Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And The Children Shall Lead Us

We always go to the children's mass on Christmas Eve at 4:00.  It has a lot more to do with the great time of the day it is than the kid part of it.  I was supposed to work until 5:00, but managed to find somebody who was looking for a legit excuse to get out of a commitment and offered to work the end of my shift for me.  That in itself was a miracle.

We got there about twenty minutes early, and all those kids.........  I started tearing up the second we sat down because across the country in a little town in Connecticut, their celebrations had twenty less kids and that..........  Well, that still doesn't seem real to me.

For the children's mass, there is a multi-generational choir, and if you can hold a note or your attention for a hot minute you're in.  Nobody in our family is good at either of those things.   A young one of about fourteen sang between the readings all by her nervous little self.  She'd sing the psalm and everyone would sing the refrain............

All the ends of the earth have seen the power of God.

She would sing her part and look over at Pat, our choir director, and Pat would smile and she would smile back.  And you could see her get more confident, and as she got more confident the refrain would get louder.

She rocked it.  Oh my goodness, did she rock it.

When she finished, she went racing up the side steps of the altar, disappeared behind a door and then reappeared two minutes later to be an altar girl, and I was better after that because in the brokenness I had seen a great light.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Festivus 2012

We have sent out a Christmas letter for twenty years and for a girl who writes every day, this year was tough.  Every time I sat down to do it, I'd write five minutes of crap and then surf for crap on the time-sucking net.  I found out that the Kardashians photoshop their card, Michael Jordan got kicked off a golf course in Florida for wearing cargo shorts and the way to make your crinkly, aging neck seem more youthful is to wear a scarf.  Drrrrr.................. 

But I got it done in the nick of time..................a Festivus miracle.

So............we had a little party this summer.  We cleaned up and invited the whole clan to come celebrate the day that Maggie and Nathan got hitched.  Contrary to what you may have heard about Kansas and our peoples, in this case the new Mr. and Mrs. are not cousins.  Near as we can tell.   

In August, Mal bid the parents adieu (that’s French for I can’t get out of here fast enough) and departed for college.  She rarely makes a home visit for the obvious reason that we are here.  She is a dance major and had her first gig at the new performing arts center this fall.  We paid admission to get a glimpse of her, bought her some dinner afterwards and then returned her to the dorm and her pretend family.

Will is a senior at K-State and working in a grocery store as a bagger and weekend food demonstrator.  He may have found his college job passion with an electric skillet and vast refrigerated bunkers of food at his disposal.  He is a weekend warrior at the Hy-Vee (where there’s a helpful smile in every aisle) and when he finally made it home for Thanksgiving, he smelled like tortilla-crusted tilapia.

Maggie and Nathan (and their little dog, too) are happy and living about a mile from us.   Maggie is in her 3rd year of teaching and Nathan is still at Sprint, thus providing a Friends and Family Entitlement for our cell phones.  Unlike the other two, they show up around here often to eat dinner while their dog roams around snacking on wayward underpants.

This was the year that we became empty nesters, which was quite sad for about three days.   It didn’t take us long to figure out that cooking and picking up after ourselves wasn’t nearly as labor intensive as when the house was full.  We’ve had grand plans to travel abroad (or maybe to Omaha) but with two kids in college we instead walk the dog, go to work, come home, yell at the t.v., go to bed, rinse and repeat.

Whether to carry on with this letter or not has been the dilemma of the weekend in the wake of so much grief and sadness in recent days.  We decided to continue with what we hope to accomplish every year, which is to remind you that you are loved, that you are the shiny ornament in our tree of life and that more than ever, we wish you and those you love a merry little Christmas.  Until next year………

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Think I'm In Love

My youtube consultant is home for winter break and it didn't take long for her to get back to doing what she does best.................

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


This was supposed to be a post about teachers and parents........like the over-achieving ones I've known who have marched into the principal's office in August with the letter that had the name of their kid's new teacher and demanded it be changed because "I've heard some things." 

