Tag Archives: Rachael O. Phillips

Yay, November!

Embrace November, with its nasty weather and nastier heating bills?

Warm hats have gone AWOL, except the pom-pom wonder Aunt Mabel knitted last Christmas. Buttonless and zipper-challenged coats should have been dry-cleaned in August. Umbrellas are too obsessed with their broken ribs to provide protection.

Fortunately, fireplaces ignite so we can toast our toes. Along with the season’s first steaming cup of hot chocolate, we’ll savor equally delicious books.

Although, authors sometimes diss November. Poet Robert Burns speaks of “chill November’s surly blast,” and in Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s alter ego, Jo March, considers November the worst month of the year: “That’s the reason I was born in it.”

But readers rejoice that both Jo and Louisa made their first appearance in November, along with C.S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, Madeleine L’Engle, Stephen Crane, William Blake and Mark Twain.

My dad also was born this month. Pastor, missionary, tie-hater, woodchopper, even at age 91 — without him, I remind my husband, I wouldn’t be here. Another reason to appreciate November, right?

Hubby pleads the Fifth.

Continuing on.

Cozied up on November evenings, we forget about washing windows or putting away garden hoses and patio furniture. If coulda-shouldas yammer, congratulate yourself that you are not wearing a back brace like the people who did.

November also grants a few weeks to meet pre-holiday weight loss goals. But why let downer diet thoughts bother you? The red top and black pants you’ve worn the past 19 Christmases will suffice.

Speaking of weight, ice cream lovers don’t stand in long lines in November. So what if it’s cold? Be brave. Add hot fudge or caramel to counteract frostbite. An even more appropriate choice: warm peanut butter, as November is National Peanut Butter Lovers’ Month.

It’s also International Drum Month in which we celebrate school bands whose stirring rhythms warm frozen football crowds. Mothers whose toddlers bang toy drums may not cheer much, nor parents whose garages house teen bands. But November 19, Have a Bad Day Day, serves these moms and dads well.

All that daylight we saved since March is nowhere to be found. But November, National Sleep Comfort Month, confirms that snuggling in bed an extra hour only makes sense.

Jogging in the dark doesn’t.

Nor does yard work — especially with the blessing of an early snow. If we’re lucky, frozen ground won’t permit our planting 900 bulbs bought while under the influence of Lowe’s commercials.

Then we can watch football, “Face the Nation” or “Punkin Chunkin,” depending on whether we want to cheer the demise of quarterbacks, politicians, or vegetables. We’ll welcome Thanksgiving with true gratitude that we remain safe in our recliners.

Yay, November!

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about November?

The Slippers of My Dreams

I don’t mind falling temperatures this time of year, but my crampy toes beg to differ.

“We’re freezing down here. Lose the sandals!” they whine. “Time for fuzzy-wuzzy slippers!”

This wasn’t always the case. My warm-blooded siblings and I zipped around the house in our bare feet summer and winter, donning shoes and socks only when our shivering mother, using typical Mom logic, complained, “You’re making me cold!”

Slippers? Too spendy for a big family with a small income.

I read in a storybook that ragged Cinderella gained a prince, a kingdom and a pretty ball gown, all because her slippers fit. But my chances to share her magic looked grim, even if a fairy godmother showed up at our door bearing a free pair in my size. My mother would never allow me to run around in glass slippers. At that point, she wouldn’t even permit me to dry glass dishes.

The fuzzy slippers my friends received for Christmas from grandmas and grandpas caught my attention: brown puppies for boys and pink kitties for girls. An elite few boasted cowboy or cowgirl slippers, just like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

By the time I grew old enough to make my dreams come true using hard-earned babysitting cash, I craved white go-go boots instead. Fuzzy pink kitty slippers no longer appeared on my gotta-have list.

College dorm-mates, however, made poufy slippers a priority — although they favored Disney characters and yellow smiley faces. Serious-minded and penny-pinching, I found their frivolous fetish difficult to understand. During those early feminist days, we eschewed evil pink aprons, hair spray and anything else that threatened our position as free, mature women. We had declared war on any and all fluffy mindsets. So why didn’t my ideological sisters reject the corresponding footwear?

I refused to bow to such mindless leanings. Besides, I couldn’t find Minnie Mouse slippers in size 10.

A few years later, my new husband and I made many marital adjustments. However, we discovered common ground in dealing with crucial slipper issues. I grabbed 80-percent markdowns. He continued to wear the leather moccasins his grandparents gave him during high school. (I finally sneaked them out of the house and burned them.)

