Category Archives: Coffee Corner

Boring Old Dad?

Many pay tributes to caring but unexciting dads who worked hard, fixed things, and helped keep them out of trouble — most of the time.

In honor of my dad’s 90th birthday.

My father did the basic dad drill, too. But boring?

Never.

A pastor, he refused to wear neckties. He led his congregation in “Joy to the World” … every Easter. Even my siblings and I listened intently to Dad’s sermons — because we often comprised the subject matter.

As a missionary, Dad approached challenges in ways that wouldn’t make Sunday school storybooks. Take, for example, the Mexican Chicken Wars.

Fifty years ago, our home in Linares, Mexico, featured an outhouse and nightly rat races. Though poor, my folks shared with neighbors living in shacks. Ready to open his thin wallet, Dad still drew the line at “Thou shalt not steal.”

Gilberto, the mission compound caretaker, said thieves targeted our chicken coop, an important income source for the mission. Determined to protect his feathered flock, Dad kept his ax beside his bed at night.

Those who didn’t know the Ten Commandments would learn them fast.

Soon, Dad awoke to the chickens’ squawking, grabbed his ax and headed for the henhouse. Stooping low, he spotted unknown blue-jeaned legs walking through the orange groves. He let loose his war cry, swinging the ax above his head.

The thief saw Dad — a tall, shirtless phantom with burning eyes who wielded a shining blade. The would-be robber dropped shrieking chickens and scaled the mission compound wall like a terrified spider.

Dad returned the chickens — vastly relieved the ax wasn’t meant for them — to their nests.

A week later, Dad awoke to another hen house ruckus. Again, he swung the ax with Old Testament vengeance.

This crook, however, screamed, “Aaron! It’s me, Aaron!”

Gilberto had checked on the chickens’ safety, too. They were fine, but Gilberto nearly lost his head to Dad’s ax.

Throughout his pastoral career, Dad confronted numerous dangerous situations. He housed ex-gang members and ex-prisoners and provided protection for domestic violence victims whose husbands/boyfriends vowed vengeance.

But few scenarios matched the peril Dad faced when, hiding behind church classroom partitions with his fishing pole, he cast a big, sugary doughnut amid members of a weight-watching group.

That incident nearly drove his guardian angel to drinking. Still, Dad survived to finally retire at 77. He now lives in the Louisiana piney woods where he was born and raised. Occasionally the angel chews his nails when Dad, now 90, wields his ax in a forest full of rattlesnakes.

But the angel’s not bored.

Sigh. Neither am I.

 

Your extraordinary ordinary: What’s your favorite dad story?

Who Comforted Whom?

This past weekend, when our two-almost-three-year-old grandson was staying with us, an odd November tornado also dropped by our area for a visit.

Thankfully, our little guy slept through much of the storm, then seemed to enjoy the novelty of the accompanying power outage. We cuddled and read stories by the light of a camping lantern and flashlights and sang songs about the wise man who built his house upon a rock.

We comforted him when the thunder and lightning and wind grew too scary. But the scenario reminded me of years ago when my little ones — and a God surprise — comforted me.

Purple-blue clouds raged and roiled in the yellowish sky. Enormous trucks roared around us on the interstate through curtains of blinding rain, shaking my little car like a wet terrier. Tornado warnings crackled on the radio. But my preschooler played contentedly with her Barbie® Dolls in the backseat. My two-year-old munched the crackers I’d given him.

How I envied their serene trust in me! If only I possessed such faith.

“Let’s pray Jesus will take care of us!” I said in the bright mommy-tone I always use when all is lost.

They bowed their heads and folded chubby hands. Their sweet prayer calmed my terrors.

“Look!” I cried.

An exit loomed ahead. We would leave this nightmare and seek shelter!

Even as I pulled into a truck stop and parked, the rain began to diminish.

My little children taught me a little about faith.

I turned to my children, almost crying with joy. “Jesus is with us!”

“’Course He is.” The two-year-old stared at me. “I see Him.”

“No, honey,” I patted his little hand. “We can’t see Jesus. But He’s with us all the time.”

My toddler looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “Jesus is right there, Mommy!”

My stomach, which had quieted, lurched anew. “Wh-where?” The hair on my neck prickled. “Where’s Jesus?”

He pointed an indignant finger. “There!

Slowly I turned around, quaking.

On a nearby semitrailer, a huge colorful mural of the smiling Savior with wide-open arms offered us a hug.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you remember when children taught you a thing or two?

 

 

Oh, Baby!

Each day, young mothers parade past my window, taking children to the nearby elementary school.

I feel for pregnant moms whose steps slow as the months pass. Although decades have gone by, I remember well those exhausting days. I doubt these lovely young women believe their husbands’ reassurance any more than I believed mine, who told me I was beautiful.

What insanity had blinded his usual astute vision? Seven months pregnant with our first child, I felt like a walking ottoman.

“Turn around.” Hubby gave me a gentle push. “Look in the mirror. See? From the rear, you can’t even tell you’re pregnant.”

“So if I just walk backwards, nobody will know?”

“It means you’ll lose weight fast after the baby’s born.” A family practice resident at the local hospital, he knew how to handle cranky women in their last trimester.

I kissed him goodbye. Would I splurge and take the bus to my part-time job or ride my bike through our quiet neighborhood? I grinned. Each time I rode up on my three-speed, Mr. Plunkett, an older man in my office, threw his window open in horror.

Mrs. Phillips!” he shouted. “Come in and put your feet up!”

He always brought me a glass of water. Where was my mother? Did my husband really find this acceptable?

But graying skies made a ride risky. Mr. P. might have a coronary if I rode up amid thunder and lightning. So I decided to take the bus.

