Category Archives: Coffee Corner

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?

Keepable Resolutions 2019

Ah, resolutions. As in shaping up. Getting a grip.

You gotta love ’em.

No, you don’t. I don’t, either.

I used to procrastinate, thinking long and deep about resolutions, researching, editing, and reediting. My well-honed list didn’t emerge until February. I ate junk food, remained a couch potato, and avoided being nice a whole extra month.

Recently, though, I discovered a new, improved resolution-making method that reduces procrastination, yet prevents the root-canal effect of good behavior. My secret? I make only resolutions I can keep.

Simple. Profound. Why didn’t Einstein or some other genius with funny hair discover this?

I’m already hard at work, keeping my 2019 list.

In household matters:

  • I resolve not to embrace the latest décor: skinny sofas with all the cushy comfort of park benches and chairs designed by those who hate vertebrates. My outdated sofa will continue to encourage naps instead of body casts.
  • I also resolve not to rearrange my current furniture. My heart couldn’t take moving it. Or, seeing what’s under it.
  • I will resist the temptation to make our bread from scratch. Admittedly, I used to do this. But we must shed past follies, right?

In transportation matters:

  • No white car of mine shall remain white.
  • I will never take a flight to see my dad in Louisiana that doesn’t include a stop in Fargo, North Dakota.

In sports matters:

  • I promise to cheer against the New England Patriots forever, even if they move to the Midwest.
  • I promise to cheer the Kentucky Wildcats only if they move away from the Midwest.

In marriage and family matters:

  • Even in January, I will crack my bedroom window for fresh air. An added plus: I like sleeping with a giant burrito.
  • I resolve to freak out as my only granddaughter blossoms. Two freaked-out parents aren’t enough to supply the embarrassment levels every teen needs.

In miscellaneous matters:

  • I promise not to pay perfectly good money to die on Six Flags Great Adventure’s Kingda Ka, the tallest roller coaster in the world.
  • I will waste time viewing sunrises and sunsets.
  • I promise to sing along with raindrop music, and
  • I will click the TV remote when Victoria’s Secret ads appear.

Finally, in post-holiday matters:

I won’t take down my Christmas tree until I’m good and ready. Between Advent celebrations and a January 1 book deadline, I’ve taken little time to enjoy it. Besides, snow deserted Indiana this year. True Christmas tree appreciation requires snowflakes dancing outside my window. So, I’ll cradle my steaming holly mug, with carols playing and tree glowing, until my snow-goal is met.

Not that I’m procrastinating, or anything.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What keepable New Year’s resolutions will you make for 2019?

Blame It All

Hubby says, “Would you like to go out to eat?”

Do I like to breathe?

He complains the car is cold. However, I’m chilly, too — which never happens.

Hubby spots the problem: “Who flipped on air conditioning?”

Who can I blame? Where’s a grandchild when you need one?

Rats. They went home yesterday.

As a child, I never lacked blamees. While I longed to beam little brothers to the planet Gorlojxx, they served as excellent reasons for everything wrong with my life. I couldn’t complete kitchen assignments because they never stopped eating. I couldn’t finish piano practice because they shot me with dart guns. Later, I blamed them for my nonexistent dating life. What guy would brave those little commandos, armed with Crazy Foam™, cherry bombs and Peeping Tom mirrors?

I didn’t blame them for everything, though.

I blamed our parents, too. They should have stopped with me.

My left-handedness also came in handy. I first discovered this instant alibi while learning to tie shoes. No wonder, while doing The Hokey Pokey, I knocked down classmates like dominoes. No wonder I blew story problems, my socks slid down, and skirt zippers always wandered to the front. I was left-handed!

Later, I discovered right-handed people invented algebra. They also designed SAT tests and college applications.

The bank did not buy it, though, when I wrote my first overdrawn check.

And I thought story problems were a problem.

My generation and I blamed the Establishment, then eventually graduated to blaming the government: Democrats for deficits and potholes; Republicans for job losses and crabgrass.

McDonald’s, because they make us spill hot coffee.

