Tag Archives: Rachael O. Phillips

There’s a Strange Man in the House

What’s that?

I listen, heart pounding.

Bumps in the house tell me I’m not alone.

It’s midafternoon. I shouldn’t hear these until 5:30.

But the noises morph into big footsteps. He’s walking my direction.

I grab the nearest weapon. A sofa pillow?

Not much help.

But that’s all right.

The “intruder” is my husband.

For the umpteenth time, I forgot that after 40-plus years of family medicine, Dr. Hubby has hung up his stethoscope.

We celebrated this new life chapter the way I expected. A fun retirement party. Kayaking. A steak dinner out. A camping trip he’d dreamed of for a year.

But now, official celebrations are finished. Though Hubby is teaching college part-time, my retiree is basically a homebody.

Friends tease about my handing him a honey-do list, covering the past four decades. But he has compiled his own list, one he tackles each day with the joy of a 10-year-old let out of school.

He is retired.

I am not.

Having worked full-time at home for 20-plus years, I have developed my own schedule — which includes a sacred, after-lunch siesta.

Though he respects my personal space and timetable, just the presence of all this relentless energy disrupts my nap aura.

Meanwhile, Hubby has even washed his truck. Downright unnatural.

Even more unnatural, he suggested a shopping trip.

Shopping?

I would have insisted on a psychiatric evaluation, except that he would have demanded I undergo one, too.

So, my new daytime life floats as if in a world of levitation. The garage door goes up and down, lights flick on and off, and food vanishes into thin air. Broken appliances fix themselves, laundry folds itself, and dishes fly from the dishwasher into the cabinets (Love this!).

However, the calendar misplaces half its dates. “Is this Tuesday or Wednesday?” becomes a subject of serious breakfast debate. With new freedom, actions we thought built into our DNA — such as brushing teeth and putting out the trash — disappear as if the Social Security Administration waved a very odd magic wand over us.

After a week of getting his bearings, Hubby commented, “I really like retirement, but this flexibility thing is hard.”

Strange, but true.

But with a strange man in the house, what would you expect?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you think you’ll like retirement for you and/or your spouse? Why or why not?

The Simple Life?

Life today has become so complicated that we need computers to help us understand our computers. Appliances, cars and GPSes bully us 24/7. Cell phones accompany us everywhere, like chaperones — or personal jailers.

We dream of escaping to The Simple Life.

Decades ago, I lived the dream in Mexico, where my missionary parents ministered in a small village. They never punched a clock or answered a phone.

The townspeople loaned us a four-star hut with a thatched roof. Constructed of random boards, cardboard and dried mud, the walls somehow remained standing.

A restroom visit was simple. There wasn’t one outhouse in the entire village.

We awoke each morning to breakfast fragrances, rising from the communal campfire. Women in dark skirts and shawls rocked back and forth over stone troughs, grinding corn for tortillas. They shaped then flipped flat circles of dough onto a metal sheet over the fire.

They stuffed us with these tender, smoky treats spread with wild honey. But I, a narrow-minded five-year-old, refused the slimy raw eggs they offered.

Thus, I escaped deadly germs. I still might have consumed a few, however, because the villagers regarded washing hands as frivolous.

They kept their lives simple.

My siblings and I didn’t need video games. My six-year-old brother Ned and a neighboring burro supplied sufficient daily entertainment.

Ned and I considered the animal’s owner an atheist because he never attended church meetings. His burro was an atheist, too. Every day, Ned shinnied up the animal so he could ride like Roy Rogers on Trigger — until the pagan burro gleefully dumped him into a colossal cactus.

Each evening, lanterns appeared like wandering stars on the darkening, rugged landscape as people walked to church. Mommy pressed magic buttons on her red-and-white mother-of-pearl accordion, playing lively songs that reminded me of cantina music. She led the singing with her high, sweet voice. Daddy’s bass voice rumbled like friendly thunder. Like Jesus, he didn’t use a microphone; still, they probably could hear him in the next village.

No one owned watches to check how long he preached. We kids often fell asleep and found ourselves in bed the next morning. The hut accom-modated two mattresses on the floor — one for us three preschoolers and one for our parents — with plenty of room for hundreds of fleas that wanted to share in our missionary endeavors.

