Thursday, November 10, 2022

This Is Not a Political Post

I had hoped to write this post yesterday, but yesterday I was a useless bag of bones. As I had suspected, I am no longer able to work a 14-hour day then bounce back with cheerful energy the following day. 

Tuesday I did something I've wanted to do since the first time I cast a vote: I donned a pin identifying me as an official poll worker and spent the day helping voters carry out their democratic duties. And even though some of my candidates won and some did not win, I left the polling place more hopeful about the future of our democracy than I have been for some time. 

If you don't want to read through a whole slather of words (and just who has been slathering you with words while I've been on break?) here's the bottom line: 

This election crew in Small Town was absolutely dedicated to making sure every single person who showed up had a chance to vote, and that every legitimate vote was counted correctly, and that every vote count was reported scrupulously. 

And just as importantly, of the 450-plus voters for whom I checked credentials, there were exactly two persons who made a single partisan comment, and those two comments were non-threatening and non-specific. 

Friends, this was not at all what I expected. I read the news, listen to radio reports frequently, and occasionally watch commentators on television through splayed fingers. I saw the balaclava-masked armed "observers" looming over the ballot boxes in Arizona. I had been horrified by the traction gained by the Big Lie concerning the 2020 election. What was the truth?

So it was an easy decision when I was contacted about being a poll worker. My flexible, mostly-retired schedule can now afford a day off so I went through pre-election training. There I asked an innocent question: Should I bring my knitting for the lulls during the day? I remembered when my mother was a poll worker in the rural township where I grew up, which had a total of (if I'm remembering correctly) 27 registered voters. She did most of her Christmas knitting on election day. The burst of laughter let me know that this isn't the case in Small Town. 

I showed up at our 6:00 a.m. report time packing my lunch, snacks, and a day's worth of coffee. By then the senior members of the election team had set up the voting stations, but I opened the first sealed bags of ballots to get them ready for early voters. Then I was assigned to my spot as a Poll Pad judge, got a quick tutorial on the iPad-based ID verification system, and we were off and running. 

"Every voter who comes in and wants to vote will vote," we were told. If there's a problem with the registration, such a name change from the driver's license to the voter registration because of marriage, or someone is voting in the wrong location, the voter would need to fill out a provisional ballot to be counted separately. This process has the side advantage of cleaning up voter rolls--a change of address for the next election is filled out on the spot. 

Every single voter had to be identified with photo ID, and every single voter had to match name and address to the registration rolls before being given a ballot and casting a vote. 

When the polls opened at 7 a.m. voters came in like the tide, snaking through the crowd control stanchions like cranky travelers working their way to the ticket counter. The room was packed. But by 7:27 a.m. (I checked my watch) every one of those persons had been verified and moved on to voting. For the rest of the day, although traffic was steady, we never had more than a dozen or so persons in line and almost everyone moved immediately to a verification clerk. Not one person I verified was peevish or nasty. 

By the time I left the polling place at 8 p.m. I was ready to be done, but I also had a new perspective on our elections. Here are my take-aways from a day on the election frontlines:

1. People are interesting, and a driver's license is a great ice-breaker. I complimented one man's flowing beard and handlebar mustache and he pulled out his business card--as Santa Claus! Santa votes in Small Town!
2. Voters want their votes to count. Provisional ballots take slightly longer than regular ballots, but I didn't see anyone walk away from the process. (I don't guarantee this across the whole election, only what was observable from my piece of the process, but I'm fairly confident this statement holds.)
3. Election workers at our polling place are top-notch. Every vote was crucial to us, and we all wanted to be impartial irrespective of our personal views.  
4. Democracy is important, and we may yet be able to save it.

Also, I am now old and creaky and my wonky hip and knees do not like long days. But I'll be back for the next election if I'm invited. This is important work, and I want to be part of it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Be Patient With Me--I'm a Toddler

Happy birthday to this cutie who made me a mother!

The screensaver on my computer plays a never-ending stream of old pictures from the folders I have amassed over the years. Frankly, this is one of my favorite features of the digital age because I frequently catch a glimpse of a shot I might not have otherwise remembered.

