Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I'm New to This

Alligator log. Another photography class project, and you have to squint to see it.
Why, yes, this is me. Posting twice in two days. Or, as my Loyal Reader(s) might think, posting twice IN THE SAME DAY.

The last post about my photography class? Was posted yesterday. But you might not have seen it until today because Facebook is a terrible nag. Let me explain:

A couple of months ago I decided there might be people visiting this space who aren't my Facebook friends in real life (or IRL, as we hip web-sters say). These people might not give two hoots about my personal opinions on baseball results (oh, Royals, we grieve) or on whether the latest episode of Outlander was boringly Claire-centric, or at least boringly Claire-in-Boston-centric.

So I set up a Facebook page especially for this blog. It's right here: Empty Nest Feathers.* That page is navel-gazing and trivialities all the time.

What I didn't know was that Facebook is the biggest nag since Edith Bunker, but in a much less lovable way.

"You haven't posted for six days--your readers miss you!" this new page informs me if I look away for a moment.

"You could increase readership if you posted more often," it whines, as if I weren't aware of this pretty obvious fact.

"Where are you? Do you still exist?" it guilt-trips.

Okay, I made that last one up, but I am not making up that my blog's Facebook page nags incessantly.

That's why yesterday when I posted my positive review of my photography class I made sure to link it to the blog's Facebook page. That's the only reason I can think of that I didn't link it to my personal page, and instead set the privacy setting of that link to "groups."

What does that even mean? Does it mean my high school class reunion pals now have special insight into my non-skills in photography? Or the group that shares pressure cooker recipes? Or the fans of The New Yorker? All I know is that I did not get one single reaction to yesterday's post that didn't come from the blog's own Facebook page, and that meant either I had done something wrong or my Much Older Sister no longer loved me. (Thank you, MOS, for six decades of being my staunchest supporter. Mwah!)

This morning, when I discovered the errant setting and undid that goof, the world settled back into its normal groove. My Loyal Reader(s) read, my terrible photography prevailed, and Facebook nagged me that I could "Improve interaction with more posts, MomQueenBee!"

Ah. Back to normal.


*Thank you, thank you, if you have liked that page! It gave me a warm glow!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Say "Cheesy"

Over-edit much?
There is a woman in Small Town who takes the most beautiful pictures with her cell phone.

I am Facebook friends with her, and Mr. Zuckerberg's algorithms consistently pop J.'s shots straight to the top of my feed because I click the heart-y emoticon every time she posts. Sunflowers, people, architectural features--they're all good in a way that's inexplicably visceral, and she shoots them on her iPhone.

That's why I was in the first few students to sign up when J. agreed to teach an iPhone photography class.

I am a terrible, terrible photographer. Of all the classes I've ever taken in my life, my worst grade was in my (required) college photography class. Granted, that's only because I saw the Cyrillic handwriting on the wall and changed my Russian class from graded to pass/fail before a Deh was recorded in my transcript, but the psychic scars from that photography class left have persisted through a career in which I was regularly called on to take pictures.

But guess what? The iPhone is a magic gizmo that has none of the trauma of f-stops and apertures and ISO and film speed and whatever. (Maybe you're seeing why I got such a terrible grade in photographer? It was the "whatever" factor.)

And J. is a delightful teacher who acts as if each of her students is so clever for seeing that afternoon light, or that interesting bark texture, or look! It's a butterfly on a flower!

She and her co-teacher, E. (who is in charge of the Android users), continually encourage as they lead us old ladies--yup, all women in the class--through the different on-screen editing techniques.

So now I've been thoroughly converted. The pepitas I made Saturday suddenly weren't just a crunchy salad topping, they were texture! Color! Autumnal! And my phone wasn't just a camera, it was crop! Sharpen! Adjust saturation! Add golden glow!

Four classes and I've moved from someone who's afraid of photography straight to one of those annoying over-editors who think their snapshots are Old Master landscapes.  It's a shame I missed the interim stage of taking good pictures and leaving them alone.

But I'm finally having fun with photography. Now if I could only exorcise that Russian class....


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Remembering the Day of No Time Left

I only used this twice, but it reminds me of when the walk from the car to the store was too much.