If all else fails, we can blame the stars. Perhaps left-handed, too, heavenly bodies stumble in a cosmic Hokey Pokey that affects paychecks, love lives and bowling scores.

Some take the blame straight to God’s Complaint Department. “My life’s a mess. Your fault!”

He eyes the patched-up, parts-missing, jumble of perpetual motion. “Did you read the Directions?”

Um.

Funny. We rarely blame Him or other people for good things. Just sayin’.

  • Instead of pronouncing traffic “god-awful,” we could describe sunsets, babies and cardinals as “God-beautiful.”
  • We might compliment a busy McDonald’s employee for hot coffee.
  • Or even praise a hardworking public servant.
  • We could thank parents who let us live. Ditto for teachers.
  • I might learn to appreciate my brothers, even if they didn’t move to Gorlojxx.

Thankfully, Hubby has not moved, either, despite living with Quirkzilla for 44 years.

Approaching the restaurant, I admit, “I forgot to turn off the air conditioning. Seriously, that hot flash would have melted Alaska.”

He grins.

“Thanks for dinner out,” I add. “If I’m spoiled, I blame you.”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Whom can you blame for something good?

College Christmas Break

Once upon a time, colleges didn’t evict students from dormitories three minutes after final exams. Back in the Dark Ages, Hubby and I stayed until the following Monday.

Eventually, some grinch discovered that supplying extra days’ heat for 30,000 students spoiled the university’s merry Christmas. College officials also realized that multitudes of sleep-deprived, de-brained students + 24-hour blocks of free time equaled … excitement.

In the early ’70s, though, they assumed we couldn’t wait to go home.

Right.

Sure, we’d missed our dogs.

If we’d hacked with colds, cough syrup and aspirin were blocks away instead of steps. We anticipated parents smearing us with love and Vicks® VapoRub®.

We’d languished without Mom’s cooking. Meals with fewer than 500 people might be nice. Plus, a refrigerator of free food would be at our disposal.

Free laundry, too! Mom might reintroduce us to clean clothes, as opposed to those sanctified by optimum time at the bottom of the hamper.

Add Christmas magic, and most students wanted to share the holidays with family.

Just not quite yet.

Having been chained to books, typewriters and labs, we needed to celebrate. Even our nondrinking Bible study required a two-day party.

We snarfed Christmas cookies by the bucket and played Monopoly all night. Only one guy owned a car, but 13 of us jammed into it, rolled down windows, and sang Christmas carols at the top of our flattened lungs. At stoplights, we emptied the car with Chinese fire drills.

Who needed sleep?

Besides, we comrades in the trenches of academia soon would part. For couples, December and January stretched like a forever, empty tundra.

Hubby’s long-haired college days, before the Christmas Break haircut.

During that long-hair era, guys dreaded welcome-home haircuts. We girls combed bangs out of our eyes to please our moms.

We loved our parents. But they would expect us to talk to them. To hundreds of relatives. We’d repeat our majors and future plans a gazillion times. If we didn’t have any, we’d have to make them up, quick.

Worse, our families went to bed early. At the crack of dawn, they took showers and slammed doors so a normal person couldn’t get proper rest.

Parents would expect help with the dishes. Why not summon the fairies who had done that all semester?

Ditto for putting gas in the car. Whatever happened to “free”?

Sigh. How had we lived at home so long?

After a 48-hour party, though, a 10 o’clock bedtime didn’t sound so bad. Eating a nutrient or two might be nice.

With the arrival of a station wagon loaded with delighted smiles and hugs found nowhere else on earth — well, Christmas break might be worth the sacrifice, after all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How did (do) you celebrate Christmas break?

Christmas Aliens among Us

Beware! Christmas aliens lurk in malls, mega-stores and parking lots.

Unlike gargantuan monsters on big and small screens who spit purple slime, these unearthly creatures can enter a Walmart without so much as a raised eyebrow.

Like the rest of the local gift-seeking population, they are tall, short, and various shapes, colors and sizes. They may wear jeans and hoodies or polyester pantsuits with Christmas teddy bears pinned to lapels.

