Author Archives: Kim Peterson

In the Running for a Serene Spring

No green interrupts my “spring” day except the envious color I turn when the Taylor University track teams — women and men — run through my neighborhood.

They wear long tights, hoodies and woolly hats. Snow confetti may greet them. Still, their effortless, long-legged strides defy winter, as do their fresh young faces.

They talk as they run. They laugh.

Running and laughter? An oxymoron. Even decades ago, when I ran routinely, I don’t recall laughing once.

My new husband had talked me into running with him. It’ll be fun, he said. Relaxing, he said.

His legs measure six inches longer than mine.

Newly married couples, do not try this at home. Or anywhere else.

Watching these track teams run now, I find their togetherness friendlier. Definitely more fun.

Even as a solo runner, I lacked the fun factor.

Fellow joggers encouraged, “You’ll grow accustomed to exercise and hit a zone when you’re comfortable, even serene.”

Pony-sized canines nipping at my heels increased my pace. Even with their help, I never achieved that blissful nirvana.

Instead, my knees hurt, ankles ached, and I developed giant stitches in my side that reappeared when I played ring-around-the-rosy with my toddlers.

I told Hubby, “I’ll soon be so healthy that I’ll need a wheelchair.”

Even he finally switched to bicycling when a blown-out knee dissolved his dreams of running the Chicago Marathon.

Instead, we cycled and watched our children run. At our son’s junior high coed cross-country meets, the order of returning runners never varied. First, a pigtailed girl appeared ten minutes before anyone else. Next, the boys manfully pounded to the finish line, embarrassed at being beaten by a girl. Then the other girls finished.

Those guy runners needn’t have felt shame. That girl, Morgan Uceny, ran the fastest 1500-meter race in the world during 2011. Morgan often smiled while running.

Still, she hasn’t inspired me to run.

I’ll let others enjoy that privilege. Some find unique ways to do so.

J.D. Arney reported on enthusiasts who ran the five-mile Raleigh, North Carolina, Krispy Kreme Challenge. Each ran halfway, consumed a dozen glazed doughnuts, then ran back. At least, they smiled during the last part.

Arney also described the Filthy 5K Run in Fargo, North Dakota, where joggers slogged through acres of gunk. Participators in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, Beer Belly Run, with beer stops every half mile, might have ran the happiest race — if they remember it.

Some psychos even pay $17,900 to run the annual Antarctic Ice Marathon.

Me? I’ll cheer track teams from my window each spring. It doesn’t get more serene than that.

Smiling participants of The Color Run, also known as “the Happiest 5K on the Planet.”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you run — and smile?

Tablecloth Remembered

Ecuador, where Hubby and I spent six weeks on a medical mission four decades ago.

I forget many things. And I had forgotten about this tablecloth.

Years ago, I almost added it to the giveaway pile because we rarely used it. One day, though, the tablecloth floated to the surface like bread cast upon the waters.

Strangely, the scenario involved a TV stand my brother-in-law gave us as a wedding present in 1975. When eventually retired from TV duties, it functioned as a “temporary” end table.

After more than four decades, I could not stand the old stand one more second.

Rummaging through a closet, I found the gold and white tablecloth, woven more than 40 years ago by a friend in Ecuador, where Hubby and I did a six-week medical mission.

I cannot remember the weaver’s name, but his portrait is etched in my mind: chamois skin, a black braid down his back, topped with a jaunty black fedora. He wore the local uniform: white shirt with a poncho, black pants, and rubber boots. His tiny wife wore a full, black skirt and shawl clasped with a monster-sized stickpin that could have fended off Godzilla. Their children were miniatures of their parents.

They all thought gringos were certifiably insane.

The missionaries liked their vegetables and chickens small, whereas any person with a brain would grow them big to feed a large, hungry family. Gringos, who owned kitchens the Quechuas only dreamed about, ate picnics outside. Norteamericanos ignored ancient wisdom that the night air caused every malady from sniffles to liver disease.

Mentally unbalanced and possibly deficient, they lacked basic life skills. They couldn’t finagle decent prices at the market. Despite their height — the gringos also were known as la familia de gigantes, the family of giants — their volleyball team consistently lost because they didn’t cheat.

