Category Archives: Coffee Corner

Garage Sale Tale

Who invented the first garage sale?

Perhaps Uk and Ukette of prehistoric fame discovered the extra rocks sitting around their cave were gathering dust. Some authorities on ancient civilizations claim the Egyptians, disgusted at having to rent extra Pyramids to accommodate junk their kids brought home from college, decided they’d had enough.

Whoever originated the concept did so without the aid of the Internet. In consulting websites, I discovered one (researched by a Ph.D. in Junkology) that listed 101 tips for running a successful sale. Googling “garage sale” produces more than six million results. Not surprising, because every single respondent visited our small town during Labor Day weekend.

Because of our city-wide, garage-sale tradition, hundreds of women price their husbands’ lucky 1979 The Doobie Brothers tour T-shirts and golf clubs, while men sneak wives’ five-closet shoe collections and 537 Longaberger® baskets out to garages and driveways. All hope to dispose of such “useless” clutter before spouses discover the absence — only to realize that by holiday’s end, the men have bought six sets of used golf clubs and the women have purchased purses to match all the shoes.

My passion for cheap sometimes has strained the seams of my house and my husband’s patience. So I prepared for this garage sale mega-event with moderation in mind.

Besides, Hubby hid the truck keys.

So I rode my bike, carrying a backpack and limited cash.

I chatted with half the town as I bought storybooks and toys for my grandkids, CDs to replace favorite cassette tapes, and a muffin pan to replace those I’d received at a wedding shower — 42  years ago.

I’d have to write a book to list all the excellent, useful items I passed by. (Sigh.) Certainly, not all garage sales present such a tempting array. Nowhere did I encounter the used toothbrushes, deodorants or surgical instruments (!) some Internet cohorts encountered.

Unlike one yard sale queen, I didn’t buy a white toilet plunger decorated with a bride and groom, labeled, “We took the plunge.” Nor did I buy a fountain constructed of five stainless steel bedpans with a frog (also created from a bedpan) poised to dive in.

Call me deprived. But I arrived home only $30 poorer with a backpack full of “valuables.”

Miraculously, my husband, who rates garage sales only slightly above taxes and lima beans, had changed his tune. Seeing the multitude, he sold our old lawnmower within an hour.

I was glad he reformed his attitude toward garage sales. But next year, before I make my annual rounds, will I have to hide all my shoes?

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your all-time favorite garage sale find?

 

 

Suckered Again?

Perhaps, like me, you succumbed to seed catalogs last spring that promised your yard would outflower the Garden of Eden.

Now, nearing August’s end, was all that planting, fertilizing, weeding and watering worth it?

My husband said flowerbeds should always look a little wild — his diplomatic way of likening mine to cow pastures. Still, flowers have taught this gardener lessons even critics with clean knees and nails can appreciate.

Prima Donnas

The impatiens demand I water and fan them hourly. Yet they’ve bloomed only enough to avoid eviction.

          Lesson learned: I won’t cast my pearls before swine or my Miracle-Gro before ingrates.

Interlopers

Surprise! Volunteer zinnias appreciated that Miracle-Gro. The interlopers not only have filled our dining room windows with brilliant blossoms, they’ve attracted butterflies whose exquisite air shows entertain us daily.

Lesson learned: Sometimes unsolicited committee members accomplish more than those on the recruitment list.

Rogues

One zinnia, undaunted, even blooms under a dryer vent. I love its moxie. “But isn’t life challenging enough without stacking the odds against yourself?”

          Lesson learned: Even if you find out — a little late — you’ve created your own problems,             tough it out and bloom anyway.

Type A’s

However, black-eyed Susans, determined to take over the world, remind me that not everyone appreciates a type A personality.

           Lesson learned: Maybe my children and in-laws need a little space to grow, too?

Rugged Individualists

My few marigolds refuse to be intimidated by the Susans, the weather, or anything else. Plus, nothing smells quite like a marigold.

          Lesson learned: They’re not afraid to live spicy-dicey-different, and I shouldn’t be, either.

Friends?