Their appearance does not betray their presence. Instead, be on the lookout for suspicious shopping behaviors.

These extraterrestrials don’t aim laser cannons at shopping districts or vaporize Santa and his elves at tree lightings. Still, they could destroy holiday traditions cherished by our culture for decades.

Outside Stores

  • Christmas aliens are betrayed by their driving behavior. They stop at stoplights. Yes, really. Some even halt at stop signs. A few actually allow drivers trapped in wrong lanes to go first.
  • Their parking lot behavior reveals even more sinister intentions. Instead of charging across the lot in a diagonal path, they drive in designated lanes.
  • Despite plentiful targets at crosswalks, they do not accelerate. What kind of Christmas spirit is that?
  • Some aliens skip convenient parking spaces, keeping them available for the elderly and expectant mothers.
  • Having corralled not one, but two truant shopping carts, they may even look The Salvation Army bell ringer in the eye as they enter.

What would happen if the entire population exhibited similar dangerous behavior?

Inside Stores

  • They break the First Commandment of Christmas Shopping: Instead of inflicting shopping trips on spouses and children as a punishment, they try to make them fun.
  • They also refrain from mugging store clerks when a size large or Baby Know-It-All can’t be found.
  • They retrieve items from top shelves for the vertically challenged.
  • They sing along with background Christmas Muzak. On key.
  • They procure private places for cell phone discussions about purchasing the jingle-bell boxer shorts.
  • They may even toss used paper towels into the restroom trash can instead of onto the floor.
  • At checkout, they say please and thank you. And find they purchased more for others than themselves.

All these are strong indications that aliens have mounted a major assault on Christmas shopping traditions we hold so dear.

Worse yet, they enact these with a smile.

A smile?

Everyone knows Christmas shopping and giving have nothing to do with smiling. After all, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. God knows, He never smiled while lying in the manger. When He healed a dying little girl. Or, watched a lame grandpa dance without his crutch.

Right?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you encountered a Christmas alien lately?

To Watch the Clock or Not?

While riding our exercise bike, I pondered the importance of clocks — mostly because after achieving sufficient torture minutes, I could get off. And reward myself with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

Usually, though, I’m not a clock-watcher; my devout, free-spirited parents lauded flexibility as a key virtue. Keeping track of time? Not so much. Church services they led not only seemed to go on forever, they actually did.

So, when my second-grade teacher instructed our class about telling time, I didn’t see the point. Besides, if the big hand was on two, plain as day, why did she insist it read 10 minutes after the hour? Why should insignificant dots between the numbers dictate the operation of the universe?

Given that cosmic view, I didn’t own my first wristwatch until eighth grade.

My husband received his as a kindergartner. Perhaps his family operated like normal people?

Liam, our time-loving toddler, is now 10 and still watches clocks.

Decades later, our toddler grandson, Liam, exhibited that “normal” behavior tenfold. Every visit.

LIAM: Grandma, want pretty “numbers-clock.”

GRANDMA: If you wear my watch, you must give it back before I leave.

LIAM: (nodding vigorously) I will.

(Grandma doubles the band around his tiny wrist.)

LIAM: (caressing the watch) My numbers-clock.

At least, I escaped the mugging Liam’s library storyteller suffered when he refused to give up his numbers-clock.

While most North Americans don’t go to that extreme, other cultures do puzzle about our clock fetish. The Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels, captured that viewpoint perfectly in describing Gulliver’s pocket watch as a god he worshipped: “He assured us … that he seldom did anything without consulting it. He called it his oracle and said it pointed out the time for every action of his life.”

Centuries later, I find this true, even at night. Do you, too, play peekaboo during the wee hours with merciless numbers that scare away sleep?

Cell phones, rather than clocks, often rule both nights and days. Still, I consult my watchless wrist. That failing, I consult my phone — after I find it.

