Lord, You know that my beach rating — never a 10 — has dropped into negative digits. Still, I love to swim, and I won’t stop. OMG, I’m so glad Jesus loves me, air-brushed or wear-and-tear-brushed!
As a child, did you run barefoot through the summer dusk, catching fireflies? Like me, you probably incarcerated them in mayonnaise jars with holey lids.
My parents tried to persuade me to release them.
This made no sense. My folks constantly looked for ways to save money. What wasn’t to love about a cool invention that lowered the electric bill? Still, when they insisted the fireflies were crying for their mommies, I freed them, trusting they were flitting home to hugs, baths and clean jammies, too.
Growing older, I wondered if something less Disney was going on. Sure enough, research revealed those Snow White scenes were actually firefly date nights. Since their adult lives last only a few weeks, love strikes these bugs like lightning; they do some serious speed dating.
Like me, Sara Lewis, a Tufts University scientist, loves to watch fireflies. Unlike me, she gets paid. For the past 25 years, Sara has noticed different species use specific flashes and delays to communicate. Opposites often attract, as seen in the following Photinus marginellus exchange:
P. marginellus Guy: Flash! (Two-second pause.) Flash! (Two seconds.) Flash! (The P. marginellus guys are the faithful, consistent types, but a little boring.)
P. marginellus Girl: Flash! (Zero delay. The P. marginellus girls are a little easy.)
A reversed pattern characterizes Photinus carolinus fireflies; with six flashes in three seconds, guys define the word “flashy.” P. carolinus women, however, wait 10 whole seconds before emitting short, coy responses that declare these dudes better show up with candy and roses.
Which some do. According to Lewis, males often bring “nuptial gifts” — food to sustain females as they lay eggs. Even in the insect kingdom, women love their Fannie May’s. Tied with red satin ribbons, thank you very much.
Because the girls are so picky, P. carolinus guys often gather in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. There, they synchronize flashes to attract their ladies’ notice, creating spectacular light shows.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to all this love and light. The female of one species fakes the signals of others to lure unsuspecting males to her place for dinner — with him as the main course!
Eww. I’m tempted to go inside and refresh my psyche with a pure-minded sitcom.
But strains of the Mills Brothers’ old song, “The Glow-Worm,” float through my mind. Hundreds of fireflies appear, tiny lights glimmering like shiny gold confetti. My husband joins me, and we hold hands, glad that children won’t lack fireflies for their mayonnaise jars.
And that these sparks light up summer evenings for all young — and old — lovers snuggling on a porch in the summer twilight.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite firefly memory?
When I was small, trees were magic. Especially the trees outside our church.
As preschoolers, my brother and I discovered friendly low branches that invited a climb. Every pint-sized Sunday school attendee welcomed that magic.
Moms, however, did not appreciate magic trees — especially mulberries. They transformed starched-white-shirt-and-ruffly-dress VBS populations into glorious, purple-tie-dyed messes.
Trees remained magical throughout my childhood, serving as bases, houses, castles and cathedrals. Schoolyard bike races morphed them into traffic cones. On sweltering days, I stayed within Mom’s sight under our backyard’s shady oak, yet traveled thousands of miles as I devoured library books.
Now an adult, I have planted trees that infuse oxygen into our atmosphere, provide shade and enhance property values. But I hadn’t visited magic trees for a long time.
Until our extended family’s campout, when sullen clouds alternately spat on us and poured rain like a waterfall.
Thanks to yummy pancakes and sausage, the group survived the morning. When rain held off, older kids found plenty to do. But as parents of a five-year-old and his three-year-old foster brother tried to fix a group lunch, the little boys seemed destined for war.
Anyone with sense would have run for a bomb shelter. But I am Grandma. Edging them out of range, I blurted, “Let’s visit magic trees!”
Perhaps the skeptical three-year-old had seen too much to believe in magic. But he followed his brother and me to an empty campsite, where the five-year-old beat on a maple with a stick.
He chortled, “Now the tree’s awake!”
I’d wake up, too, if clobbered with a six-foot cudgel. “What’s the tree saying?”
“He says I should visit a different tree.”
By now, the three-year-old was a believer, too. We awakened all the empty campsite trees. Some also told us to visit different trees. But several told stories about nesting birds and skittery squirrels. Special trees talked only when tapped the perfect number of times. Then they whispered tales understood only by the chlorophyll crowd and preschoolers.
One oak interrupted, “Time to eat. I’ve been calling you for ten minutes.”
Correction: Hubby had entered the land of magic trees.
Instantly, my fellow adventurers dashed for the dining tent.
“Couldn’t you have waited?” I said irritably. “That tree was just about to tell us whether they make a noise when they fall.”
