Tag Archives: Rachael O. Phillips

The Fire Is So Delightful

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 wussy fireplace

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?

 

 

First-Class Snow Removal

Forget postcard views of palms waving in sunny breezes. Forget panoramas of azure ocean and white sands sent by gloating relatives. Warm-weather residents miss some of the most exciting winter scenes one can experience: first-class snow removal.

Admittedly, imagination and keen discernment is required, but therein lies the beauty.

Even Hawaiian residents must concede that neighbor kids rising on a sleep-in snow day to shovel their driveway is a beautiful sight.

Add to that quiet heroism of snowplow and salt truck drivers who often work 24/7 so we who must remain home because of closed schools and businesses don’t have to remain at home. While panicked meteorologists must be put on oxygen while reporting winter’s mega-storms, many snowplow operators venture out gratis. Some have itched all winter to drive their honkin’ big trucks with monster blades, but machismo can’t hide big hearts that determine to plow roads and driveways for the elderly, the infirm and the bank-account challenged.

We fell into the latter class the year my husband opened his solo medical practice. Living on borrowed money, we pinched pennies until they begged for mercy. Hubby often vanished, spending rare time at home sleeping and eating. I, toting a toddler and pregnant with a second child, didn’t rate the world’s most efficient snow remover. But my husband’s patients never had to worry about his timely care. When Lake Michigan gleefully dumped half its H2O in flake form into our driveway, a snowplow hero, paid only with my homemade bread, faithfully cleared it. Thus, my toddler, unborn baby and I could sally forth between blizzards for groceries.

Some snow heroes use only shovels, blowers, and strong backs. Our neighborhood children didn’t appreciate snowblower-toting guys who ensured they would arrive at school on time. But cabin-feverish moms, elderly folks and a cancer victim were eternally grateful.

During one Snowmaggeddon, I awakened to discover the multitude milling outside was our church youth group and their pastor, clearing out the last of the snow from our driveway. I’ll bet both my snow shovels that no San Diego residents awaken to surprises like that.

But warm-weather residents miss an even greater view we savor every year. The snow giants will eventually disappear before the power of gentle rains and stubborn green baby fingers poking up through the soil. Certainly, the giants reassert their power during tourney time, as every basketball-crazy Hoosier knows. But their second-class strength will bow to God’s spring every time.

If that isn’t first-class snow removal, I don’t know what is.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do winter heroes live in your neighborhood?

Booting Up

“Don’t go outdoors without your boots!”

These January words echo across several decades.

Actually, as a child, I liked my clumping, galumping boots. Despite Mom’s firm faith that I would catch 19 diseases, their podiatric force field protected me when stomping ice-covered gutters.

I wished in vain, though, for thigh-high fishing boots like Dad’s. Such superhero footwear would have rendered me invincible, like him.

Unfortunately for my parents, my feet and my siblings’ grew hourly. While my sister acceded to wearing my hand-me-downs, I drew the line at my brother’s galoshes — unless gutters were way full.

Recycled boots weren’t always an option because we children had honed losing winter wear to a fine art. Sporting only left mittens, we misplaced right boots, too.

The positive side: Lack of sufficient winter garb kept us inside warm classrooms at recess. While friends shivered outdoors, I read books I’d longed to sample.

Some favorite stories featured boots. In Little Women, Jo March’s boots helped her play swashbuckling heroes and villains in homegrown dramas. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, a traveling cobbler designed Almanzo Wilder’s first manly pair. Puss in Boots never would have brought his master fame, fortune and a princess if he hadn’t strutted about in that all-powerful footwear.

Still, boots seemed mostly mundane until go-go boots invaded the fifth-grade fashion scene. Unbelievably, my mother refused to buy me white boots amid the muddy slop season.

I whined. I pined. I promised I wouldn’t lose them, not even one.

She wouldn’t budge. So I languished without the go-go boots every girl on the planet owned, except me — and Becky Andrews, a nonconformist who wore tall black boots like Nancy Sinatra’s when she sang “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”

Ten years later, I wore a similar pair that stretched my height well past six feet.

