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Years ago, shortly after advanced age forced Tom’s grandmother from her beloved farm and into town, the women in the family descended upon Grandma’s three-story brick farmhouse to pack her belongings and deep-clean every inch of the house from baseboard to ceiling. I was assigned to the kitchen, starting with the cabinet under the kitchen sink.

Clearing that particular space was an all-together unremarkable task until I got to the back of the cabinet. There, hidden behind the bottles of Fantastik®, Windex®, and Drano®, obscured by the boxes of mouse traps, mothballs, and Brillo® pads, and wedged behind the water and drain pipes, I found a saw. Not a dinky saw. Not a small hand-held hacksaw one might possibly use to cut through chicken bones, but a three-foot long rusted rip saw with half inch teeth from its nose to its handle. A manly saw for manly tasks like building barns or cutting huge branches out of 100-year-old oak trees. What on earth was it doing in Grandma’s kitchen? I couldn’t imagine. I certainly couldn’t imagine tiny, petite, little Grandma ever using the sinister looking implement. It was nearly as tall as she was. I carefully extracted the brute from behind the pipes and stood with it in my hands, staring at it, my mouth open. Then I heard a snicker.

I looked up to see Tom’s cousin, a farm girl, watching me, a smile curling her lips. She waited. My mind raced. What could you possibly use this huge saw for in the kitchen? I have to admit, several of the possibilities—including the ones involving human limbs and deep wells—that danced through my cranium curled my toes. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and blurted, “What in the world is this saw doing here?” By then, others in the kitchen were watching events unfold, and my outburst triggered gales of laughter. Unfortunately for me—however, not unusually when it comes to anything having to do with the farm—I was the only clueless one in the crowd. Luckily, Tom’s cousin was happy to educate me. Too bad she couldn’t stop laughing.

Seems it’s not at all unusual for a farm wife to have just such a saw under her sink. Apparently, she might need it to saw through hog and cow bones when she’s fixing dinner. WHAT?! More laughter. Hey, short of having “City Slicker” tattooed on my forehead, every inch of me screams City Girl. I don’t deny it. And where I come from, meat comes on Styrofoam trays wrapped in cellophane. It had never occurred to me that anyone ever got that close to the actual animal. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

Which brings me to cheese. Last summer for my birthday, a dear friend, who had listened to me rave on and on multiple times about Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and in particular the chapter on cheese-making, very thoughtfully gave me one of the cheese-making kits from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company that Kingsolver talks about in her book. Yes, I freely admit. I did tell this friend (repeatedly) I thought it would be fun to make cheese. Yes, I suppose I did lead her to believe I intended to tackle making a batch of cheese. Was I overstating my intentions? Did I really mean it? Well…

Both Kingsolver and Ricki Carroll, the owner of the Cheesemaking Supply Company, swear making cheese—particularly mozzarella cheese—is child’s play. According to them, you can make up a batch of mozzarella in the afternoon to serve at dinner that night. Uh-huh. I refer you to the paragraph before the last one and the sentence starting, “Where I come from…” only substitute the word “cheese” for “meat” and eliminate the Styrofoam tray. In my world, cheese comes in plastic wrappers. With labels. And nutrition information. Maybe a re-sealable closure. It’s made up in Wisconsin by some fifth-generation Northern European dairy farmer (artisanal) or in a factory (Kraft). In my world, cheese does not come from a pot of hot milk. Jeez. Me and my big mouth. What had I been thinking?

Months passed. Periodically, I’d get the kit out, spread the contents on the counter, read the directions, and then, overwhelmed, shove it all back into the box. From that vantage point, nothing about cheese-making seemed easy. Clearly, Kingsolver and Carroll had been noodling around in the medicine cabinet. I wished I’d kept my mouth shut.

Then one day early this year, I was having lunch with some other friends, and we got to talking about Kingsolver’s book. The subject of cheese-making came up—much to my chagrin—and I sheepishly admitted to having been given the kit but never having the cojones to try making the cheese. Being the good friends they are, and always open to being bribed with wine, they offered to come over and help me. So, a few weeks later on a cold winter night, with a big metal pot, metal spoons, strainer, cheesecloth, rennet tablets, enzymes, milk thermometer, rubber gloves, a gallon of whole milk, full wine glasses, and the directions before us, we began.

I’ll not go into the step-by-step cheese-making process here, but suffice it to say—with help from my friends—making cheese really was easy. Admittedly, we had one point where we debated whether or not to continue because—based on the dubious looking contents of the pot—we were certain we had screwed up royally, but the wine gave us courage and we decided to plow ahead anyway. I’m certainly glad we did because less than 20 minutes later we had a real honest-to-goodness blob of mozzarella cheese to show for our efforts. Really. Real mozzarella cheese. We even ate it.

Brief pause for a free cheese-making tip: curds and whey do NOT look appetizing; do not be put off by what appear to be little white lumps floating around in dirty water; if you don’t have little white lumps floating around in dirty water, you’ve screwed up; if you don’t have little white lumps floating around in dirty water, more wine is required—for you, not the cheese.