Six months ago last Monday I went to work thinking I might have pneumonia. I'd had a cold, and just couldn't seem to shake the breathless feeling that goes with all those viral bodies sharing mine. I felt worn-out, and even walking up one flight of stairs left me gasping for air.

Of course, if you've read this blog for any length of time you all know that it wasn't a cold. My visit to the doctor's office revealed that I was having a heart attack, which an emergency room scan showed was caused by multiple pulmonary embolisms.

Spoiler alert: I didn't die. But this is the kind of thing that kills (I'm trying to decipher the statistics, but it looks like about one out of five patients with my diagnosis don't make it) and certainly during that day I was coming to grips with the fact that I might be that one out of five. Instead I was sent home after two nights in the hospital with a prescription for blood thinners and orders to take it easy for a while.

Now, six months later, I'm always a little surprised when people ask how I'm feeling: That ambulance ride seems like a long, long time ago.

The short answer is that I'm feeling fine. Robust, even. I'm eating better and am back on the exercise bike routine. I have been more self-preservational in saying 'no' to new volunteer commitments, and Husband is solicitous about watching to see if I'm getting worn out when we travel.

But the experience has forever changed how I look at time.

When I was young, and even through the Boys' growing-up years, I assumed I had All The Time. There was time waiting for me out there to travel, to spruce up the shabby spots in the House on the Corner, to learn to quilt and to play the accordion. Most of the time, though, I was paddling so hard just keeping up with a job and a family that those things were put on hold until the house was clean.

The house was never clean.

As I neared retirement age, it occurred to me that time wasn't an unlimited commodity, but I still had Most Of The Time. I was healthy and privileged, and I could choose the best uses of my time--I'd be one of those people who see the world and run marathons while on Medicare. (See also: My father.)

That day in April, when I thought I had arrived at No Time Left, has left me acutely aware of my status as one with Not Much Time. This isn't because I necessarily think my lungs are going to try to kill me again, it's just a fact of life that I have arrived at the final quarter of my fourscore years.

And Not Much Time brings with it the realization I won't be traveling to all the places I had hoped to visit in my life, or reading all the books I had hoped to devour. The time I have to spend with people I love is not unlimited (if you're in the mood for a really good bout of depression, try the calculator in this story). Heck, even the good hair days I have left are probably trackable.

You may think this is the most awful thing in the world, to realize that you've arrived at Not Much Time, but I'm here to tell you that, mostly, it is not. Not Much Time, it turns out, is a wake-up call and not a sentence.

Instead, I find myself really appreciating moments and events so much more than I did when I had All The Time. Because I might have missed so much I'm really present in the good moments--discovering again and again that I won the Husband lottery; seeing all of the Boys finish school, and appreciating their persistence during the days when nothing was easy or enjoyable; wearing a hat to accompany two different musicals; taking my dad to South Dakota in the fall; heck, even the all-pie restaurant was part of the last six months.

I plan to live a good long time longer, but on the day I thought I had reached No Time Left I also realized that my plans aren't driving the bus or dictating the schedule. If tomorrow is my actual No Time Left day, I want to make sure I've done that day right. So now, I'm knitting when I want to knit, sitting when I want to sit, reading the good books and enjoying the great moments. Oh, and I'm hugging my loved ones as if...well, you know.

I'm feeling great.



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Is This a Job?


Have I mentioned that I have a new job? I am now the proud accompanist of the middle school choir classes at the Other Small Town just down the road from Small Town.

However, "job" might not be the precisely correct word to use for what I'm doing two mornings each week.

It has all the trappings of a job--I had to fill out an actual job application, and be interviewed by an actual principal of the school, and I punch a time clock each morning (something I find inexplicably delightful), and I've been told I'll be sent a paycheck (although I haven't been here long enough to experience this).

But it's also unlike any job I've ever had.

For one thing, I have four Saturdays every week. I only work Mondays and Wednesdays, so on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and actual Saturday I wake up thinking "Oh, yay! It's Saturday!"

(That schedule is theoretical. I'm job-sharing with a lovely retired friend, so this week when she and her husband jetted off to Hilton Head, I also worked Tuesday. Next week, when she's back Tuesday night, I'll work Monday and Tuesday, and she'll work Wednesday and Thursday because I have the spelling bee on Wednesday. Fridays the real teacher is on her own. Fortunately, I am still at the point where this higher-level schedule-keeping is exciting.)

