Author Archives: rachael

These James Whitcomb Riley Days

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, read James Whitcomb Riley poems, along with other Hoosier literature, after noon recess every day.

She brought poems and stories to life in a way that made my ears and mind tingle.

However, she enforced “rest time.” We had to lay our heads on our desks while she read, an indignity that smacked of kindergarten naptime. After all, we were nine-year-olds, soon to reach double digits.

We didn’t need any dumb rest time.

Decades later, I realized that after policing a playground resembling a crash derby without cars, then facing a similar classroom scenario, she might need the break.

Not all of Riley’s poems topped my “favorites” list. Braver classmates asked Mrs. Baker to read “Little Orphant Annie.” Why did they like those repeated references to “gobble-uns” that would get us if we didn’t shape up?

I already slept with my knees near my shoulders to avoid giant spiders lurking at the foot of my bed. Adding gobble-uns to my nighttime freak-out list didn’t induce much sleep.

Even more frightening, Little Orphant Annie had to do lots of housework.

The James Whitcomb Riley poem I liked best was “When the Frost Is on the Punkin’,” which celebrates autumn in Indiana. That poem tasted good, like tangy cider, and still does:

“But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”

However, James Whitcomb Riley never would have received an A on a grammar test. He would have been the very first down in a spelling bee.

Mrs. Baker and other teachers deluged us with homework, tests and even demerits to ensure my classmates and I spoke and wrote correctly.

Yet my teacher read us his poems almost daily.

Grown-ups never made sense.

Despite my confusion, James Whitcomb Riley’s magic sang in my head and heart. A Hoosier like me, he wrote about the land and life I knew and loved. He instilled pride into us for who we were — kids in a country school in a county where farmers helped feed a nation and the world.

His poems still resonate with me, especially on a crisp, fall Indiana morning with a shimmer of silver on my lawn, and gold, russet, and scarlet leaves flying in the chilly, sunny breeze. James Whitcomb Riley still reminds me of all I cherish in my native state.

Even if he didn’t know how to spell.

 

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did your childhood teachers read to you? What was your favorite read-aloud story/poem?

 

Playing Hooky in October

Is there anything more fun than sneaking a walk when you should be hard at work?

Perhaps balancing the national budget, achieving world peace and losing four dress sizes rank above it. None of these, however, appear imminent. So I pilfer little thrills, like kernels of candy corn, when I can.

Autumn’s tawny, sun-freckled face grins from every yard and field, a mischievous TP-er who messes with trees so we have to clean up many-hued clutter. Scraggly flowers, survivors with colorful personalities, mix well with show-off mums. Ragged, brown corn and soybeans look weathered and friendly as smiling scarecrows that guard small-town yards and grocery store produce sections.

Al mellow and unhurried. Autumn urges me to enjoy its relaxed aura while I can.

Apple trees, however, awaken my laid-back senses. Loaded with plump fruit, they tempt me to borrow just a few.

However, calling my husband to spring me from jail isn’t the best way to celebrate fall. Forcing my steps past, I promise myself a trip to an orchard.

Squirrels, sociopathic larcenists, don’t worry about raising bail. They freely steal fruit, walnuts and acorns, which they hide in my flower pots—their personal storage units. Fall squirrels are like spring dandelions, fluffy and cute. I love both … in other people’s yards.

All paths lead to the elementary school, easily evidenced by a trail of kid stuff: a flattened baseball hat; a pink bicycle abandoned near a stop sign; a plain strawberry Pop-Tart®, no doubt rejected because someone wanted frosted chocolate with sprinkles. Scholarly endeavors are verified by broken pencils and crinkled homework. How long has this rain-faded permission slip lain here?

Rows of cars at the school speak of the commitment of teachers, administrators and staff. I pray for them, as the place — even when recess is not in session — emits energy unmatched by Hoover Dam turbines.

Ditto for Taylor University. A substantial portion of its science building’s energy needs are supplied by geothermal, solar and wind power. However, the pulsating between-class rhythm of skateboarders, scooter-riders, cyclists and joggers who don’t even notice they’re jogging prompts another energy question: Couldn’t the remainder be supplied by students, who regard midnight as the start of prime time?

I seek quieter streets, where I can saunter, unmolested by the vigorous and motivated.

Instead, yards teem with home improvement projects, and on the town’s outskirts, farmers driving giant combines lumber into fields, braving clouds of chaff. All strive to complete their tasks before cold weather.

