Tag Archives: Rachael O. Phillips

Backyard Campout

At school’s end in the 1960s, tents bloomed in backyards like roses. Kathy, Debbie, and I couldn’t wait.

Image by Lucio Alfonsi from Pixabay.

Safety didn’t concern our mothers. Still, yakkety phone calls ensued before we extracted unanimous permission.

We campers stocked up on penny gum and Pixie Stix® at Charlie’s general store. If rich, we bought enough candy bars to ensure membership in the more-cavity group on Crest® Toothpaste commercials.

Lacking sleeping bags, we dragged old blankets and pillows to my saggy tent.

“Don’t knock down the poles,” Kathy warned.

Image by LiveLaughLove from Pixabay.

We ate 17 pieces of bubble gum each and read Bazooka Joe fortunes aloud. Debbie had confiscated her older sister’s teen magazine. Which Beatle was the cutest? This cosmic question kept us arguing and giggling until darkness fell. 

According to reliable sources, Gary and Tim were camping that night in Gary’s backyard. Younger than us, Tim was beneath our notice. Kathy and Debbie considered Gary icky, but no other boys on our block were outside. The so-called lack of prime victims didn’t bother me. I’d never told my friends I liked Gary’s cute smile.

Image by Daniela Mackova from Pixabay.

We sneaked out, careful not to topple poles. Creeping through several other yards, we halted behind lilacs near Gary’s house. We made it!

But we’d forgotten to bring Crazy Foam. Or squirt guns.

“Pound on their tent,” Kathy urged.

Except … no tent.

Gary’s sister had revealed his campout tonight. How dare he mess up our plans?

I didn’t like his dumb smile anymore.

Then wild, still-soprano yells erupted.

Ambushed!

I rocketed through darkness. Where were my girlfriends? The boys — probably well-equipped with Crazy Foam — would attack our tent.

Something sliced my throat!

Mom’s clothesline.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay.

I stumbled into our tent. In mistaken self-defense, Debbie and Kathy clobbered me. We knocked down poles. Entangled in canvas, we awaited Crazy Foam explosions and buckets of water.

Nothing. No one.

Perhaps the boys feared we would report them to their parents.

Propping up the tent, we tried to regain our bravado. Kathy told about the Man with the Golden Hook. Though I’d heard the tale a million times, scary scratching on our tent kept me edgy all night.

Also, Debbie had eaten beans for supper.

We couldn’t open the window because the Man with the Golden Hook would get us.

My friends nodded off, but my neck hurt. If only I could slip through my house’s unlocked door … But then, I’d have to explain my injury and betray our raid.

Finally, I slept.

Kathy and Debbie left early. Mom, unaware of my wound, insisted I clean up our mess.

I considered swearing off backyard camping forever.

At least, until tomorrow night.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did you conduct backyard campout raids?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: My Opinion Not Needed

O Lord, You know that when Mommy and Daddy Robin built their stringy, precarious nest on our garage light, this grandma ached to give them advice. Daddy, find a better site. Find a new architect. Mommy, keep your feet up so they don’t swell. No heavy lifting!

OMG, maybe those young parents didn’t need my input?

Tomato Tales

Image by Renee Gaudet from Pixabay.

I appreciate dedicated farmers and truckers who continue to bring us produce during this challenging time.

Still, grocery-store tomatoes provide fresh gardening inspiration. They also inspired my tomato-loving dad. One February day long ago, he filled egg cartons with dirt. In our mother’s clean kitchen.

Image by Markus Spiske from Pixabay.

My siblings and I awaited her fiery, fly-swatter judgment.

Instead, Mom said, “I can almost taste the tomatoes now.”

Dad explained he was planting seeds that would grow into tomato seedlings, which we’d later plant in our garden. Unfortunately, only a few lived.

Though Dad doubted the scrawny survivors would produce, he planted them. One he named Methuselah, after the biblical character who lived 969 years, almost filled our family’s pantry by itself.

Methuselah grew as tall as I and spread out as if king of the tomato patch. Dad often counted more than 70 big, juicy tomatoes on Methuselah’s branches. We hauled bushel basketfuls from the garden until Mom locked us out. After canning for weeks in 90-degree weather, she considered the bumper crop a for-real attack of killer tomatoes.

Decades later, my husband and I relived that abundance when we bought a house with a garden full of tomato plants, heavy with fruit. We would enjoy fresh-tomato goodness — with almost zero work!

I thought.

Eventually, I understood why Mom ran screaming from the patch when new blossoms appeared. Way too many tomatoes! Lacking canning equipment or a freezer, we put dozens outside with a “free” sign.

Still, that tomato-y summer ruined us forever. The following spring, we could hardly wait to raise our own. Where to buy seedlings?

Hubby’s barber shop, the source of all small-town wisdom, supplied the answer. The local Future Farmers of America raised and sold seedlings every May.

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay.

Since then, we’ve grown tomatoes every year. Red sunshine not only tickles our taste buds during summer, but during winter in homemade spaghetti sauce, chili and stews.