It's also unlike a job because when I walk out the middle school doors at mid-afternoon I am DONE. D-O-N-E. No lesson planning, no test grading, no rehashing of what worked or didn't work, no parent-teacher conferences, no calls. This leaves me time to concentrate on my other half-time job that is an actual job even if the hours are flexible, and on the half dozen other job-like things that I do on a freelance basis.

Also, because I am not an actual teacher, I can fully enjoy these middle schoolers. I have always been told that a person either loves or hates teaching middle school, and to my great surprise, I'm finding these students delightful. They make me laugh, except when they make me want to roll my eyes, and because someone else is responsible for their discipline and class comportment, I'm free to enjoy their wardrobe choices and the huggy-huggy-huggy nature of these creatures. (OH my GOSH! When did middle school become so huggy? I don't remember hugging a single person who was not related to me when I was that age.) (Sadly, they are hugging each other and not their teachers, or at least not this teacher-adjacent person. I love hugs.)

So, to sum up: I have to show up when I'm supposed to show up, I support the teacher but I don't have any real responsibilities beyond that, and in theory, they are going to send me a paycheck.

Is this a job? Next February, when it's finger-freezingly cold and I have to be on the road by 7:15 it will be a job, but so far, not so much.


(This post brought to you by the Society for Promotion and Propagation of Parentheses. In re-reading, I realize I had a lot of asides to share.)

Monday, September 25, 2017

It's a New Week!


Good morning! And how's your week going so far?

The bad news: I was trapped in the house by dangerous wildlife.

The good news: The wildlife was spotted before I was trapped in its silken web and consumed.

The even better news: We have several doors and I escaped, leaving my manly Husband to deal with the issue.

It's going to be a good week.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Yep, He's a Swell Guy


I know, I know. You all are sick and tired of me telling you what a swell guy Husband is. I mean, a man who would subscribe to Starz just because his wife is partial to Scottish accents? That's a swell guy.

I was reminding myself of his legendary swellness a few days ago when right after we got into the car for a trip to the Big City. We're remodeling a bathroom (which will be a WHOLE SERIES of posts if it is completed before the Rapture, something that is not looking at all sure right now), and we needed to check out plumbing fixtures at the warehouse.

Of course we went in Earl and Husband was at the wheel, because I have a daydreaming problem that is a little gasp-inducing when combined with driving. The first thing the love of my life did, even before he put on his seat belt, was flip his side of the temperature control to LO. LO means the goal temperature is colder than the 64 degrees that is the coldest number that registers, and Husband has the (mistaken) notion that this cools the car faster when it has been sitting in the sun. I set my side at 72 degrees. Then I fumed and froze, which would seem to be physically impossible but is not.

Individual temperature controls are a lovely concept, but I've discovered that they're a concept that is akin to having a no-smoking section in a restaurant or a no-peeing zone in a pool. Everything gets all mixed up anyway, so why bother?

And that's why I was furiously Googling "What happens to a car's engine when my husband sets his temperature control to Arctic and I set my temperature control to a reasonable temperature?" as we drove down the road. Google had no answer for this.

I stayed metaphorically and physically chilly as we evaluated shower heads and discussed vessel sinks, and I wistfully imagined that all the magnificent bathtubs filled were with hot water and me.

Finally we finished and were back in the car. I steeled myself for the cold air onslaught, but instead he turned to me with a suggestion.

"Let's go someplace different--how about you look up those 50 meals you shouldn't miss?"

And that's how we ended up eating bibimbap in a tiny hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant with decor that featured snapshots of previous diners. On my own, I would have gone to something familiar, some chain with a full salad menu.

The food was delicious (my first time to try kimchi) but even better was the adventure, laughing at my laughable chopstick technique and comparing which sauce was the hottest. The sizzling hot stone that held the bibimbap warmed me right up and by the time we left I had gotten over Husband's questionable choices in thermostat settings.

He's a swell guy, and I can wear a sweater.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Not Just a Game


Almost as soon as I volunteered to drive my father to South Dakota I regretted it.