But slipper dreams refused to die. Spurred on by my childhood cravings, I bought colorful Strawberry Shortcake and Ninja Turtles slippers that matched our children’s PJs. They preferred plastic rain boots.

Fast-forward a few decades. When my roommate at a writers’ retreat organized a Goofy Slippers Day, my heart and toes warmed to the idea. But I owned only sensible cheapos and nice argyles my daughter knitted for me — nothing of sufficient bad taste. I perused secondhand and discount stores. Where would I find the slippers of my dreams — in my size?

I had almost had given up hope when, at the last store on my list, I encountered plastic ooh-la-la eyes and a smirky, whiskered grin. I pulled huge, fluffy pink kitty slippers from the pile. A perfect size 11 (my feet — like other parts of my anatomy — have spread).

It was a sign from God.

I named the right slipper Zsa Zsa and the left Eva. They made a hit at my writing get-together. Not so with Hubby, who rated them only slightly above an ancient, ratty housecoat that still gives him nightmares.

But my warm, grateful toes adored Zsa Zsa and Eva. So did my grandkids, until they (the slippers, not the children) fell apart.

If Cinderella had offered me her glass slippers in exchange, she would have been out of luck.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you own a favorite pair of slippers?

How Do You Like Them Apples?

“A is for apple.”

Today, little Apple lovers might expect a Macintosh laptop on an alphabet book’s first page. In 1959, however, technology never entered my mind. Instead, I eyed the luscious red fruit on my teacher’s desk. I focused on bites, not bytes.

I savored the school lunch’s apple crisp — until Joey Bump told me the topping consisted of fried ants.

Smart guy. He doubled his apple crisp intake.

Ants notwithstanding, I come from a long line of apple lovers. Every autumn Dad bought bushels of fragrant fruit at a nearby orchard. He peeled an apple with a surgeon’s precision, dangling the single long red curl, then sliced it into white circles whose dark seeds God had arranged in a flower pattern. A boy during the Depression, Dad scoured the woods for fruit — for anything — to nourish his scrawny frame. Forever, he would regard apples as a cause for celebration.

Whenever we visited my Louisiana grandparents, Dad bought Grandma bags of apples, fruit too expensive to frequent their black-eyed peas/turnip greens/corn bread diet. My four siblings and I waited for Grandma to share.

The apples vanished within seconds, never to reappear — while we were there, anyway.

Dad often surprised Grandma, driving all night from Indiana to visit. Once, he brought four-year-old Kenny, whom Grandma hadn’t seen for a year. Kenny and Dad dozed in his truck until they smelled bacon’s tantalizing fragrance. Dad’s resolve wavered. Did he dare rile his mother and risk losing a free breakfast?

Dad debated only a moment. Handing Kenny a bag of apples, he pulled my brother’s cap over his eyes and sent him to Grandma’s door. Hunkering down in the truck, Dad watched apple drama unfold.

At Kenny’s knock, Grandma appeared. “Child, what are you doing here at this hour?” She showed no sign of recognizing Kenny. “Where’s your mama? Your daddy?” She cast a wrathful eye at the truck.

When Kenny offered her the apples for a quarter, Grandma suffered pangs of conscience. How could she take advantage of this baby-child?

But the bargain apples proved too much.

Grandma retrieved a quarter from her old money sock.

As she handed it to Kenny, he tilted his head back. “Hi, Grandma!”

Dad strode to the porch, wearing a huge grin.

Grandma laughed and cried. When her voice returned, she said her 35-year-old son needed a good licking. How could such a bad apple turn out to be the only preacher in the family?

Grandma hugged Kenny, then welcomed him and his prodigal daddy, stuffing them with eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy.

But no apples. The bag already had found a new home — under her featherbed.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite apple dessert?

Popcorn and Me

Not many foods remain friends for life. Chocolate turned traitor during my teen years as I fought the Pimple Wars and later put on pounds. But popcorn has always been there for me.

My family owes its survival to popcorn. Mom faced two snack choices: a bale of hay or a dishpan-sized bowl of popcorn. While she threw handfuls of yellow seeds into a pan, we gathered close, quiet as if attending a theater performance — until the first pop pinged. Suddenly kernels exploded in a mad dance of joyful pop-pop-pops. A few sneaky ones fooled Mom and leaped out when she removed the lid — a punch line we enjoyed as if it had never happened before.

