Category Archives: Coffee Corner

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?

Why I Am a Plant Person

Before pet-loving pals condemn me to doo-doo, I affirm deep respect for animal lovers. They invest enormous amounts of time, money and love. Some even leave huge fortunes to pets. That, however, doesn’t stagger me like one friend’s sharing hot fudge sundaes with her German shepherd.

I’d share with my husband on his birthday. But with a dog?

God in His wisdom created both plants and animals. He wanted animals aboard the Ark, though it was raining cats and dogs.

Why didn’t Noah suggest inviting hydrangeas, callas and evergreens instead of badgers, snakes and elephants? Plants would have required weekly feedings. The family wouldn’t have shoveled nearly as many, um, by-products.

But the Lord knew animal lovers would languish without furry friends.

He also counted on plants to take care of themselves — a big reason I am a plant person.

I’ve never had to paper-train a plant. They do not nudge me at 5 a.m. to go out. My philodendrons never bring me a leash, begging me to leave the sofa. They don’t bark or jump on guests. Plants do not lick. I haven’t lost a single pair of new shoes to a plant’s fangs. I never scour the neighborhood, yelling for plants that have wandered off.

Plants never eye me with the “Is that you, peasant?” stare favored by felines.

They don’t rear or kick me in the head. Lord knows, I can’t afford to lose what brains I have.

Plants even diminish carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the air. Animals: the reverse.

Obviously, plants aren’t perfect. They shed, but I don’t find a thousand leaves stuck to my black pants. While plants don’t bite, some boast nasty thorns. My grandchildren showed an inordinate desire to teethe on poisonous ones.

Plants also can be fussy as your Aunt Prilla Lou. They readily lay on wilt-guilt when subjected to less-than-perfect conditions.

I confess I am a serial herb murderer. I’ve taught the only trick plants can learn — “play dead” — to basil, oregano and cilantro with far too much success.

That’s the biggest reason I am a plant rather than animal person. I grieve the herbs I kill, poinsettias that shrivel, the cyclamen I neglected to repot. However, I’ve rarely shed tears for them. I never conduct plant funerals, as I did for our children’s hamsters, so numerous the neighbors suspected I was running a cult.

Hats off to you folks who not only risk tears, but share hot fudge sundaes with your animal buds.

Still, unless my asparagus fern makes a direct request for a taste, I’ll eat my sundaes by myself.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you an animal or plant person?

Girl Scout Cookies: the Legacy

Do you remember your first Girl Scout Cookie?

During the early 1960s, a neighbor girl rang our doorbell, and my mother happily did her civic duty. I tasted my first Girl Scout Cookie, a peanut butter sandwich called a Savannah.

Today’s savvy cookie-taster insists Savannah Smiles® are lemon-flavored half-moons, a 180-degree turnabout from those I first savored.

I thought my memory must be 11 short of a dozen. Comparing notes with other Boomers, however, I discovered I was right! Those peanut butter confections are now called Do-si-dos®.

I may forget my parking spot location, social security number and computer password, all within the same hour. But I never, ever forget a cookie.

Not that I ate many then. My brothers also tasted their first Savannahs. A severe cookie famine ensued.

I sought to ease it by joining the Girl Scouts myself.

I soon discovered my Girl Scout uniform did not come with a free admission to an endless cookie buffet. Each box cost (gasp!) 50 cents — a king’s ransom to an 11-year-old.

Somehow, I’d signed on an invisible dotted line to sell them. By then, I understood many people did not welcome door-to-door salesmen. Little-girl appeal redeemed my fellow Scouts, but my weed-like growth spurt nixed that angle. Walmart and cookie stands did not exist.

Still, a Girl Scout keeps her promises. So, I trudged through subdivisions, praying with every doorbell’s ring that no one would answer. Sadly, during the 1960s, everybody was at home. When doors opened, I had to say something. Usually, “You don’t want to buy any cookies … do you?”

Amazingly, they often did. Despite setting new substandards for salesmanship, I sold my share.

Both my daughters, cursed with my door-to-door DNA, did well in the cookie-table arena. Tiny, with Bambi-brown eyes, our younger girl even persuaded a kindhearted baker to purchase several boxes.

Our older girl later worked for the Girl Scouts, dedicating weeks of her life to sorting, distributing, selling and collecting payments for stacks of cookies that filled her living room.

Why didn’t she accept my offer to serve as official taster?

Our third generation Girl Scout.

Soon, my granddaughter proudly wore the Girl Scout sash and kept the promises, faithfully contributing a million-dollar smile to the cookie cause. Plus thousands of calories to Grandma’s mostly theoretical diet, which she was happy to break to do her civic duty.

