O my God, Thank You for blessing our garden with zucchini. We have eaten sautéed zucchini, zucchini salad, zucchini fritters, zucchini in spaghetti sauce and tacos and cake. OMG, is zucchini Your 21st-century version of manna?
My church serves doughnuts. No surprise. As a pastor’s daughter and veteran of hundreds of ecclesiastical gatherings, I know “fellowship” is synonymous with “doughnuts.”
Some insist the tradition began when Jesus and his disciples made regular stops at an ancient Krispy Kreme. Despite intense efforts, I haven’t yet found that in the Bible.
Still, my childhood church’s divine doughnut ritual made a powerful impact. What kid does not feel her spirituality increase a hundredfold with a table-level view of big white boxes of fresh doughnuts?
The memory lingers: my favorite chocolate-frosted, Boston cream-filled confections; sprinkles, glazes and powdery sugar like sweet fairy dust. Even jelly doughnuts, my last choice, looked as heavenly as the fellowship they represented.
Today, doughnuts no longer symbolize fellowship to me. Alas, they remind me of a major miscue.
As a young mother, I started a kids’ Bible club in my neighborhood, often serving doughnuts.
One swaggering 10-year-old declared himself the world doughnut-eating champion.
I couldn’t let this untruthful claim go unchallenged.
He sneered, but shook it.
The following week, my excited Bible club assembled. Robby and I stared each other down as a fifth-grader ran the stop watch.
“Ready. Set. Go!”
We stuffed doughnuts with the ease of marathoners running the first mile. But my long-time conditioning began to win out. Robby slowed as I snarfed doughnut after doughnut. (How many? I’m not telling.)
“Ten! Nine! Eight! …” The kids counted down the last seconds.
I felt the rosy flush of victory.
Robby’s face, however, turned green.
“I don’t feel so good.” He went home.
Suddenly, I found my win hard to swallow — especially with a stomachful of doughnuts. What kind of role model made a kid sick? What would his parents think of my Bible program?
After repenting and praying for Robby — and my stomach — I mustered the courage to call his mother. “I’m so, so sorry.”
She’ll sue me.
Or have me arrested.
A howl of laughter erupted from the phone. Finally, still chuckling, she said, “He needs to be taken down a peg or two. Thanks!”
Robby showed up the next week. And the next. Apparently, I had earned his respect.
Although that scenario occurred 25 years ago, it replays every time I see doughnuts.
Writing about it now, however, my spiritual vision clears. Doughnuts do not have to symbolize my downfall. Instead, they recall God’s kindness in fixing even my dumbest mistakes.
What’s your favorite kind of doughnut? Have they taught you a spiritual lesson, too?
Steve and I could not agree on what honest-to-goodness strawberry shortcake was.
I spent two sweaty hours picking the best strawberries. I entered my June-steamy, closet-like kitchen and, like my mother before me, baked a decadent white cake. I covered giant pieces with berries, and plopped vanilla ice cream on each, adding more berries. Finally, I buried my masterpiece with an avalanche of whipped cream.
I presented my magnum opus and awaited raves.
Steve ate in silence.
I hinted for a compliment.
He said, “It’s okay. But it’s not real strawberry shortcake.”
Note to you youngsters: don’t try this at home. Unless you really enjoy sleeping on a sofa.
In the parking lot.
When we were speaking again, he pointed to a picture of “real” shortcake in my Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, his thoughtful gift the past Christmas. “Real shortcake’s like a biscuit,” he explained. “You dump berries on, then pour milk over it.”
“Biscuit?” I stared at Steve in horror. “Milk?”
What kind of person would sacrifice innocent strawberries for breakfast food masquerading as a dessert?
I refused to budge one inch. For our future children’s sake, I would allow only the highest strawberry shortcake standard in our home. Hubby said nothing more.
But at a church potluck, his eyes brightened as he spotted that profane biscuit stuff. He devoured an enormous piece and told the woman who made it, “That was the most delicious dessert in the world!”