Or the mothers who made Maggie's 5th grade teacher's life a living hell.  Years later she told me that if she didn't have a mother (who was a high school teacher) to prop her up every night she would have never come back again.

I never understood this trash-talking of teachers that goes on among parents.  It is so counter-productive to success in school, and wouldn't it be nearly impossible to be fair to a student when their mother is bitching to everybody about you?

Instead I will tell you about a conversation I had with Maggie about teacher wardrobe issues...........

I was wearing a really cute outfit the other day.  A pencil skirt.  Hose.  I was wearing hose.  Do you know not one person told me I looked cute.  Not one single person.

Mama said there'd be days like this.

So a couple of days later, there's this old teacher - maybe a couple of years older than you.........


She's wearing one of those dorky holiday sweaters and you know what I said to her?

That she belonged in a museum.

That I liked her sweater.

You said that about a holiday sweater?

I didn't like her sweater.  I thought she looked like an old lady in a goofy sweater.

A relic wrapped in a knitted Christmas tree.

Is this my life?  Pumpkins, turkeys, snowman, shamrocks, hearts............all over my clothes?

It sounds disturbing.

It's Pinterest, you know.  Mallory and Caitlin are always pinning these cute outfits and I don't know what I'm doing.

We'll have an intervention over the break.  Those two live for that kind of stuff.

Be generous this year if you're giving a gift to the teacher.  No dollar store crap.  No apple mugs.  No lotions or potions, notecards or hot cocoa mix.  Give them a gift card for coffee, a movie, Panera or Chipotle, the mall.  Give them something that's just for them.

Give.  Give.  Give...............

................because this week we know.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Public & Private

When I was growing up, my siblings and I went to a Catholic elementary school.  With a public high school just blocks from our house we parted ways with a private school education after the 8th grade.  Some of my siblings have sent their kids to Catholic schools, and some of us have gone the public route.

Like my family, my neighborhood is a combination of both.  When we moved here I entertained the idea of sending my kids to the Catholic school, but this area of Kansas is known for its quality education and so we decided to send them to public schools.  We have never regretted the decision and I am sure my neighbors with kids in private schools would say the same.

Over more than twenty years of being in the school system, we have known many families that have experienced tragic losses.  My dear friend, Vicki, died of ovarian cancer with a 7th grader and kindergartner left behind.  Days later, another 7th grade girl lost her dad to a sudden heart attack.  I know two families who have dealt with the sudden shocking diagnosis of a brain tumor and several mothers who have breast cancer.  Last month, a senior at our high school died in an ATV accident two days after Thanksgiving while the fifty year old father of two other students collapsed and died on the following day.

In the midst of all of this is a school community that has been enormously supportive.  Meals, carpools, transportation to doctor appointments, house and yard cleaning.  If a family is in crisis, somebody takes charge and puts people to work.

It is what we do when we cannot fix the very big thing that has gone terribly wrong.

Former Governor Mike Huckabee and other conservative Christians were quick to point out hours after the devastating losses in Connecticut that this tragedy was because we have removed God from our public schools. 

Our community is a mixture of many faiths and our public schools are a reflection of that.  If those first graders, and the courageous staff that tried to protect them in the last moments they had on this earth, didn't hear the voice of their higher power say..............

Be not afraid 
I go before you always

..............then I have wasted a lifetime of prayer.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Last month, Mark, Mallory and I went to see Lincoln.  As is the nature of our half-assedness, we ordered tickets online but left the house later than we should have for a crowded Friday night that also featured the new Twilight movie.

When we got inside the theater there weren't many seats left and so we sat near the front.  There were five rows ahead of us that were too close to the screen, then a wide aisle before the rest of the regular seats.  We sat to the left of the movie screen behind the aisle - a small row with only four seats.

Directly in front of us was a ramp that led to an emergency exit.

Throughout the movie my eyes kept darting to the exit.  Over and over.  There were no seats in front of us, and so I surmised that if that horrible night in Aurora, Colorado was replicated, I would dive onto Mallory and Mark would likely shield both of us.

