Category Archives: Coffee Corner

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?

Coupon Complications

Recently I watched a television program in which two women paid six dollars per month for groceries. These Stingy Sisters clung to their grandmother’s credo: “No coupon? No purchase.”

Afterward, viewers lay awake, calculating not only how many thousand dollars they personally lost, but how they could have lowered the national debt if they hadn’t let their cake mix coupons expire.

I refer to women viewers. Most males who paused remotes on this program discovered they were hungry and emptied their kitchens.

Meanwhile, I, along with other contrite insomniacs, mended my ways. Having googled the word “coupon” and slashed through stacks of circulars, I sallied forth. Armed with a coupon for 552.5 feet of Smiley Face Tooth Floss, I discovered a brimming bin — on sale! However, every single one held only 550 feet. My first sad experience with the Almost-But-Not-Quite coupon.

I did cash in on a Buy-This-Get-Something-Irrelevant-Free coupon. Having purchased four cans of green beans, I received a congressional ice scraper.

Rebates proved more complicated. At today’s meat prices, a roast isn’t a meal; it’s an investment. Later, I would send off my roast’s package label, the grocery receipt and the cow’s birth certificate, only to learn I neglected to use black-and-white cow stamps honoring Bill Gates.

No rebate. (Sigh.)

Unaware of my impending beef bust, I optimistically approached condiment displays with my three-figure — $1.00 off — mayonnaise coupon. Unfortunately, both jars had been purchased.

Several coupons involved more legal dictates than Donald Trump’s pre-nups. One promoted cheese — “your choice” — at a reduced price. However, microscopic print declared mozzarella, cheddar, Colby, Munster, provolone, Havarti, yogurt, Monterey Jack, jalapeño, Swiss — and definitely American — off-limits. The eligible teal-colored cheese had to originate in Malaysia, purchasable only on Tuesdays. Before noon.

 Enough, already!

 My cart NASCARed through the store, then dashed for the nearest checkout full of couponless items.

A friendly lady whipped through my purchases until the cash register screeched a warning.

“I’m sorry, but your cage-free eggs do not match this coupon’s brand.”

“But it says—”

“The pictures are different.” She held the coupon against the package.

Chickens wearing sunbonnets didn’t match those wearing prison jumpsuits, escaping barbed-wire fences?

No store ever refused the Stingy Sisters’ coupons. On TV, coupons are always valid, and lovers never have colds.

Still, I not only gained the congressional ice scraper, but saved two dollars on broccoli-flavored Pringles, marshmallow tofu and 100 pounds of pomegranate squirrel food.

I’d tell the Stingy Sisters to eat their hearts out, but they probably possess a tripled no-expiration-date coupon for that, too.

 

What’s your best coupon deal ever?

 

 

 

 

Daddy-Daughter Date

Dad’s place in the driver’s seat has always been a given, similar to “Dad reads the newspaper first” or “The sun rises in the east.” Though AARP has ambushed my siblings and I, when visiting, we acknowledge Dad’s inalienable right to drive us wherever he chooses.

Lately, however, Dad defers to his lovely wife, whom he married a year after Mom’s passing. That he permits her to chauffeur him — during broad daylight — demonstrates that the times are a-changin’.

However, on this rare daddy-daughter date, he wouldn’t allow me to drive us to the restaurant. Nor would he let me pay for lunch.

He would as soon wear a tattoo or vote for a Democrat.

We rode in his truck with windows open and air conditioner blasting, Dad’s way of dealing with Louisiana’s heat. Our destination: his favorite Mexican restaurant, to which my digestive system and I privately referred to as El Diablo’s.

Chugging along, I unzipped my 60-something disguise and tossed it away. Once again, I was a little girl, bouncing on the seat, riding with Daddy.

Upon arrival, he greeted the proprietors, using his missionary Spanish. A retired pastor, he runs an unofficial restaurant ministry at favorite spots, hugging owners, servers, and busboys. He often tips them and asks how he can pray for them.

Dad recommended the burritos. I ordered one, though I prefer quesadillas, because I wanted to share his delight. Thankfully, the cook that day possessed un-nuked taste buds.

Mmm, delicious. We munched away and sipped from ice-packed glasses of Pepsi, the way we like them — though as usual, he tried to convert me away from diet drinks.

My dad the missionary, circa 1952

We recalled Mexico more than 50 years before, when our family wandered town squares, eating tacos or tamales, basking in sunshine and cantina music. I remembered a few less-than-wonderful moments: outdoor bathrooms and icy showers.

He recollected the usefulness of the phrase, “No comprendo.” Once at a checkpoint, Dad handed the officer an Indiana fishing license. Impressed by its stamps and signatures, he waved Dad through.

After such a huge meal, bouncing on the old truck’s seats didn’t hold the same magic. Not sure Dad would remain awake, I poised a hand as close to the steering wheel as I dared.

We returned to the house my great-grandparents built. Dad opened windows, turned on air conditioning, and dropped into his Dad Chair. I flopped onto the sofa, and our off-to-Mexico venture together ended, appropriately, in a shared siesta.