But snow time with my toddlers required sane mommy boots. My little ones readily wore garage sale Strawberry Shortcake and Ninja Turtles boots, even with PJs. They also waded in yucky gutters, despite my warnings.

Years later, they cornered me in a boot discourse similar to my go-go debate with Mom decades before. My children wanted me to spend a gazillion dollars on short-topped “boots” designed to frostbite toes. When I refused, the kids left the row of sensible boots I’d bought to an undisturbed existence in the closet — until I discovered my son’s worked well when I shoveled sidewalks.

A wonderful boot solution because I couldn’t wear the awesome leather boots (my size!) I’d found on a sale table for five bucks. Not in snow that might ruin them. Or sleet. Or rain. Or. …

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you wear your good boots during yucky weather?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart-to-Heart with a Poinsettia

Ms. Poinsettia, you certainly look better than I do. Lush, with showy red blooms, you almost upstage the Christmas tree.

Me? I might wow observers, but for different reasons: my ratty bathrobe and jammies. What else would you expect of a grandma writer juggling Christmas?

What’s that? Your Creator made you to be strictly decorative?

I told my husband a similar story. A little tired of my ratty bathrobe, he didn’t think so.

However, when Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, met your ancestors in 1828, he brought several home. Before long, your forbearers became wildly popular.

Poinsie, how did you become an important floral symbol of Christmas? Not that the Bethlehem stable was landscaped with holly or mistletoe. Jesus probably didn’t even have a Christmas tree.

Does it make sense, though, that Americans celebrate a winter holiday with a tropical plant that hates the cold more than Midwestern snowbirds? If you had your choice, Poinsie, would you have stayed in Mexico, where you and your kin reach tree size?

I thought so. For a long time, you’ve lived out of your comfort zone. Still, you strut your colorful stuff every Christmas and brighten the holiday for us all.

Until one minute after midnight, December 26, when you wilt a little. A lot, actually.

Admittedly, we all wilt, and wrinkles eventually find us. But after one grand entrance during Christmas, you begin making demands. If I cherish any notion that you will bloom again, the light must be just so. The temperatures must be just so. At night, you like to be moved to a cooler area. I must ensure your beauty sleep in complete darkness from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. from October through December. Even headlights shining through shades can disturb your blooming.

You do remember, don’t you, Poinsie, why I keep pet plants instead of pet animals? Let me remind you: because plants don’t bark or lick. And they’re easier to care for.

I used to coddle fussy poinsettias. I lined windows with scraggly, leaf-shedding plants. I watered and fed. I plucked. I pampered. I encouraged.

But they wilted all the more

Finally, I tossed them all out behind the garage. Every. Single. One.

Now don’t you think you could act a little less fussy?

What do you mean, I could be less demanding, too? I don’t ask for much. Just my favorite snowman coffee mug with my brand of coffee. My solo bathroom. My schedule. My music. My hot-food fetish fulfilled, though I have to re-microwave my plate three times during supper.

Poinsie, you’re saying I should demand less?

And it wouldn’t hurt if I lost the ratty bathrobe, too?

Now, you’re just meddling. Flowers should be seen and not heard.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you had a heart-to-heart with a plant lately? Did it mess with your life, too?

Angels Came to the Night Shift

Have you ever worked the night shift?

Years ago, I waitressed from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. at a Denny’s Restaurant in Oregon.

I often served coffee to drunk cowboys wearing menus on their heads.

I didn’t see angels.

As a nursing home aide, I sometimes drew night shifts around holidays. Ghosts wandered dim hallways, one hunting chickens to fry for threshing crews who had labored 60 years before.

I didn’t see angels.

As a young mother, I frequently drew the night shift. My babies wailed, slimed, puked, and worse.

No angels anywhere. I couldn’t even see my shift’s end.

I should have realized that millions throughout the ages have worked lonesome wee hours, too. Take Joseph, a first-century carpenter. When busy, practical Joseph worked night shifts, angels never appeared.

