Category Archives: Coffee Corner

Sweet Time Travel to the Store

One of Murphy’s Laws plagues me repeatedly: If I aspire to pack a lunch, I am out of bread.

So I ride my bike to the local store. There is no better time machine than pedaling on a sunny morning, the fragrance of cut grass and hot blacktop whooshing past.

As a child, I gloried in my role as Mom’s personal shopper for bread, milk and tomato soup – especially if I could keep the change.

Charlie’s Store bore no sign, but everyone knew who conducted business in the 1940s-style building at the crossroads. The pop machine held a place of honor just inside. Opening it cooled me, even if I didn’t have a dime. Rows of bottles swam in ice-cold water: root beer, Upper 10, Nehi Grape, Orange Crush, and cherry red pop everyone called cream soda, though it wasn’t creamy.

I clinked bottles until I could haul out my choice. If I struggled to open it, some nearby grown-up popped off the cap.

If I had accumulated that much wealth, though, I craved nickel candy bars that stuck to my skinny ribs.

During leaner times, I bought penny candy. Though crusty, Charlie allowed herds of kids behind his counter, where we spent more time pondering choices than doing our homework.

Boxes of Tootsie Pops, Pixy Stix®, licorice, root beer barrels, wax lips and Lemonheads lined the wall.  Lik-M-Aid turned palms and tongues green, orange and purple.  Atomic FireBalls, though not radioactive, exerted a similar effect on teeth and digestive systems. Even the poorest kid could hunt for empty pop bottles, exchange them for a penny, and join the sticky masses in licking, sucking and gulping.

Charlie sold Bazooka Bubble Gum, two for a penny. Some steamy days, I sat on the store’s cool, uneven cement steps, chewing four pieces and reading comics.

Fifty-five years have passed. I can’t pedal there today. The checkers at my present hometown store greet me with a friendly “how’s it going?” The aisles bulge with food, clothing, canning jars, hardware, birdhouse chimes and roach killer. I dutifully visit the bread rack. Sweet old friends greet me from jars and displays near the registers. I purchase a piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum.

Chewing, pedaling and dangling my bag from the handlebars, I ride home, where (sigh) chores await. But I am glad for my neighbors’ flowers, thankful for the blue sky that hasn’t changed, though I have.

Hungry Hubby, too, appreciates my trip to the store.

Sometimes Murphy’s Law isn’t so bad.

 

As a child, where did you buy your bubble gum?

Carding

The U.S. government’s recent studies concluded that women purchase 85 to 90 percent of all greeting cards. How many thousands that report cost, no one is saying. Uncle Sam could have asked any mall shopper and received the same information for free. But we women consider the research money well spent … because we like to be proven right.

Let’s discuss the origins of these fascinating communication tools. The Chinese sent Happy New Year cards centuries ago. Apparently, the Egyptians also shared in the ancient greeting card market. I find elegant Oriental characters and pictures easier to imagine than a card containing hieroglyphics. Gushy sentiments conveyed by zoned-out, staring people and creepy birds and snakes? Egyptians no doubt could distinguish between “I love you madly” and “Death to you, neighbor, and your loud 2 a.m. parties,” but I would find it challenging.

With polygamy the norm among ancient families, spending statistics might have been reversed: perhaps men spent more on cards than women. Take, for example, King Solomon, who boasted 700 wives. Every day was his anniversary.

No records have survived to tell us how much Solomon, Confucius or Cleopatra paid for a card, but I’ll bet contemporary consumers shell out more. Gone are the days when we “just bought a card” to commemorate an occasion. Today, it often proves cheaper to “just buy a gift.”

Craftsy folks have returned to creating handmade cards. Recipients of these works of art ponder how special they make them feel — and suffer intense guilt if they dare toss them. (The cards, not the givers.)

No grandmother can dispose of a card sporting a pink seven-legged puppy and two purple Doritos that states, “Gadma U nice.” My current grandkid card count is 937. I’m thinking of building an addition to house my collection. Or at least, adding another refrigerator or two.

However, the following are greeting cards I would rather not receive:

  • Thoughts of you . . . make me want to leave the country.
  • Congratulations … We heard you’re expecting twins!