Such people obviously needed help. The weaver and his family, among others, offered it. They even joined us on picnics.

The weaver’s wife gave me a monster stickpin. “It’s not real silver.”

That, and the lovely tablecloth I bought from her husband at a reduced price, communicated friendship woven into its warp and woof.

Back in the States, we purchased an oval dining room table instead of a rectangular one, so the tablecloth lived a largely undisturbed existence for decades. Now, however, it graces the TV stand, redeeming it with a beauty I never expected.

One more show-and-tell reminder that the forgotten sometimes can reproduce the unforgettable.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What forgotten memento brings back memories for you?

Hand Me the Hand-Me-Downs

We often hear about recycling paper, plastic and metal to preserve our environment. Nowadays, we’re advised to take our conservation efforts up a notch by recycling clothing.

My family has carried on this practice for generations, never suspecting we were going green. My mother, the youngest of 12 children, lived with seven — yes, seven — older sisters’ hand-me-downs. If ever a girl preserved the planet for posterity, Mom did.

She brought this ecological mindset to her five children. With infallible mother-radar, she hunted my brothers down. Mom threatened them with death or extra baths to coerce them into trying on last year’s kneeless pants. She re-patched, rolled up, let down and let out. Mom stressed, guessed and pressed, shifting jeans from one brother to another.

My sister and I scorned our brothers’ childishness. We loved trying on clothes! We dug into boxes, throwing skirts, sweaters, and dresses like confetti, reviving friendships with favorite outfits. Until I discovered I could no longer button my beautiful ruffled green dress, purchased with last year’s precious birthday money.

Obviously, my mother had shrunk my dress. Why couldn’t she do laundry right?

My sister tried it on. Good for a couple more years’ wear, Mom said — on her. Sigh.

By all rights, I, as the oldest girl, should have enjoyed life without hand-me-downs. Instead, I wore them throughout my childhood. Something was always better than nothing. But the main reason I didn’t mind: I fell heir to my friend Angela’s glorious castoffs.

A year older than I, Angela never wore hand-me-downs; therefore, she was rich. Angela lived in the Big Town near the swimming pool, a glamorous existence I, surrounded by cornfields, could only dream about. She read trendy teen magazines and knew what clothes were hip. I read Alice in Wonderland and Little House on the Prairie. When my dad would have kept me dressed like my favorite characters, Angela helped me live in the 20th century, offering an annual treasure bag of school clothes.

One fateful year, though, my uncooperative body not only caved where hers curved, but, after one summer’s growth, I topped her by four inches. Recycling would have to take a different turn.

No one in our area held garage sales during the ’60s. However, my mother discovered an odd new business, a consignment shop. Mom bought me a red corduroy jumper and ruffled blouse to console me for the loss of my fashion pipeline.

I’m proud to say my family continues the recycling tradition. My sister and I still trade clothes when we get together. We practice globally responsible shopping, stimulating the U.S. economy as well. (Are we patriotic or what?)

Recycling can be a beautiful thing.

Me and my sister in 1970. We still swap outfits after all these years.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you “recycle” clothes?

Wise or Wussy?

In December, we villainize the Grinch, but he’s an angel of light compared to Germ Gremlins, lurking throughout the winter. Eventually, after counterattacks with antibiotics, chicken soup, vitamins, herbs, oils and oatmeal-mud baths, we conquer illness.

Sort of.

Recovering engenders a dilemma almost as uncomfortable as the sickness. Should I return to work? Or continue to nurse my illness at home with medicine and movies?

Our parents’ generation posed one diagnostic question: “Are you breathing?”

If they detected movement of a Vicks®-coated chest, the response never varied: “Get out of that bed, you lazy bum!”

Resistance might result in an employer dragging the unfortunate to work by the toes, à la J.C. Dithers, the comic strip boss of Dagwood Bumstead.

Sometimes a tough stance works. The Greatest Generation accomplished great things.

However, some of that generation also puffed cigarette smoke into kids’ ears to cure earaches.

