When we moved into our first house with a fireplace, a primeval pyro urge pumped through our veins. A friend gave us firewood, appropriately enough, as a housewarming gift. We could hardly wait to rest chilly bones by a roaring fire, snuggling close with our children and toasting marshmallows.
The kids would say, “Tell us stories from long ago, Mom and Dad. Teach us your words of wisdom.” When we needed wood, they would fight for the privilege to trudge into the cold and haul it in.
We built a real fire. Once.
My pyromaniac father considers this immoral. He turns on gas heaters only in an emergency (if the U.S. is attacked by ice aliens). We wear shorts during visits, even in January, because Dad builds fires that make us sweat like August athletes.
He designs woodpiles as objets d’art. The wood must be perfect in composition, age and texture. With the precise calculations of an engineer, he stacks it in symmetrical rows, and woe to the bumbling, fumbling fool who upsets his perfect balance.
Dad mostly grants sons and grandsons the privilege of helping. Occasionally he extends this glorious favor to granddaughters. But I, his 60-something daughter, endure the ignominy of being left out with a martyr’s smile. Somebody has to sleep in front of football games.
Occasionally, we adult children consider buying him firewood because we fear for his safety and well-being. But we don’t, because we fear for ours. The wood never meets his standards, and Dad, seasoned by years of chopping, can also throw it.
My siblings and I confess, to our shame, that we have not inherited his noble fire-building genes. We own wussy gas fireplaces with ceramic logs and fake coal beds that don’t emit the magic fragrance of wood smoke. We, the children of hardy pioneer stock, use decorative fire pokers and shovels to hit the ON button. From the sofa. Before we fall asleep in front of football.
Occasionally, Dad has visited, condescending to sit by our fireplace and marvel at its convenience. Just the same, we hide any old Boy Scout hatchets hanging in the garage and count our trees every morning.
We stand in awe of our father — but we keep his fire-building activities a deep, dark family secret. After all, we don’t want him to get in trouble with the government. Despite extensive research, they still don’t know Dad is the primary cause of global warming.
And if they try to take away his ax or woodpiles, we know Dad will get a little fired up.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you use your fireplace? Is it the real thing? Or fake?
Once upon a time, in our backyard, there lived Penelope the peach tree.
Actually, two lived there. But even as we moved in, Percy the peach tree took one look at us, his new owners, and said, “There goes the neighborhood!” He never recovered.
Penelope delayed her judgment. Still, she expressed her disapproval: not one peach appeared that first summer. Next spring, though, pale pink blossoms crowded Penelope’s branches, exquisite as an oriental painting. I told Hubby, “That tree loves us.”
Visions of bubbling, crusty pie à la mode and caramel peach praline shortcake filled my salivating days.
However, when Hubby thinned tiny, excess peaches from Penelope’s branches, she took revenge by producing three edible fruits — and a thousand that resembled green ball bearings rolled in pepper.
The mutant peaches did not go to waste, however. I made jam as Christmas gifts for my less-than-favorite relatives.
The following year, we respectfully requested Penelope produce real, peach-colored peaches, bigger than a marble. And no black rash, please.
Some trees, like some people, can’t take constructive criticism. The following spring, she wore only a few sulky blossoms and no fruit. Our fractured relationship distressed me. My relatives started speaking to me again, once they knew they wouldn’t receive pepper peach jam at Christmas.
It was a very sad year.
Next spring, however, blossoms crowded Penelope’s branches. Perhaps she’d repented of her pettiness. More likely, she simply forgot. Peach trees aren’t known for sharp memories.
When hubby thinned Penelope’s too-plentiful peaches again, I exercised caution when walking behind the garage, her domain. Would Penelope throw her remaining peaches at us?
Surprise! Penelope’s green peaches grew from marble to golf ball to baseball size. So many loaded one branch that it cracked. She obligingly provided just enough greenish, pepper-dotted fruit to make Christmas jam for my relatives.
But Penelope’s peaches ripened in her time frame — not when I was free to pick, peel and slice. Because of writing deadlines, I remained chained to my laptop.
Hubby made new weekend plans.
As my dearly beloved donned an apron, we heard devious chuckles from behind the garage. Penelope exacts revenge on peach-pruners, one way or another.
Hubby griped. But I had infected him with my pie and praline shortcake vision. He peeled and packaged.
Is he a peach of a guy, or what?
