Father, thank You for interior decorators, for those who beautify so many inside spaces for us. But, OMG, how thankful I am that You are the Master Exterior Decorator — and You do it all for free!
This post first appeared on October 11, 2017.
My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, read James Whitcomb Riley poems, along with other Hoosier literature, after noon recess every day.
She brought poems and stories to life in a way that made my ears and mind tingle.
However, she enforced “rest time.” We had to lay our heads on our desks while she read, an indignity that smacked of kindergarten naptime. After all, we were nine-year-olds, soon to reach double digits.
We didn’t need any dumb rest time.
Decades later, I realized that after policing a playground resembling a crash derby without cars, then facing a similar classroom scenario, she might need the break.
Not all of Riley’s poems topped my “favorites” list. Braver classmates asked Mrs. Baker to read “Little Orphant Annie.” Why did they like those repeated references to “gobble-uns” that would get us if we didn’t shape up?
I already slept with my knees near my shoulders to avoid giant spiders lurking at the foot of my bed. Adding gobble-uns to my nighttime freak-out list didn’t induce much sleep.
Even more frightening, Little Orphant Annie had to do lots of housework.
The James Whitcomb Riley poem I liked best was “When the Frost Is on the Punkin,” which celebrates autumn in Indiana. That poem tasted good, like tangy cider, and still does:
“But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”
However, James Whitcomb Riley never would have received an A on a grammar test. He would have been the very first down in a spelling bee.
Mrs. Baker and other teachers deluged us with homework, tests and even demerits to ensure my classmates and I spoke and wrote correctly.
Yet my teacher read us his poems almost daily.
Grown-ups never made sense.
Despite my confusion, James Whitcomb Riley’s magic sang in my head and heart. A Hoosier like me, he wrote about the land and life I knew and loved. He instilled pride into us for who we were — kids in a country school in a county where farmers helped feed a nation and the world.
His poems still resonate with me, especially on a crisp, fall Indiana morning with a shimmer of silver on my lawn, and gold, russet and scarlet leaves flying in the chilly, sunny breeze. James Whitcomb Riley still reminds me of all I cherish in my native state.
Even if he didn’t know how to spell.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did your childhood teachers read to you? What was your favorite read-aloud story or poem?
This post first appeared on October 4, 2017.
Is there anything more fun than sneaking a walk when you should be hard at work?
Perhaps balancing the national budget, achieving world peace and losing four dress sizes rank above it. None of these, however, appear imminent. So, I pilfer little thrills, like kernels of candy corn, when I can.
Autumn’s tawny, sun-freckled face grins from every yard and field, a mischievous TP-er who messes with trees solely so we have to clean up many-hued clutter. Scraggly flowers, survivors with colorful personalities, mix well with show-off mums. Ragged, brown corn and soybeans look weathered and friendly as smiling scarecrows that guard small-town yards and grocery store produce sections.
All mellow and unhurried. Autumn urges me to enjoy its relaxed aura while I can.
Apple trees, however, awaken my laid-back senses. Loaded with plump fruit, they tempt me to borrow just a few.
However, calling my husband to spring me from jail isn’t the best way to celebrate fall. Forcing my steps past, I promise myself a trip to an orchard.
Squirrels, sociopathic larcenists, don’t worry about raising bail. They freely steal fruit, walnuts and acorns, which they hide in my flower pots — their personal storage units. Fall squirrels are like spring dandelions, fluffy and cute. I love both . . . in other people’s yards.
All paths lead to the elementary school, easily evidenced by a trail of kid stuff: a flattened baseball hat; a pink bicycle abandoned near a stop sign; a plain strawberry Pop-Tart®, no doubt rejected because someone wanted frosted chocolate with sprinkles. Scholarly endeavors are verified by broken pencils and crinkled homework. How long has this rain-faded permission slip lain here?
Rows of cars at the school speak of the commitment of teachers, administrators and staff. I pray for them, as the place — even when recess is not in session — emits energy unmatched by Hoover Dam turbines.
Ditto for Taylor University. A substantial portion of its science building’s energy needs are supplied by geothermal, solar and wind power. However, the pulsating between-class rhythm of skateboarders, scooter-riders, cyclists and joggers who don’t even notice they’re jogging prompts another energy question: Couldn’t the remainder be supplied by students, who regard midnight as the start of prime time?
I seek quieter streets, where I can saunter, unmolested by the vigorous and motivated.
Instead, yards teem with home improvement projects and, on the town’s outskirts, farmers driving giant combines lumber into fields, braving clouds of chaff. All strive to complete their tasks before cold weather.
In the face of so much diligence, goofing off is downright tough. I head for home.
But that doesn’t mean autumn and I won’t try to play hooky tomorrow. …
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite goof-off season, and why?
This post first appeared on March 16, 2016.