This morning for example, I saw the face of a perfectly contented one-year-old Boy#1, who had just finished a meal of spaghetti. He is happy, the bowl is empty, and there is complete oblivious peace regarding the spaghetti sauce that coats his highchair, face, bib, arms, and the general three-states area.

So how are things going now that I'm two weeks and three days into having a broken wing? Well, pretty much like Boy#1 in this picture. I'm mostly content, well fed, and learning new things every day.

And, holy cow, am I messy.

Much of the messiness, to be sure, is inside my head. The Puritan work ethic that is especially strong in Kansans is leading to much guilt about what I cannot do. What I cannot do is what formerly filled the majority of my time.

I cannot cook. I cannot clean. I cannot type. I cannot knit. I cannot play the piano. (And we will not even mention the personal hygiene things that are difficult but not impossible to do one-handed, including showering, combing my hair, moisturizing my “good” arm, etc.)

Every single thing I do, including the things that I used to do without even thinking about them, takes many multiples of the amount of time it normally take. I'm looking at you, toothbrushing.

What I can do, I am finding, is figure out how to do the things that have to be done and quit doing everything else.

This post, for example, is being composed using voice-to-text technology. I'm speaking thoughts into my computer's microphone and it is more-or-less accurately transcribing them into a Word document that I will copy and paste into the blog. I do not like doing it this way. I've long thought that my fingers did most of the thinking for me when I typed, and now I know that is actually the case. But I'm grateful that this technology exists and I'm building new synapses as I learn how to use it.

I'm getting better at using eating utensils in my left hand. I believe I no longer look like a deranged toddler shoveling half my food into my mouth while the other half drops in my lap. But I have a great admiration for those toddlers who are figuring out how to use spoons and forks without having a real appreciation for why this is better than using their hands. (Is it? Is it, really?)

I am discovering the best wardrobe options for a one-handed person. This includes a total lack of fasteners--no buttons, no hooks and eyes, nothing to tie or buckle. Over-the-head T-shirts and elastic-waisted skirts are my friends. And why skirts, you might ask? Because in the complicated world of dressing and toileting, anything that doesn't need to be pulled up with two hands is a plus.

Pillows are essential. I sleep surrounded by fluffiness that can prop up the cast in the most comfy position. That cast by the way, cannot possibly weigh more than a pound or two but feels as if I'm hoisting a barbell at all times. A sling is helpful but mostly that just transfers the weight to a neck that is already achey.

I'll be honest, though: The most crucial component in this healing process is a husband with a servant heart.

Husband does not cook. At all. But since I made my way head-first into the iris bed, he has done the shopping, prepared the meals, set the table, cut up my food, and cleaned up afterwards.

And have I mentioned that we're doing this in the middle of a kitchen remodel? All kitchen duties are undertaken in the most primitive of conditions. I kept him company one night as he was washing the dishes on the deck, having filled the dishpan in the bathtub.

“It's like camping, isn't it?” I asked him.

“Yes, but with Wi-Fi and air conditioning,” he replied. “It's not so bad.”

I decided that for the next month or so that's going to be my mantra. This isn't my usual life, with its activities and responsibilities. But it could have been so much worse and I have Husband pampering me at every turn, good books, and Acorn streaming on the TV.

I may have spaghetti all over my face but it's not so bad.

He's a keeper.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Not the Memorial Day Memory I Expected


Woohoo! Class of '72!

I already was planning to write a blog post about the Memorial Day weekend. Truly! I knew there would be a ton of things to discuss and it's been months since I checked in.

It was, after all, my 50th year class reunion. (How? Just how?) I had waited 50 year to be in the class that sits smack-dab in the middle of the main intersection of Tiny Hometown while the firetrucks and decked-out horses and antique cars drive by for the honor class's approval. 

Somehow I'd become part of the organizing committee for this grand event and after looking at old yearbooks and scanning pictures  and compiling lists, I'd gotten excited about seeing the Class of '72 after a half century. (And I repeat, how did that happen?) 

And it was also the first time since before the pandemic that all of the Boys who live within driving distance of where I grew up would be back on The Farm. Even though we'd be sad to be missing the #Two family, I couldn't wait. The stories I'd be able to tell about Baby Wonderful #1 meeting the feral sheep!