In the face of so much diligence, goofing off is downright tough. I head for home.

But that doesn’t mean autumn and I won’t try to play hooky tomorrow. …

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite goof-off season, and why?

 

 

 

Cheap Flight Delights

I often spend considerable time, energy and money to procure cheap flights.

Spend cash to keep the ticket price down?

Of course. To finance my last trip to see my father, I acquired 17 new credit cards. Sure, purchasing matching paisley appliances and a lawn-mowing robot named Bubba upped my debt totals. But the rewards points earned me an all-expenses-paid flight to beautiful, fragrant Monroe, Louisiana, the paper-mill-ambiance capital of the world.

Some might assume I took a red-eye or predawn flight. Instead, my creative itinerary kept the price in sync with my points: Indianapolis to Detroit to Memphis to Monroe. The underlying principle: Increased Distance Equals Lower Costs. Strange that this principle never pans out when I drive. Picking up dry cleaning in Marion, Indiana, I do not take a route through Salt Lake City. But those Bobby-goes-40-miles-Billy-goes-30 story problems never made sense to me, either, so why question airline wisdom?

In Detroit, my jet balked at takeoff. We passengers waited three hours on the plane before mechanics declared it legally dead. The airline issued next-day tickets and vouchers for food and lodging. The hotel honored my hard-luck coupon with no charges. However, an airport Coke cost more than my six-dollar meal voucher allowed. Perhaps, given the Increased Distance Equals Lower Costs Principle, I should have hit a McDonald’s in Salt Lake City?

To avoid baggage fees, I had brought only a carry-on. When my cheap flight included a surprise overnight stay, I gave thanks for curling iron and fresh undies that surely would have been routed to Samoa, had I checked a bag through. However, if left with only laptop and breath mints, would I have received a new-clothes voucher? My seventeen credit cards and I would have gone shopping — accruing even more bonus rewards points!

The next day, my plane suffered no malady except overstuffed bags in its overhead bins. (We passengers measure carry-ons with the same accuracy we use in measuring calories.) Would some legalistic flight attendant strand me in Detroit forever? Instead, the guy not only jammed my duffle, telescopes and bass violins into upper compartments, he crammed in a passenger’s bison, tail and all.

We cheapskate passengers also refused to waste money on airline food, sharing snacks brought in a spirit of brotherhood, compassion and anti-cannibalism.

Avoiding rental car and parking costs, we’d asked friends and relatives to pick us up. I’d forgotten, however, that my octogenarian father would insist on driving us home. Had his cut-rate cataract surgery reduced his triple vision?

Or would my rewards trip to heaven come sooner than expected?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your all-time best travel deal?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Driving a Rental Car

What I asked for

What they gave me

O my God, To me, this Texas rental car’s console resembles that of a Star Wars fighter ship. So nice when Hubby handles these things. But he is safe and sound at home — unlike the interstate drivers around me. OMG, may your guardian angels and insurance angels watch over us all.

Infallible Camping Lists

When our children were small, I maintained a camping list as complicated as a theological treatise. It grew so wise and wonderful that our daughter, now taking her family camping, borrowed it. “I don’t want to forget anything.”

Ha! Campers always forget something.

I balked at handing over my ragged, penciled/inked, 25-year-old list. Part of me celebrated. No more worries about taking Scooby-Doo Band-Aids, the only kind our five-year-old would accept. But I sniffled anew over our empty nest.

I sobbed, “My camping list. …”

Hubby’s face stiffened in his familiar you’re-insane-but-I-won’t-say-it expression. He didn’t protest, “But you hate lists.” Or even, “You didn’t lose it 25 years ago?”

Still, he couldn’t comprehend how listings of bug spray and Imodium® evoked tender memories a mother could cherish.

He did offer to make a new list.

Eyes shining, he plopped beside me. “What do we want on our camping list?”

“We”? I had sort of wanted to do … anything else.

He read me. “If we collaborate, we won’t forget anything.”

We discovered — gasp! — that we define “essentials” differently.

He cannot survive without disgustingly healthy oatmeal raisin cookies. I refuse to leave the driveway without my beloved Pecan Sandies Shortbread cookies. We do agree that a hike without trail mix is like a cruise — not that we’ve taken one — without a buffet.

Hubby stood firm on one point: no melty, messy chocolate chips.

I stood firm. Trail mix without chocolate is not trail mix.

Believe it or not, we completed the list before Christmas.