When illness strikes, I don’t want cheery thoughts. What I’d really like: “Enclosed is an official edict from God commanding you to stay in bed three days, during which no one is allowed to ask you about dinner.”

Most women would treasure Mother’s Day cards with similar language: “Mom, I love you enough to clean bathrooms.” Or, “To the perfect mother of my children: you have not, do not, and never will look fat.”

Brace yourself: I am about the reveal the ultimate romantic card that knows no gender prejudices, covers every occasion, and never becomes obsolete.

Needed:

  • one piece of paper, folded in half.
  • one pen (or crayon if the kids have absconded with all your pens)

Front sentiment: I love you.

Inside sentiment: I’m sorry. You were right.

Sign your name.

 

What card would you like most to receive?

 

Froggy Fever

One sunny day, my husband and I, spring fever victims, rode our tandem bicycle past wetlands.

A hallelujah chorus of spring peepers nearly deafened us. Soggy Froggy City posted record decibel levels. Had these amphibians gone high-tech, renting rock-concert sound systems?

After compiling the results of a survey I sent them, however, I’m convinced frogs are musical purists who not only sing without artificial amplification, they don’t even open their mouths. Instead, they balloon their necks.

Unlike most human choirs, the majority are males.

These guys don’t waste words or melodies. They not only establish territories and predict weather changes with their songs, they also romance their ladies. Listening to their impassioned harmony, I wished I could understand the lyrics.

Then, remembering current Top 40 titles, I gave thanks I didn’t.

I’m not so enthralled with peeper music that I’d pay $75 to buy a frog online.

Nor would I pay $10 for flour beetles culture to balance his nutrition pyramid. I’ve paid more to get rid of such “cultures.”

Owners concerned about their pets’ boring diets can buy frog bites which, according to the Arizona Dendrobate Ranch, “add variety to a young amphibian’s diet.”

Many devotees will attend California’s American Frog Day. They’ll revel in frog symphonies, bet on jumping contests, even purchase driveway signs: “Frog Parking Only. All Others Will Be Toad.”

However, in 2002, the BBC did not consider frogs a joking matter. Intense headlines implied that killer bullfrogs had attacked Great Britain. Having eaten Parliament, they were last seen headed for Buckingham Palace.

Further reading, however, revealed that the bullfrogs, an American threat mistakenly imported in batches of water plants, were devouring fish and other small critters. Not a national disaster. But something else for which Europe can blame us.

If frogs from South/Central America invaded their territory, they might have reason to gripe. Poisonous frogs abound there, and those who flaunt the loudest wardrobes — gold, blue, orange, and black-and-yellow-striped — present the greatest threat. The poison dart frog of South America, Phyllobates terribilis, is arguably the most dangerous animal in the world. This little golden frog resembles a kindergartener’s eraser. But according to the University of Georgia EcoView, its slime is 400 times as toxic to a laboratory mouse as a king cobra’s venom.

For those who adore poison dart frog songs but prefer long life spans, CDs of their calls can be purchased online.

Me? I’ll stick to live, free concerts by less flashy, Midwestern types who stay in their swamps, go to bed on time and only give us an occasional wart.

Describe your favorite frog encounter. Or, like biblical Pharaoh, do you consider them a plague?

  • Spring Peeper photo by Joshua Derck, Photo By <a target=’_blank’ href=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/51109932@N00/32910893583/’>Joshua Derck</a> via <a href=”http://www.stockpholio.net/” target=”_blank”>StockPholio.net</a>
  • Bullfrog photo by Kevin Vance, Photo By <a target=’_blank’ href=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/23446980@N07/9703424655/’>Kevin Vance</a> via <a href=”http://www.stockpholio.net/” target=”_blank”>StockPholio.net</a>

Confessions of a Tree Borrower

This spring, God has outdone Himself. Lush lilacs, like grape clusters, decorate bushes. Redbuds flaunt finery like skinny little girls wearing new Sunday dresses. Pear, crabapple, and locust trees grace the landscape like young girls on prom night.

I yearn for the trees’ beauty and fragrance the way some crave the first steak on a grill.