I got within half an hour of living that imagined post. That was when, on Saturday morning, my 95-year-old-father came in the back door with his hand dripping blood. He had fallen in the basement and the resulting skin tear was more than dripping--blood thinners and tissue-paper-thin elderly blood are a tricky combination. While Dad's wife applied pressure I stepped out on the deck to try to get cell phone reception, something the pioneers forgot to include when they were building the limestone house 150 years ago.

I started a text to my Youngest Brother, who lives just a couple hundred yards down the road from Dad and would know how to proceed. He's a farmer and a volunteer firefighter and what he doesn't know about emergencies probably isn't worth knowing. That's what I was thinking, anyway, as I was walking across the deck looking for those elusive bars and stepped off the edge, swan-diving face-first into my mother's iris bed.

It is a most disconcerting feeling, and one that provokes an amazing array of reactions during the literal split second between the right foot missing the deck edge and the right hand/arm/shoulder/sternum/lower extremities hitting the ground. I mean, the drop is two feet. How was I able to do so much internal processing in this amount of time?

"WHAAAAT?" I thought.

 "Oh, crap," I thought.

"That was stupid," I thought.

"This is going to hurt," I thought.

And then I hit the ground and it did hurt. A lot. 

I allowed myself a few seconds to relax and reflect there in the irises. Was I alive? Yes. What hurt the most? Definitely the sternum to shoulder route, where a Game of Thrones  assassin was stabbing his war sword straight through from front to back. I started to lift my right arm to check for blood, and what do you know! There was something more disconcerting than pain, and that was the clearly discernible grating noise coming from my forearm.

At that moment, like a knight in shining armor, Youngest Brother appeared through the iris leaves in my peripheral vision. He was (and I'm not kidding) carrying a big pan of biscuits and gravy and for a second episode of split-second multiple thoughts, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  I mean, can you think of a better way  for St. Peter to welcome you in? But no, YB was just bringing breakfast for the gang and he set the pans on the deck before dashing over to assess the situation.

Within moments he was doing triage. Boy#4 had arrived on the scene and (still not kidding) THOUGHT I WAS DOING SOME GARDENING. (Later Four admitted that he doesn't know of many kinds of gardening that are done face-down and crumpled on the ground with skirts barely providing dignity.) Youngest Brother dashed inside for a magazine (without staples) that he rolled up and taped to my arm, and the improvised splint made life worth living again. He and Husband carefully rolled me to a sitting position, then lifted me to my feet and got me into the front seat of the car. Dad was bundled into the backseat, and 10 miles later we were in adjoining rooms of Tiny Hometown's excellent emergency room.

There it was confirmed that my right arm was indeed broken, but I had managed a nice clean break. The assassin's war sword was diagnosed as stretched and abused muscles/tendons/whatever and would heal without intervention. Dad got a few squirts of Super Glue For Skin and made it to the parade in time to be honored with the rest of the veterans.

I, sadly, did not make it to the parade but dropped into one of the day's later events where I discovered the rumor was that I had broken my nose. 

Later, as reunion participants Facebook-gushed about how much fun the day had been, I was sad to have missed it. But I realized I got much out of the day that my classmates did not. A sweet navy blue cast, for example. The brand-new knowledge that  putting on underwear and earrings are both jobs for two hands. The realization that I may have been remiss in my sons' gardening education.

But also, a deep, deep knowledge that this could have been so much worse. I'm boundlessly grateful for the relatively soft landing strip of iris, and especially that Youngest Brother was there within literal seconds of that landing.

It wasn't the memory I expected, but it's the one I have, and I'm grateful.

My mother's irises may never be the same. 

Monday, February 7, 2022

Wordle Knows I'm a Terrible Sport


Before I begin this whine, I need to preface it with a solid declaration that I love word games.

Love. Them.

I love Scrabble, and spelling bees (obviously), and as of today my New York Times crossword completion streak stands at 625 days. That is one year, eight months, and three weeks that I have earned a gold star for completing the puzzle on the day it was published. And my personal solving standards mean I can ask anyone within earshot (Husband) for help on esoteric sports names, but no Googling allowed. 