I considered moving our sofa to the parking lot again. But it seemed like a lot of work. And Steve had so enjoyed “real” shortcake. …
I decided I would (choke!) use Betty Crocker’s biscuity recipe. Still, compromise was the name of the marriage game — for Steve, too! So I invented a shortcake we both appreciate. I added lots more sugar. I slathered butter on it to raise the cholesterol content to decent levels. Not only did this compromise save our marriage, but it has impacted our children, who actually asked for my recipe before they left home. While our kids-in-law secretly believe Mom Phillips is an alien from the planet Skorkxx, they will come if she makes strawberry shortcake.
Tonight I’ll pile ruby-red berries on my husband’s piping hot shortcake and (this still hurts) pour milk over it. I’ll slather butter on mine, add berries, ice cream and fat-free Cool Whip.
After 41 years, we still do shortcake different.
But together, we have a berry good time.
Did you and your spouse experience a similar crucial controversy during the first weeks—days—hours?—of your marriage?
June — and flip-flops — have invaded America for the season, appearing in offices, fancy restaurants and even at weddings. But the change in footwear reflects only a tiny fraction of our monumental summer lifestyle shift.
School is out, graduates have flipped tassels, and parents/teachers/students have flip-flopped their schedules. School buses hibernate, and millions of children remain at home to spend quality time with beloved siblings.
College kids also have abandoned books, eight-o’clock classes and the joys of dormitory living to converge on home. All to spend quality time with their parents’ Internet, refrigerators and car keys.
Flip-flopped Fun Time
We empty nesters change our stodgy ways, as relatives and friends — freed from winter’s icy grasp — target travel in all fifty states, particularly those where mooching a free month’s lodging is legal. Especially if we nesters live near the ocean, the mountains or Disney World.
In view of the above, Congress should enact a law that establishes a ceiling on laundry levels, especially beach towels and sheet changes. No wife, mother or hostess should awaken on a sunny morning to find herself a victim of a hostile laundry takeover.
Also, before Congress adjourns for a well-deserved (?) vacation, why not demand laws requiring automatic shut-offs on kitchen ranges from June through August? After all, salad actually tastes yummy during summer. Although in a dietary flip-flop, ice cream does, too.
I vote for ice cream.
And for s’mores. I dislike marshmallows, yet when summer arrives, I admit an urge to bury myself in bear-infested woods, building campfires whereby I roast them (marshmallows, not the bears) and me. I sacrifice delicious chocolate bars and perfectly good graham crackers by slathering them with marshmallows, even feeding s’mores to my grandchildren.
Dastardly grandma crimes of this magnitude committed in February might evoke stern frowns from nutritionally correct parents. But what can they say, when possessed by similar summer madness, they probably buy them deep-fried Oreos at county fairs?
Occasionally, the carefree, “whatever” lifestyle of summer does us in. Maybe we’ve listened to “Good Vibrations” too many times with the car windows down. Sniffed one too many citronella candles. Carried too many pounds of sand in the seats of our bathing suits.
Perhaps months of wearing flip-flops not only have affected our arches, but also our brains.
But isn’t summer worth it?
How will June, July and August flip-flop your life this year?
For kids in the 50s and 60s, the official nutrition pyramid consisted of three food groups: peanut butter, jelly and Wonder Bread. As a preschooler, I turned up my nose at evil bread crusts, but I never refused the peanut butter that clung to me and my clothes as if it really liked me.
Elvis Presley loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches grilled in bacon grease. Yuk! That would not have impressed me. Plus, his gyrations outraged my kindergarten sense of propriety — I thought he had ants in his pants. Still, Elvis and I shared peanut butter passion. I built peanut butter towers, monumental edifices of crackers cemented with peanut butter and butter, to eat while watching TV.
Peanut butter even entered my theology. The Bible story of a widow, her hungry son, and their never-failing flour canister and oil pot translated into an everyday miracle at our house. When refrigerator raids offered mostly coagulated catsup and fuzzy maraschino cherries, an angel slipped a bottomless peanut butter jar onto the door’s shelves.
Once, I unscrewed the jar, only to gawk at the flawless surface of untouched treasure. That it had escaped my brothers made me bow my head in reverence.
