Friday, May 22, 2015

Doing B Work. Or Worse.


Today's message is for the mothers of young-ish children.

These mothers are so energetic. So intense. So driven to do the very best thing for their children. Their children simultaneously wear amber necklaces and princess underwear because they're toilet training while they're still teething. They only read the most uplifting of children's books and they know their letters and numbers before they've graduated out of backward-facing car seats.

I see them all around me, and I recognize them immediately because I was them.

Oh, my Boys didn't wear amber necklaces (because this hippie voodoo had not yet been invented) or princess underwear (which, all things considered, probably was a good thing). But I read to them all. the. time. because that was good for their brain development. They were not allowed to have video game consoles even though every single one of their brilliant friends had video game consoles. They only got a sip of Diet Pepsi when their father popped open a can (never a whole can for themselves), and even that sip helped me develop a little line of disapproval between my eyebrows.

When my children were young-ish I was determined to be an A+ mother or perish in the fight.

I remembered those days last night when Boy#3 arrived home for an all-too-infrequent visit. Somehow the subject rolled around to his high school Spanish class. (There was a conversation trail there, but I won't bore you with it.)

"Do you remember that cake you made for Cinco de Mayo when I was a senior?" Three asked. And we both HOWLED.

The Boys had a wonderful Spanish teacher who allowed her students to celebrate the Mexican Independence Day any way they wanted within school regulations. That, of course, meant they brought food and had a party so Boy#3 asked if I could make a layer cake that looked like the Mexican flag. I had made many a layer cake in the cumulative 76 years I had been a parent by then, and how hard could it be to throw some red food coloring in one of the layers, green in another, and leave the third white? Voila! When cut, it would look just like the Mexican flag.

I didn't start to bake the cake until mid-evening May 4, and honestly I don't know what happened. Maybe the layers hadn't cooled enough when I flipped them out of the pan, maybe the food coloring changed the cooking chemistry, maybe I'm just a terrible baker, but when it came time to stack the layers, they exploded. The cakes looked as if they had been spewed out by Popocatepetl and there was no way they were going to be reconstructed perfectly.

But you know that A+ mother? Yeah. She had pretty much perished in the course of having four teenaged Boys at the same time. A decade earlier I would have burst into tears, yelled at my husband, put the Boys to bed and stayed up all night making a perfect cake.

The mother who had survived babies and toddlers and kids and teens pulled out two cans of frosting and began spackling. I cemented those broken layers together as if I were restoring a Mayan mosaic, including one area where there literally was more icing than cake. By the time it was packed off to the party the cake looked respectable--until it was cut. Then it collapsed like the mirage it was.

Three sent me pictures from the party (and was able to find them in his email last night, even though this was seven years ago--yay for electronic packrat tendencies!).  His message in that email, quoted verbatim:

"That was really good cake.  Thanks for making it."

It was not A+ work. Truth be told, an F+ would have been generous. But apparently the cake tasted fine, and when cut, there were certain pieces that did look vaguely like a Mexican flag. Shown here, with an empanada, it was the breakfast of champions for that Spanish class.


So mothers of young-ish children, don't do A+ work all the time. Have fun raising your kids, cut yourself some slack, and make some memories.

The cake still tastes good.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Maybe I Like Jazz

A few weeks ago I went to a concert by a jazz violinist at Small College. I try to support the artists that come to Small Town, because it's one of the fabulous perks of living immediately across the street from a wonderful auditorium.

But when someone asked me the next day how the concert was, I had to admit a dark secret: "It was fine until halfway through the second song when I remembered that I don't like jazz."

It's a terrible thing for a willing semi-competent musician to admit, that an entire genre mostly sounds like self-indulgence to me. Oh, I love structured jazz. I could listen to "Take Five" on repeat all day long. But the long improvisational solos that demand applause several times during the same piece? Nope. Do not like.

At least I didn't like them until last Saturday. I had won a pair of tickets to a Chris Botti concert. (I know! Me! Who never wins anything!) So there Husband and I were, in the upper balcony of a cool old theatre that is in the final stages of renovation. This would have been wonderful except that apparently people who sat in the balcony were really, really short when the Orpheum was built in the 1920s.