Both hummingbirds and goldfinches appear harmless, single lines of poetry that grew wings. But the hummingbird borrows nectar, tiny head bowed in gratitude. Goldfinches shred flowers as if they were substandard novel manuscripts.

          Lesson learned: I should look past appearances and             Instead, let another’s actions communicate her/his                character.

Survivors

Some of best lessons emerge from my garden’s quiet corners. Dormant lavender, seemingly overwhelmed, knows deep in its roots that though everyone else looks bigger, better and flashier right now, its time will come. The lavender will bloom again.

Wilted begonias bought at an end-of-season sale, now sporting a few red blossoms, shout, “Amen!”

Did they experience a tough past? Yep. Were they put on the shelf? Shoved under it. Even now, with better conditions, do they anticipate limited prospects for the future? Probably.

          Lesson learned: Still, it’s never too late to reach for blessed rainfall, flourish in the Son,                 and come alive again. It’s never too late to bloom.

Were my flowers worth the trouble this summer?  Will they sucker me into fussing with them again next spring? Of course.

And I’ll love them and learn.

What lessons have you learned in Gardening 101?

 

 

Sweet Summer Brew for Yankees

The sun bestows its Midas touch on the flavorful brown brew in my oversized glass, stuffed with ice cubes, chilly rivelets running down its sides.

Does anyone speak of this popular summer beverage as “iced tea”?

Only dictionaries, menus, maître d’s — and column writers who must meet editing standards — have touted good ol’ ice tea with the superfluous “d.”

As southern temperatures soar, my Louisiana relatives greet visitors with a simple “Ya’ll come in and have some tea.”

If you, too, are a Yankee, please note: Never ask if the tea is sweetened or unsweetened.

“Unsweetened? In this house?”

Loyal southern citizens would rather fight the Civil War again than drink unsweetened tea. Even consumers who add artificial sweeteners warrant watching.

So I will try to lose weight before my September visit.

The locals drink it even at breakfast. Just recalling childhood memories of endless frosty glasses consumed while eating huge sorghum-laced biscuits adds layers to my physique.

My mother, though she did not possess the southern genetic code necessary to produce true sweet tea, was an exceptionally wise Yankee. As a young wife, she studied her in-laws’ iced-tea technique and learned the correct way to dump endless scoops of sugar into hers.

For years, Mom’s sweet tea helped cool and fuel her skinny little kids throughout sweltering summers. She steeped teabags in a pan with a ceramic lining — why, I don’t know, but I followed her lead for years. While it brewed, she recruited a child to “throw ice.” Money being short, she never considered store-bought bags. Trayfuls lasted mere minutes. Instead, Mom filled gallon milk cartons with water and froze them. We children took these cartons to our solid cement porch and threw them.

Most of the time, deliberately breaking anything resulted in an immediate Judgment Day. Part of the perk of throwing ice included the soul-satisfying shatter, classified, unbelievably, as “helping Mom.”

When Dad arrived, brown and weary from hammering nails on a sizzling roof or covered with paint, she filled a jar with cracked ice and poured her blessed sweet tea over it, resurrecting his body and soul.

A half century later, I know pitchers of sweet tea will await me when I visit Dad, along with glasses chock-full of ice. No pumpkin chai or caramel truffle for us, and never decaffeinated.

He and my relatives know better than to mess with a great brew.

Better than I, for the last time I visited, I asked, “Is this tea sweetened?”

 

 

What’s your favorite summer tea? Sweetened or unsweetened?

 

 

 

 

Forty Bikes on the Cardinal Greenway

Once upon a time, Hubby and I joined other cyclists for a 22-mile ride on the Cardinal Greenway. This former railroad track, now cycling/walking path, stretches 62 miles from Marion, Indiana, to Richmond.

Families, college students, daring adolescents, middle-aged couples, and riders even older than we gathered. They brought varieties of bikes.

“That recumbent tandem looks relaxing,” Hubby commented.

I shook my head. “We’d probably fall asleep pedaling and wake up under a bus.”

One disadvantage in a multigenerational ride: some riders looked good in biking shorts.

But we forgave them. They couldn’t help it.

Also, courtesy times 40 complicated our start: “After you.”