He rolled his eyes, as if barbecued chicken and macaroni salad could compensate for his breaking the sweet spell.
The five-year-old and I could visit magic trees again. However, court dates threatened to keep the three-year-old from adventuring with us.
But for one misty summer morning, he talked with magic trees.
I pray he will do it again.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you visited magic trees lately?
Watermelons. Luscious, refreshing and satisfying, they deserve another blog post.
Last week, I shared four essential ingredients for eating a watermelon the best way. This week, I bring one final ingredient to your attention for truly memorable watermelon-eating experiences.
Last essential ingredient, but not least
Watermelons, bought not from strangers, but grown in one’s own patch — although my father, a lifelong expert, declared the stolen ones the sweetest. As boys, he and his brothers patronized patches owned by Mr. Purvis Williams and Mr. T.C. Higgenbotham.
Of course, when Dad amazed the Louisiana town by becoming a minister, he swore off such pastimes. When he returned to his hometown as a 79-year-old retiree, however, he celebrated his first watermelon season there by investigating local patches. One flourished near his old homesite. He hadn’t seen watermelons that good since boyhood, the fat green-striped orbs almost bursting with juice.
The patch’s owner: his new pastor.
Dad managed to steer his next conversation with the reverend toward gardening and complimented him on his beautiful melons. As he’d hoped, the pastor invited his new parishioner to help himself.
Dad knew he didn’t mean it. A Southerner himself, he understood the man was just being lyin’-polite. However, while the pastor still regarded him as an ignorant Yankee who didn’t know any better, Dad took advantage. He raided the pastor’s patch and returned home in triumph with a prize watermelon. My parents and I chilled it ice-cold, then devoured it on the front porch with my cousin Tara on a sweltering July afternoon. I couldn’t imagine anything more luscious.
Still, this little feast did not compare with those of my childhood, when Grandpa iced down a dozen from his garden in a horse trough. By mid-afternoon, when even bees buzzing around the pink crepe myrtle bushes sounded hot and lazy, the entire family gathered on the back porch for a watermelon feed. Every uncle, aunt and cousin received half a melon to munch.
After we finished, the adults, anticipating the imminent Watermelon Seed War, banished us kids to the yard. There, we discharged our arsenals without harming any grown-ups.
Sometimes, Dad peeled thin green slices from the outside rind with his pocketknife. He fashioned these into Billy Bob buckteeth that put the costume-shop variety to shame. Dad pulled his hat down over his ears and gave us big green-toothed grins. We stuffed the “teeth” into our mouths, yuk-yukking at each other. Occasionally, one of the toddlers stuck seeds up his nose, which was always good for a little excitement when things grew dull.
Thirty-five years later, after we had devoured the last sweet pink chunk of his pastor’s watermelon, Dad saved the seeds and tended a prize patch that resurrected delicious memories of past banquets on the porch.
God help the rascally kid or retired minister who tried to steal his watermelons.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What precious watermelon memories come to mind as summer approaches?
There’s a right way to eat a watermelon. Then, there’s the best way.
The right way involves turning store-bought melons into cute little chunks on fancy toothpicks or artificial-looking balls on a fruit plate.
The best way includes all the proper ingredients for a truly memorable watermelon-eating experience. Here’s what you need to assemble.
First essential ingredient
Order a summer day so hot the gooey blacktop on every street and road shifts under your steps. A day when you envy frogs, who support themselves in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed, yet spend all their time at the beach.
Second essential ingredient
Invite family, friends and neighbors to come savor the delicious fruit because the best watermelon is never eaten alone.
Third essential ingredient
Gather newspapers, preferably none that contain my column.
My family has used these inexpensive, highly disposable watermelon-eating place mats for generations. Diners spread them on their laps, where they spit their seeds. If dampened sufficiently, newspapers also imprint “City Sewer Plan Stinks” or similar inspiring headlines on new white shorts or bare legs. With luck, these remain several days, no matter how hard your mother scrubs.
Fourth essential ingredient
Locate a screened-in porch with adequate waterproof seating for all those people you invited. Watermelon loses its double-impact flavor if eaten indoors, where consumers cannot apply luscious, sticky juices directly to arms, legs and tummies, as well as ingesting the fruit by mouth. Also, eating sessions inside often are cut short by irate mothers who obsess about freshly mopped kitchen floors and other irrelevant issues.
Yes, watermelon tastes best outside. If a screened-in location isn’t available, backyards, decks and parks also present good watermelon-eating sites, but you may as well send invitations to flies and yellow jackets, who — like some human relatives — come whether you invite them or not.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Where do you prefer to eat watermelon? And, who do you invite to share the bounty?