This year, however, the Future Farmers cannot grow seedlings. When Covid-19 first struck, I feared a run on gardening supplies.

Hubby gave me a you’re-so-paranoid look. “It’s not even Easter.”

With a few more gentle (Ahem!) reminders, he tried to order seeds online. Garden websites sang a unanimous song: sold out.

Would a similar run gobble up all seedlings? Would we be condemned to store-bought tomatoes forever?

Having learned his lesson (Always listen to your paranoid wife.), Hubby tracked down and planted tomato seeds. The seedlings will mature too late to plant at the usual time. But we’ll repot and keep them indoors. We’ll share them with others, spoiling them forever for tomatoes that taste like red sunshine — one small way to sweeten this pandemic.

Methuselah would be proud.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite fresh veggie?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Little Things Count, Especially If They’re Cheap and Yummy

O Lord, You know that when our daughters married I tucked my sweet-and-sour recipe into their new recipe boxes. Recently, a mom on Facebook recognized I’d given it to her as a bride, too, and her kids love it. OMG, I’m learning: meatballs aren’t a profound theological contribution to others’ lives, but little goodnesses can make a difference.

*Sweet-and-Sour Sauce for Chicken, Pork, or Meatballs

When using 1½ lbs. chicken or pork, I cook the chopped meat with one sliced onion in oil. Set aside.

When using meatballs, mix:

  • 1 ½ lb. ground beef
  • 2/3 c. cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 c. chopped onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ t. salt
  • 1 ½ t. garlic powder
  • ¼ t. ginger
  • ¼ c. milk 

Form meatballs and cook in oil in skillet. Set aside.

Sweet and Sour Sauce:

  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • 1 can (13½ oz.) pineapple tidbits, drained (reserve juice)
  • 1/3 c. vinegar
  • 1 T. soy sauce

Mix dry ingredients, then add reserved juice, vinegar, and soy sauce. Cook in skillet over medium heat, stirring until mixture thickens. Add pineapple.

To sweet-and-sour chicken or pork, I add 1 tart apple, sliced, and stir until crisp-tender. 1/3 c. bell pepper (green, red, etc.), chopped, can also be added to any of the recipes. 

Add meat and stir until heated through. Serve over rice. Serves 4-6, depending on whether your household includes big eaters. Enjoy!

*Based on Waikiki Meatballs Recipe, Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, 1975

Machines Versus Me

Image by Pam Carter from Pixabay.

For me, the machine takeover began when a Coke machine stole my dime. Big, red and shiny, it resembled a metallic Santa Claus. Yet its friendly exterior hid a chilly heart.

Decades later, I am still at odds with machines. Especially those that tell me what to do.

Image by OltreCreativeAgency from Pixabay.

Many contemporary machines keep their requests polite. My car dings apologetically when I forget to turn off its lights. My husband’s truck, however, peals like Big Ben, even when its belly bulges with $45 worth of gas.

“Don’t you dare talk to me in that tone!”

Does it listen to me? Never.

My Keurig coffee maker smarts off, too. Sure, its screen requests, “More water, please,” but it flashes an on-off light that betrays sarcasm. Reminds me of kids who demand ironed gym clothes, please (eye rolls).

The Information Age forces computers on us, sneaky machines that pose huge challenges to those who consider Ziploc® bags high tech. Don’t trust those friendly log-in welcomes. Do computers ever eat files like “My Worst Golf Scores” or “Breakfasts I Ate in 1993?” No-o-o. Mine devours IRS records and my newly finished novels. When feeling really rowdy, it emails eye-popping website links to my relatives.

I first encountered self-checkout machines at a grocery. A Voice welcomed me enthusiastically, then instructed me to scan my first item: a Death by Chocolate cake for my daughter’s college graduation. I found the UPC symbol on the cover’s bottom. Rats.

“Scan the first item and place it in the bag.” No “please.”

“I’d have to flip it over.” I held out my item for the machine to see. “It doesn’t fit in the bag. It’s a cake. An expensive cake!”

Image by Fawaz Sharif from Pixabay.

Now the ominous Voice demanded, “Scan the first item. Place it in the bag, or else.”

“I’ll bet you wouldn’t if it was your daughter’s cake!” I swung a fist at the monitor.

I’d swear it ducked.

“If you had half a brain, you could do this,” the Voice boomed.

I haven’t visited that store since. The restraining order might have something to do with that. …

I’ve heard self-checkouts now have better manners. Though with my luck, I’ll use one related to that first cake-hater. And wear the next cake I buy.

All this began with that long-ago Coke machine. I occasionally encounter its thieving descendants and fight the childhood urge to spit at them. See, machines can’t do that! Instead, I check coin returns. Once I found a quarter. Given inflation, the machine didn’t repay me for its ancestor’s larceny. But it tried.

I smiled and patted its shiny red side. That’s something machines can’t do yet, either.

Image by Stone WLP from Pixabay.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are machines your friends or enemies?