It's not that I don't love my father (I do, almost to a you-need-a-session-of-therapy degree). I had a big work deadline, though, and the trip sounded grueling. With four sons and a husband, all of whom are better drivers than I am, I rarely take the wheel for more than a few miles, and the distance from my father's house in northern Kansas to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Googles out at just over six hours if you allow no flex for bathroom breaks or blood-clot-prevention walks.

But my father is an Olympic champion and the games were on.

Dad swam a few times a year when I was growing up, mostly when we were on vacation. In those days he was a full-time school administrator who also had a working farm, so his spare time was spent on the tractor or hauling feed for hogs. But then, as he neared retirement from his job as director of a vocational college, he got the harebrained idea that the college needed an indoor swimming pool. The itty-bitty town where I grew up was way, way too small to have that kind of facility so I'm sure there may have been some eyerolling behind his back about this idea.

However, when my father gets a really good idea, no matter how harebrained that idea, he is a hard-headed, stubborn, persistent snapping turtle of a man. He wrote grants and schmoozed politicians and talked local philanthropists into writing hefty checks, and soon people in that tiny town were swimming laps and doing aquacise year round.

Then, when they couldn't find lifeguards to cover all the hours the pool was open, he took a Red Cross course and certified as a lifeguard. He began swimming laps every day, and in his mid-70s discovered the world of Senior Olympics.

Now that Willard Scott is no longer on the air, Senior Olympics provide an excellent reward for people who reach age milestones. By the time he was in his mid-80s the competition had thinned out dramatically, and when he hit the 90-95 age category he had pretty much become the sole survivor.

"I don't outswim people, I just outlive 'em," he explains casually.

This assessment is not incorrect. Dad's swimming form is not the stuff of which YouTube tutorials are made, but the whippersnapper 52-year-olds flinging themselves off the starting blocks and doing flip turns at the end of each lap shake his hand in admiration of his persistence.

I had seen this before at previous competitions, so when my Older Younger Brother (who usually chauffeurs Dad to his meets) couldn't make this one, I volunteered.

Then I regretted and fretted until we got on the road early last Wednesday morning.

Dad is almost deaf now, so we didn't talk about trivialities in the car. No politics, no commentary on the news. We only talked about important things: Family. Bill Snyder. How beautiful that field on the edge of Iowa looks.

Every once in a while he would sigh deeply, happily, and say "You just don't know how much I enjoy this, to have one-on-one time with one of my kids."

He has acquired the habit of holding hands while he prays over food, so as he blessed our Dairy Queen chicken strips my fingers were enveloped in his still-calloused farmer hands. These prayers of grace were an extension of the typical all-day-long conversation he carries on with God, speaking to the Creator as to a good friend.

In spite of some pre-race jitters (mostly centered around whether the course would be the usual 25 yards or a more taxing 50 yards) Dad went into the pool five times and emerged as winner in all five races. Local athletic hero Frank Farrar was in China, but even he wouldn't have changed the results; Dad was once again the only competitor 90- to 95-year-old age group.

We started back for home as soon as the last race was finished, and the sun was setting. Dad was tired and quiet for many miles, and then I heard a voice from the passenger seat. He was talking to his friend again.

"You know how this morning at 4 a.m. You told me You'd be with me all day, no matter what happened?" Dad said. "Well, You weren't kidding, and I really appreciate that."

All of my worries, all of my fretting about whether I'd have the stamina to drive 800 miles in two days, all of the concerns about navigating through cities at rush hour were behind me.

You don't know how much I enjoyed it, one-on-one with my dad.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Roses Are Red....


I've talked before about my posse of high school friends who have continued to hang out through the decades until we've reached the point where we're looking at the "old" classes at our hometown reunion weekend and saying "Wait...what is our class doing in that group?"

All four of us are now either semi- or totally retired (and, as one of the semi- group, I might argue that the difference between these two states is approximately the difference between store brand semisweet chocolate chips and Ghiradelli 60% Dark Chocolate, but I digress) so we're thinking about how to keep our minds engaged and useful for the next three decades.

Okay, so everyone else is trying to keep their minds engaged. I'm just trying to get the Starz app to play on our Smart TV so I can see what Claire's wearing on Outlander, but I was intrigued when friend K. wrote this week that she's decided to start memorizing poetry again.