Not surprising, as my parents, tree huggers long before the concept became popular, adored flowering trees. Gradually, we children realized that most families’ Sunday afternoon drives did not achieve action movie status.

MOM: Ooooh, lovely dogwoods.

DAD: Aaaah, those lilacs smell wonderful. Roll down your windows.

KID #1: Shouldn’t you keep both hands on the wheel?

KID #2: How about one?

MOM: I’m holding the road. Mmmm. Isn’t God good?

KID #3: But no one’s watching the road!

KID #4: Let us pray.

ALL KIDS: Look out! (Dive for the floor.)

DAD: What’s your problem? I missed that guy.

KID #5: Um, Dad … we missed the bridge. We’re floating — sort of —

MOM: But look at those crabapples!

I succumbed to the habit, passing it on to my small children. Their pursuit of blooming beauty resembled search-and-destroy missions. When their quests expanded to others’ yards, I intervened.

We began with the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal,” and its corollary, “Thou shalt not stomp thy neighbor’s tulips in order to shred his lilacs.”

“But,” I told them, “if branches hang over sidewalks, you may smell them, if you’re careful. That’s just borrowing.”

Chubby hands grasped behind their backs, they sniffed away.

I followed their good example. Besides, borrowing kept me out of trouble, too.

Our next home’s trees seemed under a curse, succumbing to lightning and disease. One of two peach trees went into a coma and never recovered.

Having witnessed her partner’s demise, the surviving peach tree eyed us with trepidation. Thankfully, Penelope, as I named her, greeted me at my kitchen window the following spring, wearing clouds of delicate salmon-colored blossoms.

We planted a redbud and two lilacs. Their first spring, they wowed us. However, the following year, they too succumbed to the curse.

I wandered the streets … and borrowed past my limit.

My husband wasn’t keen about calls from the police, so we planted a crabapple and a pear that flourished. A generous friend gave us rose of Sharon starts.

As ours didn’t survive, I now bicycle to a road I call Redbud Row. There, I feast on an unbroken line of magenta loveliness.

I will try not to run you down. Or miss bridges.

But you won’t mind if I borrow your trees on the way, will you?

Rainy Day Activities for Grown-ups (Sort Of)

“No drought this year!” happy weather experts proclaim.

Thank you for informing us, as people bail out living rooms. Facebook whines and surly crowd mumbles at Walmart — my scientific tools for measuring demographic mood — have reached record levels.

So I share suggestions for coping with April showers until they produce May flowers and golfing hours.

  • Celebrate that nonstop rain = a power wash for house. And cars. And the lawn mower I forgot to put in the garage.
  • Instead of a rain dance, do a sun dance. Show your moves to bored kids and grandkids. They’ll either join in or run screaming, leaving you to dance — or nap — in peace.
  • Monitor the backyard battle. Marching dandelions take over my lawn. However, violets are mobilizing, too. Who will win? My neighbors are taking bets.
  • Clean the junk drawer—a penance that satisfies the pathological urge to accomplish “spring cleaning” without actually doing it.
  • Stick your nose outside to sniff the wet glory of earth and hyacinths.
  • Count cars racing through the rain — my nostalgic salute to inclement childhood days when I truly had nothing to do.
  • Reassure pansies. Mine won’t spend their entire lives in our garage. Soon I’ll send them, plus houseplants, outside and watch them party.
  • Try on summer clothes. If mine fit, I pat myself on the back. If not, I shop for a new wardrobe!
  • Listen to your parents’ music. Doing so recalls the rare privilege of sitting in the station wagon’s front seat while envious siblings elbowed each other in back. The radio poured out orchestra music led by David Rose, Henry Mancini and Percy Faith while raindrops raced down the windshield. Wipers, resembling long, thin Fred-Astaires clad in tails, bowed in sync.
  • Snuggly rainy days are the perfect backdrop for devouring an I-can’t-put-this-down book.
  • Throw a baseball inside the house. Someone will yell at you, and you’ll feel like you’re nine again.
  • Be daring. Watch an old movie, when good-night kisses were considered somewhat scandalous.
  • Find an intact umbrella and walk. Pass a house with Christmas decorations and feel smug because you put yours away last week.
  • Sing outside. Belt out “Singin’ in the Rain,” “I Love a Rainy Night,” or “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” — and watch traffic clear out.