To Penelope, this ending to her saga may seem like the pits.
But smiling at each other over hot peach pie and ice cream, we’ll take Penelope’s “happily ever after” every time!
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite peach indulgence?
Getting dressed has become a religious experience. Every morning I fall on my knees before opening the closet door, because one tiny shift on my shelves sets off shock waves that could lead to global disaster.
Still, I do not pose the ultimate threat. Rather, people who alphabetize socks pose a menace to freedom and the American way. Their closets resemble well-organized mausoleums, with shoes and sweaters residing in little plastic caskets. They file shirts, dresses and pants according to color, fiber content and button count.
Worse yet, their clothes fit. No sign of the fat-jean wardrobe every normal woman cherishes. No rack of size three dresses to provide the self-delusion necessary for good mental health. These disturbed personalities are desperately in need of therapy, medication and grandchildren with Popsicles.
They also demonstrate a pathological lack of conscience as their clothes age. How can someone be so callous as to condemn a loyal pair of black pants that has stood with them through years of Christmas parties, church services and funeral wakes to an unknown fate?
Sometimes, though, I long for the freedom of college days, when my wardrobe consisted of two beloved pairs of jeans, two T-shirts and a granny dress I wore when my future in-laws came to town.
After marriage, however, my expandable waistline stretched my outfits into three categories: pre-prego, prego and post-prego.
By my children’s adolescence, not even an underweight moth could edge in. I never would have suffered from closet claustrophobia if my daughters had done the decent thing and raided my closet during their teen years.
Instead, they plundered their father’s. We didn’t realize he had become a retro fashion icon until one Sunday before church as I made a routine check of the “teen corner.” Our younger daughter was wearing a purple-striped surfer shirt.
“Steve, she’s wearing that shirt I gave you for your 18th birthday.”
He cocked an eye. “Um, her friend’s wearing one of my shirts, too.”
It wasn’t fair. If Steve had worn ruffles during the 1960s like every other self-respecting hippie, the girls never would have touched his stuff. His closet would have looked as bad as mine.
Eventually, our children all married young and left town. I have no idea why.
I visited their quiet rooms and shed tears at the sight of neatly made beds and unnaturally bare floors.
And three beautiful, empty closets.
Does opening your closets inspire fervent prayer as well?
Hubby came running. “Did you warm your car keys in the microwave again?”
I crept from under the table. “I just wanted some tea.”
He tentatively examined the microwave. “Whatever you did sent it to its Happy Heating Ground.”
“At least, it didn’t leave a crater.” Our son had shared scary dormitory stories of popcorn-popping microwave doom.
Too cheap to buy a new one, I considered repairs. We might even survive without one.
“How do I do this?” Hubby, holding his mug with deer-in-the-headlights uncertainty, dampened my optimism.
“Easy. Fill a teakettle, set it on a burner and boil until it yells.”
“Sounds barbaric.” He took a step back. “What’s a teakettle?”
I’d given ours away, so I showed him how to fill a little pan.
He said, “Microwaving is the only cooking I do.”
“Perhaps you should return to the simple life,” I said loftily.
“Sure.” A sudden smile broke through. “You’ll do all the cooking.”
Now that sounded barbaric.
The plumber came. Five hundred dollars later, he introduced us to an appliance that actually heated water. Accustomed to our decrepit one, I burned my hands whenever I turned on the faucet.
We reset the temperature. Problem solved. But the new microwave and I had issues.
“Someday, I’ll get the hang of this,” I tried to say. The ice bag on my tongue muffled my words.
“Too bad the owner’s manual is in Sanskrit,” my husband sympathized.
After a few trips to the burn unit, we adjusted. But then, the oven’s thermostat malfunctioned.
“Maybe it likes cornbread rare?” I said to Hubby.
The fridge, taking its cue, froze a dozen eggs and melted 27 boxes of popsicles I’d bought on sale. The icemaker swore as if in labor.
The repairman suggested Band-Aid possibilities, but didn’t pull punches with his diagnosis: at best, my stove and refrigerator had six months to live. All we could do was keep them comfortable. Keep them comfortable?
Feeling flatlined myself, I decided to self-resuscitate with enough French Roast to make me lift appliances.
Like all appliances, he won’t live forever, and the guarantee ran out ages ago.
But, praise Jesus, I will, and mine won’t.
When no more replacement parts are available, will you go to the Master Designer for a new you?
If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
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?