If you’re like my friends and me, you’re still mulling your summer trips. Whether traveling by plane, train or hang glider, or staying in tent, hotel or castle, we all agree on one issue: We try to avoid places where other tourists go.
We require hotels much quieter — and cleaner — than our homes. Campers hope no one will locate within a mile of their Winnebagos. Both kinds of vacationers pray their rowdy, late-night parties will not be disturbed by some other rowdy, late-night party.
Patrons at both rough-it and refined ends of the getaway spectrum seek restaurants that attract no screamy children but their own.
We want to fill cyberspace — especially the pages of envious relatives — with amazing photos of eye-popping attractions. Attractions that should never draw other visitors, yet must include:
- Infinite-sized, free parking lots.
- Plentiful, pristine restrooms with no lines.
- Classy, dirt-cheap souvenirs.
- Educational adventures even grandmas and insurance companies consider safe.
Hubby and his brother, who as children stayed at their grandparents’ Wisconsin lake cottage, could have fed their morning cereal to deer peeking in the windows. Still, no vacation was complete without visiting nearby Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm.
Today’s media-soaked children still reverence such attractions. Admission fees are in direct proportion to their pointlessness, reflected in souvenirs, e.g., oozy green livers from Mutant Body Parts Wax Museum and litter-shaped candy from Pretty Kitty’s Cat Condo.
Even teens welcome such enticements — if they can ditch parents.
Surprisingly, our college-aged daughter once asked me to journey with her in Honduras, where she’d spent the semester.
My airplane seatmate, a native who had moved to Texas, advised me to remove my necklace before we landed: “Pickpockets jerk them off.” She also counseled me to avoid taxis if I didn’t know the driver personally.
Long and scary story short, my daughter and I did rendezvous, enjoying a tropical paradise together. We also shared a bus ride along a favorite hijacker route to another seaside town. A town where bank security guards carried automatic rifles and strips of ammunition crisscrossing their chests. There, we unknowingly risked our lives watching a tribal dance at night.
At our mountainside 1950s-style hotel, a white cat with malignant eyes kept vigil on the front desk. Sen֮or Blanco listened to our complaints about no locks on our door. The often-AWOL owner didn’t.
But we never had to stand in line.
My daring daughter is currently planning a South American visit. Her husband will go adventuring with her to places tourists never visit.
As for me? Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm, here I come.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite away-from-the-tourists vacation spot?
I will never inflict such harm on my readers. I keep my lousy poetry to myself. I never coerce anyone into studying her belly button. As for my being a windbag — perish the thought!
Having dispelled these unfortunate associations, let us return to my profound end-of-summer reflections:
- Regardless of propaganda touting it as the ingredient for pizza, smoothies and cheesecakes, nobody likes kale.
- My husband’s “short” bike rides require a passport.
- Grandbabies’ discriminating palates prefer four summer food groups: sand, mud, gravel and sticks.
- My palate also dictates four summer food groups: butter pecan, salted caramel fudge, chocolate almond, and Moose Tracks.
- A related reflection: Skinny, beautiful people on TV drool over yogurt, but they never, ever will convince us it can replace ice cream.
- I sleep with only a sheet, but still need a quilt on my feet.
- If we water gardens to induce rain, the clouds know.
- Also, the probability of rain is in direct proportion to the amount we spent on Cubs tickets.
- If not for relatives’ summer visits, would the carpet get swept from June through September?
- Nobody really likes an ecologically diverse yard. Or wants me to preserve the prairie.
- Morning glories I plant always shrivel as if my trellis were radioactive. Yet a thousand healthy, nasty lovelies strangle my cucumbers.
- Deer who scavenge neighborhoods never eat crabgrass.
- Scratching sounds in an attic mean raccoons have started a summer obstetric ward there — or mosquitoes have grown bigger than I expected.
- While rainy days ruin human vacations, my fern, Carolyn, considers steamy conditions a five-star experience.
- If you live by a lake, visit kin who live by a different lake. Hurry, because it’s almost fall, and that’s the only way you’ll get a free vacation, too.
- I and other Stain Queens should be forbidden by law to wear white pants.
- People who grill only vegetables are not to be trusted.
- If a certain age, never shop the weekend before school starts. You will park in a different zip code. You also will return home with 143 15-cent notebooks.
- Ferris wheels at county fairs still fill me with six-year-old wow.
- After a lifetime of watching people voluntarily buying cotton candy, I still haven’t figured out why.
- Finally, when police know campers next to your site on a first-name basis, pitch a tent in your backyard instead.
Yes, summer will fade, but never fear. I soon will supply my readers with a whole new set of reflections — autumn reflections.
