Tag Archives: Summer

Touring Away from Other Tourists

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.

Children, however, have long considered “education” and “vacation” a contradiction in terms. They love tourist traps.

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?

End-of-Summer Reflections

Do you like that word, “reflections”? When young, I identified it with the forced reading of smarmy poetry, staring at my navel, and/or listening to some windbag.

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?

August: the Not-So-Special Month?

My daughter once wished for a different birthday month. I referred her to God for further discussion.

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.

Outdoor projects delayed till warm weather now have been postponed till fall. Yards need extreme makeovers, but we’re so sick of yard work, we pay 4-Hers to release goat herds on our premises.

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?

Festival Magic

If you’re a normal Midwesterner, you have attended or will have attended a festival this summer.

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.

This time, however, I signed books I’d written, including The Return of Miss Blueberry, set during this festival.

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?

Sweet Summer Brew for Yankees

The sun bestows its Midas touch on the flavorful brown brew in my oversized glass, stuffed with ice cubes, chilly rivelets running down its sides.

Does anyone speak of this popular summer beverage as “iced tea”?

Only dictionaries, menus, maître d’s — and column writers who must meet editing standards — have touted good ol’ ice tea with the superfluous “d.”

As southern temperatures soar, my Louisiana relatives greet visitors with a simple “Ya’ll come in and have some tea.”

If you, too, are a Yankee, please note: Never ask if the tea is sweetened or unsweetened.

“Unsweetened? In this house?”

Loyal southern citizens would rather fight the Civil War again than drink unsweetened tea. Even consumers who add artificial sweeteners warrant watching.

So I will try to lose weight before my September visit.

The locals drink it even at breakfast. Just recalling childhood memories of endless frosty glasses consumed while eating huge sorghum-laced biscuits adds layers to my physique.

My mother, though she did not possess the southern genetic code necessary to produce true sweet tea, was an exceptionally wise Yankee. As a young wife, she studied her in-laws’ iced-tea technique and learned the correct way to dump endless scoops of sugar into hers.

For years, Mom’s sweet tea helped cool and fuel her skinny little kids throughout sweltering summers. She steeped teabags in a pan with a ceramic lining — why, I don’t know, but I followed her lead for years. While it brewed, she recruited a child to “throw ice.” Money being short, she never considered store-bought bags. Trayfuls lasted mere minutes. Instead, Mom filled gallon milk cartons with water and froze them. We children took these cartons to our solid cement porch and threw them.

Most of the time, deliberately breaking anything resulted in an immediate Judgment Day. Part of the perk of throwing ice included the soul-satisfying shatter, classified, unbelievably, as “helping Mom.”

When Dad arrived, brown and weary from hammering nails on a sizzling roof or covered with paint, she filled a jar with cracked ice and poured her blessed sweet tea over it, resurrecting his body and soul.

A half century later, I know pitchers of sweet tea will await me when I visit Dad, along with glasses chock-full of ice. No pumpkin chai or caramel truffle for us, and never decaffeinated.

He and my relatives know better than to mess with a great brew.

Better than I, for the last time I visited, I asked, “Is this tea sweetened?”

 

 

What’s your favorite summer tea? Sweetened or unsweetened?

 

 

 

 

Forty Bikes on the Cardinal Greenway

Once upon a time, Hubby and I joined other cyclists for a 22-mile ride on the Cardinal Greenway. This former railroad track, now cycling/walking path, stretches 62 miles from Marion, Indiana, to Richmond.

Families, college students, daring adolescents, middle-aged couples, and riders even older than we gathered. They brought varieties of bikes.

“That recumbent tandem looks relaxing,” Hubby commented.

I shook my head. “We’d probably fall asleep pedaling and wake up under a bus.”

One disadvantage in a multigenerational ride: some riders looked good in biking shorts.

But we forgave them. They couldn’t help it.

Also, courtesy times 40 complicated our start: “After you.”

“No, after you.”

Eventually, we rode through shady woods. Our pace encouraged conversation with friends, new and old. Birds and babbling brooks sang melodies far superior to any vibrating through earbuds.

Besides, with bud-free, textless cycling, we could detect a combine crossing our path before becoming permanently one with it.

We also could hear dogs, though on the Greenway, they were kept on leashes — a bonus for cyclists. Many of us had viewed entirely too many canine teeth and tonsils up close and personal.

Hubby disagrees that dogs target a tandem’s back rider. But guess who always rides up front?

Other Greenway features made it a great ride. Picturesque bridges spanned busier roads. A tunnel echoed with our yells. This nosy writer studied backyards and saw how people really live — research.

Several drivers paused to let cyclists cross streets. Their consideration was especially appreciated because our little guys occasionally forgot to stop.

Except dead in the middle of the trail.

Halting a tandem behind them is equivalent to stopping a semi on a highway. Sudden stops might embed the back rider’s teeth in her knees.

Thankfully, most children moved to the right for pauses.

Their strong little legs pumping, pumping, pumping were a beautiful sight. One boy had never ridden 11 miles before. High five!

One trail section runs through soybean and cornfields, wide-open spaces city riders never enjoy. Some cyclists boast of climbing the Rockies. I offer them an unequivocal Thbbft.

A native Hoosier, I like flat. Especially when cycling.