Today’s extreme critics of the do-while-dying work ethic declare no one should leave home until she/he passes a germ-detector test and submits to a complete-body Lysol® spray.

Perhaps Homeland Security should include such procedures at airports. Sitting by a living petri dish doesn’t exactly ensure safety. Maybe disposable hazmat helmets might be issued on flights?

If an inventor wanted to make big bucks, he might market preschool hazmat suits. Sleep-deprived parents not only would make him a billionaire, but also their patron saint.

Yet medical experts issue warnings about overprotection, lower immune ability and allergies. Attempts to make the Germ Gremlins extinct can backfire.

So how does a person of the Not-So-Great Generation who rejects Gremlin paranoia make the wussy-or-wise decision?

For once, technology proves helpful. Many can work at home until fully well. Opponents protest that this takes all the fun out of being sick. However, the benefit of wearing ratty bathrobes remains.

Still, we must escape quarantine some time. Recovering from flu, Hubby and I craved our church’s spiritual and social encouragement. After service, though, we dashed out the back door to avoid handshakes and hugs.

Wouldn’t a universal “I’m-almost-recovered” wristband come in handy? Then we wouldn’t have to proclaim from the rooftops that we shouldn’t shake hands. That we’ll admire a new baby from afar. That we’ve recently been slimed by sick grandchildren.

Even at the cost of perpetuating Germ Gremlins, we must avoid avoiding others. In John Steinbeck’s 1960s classic, Travels with Charley, he criticized a restaurant that boasted “food untouched by human hands.” Lives untouched by human hands would allow the Gremlins to wreak even worse havoc than the Grinch. We need each other like we need food and water.

I need hugs every single day. Shun family and friends to stay wussy-well?

Not wise.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: When do you choose to return to work?

That Dangerous Word

We teach our children to avoid bullying words. Bad words.

However, we forget to warn them of the most dangerous word of all:

“Never” has not appeared on the official Mothers’ Wash-out-your-mouth-with-soap List. It does not throw around the weight of “antidisestablishmentarianism” or preen itself as “zygodactylus” does. “Never” is pronounceable and SCRABBLE-friendly, accommodating and safe.

Don’t believe it.

Definitely don’t say it.

Otherwise, you will join thousands who never speed — those who find themselves listening to troopers’ lectures and writing big checks.

If you diss someone’s double chin — “That will never happen to me” — you soon will trip over yours.

We exercise the least caution when referring to marriage and children — especially if single and/or childless.

I recall my early resolve never to marry a pastor like my father. Instead, I married a doctor. Soon, I realized I had not appreciated Dad’s job. No parishioner ever approached him at KFC to discuss Aunt Pearlie Mae’s hemorrhoids while I was eating mashed potatoes and gravy. Or trying to.

Likewise, if you determine your future husband will never appear in public looking like that, you will marry one who wears a sports coat to dress up sweat pants.

If you declare your wife will never buy Longaberger baskets or Gucci handbags, prepare to attend ribbon cuttings when the aforesaid companies name new plants after you.

Even used by others, “never” exerts surprising power. Sixty-plus years ago, my mother’s doctor decreed she never would have children. My four siblings and I like to think of ourselves as miracles.

“Never” takes child-rearing to brutal levels, e.g., when an expectant parent decrees, “I will never allow bedtime manipulation.” Such naïveté guarantees nursery conditions rivaling those of a POW camp. Sleepless parents make marks on the wall, hoping Baby sleeps before graduation.

Some will “never” use the TV as a babysitter — only to park kids before Barney marathons with Cheeto Pizza when desperate for romance. Or a shower.

The madness continues. Our children never will throw tantrums in restaurants, flush our phones, or cherry-bomb school restrooms.

I declared I never would be a soccer mom. At least, I wouldn’t be ejected for hassling referees.

Um. …

Enough of me. Back to you. Your children never acquire Amish beards, cleavage or tattoos, right? They never choose colleges that would bankrupt Donald Trump, bring home Chewbacca’s twin as a prospective mate, or lose your credit card in Leningrad.