Some hot, dry summers, I feel like a walking raisin. But this spring, I check my arms for sprouting mushrooms — one more thing to do on a rainy April day.

What’s your favorite rainy day activity?

Loony the Lamb

For years I celebrated holidays by directing church musicals. One fateful Easter I chose Watch the Lamb, which focused on Jesus as the Lamb of God. A live lamb would make the ancient story come alive.

During rehearsals, the cast greeted our lamb with enthusiasm.

Church janitors did not. “Do something before that animal pees all over — or worse.”

Why hadn’t I considered this minor complication? Especially as the lamb made entrances down different aisles. Most Passover lambs in 30 A.D. did not wear Pampers®

 What other option existed?

God provided the perfect solution: we would cover the stage and church aisles with the burlap-like backside of my recently discarded carpet.

However, God didn’t send angels to cut, arrange and duct tape the carpet throughout the sanctuary. After two unspiritual, aching-knee days, all my bases were covered. No worries now, right?

Wrong.

Loony the Lamb had his own ideas about entrances and exits. A hay bale helped keep him quiet, but for obvious reasons, we avoided feeding him too much.

The 60-member cast’s noise made Loony more nervous than your Aunt Nellie. Kids petted him without mercy. Bright lights and heat caused him to hyperventilate. During dress rehearsal, Loony the Lamb collapsed onstage in a wooly, quivering heap.

Watch the Lamb? No audience would want to watch this.

Two animal lovers carried the prostrate lamb outside while we prayed — and Loony recovered. One guy built a pen outside the stage door where our prima donna cropped grass between scenes. Visiting hours were restricted, with no autographs. We did everything but paint a star on Loony’s gate.

Thankfully, he showed no new signs of cardiac arrest. His brassy baaaaa erupted only once during performances — during solemn prayer after the crucifixion.

Our ingenious actors shifted and blocked escape routes, all the while looking very holy.

One child earned my special appreciation: “Loony was peein’ on my foot the whole time Jesus was on the cross, but I didn’t say nothin’.”

Even after Loony returned home, I couldn’t shake off sheep. Scriptures about lambs leaped from the Bible’s pages. Jesus frequently called his followers His sheep. After Watch the Lamb, I figured He didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Nevertheless, the King of Heaven volunteered to take on the title “Lamb of God” — what God in His right mind would do that?

Only a King who loves confused, clueless sheep more than His own life.

Even one dithery pageant director named Rachael — which means “lamb.”

 

Have you participated in a pageant/play that taught you more than you expected?

 

 

 

 

Closet Confessions

Scientists declare the universe is expanding. If my poundage provides ample support for this hypothesis, why doesn’t my closet?

Getting dressed has become a religious experience. Every morning I fall on my knees before opening the closet door, because one tiny shift on my shelves sets off shock waves that could lead to global disaster.

Still, I do not pose the ultimate threat. Rather, people who alphabetize socks pose a menace to freedom and the American way. Their closets resemble well-organized mausoleums, with shoes and sweaters residing in little plastic caskets. They file shirts, dresses and pants according to color, fiber content and button count.

Worse yet, their clothes fit. No sign of the fat-jean wardrobe every normal woman cherishes. No rack of size three dresses to provide the self-delusion necessary for good mental health. These disturbed personalities are desperately in need of therapy, medication and grandchildren with Popsicles.

They also demonstrate a pathological lack of conscience as their clothes age. How can someone be so callous as to condemn a loyal pair of black pants that has stood with them through years of Christmas parties, church services and funeral wakes to an unknown fate?

Sometimes, though, I long for the freedom of college days, when my wardrobe consisted of two beloved pairs of jeans, two T-shirts and a granny dress I wore when my future in-laws came to town.

After marriage, however, my expandable waistline stretched my outfits into three categories: pre-prego, prego and post-prego.

By my children’s adolescence, not even an underweight moth could edge in. I never would have suffered from closet claustrophobia if my daughters had done the decent thing and raided my closet during their teen years.

