Category Archives: Coffee Corner

Remote Pasts and Possibilities

I know little about our not-so-current remote. Hubby changes its batteries and soothes its moods.

Our remote hides in our home’s every nook and cranny. Today, however, the remote is staring me down. Daring me to write about it.

Its hieroglyphics intimidate me. What if I offend it, and it translates every movie into Egyptian?

I shake myself. Why do I cave to this device? I belong to the brave, dwindling population who remembers life without remotes.

Surprise! Something is older than I. TV remotes preceded my birth by three whole years. In 1950, the Zenith Company created “Lazy Bones,” connected to a television with a cable that tripped and/or strangled anyone who dared leave the sofa. Mothers voted it down.

Zenith produced a cableless “Flash-Matic.” However, controlled by directional flashes of light, the Flash-Matic not only responded to the screen, but to sunshine and ceiling fixtures.

When too many sports fans missed final plays, Robert Adler invented the “Space-Commander,” engineered around sound waves. This innovation increased sales dramatically among humans, who couldn’t hear its high-frequency noise — though it dropped canine sales to zero.

With infrared light improvements — along with inventions of players, devices and consoles — concern increased among health authorities. Studies revealed some viewers had not moved from their recliners since 1979.

Doctors need not have worried. The Telegraph, a British newspaper, cited research claiming viewers’ step counts had increased, due to searching for remotes. An average British man spent 18.5 days per lifetime hunting his remote. A woman spent 12.5 days.

Some families with young children may have spent more. One mother reported not only excessive exercise searching for remotes, but excessive expense. One autumn, she discovered 11 missing devices stuck in a now-leafless bush.

Voice-controlled devices seem a solution. But given software programs, movies and games that require vocal direction — plus 24/7 cell phone conversations — how long before our poor vocal cords collapse?

Let us look to the future, when we may change channels per our brain waves. At a 2011 global technological show, one company’s headset experimented with mind control. Those who donned the headset exploded a video’s animated barrel with a mere thought.

Future action film fans not only will enjoy 57 car chases/crashes per movie, but with a single thought, may detonate their screens.

I, however, question “infallible” technology. Should I entrust my thoughts to technology like my laptop? It possesses meaner hormones than mine.

Worse, do I want my thoughts played out on a screen?

That kind of remote is way too close to home.

My own device beckons: Want to watch a show?

No, thanks. I think I’ll read a book instead.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Where is the oddest place your remote has hidden?

Why I Am a Plant Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl Scout Cookies: the Legacy

Do you remember your first Girl Scout Cookie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our third generation Girl Scout.

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

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

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

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

Winter River Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knows? Maybe even my brain waves will return.

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

Pack Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I should send it to luggage obedience school.

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

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

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?