I am not kidding when I say that the space between the front edge of the seat and the seatback of the next row was less than four inches. I measured it. And as an I'm-in-the-back-row-in-every-picture tall person, my knees were jack-knifed under me with absolutely no wiggle room. That smile you see in the picture above? Half was sheer happiness but the other half was wondering if this picture would be suitable for an obituary when the veins in my lower legs clotted off and killed me.

Fortunately, Husband is a man of action, which is why we moved to the unoccupied upper-upper balcony and I did one of the few things I have ever expressly forbidden my children: I took off my shoes, hoisted my feet over the seatback in front of me, and leaned back.

And that, my friends, is the exact moment when I started to like jazz. I was perfectly comfortable, the acoustics were crystal clear, and our view from the top of the building meant we had an unobstructed view of the staging and the musicians' hands.

Oh, those hands. All of the supporting cast were fabulous, from the barefoot violinist to the guy who fixed the cymbals WHILE THE DRUMMER PLAYED, but I could have watched the pianist all night. For the first time ever the improv sections made sense to me.

We were close enough to the top of the building that during quiet sections we could hear rain on the roof above us. "Just keep playing," I found myself thinking, and for more than two hours they did. Finally, after a second encore Chris Botti bounded off the stage and the lights came up.

Husband and I left the theatre holding hands, with this song in our ears.



I think maybe I like jazz after all.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Orts and a Blurb

Gosh, it seems as if I've been all up in your face this week with Feelings and Fears so let's make this Friday's Orts a lazy series of things I've stumbled across on the internet.

First is this wonderful round-up of a cappella versions of classical music. In my next life I'm going to be able to sing, and I'm going to sing in a group that sings like these groups do.

Then we have a link sent me by Amazon because apparently Amazon hates me. Seriously, people who know more about my buying habits than anyone in the world? You thought I wanted/needed THIS? After reading the comments, though, I've decided to never visit New York again. Or ever leave the House on the Corner again.

Given the angsty ups and downs I've blathered about since I nearly missed baccalaureate last week, this article was both beautiful and brutal.

*****
This isn't a link, but I must reiterate what fun the readers of this blog are. After I spoiled the Jumble for everyone yesterday (I'm sorry!) several readers sent alternative solutions to the SIPOME clue. I mistakenly thought that MOIPES (submitted by my best friend from Alaska) referred to whiny preschool children who are not adorable moppets. No, friend corrected me, MOIPES is a verb--"Laura likes to take long walks, but she frequently has to moipe instead when her feet hurt too much." Another friend said the unscrambled word obviously was either SIPOME (sibling siphoning from parents at home) or SIMPOE (a simple symposium, like one I would give).

Much Older Sister, though, won this non-contest when she said obviously SIPOME was iPoems--a new app for the rhyming impaired.

*****

Today's blurb is knitting-related, since I did kitchen-related last week.

The project on my needles right now has multiple colors and I was having trouble keeping all the dozen skeins from getting all up in each other's business in the knitting basket. "Hey!" my brilliant mind thought. "What I need is something like a paper towel holder that I could stack the yarn balls on so that they would stay sorted and just spin out the yarn as I knit from that color ."

So I bought a paper towel holder exactly like the one above and stacked the balls of yarn on the spindle. Then I spent the next hour trying unsuccessfully to make them GIVE ME SOME YARN, after which I yanked the yarn back off the spindle and sent the dispenser with Husband to use in his office.

My brilliant mind does not always come up with brilliant ideas.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

You Are Better Than a Nap


I don't normally read my horoscope in the paper, even if it is right there next to the Jumble and the Sudoku, both of which I do religiously. This morning as I was trying to unscramble SIPOME I also was thinking about how to respond to the reactions to my last post, though, I glanced at the horoscope.

PEOPLE! SERIOUSLY!

The stars obviously knew that I had just written a post exposing what truly is one of my deepest fears and shared it not only with my nearest and dearest but also with the internet.