Decades later, I learned that one day, having braved fleas, germs, dirt and nausea (she was pregnant again), Mom dampened Dad’s enthusiasm for village life with a potent line: “I said I’d live anywhere with you, but this is ridiculous.”

And I realized my complicated life is pretty simple, after all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever tried to escape to The Simple Life?

Queen Anne’s Lace: A Cure for Summer Fever

Many people suffer from cabin fever during winter, when slippery sidewalks keep them inside. Instead, I suffer from summer fever. When sizzling sidewalks threaten to fry me, I hibernate inside.

Soon, though, the six-year-old in me has to play outdoors. One evening, when sidewalks and temperatures had cooled to bearable, I considered two summer fever cures: a Moose Tracks sundae or a wildflower bouquet.

Because stern bathroom scales had issued a nasty final warning, the noncaloric remedy won. Too early for fireflies, but also too early for a mosquito assault — I hoped, since I’d neglected using stinky repellent — I headed for a nearby field.

Reaching the pasture, I forgot about insects. A blizzard had arrived in summer! Drifts of Queen Anne’s lace, like thousands of giant snowflakes, covered the meadow.

I felt cooler already.

A poem by Mary Leslie Newton lilted through my mind: “Queen Anne, Queen Anne, has washed her lace/ (She chose a summer’s day) …”

No teacher had assigned the poem. I’d memorized it as a fourth grader simply because I loved it.

A skinny little girl in baggy shorts, I explored sweltering, but magical, Indiana meadows with an enchanting lady wearing a crown. Queen Anne didn’t sweat as she gathered her exquisite laces dried in pasture grasses, laces that, according to legend, had won the tatting competition she’d initiated with her ladies-in-waiting.

As a grown-up, though, I made the mistake of researching Queen Anne’s lace online. Gasp! Some states included it on “noxious weed” lists.

Insult Queen Anne? How dare they!

Instead of the aristocratic name, they called it “wild carrot” and “bird’s nest” — even “chigger weed”!

Now, I not only sweated, I itched.

Queen Anne’s lace also resembled young hogweed, a plant that made poison ivy seem like a botanical best buddy. My favorite wildflower also resembled hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates.

Not the kind of magic I liked.

Not a cure for summer fever.

Too late, I examined my “snowflake’” stems.

Whew! No purple dots that identify both hemlock and hogweed.

The hairy stems of genuine Queen Anne’s lace didn’t reflect her elegance, but they reassured me. I could return to my fairy-tale world without a qualm — occasionally good for a grown-up. Back to the magic of Queen Anne, who never sweat or itched. Back to picking snowflakes that wouldn’t melt when I arranged them in a crystal vase, admiring the wintry effect against a blue wall.

Returning with my bouquet, I mused that Queen Anne’s cure for summer fever — imagination — had worked well.

Did the noncaloric remedy top the ice cream cure?

Um … kid or adult, I’d have to plead the Fifth.

Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your cure for summer fever?

Hands Speak Louder than Words?

“Don’t point at people!” my mother covered my little hand with hers. “It’s rude.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“It means you make them feel bad. So, don’t do it.”

Really? My small, chubby appendage possessed that much power?

So impressed was I with my finger’s clout that I exercised it whenever Mom wasn’t looking. I pointed my powerful finger at unsmiling adults on the street. I pointed at sour waitresses who disliked kids and salespeople who warned me not to touch their displays. I even forgot and pointed at Mom.

Strangely, my powerful finger didn’t work so well then.

The authority exercised by my finger, though, couldn’t begin to compare to that possessed by basketball referees. When they raised fingers at a ballgame, the numbers on a giant scoreboard changed. I attempted their gestures, but the numbers wouldn’t budge.

I needed to practice pointing a lot more.

During grade school, though, my friend grabbed me mid-gesture, saying a person should be careful to point the correct finger. Fortunately, my flawed gesture had been directed toward mean boys, not at the principal.

Travelers abroad also discover that hand signals can mean the difference between friendly international relations and banishment to a dungeon inhabited by undiplomatic snakes and crocodiles.