"One of my plans is to review some of my 'old' memorized poems and freshen up the memory. I've long thought that having a poem to recite (for others or in my head) is a nice diversion when having to wait in line, or pass an otherwise boring period of time."

You know how experts say you should hang around with people who are what you aspire to be? This is what I'm talking about. For decades, most poetry I've read with joy was written by Shel Silverstein, and the only poem I recited with any regularity was the one in today's GIF that was shrieked at the top of my lungs for two decades during Boy-rearing. (On a somewhat related note, we're starting our bathroom remodel this week.)

Inspired by my friend (who can still recite "The Highwayman,") I delved into my memory for poems that might be freshened up. Back in the day, grade school kids memorized a fair amount of poetry, and I could still holler out "'Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, but spare your country's flag,' she said!" Ah, Barbara Fritchie, how I loved your service in the Revolutionary War. I also heard drumbeats in the back of my mind as I intoned the first lines of "Hiawatha": "By the shores of Gitchee Gumee, by the shining Deep-Sea-Waters, stands the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis."

Oh, these would be perfect to refresh! But wait...

Google informed me that Barbara Fritchie was yelling at Stonewall Jackson, so clearly she was not old during the Revolutionary War. Also, Nokomis did not figure in the first stanza of Hiawatha.

Apparently my entire childhood was a lie, and I'm now trying to jog my mental picture of these two classic poems into reality.

The only poetic reality that still rings true is from my adulthood, and I can shriek it at the top of my lungs:

IF YOU SPRINKLE WHEN YOU TINKLE, BE A SWEETIE AND WIPE THE SEATIE!  OR ELSE!

(I may have composed that last phrase myself.)




Thursday, August 24, 2017

My Latest Costume

Ten minutes after the final curtain
This is my blog, right? And I have the right to censor/Photoshop/improve any pictures I put on this blog, even especially the ones that are taken of me, all me, and only me? So why in the world would I lead today's entry with this selfie, which features a tired-looking elderly lady with unbelievable bags under her eyes and clear indication of a bad hair day?

Because it's my second costume! As I mentioned a few months ago, a plain black accompanist outfit becomes a costume when a hat is added, and the latest community theater offering was Hello, Dolly!

This time my hat connection decided I needed more pizzazz so the sparkly pillbox number of my first costume was replaced with a sparkly, feather-bedecked wagon wheel that bumped on my neck when I leaned back to give cues to the bass player. It was fabulous.

Community theater, I am discovering, is a ton of fun. That was not my reaction the first night of rehearsals, when I sat down at the piano to take my first look at the score and discovered there was no musical director. My inner sputterer went into full shout mode.

"But...but...but...but who sets the tempo? Who says 'one, two, three, go? Who cues the singers?? How many ways will I screw this up?"

The answers to these questions turned out to be "I do," "I do," "I do," and "More than I can even imagine."

I even cornered a friend, who has done community theater for years with my concerns.

"What you need to remember is that we're mostly not professionals, we're doing this for fun, so have fun with us," he told me.

So I went with the flow. I quit apologizing every time I screwed up, because that would have meant feeling remorse after every. single. song, and eventually I screwed up less. I began learning the names of the people in the cast I'd never met (how can I live in Small Town for 30 years and never have met them?) and appreciating the hundreds of hours of work they were investing in this project. This cast rehearsed four times a week, and showed up once more each week to work on tech. (I felt like a piker, limiting my own participation to two weekly rehearsals in a nod to the doctor's "take life easier" orders.)

To my utter amazement, I found myself looking forward to rehearsals. I loved reassuring the big-voiced soloist who was unsure of his entrance that he shouldn't worry--I'd find him, and we'd reach the final note together. I laughed every time Dolly pointed out that "This room is positively crawling with men!" and I gave myself a mental high-five when I finished the "Waiter's Gallop" at the same time as the galloping waiters.

It was fun.

The play has been over for a week now, and I find myself humming its songs less often. But I woke up this morning with the lyrics to "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" running through my head, reminding me to "put on my feathers, my patent leathers, my beads and buckles and bows," and I smiled.

Then I put on my hat.


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...

via GIPHY


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:

via GIPHY

Or maybe this:

via GIPHY

Okay, fine. It was probably more like this.

via GIPHY

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, or...you 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?