The peanut butter that sustained us starving barbarians blessed my mother with glassware. Companies packaged it in lovely crystal goblets and drinking glasses decorated with flowers, dogs, birds, athletes and cartoon characters. We kids improved geography grades drinking from peanut butter tumblers adorned with state maps, birds and songs. (Did you know the state song of Maine is called “State Song of Maine?”) However, Mom should have focused on hockey glasses because a 1961 York Peanut Butter glass featuring Phil Goyette of the Montreal Canadiens recently was auctioned for $17,925.
If only I had hoarded those jars or the thousands we emptied while my husband attended medical school! My peanut butter habit could have created a substantial IRA. But I wasn’t thinking much about investments then; mostly, we were just trying to eat.
Years after medical school, I avoided the peanut butter aisle in grocery stores. When my brother-in-law, hearing of my acquired “allergy,” bought us two jars for Christmas, I nearly threw them at him.
But in my late middle age (ahem!), I have returned to my roots. I love peanut butter. As I face the misery of a pre-bathing-suit diet, I’d give anything to build a soda cracker tower or stick a big spoon into yummy peanut butter.
Especially if Phil Goyette smiled at me from the jar.
What’s your favorite peanut butter memory?
As a six-year-old, I heard God sprinkled dandelions on lawns like manna. Sometimes He turned them to gold during the night. The financial possibilities made it worth a try.
The gold coin story did not pan out, but I still welcomed dandelions. Softer than my baby brother’s hair, they dotted the gray-brown Indiana landscape, reminding me better than any catechism that God loves color. I showered my mother with bouquets. She never turned them down.
One evening Mama surprised my siblings and me. We would pick dandelions for supper! I did not realize they were good to eat. Or that our old refrigerator was empty. Mama acted as if we were going on a picnic.
“These look good.” She bent and nipped off leaves.
Grown-ups rarely made sense. “Aren’t we going to eat the flowers?”
“No. Some people use them to make wine, but we’re eating just the greens.”
“Can’t we make wine?”
Mama’s eyebrows rose. “Probably not a good idea.”
My father’s congregation might not take kindly to a bootleg wine-making operation in the church basement.
My seven-year-old brother grabbed the big greens first.
“Thank you.” Mama shook dirt from our offerings. “But little ones are best.”
Ha! My spindly greens topped his!
I asked Mama, “What do cooked dandelions taste like?”
I’d never eaten spinach. But on TV, Popeye’s cans of spinach helped him clobber the bad guys!
Maybe dandelions possessed the same magic. I insisted on a big bowl for supper. Muscles would pop out on my skinny arms. I would teach Kevin, the mouthy kid across the alley, some manners!
I took my first bite.
Maybe we should have made wine.
Though I gulped several spoonfuls, I didn’t hear Popeye’s happy music. My arms still looked like plucked chicken wings. Maybe if the dandelions had come from a can instead of the churchyard, the spell might have worked.
Decades later, dandelion greens, no longer a dubious alternative to going hungry, are chopped, pickled and curried in hundreds of international recipes.
I take home the fresh, green pile I have gathered. When I find the right recipe, I will dine on four-star fare for lunch. My personal skeptic insists I will be eating weeds at my kitchen table stacked high with bills. Ignoring her, I search the Internet for recipes.
Who knows? Chopped in my repent-after-the-holidays salad, dandelions might make me as skinny as Olive Oyl.
When the first dandelion of the year pops up in your yard, what childhood memory pops into your mind? And do you have a favorite dandelion recipe?
“Don’t go out there,” advised my friend, whose apartment was located in the same complex. She knew that even on sunny days, I often arrived late at her place because I’d turned left instead of right.
Insulted, I blew her off. But as I trudged along, familiar landmarks disappeared. The dark gray-white sky changed places with the gray-white ground. My brain felt as fuzzy as my new Christmas hat. A faint stoplight finally guided me home.
I experience similar sensations every year after Christmas. Having plowed through a blizzard of holiday activities, I couldn’t find normal if I fell over it.
The dates of December 26 through 30 feel superfluous, like screws added to an “easy to assemble” Christmas toy because the sender had no idea what to do with them.
“Merry Christmas” doesn’t fit.
“Happy New Year” sounds premature.