Twice during the movie, a guy got up to share snacks with someone he knew who was sitting a few rows ahead of him and I watched his every move.  When friends asked what I thought of the movie, I said it was good and left out the part about feeling trapped for too long in a theater.

Ever since then I've thought about writing of that night.  I thought about it again last week when there was the mall shooting in Oregon.  I also thought that my anxiety level was reaching ridiculous levels.

I never fathomed it was about to go to a new place.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Knitter

The busloads of people from Crazy Town have been pulling into the shopping district every day since Thanksgiving and they haven't been taking their meds.

Since I need this job I can't tell you the best stories, but there was a customer in this week that can't wear turtlenecks because she's a Taurus.

True story.

Twelve. More. Days.

Today we had a return customer.  I helped her last month when she came in to buy some yarn for a scarf she is making for her mom.  She is all of about fourteen and came in her school uniform with a backpack bigger than she was.  She needed to look at some of the other colors.  When she's done with her Mom's gift she's making something for herself, but right now she is under pressure.

Her dad paid for the yarn.  If she doesn't finish this gift ("because I'm known not to finish things") she has to pay her dad back.  She taught herself how to knit by watching youtube videos.  She loves our yarn but she's getting a new bike for Christmas so there won't be much else under the tree.  Maybe, she said, her Grandma would come in and get her a couple of skeins. "Okay, thanks for letting me look.  I've got to go home and do my homework so I can knit tonight."

My trampled spirit was restored by my new little friend.  Pure of heart.  Pure gold.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Office Party

Over past years, The Big Daddy's occupation has required us to go to many Christmas parties.  While it may have been fun at the beginning of the month, by the end of the month staying home and watching "It's A Wonderful Life" began to seem far more appealing than getting dressed up again and making small talk.

Except for the big party at the hotel in town where there was a small fire at our table.  

I'm not naming names.  


This occupation of The BD lives and breathes on the ability to get grants, and one's success and self-esteem hinges on the dollars you bring in.  When you hit the jackpot (which has gotten ever so unlikely over the years), it's like winning the Heisman Trophy.  We had a string of years where try as he might Mark could not get funding, and it was painful at times to be at some of these parties with others who were having far more success while we struggled with a mediocre base salary and a lab on the verge of shutting down.

It is the nature of the business.

Every request for research money is a crapshoot at best.  Years of work and months of writing a grant mailed on a wing and a prayer, can be shot down in a heartbeat and rejection is never easy to get used to, although everybody in his field gets rejected.  A lot.

From the perspective of a spouse watching this all these years, it remains a frequent stress.  Will he manage to hang on?  Will we be able to send the kids to college?   What will happen if he doesn't get the next grant, however small it may be?

I am a bystander in this Worry Department, but the people he works with every day, regardless of research dollars, are all rowing the same boat.  Hanging on and still committed to finding cures for Parkinson's, diabetes, Lou Gehrig's disease, MS, cancer, AIDS, kidney disease, Lyme disease, Alzheimer's.................

They care so very much about what they do and about each other.  The number of parties has been scaled back these last few years and that's o.k., but there are no other people I'd rather haul out my little black party dress for than the biochemistry department.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Awhile into working at our new location, it was brought to the attention of the staff that we had a rodent in the basement.  What specifically would you mean by this?  You know, a rodent.  Would you say the rodent was big?  Perhaps.  Mouse big or rat big?  Probably the latter.

That was the last time I worked at that location that I wasn't scared to death.  I have taken to wearing boots when I'm there and when I have to get something from the basement I clomp really loud down the stairs and say, I'M GOING DOWN TO THE BASEMENT TO LOOK FOR A TURTLENECK.  HERE I COME.  LOOKY HERE. I'M ALMOST ALL THE WAY DOWN.