Then my nearest and dearest and the internet responded in the kindest ways. Ways that were touching and made me cry. Ways that were practical and made me sigh with relief. Ways that were funny and made me laugh out loud.

"Hey, we all feel like we're losing our minds after we turn 60," someone wrote, and that probably was the theme of the day, that theme that I was not alone.

But I also heard from a favorite aunt, who told me family stories I had never heard before.

I heard from a dear friend who is taking care of a husband who sometimes can dress himself, and sometimes cannot. "Sometimes he gets completely dressed and other times he can't figure out the belt or whatever," she wrote. She sounded so very tired that I wept.

I got an email from my best friend from high school, who is keeping a list of things for us to bring to her when her mind is completely gone. The list includes a lava lamp, Lincoln logs, and one of those little multi-jointed animal toys that sit on a pedestal and when you push the button under the pedestal the animal collapses. "I'll be able to do this for hours," she assures us. I laughed and laughed.

And then I realized that talking out loud about my very real fear of Alzheimer's is like having one of those terrible dreams that seems so real that it sticks with you all day, but once you talk about it you get some perspective and realize that worrying isn't going to help matters.

That's when the newspaper decidedI needed one more reassurance and it printed today's horoscope.

"You could be overtired."

Why, I believe that is correct.

Also, SIPOME unscrambled is IMPOSE. Boom. I haven't lost it quite yet.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Am Her Daughter

June 8, 1952
You cannot imagine how much people loved my mother.

Last summer I was talking to a woman who had been in a women's group with her. We weren't more than a few minutes into our conversation when I realized that other woman was on the verge of tears. She was only a passing acquaintance of my mother but that woman missed my mom so dearly that more than four years later she was crying. It didn't surprise me.

My mother was smart and talented and so, so loving. So inclusive. So kind that you couldn't help but know you were her favorite, whether you were her second daughter or the newcomer she sat down next to in church.

In our family we joke that we should have known she was losing her mind when she started watching Bill O'Reilly's show. That type of hate-mongering exclusivity was simply not in her.

Because she was. She was losing her mind.

Her children didn't know until after she had died that her doctor no longer expected her to show up on the right day; the receptionist had standing orders that whenever Mom arrived, that was when her appointment was. We didn't know that my father awoke from a nap in the passenger seat as mom was taking her turn driving, and discovered she was driving at high speed down the grass median between northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate. We did know that she seemed to be slipping, and we worried.

My mother had seen her own mother go through this dehumanizing process that cruelly stripped an otherwise healthy body of intellect and left Grandma worried and inconsolable. Mom was so afraid of this, that she would lose her faculties and her dignity. So when she fell in the garage at age 78 and suffered a head injury that was traumatic and eventually took her life, we smiled through our tears. God's grace, right there, saving her from what to her was a fate literally worse than death.

I've written about all this before. What I haven't written about is that it is both a gift and a curse to be her daughter.

What a gift--do you have any idea what it was like to have my mom in my corner? As my role model? My cheerleader? My person? If I could have waved a magic wand and been anything at all, I would have been exactly like her--I wore her wedding dress when Husband and I got married.

But now that I've turned 60, I worry that I am too much like her. When I arrive at baccalaureate late because I thought it started at 10:30 instead of 10, I wonder--is this normal? Or is this It? When I make a mistake in a news release--is this normal? Or is this It? Are my slip-ups and mental lapses everyday stress and over-busyness, or a sign of something more ominous? Normal or It?

It is not a given that I will inherit my mother's and my grandmother's Alzheimer's. Grandma was one of five children and the only one who became senile. My mother's sisters and brother are all sharp as tacks.

Maybe in a few years science will know what causes and cures this evil deterioration, and all of my siblings and I will be spared. If not, though, and I'm the one who wins this anti-lottery, I'm sorry for the grief it will cause my family.

I know how we worried about my mother after she turned 60, and I am her daughter.



