Author Archives: Kim Peterson

Drinking It All In

We Americans treasure our beverages. We are born yelling for something to drink, and we spend our lives attached to Mommy, baby bottle, sippy cup, glass, coffee mug, teacup, wine goblet, and milk carton. During toddler years, we dump beverages rather than drink them. Still, we establish lifelong consumption patterns.

Case in point: upon marriage, I, whose family considered orange juice a semi-luxury, discovered my husband considered it nonnegotiable. This, despite a weekly grocery budget of $15. No apple, cranberry, grape, or — God forbid — grapefruit juice. No insidious combinations like orange-papaya. Hubby preferred freshly squeezed orange juice, but graciously agreed to drink bottled until conditions permitted the proper beverage. (He’s still waiting.)

I, on the other hand, absorbed Mom and Dad’s edict that chili demanded Pepsi. Sadly, I have strayed. I now drink diet Pepsi, or even diet Coke. But never, with chili, pizza or Mexican food, will I ascribe to my spouse’s unswerving devotion to milk.

Not that I dislike milk. During family visits, I purchase five kinds (whole milk, 2%, 1%, skim, and rice milk, depending on who’s allergic, growing, dieting, or protesting). Milk is a basic value Hubby and I share.

However, despite noble coffee-consuming roots, he drinks only tea. I, though a coffee aficionado since serving at a Denny’s overnight during college, occasionally drink tea to preserve our marriage.

That Denny’s experience at age 18 in Oregon, impacted my beverage history in other ways. Having smelled the aggregate breath of cowboys who donned menus and made marriage (and other) proposals, I nixed beer as an option. Ditto, when working as a janitor. I sniffed open whiskey bottles in a law firm’s board room. Whew — smelled like turpentine!

Later, when legal, Hubby and I surmised that wine recommended by a cork-sniffing steward really should taste better than that. And cost a lot less.

So, we’ve mostly stuck to orange juice-Pepsi-milk-coffee-tea dependence.

And water. However, I note the wordy truth observed by the late journalist Ambrose Bierce: “Upon nothing has so great and diligent an ingenuity been brought to bear in all ages, except for the most uncivilized, as upon the invention of substitutes for water.”

Many would rather die of thirst than drink H2O — unless poured from a plastic bottle. Recently, the FDA stated each American averaged 26 gallons of bottled water per year. We hadn’t sucked so many plastic bottles since infancy.

Not my thing, nor Hubby’s. But he remains hopelessly devoted to morning orange juice and tea. I don’t object because I want my coffee.

And because his ancestors came from Boston. In 1773, when England messed with their favorite beverage, those people got a little testy. …

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite beverage? Your least favorite?

Firefly Romance

As a child, did you run barefoot through the summer dusk, catching fireflies? Like me, you probably incarcerated them in mayonnaise jars with holey lids.

My parents tried to persuade me to release them.

This made no sense. My folks constantly looked for ways to save money. What wasn’t to love about a cool invention that lowered the electric bill? Still, when they insisted the fireflies were crying for their mommies, I freed them, trusting they were flitting home to hugs, baths and clean jammies, too.

Growing older, I wondered if something less Disney was going on. Sure enough, research revealed those Snow White scenes were actually firefly date nights. Since their adult lives last only a few weeks, love strikes these bugs like lightning; they do some serious speed dating.

Like me, Sara Lewis, a Tufts University scientist, loves to watch fireflies. Unlike me, she gets paid. For the past 25 years, Sara has noticed different species use specific flashes and delays to communicate. Opposites often attract, as seen in the following Photinus marginellus exchange:

P. marginellus Guy: Flash! (Two-second pause.) Flash! (Two seconds.) Flash! (The P. marginellus guys are the faithful, consistent types, but a little boring.)

P. marginellus Girl: Flash! (Zero delay. The P. marginellus girls are a little easy.)

A reversed pattern characterizes Photinus carolinus fireflies; with six flashes in three seconds, guys define the word “flashy.” P. carolinus women, however, wait 10 whole seconds before emitting short, coy responses that declare these dudes better show up with candy and roses.