Perhaps a residue of freedom from time survives, as demonstrated in our living room. Two clocks reside there, neither of which works. As dusty décor, they read 1:57 and 3:01, respectively. This annoys Liam, no longer a mugger, but still a clock-watcher at 10.

The first is my husband’s great-great-grandfather’s mantel clock, with its ornate brass lions, rings and trims. But I like the other best, a modest crystal clock Hubby gave me for Christmas long ago.

A note accompanied it: “My love for you is timeless.”

Clock-watcher or not, exercise-bike rider or chocolate-eating slacker, I have time for that.

Anytime.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: When do you watch the clock?

The Blue Dresser

How did the dresser start out in life? I don’t know, but its size and plain, sturdy lines said, “I belong to a kid.”

The dresser’s original kid probably wadded clothes Mom had folded and stuffed them into its drawers. Perhaps he yanked out drawers, climbed the “stairs” and jumped off the top with an umbrella parachute.

Years later, I discovered that dresser in a secondhand store, marked half-price. It would do until my three-year-old son started school. However, it wore a woebegone, cast-off aura.

My mother, two thousand miles away, whispered in my mind, “Nice find. Great price. But this little dresser needs happy paint.”

As a teen, I’d rolled my eyes when Mom painted end tables orange and a bedroom suite blue. Who did that?

Well … I did. After a critical paint chip comparison, I began painting the chest eye-popping blue. I planned to paint its handles equally vivid red.

Then my young husband needed an emergency appendectomy. While Hubby slowly recovered from complications, I slowly finished the dresser. Late at night, I added a second coat, a third, maybe more — I don’t remember. I experienced a glad moment when I hauled the completed dresser upstairs to my son’s bedroom. An even happier one when I brought his daddy home.

David, flanked by his older sisters, was a toddler when I painted the dresser a vivid blue.

Both had jobs to do. Daddy returned to work. The dresser once more endured yanks, shoves and a “helpful” kid who stuffed clothes Mom had folded into its drawers. (He also attempted to climb to the dresser top, but I stopped him on the second step.)

A doggie bank constructed from a Pringles can resided on it, along with half-consumed PB&J sandwiches and piles of baseball cards. With ABC curtains, Mickey Mouse sheets, and a carpet perpetually layered with toys, the dresser helped make the room my kid’s haven.

But adolescence sneaked in. The first clouds of Eau de Gym Shoe settled over his room and, with them, a dark cloud of protest: Mickey Mouse sheets? Seriously? Did he really need ABCs displayed on his curtains?

David with his wife and their first baby.

I changed his décor to manly navy blue. Strangely, he didn’t ask me to lose the dresser.

Perhaps, even he realized he didn’t need a bigger one. Why, when his wardrobe resided in heaps on the floor?

Plus, the doggie bank’s big smile still matched the dresser perfectly.

One day, he departed for college, then marriage. The cheerful blue dresser, deprived of its kid, looked a little sad.

Now, though, it proudly houses coloring books, finger paints, and Play-Doh for grandchildren.

That dresser was made for kids.

And this old kid still loves it.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What furniture in your home tells your family’s story?

Gripes vs. Gratitude

Do you enjoy a good gripe?

Me, too. The recent election itches like a mosquito bite. I scratch and complain as if that will make it all better.

Maybe, as Mom often said, I should leave it alone so it will heal?

Better yet, applying something soothing — like gratitude — speeds the process. Even …

Gratitude for Weird Things

For example, I’m thankful pumpkins don’t grow on trees. Falling pumpkins every autumn would prove traumatic. Messier to rake, too.

I’m thankful for Indianapolis International Airport shuttle buses. Even when passengers can’t remember in which state they landed — let alone, parking row numbers — drivers remain courteous and coherent. Which is more than I am at midnight.

As we’re discussing air travel, I give thanks for screaming babies. They make me grateful to be old.

Not too old, though, to appreciate new bell bottoms for which I paid $4.80. Retro fashion, retro price! The only down side: the last time I wore bell bottoms, I didn’t, um, possess one.

Still thinking retro, I’m grateful I no longer endure home permanents or soup-can curlers.