For example, consider the “V for Victory” sign Winston Churchill popularized during World War II. The prime minister made sure that his palm faced outward, as the exact same sign portrayed with palm inward would have inspired his fellow countrymen to fight against, rather than for him.

Interestingly, the Germans would have considered that British obscene version their “V for Victory” sign.

No wonder Churchill was careful about that one.

Unfortunately, former President George H. W. Bush was not aware of this British distinction. In 1992, he signaled the “V for Victory” sign, palm inward, to Australians lining the street.

Someone should have briefed the President, don’t you think?

His son, George W., and his family — Texas Longhorn football supporters — have been known to use index and pinky fingers to make the “horns” sign familiar to American sports fans. When, during a Washington, D.C. parade, they greeted the University of Texas marching band with the “Hook ’Em, Horns” gesture, no one in the U.S. blinked an eye.

Unfortunately, Norway had a slow news day, and their papers published angry headlines and pictures of the American First Family brazenly flashing what Norwegians consider the sign of the devil. With a few diplomatic explanations, the furor faded.

Other Longhorn devotees traveling in Rome in 1985 were not so lucky. Celebrating their team’s victory, they made this sign as they danced for joy outside the Vatican. Italians, however, regard it not only as a sign of the devil, but also of impotence and adultery. The happy Texas football fans were promptly arrested.

Perhaps we Americans, before traveling overseas, should consult the local Emily Post manuals regarding correct body language?

And all you sports fans — and referees who work games abroad — watch it.

As for me, I’ve taken my mother’s advice to heart and don’t point at people anymore. Anywhere.

When I dust off my passport again, I’ll take the other advice Mom gave me: I’ll keep my hands to myself.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have innocent intentions ever gotten you into big trouble?

Still Truckin’ to Truck Stops

Some travelers find truck-stop culture so foreign that upon entering, they reach for their passports.

I, on the other hand, grew up regarding a nearby truck stop as a highlight of my week. Neither of my pastor-parents felt like feeding five children after Sunday morning services, so — during that pre-McDonald’s era — they took us there for lunch.

We older siblings sat at the counter on fabulous red stools that twirled if our parents weren’t watching.

Seated nearby with toddlers, Mom and Dad occasionally missed a few tricks. However, misbehavior resulted in banishment to the station wagon, so we children didn’t try many.

We also would forfeit exploring a tabletop jukebox. We hoped other diners would spend their nickels and play our favorites. Occasionally, we approached the big jukebox, awestruck as it plopped, played and removed 45 rpm records as if by magic.

Truck stops have changed. Iowa 80, touted as the largest in the world, includes not only stores and eight restaurants, but a laundromat, library, business center and movie theater. Individual showers and a “dogomat,” where Fido also can get a bath, are available too. The kicker: Iowa 80 also boasts its own chiropractor and dentist.

If my childhood truck stop had featured a dentist, I might have stayed in the station wagon.

I also might have clung to the back seat if my parents had visited South of the Border in, of all places, South Carolina. Not that I wouldn’t have celebrated yummy Mexican food, piñatas, and other Hispanic delights. However, that truck stop also features a lagoon full of snakes, alligators and crocodiles. After riding with five kids hundreds of miles, Mom and Dad might have found the urge to unload us a little too tempting.

I gladly would have unbuckled to visit one truck stop in West Virginia, featuring art exhibits and theater. I’d gladly go there now. A plate-sized tenderloin sandwich and Shakespeare? Doesn’t get any better than that.

For some truck stop enthusiasts, abundant merchandise trumps even tenderloins. Where else can you find leopard-skin Bible covers or pink Harley-Davidson, metal-studded dog collars? Enough crossbows and knives to fight off an orc army from The Lord of the Rings should it invade the truck stop?

No other establishment boasts plaques with an animated, skeletal Big Mouth Billy Bass belting “Bad to the Bone.”

Even the most ardent devotees, however, admit many truck stop stores feature items they’d rather not explain to children and grandchildren.

Days ago, I reached for lip balm, only to discover it was labeled “Free-range Chicken Poop,” touted as Grandpa’s intensely organic cure for chapped lips.

At truck stops like that, I reach for my passport.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite find at a truck stop?