Tag Archives: Summer

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?

 

Crazy Cavers

Sixtyish adults who tent camp with grown children and grandchildren ranging from six months to age ten are certifiably insane. But my husband and I reached new levels of lunacy when we accompanied a large percentage of our family group to cave.

A forest hike would bond generations, educate little descendants, and keep them off campground roads inhabited by dinosaur-like RVs. They would view a cave like those immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The cave’s yawning limestone mouth featured jagged teeth and an untidy moss mustache. Definitely the setting legends are made of.

However, half the campground’s population also had braved this wilderness journey. Unlike Aladdin, we stood in line … then remembered we hadn’t brought flashlights.

Despite my Boy Scout husband’s protests, the herd crept forward with only dim illumination from our phones and a son-in-law’s small flashlight. The temperature dropped 15 degrees. Chilly water dripped down my back.

Who knew what might dwell within these cold, drippy underground walls? Injun Joe, the murderous cave-dweller who terrorized Tom Sawyer? Dragons breathed down my neck. …

“I’ll bet this cave has bunches of bats!” my grandson enthused. “I think cave spiders just crawled up my leg.”

Shades of Shelob! With The-Lord-of-the-Rings passion, I brushed him from head to toe.

Now shaking off a hundred imaginary crawlies, I fervently wished he’d kept his scientific curiosity to himself.

The ceiling dropped. Walls closed in. My hips, still inflated by Christmas fat, might wedge in a fissure forever.

Would my skinnier descendants return to camp, mourning my demise, and console themselves with the four buckets of chocolate chip cookies I had baked? Would they not bring me even one to ease my passage into the next world?

Primeval fears solidified when someone called, “Time to crawl.”

My sanity finally kicked in. “No. I’m going back.”

Others turned thumbs down. The grandchildren registered a vehement protest. Our son-in-law sided with the kids. He pressed on, taking them and the only flashlight.

Now gripping my husband’s belt — I hoped — I trailed him through the darkness. Eventually, we arrived at the cave’s mouth. Whew!

Hiking to the cave’s exit, we awaited the adventurers. Anxious minutes dragged. …

Fortunately, they appeared before we summoned the National Guard. Everyone returned to camp to celebrate survival with an appropriately unsafe hot dog roast — and cookies.

 

Have you ever taken your kids/grandkids spelunking?

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet, Burning Hunk of Barbecue Love

Visiting the South a few years ago, we sought to sample its bodacious barbecue. So we braved Saturday night kill-the-Yankees traffic to find Blaze’s Piggy Pit.

Homemade posters taped to its front windows warmed our hearts. We had not arrived at a restaurant that demanded we share an appetizer and a dessert, the kind John Steinbeck said took pride in serving food untouched by human hands. Instead, the signs shouted all-you-can-eat nights. A picture of Mr. Blaze himself adorned one window — wearing a suit and tie fit to make his mama proud, with a tortured smile to match.

The poster said he was running for mayor.

What better way to please his public than to cook up the world’s best barbecue?

Inside, I poofed my ’do because big hair and hardworking blue jeans obviously were required. The dining room smelled yummy-in-the-tummy-smoky, as it does at a family reunion cookout, when Mom tells you to go play with your cousins until supper’s ready.

The waitress, upon greeting Casey Jack and Junior Lee by name, skipped menus. She handed them shovels and steered them toward the barbecue and fish bar.

Bankrupting the Piggy Pit on our first visit wouldn’t be neighborly. So my husband ordered a slab of ribs, and I selected pulled pork. With our first bites, my husband closed his eyes. My taste buds fell in love. We paused for a moment of silence.

Then Hubby proceeded to ruin the family name. Even a Yankee knows a true barbecue connoisseur picks up ribs. Instead, my husband not only used knife and fork, he surgically removed every shred of gristle and/or fat.

Barbecue blasphemy.

Mayoral race or not, it’s a wonder Mr. Blaze didn’t toss us out of the Piggy Pit.

Fortunately, he kept too busy to notice. No suit and tie tonight. He wore jeans and a T-shirt. He and his poofy-haired mama called us “honey,” and did we “want more sweet tea, darlin’?”

I ordered cheesecake for dessert. Steve overdosed on pecan cobbler, suffering sugar-induced hallucinations.

However, we turned down complimentary golf cart service that hauled blimpy customers to their cars. I am proud to say we walked out of the Piggy Pit on our own two feet.

Does Mr. Blaze know about tax rates and sewer systems? I don’t know. Still, anyone who bestows that kind of barbecue on mankind — plus infinite hush puppies — for a reasonable price must be a man of mayoral vision, with deep concern for friends, neighbors and even hungry Yankees.

Definitely a winner, in my (burp) book.

 

When (and where) was the last time you ate bodacious barbecue?

Author, AKA, Garden Warrior

Having finished writing a novel, I crave ice cream, human conversation and sunlight. A Moose Tracks sundae proves perfect therapy. My husband, still awaiting a coherent word, takes my grunts as portents of better things to come. Then — ah, the sunlight. Fresh summer air. Green, living things.