Which some do. According to Lewis, males often bring “nuptial gifts” — food to sustain females as they lay eggs. Even in the insect kingdom, women love their Fannie May’s. Tied with red satin ribbons, thank you very much.

Because the girls are so picky, P. carolinus guys often gather in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. There, they synchronize flashes to attract their ladies’ notice, creating spectacular light shows.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to all this love and light. The female of one species fakes the signals of others to lure unsuspecting males to her place for dinner — with him as the main course!

Eww. I’m tempted to go inside and refresh my psyche with a pure-minded sitcom.

But strains of the Mills Brothers’ old song, “The Glow-Worm,” float through my mind. Hundreds of fireflies appear, tiny lights glimmering like shiny gold confetti. My husband joins me, and we hold hands, glad that children won’t lack fireflies for their mayonnaise jars.

And that these sparks light up summer evenings for all young — and old — lovers snuggling on a porch in the summer twilight.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite firefly memory?

A Little Watering Excitement

Reading this title, even I think I ought to get out more. Who spends Saturday nights holding a hose?

Of course, I blame my parents for my less-than-wild lifestyle. Mom, a pastor’s wife with five stair-step children, gladly would have enjoyed a few uninterrupted minutes to do nothing but water petunias and breathe. But with little time to do either, she elected me.

I almost preferred babysitting my brothers. At least, they did exciting things like setting the sofa afire. Still, I created excitement when the little creeps ventured too close, spraying them into the stratosphere.

Mostly, though, I considered watering in the same class as listening to my dad preach. Both were good things I should do, but the tasks seemed to go on forever and ever, amen.

With young adulthood, watering ended. Watering fairies in apartment complexes waved magic hoses, keeping grass and flowers bright and pretty as a box of Crayolas. However, when Hubby and I rented our first house, we found, to our shock, that the watering fairies hadn’t jumped onto the moving truck.

When we built our first house, I served as Mommy to the new lawn, as well as to three children. The Goddess of Liquid, supervising input and output, all I did was nurse babies, diaper babies and water grass.

Though the job description has narrowed, I still spend hours and dollars every summer hydrating our arid property. Spending less money and effort, I could buy veggies and flowers at the grocery. But even beyond the scrumptiousness of homegrown stuff, watering presents other positives.

For me, it fills the place that being a soccer mom once held. Then, I could justify a chaotic house and a car resembling a McDonald’s dumpster on wheels in the name of supporting my children. Privately, though, other soccer moms and I considered our noble pastime legalized loafing.

But my children grew up. So, I’ve created a whole new concept.

If I water the flower bed near the street, half of Upland’s population walks/bikes/ Rollerblades past. Cute babies wave from strollers. Drivers stop dead in the middle of the street for conversation. I connect with neighbors, also looking noble as they water. And why not? We are greening the earth, as well as nurturing our inner loafers.

Actually, I keep quite busy while I water. Mentally scanning cabinets and fridge, I formulate grocery lists. I ponder my position on abortion. I review knock-knock jokes for our grandson. I pray for our sick neighbor. I count fireflies. I watch a dead-end street baseball game. I decide how to kill off the victim in my next novel. …

Who says watering isn’t exciting?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you the watering fairy in your family?

S-s-spiders!

It is with great reluctance that I write this week’s blog.

Why? Because I am a confirmed, card-carrying, scream-for-my-husband arachnophobe.

Then why write about them? I am following current wisdom, which declares we should face our fears head-on.

Hubby protests, “But you’re writing in the family room. The granddaddy longlegs are in the half bath.”

“Like I don’t know that?” I glare at him. “What do you think I am, an idiot?”

Don’t answer that.

He doesn’t, because he knows a rhetorical question when he hears one. Also, he wants to live to see his grandchildren grow up.

My husband refuses to acknowledge my carefully constructed rationale regarding arachnids. He does not comprehend their plan to take over the world. These “harmless,” “helpful” hypocrites, à la Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, aspire to drag the whole human race to their lairs and turn us into mummified entrées for future spider victory dinners.

