Thursday, December 31, 2015

Squeaky Blessings: A Christmas Album

The View Master
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Baby
THE shoes.
Christmas at ReRow was sandwiched between two of Jack Blizzard’s little tantrums. It cut our family gathering short, since folks had to travel between snowfalls. Still, it was magical, and we feel very blessed by the Universe this year.

Robin Clyde
There’s nothing quite like Christmas morning with two toddler girls and a really smart, highly coordinated kindergarten boy. I was initially aghast when our grownup son gave our small, conniving grandson a Nerf bow & arrows, and yes, the grandson shot me (and everyone else) in the head at least once, but the joy on his face was worth every almost-poked-my-eye-out ambush.

I Smell Teen Spirit
Proof that Alia Smiles
Morning Mayhem
Troll Conference
Dad and Handsome Young'uns
The older teens got cash money and, better yet, all the sleep they wanted. They are clearly Borg, linked 24/7 via multiple devices and a gazillion charger cords.

The dogs’ Christmas present was a constant supply of fuzzy-blankie covered, comatose bodies on which to bed down.

Our Christmas “themes” this year were music, light, and color. Mom gave everyone some sort of light—Buddha lamps, “PEACE” lighted marquis wall signs, glass heads with light “brains.” 

I gave each of our five grandkids a soprano ukulele—each a different color--and the small grandkids got harmonicas.

EVERYONE got at least one coloring book with colored pencils—there were Grey’s Anatomy, Mandala, Merworld Problems, Unicorns are Jerks, Enchanted Fairy Garden, and Fat Ladies in Space coloring books. Coloring books are super trendy right now, and I tend to avoid anything super trendy, but this article - - sucked me in. In fact, three of us gave coloring books this year (super duper trendy), so most folks got more than one.

The good life: Pikachu costume and a uke
Colour My World
Perhaps the pièce de résistance, however, was the little girls’ shoes. After seeing this video - - I had to find these shoes. Not only did I find them, I found them in red glitter. Ruby slippers. But squeaky. Imagine a couple of two-year-old girls, dancing and grinning and squeaking all around the house. I’m telling you, except for peace on earth and an end to fear & greed, NOTHING could be better than these shoes. If I could find a pair in MY size…

Squeaking by the Fire
I won’t bore you with our extended family’s catalogue of situational and medical maladies over the past year, except to say that the best gift of all is that we’re all still here this year. We are unspeakably grateful for every wacky family member, those who were able to make it to our Little Town Christmas, and those who couldn’t be here. Tonight, I will dance (I call it “dancing,” even though some might disagree, or turn away, or call the nice young men in their clean white shirts) to Ray’s band at our Little Town watering hole. In addition to the challenge and promise of another New Year, I will be celebrating the gifts of life & love, and I’ll be wishing the same for you & yours.

The After [squeaky] math
Merry Christmas!
And Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Get Thee Behind Me, Semester.

ReRow: The house, the house, the house of blue lights.

The holidays are upon us here at ReRow (I finally realized that we’re decorating and organizing as if to create a bizarre, Frankenhouse combo of our childhood home in Omaha, Mom’s former Little Town home, and our beloved farmhouse on the Row). We’re slowly unpacking, hanging art, figuring out the most efficient use of cupboard space (coffee cups here? and here? and here?), and the dining room table has been converted to Chex Mix production storage. I can now make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night without that “Where AM I?” disoriented crash into the hallway bookshelf, so it must be starting to feel like home.

Yes. Coffee.

Dining Room = Chex Mix Production Warehouse

The Christmas Jade
We had a lovely Thanksgiving, with our daughter, her family, and a few dear Little Town friends. Our son-in-love made his now-infamous (and required) spatchcocked turkey, we slow-roasted a ham with every conceivable root veggie, our friend Beneficent Baker (BB) brought three kinds of pies, our other friends brought salad and—TA-DA!—an amazing troll centerpiece, and our daughter brought more pie and a cake. We played a little music, and the wee ones kept us entertained. Granddaughter Hazel asked our friend Fizz (fiddle+wizard) if she could have his violin. Adorbs, as the kids say.

The [Now] Traditional Thanksgiving Troll

We’re getting excited about Christmas at ReRow, too. Three of our four kids will be home, all five grandkids will be here, and my Ecuadorian Vagabond brother will be here, as well. Our “themes” for this year’s gifting are music & light (Mom’s the QUEEN of twinkly, blinking, solar, electric, any kind really, lights). It should be illuminating mayhem this year.

We’ve recently entered the End-of-Semester Abyss—that black hole between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s the brief period (relatively, although it feels like the endless dark night of the body and soul) during which teachers feel the sting of this simple math: (time left stuff still to cover). It’s also the period during which teachers hole up with self-renewing piles of grading; they will emerge mid-December with black bags under their wide Gollum eyes, skin flaking in sheets from lack of Vitamin D, and tremors from coffee IV’s. They will develop intimidating snarls from a diet of beef jerky and sugary hallway treats. They will be every chiropractor’s January boon due to “teacher’s neck.” They will wish they worked the night desk at Holiday Inn Express instead. They may even apply.