Monday, May 11, 2015

The Story of My Life

My desk this morning

Yesterday was Commencement at Small College. It was supposed to start at 10 a.m. with baccalaureate services, during which I was to accompany the special music. Except that I thought the services began at 10:30, so I showed up at 10:10. Sure I was plenty early, I stopped in my office to pre-order salads for my photographers, and strolled into the baccalaureate at 10:20, giving the poor soloist 20 minutes of discomfort as he wondered if his accompanist was going to show up at all. But I slid in just in time and he sang so beautifully and with such heart that he left the audience in tears. I basked in the reflected glory. It was wonderful.

Those salads I was trying to order? Turns out the restaurant was only serving a buffet for Mother's Day, so no salads for us. But wait! Wendy's has some really good salads, which would cost us half of the restaurant price, and Husband would deliver them to the office doorstep. Hey! That's great.

Commencement was to be in the football stadium and we were all in our places ready for it to begin when, just 10 minutes before "Pomp and Circumstance" was to strike up, a thunderstorm flared 30 miles away. You don't take chances with Kansas thunderstorms, especially when a couple of thousand people are sitting on metal bleachers on a hillside, so at the absolute last possible moment the ceremony was moved inside. This is not an inconsequential decision--we're a Small College, but going into the fieldhouse meant all of the schedules, all of the stage accoutrements, all the graduates, all the faculty, all the grandmothers and the cheerers and the whistlers, all had to be shifted. There were infinite opportunities for tears and bad feelings and screw-ups, but you know what? People were AWESOME. The plant operations folks acted as if they did this every day and had the stage and flags and sound equipment moved lickety-split. The people whose schedules had been rearranged made momentarily irritated faces, then said "Oh, well. Kansas." The pictures were taken and tears shed and good feelings abounded. After three ceremonies my feet were tired but I was so very, very proud of everyone involved.

Commencement always falls on Mother's Day, which is wonderful for those mothers seeing their children graduate and celebrating that accomplishment but kind of a bummer for those of us who leave the house early and come home late and exhausted. Having my sons in four different states meant that none would be near enough to give me a hug. But then Husband walked into the room where I had my aching feet propped up in the recliner and handed me a laptop, and the four Boys gave me the gift of my first ever Google video chat. For a whole hour I laughed and talked, then I sat back and watched them interact, which is the best thing ever.

Not one single thing in the day turned out the way I thought it would, and in spite of my unfulfilled plans, everything turned out exactly the way it should.

It's the story of my life.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Orts and Blurbs


Life has been all a'whirl here, to the point that I pretty much forgot that Mother's Day is Sunday. And then! The flower delivery guy arrived in my office! I do love flowers, and I do have the loveliest offspring in the world. This bouquet was especially timely because when I went out to spring Pearl from the garage this morning I discovered that the week of Kansas thunderstorms had done a number on my peonies.

Awwww, Kansas.

*****
The end of of the academic year also is the time discretionary dollars expire in Small College's cafeteria. As a result, the financial aid officer has brought everyone coffee (and bananas, and granola bars) every day this week in the interest of not wasting the money left on her card. It's like having Santa Claus just down the hall, except that we don't have to be at all good.

*****
For those who have asked, my quadruple-bypassed uncle is doing just fine. He was home within a week of surgery, and I thank you for your concern. I am so grateful for the hardy stock from whence I came.

*****
This week's blurb belongs to another kitchen find. (Go figure. You knew it was either kitchen stuff or knitting stuff.)

Years ago (no, I'm not exaggerating) I bought a package of Ziploc Zip 'n Steam bags. Then I lost them in the recesses of my aluminum foil/plastic wrap drawer, and they didn't emerge again until a couple of months ago when I was de-stuffifying that drawer.

People, these are amazing. I have used them only for microwaving vegetables, but the results are so, so much better than any other way I've found to cook stuff that's good for you. Frozen Brussels sprouts? Delicious. Fresh green beans? Easy and cooked perfectly. Frozen peas? Taste fresh.

I know you can get steam-in-the-bag frozen vegetables and it's the same principle, but the non-steam-in-the-bag veggies are cheaper and these Ziploc bags can be rinsed out and reused. And reused. And reused again. You are SAVING MONEY while you get your antioxidants.

Anyway, I'm loving these bags. I'd offer you a Brussels sprout to convince you but I ate them all.