I donned my pink maternity outfit and slipped into comfortable shoes I’d bought when I no longer could see my feet. I arrived at the bus stop five minutes early, drifting into daydreams of nursery rhymes and rock-a-bye songs.

“Hey, Pink Pants!” Masculine voices called over my shoulder. Long whistles echoed through the air. “Hey, baby! Oh, baby!”

I stared at my stomach, confused. Sure, I was going to have a baby, but—? I cast a cautious glance behind.

Two linemen, perched atop an electrical pole, hooted at me. And yes, unless I had lost feminine instincts along with my waistline, ear-to-ear lecherous smiles gleamed on their faces.

Blank disbelief washed over me—then a joyous rush of wickedness. But Niceness pointed a finger at me, and I wavered. Should I? Or shouldn’t I?

I turned around and waved sweetly at my admirers, who nearly fell to the ground.

I waddled up the steps onto the bus. As it rolled away, I watched them hugging the pole, trying in vain to hide scarlet, guilty faces.

“Whoa, baby,” I whispered to my stomach. “You’re already knocking ’em off their feet.”

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite prego story?

Temperature Tug-of-War

My husband wears quilts in July. I throw open windows in January.

We should have detected this temperature difference from the start. However, the stars in our eyes prevented us from noticing icicles hanging from his chin and people around me turning tan.

I now believe our wedding vows should have limited the number of blankets on our bed to 37. Hubby wishes we had included something about nailing windows shut.

My skeletal new husband’s body temperature never rose above 50 degrees. I determinedly fed him Crisco®, so he finally gained a few pounds. Still, he occasionally builds bonfires in his office to stave off frostbite.

During cold weather, he pushes the thermostat up to the ionosphere. I want to rescue planet earth — and our heating bill — by keeping it at 60. He says I’m cruel. I say, I’m green. And as Kermit the Frog once sang, it’s not easy being green.

His answer: “It’s not easy living with you, either.”

To accomplish temperature compatibility at night, all he has to do is steal the covers, and all I have to do is let him. Problem solved? No way. Hubby slumbers quietly, and even when cold, doesn’t grab my blanket. Is he trying to take me out with heat stroke?

We’re not the only spouses who suffer from irreconcilable temperature differences. One wife told her man if he didn’t like their family room’s cool ambience, he could go someplace hotter. (I don’t think she meant the Bahamas.)

Another couple solved their incompatibility by buying a new car with fancy dual heat-and-air-conditioning controls. She set hers at ten degrees less than his. They spent thousands of dollars to end the temperature tug-of-war. And lived happily ever after, right?

Nope. The fancy new hot-butt button is not dual-control.

Then there’s the frozen wife who bowed to her hot-natured husband’s needs, but rented out her living room as an ice rink. …

And some say married life is boring.

Perhaps the excitement presents one more aspect of imaginative design. God, who invented male and female wiring, apparently wants to keep the sparks alive in today’s marriages. And maybe God wants us to work things out. …

Hubby and I have to admit that sitting on opposite seats of the same seesaw keeps us communicating. Neither has jumped off the temperature teeter-totter during our almost 43 years of togetherness. And we hope our world is a bit cozier for it.

That kind of global warming? Couldn’t we all stand a little more?

 

 Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Who yanks on which side of the temperature tug-of-war at your house?

 

 

The Saga of Penelope the Peach Tree

Once upon a time, in our backyard, there lived Penelope the peach tree.

Actually, two lived there. But even as we moved in, Percy the peach tree took one look at us, his new owners, and said, “There goes the neighborhood!” He never recovered.

Penelope delayed her judgment. Still, she expressed her disapproval: not one peach appeared that first summer. Next spring, though, pale pink blossoms crowded Penelope’s branches, exquisite as an oriental painting. I told Hubby, “That tree loves us.”

Visions of bubbling, crusty pie à la mode and caramel peach praline shortcake filled my salivating days.

However, when Hubby thinned tiny, excess peaches from Penelope’s branches, she took revenge by producing three edible fruits — and a thousand that resembled green ball bearings rolled in pepper.

The mutant peaches did not go to waste, however. I made jam as Christmas gifts for my less-than-favorite relatives.

Penelope the peach tree can be temperamental.

The following year, we respectfully requested Penelope produce real, peach-colored peaches, bigger than a marble. And no black rash, please.

Some trees, like some people, can’t take constructive criticism. The following spring, she wore only a few sulky blossoms and no fruit. Our fractured relationship distressed me. My relatives started speaking to me again, once they knew they wouldn’t receive pepper peach jam at Christmas.

It was a very sad year.

Next spring, however, blossoms crowded Penelope’s branches. Perhaps she’d repented of her pettiness. More likely, she simply forgot. Peach trees aren’t known for sharp memories.

When hubby thinned Penelope’s too-plentiful peaches again, I exercised caution when walking behind the garage, her domain. Would Penelope throw her remaining peaches at us?

Surprise! Penelope’s green peaches grew from marble to golf ball to baseball size. So many loaded one branch that it cracked. She obligingly provided just enough greenish, pepper-dotted fruit to make Christmas jam for my relatives.

But Penelope’s peaches ripened in her time frame — not when I was free to pick, peel and slice. Because of writing deadlines, I remained chained to my laptop.

Hubby made new weekend plans.

As my dearly beloved donned an apron, we heard devious chuckles from behind the garage. Penelope exacts revenge on peach-pruners, one way or another.

Hubby griped. But I had infected him with my pie and praline shortcake vision. He peeled and packaged.

Is he a peach of a guy, or what?

To Penelope, this ending to her saga may seem like the pits.

But smiling at each other over hot peach pie and ice cream, we’ll take Penelope’s “happily ever after” every time!

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite peach indulgence?

 

 

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?

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.)   

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?