I’ve warded off the worst of these symptoms by taking occasional Christmas decorating/baking breaks. I’ve been making batches of crackbark (here’s a recipe…there are a million variations: So far, I’ve made a batch with Andes Crème de Menthe chips, and a batch with peanut butter in the caramel and Butterfinger bits on top. Oh. Dear. Bog. I could save time and just inject butter directly into my hips and arteries…

However, this weekend, I won’t decorate, bake, or grade papers. Mom, my daughter, and I are headed to Omaha. December marks a convergence of birthdays—Mom’s 80th, daughter’s, sister-in-love’s, and more—and since my Ecuadorian bro is in the old hometown for a band gig, we’re planning a girls’ spa day, a night of music and silly dancing, a birthday brunch (all 3 of my bros will be in town for Mom’s bday celebration), and a possible gambling waylay. Ray will guard the ReRow and revel in the Power-Women vacuum. He might actually get a few things done on HIS list.

Puppy/Grandkid Proof Tabletop Tree
Then, it’s back home to the Abyss. Grades are due by midnight on the 21st, so don’t expect to see my wide-eyed, flaky-skinned self again until my slow, painful emergence on the 22nd. Just in time for the (days until Christmas ≠ stuff I still have to do to get ready) fiasco.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Gratitude and Grey Matter

I recently read that practicing gratitude can actually, physically, change your brain for the better (go here ). So, because I’m interested in anything that helps my brain, here’s a smattering of the bajillion people/things for which I’m grateful…

The treat: Snickers. The trick: the "sass face."

1.     I’m alive!
2.     Ray patiently outlasted my recent downward spiral into the grading abyss, with the usual shrieking threat to quit my job and go work as a checker at Hy-Vee (a job I think I’d like, BTW).
3.     The pod is gone from our driveway! This means we have finally completed Phase (something-in-the-late-teens-early-twenties) of our EPIC MOVE. On to Phase…what, like 27? 28? And that, of course, would be clearing out enough of the garage before Jack Blizzard’s first tantrum to park at least one car in there (it’s a 2.5-stall). The house is still very much like a lab rat maze, without the food rewards. Space is so tight, I threw a doily over an inverted plant stand. I was tired of finding places for things. For now, I call the monstrosity “telephone table,” even though we no longer have a landline.
4.     Mom is a fun, thoughtful roommate. She’s a wicked Bridge player with a biting sense of humor. She’s relatively healthy, even though she has two kinds of cancers, CLL and lymphoma, which she completely ignores.
5.     I can see the Vermillion River out my home office window.
6.     We had a successful birthday dinner for our friend, which also turned into a housewarming, which was also Halloween (we never had trick-or-treaters at the farm…good lord, those little kids are freaking adorable), which was also a delightful hootenanny with guitars, a fiddle, and two, yes TWO, accordians, which also turned into a family reunion for 3 of us whose children dropped by with their children. I have the best family & friends.
7.     Because I live in town now, I can stop grading, go to meditation class, and go back to grading. Just. Like. That.
8.     Bambi is doe-eyed and precious, but not when he jumps in front of a VW Bug doing 65. That’s what Ray found out this week. Bambi flew into and over the Bug, caving in the driver’s door and front quarter panel, and shattering the windshield and driver’s door window. Ray was shaken but miraculously unhurt.

Bug - 0; Bambi - 0
9.     I discovered Gudrun Sjödén (see, which is both a blessing and a horrible curse.
10.  It’s been a week of poetic inspiration. Fall semester hasn’t just been crushing me into the dirt; it’s been  grinding me into pulverized dust. This past week, though, I pulled myself together enough to help host a poetry slam at one of our Little Town pubs, and I was invited to read poems at our Little Town library. These events have inspired me to get off my poetry arse, don my beret, spin some fusion jazz, warm up the lava light, and get down to it again. More. Writing.
11.  Because the peacocks back on the farm imprinted on me and I on them, I guess, I still hear them at night. (Peacocks have many calls. They have one call they use to locate each other at night, just after they all fly up in their roosting trees. This is the call that’s stuck in my sweetly-addled brain.)
12.  I have 3 kids, a stepkid, and 5 grandkids, and they’re all really smart and classy humans. And healthy (which is what we’re SUPPOSED to say).
Our new digs, dressed for Halloween
13.  I just passed my 3rd strokeiversary. I’m grateful (and weirdly fascinated) to look back and remember that three years ago at this time, I couldn’t button my own shirt, put my hair in a ponytail, make the fingers on my left hand meet my left thumb, or walk without a cane. I’m much less impressed now with cool gadgets, no matter how sophisticated, after witnessing first-hand the design genius of the human self-repairing SmartBody. I still have glitches, but even these are fascinating: My new neural pathways are bumpy, clumsy “footpaths” compared to the old “super highways” of muscle and memory I’d smoothed and resurfaced through 50-odd years of repetition. So I sometimes stutter for a second or two while my brain tries to locate a word, or I flip a kitchen rug because my left foot only thinks it has lifted off the floor, or I fall into a near-narcoleptic stupor around 3 p.m. because my brain is literally, physically, TIRED, or my iffy balance makes me weave like a bad drunk. Still, I just helped move two complete households, started a new semester teaching full-time, lost 20+ lbs. without chewing off anyone’s arm, AND…
14.  I’m alive!