I’m thankful, too, that unlike my first year of driving (two wrecks), I have driven accident-free for years.

I remind myself to give thanks at stoplights for drivers with honking disease. They strip away any religious façade: Will I swear or pray?

So far, prayers way outnumber swear words — though a few prayers have consisted of, “Lord, strike that guy’s battery dead.”

Oops. My “gratitude” is beginning to itch.

Changing the subject … I am grateful for Britisher Thomas Hancock (1786-1865), who invented elastic. At Thanksgiving, real waistlines might prove fatal.

I am incredibly thankful for my favorite Thanksgiving foods: pie, pie and pie! I’m also blessed with my sweet mother-in-law, a wonderful pie baker. And my kind father-in-law.

Also, my funny, ornery, 91-year-old dad. When I phone, he always answers, “Rachael who?” As long as he doesn’t turn polite, I don’t worry.

Speaking of near and dear, I should express gratitude that my love is not a vampire. Or zombie. Just a camper. Though some friends would rather deal with the other alternatives, I’m happy with my guy. Among other considerations, he pumps gas, even if I’m driving. Always.

I’m also thankful that as empty nesters, we no longer must be good examples. Feet on the furniture, supper in front of TV, yelling at referees — life together is good.

Fortunately, our children and their spouses are good examples. They have given us seven awesome grandkids who have taught us peace and quiet are highly overrated.

We are so thankful. When I think of those blessings and a gazillion more …

What gripes?

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What reasons for gratitude help dissolve your gripes?

The Amazing Corn Maze Adventure

In autumn, we Midwestern grandparents like to complicate our lives by taking our families to corn mazes.

On our first outing, my husband eyed me. “Some people need 12 hours to find their way out.”

“Ha!” I say.

But that’s all I can say. Maybe, I’ll exit before Thanksgiving. Or Christmas?

Like my mother before me, I possess zero sense of direction. Unfortunately, our daughter inherited something of our deficiency.

Her husband and mine took over. “No way are these kids getting lost with you.”

One grandson wailed, “I don’t wanna get lost with Mommy!”

His brother backed away. “Grandma’s trying get rid of us!”

The men hurried the kids into the maze. Onlookers, fingers poised to dial 911, glared at my daughter and me.

The maze looked friendlier. I have always liked rustling cornfields, with thousands of leafy stalks whispering autumn secrets. Once we entered, though, other participants vanished. Where, exactly, were we?

My daughter said, “Let’s retrace our steps. We went this way, didn’t we?”

At the next intersection, I boldly pointed the way. “We came from this direction.”

“You think so?”

“Uh …”

Cornstalks moaned with the wind. My skin prickled, but I summoned the confident tone that faked me through years of parenting. “As long as we see the barn, we’re fine.”

The only problem: the barn kept moving. Farther and farther away.

Suddenly, from the opposite direction, it pounced on us like a daytime goblin.

My daughter, who once hitchhiked a Mexican highway without fear, halted, eyes wide.

I checked my phone’s GPS.

“Recalculating …” The GPS Lady snickered. “Recalcu — bwahahaha!”

My daughter’s GPS Lady joined in. They loved the corn maze.

Us? Not so much.

We switched off those annoying voices. But those of our family? No. This corn maze tale would be repeated at holidays forever.

Even if we never returned to eat pumpkin pie. (Sniff.)

Finally, my daughter straightened her shoulders. “We’re going about this all wrong.”

“We are?”

“Sure. Let’s walk away from the barn. At the next fork, close your eyes. Pick a path, any path. At the next one, I’ll do the same.”

“Right! That always works with interstate ramps.”

We found an exit. Before relief gave way to gloating, the guys emerged from another.

“Grandpa and I figured the way out from the sun’s angles!” one grandson crowed. “Did you do that, Grandma?”

“You used a GPS.” My husband sounded as if we were running a Ponzi scheme.

No, we had used our own special system, based on navigational instincts those guys couldn’t begin to understand.

My mother would have been proud.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever experienced a corn maze adventure?