Perhaps a little background will help you understand my viewpoint. As a five-year-old living in Mexico, I woke up one morning, nose-to-nose with a tarantula.

My screams shriveled. Before it could bite, I airmailed sheets, blankets, and the ginormous spider across the room.

While others (sleeping on the floor!) snored, I conducted my own heart-pounding, stomach-flipping, cold-sweat-pouring search for the tarantula.

Never found it.

Perhaps when I encounter other spiders, no matter how miniscule, I am always afraid I will find it. If I ever do — even if the tarantula’s an old geezer with eight knee replacements — I will show no mercy.

Sadly, some teachers like spiders. When mine introduced Charlotte’s Web, I wondered what I’d done to deserve this. Read 184 pages about a spider?

To my amazement, the author, E.B. White, almost humanized Charlotte.

Not quite. Not even a master storyteller could convince me she was pretty, as Wilbur the pig believed. Even budding feelings of motherly concern about Charlotte’s eggs failed to triumph over the gut-clutching realization that one spider reproduced hundreds of offspring.

Now an adult, I dread family reunions Charlotte’s descendants hold in our pop-up camper each summer.

At least, I’m not as far gone as my niece. She firmly believes Internet wisdom that hundreds of spiders crawl into our mouths and ears while we sleep.

Meanwhile, I bravely continue efforts to face my fears and have granted the granddaddy longlegs a temporary stay of execution. This is (deep breath) a huge step.

However, I’m still writing in the family room while the spiders occupy the half bath.

And, um … duct-taping my mouth and ears shut at night.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you an arachnophobe too? Or has Charlotte converted you?

Magic Trees

When I was small, trees were magic. Especially the trees outside our church.

As preschoolers, my brother and I discovered friendly low branches that invited a climb. Every pint-sized Sunday school attendee welcomed that magic.

Moms, however, did not appreciate magic trees — especially mulberries. They transformed starched-white-shirt-and-ruffly-dress VBS populations into glorious, purple-tie-dyed messes.

Trees remained magical throughout my childhood, serving as bases, houses, castles and cathedrals. Schoolyard bike races morphed them into traffic cones. On sweltering days, I stayed within Mom’s sight under our backyard’s shady oak, yet traveled thousands of miles as I devoured library books.

Now an adult, I have planted trees that infuse oxygen into our atmosphere, provide shade and enhance property values. But I hadn’t visited magic trees for a long time.

Until our extended family’s campout, when sullen clouds alternately spat on us and poured rain like a waterfall.

Thanks to yummy pancakes and sausage, the group survived the morning. When rain held off, older kids found plenty to do. But as parents of a five-year-old and his three-year-old foster brother tried to fix a group lunch, the little boys seemed destined for war.

Anyone with sense would have run for a bomb shelter. But I am Grandma. Edging them out of range, I blurted, “Let’s visit magic trees!”

Perhaps the skeptical three-year-old had seen too much to believe in magic. But he followed his brother and me to an empty campsite, where the five-year-old beat on a maple with a stick.

He chortled, “Now the tree’s awake!”

I’d wake up, too, if clobbered with a six-foot cudgel. “What’s the tree saying?”

“He says I should visit a different tree.”

Smart maple.

By now, the three-year-old was a believer, too. We awakened all the empty campsite trees. Some also told us to visit different trees. But several told stories about nesting birds and skittery squirrels. Special trees talked only when tapped the perfect number of times. Then they whispered tales understood only by the chlorophyll crowd and preschoolers.

One oak interrupted, “Time to eat. I’ve been calling you for ten minutes.”

Correction: Hubby had entered the land of magic trees.

Instantly, my fellow adventurers dashed for the dining tent.

“Couldn’t you have waited?” I said irritably. “That tree was just about to tell us whether they make a noise when they fall.”

He rolled his eyes, as if barbecued chicken and macaroni salad could compensate for his breaking the sweet spell.

