Drinking It All In

We Americans treasure our beverages. We are born yelling for something to drink, and we spend our lives attached to Mommy, baby bottle, sippy cup, glass, coffee mug, teacup, wine goblet, and milk carton. During toddler years, we dump beverages rather than drink them. Still, we establish lifelong consumption patterns.

Case in point: upon marriage, I, whose family considered orange juice a semi-luxury, discovered my husband considered it nonnegotiable. This, despite a weekly grocery budget of $15. No apple, cranberry, grape, or — God forbid — grapefruit juice. No insidious combinations like orange-papaya. Hubby preferred freshly squeezed orange juice, but graciously agreed to drink bottled until conditions permitted the proper beverage. (He’s still waiting.)

I, on the other hand, absorbed Mom and Dad’s edict that chili demanded Pepsi. Sadly, I have strayed. I now drink diet Pepsi, or even diet Coke. But never, with chili, pizza or Mexican food, will I ascribe to my spouse’s unswerving devotion to milk.

Not that I dislike milk. During family visits, I purchase five kinds (whole milk, 2%, 1%, skim, and rice milk, depending on who’s allergic, growing, dieting, or protesting). Milk is a basic value Hubby and I share.

However, despite noble coffee-consuming roots, he drinks only tea. I, though a coffee aficionado since serving at a Denny’s overnight during college, occasionally drink tea to preserve our marriage.

That Denny’s experience at age 18 in Oregon, impacted my beverage history in other ways. Having smelled the aggregate breath of cowboys who donned menus and made marriage (and other) proposals, I nixed beer as an option. Ditto, when working as a janitor. I sniffed open whiskey bottles in a law firm’s board room. Whew — smelled like turpentine!

Later, when legal, Hubby and I surmised that wine recommended by a cork-sniffing steward really should taste better than that. And cost a lot less.

So, we’ve mostly stuck to orange juice-Pepsi-milk-coffee-tea dependence.

And water. However, I note the wordy truth observed by the late journalist Ambrose Bierce: “Upon nothing has so great and diligent an ingenuity been brought to bear in all ages, except for the most uncivilized, as upon the invention of substitutes for water.”

Many would rather die of thirst than drink H2O — unless poured from a plastic bottle. Recently, the FDA stated each American averaged 26 gallons of bottled water per year. We hadn’t sucked so many plastic bottles since infancy.

Not my thing, nor Hubby’s. But he remains hopelessly devoted to morning orange juice and tea. I don’t object because I want my coffee.

And because his ancestors came from Boston. In 1773, when England messed with their favorite beverage, those people got a little testy. …

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite beverage? Your least favorite?

Firefly Romance

As a child, did you run barefoot through the summer dusk, catching fireflies? Like me, you probably incarcerated them in mayonnaise jars with holey lids.

My parents tried to persuade me to release them.

This made no sense. My folks constantly looked for ways to save money. What wasn’t to love about a cool invention that lowered the electric bill? Still, when they insisted the fireflies were crying for their mommies, I freed them, trusting they were flitting home to hugs, baths and clean jammies, too.

Growing older, I wondered if something less Disney was going on. Sure enough, research revealed those Snow White scenes were actually firefly date nights. Since their adult lives last only a few weeks, love strikes these bugs like lightning; they do some serious speed dating.

Like me, Sara Lewis, a Tufts University scientist, loves to watch fireflies. Unlike me, she gets paid. For the past 25 years, Sara has noticed different species use specific flashes and delays to communicate. Opposites often attract, as seen in the following Photinus marginellus exchange:

P. marginellus Guy: Flash! (Two-second pause.) Flash! (Two seconds.) Flash! (The P. marginellus guys are the faithful, consistent types, but a little boring.)

P. marginellus Girl: Flash! (Zero delay. The P. marginellus girls are a little easy.)

A reversed pattern characterizes Photinus carolinus fireflies; with six flashes in three seconds, guys define the word “flashy.” P. carolinus women, however, wait 10 whole seconds before emitting short, coy responses that declare these dudes better show up with candy and roses.

Which some do. According to Lewis, males often bring “nuptial gifts” — food to sustain females as they lay eggs. Even in the insect kingdom, women love their Fannie May’s. Tied with red satin ribbons, thank you very much.