At a picturesque “train stop,” the group enjoyed a yummy picnic, then loaded kids and bikes into the support truck and headed home. Hubby and I, among others, hopped on and zoomed back to the trailhead, thankful for a fun day and weather forecast that fooled meteorologists’ predictions.

Also super-grateful for a soft, soft sofa and [yawn] a major Saturday afternoon nap.

What’s your favorite bike ride memory?

A Noble Quest for Ice Cream

I know exactly where to find ice cream in my hometown. So do thousands of academics, farmers, ball teams, Bible study ladies and motorcycle gangs.

Ivanhoe’s has served area ice cream addicts for decades.

But we were in Indianapolis helping my grandson’s family move on his birthday.

So that evening I forced myself to leave Hubby and the others — hoisting a piano above their heads — to seek a grocery.

Consulting his phone, Hubby gave me directions, then bowed his head and prayed. “At least, we’ll see each other in heaven.”

Okay, so I needed 13 tries to navigate endless roundabouts. By time I found the address, I had viewed the outskirts of Louisville, Chicago and Japan.

I finally found Hubby’s designated grocery store.

It had not yet opened for business.

Sitting in the store’s soon-to-be-blacktopped parking lot, I realized my family could have moved the White House’s contents since I left.

I reached for my cell phone … that I’d left at home.

I peered through murky twilight. Should I case the area for a pay phone? But who knew how many evil roundabouts lurked in the gathering gloom …?

A vision of my grandson, stuck-out lip quivering with disappointment, gave me courage to try again.

I would accomplish my mission the old-fashioned way, like my father before me.

His method? Pick a direction and trust God to lead to a store/motel/gas station/restrooms.

I found auto repair shops, upscale tattoo parlors, and … marinas. In Indianapolis?

Like Dad, I tried one more road … that led to a health food store.

“Seriously, God?”

Desperate, I entered and found ice cream!

Soy cranberry and papaya bark.

In despair, I sank to the floor.

Then spotted it on the bottom shelf:

Not carob. Not tofu. Not even yogurt.

Chocolate chip. Ice cream.

I bought it and arrived as the last piece of furniture was moved into place. Not even Hubby possessed the energy to roll his eyes.

Smiles that reigned as our grandson blew out candles morphed into frowns as I plopped ice cream on pieces of cake.

“It’s not healthy,” I promised. “Honest.”

“Yes, it is.” My other grandson pointed to the label. “It says this ice cream came from healthy cows.”

“Taste it,” I pleaded. “Real chocolate chips, see?”

My family is nothing, if not broadminded — especially when starved.

Smiles returned. Birthday Boy ate two big helpings.

Everyone needs character-building tests, challenges that demand their all.

But I’m glad my usual ice cream quest requires only a three-block walk to Ivanhoe’s — without a single roundabout — to choose from 100 sundaes.

Now, there’s a challenge. …

 

Where does your favorite ice cream quest lead you?

Vacation’s Over … Thank God!

Hubby and I have just returned from two weeks of camping, aka our vacation. Grateful to return with only 4,271 mosquito bites, I greet my calendar, which features a two-scene 1947 Norman Rockwell print entitled “Going and Coming.”

In the first, a grinning guy showing off a snazzy fedora and big cigar drives a station wagon topped by a boat. His smiling wife holds Little Sister on her lap. Junior and Fido hang out a window. Warm air flaps their ears and ours, and spit hits our windshields as they pass. Big Sis blows a bubble with her gum that could carry her to the lake by air. Little Bro holds his nose, giving the “You stink!” gesture that passed for rudeness during that era. Beside him, Grandma, sitting straight as a general, ignores the little heathens because of her poor eyesight.

At least, that’s the excuse we grandparents give.

In the second scene, the family returns from the beach. Dad sports only a stump of his cigar and bravado. Mom and toddler snooze. Even the boys and dog sit sedately, and Big Sis’s bubble has shrunk to earthbound size. Grandma, still ramrod straight, probably sleeps with her eyes open, a skill she’s perfected during church.

These Rockwell pictures shout their message so loud and clear even art experts can’t mess with it: “Vacation’s Over … Thank God!”

Each spring, epidemic celebrations offer a taste of summer, tantalizing as our first mouthful of strawberry shortcake. We view new territory, thumbing our noses at those less audacious, confident our bubble gum will taste good forever.

By late July, however, we surpass our quota of quality time together, especially in the car. We peel from the sun’s overfriendliness. Sand has made itself at home in cars, carpets and shorts. Kids have grown an extra epidermis comprised of sun block, Popsicle®, and dirt.

Oddly, something deep inside us craves an alarm clock — and regular bath times. We still love barbecues, but a Sunday roast with mashed potatoes and gravy sounds even better. We want our beds, our messy houses and our schedules.

Even messier because of vacations.

In Rockwell’s return scene, Dad will unload the car, including boat, gear, and sleeping children. Mom faces the formidable task of putting the remaining kids — freshly energized by their arrival home — to bed. (A side note: Both scenes feature children who appear entirely too clean. Mrs. Rockwell never would have painted them thus.)

Coming home is no picnic. Like this family, we continue to meet ourselves going and coming, coming and going. That’s life.

We wouldn’t miss it for anything.

 

Today, are you coming or going?