In hopes of rescuing your future campouts, I include tips on camping items that should never be forgotten:

  • Rain tarp. Leave behind extra clothing (who cares what you look/smell like?). But don’t forget a rain tarp, for which — at 2 a.m., with water drip-drip-dripping on your forehead and your children/grandchildren floating away — you would pay a million dollars.
  • Buckets. Bailing with your spouse’s shoe will make a tenuous situation worse.
  • Coffee. Overlook a drinker’s joe or means to brew it, and she may tie you to a tree and invite bears to dinner.
  • Entrance rug. Leave it behind just once and you’ll sleep with a stampede of muddy footprints across your pillow.
  • Pillows. You may have included enough bags of marshmallows to substitute, but you’ll share your sleeping bag with a tribe of hungry raccoons.
  • Swimsuit. Bring both pieces.
  • Blanky. Do not forget your child’s blanky, eyeless teddy bear or one-armed Barbie® Doll. If you do, for the sake of the entire campground, be prepared to break into a small-town Walmart at 3 a.m. to find a substitute.
  • Soap. Finally, pack separate soaps. Otherwise, you might find yourself outside the men’s showers, yelling at your dearly beloved to remember your needs, then explaining them to the park ranger.

The good news: even if we’ve forgotten camping list essentials, we’re still married.

But with a new, untried list … with no Scooby-Doo Band-Aids … will we survive the next camping trip?

 Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What item would make the top of your list? (Hint: Room service does not count.)   

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Celebrating My Boy Scout

O my God, You knew — though we didn’t, at 15 and 16 — that we’d be sharing the same boat for a lifetime. Thank You that we celebrated my Boy Scout’s birthday the way he likes best! And OMG, with Your help, may we paddle together for many years to come.

 

The First-Day-of-School Drill

Empty nesters like me have forgotten the, er, thrill of the first-day-of-school drill, right?

Not quite.

I may forget where I left my car … in my garage, because I walked to the store.

But I still can feel Mom brushing my hair into a tight ponytail that relocated my eyes. Before the bus arrived, she asked if I’d changed my underwear, then hugged me goodbye.

Clutching a box of unbroken crayons, I entered a classroom that smelled of chalk dust and my teacher’s flowery perfume.

We were issued information cards to give our parents. I could read and knew my address and phone number. One blank, however, stumped me.

After school, I asked Mom, “What’s sex?”

She straightened.  “Honey, where did you hear about sex?”

“It’s on the cards—”

What cards?”

“The school cards.” I handed her mine.

Why did she chuckle? “The school wants to know if you’re a girl or boy.”

“I’m a girl!” Mystery solved. I felt immense relief.

She probably felt more.

Fast-forward 25 years. My eldest, starting kindergarten, also knew how to read. We had practiced our address and phone number. I had instructed her about sex blanks.

She donned her Strawberry Shortcake backpack. I plunked my toddler into a stroller.

The school, though located across the street, seemed a world away.

“Time to go,” I said brightly.

“I want to go by myself.”

My heart shriveled.  “But—but—all the other mothers get to come.”

“I don’t want you to come.”

“You might get lost!”

“We visited my room. Two whole times.”

How had she mastered a teenage eye-roll? “Uh—”

She looked carefully both ways and crossed the street. But at the school’s entrance, she paused.

She needed me! To my two-year-old’s delight, the stroller and I galloped madly toward the school.

But my kindergartener had disappeared.

Now I paused, chewiing my nails. Should I risk another eye-roll?

Instead, I slunk home and suffered. Had my child indeed found her classroom?

Or had aliens abducted her?

When the school’s dismissal bell rang, the sight of the familiar little figure saved my life. “How was school?”

“Okay. But I didn’t like the cookies.”

She’d found her room! She’d filled out her information card herself. She knew her sex.

But she had balked at the teacher’s listing her race as white. “I told her you said I was pinky-beige.” My daughter groused, “She put a ‘W’ in the blank anyway!”

Apparently, my child had taken our racial discussions to heart. …

Ah, the first day of school. I may be a spectator now, but I haven’t forgotten the thrill of the drill.

As if I ever could.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What first-day-of-school memory stands out for you?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: the Power of Tiny

             

O my God, ginormous sea monsters and  fire monsters roar through our land, wanting to eat us up.

What can itty-bitty flowers do to stop them? Yet, OMG, You sent a little Baby to save the whole world. Let Your tiny mercies bud hope in Your suffering people today.