Interestingly, as years accumulate, “never” diminishes. Hubby and I eat in front of the TV, our feet on the furniture. We tell fun stories, but we never repeat ourselves. Conscientious grandparents, we never spoil our grandchildren.

Above all, we never say …

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What happened the last time you said “never”?

March: The Dream Month?

Few Midwesterners regard March as the dream month.

Though Halloween’s goblins haunt October, March often qualifies as the year’s worst nightmare.

First, the time change disrupts biological clocks. “Spring forward?” Time saved?

That Sunday ranks as the crankiest of the church calendar. If I were a pastor, I’d refuse to preach until everyone had consumed two cups of coffee, plus three doughnuts apiece to sweeten tempers.

By March, we who have braved winters have had it with gloating snowbird social media — especially if Mother Nature goes off her meds, delivering a final winter blow.

Before attempting to consider March a “dream month,” let’s visualize it as a combination of pluses and minuses — a wintry mix, as weather gurus term it.

First, March weather in the Midwest presents a huge opportunity to complain. We love to complain!

Also, most snowbirds return by March’s end, when Indiana typically suffers its wickedest weather. Watching beach babies shiver in sandals makes it all worthwhile.

“This is nothing,” we stalwart Hoosiers brag. “Wait till you hear The Weather Channel’s predictions for April!”

Another March mixed blessing: my birthday — far more welcome during my childhood.

Now, though, my birthday presents a legal opportunity to abandon my wretched diet and silence my exercise video’s cheery nagger.

A new mixed blessing arrived with this year’s birthday: Social Security. I look forward to its benefits — but, Uncle Sam, haven’t you made a big mistake? I’m still in college.

Given my “young” mindset, I hardly plan to retire, as I’ve grown inordinately fond of shooting off my mouth via print. Good behavior doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

Plus, around my birthday, I dream of next year’s writing adventure. What stories will tease me? What new imaginary friends will visit while I write their novels? March brings the best writing weather of the year, when I rarely venture from my cozy writing cave.

March also presents a lo-o-ong transition time in which we can contemplate spring cleaning for a whole month without actually doing it. Ditto for yard work.

Winter days remain for camouflaging flab with baggy sweaters. Yet, during thaws, we can raid spare room closets for (baggy) spring clothes.

During March Madness, basketball fans dream of their teams winning it all. Yet, spring training baseball scores awaken cravings for the sound of bat on ball, hot dog fragrances, and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” wafting on spring breezes.

Daffodils, the ultimate dreamers, urge us to leave winter behind, as does the calendar that naively celebrates spring on March 20.

So what if they’re out of touch with reality? March is indeed the dream month, and I’m ready to celebrate. Who’s with me?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How do you celebrate/survive March?

Dieting Days

My New Year’s resolution diet isn’t going well. Yours?

No wonder. According to weight loss gurus, we should never diet when under stress. We should have postponed until a kind genie shoveled our driveways, thawed frozen pipes and freed us from snow days with kids who act like us.

But no-o-o-o, we announced to spouses, relatives, Facebook friends and Australian Twitter pals that we intended to lose X number of pounds.

Hollywood celebrities often tout advanced diet alternatives. Critics point out these people, habitually in rehab and/or kidnapped by aliens, might not prove health experts. But they are thin. Therefore, we must take their advice and adopt the following:

  • Grapefruit Oil Diet. Instead of eating grapefruit, a dieter sniffs a vial of grapefruit oil before meals. The aroma fires up her liver, burning away every trace of the three Moose Tracks Sundaes she ate. Some report even better results from smelling skunk oil, but I’m not that desperate … yet.
  • Salmon Diet. Eating salmon three times a day combats inflammation, the alleged source of all health problems. It also exchanges the eater’s decrepit body for a young one, including a flashy facelift. Love the idea. But does it sound a little fishy?
  • Baby Food Diet. Mmm, strained turkey and beet dinners. An extra 200 calories are burned per meal if the dieter makes airplane sounds.
  • Lemonade Diet. Participants drink a mixture of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup exclusively for 10 days. This liquid diet completely cleanses a body of toxins.*

*The toxins run away screaming. This diet was carried out on a closed course by a professional. Do not attempt at home.