This is to notify the rat that he should probably hide (and not by the turtlenecks) so as not to give me a heart attack

This strategy has worked except for the time I was eating lunch (with my feet up) and thought I saw something black from the corner of my eye.  I scrambled to safety due to my high alert status but the blackness followed me.

Because it was my hair.

Though an exterminator was called and there hasn't been a speck of evidence of any problem since then, I cannot relax when I'm in that basement.  Can't stop wearing boots.  Can't stop shouting like I'm FDR making a speech from the back of a train.

Last week I was driving home from work and a raccoon ran across the front of the car.  He was coming from the golf course and I thanked my lucky stars we were too poor to live in that part of town. 

Two days later I was driving down the same street and saw a mountain lion.  A. Mountain. Lion.  I came home breathless and shaky and told The Big Daddy to lock the doors.  They. Are. Coming. For. Us.

He said what I expected him to say on my nature observation.........You did not see a mountain lion.  It was probably a big cat.

Don't you think I know the difference between a cat and a mountain lion?

No, I don't.  Not at all.

I knew you were going to say that.  That was no "big cat".  It was big, spotted, fast.  A mountain lion.


True story so help me God.

We live in Kansas.  You cannot have mountain lions when you have no mountains.

Oh yeah.  There's that. 

An internet search determined that what I saw was a bobcat.  A bobcat just two miles from home and IT SURE WILL BE HARD WEARING BOOTS DAY AND NIGHT BUT ONE MUST BE READY WHEN THE OUTSIDERS COME KNOCKING.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Hofmeister Ham

 This is a repeat from last year and a reminder to my dear brother.

Many years ago, my brother stopped by my mom's house, popped open the trunk of his car and pleaded with us to take a ham.  Take two, he said, I've got to get rid of these things.  He is a salesman and his company gives a Hofmeister Ham to its best customers during the Christmas season.  He had a serious overstock issue.

I took one, put it in a cooler and drove it back to Kansas.  We stuck it in the fridge until Easter and IT WAS THE BOMB.  Everybody raved about the Hofmeister.  I entertain a lot of people at Easter.  A free good ham is essential to my dinner being a success.  And to people liking me.  Really, really liking me.

Now I make it my business to get in touch with my brother in early December. Hey, how you doing?  How's Sharon?  The kids?   Good, good.  Work?  Good.  Yeah, well, since you brought up work, how 'bout securing me one of those hams?

Last year in exchange for a Hofmeister, I offered him a mint condition, collectible Scottish snowman in golf attire.  What could be more perfect for a guy who loves golf?   He emailed me back.  "Nice job trading crap from your basement.  You sure know how to make a guy feel special.....like-wearing-a-helmet-short-bus-special."  Always the short bus jokes with the brother even when you're both old enough to qualify for AARP.   I told him he's always been my my special boy and to go easy with the tinsel on his helmet this Christmas so things didn't short out upstairs.  If you know what I mean.

From there, the email got sent to my sister and all of his kids.  It was a hamstorm of activity....like chimps at the zoo flinging crap at one another.  There were accusations of me being cheap, regifting and of him only hearing from me during Ham Season.  I was offended.  I remained mature and generous (me Scotty Snowman was still on the table), but I really wanted a Hamosaurus for Christmas. 

No crocodile. 

Sure enough, The Man In Brown shows up one day and I could hear the choir of angels singing as he walked up the drive.  The shepherds watched over their flocks, the people who walked in darkness had seen a great light, and unto us a Child was born.  

Oh, and The Mighty Holiday Hofmeister in refrigerated packaging was sitting on my doorstep like the best damn gift ever.

Hit it angels..................

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Making Merry: The Ornaments

Last fall I was in my favorite thrift store when my cell phone rang.  It was my cousin and he wanted to know if I wanted something of his.  He had offered it to my sisters and sister-in-law and they all turned him down and said to call me.

His wife had died the year before and he didn't think he'd ever put up much in the way of Christmas decorations.  That was her thing not his and if I was interested in some of their stuff he'd save it for me.

I was.