Unfortunately, most are weeds. Thousands of Klingon sticker weeds have conquered our garden.

Ha! They do not realize this pale, flabby author will wage a down-and-dirty battle to rescue her oppressed plants. To arms, garden warrior!

I don grubby jeans, “No Fear” T-shirt, and holey tennis shoes.

Hubby: “No pajamas? You’re wearing real clothes?”

For him, it was a long novel.

We bathe in sunscreen, then assemble deadly weapons: hoe, rake and digger.

Weed phasers would be nice additions. But Hubby strikes vicious blows with his hoe. I attack a beleaguered tomato plant’s foes.

Sleek-looking cyclists zoom past. Hubby looks after them longingly, but continues his valiant efforts. Cute runners wearing designer exercise attire and perfect makeup stare as if they hope what I have isn’t contagious.

Whew! After a morning-long battle, we shower and wolf sandwiches. Hubby leaves for work. I decide to savor a rare view of our tidy garden.

My jaw drops.

An overloaded mulberry tree branch has dropped across it.

Hardly a whisper of a breeze cooled us this morning. Yet this beam-like limb collapsed, bending tomato plants’ cages. Branches, leaves and mushy berries smother veggie rows.

The tree providing our sole shade was in cahoots with the Klingon sticker weeds!

The moment Hubby’s truck departed, it unleashed its barrage. Briefly, I wonder if my dearly beloved is in league with them, too. But he did hoe all morning. …

The gnarly branch barely budges.

“You think you’ve won, Klingon-sticker-weed-lover?”

A swoosh of anger can fuel a woman to do great things, even energize an everyday person to ninja feats. Armed with hedge trimmer, two saws, and Hubby’s old Boy Scout hatchet, I reduce my enemy to sawdust.

Well, not exactly. But by evening, I’ve consigned most of the purply mess to trash cans. And myself.

This ninja still can’t move the big branch. Later, Hubby saws it into sections and hauls them away.

Miraculously, the garden suffered little actual damage. We wish we could we say the same.

But now I savor the rare sight of tidy vegetable rows.

Ah, the colorful sunset. The fragrant summer evening. Green, living things that are legal.

A tired writer’s perfect therapy.

Guaranteed to send her back to her laptop forever!

What has been your biggest gardening battle?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: What, Exactly, Is a Weed?

O my God, why, when You plant hardy, luxuriant flowers, do we yank out those “weeds” and plant fussy replacements? Yet King Solomon, who topped biblical best-dressed lists, couldn’t compete with these. OMG, thank You for these lilies that make my yard look like a field.

 

 

Flower Power

BlackeyedSusans-Zinnias IIDo you advocate being one with nature? Good luck with that. Flowers — especially mine — possess minds of their own.

May madness sent me to greenhouses and discount stores, lusting after flower displays, amassing bags of manure as if hefting bags of gold. My car (a.k.a. the Flowermobile) resembled an escapee from the Rose Parade.

For awhile, I dove into dirt with the joyful frenzy of a toddler dressed for Sunday school.

I cooed at my baby plants, positive they would star as celebrities on the cover of Burpee Catalog. All this, despite 35 years of profound evidence to the contrary.

Each August, I finally face the truth: flowers growing between railroad tracks look better than mine.

No wonder. We own the only infertile piece of ground in Indiana.

Still, I nurture my flowers. I even read my blog to them every week. Yet the little rebels conspire to make me crazy.

Maybe some of their gripes are legitimate. My flower pot arrangements look as if Alien Florists, Inc., designed them. My petunias now realize the awful truth: they were adopted by a gardener with a mutant thumb.

“Be patient,” I advise. “In time, those lumps will shift to the right places.”

My mother told me a similar tale when I was 13.

It has never happened — for the petunias or me.

While I sleep, a flora/fauna mafia operation flourishes. Impatiens on one side of the flower bed strike protection deals with the rabbits. How else can I explain why impatiens thrive there, unmolested, while the other side resembles the Garden of Eaten?

My flowers do not appreciate the armies of weeds I’ve fought, the lethal squads of mosquitoes I’ve defied to water them. No gratitude is expressed for expensive gourmet fertilizers I’ve served them. Just flower attitude: I will bloom if, when and where I please.

Meanwhile, the only thing that grows prolifically is my Visa bill.

Finally, I snap. Instead of pampering the little ingrates, I bike through the countryside. But I find no refuge from flowers there. Fields of elegant Queen Anne’s lace mingle with masses of fuzzy blue bachelor’s buttons. Blooming morning glories overrun miles of fences and fields.

“Rub it in, Lord,” I mutter. “Even cow pastures look better than my yard.”

Still, I can’t help but enjoy His exterior decorating and appreciate once more where flower power comes from. Even a Better Homes and Gardens guru can’t grow one petunia unless the Master Gardener supplies miracles of seed, soil, sun and rain.

The biggest miracle of all? He lets gardeners with mutant thumbs help Him.

PetuniasPot

Tell me about the Flower Power in your yard.