“No, after you.”

Eventually, we rode through shady woods. Our pace encouraged conversation with friends, new and old. Birds and babbling brooks sang melodies far superior to any vibrating through earbuds.

Besides, with bud-free, textless cycling, we could detect a combine crossing our path before becoming permanently one with it.

We also could hear dogs, though on the Greenway, they were kept on leashes — a bonus for cyclists. Many of us had viewed entirely too many canine teeth and tonsils up close and personal.

Hubby disagrees that dogs target a tandem’s back rider. But guess who always rides up front?

Other Greenway features made it a great ride. Picturesque bridges spanned busier roads. A tunnel echoed with our yells. This nosy writer studied backyards and saw how people really live — research.

Several drivers paused to let cyclists cross streets. Their consideration was especially appreciated because our little guys occasionally forgot to stop.

Except dead in the middle of the trail.

Halting a tandem behind them is equivalent to stopping a semi on a highway. Sudden stops might embed the back rider’s teeth in her knees.

Thankfully, most children moved to the right for pauses.

Their strong little legs pumping, pumping, pumping were a beautiful sight. One boy had never ridden 11 miles before. High five!

One trail section runs through soybean and cornfields, wide-open spaces city riders never enjoy. Some cyclists boast of climbing the Rockies. I offer them an unequivocal Thbbft.

A native Hoosier, I like flat. Especially when cycling.

At a picturesque “train stop,” the group enjoyed a yummy picnic, then loaded kids and bikes into the support truck and headed home. Hubby and I, among others, hopped on and zoomed back to the trailhead, thankful for a fun day and weather forecast that fooled meteorologists’ predictions.

Also super-grateful for a soft, soft sofa and [yawn] a major Saturday afternoon nap.

What’s your favorite bike ride memory?

August Baby

To very-soon-mothers-to-be walking along my street, in malls, and parks: my heartfelt sympathy. I gave birth to an August baby, too.

My final month, I holed up in our bedroom, the rental’s only air-conditioned area. Trying to buckle my shoes, I wriggled like a June bug on my back for two hours, then sallied forth in bedroom slippers to buy slip-ons.

At the store, a terrified teen clerk eyed me.

“Bring me cute shoes without buckles,” I ordered. “Or else!”

He came through … and probably vowed lifetime celibacy to shield him from cranky, pregnant women. Women wreaking vengeance on people with flat stomachs, no stretch marks and normal body temperatures. On anyone not carrying August babies.

My helplessness gave way to well-shod confidence. No more June bug imitations. With God’s help, I could do this.

I even volunteered to conduct my church’s evangelistic survey. I walked on my heels, as with any shift toward my toes, my watermelon-sized stomach would have dropped me onto my nose.

But I wore cute shoes. With no buckles.

Most residents, after glances at my stomach, demonstrated kindness. Crusty homeowners collared Chihuahuas and offered glasses of water. One irate lady shooed me into her recliner. Did my mother know I was doing this?

Later, fellow volunteers and I discovered my survey had proved the most successful! However, our team leader nixed the others’ tucking pillows under their shirts for follow-up.

I did not participate. August Baby had other plans.

The day before her arrival, I weeded flower beds. Throughout my pregnancy, I had charted a religiously healthy diet. But that day, I deserved chili dogs drowned in beans, cheese, onions and mustard.

Stuffed, gritty and exhausted, I announced, “I’ll shower tomorrow.”

My husband, a sleep-deprived resident physician, yawned. “Me, too. Don’t go into labor tonight.”

We collapsed. But August Baby woke us at one a.m. to announce her imminent arrival.

Not only did I have to confess my heinous dietary lapse to the nurse, but every hospital staff member came to meet me.

That’s Dr. Phillips’ wife?”

“Yeah, the one with the dirty nails.”

August Baby, however, made me forget everything. So what if the overflowing obstetric wing made us spend our first hours together in a hallway? Since many staff were on vacation, my long-awaited bath was postponed. …

August Baby and I spent many sweet, sweaty, squally summer nights cuddled too close, her soft skin and hair damp against mine.