So I not only love word games, but I'm pretty good at them.

But this new word game? The one everyone in the known universe is now playing and bragging about on Facebook and Instagram and who-knows-where else? 

My usual reaction

In case you are the single person in the world who has not jumped on the Wordle train, the rules of the free-for-now* game are that you have six chances to guess a five-letter word. When you enter the first word, the game lets you know if you've guessed any letters in the right spot (green!), any letters that are not in the right spot (yellow), and any letters that are wrong (grey or black). Then you have five more guesses. At the end of the six attempts, you have the option to share your results with the world. 

Several far-flung MomQueenBee family were early Wordle adopters and started a text thread so that we could share our results among ourselves. Now I know that at a few minutes after 6 a.m. my text notification will chime with news that the East Coast contingent of our text thread has discovered the word. The Central Standard participants come in a couple of hours later, and the rest will check in before the day is over. 

So why does this thing that combines words and family and should be my very favorite thing in the world having me clenching my fists and shaking my hairbrush? 

Because I don't win. 

I have never once, in the month or so that we've been doing this, had the low score in the family. Others have routinely guessed the word in three tries, sometimes even two (which, HOW?). I hover around the four-to-six guess range, and twice have failed to get the word at all. 

How can this even be? I am by far not the sharpest knife in this drawer of sharp knives, but I am the only one who makes her living with words. I SHOULD BE WINNING.

So here's what I've decided: I just know too darned many words. Check, for example, the screenshot from a recent day above. 

That's my unsuccessful grid in the middle. I had correctly guessed three of the five letters correctly on the first try! Woohoo! This was going to be the day I got it in two tries!

But, spoiler alert, I did not. My whiney "Sometimes I hate this game" was that morning's loving declaration to my children.

The correct word was SHARD. Do you know how many words could be correct for those final two guesses? How about SHARK? And SHARP? And SHARE? Earlier in the game, before the H fell into place, how about SCARF? Or STARK? or SWARM?

So my rationalization of my ineptitude with this game is this: It's a word game, but it's also a game of luck, and I'm not very good at games of luck although I am a champion at overthinking. I do love having all the Boys and Lovely Girls checking in every day, though, so it's well worth being at the bottom of the Wordle pile.

When the Boys were young and of competitive sports-playing age we always sent them off to their games with the same instructions:

Play hard. Play fair. Have a good time. It's just a game.

We omitted the customary "Play to win." because we wanted them to be good sports and to enjoy the competition but to not spend much time thinking about winners and losers. (The dreaded QueenBee lack-of-speed gene did not work in their favor.)

Now it's my turn to remind myself. 

Play hard. Play fair. Have a good time. Smile when you hear that chime.

It's just a game.

*The New York Times recently bought rights to this game for a bazillion dollars, so odds are good it won't be free forever. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

It's a Most Wonderful Life

I have dithered for the past quarter hour about which picture to use for the beauty shot of this post, the one that sums up the MomQueenBee Christmas.

I have a couple of hundred photos on my phone now that are dated within the past six days. Should I post the one of Santa and his Elf passing out stocking gifts? Or the Christmas morning group photo that is a tribute to plaid? Or the shot of the impromptu outdoor concert on Boxing Day featuring the possibly-unique instrumentation of clarinet, bassoon, trombone, and tuba?

The eventual winner, though, is one I hope will be an encouragement to all moms out there. 

You young mamas, in the throes of the constancy when you are never, ever off duty? It's for you.

And you moms of toddlers, who are mobile but not rational? It's for you. 

And you mothers of teens, who many days are equal parts angst and body odor? It's for you. 

This picture is to let you know that the very, very best is yet to come. Those wrinkled, swollen-knuckled, wonky-nailed hands are mine. The perfect dimpled fingers clutching my middle finger belong to Baby Wonderful #2. I have arrived at the age when one of my dear ones says "Here--would you mind napping this kid while I shower?" and that moment is every bit as perfect as I had dreamed it would be. As you sit and rock someone else figures out the schedule and the next meal. Someone else brews the coffee and cleans up the mountains of dirty dishes. Someone else changes the diapers.