The five-year-old and I could visit magic trees again. However, court dates threatened to keep the three-year-old from adventuring with us.

But for one misty summer morning, he talked with magic trees.

I pray he will do it again.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you visited magic trees lately?

Precious Watermelon Memories

Watermelons. Luscious, refreshing and satisfying, they deserve another blog post.

Last week, I shared four essential ingredients for eating a watermelon the best way. This week, I bring one final ingredient to your attention for truly memorable watermelon-eating experiences.

Last essential ingredient, but not least

Watermelons, bought not from strangers, but grown in one’s own patch — although my father, a lifelong expert, declared the stolen ones the sweetest. As boys, he and his brothers patronized patches owned by Mr. Purvis Williams and Mr. T.C. Higgenbotham.

Of course, when Dad amazed the Louisiana town by becoming a minister, he swore off such pastimes. When he returned to his hometown as a 79-year-old retiree, however, he celebrated his first watermelon season there by investigating local patches. One flourished near his old homesite. He hadn’t seen watermelons that good since boyhood, the fat green-striped orbs almost bursting with juice.

The patch’s owner: his new pastor.

Dad managed to steer his next conversation with the reverend toward gardening and complimented him on his beautiful melons. As he’d hoped, the pastor invited his new parishioner to help himself.

Dad knew he didn’t mean it. A Southerner himself, he understood the man was just being lyin’-polite. However, while the pastor still regarded him as an ignorant Yankee who didn’t know any better, Dad took advantage. He raided the pastor’s patch and returned home in triumph with a prize watermelon. My parents and I chilled it ice-cold, then devoured it on the front porch with my cousin Tara on a sweltering July afternoon. I couldn’t imagine anything more luscious.

Still, this little feast did not compare with those of my childhood, when Grandpa iced down a dozen from his garden in a horse trough. By mid-afternoon, when even bees buzzing around the pink crepe myrtle bushes sounded hot and lazy, the entire family gathered on the back porch for a watermelon feed. Every uncle, aunt and cousin received half a melon to munch.

After we finished, the adults, anticipating the imminent Watermelon Seed War, banished us kids to the yard. There, we discharged our arsenals without harming any grown-ups.

Sometimes, Dad peeled thin green slices from the outside rind with his pocketknife. He fashioned these into Billy Bob buckteeth that put the costume-shop variety to shame. Dad pulled his hat down over his ears and gave us big green-toothed grins. We stuffed the “teeth” into our mouths, yuk-yukking at each other. Occasionally, one of the toddlers stuck seeds up his nose, which was always good for a little excitement when things grew dull.

Thirty-five years later, after we had devoured the last sweet pink chunk of his pastor’s watermelon, Dad saved the seeds and tended a prize patch that resurrected delicious memories of past banquets on the porch.

God help the rascally kid or retired minister who tried to steal his watermelons.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What precious watermelon memories come to mind as summer approaches?

Watermelon Essentials

There’s a right way to eat a watermelon. Then, there’s the best way.

The right way involves turning store-bought melons into cute little chunks on fancy toothpicks or artificial-looking balls on a fruit plate.

The best way includes all the proper ingredients for a truly memorable watermelon-eating experience. Here’s what you need to assemble.

First essential ingredient

Order a summer day so hot the gooey blacktop on every street and road shifts under your steps. A day when you envy frogs, who support themselves in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed, yet spend all their time at the beach.

Second essential ingredient

Invite family, friends and neighbors to come savor the delicious fruit because the best watermelon is never eaten alone.

Third essential ingredient

Gather newspapers, preferably none that contain my column.

My family has used these inexpensive, highly disposable watermelon-eating place mats for generations. Diners spread them on their laps, where they spit their seeds. If dampened sufficiently, newspapers also imprint “City Sewer Plan Stinks” or similar inspiring headlines on new white shorts or bare legs. With luck, these remain several days, no matter how hard your mother scrubs.