But my daughter learned early to go with the flow. Her sunshine-tinged hair, eyes, and smile always have reminded me of August richness, of the treasure I received, dirty nails or not.

August Baby, you were — and are — golden.

A Noble Quest for Ice Cream

I know exactly where to find ice cream in my hometown. So do thousands of academics, farmers, ball teams, Bible study ladies and motorcycle gangs.

Ivanhoe’s has served area ice cream addicts for decades.

But we were in Indianapolis helping my grandson’s family move on his birthday.

So that evening I forced myself to leave Hubby and the others — hoisting a piano above their heads — to seek a grocery.

Consulting his phone, Hubby gave me directions, then bowed his head and prayed. “At least, we’ll see each other in heaven.”

Okay, so I needed 13 tries to navigate endless roundabouts. By time I found the address, I had viewed the outskirts of Louisville, Chicago and Japan.

I finally found Hubby’s designated grocery store.

It had not yet opened for business.

Sitting in the store’s soon-to-be-blacktopped parking lot, I realized my family could have moved the White House’s contents since I left.

I reached for my cell phone … that I’d left at home.

I peered through murky twilight. Should I case the area for a pay phone? But who knew how many evil roundabouts lurked in the gathering gloom …?

A vision of my grandson, stuck-out lip quivering with disappointment, gave me courage to try again.

I would accomplish my mission the old-fashioned way, like my father before me.

His method? Pick a direction and trust God to lead to a store/motel/gas station/restrooms.

I found auto repair shops, upscale tattoo parlors, and … marinas. In Indianapolis?

Like Dad, I tried one more road … that led to a health food store.

“Seriously, God?”

Desperate, I entered and found ice cream!

Soy cranberry and papaya bark.

In despair, I sank to the floor.

Then spotted it on the bottom shelf:

Not carob. Not tofu. Not even yogurt.

Chocolate chip. Ice cream.

I bought it and arrived as the last piece of furniture was moved into place. Not even Hubby possessed the energy to roll his eyes.

Smiles that reigned as our grandson blew out candles morphed into frowns as I plopped ice cream on pieces of cake.

“It’s not healthy,” I promised. “Honest.”

“Yes, it is.” My other grandson pointed to the label. “It says this ice cream came from healthy cows.”

“Taste it,” I pleaded. “Real chocolate chips, see?”

My family is nothing, if not broadminded — especially when starved.

Smiles returned. Birthday Boy ate two big helpings.

Everyone needs character-building tests, challenges that demand their all.

But I’m glad my usual ice cream quest requires only a three-block walk to Ivanhoe’s — without a single roundabout — to choose from 100 sundaes.

Now, there’s a challenge. …

 

Where does your favorite ice cream quest lead you?

Vacation’s Over … Thank God!

Hubby and I have just returned from two weeks of camping, aka our vacation. Grateful to return with only 4,271 mosquito bites, I greet my calendar, which features a two-scene 1947 Norman Rockwell print entitled “Going and Coming.”

In the first, a grinning guy showing off a snazzy fedora and big cigar drives a station wagon topped by a boat. His smiling wife holds Little Sister on her lap. Junior and Fido hang out a window. Warm air flaps their ears and ours, and spit hits our windshields as they pass. Big Sis blows a bubble with her gum that could carry her to the lake by air. Little Bro holds his nose, giving the “You stink!” gesture that passed for rudeness during that era. Beside him, Grandma, sitting straight as a general, ignores the little heathens because of her poor eyesight.

At least, that’s the excuse we grandparents give.

In the second scene, the family returns from the beach. Dad sports only a stump of his cigar and bravado. Mom and toddler snooze. Even the boys and dog sit sedately, and Big Sis’s bubble has shrunk to earthbound size. Grandma, still ramrod straight, probably sleeps with her eyes open, a skill she’s perfected during church.

These Rockwell pictures shout their message so loud and clear even art experts can’t mess with it: “Vacation’s Over … Thank God!”

Each spring, epidemic celebrations offer a taste of summer, tantalizing as our first mouthful of strawberry shortcake. We view new territory, thumbing our noses at those less audacious, confident our bubble gum will taste good forever.