  • Most dieters, without messy surgeries or loss of vital organs, practice some form of the Amputation Diet before weigh-ins. We clip nails, get haircuts, and remove clothing, jewelry, contact lenses/glasses and birthmarks before stepping on scales. In addition, Amputation Diet enthusiasts claim a loss of 10-25 pounds in one day if you don’t mind losing a limb.

Fortunately, we can retain our arms, yet remain on diets, if we plan carefully. Try a different diet every day of the month. How can this help? Most diets include a “splurge day.” Schedule 30 splurge days of 30 different diets, and you will never feel deprived.

Exercise is given far too much emphasis. Watching other people exercise, on the other hand, prevents injuries.

Every dieter should collect helpful books, including Virtual Calories and Meditate Away Your Fat Cells.

The websites were right. Since adopting this new approach, I find dieting a “fun, wonderful, educational journey.” One problem: I couldn’t zip my jeans this morning.

Where’s that diet genie when I need him?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What diet tip can you share?

The Microwave Numbers Game

The past few decades, we Americans have discovered a new pastime, though many consider it a solemn responsibility: supervising microwave numbers.

Each day, millions of men, women and children monitor microwave countdowns like space launches.

I do like microwaves. They have saved more marriages than Dr. Phil.

The first year of my husband’s medical practice, he spent our last penny to buy one for me. I didn’t know whether to kiss or kill him. As we navigated his 16-hour days and my baby bottles and strained peas, I leaned toward the kiss.

I found myself eyeing each and every microwave number. Friends conducted similar surveillance when heating their babies’ rice cereal. Years later, we all continue the staring drill with every bag of popcorn and frozen lump of hamburger we forgot to defrost. Blinking is allowed. Apparently, though, transferring one’s gaze to a family member or a house fire is asking for trouble.

Why do we watch microwave numbers? If we don’t, will the food disappear into an alternative universe?

As free Americans, we should cease this self-imposed tyranny.

Math addicts claim to experience withdrawal without their daily allotment of numbers. Fine. Calculate how many nickels you’d use to pay taxes this year. Or count dishtowels you own whose color you can actually identify.

I prefer theological ponderings: If God had made me a jellyfish, wouldn’t I be living someplace warmer?

Perhaps you spend microwave time in practical pursuits, such as scrubbing grape Popsicle® stains your toddler grandson rubbed into white kitchen cabinets. (He’s 16 now? It’s probably time.)

Some innovators learn new skills. Consider teaching yourself to tie your shoes left-handed or balance a celery stalk on your nose.

Other number watchers focus on civic responsibilities, brushing up on the Pledge of Allegiance. They practice state capitals they learned in fifth grade, shouting ’em out, impressing the world — at least, coworkers in their lunchroom.

We all could practice speeches we’d make if the President gave us two minutes of his time.

We could practice what we’d say if God gave us two minutes of His time.

Actually, He’s eager to hear us. He’d also applaud if, instead of spending 9.731 years of our lives overseeing microwave numbers, we’d build relationships.

Build relationships? In minutes? Seconds? Certainly. Social media can connect us in microseconds.

There’s also the old-fashioned phone call (“Hi. I was heating up kumquats and thought of you.”)

We might even share a “Good morning” with spouse, family and coworkers.

If you insist, watch every number as you heat your morning mug of tea. But I guarantee a 30-second kiss with your spouse will warm you even more.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite microwave-timer pastime?

When Hubby’s Gone

When my husband occasionally takes a job-related trip, I don’t blink an eye. As a medical student, resident, then small-town doctor, he considered hospitals his home away from home. Or was our home the home away from home?

We never got that straight. But we worked it out.

Those early days proved challenging. Alone in a big-city apartment, this small-town girl read thick books to fill nighttime hours. I went to the grocery after dark only if my books weighed more than me. I braved the laundromat only if the hamper attracted flies.

A new basement apartment expanded the all-night-alone experience. Window sills were at sidewalk level. While eating dinner, we watched anonymous feet and legs walking past.