Fourth essential ingredient

Locate a screened-in porch with adequate waterproof seating for all those people you invited. Watermelon loses its double-impact flavor if eaten indoors, where consumers cannot apply luscious, sticky juices directly to arms, legs and tummies, as well as ingesting the fruit by mouth. Also, eating sessions inside often are cut short by irate mothers who obsess about freshly mopped kitchen floors and other irrelevant issues.

Yes, watermelon tastes best outside. If a screened-in location isn’t available, backyards, decks and parks also present good watermelon-eating sites, but you may as well send invitations to flies and yellow jackets, who — like some human relatives — come whether you invite them or not.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Where do you prefer to eat watermelon? And, who do you invite to share the bounty?

The Trooth about the Tooth Fairy

My grandson hunched over a piece of paper, his small fingers busy writing.

“Are you making up a story?”

“Nah. Writing a letter.”

“To whom?”

“The Tooth Fairy. She’s late.” He shook his head. “But I better edit this before I put it under my pillow.”

Words to warm an English-major grandma’s heart.

However, his efforts inspired me to wonder: Where did this Tooth Fairy person/custom originate?

Possibly with Norse culture. Warriors paid offspring for their baby teeth, carrying them into battle as good luck charms. Viking kids apparently made a real killing, much more than the $3.50 – 3.70 per tooth received by today’s little capitalists.

But twenty-first-century children benefit in other ways. For example, girls can visit websites maintained by their personal Tooth Fairies that feature games, cartoons, castles, and Tooth Fairy stores.

If their age, I’d deluge my online Tooth Fairy with letters, love and charges on my parents’ Visas. As a Viking child, I gladly would have done my patriotic duty. However, no Vikings, Internets or parental credit cards existed during my era. I knew only that the shadowy Tooth Fairy appeared an insomniac.

Did she also bring new teeth to baby siblings, “gifts” that morphed them — and the rest of our family — into insomniacs? I considered lying in wait and firing pillows at her.

Besides, she showed up late — or not at all — when money was tight at our house. When I did discover a shiny dime under my pillow and bought a giant PAYDAY, though, I appreciated anew the Tooth Fairy’s efforts.

The irony of buying candy with Tooth Fairy money was lost on me and my friends. But we deduced other important Tooth Fairy principles, including: the bigger the teeth, the lower our returns. By the time we lost primary molars, the Tooth Fairy had deserted us for younger devotees with handmade Tooth Fairy pillows. The dentist barred us from his treasure chest, even if we didn’t yell.

This permanent-tooth thing was overrated.

Little did we know that soon, instead of raking in dimes, we’d pay more than the cost of a whole bag of PAYDAY candy bars and receive root canals in return.

Lou the Tooth Fairy of YouTube fame briefly renewed my hopes for adults. A balding, sixtyish man dressed in a pink tutu, Lou hands cooperative patients cash. I could handle that — plus back pay since age 12.

Sadly, Lou appears only when paid to do ads. I like my grandson’s Tooth Fairies better. Hardworking and crazy busy, they would appreciate help. As an honorary Tooth Fairy, I also could write my grandson a reply.

But I’d better edit it twice.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did the Tooth Fairy ever visit you?

The Great Toothpaste Quest

My husband pokes his head out the bathroom door. “Would you pick up toothpaste while you’re out?”

“Sure.” If I had a brain, I would not ask the following question. But I am an American — programmed by 5,000 daily ads to love choices. “What kind of toothpaste?”

“No fancy stuff. Plain old toothpaste.” Kissing me goodbye, he leaves for work, not noticing his words just shut down my body systems.

“Plain old toothpaste”? How could the love of my life condemn me to such a fate?

Therapeutic coffee brings me to my senses. A veteran of 44 Christmas seasons should not be so easily shaken. Not only will I find plain old toothpaste, I will hit a triple-coupon, buy-10-for-$10 sale.

The 329 brands in the first discount store do not intimidate me. My choice was settled decades ago because, like most parents of Baby Boomers, mine heeded the infallible Sixties’ “Look, Ma, no cavities!” commercials featuring kids wearing Roy Rogers cowboy hats. If you couldn’t trust Roy Rogers for your dental care, whom could you trust?