By late July, however, we surpass our quota of quality time together, especially in the car. We peel from the sun’s overfriendliness. Sand has made itself at home in cars, carpets and shorts. Kids have grown an extra epidermis comprised of sun block, Popsicle®, and dirt.

Oddly, something deep inside us craves an alarm clock — and regular bath times. We still love barbecues, but a Sunday roast with mashed potatoes and gravy sounds even better. We want our beds, our messy houses and our schedules.

Even messier because of vacations.

In Rockwell’s return scene, Dad will unload the car, including boat, gear, and sleeping children. Mom faces the formidable task of putting the remaining kids — freshly energized by their arrival home — to bed. (A side note: Both scenes feature children who appear entirely too clean. Mrs. Rockwell never would have painted them thus.)

Coming home is no picnic. Like this family, we continue to meet ourselves going and coming, coming and going. That’s life.

We wouldn’t miss it for anything.

 

Today, are you coming or going?

 

Crazy Cavers

Sixtyish adults who tent camp with grown children and grandchildren ranging from six months to age ten are certifiably insane. But my husband and I reached new levels of lunacy when we accompanied a large percentage of our family group to cave.

A forest hike would bond generations, educate little descendants, and keep them off campground roads inhabited by dinosaur-like RVs. They would view a cave like those immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The cave’s yawning limestone mouth featured jagged teeth and an untidy moss mustache. Definitely the setting legends are made of.

However, half the campground’s population also had braved this wilderness journey. Unlike Aladdin, we stood in line … then remembered we hadn’t brought flashlights.

Despite my Boy Scout husband’s protests, the herd crept forward with only dim illumination from our phones and a son-in-law’s small flashlight. The temperature dropped 15 degrees. Chilly water dripped down my back.

Who knew what might dwell within these cold, drippy underground walls? Injun Joe, the murderous cave-dweller who terrorized Tom Sawyer? Dragons breathed down my neck. …

“I’ll bet this cave has bunches of bats!” my grandson enthused. “I think cave spiders just crawled up my leg.”

Shades of Shelob! With The-Lord-of-the-Rings passion, I brushed him from head to toe.

Now shaking off a hundred imaginary crawlies, I fervently wished he’d kept his scientific curiosity to himself.

The ceiling dropped. Walls closed in. My hips, still inflated by Christmas fat, might wedge in a fissure forever.

Would my skinnier descendants return to camp, mourning my demise, and console themselves with the four buckets of chocolate chip cookies I had baked? Would they not bring me even one to ease my passage into the next world?

Primeval fears solidified when someone called, “Time to crawl.”

My sanity finally kicked in. “No. I’m going back.”

Others turned thumbs down. The grandchildren registered a vehement protest. Our son-in-law sided with the kids. He pressed on, taking them and the only flashlight.

Now gripping my husband’s belt — I hoped — I trailed him through the darkness. Eventually, we arrived at the cave’s mouth. Whew!

Hiking to the cave’s exit, we awaited the adventurers. Anxious minutes dragged. …

Fortunately, they appeared before we summoned the National Guard. Everyone returned to camp to celebrate survival with an appropriately unsafe hot dog roast — and cookies.

 

Have you ever taken your kids/grandkids spelunking?

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet, Burning Hunk of Barbecue Love

Visiting the South a few years ago, we sought to sample its bodacious barbecue. So we braved Saturday night kill-the-Yankees traffic to find Blaze’s Piggy Pit.

Homemade posters taped to its front windows warmed our hearts. We had not arrived at a restaurant that demanded we share an appetizer and a dessert, the kind John Steinbeck said took pride in serving food untouched by human hands. Instead, the signs shouted all-you-can-eat nights. A picture of Mr. Blaze himself adorned one window — wearing a suit and tie fit to make his mama proud, with a tortured smile to match.

The poster said he was running for mayor.

What better way to please his public than to cook up the world’s best barbecue?

Inside, I poofed my ’do because big hair and hardworking blue jeans obviously were required. The dining room smelled yummy-in-the-tummy-smoky, as it does at a family reunion cookout, when Mom tells you to go play with your cousins until supper’s ready.