I’ve since made five more batches of mozzarella. Two of them by myself. It’s made me cocky. I’ve started telling everyone I want to try making cheddar next. I don’t learn.

And now my aunt in Australia (my culinary muse) tells me that in an effort at one-upmanship, she and a friend have enrolled in a class to learn to make Camembert. Damn. I guess I’m going to have to put up or shut up about the cheddar. Time to restock the wine rack and call my friends.

Just know, I may make my own cheese—at least mozzarella—but you’ll NEVER find a rip saw under my sink.

It’s official. Brian walked down the hill and into the alumni roles at the University of Kansas on Sunday. His name was even in the program. Right there in the first column on page 34. His full name. Official. Several family members have pointed out that the final grades still aren’t in, but, as far as I’m concerned, he’s a graduate. And as promised, he made his unique mark on the festivities. I’m including pictures to prove it.

Decked out in his graduation finest

Decked out in his graduation finest

He capped off this lovely and very dignified ensemble with a replica of Study Hall on his mortarboard. Study Hall is what Brian calls his boat. That way when his dad or I ask him what he’s up to, he can say–without lying–that he’s in study hall. Translation: I’m on the boat at the lake. Great pains went into adding the wakeboard, wakeboard tower, speakers, and waves. It was all Tom’s idea. I’m completely innocent. Not surprisingly, Brian was quite pleased with his father’s handiwork.

Study Hall

Study Hall

Aside from having to wait over two hours for all 4,000 plus graduates to walk through the Campanile and down the hill, Sunday was a perfect day. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful, and the party afterward couldn’t have gone any smoother. I’m grateful to all the family and friends who came over to help us celebrate. It was quite a crowd. I’m also grateful to Big Dawg BBQ for fixing probably the best meal we’ve ever served our guests. I can’t imagine that anyone went home hungry. A memorable day by any measure.

Brian walks through the campanile and down the hill at the University of Kansas on Sunday afternoon. For those of you who are not familiar with the graduation ceremony at KU, walking through the campanile and down the hill to the football stadium is considered the meat and potatoes of the festivities by most students and alumni. As a result, probably a good third of the graduates peel off at the entrance to the stadium and head to the bars or their own private parties to begin celebrating, leaving the rest–those poor suckers whose mothers and grandmothers have threatened them within an inch of their lives if they skip the pageantry of the “official” ceremony”–to walk into the stadium and endure the formalities. Brian will be walking into the stadium, but I’m not saying at whose insistence.

The Hill and Campanile at KU on Graduation Day

I have to admit, I thought Brian had screwed it all up long before he arrived on campus as a freshman. Legend has it that if you walk through the campanile before you are a bona fide graduate, you jinx yourself right out of ever graduating from the university. Just to make me crazy–I’m sure–Brian walked through the campanile when he was a senior in high school. Thankfully, the gods have a sense of humor and overlooked his youthful indiscretion, so he will be in the throng of blue robes marching down the hill on Sunday. His will not be a dignified march, however.

Tradition dictates that graduates put their own unique stamp on the festivities, and many do so with great verve. For example, when our daughter, Carey, graduated from KU three years ago, she festooned her mortarboard with a huge plastic brain–one of the tamer embellishments that day. It’s not unusual for the kid to carry balloons; throw streamers; tote giant beer mugs; hold stuffed Jayhawks, teddy bears, and flamingos or inflatable bananas. Some of them even carry boom boxes (do they still call them that?) and dance down the hill. It’s a party every step of the way. I’ll not steal Brian’s thunder by revealing his plans, but I promise pictures after it’s all over.

The "Brain"iac

The "Brain"iac

After graduation, we’ll return here to the house to celebrate with family and friends. We took the easy way out and ordered Brian’s favorite barbecue, so I won’t have much to do the night of the party. But that doesn’t mean I totally let myself off the hook. As is true most any time we host a large gathering, I’ve been obsessed with checking things off my long list of home-improvement projects–projects, in all honesty, that I’ve been ignoring since…well, since…last summer when we hosted Carey and Austin’s engagement party. Somehow long-ignored tasks become more urgent with company coming, so I’ve been painting, cleaning, scrubbing, weeding, planting, mulching, and running errands like a mad woman for the last several weeks. It’s silly. I know it’s silly, but it’s usually requires something rather dramatic to snap me out of the idiocy.

Yesterday was the day. Yesterday was mulching, the last straw (or wood chip). The weather wonks were promising torrential rain by late afternoon, so I got up early and began raking, fluffing, and flinging mulch like my rear was on fire, trying to get the stuff put down before the rains came and turned it all into a soggy mess. Then it didn’t rain. Stupid weather wonks. More to the point, stupid me. While soaking my aching muscles in a steaming hot shower afterward, I finally accepted the silliness of trying to cram months worth of tasks into a few short weeks. No one will notice or–if they do notice–care that the wood blinds haven’t been meticulously dusted or that the flower beds have a few bare spots where I’ve failed to get something planted. I know that. I’ve known that all along. I just forget.