Because the girls are so picky, P. carolinus guys often gather in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. There, they synchronize flashes to attract their ladies’ notice, creating spectacular light shows.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to all this love and light. The female of one species fakes the signals of others to lure unsuspecting males to her place for dinner — with him as the main course!

Eww. I’m tempted to go inside and refresh my psyche with a pure-minded sitcom.

But strains of the Mills Brothers’ old song, “The Glow-Worm,” float through my mind. Hundreds of fireflies appear, tiny lights glimmering like shiny gold confetti. My husband joins me, and we hold hands, glad that children won’t lack fireflies for their mayonnaise jars.

And that these sparks light up summer evenings for all young — and old — lovers snuggling on a porch in the summer twilight.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite firefly memory?

A Little Watering Excitement

Reading this title, even I think I ought to get out more. Who spends Saturday nights holding a hose?

Of course, I blame my parents for my less-than-wild lifestyle. Mom, a pastor’s wife with five stair-step children, gladly would have enjoyed a few uninterrupted minutes to do nothing but water petunias and breathe. But with little time to do either, she elected me.

I almost preferred babysitting my brothers. At least, they did exciting things like setting the sofa afire. Still, I created excitement when the little creeps ventured too close, spraying them into the stratosphere.

Mostly, though, I considered watering in the same class as listening to my dad preach. Both were good things I should do, but the tasks seemed to go on forever and ever, amen.

With young adulthood, watering ended. Watering fairies in apartment complexes waved magic hoses, keeping grass and flowers bright and pretty as a box of Crayolas. However, when Hubby and I rented our first house, we found, to our shock, that the watering fairies hadn’t jumped onto the moving truck.

When we built our first house, I served as Mommy to the new lawn, as well as to three children. The Goddess of Liquid, supervising input and output, all I did was nurse babies, diaper babies and water grass.

Though the job description has narrowed, I still spend hours and dollars every summer hydrating our arid property. Spending less money and effort, I could buy veggies and flowers at the grocery. But even beyond the scrumptiousness of homegrown stuff, watering presents other positives.

For me, it fills the place that being a soccer mom once held. Then, I could justify a chaotic house and a car resembling a McDonald’s dumpster on wheels in the name of supporting my children. Privately, though, other soccer moms and I considered our noble pastime legalized loafing.

But my children grew up. So, I’ve created a whole new concept.

If I water the flower bed near the street, half of Upland’s population walks/bikes/ Rollerblades past. Cute babies wave from strollers. Drivers stop dead in the middle of the street for conversation. I connect with neighbors, also looking noble as they water. And why not? We are greening the earth, as well as nurturing our inner loafers.

Actually, I keep quite busy while I water. Mentally scanning cabinets and fridge, I formulate grocery lists. I ponder my position on abortion. I review knock-knock jokes for our grandson. I pray for our sick neighbor. I count fireflies. I watch a dead-end street baseball game. I decide how to kill off the victim in my next novel. …

Who says watering isn’t exciting?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you the watering fairy in your family?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Retired?!

O my God, You know that early on, patients sometimes kicked my husband and his plaid bellbottoms out of exam rooms: “Too young to be a doctor!” Fast forward 40-plus years — as of today, he’s retired! Lord, neither of us worry about looking too young now. And plaid bellbottoms? No. Way. Still, OMG, walking together with You, we know future days will be groovy.              

S-s-spiders!

It is with great reluctance that I write this week’s blog.

Why? Because I am a confirmed, card-carrying, scream-for-my-husband arachnophobe.

Then why write about them? I am following current wisdom, which declares we should face our fears head-on.

Hubby protests, “But you’re writing in the family room. The granddaddy longlegs are in the half bath.”

“Like I don’t know that?” I glare at him. “What do you think I am, an idiot?”

Don’t answer that.

He doesn’t, because he knows a rhetorical question when he hears one. Also, he wants to live to see his grandchildren grow up.

My husband refuses to acknowledge my carefully constructed rationale regarding arachnids. He does not comprehend their plan to take over the world. These “harmless,” “helpful” hypocrites, à la Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, aspire to drag the whole human race to their lairs and turn us into mummified entrées for future spider victory dinners.

Perhaps a little background will help you understand my viewpoint. As a five-year-old living in Mexico, I woke up one morning, nose-to-nose with a tarantula.