Not until his fiancée told him she was pregnant — and that God was her Child’s Father.

No amount of coffee could clear her head. Or his.

Then an angel interrupted Joseph’s midnight hour: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

No cutesy cherub, that other-worldly being was so impressive that Joseph bucked family and culture. He married the girl who generated snickers wherever she went.

“What are you thinking, Joseph?” His friends rolled their eyes.

He wasn’t thinking. He was listening to an angel.

When the baby was born, did the shepherds’ arrival mean as much to Joseph as Mary?

For angels had invaded their night shift, too — a huge choir who lit up the sky like Vegas, singing about God’s peace and goodwill through Baby Jesus.

Their story convinced Joseph that Jesus was the Messiah. The stepfather continued to listen to angels.

Even when one instructed him to take his family to Egypt because a king wanted Jesus dead. Even when, after finally adjusting to their new life, an angel told Joseph to return to Israel.

All during night shift.

I rarely work overnight hours now, but Denny’s servers do. Nurses, doctors, and many others: stock clerks, factory workers and truck drivers.

Soldiers, police and firefighters. Plumbers and heating technicians. Students and professors finishing semesters.

Those caring for sick children and elderly parents.

Many who battle demons of loneliness and misery throughout the night shift.

Few expect to see angels.

But the Bethlehem angels’ song still echoes, announcing Jesus, God’s Gift who offers peace to everyone — especially those laboring in darkness. Those stuck with tough hours. Those who have drawn life’s short straws.

 

Our Extraordinary Ordinary: When the angels show up, will we listen?

Thanksgiving at Christmas

Yes, Thanksgiving has passed. Though the holiday virus has infected my mental workings, I’m not out of touch with reality yet. After all, it’s only December 1.

It’s not?

No wonder my gas company turned off the heat. …

Back to the original subject. Every year we celebrate Christmas at Thanksgiving. At Halloween, even. Yet, doesn’t Thanksgiving at Christmas make more sense than Black Friday? Let’s start a new trend! I’ll go first:

  • I appreciate energetic individuals who decorate their homes with flair during Advent. Their stunning light displays delight my grandchildren without this all-thumbs grandma hammering a single thumb.
  • Blessed are the procrastinators who, like me, have not removed pumpkins from their porches. The same people leave their Christmas lights up until July. You have no idea how you spread good cheer to me and others who will show up two months late for our own funerals.
  • I’m also thankful for online Christmas shopping, as my grinchy feet have nixed walking marathons in malls and stores. What a boon for me and for others with cranky, uncooperative body parts; cranky, uncooperative children; or cranky, uncooperative spouses.
  • Yet, I am thankful that my feet, in their more magnanimous moods, have allowed some shopping trips. Miss the opportunity to sing along with background carols? Never! Miss people-watching at the most interesting time of the year? Perish the thought!
  • Nasty store clerks are legendary; yet yesterday, I encountered one who, amid coupon craziness, promised me the best deal possible — and delivered.
  • On the receiving end of gift-giving, I am thankful my husband has developed excellent judgment in selecting presents. The past few decades, I have received nothing like one of his early gifts: a dried-blowfish lamp brought back from Florida.
  • Nor have friends given me a Santa Yoda yard ornament or singing deer head. One friend, whose sister gave her a plunger-waving snowman that asks restroom guests what they’re doing, has never re-gifted me with him. For that I am deeply grateful.
  • Also for commercials on TV that do not revolve around spending buckets of money for Christmas. Both of them.
  • Finally, for my car clock that ignores the time change. While an initial glance at it strikes me with panic — “I’m an hour late!” — I savor the rush of relief when I realize I’m not.

Hubby threatens to change the clock. Sure, it gives a false sense of security. But it allows me to chill.

After all, it’s only December 2.

It’s not?

Oh, well. There’s still plenty of time to celebrate Thanksgiving this December.

With every “Merry Christmas!” I’ll remember and thank the One whose birthday it is.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How do you celebrate Thanksgiving at Christmas?