Monthly Archives: August 2017

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?





OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Whoa! What a show-and-tell!

O my God, when a solar eclipse invaded my childhood, I dove under my bed. (No scientific curiosity there.) Decades later, I no longer fit under beds. So today I will marvel as You direct celestial traffic with a flick of Your finger. OMG, Your power still blows me away!


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?