Instead, they plundered their father’s. We didn’t realize he had become a retro fashion icon until one Sunday before church as I made a routine check of the “teen corner.” Our younger daughter was wearing a purple-striped surfer shirt.

“Steve, she’s wearing that shirt I gave you for your 18th birthday.”

He cocked an eye. “Um, her friend’s wearing one of my shirts, too.”

It wasn’t fair. If Steve had worn ruffles during the 1960s like every other self-respecting hippie, the girls never would have touched his stuff. His closet would have looked as bad as mine.

Eventually, our children all married young and left town. I have no idea why.

I visited their quiet rooms and shed tears at the sight of neatly made beds and unnaturally bare floors.

And three beautiful, empty closets.

Which, years later, now overflow — and getting dressed each morning has once more become a religious experience. …

Does opening your closets inspire fervent prayer as well?

 

 

A Storm’s the Norm

In the Oregon desert where I lived two years, the few thunderstorms rated newspaper headlines. People ran for cover as if King Kong had invaded. They spoke in hushed tones of thunder, lightning and the deluge that made them search for the nearest Ark to rent.

Those storms hardly would have rated an umbrella in Indiana. Still, my father’s congregation trembled when he assumed the storm watcher persona he adopted long before The Weather Channel. Piles of purple clouds — if rotating, all the better — called for his scrutiny.

“Beautiful.” He’d wave a big, brown hand as if conducting a symphony. “Nothing grander.”

Mom, however, insisted that my siblings and I remain safe inside. How boring.

Later, back in Indiana, I was a passenger in a car that defied a white sheet of rain stretched across the road. Tree branches ripped, grabbing sparking power lines as they crashed. A chimney exploded.

The driver very appropriately prayed, “Dear Jesus, keep us safe. But if not, please take us to heaven.”

This struck me as unnecessarily pessimistic. In one of my less holy moments, I yelled at the top of my 18-year-old lungs, “Knock it off, Jo. Quit giving me last rites, okay?”

God in His mercy listened to Jo and ignored me.

I later succumbed to Boring Mother Disease during storm season. One spring, my small children and I spent so much time snuggled in our bathtub, they regarded it as a second library, the normal place to read storybooks.

My husband, bone-tired from a 24/7 medical practice, refused to budge from his nice warm bed just because pesky tornadoes suffered from insomnia.

Our next house featured an ancient basement. Hubby still favored Oz during tornado warnings. The kids and I, however, preferred the dungeon to our former cramped porcelain refuge. We added Play-Doh and Yahtzee tournaments to the storm regimen.

Now empty-nesters, Steve and I again live in a one-story ranch. Upon purchase, I assured myself that no storm could hoist my post-middle-age body more than a few feet.

Soon, however, lightning seemingly sizzled around my pillow, and moaning wind and rain drowned my husband’s snores. I craved my former dungeon, but tried to reassure myself.

You’ll laugh about this tomorrow.

The next morning, our ceiling had not moved. Peeking out windows, I saw no branches on the ground — not even many twigs. Why had I been such a nervous Nellie?

Then, opening a newspaper, I noticed a photo of our town’s Little League cement block dugout. A “small” tornado had dissected it.

Back to Bathtub Story Hour for me.

Are you a storm watcher? Or do you run for a basement–or bathtub?

Spring Stuff

Most people stay far too busy during spring to pause and practice their God-given powers of observation. Although I, too, keep an encyclopedia-sized to-do list, I decided to sacrifice the time, pour myself a cup of coffee and ponder spring stuff:

  • Spring is when we rid our yards of pretty dandelions and violets and instead, try to grow plants whose native habitat is the Amazon River Basin.
  • Some high-fashion people wear flip-flops when it’s sleeting. Other divas wear boots during heat waves. Moral of the story: Spring footwear has nothing to do with feet. Though I feel the mad urge to wear white shoes.
  • Storing one’s winter woolies at the spring equinox can prove almost as dangerous as selling a crib at a spring garage sale. (Blizzard or baby, you pick.)
  • A sadistic burglar obviously replaced my spring clothes with an identical wardrobe two sizes too small.
  • Prom dresses currently bloom throughout area stores. Either that, or lots of people are going to Vegas.
  • I may never have looked like Debbie Reynolds, but I’m a Singin’-in-the-Rain kind of girl. You?
  • I can’t wait to clear out clutter, watch the Cubs and make my mother’s potato salad.
  • During early spring, strawberries taste more like medicine than a fruit. Still, I buy them.
  • Doesn’t it seem sacrilegious to celebrate the Resurrection at the same time we will have to pay the IRS?
  • After spring break, an epidemic sweeps our nation’s campuses, victimizing students, professors and administration alike. The name of this menace? The College Crankies. A large migration of university spouses has been noted to take place at this time.
  • Have you ever noticed that spring soccer fields smell like wild onions?
  • My scudsy, corroded car, whose unfortunate state hasn’t bothered me all winter, now bothers me.
  • Ditto for my house’s dirty windows. And my dirty carpets. And my furniture. And. …
  • Gangway! The golfers are loose!
  • Now that spring has arrived, my husband no longer gripes about my sleeping with the window open. An added bonus: a nearby frog choir provides a nightly lullaby to ease us into Dreamland.
  • No five-star restaurant’s swanky French dessert menu could hope to rival the first luscious, drippy ice cream cone of spring.

Perhaps it’s time to rouse myself from my profound cogitations and determine if this year’s cone will uphold the standard.

No weightier spring pursuit than that.

What’s your favorite spring stuff?

 

 

 

 

Bacon, How Do I Love Thee? Check My Cholesterol Count

How I wished this treatise began with heavenly fragrances and sweet sizzling leading to crispy, smoky bacon.

Unfortunately, I sat in a hospital laboratory, breakfastless, awaiting a routine cholesterol test.

That day recalled my bacon fast at 16, when I swore off because I heard it caused zits. Mom, concerned about my skinny frame, entreated in vain. My heartless brothers wolfed down handfuls of bacon like popcorn. I closed my eyes, but their crunch-crunch-crunch, reminiscent of giant locusts, started my days on a miserable note.

Plus, pimples, unappreciative of my sacrifice, showed up anyway.

Nowadays, I rarely hear about bacon bans related to acne. No, those who wish to deprive mankind yammer about good and bad fats. Which is which? Both look lumpy in a swimsuit.

Despite bad press, bacon recently has enjoyed popularity surpassing Justin Bieber’s. To skeptics, I inquire: How many Bieber-of-the-month clubs exist in which members fork out 50-plus bucks monthly to have Justin dropped off on their doorsteps?

I thought so. Yet thousands subscribe to The Pig Next Door, Bacon Freak, and dozens of bacon-touting clubs that do exactly that.

Bacon isn’t just for breakfast anymore. Many crave it for dessert: bacon cookies, bacon-sprinkled cupcakes, bacon ice cream, even apple pie with a bacon lattice crust. Others indulge a sweet tooth with bacon truffles, bacon brittle, bubble gum, lollipops, soda and candy canes.

Not content with filling their stomachs with delectable morning meat, bacon addicts treat their teeth to bacon-flavored toothpaste and floss. They wear T-shirts with slogans such as “Bacon is meat candy” and “Praise the Lard.”

One Christmas, I gave my son-in-law a grilling apron sporting a pink pig and the caption, “Thank you for turning vegetables into bacon.”

Sadly, I didn’t discover the gift that would have won me the Lifetime Mother-in-law Award until too late. Sculptor Mike LaHue created a larger-than-life bust of actor Kevin Bacon, covered with cooked bacon bits. No, he didn’t eat Kevin. But he chowed down on extra bacon bits to sustain artistic fervor.

According to reporter Rosa Golijan, LaHue was glad to complete this project, auctioned off for charity. However, he missed Kevin smiling from his refrigerator every morning.

Reading such reports in the laboratory waiting room, I wished I could have delayed this test a little longer — say, 30 years. I considered leaving and continuing my fat-lovin’ ways.

In that case, another product would meet my needs in a most unique way. A bacon coffin. A $2,999.99 steel casket with slice-of-bacon décor, complete with bacon air freshener.

Advertised with a fitting slogan: “For those who love bacon to death.”

So … how do you like your bacon?