As I walk past our nearby elementary school, I search for the first fuzzy yellow dandelions. Although I want them out of my yard, deep in my grown-up heart, I still like them.
As a six-year-old, I heard God sprinkled dandelions on lawns like manna. Sometimes, He turned them to gold during the night. The financial possibilities made it worth a try.
The gold coin story did not pan out, but I still welcomed dandelions. Softer than my baby brother’s hair, they dotted the gray-brown Indiana landscape, reminding me better than any catechism that God loves color.
I showered my mother with bouquets. She never turned them down.
One evening Mama surprised my siblings and me. We would pick dandelions for supper! I did not realize they were good to eat. Or that our old refrigerator was empty. Mama acted as if we were going on a picnic.
“These look good.” She bent and nipped off leaves.
Grown-ups rarely made sense. “Aren’t we going to eat the flowers?”
“No. Some people make wine with them, but we’re eating just the greens.”
“Can’t we make wine?”
Mama’s eyebrows rose. “Probably not a good idea.”
My pastor father’s congregation might not take kindly to a bootleg wine-making operation in the church basement.
My seven-year-old brother grabbed the big greens first.
“Thank you.” Mama shook dirt from our offerings. “But little ones are best.”
Ha! My spindly greens topped his!
I asked, “What do cooked dandelions taste like?”
I’d never eaten spinach. But on TV, Popeye’s spinach helped him clobber the bad guys!
Maybe dandelions possessed the same magic. I insisted on a big bowl for supper. Muscles would pop out on my skinny arms. I would teach Kevin, the mouthy kid across the alley, some manners!
I took my first bite.
Maybe we should have made wine.
Though I gulped several spoonfuls, I didn’t hear Popeye’s happy music. My arms still looked like plucked chicken wings. Maybe if the dandelions had come from a can instead of the churchyard, the spell might have worked.
Decades later, dandelion greens, no longer a dubious alternative to going hungry, are chopped, pickled and curried in hundreds of international recipes.
I take home the fresh, green pile I’ve gathered. When I find the right recipe, I’ll dine on four-star fare for lunch. My personal skeptic insists I’ll be eating weeds. Ignoring her, I search the Internet for recipes.
Who knows? Chopped in my repent-after-the-holidays salad, dandelions might make me as skinny as Olive Oyl.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you have a favorite dandelion recipe?
No way, they said. It can’t happen, they said. But OMG, thank You that nothing could or can keep the Resurrection down!
O Lord, In the middle of October, I just took down my spring daffodil wreath. Aren’t You proud of me? I put up my autumn wreath 10 whole days before Halloween!
OMG, I’m sure glad that You organize Your seasons much better than I do mine.
I wouldn’t admit that, except last Thanksgiving, my family engineered an anti-mug intervention group.
“You promised to quit this.” My husband stared me down. “Instead, you’ve been smuggling mugs from the flea market. Sneaking off to Cracker Barrel when allegedly picking up milk. The cabinets are so stuffed, we’re afraid to open them.”
“Why are you uptight?” I countered. “It’s not like I stole any from the church.”
Had he found my blueprints for a new wing — a Mug Museum — hidden in my office?
Unreasonable. Mugs save lives. Would civilization survive chilly mornings without steaming drinks that keep workers functioning and murderless?
Perhaps I should consider tossing my snowman mug which, despite its exorbitant price, chipped the first time I microwaved coffee. A few heated sessions later, Frosty lost his nose. Made in China, the mug probably was coated with mercury. Still, I sneak occasional coffee with Frosty. How will I make it through the approaching winter without his cheerful grin?
So far, I’ve ignored him. But given Frosty’s uncertain future, I’ll have to buy a clearance snowman mug after Christmas.
Please don’t tell my little coffee buddy. Such disloyalty might make him fall to pieces, and if I tried to fix him … the only thing superglued together would be my thumbs.
I rarely use my smaller mugs except to torture unpopular relatives with a stingy supply of caffeine. But I can’t bring myself to give them away. (The mugs, not the relatives.) They might feel rejected. What if someone wrapped you in newspaper, tossed you into a box and dropped you off at Goodwill?
A new epiphany strikes me.
My shelves teem with flowery mugs. Mugs with hearts. Mugs with angels. Soon, I’ll bring out a hundred girly, Christmas mugs.
My husband’s collection: a sacred Indiana University mug; one boasting New Testament books of the Bible, including “He Brews” (guess who gave the tea lover that one); and a 1983 Doctor’s Day mug.
No wonder he borrows my Oreo mug.
Such inequity is downright unjust.
Fair play will result in even more crowded conditions. And an absolute mandate to construct the Mug Museum.
My name is Rachael, and I’m a mug-aholic.
You, too? Let’s fill a couple with favorite brews and drink to that!
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you regard your mugs as family members? If not, what collection do you treasure? (Does your spouse?)