Even the generic “Happy Holidays” doesn’t compute because many of us pretend to work between December 25 and January 1 (though nobody accomplishes anything).
Still, all these greetings sound better than the more accurate “Happy Demise of December.”
So, I propose we think positive about these “sort-of” holidays and establish some traditions.
Tradition One: Remember that Christmas music remains legal until January 2. I sing carols in store aisles, belting out “Do You Hear What I Hear?” without being hauled to a psychiatrist or audiologist for evaluation.
Tradition Two: Eat during this in-between time without guilt. Of course, some people claim to eat after January 1, but can rice grass and dried sweet potato rinds be classified as real food? This week, safely indulge in turkey and dressing sandwiches, Christmas cookies, fudge, and peppermint cheesecake with no reprisal from calorie/carb-conscious spouses or imprisonment by personal trainers.
Tradition Three: During the odd week after Christmas, enjoy cards that arrive late. These confirm we weren’t the only ones behind the entire holiday season.
Tradition Four: Consider this in-between week as prime bargain time. Save enormous amounts of money on a huge inventory of articles nobody wanted to buy in the first place.
Finally, let’s sit with our feet up to enjoy the Christmas tree while sipping a steaming cup of coffee, tea or cocoa. No longer do we fear the elves will get us if we’re not addressing cards, fulfilling Christmas lists or checking them twice. Granted, the Christmas tree – sans mountains of gifts – appears a bit naked. But during the frantic, manic and occasionally Titanic weeks before Christmas, every woman dreams of this moment.
And somewhere – after navigating that delightful, dizzy season – we’ll find normal again.
What’s your favorite “sort-of” holiday activity? How long before things return to normal at your house?
Like millions of Americans, I give thanks to God during this season for His over-the-top gifts: my family, my country and whipped cream garnished with pumpkin pie. Sometimes I pinch myself (not too hard) to see if I’m dreaming.
God’s lavishness shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus, who stretched a boy’s lunchbox meal to fill a hungry crowd of 5,000-plus, wasn’t satisfied to provide enough. He served such a feast that his disciples filled 12 baskets with leftovers.
I, too, am stuffed with good things from His hands. I gather blessing fragments, odd little bits and pieces of gratitude, into my blessing basket to share with you. And, since gratitude has no expiration date, never loses its flavor and contains no carbs, I’ll munch on them throughout the holiday season. Here, in no particular order, are 10 weird things for which I’m thankful this year:
- Weather.com. If this indispensable website were not available, I might have to look outside.
- My tin measuring teaspoons. They bring back childhood memories of baking with my mother.
- Our neighbors’ Christmas decorations. When my grandchildren arrive, they will enjoy Christmas wonderland without our stringing one light. Nor will we have to haul the little ones to a light display, enduring multiple coat-hat-mittens-potty-before-we-leave-then-buckle-into-car-seat drills. Thank you, neighbors!
- All octogenarians. Along with nonagenarians and centenarians. They make me feel young.
- Newspapers and magazines. I love the feel, smell and shine of paper, the rustle of turning pages. Will future generations miss the sensation of snuggling up by a fire to read a good book without a power button?
- Our umbrella stand. We keep umbrellas handy for November Noah days. Unless we left them in the car. Or at work. At church. Or in Hawaii.
- Our household financial system. I, the math-impaired, write checks, and Hubby balances. Instant excitement in a marriage.
- Wearing jeans on Thanksgiving. I am not cursed with a hundred layers of petticoats. No smothery long, black dress. No white, starched Pilgrim collars at our house. Just tons of faith, food, fun, and naps in front of TV football.
- My children’s name choices for their progeny. No Draco or Gaga. At least, not yet.
- Servers. An Emmy to those who fake shock when I claim the senior discount.
- Breath mints. The rest of my world is thankful, too.
Ten weird little blessings, and I’m just getting started. Like Jesus’ disciples, I might fill 12 baskets before I’m done.
What weird little blessings fill you with gratitude?
OMG, It’s Monday Prayer: O my God, we’re expecting a wonderful total of 17 at our house for Thanksgiving, including seven precious grandchildren, ages one year to 11. OMG, thank you for our family! Will I cook? Yes. But clean? Not so much. …