The waitress, upon greeting Casey Jack and Junior Lee by name, skipped menus. She handed them shovels and steered them toward the barbecue and fish bar.

Bankrupting the Piggy Pit on our first visit wouldn’t be neighborly. So my husband ordered a slab of ribs, and I selected pulled pork. With our first bites, my husband closed his eyes. My taste buds fell in love. We paused for a moment of silence.

Then Hubby proceeded to ruin the family name. Even a Yankee knows a true barbecue connoisseur picks up ribs. Instead, my husband not only used knife and fork, he surgically removed every shred of gristle and/or fat.

Barbecue blasphemy.

Mayoral race or not, it’s a wonder Mr. Blaze didn’t toss us out of the Piggy Pit.

Fortunately, he kept too busy to notice. No suit and tie tonight. He wore jeans and a T-shirt. He and his poofy-haired mama called us “honey,” and did we “want more sweet tea, darlin’?”

I ordered cheesecake for dessert. Steve overdosed on pecan cobbler, suffering sugar-induced hallucinations.

However, we turned down complimentary golf cart service that hauled blimpy customers to their cars. I am proud to say we walked out of the Piggy Pit on our own two feet.

Does Mr. Blaze know about tax rates and sewer systems? I don’t know. Still, anyone who bestows that kind of barbecue on mankind — plus infinite hush puppies — for a reasonable price must be a man of mayoral vision, with deep concern for friends, neighbors and even hungry Yankees.

Definitely a winner, in my (burp) book.

 

When (and where) was the last time you ate bodacious barbecue?

Author, AKA, Garden Warrior

Having finished writing a novel, I crave ice cream, human conversation and sunlight. A Moose Tracks sundae proves perfect therapy. My husband, still awaiting a coherent word, takes my grunts as portents of better things to come. Then — ah, the sunlight. Fresh summer air. Green, living things.

Unfortunately, most are weeds. Thousands of Klingon sticker weeds have conquered our garden.

Ha! They do not realize this pale, flabby author will wage a down-and-dirty battle to rescue her oppressed plants. To arms, garden warrior!

I don grubby jeans, “No Fear” T-shirt, and holey tennis shoes.

Hubby: “No pajamas? You’re wearing real clothes?”

For him, it was a long novel.

We bathe in sunscreen, then assemble deadly weapons: hoe, rake and digger.

Weed phasers would be nice additions. But Hubby strikes vicious blows with his hoe. I attack a beleaguered tomato plant’s foes.

Sleek-looking cyclists zoom past. Hubby looks after them longingly, but continues his valiant efforts. Cute runners wearing designer exercise attire and perfect makeup stare as if they hope what I have isn’t contagious.

Whew! After a morning-long battle, we shower and wolf sandwiches. Hubby leaves for work. I decide to savor a rare view of our tidy garden.

My jaw drops.

An overloaded mulberry tree branch has dropped across it.

Hardly a whisper of a breeze cooled us this morning. Yet this beam-like limb collapsed, bending tomato plants’ cages. Branches, leaves and mushy berries smother veggie rows.

The tree providing our sole shade was in cahoots with the Klingon sticker weeds!

The moment Hubby’s truck departed, it unleashed its barrage. Briefly, I wonder if my dearly beloved is in league with them, too. But he did hoe all morning. …

The gnarly branch barely budges.

“You think you’ve won, Klingon-sticker-weed-lover?”

A swoosh of anger can fuel a woman to do great things, even energize an everyday person to ninja feats. Armed with hedge trimmer, two saws, and Hubby’s old Boy Scout hatchet, I reduce my enemy to sawdust.

Well, not exactly. But by evening, I’ve consigned most of the purply mess to trash cans. And myself.

This ninja still can’t move the big branch. Later, Hubby saws it into sections and hauls them away.

Miraculously, the garden suffered little actual damage. We wish we could we say the same.

But now I savor the rare sight of tidy vegetable rows.

Ah, the colorful sunset. The fragrant summer evening. Green, living things that are legal.

A tired writer’s perfect therapy.

Guaranteed to send her back to her laptop forever!

What has been your biggest gardening battle?