I thank the Girl Scouts for promoting superior values, as well as good taste, throughout three generations of my family. Also, for providing inspiring, delicious writing material (munch, munch, munch).

If a cookie quality control position opens up in your organization, you know whom to call.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite Girl Scout Cookie?

Winter River Walk

During a bout of winter flu, I became one with my family room sofa. Hubby couldn’t tell the difference between us — except that the sofa looked livelier.

Between his patients and me, my doctor husband had been doing care 24/7. When I eventually felt better, he couldn’t wait to get out of the house. “Would you like to take a walk?”

“Sure,” I said. So what, if my brain waves were still AWOL? Enough of the four walls, even if The Weather Channel declared that it was 25 degrees, but felt like -25.

My only exercise had consisted of visits to the fridge (“Stuff a fever, stuff a cold”), so I needed benches where I could rest atrophied limbs. Hubby didn’t want to drive far. Where to go for the nature walk we craved?

We ended up at a nearby town park. Bundled like Nanook and Nanette of the North, we strolled across a pedestrian bridge that spanned icy, silver-blue water. The river flowed, mirroring black-limbed trees, some still draped with fall’s russet finery. Snow patches sparkled in the sunlight. A deep quiet had settled over much of its hibernating shores.

Those whose winter vistas include oceans and beaches might consider the river view akin to an arctic Hades. But on this chilly, sunshiny day, the sharp air tasted like heaven.

Despite possessing wings, clumps of geese and ducks had not succumbed to the siren call of the balmy South.

Perhaps feathered relatives, perching on beach pier posts, shook their heads about their kin’s staying in Indiana.

“Must have made a wrong turn,” one goose told its mate. “Your family never could find their way out of a chicken coop.”

However, the river ducks and geese acted as if they liked it, despite swimming against the current. I had never seen waterfowl swim sideways before.

Maybe they couldn’t find their way out of a chicken coop.

They all quacked and honked at us: “You own a warm house with central heat and a fireplace, yet you’re freezing to death out here. And you think we’re stupid?”

They had a point. Above feathered rants and raves, I heard the family room sofa calling me, and Hubby agreed our winter river walk should end.

I returned to the sofa a little longer. The river community also will remain largely subdued. But an undercurrent of life, stronger than the river’s, flows through the dormant shores. And through me.

Who knows? Maybe even my brain waves will return.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Can you remember a favorite river walk?

Pack Attack

Travel often aggravates the phobias we accumulate along life’s journeys.

Football commentator John Madden and many others fear flying, which is known as aerophobia. Others avoid travel in automobiles (ochophobia) or trains (siderodromophobia). Some even fear long words (hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia).

However, I’ve never encountered a term for my own neurosis, the “pack attack.”

My husband does not understand why the sight of a suitcase gives me the shakes.

What could you expect of a man who not only survives, but thrives on taking brown pants, two brown shirts and brown shoes? For fashion excitement, he adds a beige cardigan.

I like brown, too. But which brown will suit my mood tomorrow? Sepia, sienna or russet sweater? Raw or burnt umber toothbrush? So, I bring all my browns.

No wonder my dearly beloved struggles to understand. The man’s wardrobe controls the weather. If he forgets an umbrella, The Weather Channel calls a halt to all thunderstorms within 500 miles of our destination.

My packing paranoia asks, “What if?” I can’t leave city limits unless my suitcase contents cover every climate emergency ranging from a Tallahassee Ice Age to an Indianapolis volcanic eruption.

When we visit grandchildren, my entire wardrobe must be available. As long as Grandpa packs a separate bag, his clothes rarely suffer from baby body fluids. Let him share a suitcase with me, though, and a pee-a-thon — and worse — ensues. Although his preference for brown covers a multitude of sins ….

I marvel how his clothes mysteriously collapse into packets that could fit into a billfold. Once, when I foisted snow boots and my lumpy body armor bathing suit onto his bag, they promptly folded themselves into hankies.

Inspections present the ultimate torture for travelers who suffer pack attacks. Not only do strangers unwrap our Christmas gifts and wave our oversized undies like flags, they risk the entire terminal’s safety. One flip of a suitcase latch, one zzzzzip! — and my bag explodes. Shoes fly like missiles, and hundreds in line suddenly wear my wardrobe. On the positive side, they can expect lots of fashion variety.

When inspected, I miss my plane. My husband, who dashes for the gate before anyone knows we’re together, always makes it.

Airline carriers should offer therapy — and marriage counseling — for travelers in airports. They’d never go bankrupt.

Sessions for luggage also might be in order. My suitcase flips and flops like an angry two-year-old as I drag it through the terminal. It attempts to steal other bags’ identity. It tries to get lost when I travel.

I should send it to luggage obedience school.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll send it packing.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you suffer from pack attacks? Does your spouse?