Fresh wonder filled me at seeing hundreds of fluffy white kernels, a miracle that rivaled the Feeding of the Five Thousand. If only candy bars multiplied like that!

As cornfields surrounded our house, I became convinced we were not utilizing a huge, free popcorn resource. My mother disagreed. But I filched an ear from a neighbor’s field and set it on fire anyway. Sadly, Mom was right — again.

Later we grew our own popcorn, including a “strawberry” variety. Hoeing the plants, I imagined the pink strawberry-sucker-flavored popcorn we would savor. At harvest, we shucked wine-colored kernels off little cones and waited breathlessly as Mom popped this amazing new treat. Only red hulls evidenced anything different about strawberry popcorn. After initial disappointment, though, we made a hit at school with our special red-and-white popcorn.

But the popcorn my siblings and I really craved was Jiffy Pop®. On TV commercials, smiling kids watched it rise like a silver Space Age balloon. I was sure the Jetsons ate Jiffy Pop®. Mom, however, vetoed it as too expensive.

When I, too, became a mean mother, plain old popcorn remained my friend. My children gathered as kernels tumbled in the air popper. Like my mother, I poured sizzling butter over theirs. Mine? I ate handfuls that tasted like Styrofoam packing peanuts. But they filled me up and kept me from expanding as much as Jiffy Pop®.

Now, growing older, I still cling to popcorn. Even the Jetsons would envy my microwave method. However, the time saved is used to read popcorn cautionary commandments on every bag, probably more than accompanied the original atomic bomb: HANDLE CAREFULLY: VERY HOT OIL & BAG! THIS SIDE UP! THIS SIDE DOWN! PICK UP HERE! PICK UP FROM OTHER END! OPEN CAREFULLY! HOT! CAUTION! OR YOU WILL DIE VERY, VERY SLOWLY WITH RADIOACTIVE POPCORN UP YOUR NOSE.

Is that any way to talk to a friend?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What are your favorite popcorn memories?

A Kind-of World Series Fan

Like many Hoosiers, I am addicted to basketball. I count the days until the season’s first games, even watching Little Sisters of the Poor battle St. Insignificant. I will referee the NCAA finals forever and ever, amen.

To my utter surprise, I also have become a baseball fan.

Not that I didn’t love baseball as a child. In our tiny town, baseball comprised a weighty part of recess and sweltering-summer-evening entertainment. Teams ranged from two to nine players. We often invented convenient ghosts to run bases who were called out by nonexistent referees. I even played benchwarmer for the Taylorsville Hillbillies (and no, I am not making that up).

But that passion did not translate to professional baseball. I remember the World Series because boys smuggled transistor radios and earphones into class. Mr. Daily, my sixth grade teacher, also got in trouble for teaching while thus plugged in. I got in enough trouble for other reasons, so I skipped the Series.

Baseball reawakening took place decades later when I moved to northern Indiana. Vast numbers of Chicago Cubs fans thrived there, despite their not having won a World Series since 1908. My friend Joleen didn’t miss a Cubs opening day for 40 years. The Cubs did win a doubleheader the day she passed away. In her honor, I became their fan forever.

My out-of-print biography about Billy Sunday can still be purchased on Amazon and other online sources.

At the time, I was writing a book about Billy Sunday, an evangelist. Billy, a speed-of-light base runner, played for the Chicago White Stockings during the 1880s (which, paradoxically, later became the Cubs). Sadly, Billy suffered from Cubs Disease, a malady that survives to the present, in which batters develop a severe allergy to RBIs. Regardless, I cheered for Billy as the White Stockings/Cubs battled St. Louis in World Series contests.

When the Cubs finally won the Series in 2016, we fans anticipated blowing out the competition every year.

That has not happened.

Still, less than desirable World Series contests can prove advantageous. Due to lack of emotional investment, a kind-of fan wastes less time actually watching games. Instead, a “viewer” can sort socks, clip coupons, give herself a pedicure, address early Christmas cards and paint the family room ceiling — all during the first inning.

Who says watching TV sports accomplishes nothing?

Kind-of fans also sleep more than rabid World Series viewers. They doze throughout the game and retire early. This ensures productivity the next day — although well-rested fans discover the next morning that teams, indignant at abandonment, hit 15 runs.

A kind-of fan avoids the strain/overexcitement of winning the World Series.

At least, that’s what Cubs fans have been telling each other since 2016.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you watch the World Series?