My screams shriveled. Before it could bite, I airmailed sheets, blankets, and the ginormous spider across the room.

While others (sleeping on the floor!) snored, I conducted my own heart-pounding, stomach-flipping, cold-sweat-pouring search for the tarantula.

Never found it.

Perhaps when I encounter other spiders, no matter how miniscule, I am always afraid I will find it. If I ever do — even if the tarantula’s an old geezer with eight knee replacements — I will show no mercy.

Sadly, some teachers like spiders. When mine introduced Charlotte’s Web, I wondered what I’d done to deserve this. Read 184 pages about a spider?

To my amazement, the author, E.B. White, almost humanized Charlotte.

Not quite. Not even a master storyteller could convince me she was pretty, as Wilbur the pig believed. Even budding feelings of motherly concern about Charlotte’s eggs failed to triumph over the gut-clutching realization that one spider reproduced hundreds of offspring.

Now an adult, I dread family reunions Charlotte’s descendants hold in our pop-up camper each summer.

At least, I’m not as far gone as my niece. She firmly believes Internet wisdom that hundreds of spiders crawl into our mouths and ears while we sleep.

Meanwhile, I bravely continue efforts to face my fears and have granted the granddaddy longlegs a temporary stay of execution. This is (deep breath) a huge step.

However, I’m still writing in the family room while the spiders occupy the half bath.

And, um … duct-taping my mouth and ears shut at night.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you an arachnophobe too? Or has Charlotte converted you?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: What, They’re Not Like Me?

O my God, when I worshipped in this beautiful place, an out-of-tune bullfrog quartet joined in my songs. They sounded like twangy rubber bands. They didn’t know the words. When I complained, You only smiled and said how much You enjoyed us all. OMG, could it be that your idea of worship and mine aren’t necessarily the same?      

Magic Trees

When I was small, trees were magic. Especially the trees outside our church.

As preschoolers, my brother and I discovered friendly low branches that invited a climb. Every pint-sized Sunday school attendee welcomed that magic.

Moms, however, did not appreciate magic trees — especially mulberries. They transformed starched-white-shirt-and-ruffly-dress VBS populations into glorious, purple-tie-dyed messes.

Trees remained magical throughout my childhood, serving as bases, houses, castles and cathedrals. Schoolyard bike races morphed them into traffic cones. On sweltering days, I stayed within Mom’s sight under our backyard’s shady oak, yet traveled thousands of miles as I devoured library books.

Now an adult, I have planted trees that infuse oxygen into our atmosphere, provide shade and enhance property values. But I hadn’t visited magic trees for a long time.

Until our extended family’s campout, when sullen clouds alternately spat on us and poured rain like a waterfall.

Thanks to yummy pancakes and sausage, the group survived the morning. When rain held off, older kids found plenty to do. But as parents of a five-year-old and his three-year-old foster brother tried to fix a group lunch, the little boys seemed destined for war.

Anyone with sense would have run for a bomb shelter. But I am Grandma. Edging them out of range, I blurted, “Let’s visit magic trees!”

Perhaps the skeptical three-year-old had seen too much to believe in magic. But he followed his brother and me to an empty campsite, where the five-year-old beat on a maple with a stick.

He chortled, “Now the tree’s awake!”

I’d wake up, too, if clobbered with a six-foot cudgel. “What’s the tree saying?”

“He says I should visit a different tree.”

Smart maple.

By now, the three-year-old was a believer, too. We awakened all the empty campsite trees. Some also told us to visit different trees. But several told stories about nesting birds and skittery squirrels. Special trees talked only when tapped the perfect number of times. Then they whispered tales understood only by the chlorophyll crowd and preschoolers.

One oak interrupted, “Time to eat. I’ve been calling you for ten minutes.”

Correction: Hubby had entered the land of magic trees.

Instantly, my fellow adventurers dashed for the dining tent.

“Couldn’t you have waited?” I said irritably. “That tree was just about to tell us whether they make a noise when they fall.”

He rolled his eyes, as if barbecued chicken and macaroni salad could compensate for his breaking the sweet spell.

The five-year-old and I could visit magic trees again. However, court dates threatened to keep the three-year-old from adventuring with us.

But for one misty summer morning, he talked with magic trees.

I pray he will do it again.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you visited magic trees lately?