This is the first year in three decades we've spent Christmas completely away from the House on the Corner. With sons in four states, our Small Town location is inconveniently distant to major airports, though, so the Boys decided we would descend on the #One family and Boy, Lovely Girl, and Baby Wonderful offered to be our hosts. Their sprawling colonial is big enough to accommodate the 10 oversized personalities that make up our clan, so we vaccinated, boosted, tested, and traveled. 

Here's our Christmas by the numbers:
    Months it had been since the entire family had been together: 15, and at that time the future arrival of the now-nine-month-old baby seen above was just being announced. 
    Family members who had not even met yet: Three. Between the pandemic and an unfortunately-timed case of daycare virus that coincided with Baby Wonderful #2's baptism, the cousins (and Lovely Girl#1) had never been face to face. 
    Days we were together: Six. 
    Days we knew which day of the week it was: Zero. (Or was that just me?)
    Meals I cooked during those six days: Zero. 
    Meals I ate that were better than anything I could cook: Pretty much every one of them.
    Time it took to open presents: Two days, because we stopped when we were tired the first day and babies don't care.
    Baby crankiness: On an age-appropriate basis, but so much less than I always remember from my own babies. 
    Adult crankiness: None. Not one discernible bit. 
Mothers of not-yet-adult siblings, take special note of that last measurement. If your shoulders are aching from carrying the emotional baggage of your offsprings' sibling squabbles, your special word of hope is "Adulthood." As in they will some day reach it, and with any luck, they'll be delightful humans who are thrilled to be around each other. Or maybe that is only true for six days at a time. Maybe living in four different states gives our own Boys the absent heart fondness responsible for our delightful Christmas, 

Whatever the reason, the unmitigated joy that was the this week was the perfect antidote to two years of uncertainty and fear during which the birth of the Babies Wonderful, just as the original Christmas baby, were a beacon of hope. 

How great my joy.

(I can't leave you without a glimpse of the
Christmas morning Santa and his helper elf.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

My Assessment May Have Been Premature


"I know there's a lion six inches from my butt. SHE HAS DIPPIN' DOTS!"

Back in the early days of blogs, I regularly read several that were so funny, so well-written, so poignant and admirable, that I looked for them every day as soon as I fired up my computer. For years they were part of my life to the point that I knew the names of these writers' children and the brand of mascara they preferred. 

And then, suddenly, they were gone. 

From one day to the next with no warning at all, one would disappear. Then another. Then another. And to this day, I don't know where they went. Did they run out of material? Did they get tired of the pressure of producing content? Did they simply grow out of needing the writing outlet? I didn't understand it.

Now I do. 

The last post I wrote was three full months ago, and I had no intention of being gone so long. It just sort of...happened. 

I am here, in fact, because in the wee dark hours of this morning I suddenly found myself wide awake and convinced that the internet had deleted my corner of the blathersphere because of lack of activity. All of my observations on the joy and absurdity that is my life were gone, gone, gone. 

The 3 a.m. thoughts of a post-menopausal woman are always so rational. 

It isn't as if I haven't been writing blog posts in my head--if I managed to build a mental modem between my brain and this address I would have had, well, more than zero posts since May. So I knew I was being irrational, but rather than just checking my phone and going back to sleep I laid awake and stewed for two more hours because that is a much more rational reaction. 

Anyway, here I am! Back! And it appears that the title of my last post may have been just a tad premature. 

Hahahahaha! Babies Wonderful, the world has not righted itself. 

Because our half-hearted response to the original infection gave a new and stronger version of that infection the chance to sweep back in just as we decided we were done with it, we are now listening to Delta laugh heartily. 

In spite of vaccines and science and whatnot, hospitals are still filled with pestilence and plague to the extent that a dear vaccinated friend experiencing a life-threatening gallbladder infection had to wait on one of those narrow emergency room beds for the better part of a day before a bed opened up and she could be admitted to the hospital. 

We have watched as schools within sneezing distance of the House on the Corner open without masking even though science, and friends on Facebook have posted instructions for ivermectin dosages in spite of SCIENCE.