And a drowsy but fervent hope for another daddy-daughter date like this … and another … and another. …

What special time have you shared with your father?

So Now We’re Respectable?

Baby Boomers still like to think they’re brave. Creative. A generation like no other.

Anything but respectable.

During the ’60s, “respectable” reeked of The Establishment: Father Knows Best, the suburbs, hairspray, and Lawrence Welk.

My generation, on the other hand, was born to be wild. We listened to sounds of silence, but obviously didn’t like them, because we played our music loud.

We were all about Laugh-In, communes, wild hair, and the Beatles.

Baby Boomers once believed “all you need is love.” However, we discovered the need for a little bread for mortgage payments. As Boomers age, the word “drugs” now turns thoughts toward AARP insurance plans rather than The Moody Blues.

During our hairy, youthful era, how could we have foreseen being buddies with barbers and beauticians?

That people would regard us as trustworthy. Even (ulp!) respectable.

Have we really sunk so low?

Oh, yeah. While I waited for my husband outside a convenience store, a flashy convertible with a monster dog and beefy driver pulled in. Most Gen Xers avoid eye contact, but he approached me with a big smile.

Whoa, my wrinkle cream must have worked magic.

“Ma’am, I need to go inside. My dog might jump out. Would you stay with her?” He disappeared before before I could say “yes,” “no” or “I have rabies.”

I decided to change wrinkle creams. If I lived.

PuppyZilla didn’t growl, but I estimated her mouthful of teeth just about spanned my neck.

Staring at me, she probably entertained similar thoughts.

I told her Lassie and Benji were my heroes. That I hated Cruella De Vil and would never, ever wear a Dalmatian coat.

PuppyZ shifted restlessly. What if she decided to raid a garbage can in, say, Alaska?

Maybe I should sit on her. I pictured my husband finding me astride a giant dog in somebody else’s convertible.

Fortunately, the driver returned. I waved a motherly goodbye as they drove away.

Respectable. Sheesh.

Only one incident? I wish.

The ultimate insult occurred in a downtown bookstore, when the proprietor approached me. “How long are you going to stay?”

The Boomer part of me rejoiced. Did I resemble a vagrant who needed to move on?

He shattered my hopes. “My daughter needs her clarinet. I’ll return in 15 minutes.”

In 15 minutes I could have procured free Christmas presents for the next 30 years.

Instead, I made sure nobody raided the cash register.

He had faith in me. What had I done to deserve such treatment?

Nothing. But he, like the Gen X guy and PuppyZ, trusted this Baby Boomer when they needed a helping hand.

So naïve.

Presumptuous.

But definitely groovy.

 

Well, that’s me. But how does the tag “respectable” hit you?

Little League Love

Fierce soprano voices yell “Hey, batter!” Super-sized helmets top skinny little necks. Pint-sized players wield mitts big as sofa pillows (and often about as effective).

A hometown crowd cheers and munches hot dogs and popcorn.

It’s the season of Little League Love.

Unlike most onlookers, my husband and I are at a comfortable spectator stage, our children grown.

So I can actually watch games, which I rarely did during my son’s baseball career. Like many moms, I spent years sitting on the bleachers with eyes tightly shut, only opening them when I visited the concession stand.

We fans really try to behave. But when offspring are involved, the most righteous dad sometimes lets loose a tirade. The gentlest, sweetest grandma grows fangs when the umpire dares call her grandson out.

Of course, I never acted like that. I do, however, admit to going a little overboard in motivating my child, egged on by another mom. My friend loudly informed her twelve-year-old that if he didn’t hit that ball, she was going to dance for the crowd’s entertainment. I informed my son that I would sing. High. And very loud.

Not only did our sons smack the ball as if their lives depended on it, we inspired the entire team.

Yet despite our critical role in the victory, nobody put our names on their trophy. Where was the Mom love in that?

A roar from the present crowd brings me back from nostalgia. On this diamond, where younger teams play, contact with the ball almost guarantees a home run and most successful defense is purely accidental.

The players appear deeply serious, but the coaches are less, and the crowd has a ball. Some mothers even watch with their eyes open.

They contrast with their glazed-eyed kids, several of whom snore at their positions, the sun having set. An infield player makes interesting dance moves, but I don’t think he anticipates a Dancing with the Stars career. He forgot to visit the restroom earlier, so the compassionate umpire grants a special time out.

It’s easy for me to laud the joys of Little League from my maybe-I’ll-go-maybe-not perspective. For parents who spend enough time to earn a college degree watching, waiting and transporting, Little League Love wears a little thin. But one sitting near us saw it as a win-win situation. If his son’s team won, they’d return the following night for another chance at the championship. If they lost, he could run a combine over his neglected lawn.

He’s a dad who cares, yet doesn’t care too much about the game’s outcome. And that’s the very best kind of Little League Love.

What’s your favorite kid baseball moment?

 

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?