I Was a Soccer Mom

Before the quarantine, I beheld a newspaper story that made my body temperature plummet into the single digits. Soccer had invaded our area. Again.

“Calm down.” I took 10 deep breaths. “Your children have flown the nest. And the therapy helped. Really.”

Nevertheless, eight years of soccer mom madness left their mark. My normal (spring?) spectator attire consisted of a ratty sleeping bag guaranteed to repel water, ice and lightning bolts.

Photo by Ollebolle123 from Pixabay.

Even my deceased minivan, God rest its crankshaft, never recovered. Saturday mornings required more gasoline — and strategy — than the Normandy invasion. Because this is the First Commandment of Soccer: Never schedule family members to play in the same hemisphere.

There are other reasons why I still occasionally run screaming from children wearing knee socks.

I’ve never understood the rules. Take “offside,” for example. Does it have something to do with flying? My two children, whose combined weights equaled that of a soccer ball, flew more than they ran.

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay.

I tended to get upset.

Just a little.

All right, I confess to a deep, dark secret that will forever taint the family name. A referee once had to tell me to shut up.

Actually, he said, “Ma’am, you sit and watch the game. I’ll make the calls.”

To my credit, I feared for the children’s lives. Especially my kid’s!

The referee did not see that big, husky kid boot the smaller kid into the air instead of the ball. Neither, apparently, did other players. Even the wounded rose from the dead and stared at me.

My son stared at me.

I sat down and shut up.

Along with ER trips, I hated soccer dirt— gicky-sticky mud. Another Commandment of Soccer: fields must contain a minimum of 31 deep puddles, with the two largest placed at goals.

Player identification problems are bound to ensue. I once bought 73 sundaes to console my son’s team for a loss, only to realize after the last burp that I had fed their opponents.

Still, I must be fair and celebrate positives:

  • First, I love to watch other people exercise.
  • Second, I will forever cherish the memory of games on beautiful blue-sky days. Both of them.

In closing, I ask others to take compassion on soccer moms. Send them cards, give them hugs and chocolate, pay for their psychiatric stays.

I also want to ask all soccer moms, past and present, to join me in a credo that will seal our recoveries. Say it with me. We can do this.

“We were wr‒wr‒[gasp!] wrong. The referee is rrrr . . . [choke!] The referee is rrrr. …”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What is your favorite soccer mom memory?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Missing Church Way Too Much!

O Lord, I thank You that our governor has opened possible ways for Your people to worship in person — though I, past 65, have been strongly advised to stay home. Sigh. OMG, I suppose that lying about my age to go to church isn’t a good idea?

    

Have You Hugged Your Tree Today?

Why do I love trees? Maybe because I was born where a tree flourishes on the town’s courthouse clock tower. No, I am not making that up. The town fathers of Greensburg, Indiana, keep the mulberry trimmed, but they can’t bring themselves to remove it.

I also come from a long line of tree huggers who celebrated them when “green” was only a color. Not that I loved my parents’ endless Tree Tours. We lived where poplars, maples and beeches zigzagged cornfields’ edges. So why take everlasting Sunday afternoon drives, incarcerated with siblings, just to look at trees? My parents oohed and aahed about spring dogwoods and redbuds as if at a fireworks display. Dad bought us icy cold bottles of Coca Cola — if we spilled a minimum of blood during back seat battles.

Photo by Kim Peterson.

A contractor, Dad avoided tree removal. Rather than chop down a dogwood, he constructed our house’s wooden deck around it. Friends chuckled, not realizing he was setting a major landscaping trend — a few decades early.

I didn’t realize I’d absorbed my parents’ tree fanaticism until we moved to the Oregon desert. Tawny hills surrounding our town looked indecent, bare except for scrubby little pines. Our Midwestern family wondered if we would die of tree starvation. My parents nurtured fast-growing pin oaks like newborns. But I left for college, so they couldn’t grow fast enough for me.

What a relief to return to Indiana University’s wooded campus that exploded into a thousand bouquets every spring! My husband and I later lived in married student housing on aptly named Redbud Hill (aka Roach Hill, but we tried to think positive).

Later, in our house’s backyard, a crabapple’s rosy blossom clouds celebrated our younger daughter’s birthday.

Every spring, I visited a gracious, aunt-like apple tree on our block who, dressed in her fragrant, flowery Sunday best, waved whenever she saw me.

One day, she vanished! I circled the area, hoping by some magic she would emerge among new house studs.

“You expected somebody to build his house around a tree?” Hubby tried to delete his thankfulness that I hadn’t known about Aunt Apple’s removal beforehand. He wouldn’t have relished dragging me away from bulldozers.

I can’t rescue every tree that takes a fall. But this tree hugger can’t help growing grouchy, because it takes even God decades to grow a tree.

Baby trees now flourishing outside my window are, as the biblical psalmist says, clapping their hands at my speech. Thank you, thank you.

Hey, I clap with them. Because the applause belongs to the God of green, without whom none of my forest friends would be possible.

He’s kind of a tree hugger, too.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite springtime tree?