So, yes. I am a teensy bit bitter, and thank you for asking. But I am also so very thankful for all the good things that have happened in the non-posting months.

We are, fully vaccinated and masked, cautiously out and around for the most part. We've been able to be with each other in person as well as by Facetime. We eat in restaurants, sometimes, although we try to hit off-peak hours. We attend the church service that is least attended (hymn singers for social distancing!).  

And we have been able to see the Babies Wonderful and their parents, and cuddle them (the babies, not the parents) and watch their progression from newborn to baby to full-blown chase-me-around-the-zoo toddlerhood. I had forgotten that toddlers see animals in practically every book in the nursery, but the misting machine! And the non-nutritional snacks! Those are new and amazing!

My life truly is wonderful, and I am doubly blessed that the biggest worry I have during my irrational early hour panic attacks is that I might be missing some words from my life. I am not among those who are missing people. 

But I'm back now. I'll try not to disappear again. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Dear Babies Wonderful: The World MAY Be Righting Itself


Dear Babies Wonderful,

I've spent the past 10 minutes staring blankly at the computer screen, wondering what the title of this post should be. Not only has it been a loooooong break in posting (so sorry!) but I couldn't decide how to caption this scribble I thought might never be written. Should I categorize it under the World Turned Upside Down posts that have dominated the past year? Or should it be a Baby Wonderful episode?

I finally decided that honestly, it's both. By the time you're in grade school and the other kids are interviewing their grandparents about what it was like to live through the Great Pandemic of 2020 I may have forgotten everything, including my name a few details of this so I'm giving you permission to turn this in as your fourth grade history assignment. 

See that picture up there? That's your handsome grandfather sitting across a restaurant table from me. He had taken me out for Mediterranean food to celebrate Mother's Day 2021. But you'll want to notice a few details that are a bit different from typical Facebook I'm-on-a-date updates. (Do kids still have Facebook? What do you mean the cool kids didn't even use Facebook in 2021? Huh.) 

It was the first time we had eaten inside a restaurant in 15 months. 

Notice that the tables around us are completely empty. That's because we were at this restaurant on a Friday afternoon at 4:00. Your grandfather suggested that maybe we should move our date up two days rather than patronize what he accurately described as "sneezed-on Mother's Day buffets." And maybe we should eat our falafel and hummus at the senior-est of senior citizen hours to avoid crowds.

He knows me so well. 

He knew that I have spent the past year in the most prolonged state of fear I've ever experienced. I honestly did not think that all of my loved ones would survive the pandemic. It seemed so capricious--old people were dying from it, but so were young and healthy people. Hundreds in Small Town became ill, and many died, but even more were ill and didn't know it. 

The worst part was knowing that even if we did every single thing we could do to stay healthy (and we did--we isolated, wore our masks when we had to be out, stopped going to any in-person gathering, Zoomed everything including coffee dates) it might not be enough. The virus could find us. 

Now extrapolate that worry to the people we loved the most. Would you two precious wee ones be safe? Would your parents, your uncles? Your great-grandfather and your aunts and uncles and cousins? I discovered that worry compounds exponentially, not arithmetically.

I don't want to make this a long slog about how awful the pandemic was because while I recognize how scary it was, I also recognize how lucky we were to have the luxury of choosing isolation. So I will just say that when we ate in that restaurant, I may have had to choke back a tear or two as I realized that vaccinations and caution mean that the world that has been upside down for a solid year might be tilting toward its correct axis again. The weird epoch during which we found pulse oximeters in our Christmas stockings, and were grateful for them, may be coming to an end. 

It doesn't mean the pandemic is over--hospitals in other parts of the nation and the world are still packed with desperately ill patients. In Small Town we are still seeing obituaries of people who have been taken by this horrid virus. We are still wearing our masks inside and in close quarters with persons we aren't sure have been vaccinated. We are not yet hugging indiscriminately.

But oh, my precious ones, you just can't imagine the joy of the steps we're making back toward normalcy. We are experiencing the upward bounce that began with vaccinations.

I am wearing lipstick again, and smiling at everyone I see. 

God willing, right-side-up is just over the horizon. 

Much love,