Not that I’m a windbag, or anything. …
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What end-of-summer musings fill your mind?
I do see her point, however. August boasts no holidays — not even a fake holiday like St. Patrick’s Day. Nobody throws big parties on the eve of August 1, as they do in January.
The hotter the weather, the more we chill. Dressing up is wearing matched right and left flip-flops. Days pass before we turn the calendar page.
When we do, though, a tiny tadpole of awareness wiggles into our days.
It’s August. Something’s different.
August presents an end-of-summer reality check. I purchased a “miracle” swimsuit in May. Now I realize the only miracle is that I paid big bucks for it.
August affects mothers in peculiar ways. They buy pencil boxes, though no one in human history has ever proved pencil boxes serve a useful purpose. Kids talk Mom into buying cool new backpacks, though 23 uncool backpacks languish at home.
Mothers also obsess about imminent changes in schedules: “Go to bed now so you’ll be ready when school starts.” My mother, who had five kids, did this. As of August 1, we went to bed at 4:00 p.m.
Even the sun listens to Mom and retires earlier in August. Yet during daytime, it unfurls golden rays as if leading an everlasting summer, ticker-tape parade. While eating home-grown, ice-cold watermelon in the backyard, we experience a different kind of reality check:
It’s been a great summer.
By August, every able-bodied person in the Midwest has ridden a Ferris wheel and consumed a warm, crisp elephant ear.
While still recovering from that gathering of DNA-related strangers known as a family reunion, we rendezvoused with cousins who long ago sneaked into drive-ins with us. We kissed sweet baby kin’s brand-new cheeks and gave grandmas and grandpas a smile.
In August, homeowners stop vying for the Yard of the Year. Instead, we concede the grand champion ribbon to God for His spectacular pastures of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and Sweet Williams.
He treats us to evening concerts by cicada choirs that sing their best in August. Fireflies, now veteran presenters, perform spectacular light shows at dusk with few technical glitches.
Whether we own farms or only farmers’ tans, the ripe cornucopia of gardens, tasseled cornfields and leafy rows of soybeans reassure us: After harvest, we will celebrate with plenty of food on our tables.
All during August — the not-so-special month.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What do you like best about August?
If abnormal, you saved lots of money. And added years to your life.
Still, we who joyously hand over cash and longevity wouldn’t miss these hometown Mardi Gras for anything.
Not long ago, I helped staff a booth at the Blueberry Festival in Plymouth, Indiana, my former hometown. Not a novelty. When we resided in Plymouth, I sold soft drinks to fund my children’s activities. I also joined most of the town’s population (10,000) in parking cars that annually brought 350,000 people to the party.
Yay! I didn’t sink into melting asphalt. Nor did I, like dozens of stand owners, hover over sizzling stoves. Instead, I perched inside the souvenir/information booth, yakking with old friends. I even met Miss Blueberry, whose golf cart graced the park.
My privileged position, however, brought new challenges.
If you stand behind book stacks, people think you know something.
Thankfully, after 28 years of Blueberry Festivals, I could answer the Number One Question: “Where are the bathrooms?”
When 350,000 people need to go, they mean business.
“Paid restrooms across the covered bridge,” I recited. “Free portable johns near Jefferson School.”
By the 177th inquiry, a tiny inner voice whispered, “For this you achieved an English degree?”
I quashed it (See, the degree didn’t go to waste!), glad I could, um, serve humanity.
Question Number Two: “Where are the blueberry doughnuts?” The seekers’ eyes mirrored the restroom hunters’ urgency.
Yes, people came to scream themselves into spasms on carnival rides, to applaud bands, crow in rooster contests, paint faces, reenact battles, cheer Little League, rassle pigs, and test testosterone with sledge hammers and souped-up tractors. They scoured craft tents for quilts, stained glass, handmade furniture, John Deere china and marshmallow shooters.
But whether attendees wear polyester shorts, Amish attire or tattoos with little else, food sends them to festivals. All year, everyone dreams of favorites:
- Corn popped in an enormous black kettle.
- Thanksgiving-platter-sized tenderloin sandwiches.
- Deep-fried elephant ears, butter, Pop-Tarts® and Kool-Aid.
- Plus, all things blueberry: doughnuts, pies, sundaes.
“If you buy here, neither of us starves!” read one stand’s caption. Watching the line at his window, I doubted any danger of either.
Back to booth duties. I was not only expected to know all, but to locate all: lost eyeglasses, car keys, phones and preschoolers.
I also was to ensure good weather for the hot-air balloon launch.
I had no idea that booth would grant me such cosmic power. But that’s what festival magic will do for you.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What is your favorite festival and why?