So, I gravitate to the familiar logo, searching shelves where I should find a hundred tubes of plain old toothpaste. Instead, in my quest for the pure and simple, I must read each and every label. Hubby never has liked big stripes on his shirts or toothpaste.

Blue gels resemble congealed Windex. No peroxide, baking soda, or Clorox® needed. As for pro-health and clean mint varieties — hopefully, they do not present true breakthroughs. Did manufacturers formerly sell anti-health and dirty mint toothpaste?

I cannot find one single tube of plain old toothpaste. But when the going gets tough, wimps hit the Internet. Somewhere in all cyberspace, I will find it.

Instead, I find 3,481 flavors. During the 1960s, any brand that dared deviate from mint was subject to congressional review. Today, however, choices include vanilla, bitter chocolate, caramel, pumpkin pudding, cola, Indian curry and pork. If a person wants to go to work smelling like a distillery, he can brush with bourbon-flavored paste.

However, my husband likes his job. I give up and buy tartar control. Will he notice the difference?

Having spent all energy and brain power on the Great Toothpaste Quest, I have forgotten to buy groceries. Out of milk, I stop by a small village store and discover plain old mint toothpaste. No gel. No bleach. No curry. No bourbon.

I dash home with my treasure, excited. He seems mildly pleased.

Minutes later, he sticks his head out the bathroom door. “Could you buy me more deodorant, please? None of that fancy stuff ….”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What “simple” shopping trip turned complicated for you?

Love Those Layers

Contrary to logic, as the weather warms, the plant world dons more layers. Bushes and shrubs wrap colorful scarves of leaves and blossoms around their shoulders. Trees drape bare branches with graceful green mantles. My lawn pads itself with a soft, thick layer of crabgrass.

Young human beings, however, shun this idea. Passing our town’s grade school one chilly afternoon, I noticed most shivering kids walking home sported shorts and flip-flops. They looked bluer than Smurfs.

At prom time, young women wearing strapless bodices and frozen smiles grace the spring landscape. A million goose bumps encase these lovelies like Bubble Wrap.

If you’re a parent, you do not puzzle over this missing link between wardrobe and meteorological conditions. Weather has nothing to do with it. What’s really happening? Kids are exercising independence. We all do stupid things at that age so we can grow up to never make stupid decisions again.

Still, as a perfect, mature being, I sympathize. My classmates and I suffered similar symptoms. We of the Dick-and-Jane generation wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing shorts and flip-flops to school. Still, our rebellious frenzy blasted black holes in that era’s proper universe.

We wore sleeveless shirts to class.

Abused classmates still wore sweaters Great-aunt Arlene gave them for Christmas. Obviously, they hadn’t exerted proper control over their parents.

I enjoyed wild, uninhibited freedom — until Mom made me wear a jacket.

In fact, she and my teacher kept me in a catch-22.

Mom: This class sheet says you must dress for all weather possibilities. Wear your jacket.

Teacher: Your mother sent this jacket with you, so you have to wear it.

Me: Can’t I put off hot flashes for a few decades?

We tortured children discarded outerwear as close to school dumpsters as we dared. We left jackets hanging in restroom stalls — or tried to flush them.

But our sins always found us out. Traitors among us tattled. No doubt bribed with extra-long turns at the water fountain, these snitches displayed our jackets and sweaters before the entire class until someone identified the culprits. Never would have I participated in such betrayal.

But when my children were growing up, I not only surrendered to the traitors — I joined their ranks.

Sweaters and jackets remain my friends to this day. They conceal my medical condition known as winter waist, characterized by mysterious swelling and extreme pain when buttoning last spring’s capris. Even when the sun shines, I cling to my compassionate buddies.

Someday, the young will realize that, along with moms and teachers, layers can be their friends.

And trees, who sport new cover-up wardrobes every spring, aren’t so dumb, after all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you love your layers, too?