When Hubby spent the night at the hospital, the thought of feet kicking in screens kept me wide-eyed. I sang along with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and saluted the flag when television stations went off the air. Since continuous noise forms a shield no criminal can penetrate, I turned on the radio. I triple-checked the dead bolt.

Why “dead”? Why not “alive bolt”?

Stop, I prodded myself. This is the era of Charlie’s Angels. Women don’t have to live scared.

But I didn’t own a gun or know karate. Worse, my hair refused to do the Farrah Fawcett thing.

Should I block the door with heavy furniture? Given our basement windows, not overly effective. Perhaps create a burglar alarm using Pepsi cans, á la my dad?

Outside stairways creaked. Anonymous feet lurked. …

My creativity shifted into overdrive. Maybe I’d grease the entrance and window sills with Crisco®?

But what if Hubby received an unexpected night off?

Hey, it could happen.

I decided to leave the bathroom light on. After all, science has proved all-night bathroom lights morph into deadly lasers that zap intruders, then flush them down the toilet.

What, that would never happen?

How do you know?

Please do not knock my imagination, as Hubby and I eventually discovered our apartment complex was a major drug center. Still, thanks to TV, radio static and vigilant bathroom light, I suffered no harm. Many pushers never made it back to the street.

Fast-forward four decades. Hubby’s gone tonight on a rare trip.

I will handle nighttime like a pro, as we live in a small town. No scary feet tramp past window sills. I turn off the TV and radio before retiring. I even click off the bathroom light.

I am dead asleep when the phone rings. Hubby, leaving early, will arrive soon.

See, it can happen.

But how do I un-Crisco the doors and windows?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you follow a different nighttime routine when your spouse is away?

Remote Pasts and Possibilities

I know little about our not-so-current remote. Hubby changes its batteries and soothes its moods.

Our remote hides in our home’s every nook and cranny. Today, however, the remote is staring me down. Daring me to write about it.

Its hieroglyphics intimidate me. What if I offend it, and it translates every movie into Egyptian?

I shake myself. Why do I cave to this device? I belong to the brave, dwindling population who remembers life without remotes.

Surprise! Something is older than I. TV remotes preceded my birth by three whole years. In 1950, the Zenith Company created “Lazy Bones,” connected to a television with a cable that tripped and/or strangled anyone who dared leave the sofa. Mothers voted it down.

Zenith produced a cableless “Flash-Matic.” However, controlled by directional flashes of light, the Flash-Matic not only responded to the screen, but to sunshine and ceiling fixtures.

When too many sports fans missed final plays, Robert Adler invented the “Space-Commander,” engineered around sound waves. This innovation increased sales dramatically among humans, who couldn’t hear its high-frequency noise — though it dropped canine sales to zero.

With infrared light improvements — along with inventions of players, devices and consoles — concern increased among health authorities. Studies revealed some viewers had not moved from their recliners since 1979.

Doctors need not have worried. The Telegraph, a British newspaper, cited research claiming viewers’ step counts had increased, due to searching for remotes. An average British man spent 18.5 days per lifetime hunting his remote. A woman spent 12.5 days.

Some families with young children may have spent more. One mother reported not only excessive exercise searching for remotes, but excessive expense. One autumn, she discovered 11 missing devices stuck in a now-leafless bush.

Voice-controlled devices seem a solution. But given software programs, movies and games that require vocal direction — plus 24/7 cell phone conversations — how long before our poor vocal cords collapse?

Let us look to the future, when we may change channels per our brain waves. At a 2011 global technological show, one company’s headset experimented with mind control. Those who donned the headset exploded a video’s animated barrel with a mere thought.

Future action film fans not only will enjoy 57 car chases/crashes per movie, but with a single thought, may detonate their screens.

I, however, question “infallible” technology. Should I entrust my thoughts to technology like my laptop? It possesses meaner hormones than mine.

Worse, do I want my thoughts played out on a screen?

That kind of remote is way too close to home.

My own device beckons: Want to watch a show?

No, thanks. I think I’ll read a book instead.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Where is the oddest place your remote has hidden?