazillion times
My last post about books I've recently read was so much fun that I turned around and wrote another post immediately.

Ha! Ha! Ha!

No, of course I didn't. But I thought about writing another post immediately, which should count. The fun of my books post was that you lovely readers responded with titles of books you've been reading and suggestions for more books, and wheeeee! Now all I want to do is read.

But I didn't want to leave you hanging without letting you know some of the things that are making me happy at the start of this week.

1. Boy#1 emailed last night with a request for a bread recipe I used often while the Boys were growing up. (Check out the recipe card--that puppy has been dripped on, spattered, tattered, and burned.) It was my mom's recipe and I felt as if I was giving Boy and Lovely Girl a bequest straight from her when I sent it off this morning. Of course, I had to give auxiliary instructions, which included updating for KitchenAid kneading and "Keep the rye flour in the freezer--you'll only use it for this, and it's too expensive to let it get buggy."  Gah. I'm surprised I didn't remind him make sure all his buttons were in the right buttonholes before he left for work.

2. And speaking of grown-up Boys, numbers Two and Three (and Four, for just the weekend) were in and out of the House on the Corner last week, which is another of my happy things. Two was doing research that involved camping in my brother's pasture for three days because it's far enough from power lines to not interfere with the sensors he was using, and Three was on spring break so he went along so that he could lord it over his friends who were spending their breaks in Cancun that HE had spent break in a KANSAS PASTURE, and nanny-nanny-pooh-pooh.

3. Spring is making me happy, especially since it rained last night and now I can worry a little less about our trees and shrubs being thirsty. My women's group is selling bedding plants with proceeds to support educational projects for women, and I am afraid I am going to buy All The Plants by accident because they just look so yummy in the flyer. (Also, if you want to support educational projects for women, need some dandy hanging baskets or bedding plants at good prices, and can pick them up in Small Town on April 15, hit me up. But do it quickly, because I have to turn in my orders this week. It's a good cause. Really.)

4. And finally, I'm happy because this sit-com is hilarious and is restoring my faith in NBC sit-coms. Oh, people. I thought when Parks and Rec turned out the lights in Pawnee that I would never laugh at a half hour show again, but Trial and Error is restoring my faith in funny. And sure, I would have preferred that the show description that my link sends you to not say "Something's afoot when the team finds a 'sex-print' left in Larry's room," but take my word that most of this show is not that but is watchable with a grown-up son, as I did with Boy#3 this week.

What's making you happy today?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Also, I've Been Reading

The picture that opens this post has nothing to do with what I'm actually going to write about, but since the other images today are "borrowed" from Amazon (and I'm pretty sure that if you click through to buy a book they wouldn't mind, even though I have no financial stake in that decision) I thought I'd participate in the Pi Day frenzy.

When I visited a couple of weeks ago this was the daily specials board at the cafe in the small town near where I grew up. Pie! Pie! Pie! Also, carbs over carbs with a side of carbs. It was delicious, she said defiantly.

But back to what I'm really aiming toward talking about today, which is, what I've been reading. Yes, in addition to ACTING in the opera (maybe the most fun I've had since, oh, I can't remember when), my jam-packed schedule has included more reading than any time in the last decade or so. I'm always looking for recommendations of good books (and I assume you are as well) so here's a sampling of what I've read. I recommend them all.

A Man Called Ove. I know! I was the final person in the world to read this book, largely because I am perhaps the cheapest person in the world and my spot on the waiting list at the Kansas state library's e-book collection did not come up for months. The timing was perfect, though, because the day before January's Iceamageddon was to occur I was notified that it was in my queue. Since Iceamageddon did not actually happen at all but everything was cancelled I spent the entire day cuddled into an afghan getting to know Ove. He seems to be a type I am predisposed to love, since I also love Doc Martin, and I highly recommend this to anyone who believes there is redemption for the cranky.

The Underground RailroadAnother one for which I waited until all the buzz had died down and no one wanted to talk about any more. It has been out long enough that I don't think I'm spoiling anything by revealing that this underground railroad is actually a  railroad that is underground which, hmmmm. It's an intriguing premise, and I was rooting hard for Cora, but I was not as bowled over as the critics and Oprah were.

Rules of Civility. This one I had never heard of, but someone recommended it to me and I pass along that recommendation with no reservations. I loved the narrator and her aspirations to be more than a typist, I loved the descriptions of the Depression-era music, I loved the matter-of-fact way Kate lived her life in spite of her unpredictable friends. But even this book wasn't as much of a delight to me as...

I Capture the Castle. I paid 50 whole cents for this when I saw it on the Friends of the Library sale shelf. Oh, people, if I'd have known I'd have paid up to a thousand times that. Two thousand, because what a lovely book! Wikipedia informs me it was written in 1948, when Dodie Smith was living in California. It's set in England sometime between the two Great Wars, and the narrator is a 17-year-old girl who wants to be a writer. Her family is living in a crumbling castle, and...well, you just MUST read it. It's Downton Abbey without any money, pretensions, or missing Gutenberg Bibles.

So that's what I've been doing as I'm pretend I'm super-super-busy.

What have you been reading?