Just before New Year's we went to his house and he started hauling out boxes.  Plenty of it was stuff I didn't need and we put that in a pile to donate.  Then he showed me boxes of ornaments.  Glass vintage ornaments and oh, pitter-pat.  Some were ones they bought years ago and some were his mom's.   

Belle?  These were Belle's?  As in Mallory Belle.

One in the same.

After nearly a year in my basement I brought them out, and there were so many of them I couldn't put them all on the tree.  I have never have loved decorating the tree part of Christmas, but this year was different thanks to my new old ornaments.

I was finishing up and had two vacuum cleaners out and the slipcovers in the wash.  In the middle of my very big mess my friend came over to return the chairs she borrowed for Thanksgiving and I told her about Belle and Carol's ornaments. 

She stood next to me admiring the tree and said, "Oh my goodness, you know they're right here.  I can feel them."

Yes, I know.

What a perfect way to start the season

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Making Merry: The Lights

It has been our experience that maybe the Chinese are trying to break us, drive us to Crazy Town, send us over the edge.  It's those lights.  Those bloody #%&*@#% Christmas lights.

Last year, half the tree went out less than a week into the season.  This year I started with three strands.  They all worked.  I sent The Big Daddy to the hardware store for another set.

They worked.  I unplugged them.  I plugged them back in and there was one little bitty one that wasn't lit.  The Big Daddy said that's o.k.  Just one is o.k.  That's how they work now.  If one goes out it doesn't take them all out.

No.  No.  Let me just pull this one out and put it back in.

No, don't, said The Big Daddy.  Just leave it alone.

I couldn't leave it alone and that is how half the strand went dark and The Big Daddy bellowed, "WHY CAN'T YOU EVER LEAVE THE LIGHTS ALONE WOMAN??????!!!!"

Because I can't. 

Maggie and Nate showed up for the fun shitstorm and grabbed the camera.  Here's me acting like I know how to fix the lights.  I am cursing.

Here's The Big Daddy checking out the situation.  He is cursing.

 And here he is after he got them working again.

Made in China lights versus The Gun ShowSmackdown.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Making Merry: The Tree

The Big Daddy and I have been going back and forth about a tree.  Real or fake?  Actually, I'm the one going back and forth.  He doesn't participate in my anxiety-filled decisions as they are frequent.  And quite meaningless.  

After shopping around for a fake one I made a last try at The Hob Lob.  I found a skinny, flocked frasier fir that was pre-lit.  Marked half price at $199.00 and it was the perfect fit for my little living room.  I stared and stared at it but couldn't bring myself to pay that much money for a fake tree.  A fake tree made in China.

The decision was made.

On Friday night we decided to go to the local hardware store's tree lot which is where I fell in love with the tree salesman.  He was bustling around by himself when we showed up and started talking to him.  He was about our age or a little older and has been working there since August.  Moving all those mums and pumpkins and now trees these past few months and he's lost fifteen pounds.  

We picked our tree out and he cut the bottom of the trunk and down below were all these little wood tree circles and I asked if I could have a few for something I want to make.  "Well, heck, you can have 'em all," he said.  I was going to have a couple feet of garland cut and he scrounged a couple of  branches on the ground and threw those in so I wouldn't have to buy any garland.  "You folks are the recycling type, aren't ya?"  Why yes we are.

I went inside for something and when I came out he and Mark were having a deep discussion about composting.  Come here after dark and you can raid the dumpster for all the compost you need, he told us.  Then he wished us a merry everything and said we made his night a little more fun.

When I was a little girl, my dad would sometimes take me to the hardware store on Saturday mornings and I would hold the brown paper bag while he counted nails and dropped them in.  Don't mix 'em up, Kate.  We've got to keep them straight.  We'd carry them up to the front to pay, walking along the creaky wood floor and one of the employees would always say to my dad, "Looks like you brought a little helper along today."  Yep, Dad would say and she's a good one.

Guys who work in hardware stores........a crush that goes way back.