Sanity restored, it’s time to put down my rake/paintbrush/dust cloth and pick up a wine glass to toast my son. We have accomplishments to celebrate, friends to catch up with, and food to eat. It should be a great weekend!

I hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I certainly did. My goal was to get through the day without any mental or physical exertion. Mission accomplished. I slept late. Tom fixed my breakfast, retrieved the newspaper off the driveway (which I uncharacteristically got to read from front to back), and made the bed–upon which I promptly took a nap. Carey and Austin co-hosted a lovely Mother’s Day luncheon at Austin’s folks in the afternoon at which all I had to do was drink margaritas and engage in witty repartee. My children showered me  with lovely gifts, and Tom washed and vacuumed my car. It was a fabulous day. I suppose I did have to shower and put on makeup…

Yesterday was my 27th Mother’s Day. I wish I could tell you I remember my first Mother’s Day, but unfortunately I can’t. Carey would have only been about six weeks old at that point, so it’s safe to say I probably had dark circles under my eyes, baby barf on my shoulders, and two big wet spots on the front of my shirt where I’d leaked through my breast pads. I know my boobs were ginormous and my butt was months away from getting back into my jeans, but I honestly don’t recall being upset by any of it. I just remember being so excited to be a mom. I was only 23 when Carey was born–and she was an easy baby–so I operated under the “Naivete Is Bliss” rule for months after her arrival. In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad way to fly. Tom will never let me forget how I used to pick her up as soon as I’d get out of bed in the morning and head out to sit in my rocker recliner to nurse her. When she was finished, I’d change her diaper and head back to the chair where we’d nap together–Carey in my arms–until she’d wake up again to eat. We’d repeat the process all day long until Tom returned from work in the evening to find us both still in our jammies. Whoops.

Really, Carey’s entire first year was pretty easy. I only remember two unpleasant episodes. The first was an ear infection in the middle of the night and the requisite hellish car ride to the emergency room. I will never ever forget one minute of that night, particularly being forced to stand out in the hallway while the doctor examined Carey. I was ready to rip someone’s head off–specifically that prune-faced nurse who all but shoved me out the door. Luckily, Tom (as always) was there to provide a more level-headed perspective.

The second episode was really more humbling than unpleasant; although, I’ll warn you right now to stop reading if you’re eating. On that occasion, I was reminded that no matter how else I might see myself, I was, always and forevermore–no exceptions–a mom. I had gotten all dressed up to go out with Tom and some friends. It was the mid-80s, so I had the big hair, a bright yellow sweater with a fringed scarf wrapped fashionably around my neck, tight jeans, high-heeled boots, and fake fingernails. I thought I was all that and a bag of chips. That is, until I went to the ladies’ room after dinner. There, as I washed my hands before returning to the table, I discovered a chunk of bright yellow, dried baby poop under one of fabulous fingernails. (I told you to stop reading if you were eating.) It’s not that my discovery wrecked the evening so much as it finally sealed the deal. There was no escaping the fact that my primary role in life was now Mom. The proof was under my fingernail.

By the time Brian came along, I was pretty well settled into the job. At least, at the time, I thought I was. Like Carey, he was an easy baby. Unfortunately, the two of us didn’t get to spend a lot of quiet time together when he was an infant because by then Carey was an active three-year-old. As an illustration of just how active, one day while I was putting Brian down for a nap, the phone rang. It was a neighbor about five houses up the street who had two daughters just a little older than Carey. We had only moved into the neighborhood a few months earlier, so I was mortified when my new neighbor–whom I barely knew–told me that Carey had just arrived at her house on her tricycle. What?! What!?

How in the world that child got the garage door up, I’ll never know. Thank goodness there was a sidewalk and she had enough sense to stay on it. That the neighbor didn’t call the authorities on me for negligence, I’ll be forever grateful.

When Carey started school, Brian and I finally got our one-on-one time together. One of my favorite memories is of our bike rides together. I would strap him into the seat on the back of my bicycle, and the two of us would peddle all over town, usually stopping at one of the city parks for a picnic lunch. He looked like a Weeble in his big ol’ bike helmet. I was crushed the day he told me he was too big to ride on the back of my bike anymore.  Just like I was crushed his first day of preschool when he told me I didn’t need to walk him into the building and crushed the day Carey dressed herself because she didn’t like the outfits I picked out.

That’s the insidious thing about motherhood. You think, “When in the world are you ever going to outgrow waking me up in the middle of the night…needing me to dress you…making a mess every time you eat? And then, I’ll be danged if they don’t do it, and you’re facing your 27th Mother’s Day and the only thing you’re responsible for is getting your own lazy backside into the shower. Your grown children are planning the festivities, preparing the food, and treating you like a queen.

I’m not complaining…exactly. I’m just saying…

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