Oh my God, I’m not sure why you gave me such big feet. Worse, they now demand sensible shoes (aka ugly) instead of cute stilettos. Still, OMG, thank You that they take me where I want to go. And that both they and I love fuzzy socks in January!
Along with with millions of other global spectators, I’ve been fixating on the Winter Olympics, averaging one blink per day.
No wonder. Guy skaters wear Vegas outfits and Norwegian curlers sport pajama pants stolen from Grandma.
Competitors also careen on sleds at 90 miles per hour. How did insane sports like the bobsled, the skeleton and the luge ever come to be?
I discovered they all originated in the nineteenth-century spa town of St. Moritz, Switzerland, where, ironically, visitors hoped to improve their health. Caspar Badrutt, a hotel owner, pushed the new concept of winter resorts. However, complaints that young tourists were running down local fraus with sleds threatened the town’s reputation. A track built to keep them off the streets continues to serve Olympic hopefuls today.
That’s the official version. More likely, these sports were invented by snowed-in women whose men had been lying around the house. “Go sled to the store at 90 mph and pick up bread,” the wives ordered. “Better yet, do it face first.”
The husbands must have wanted to escape their women, too, because the idea caught on.
Perhaps cabin fever drove others to aerial skiing and snowboarding, when besieged parents told antsy offspring, “You need exercise. Go jump off a mountain.”
Even odder sports have been showcased during past Olympics. In the Paris Games of 1900, for example, champions took medals in firefighting, kite flying, delivery van racing, hot air ballooning and fencing with walking canes.
Club swinging, despite Neanderthal images that come to mind, often involved intricate choreography — and more trust of fellow club swingers than that required by ribbon-wielding rhythmic gymnasts today. Perhaps by 1932, when club swinging was eliminated, everyone had discovered new ways to get concussions.
Spectators need not fear that the Olympics will suffer from future lack of weirdness. The Summer Olympics include the equestrian sport of dressage. I assumed the horses wore clothes, a modesty trend not reflected throughout the Olympics. Authorities didn’t confirm this, but said the animals do perform moves “Dancing with the Stars” competitors would envy.
It’s not enough that perfect-bodied athletes flood my TV screen? No, a horse with two left feet outdoes me on the dance floor.
Worse yet, pole dancing, or “pole fitness” is now considered an Olympic sport — and no, I’m not making this up. Children will be told to turn off the TV and go jump off a mountain. Spouses will be sent on sleds at 90 mph to pick up bread.
Me? I cast my vote for more dressage.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What Olympic sport keeps you glued to the TV?
Does anything spell h-o-m-e like a kettle of simmering soup?
I grew up in southern Indiana, where winter (aka slop season), gleefully dumped rain, sleet, snow, or all of the above on us. After school, my siblings and I slogged through frozen fogs and bogs. After petting all the wet dogs we could find, we arrived home looking like mud-sicles. The bubbling, meaty fragrance of Mom’s soups thawed us out and cured a host of maladies: lost-library-book anxiety, gym class climb-the-rope deficits, spelling-contest memory loss and flat-chest syndrome. That delectable vapor also scared away any viruses that had followed us home.
Dad, after long days at his construction job, noticed a similar curative effect. His sore muscles unknotted. The what’s-this-economy-coming-to hammer on his temples slowed.
Mom’s soups, consisting of between-paycheck rations, wouldn’t appear on The Food Channel. Teeth-defying beef bits were simmered into submission with potatoes and frozen vegetables from our garden. She boiled ten-cent-a-pound chicken wings, then cooked “slop-and-drop” rivels in the broth. My Southern-born dad looked forward to ham-bone bean soup. Saturdays brought chili, a suppertime ritual sacred as the weekly bath night.
When no meat remained in the freezer, Mom cooked creamy potato soup. Occasionally our family saw several days of bean or potato soup in a row, a silent marquee that proclaimed, “Don’t ask for money.” Still, those soups warmed us up, filled us up and helped us grow up.
Perhaps, by law, every northerner should consume one steaming bowl of soup daily from November through March.
Groucho Marx wouldn’t agree. In the classic 1933 Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup, he elaborated, “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.”
Duck soup? He obviously hadn’t tasted my mom’s soups. Perhaps Groucho had been sampling Chinese bird’s nest soup. This concoction with an unappetizing name — and a literal bird nest— currently costs $30-100 per bowl. Or maybe he ate lunch with a Japanese mountain tribal group who served their soup of bananas, beans, and dirt (twigs included). Perhaps Groucho hadn’t recovered from a trip to the island of Palau, where bat soup — boiled whole and hairy with ginger, spices, and coconut milk — is considered a delicacy.
I’ll stick with less exotic fare. Tonight, beef vegetable barley soup, using Sunday dinner’s leftover pot roast, plus crusty bread, will take the Groucho out of Hubby and me. And leave us only one pan to wash.
Simple. Cheap. And, as an old canned soup commercial declared, “Mm-mm, good!”
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite soup warms your winter days?
Even typing those words makes me quiver with paranoia. Do I dare mention the weather to neighbors, coworkers or friendly convenience store clerks? With a few unguarded words, I may jinx the entire Midwest!
Despite brown winter’s ugliness and dreariness, some consider the warmer weather a gift, especially after enduring several weeks of Snowmageddon. Anyone who mentioned “global warming” then was sentenced to shoveling the town’s driveways with a teaspoon.
No one battling the notorious blizzard of ’78 had ever heard of global warming. If a foolhardy soul had suggested such to brides whose winter weddings were postponed indefinitely, they might have strangled him with tulle bows and buried him in uneaten wedding cake.
Others who survived that months-long whiteout not only stopped driving, they gave up finding their vehicles until spring.
Brown winter, by comparison, seems good.
- Midwestern weddings should happen on schedule this weekend.
- Cars start. They move!
- Even if buckets of rain fall, we don’t have to shovel them.
- Lower heating bills and fewer frozen pipes also give us cause to celebrate.
- Mothers rejoice their offspring will not need the 25 pounds of clothing required on snowy days. My son rated snowsuits along with vaccinations and boogeymen. Every outing resulted in a mother/son smackdown, the loudest always occurring at either the library or church.
- A thaw dramatically reduces the likelihood of mistaken identity. Government statistics state that due to warmer temperatures, 77 percent fewer parents bring home the wrong kid from school.
To be sure, skiers and resort owners long for the white stuff. Ice skating rink owners anxiously await frigid temperatures.
No town wants its snow and ice festival to morph into a Sleet and Slop Spectacular. Nor do cities that have busted budgets, buying snowplows and stockpiling mountains of salt, look kindly on brown winters.
Worst of all, snowbirds cannot bear photos of friends back home visiting mailboxes in their shirtsleeves.
Yes, brown winters remain unpopular with some.
Me? I’m a coat-hater from decades back. (So my son’s snowsuit antipathy is no surprise.)
Still, I can’t help but welcome whispery snowflake kisses on my hood as we walk to church. Thousands of priceless diamonds glitter in my sunny backyard. Wind-carved curves of snow defy human artistry. …
I should have kept my mouth shut.
The Weather Channel predicts snow’s return within a week. Do these scientific drama kings and queens truly know their stuff?
Brown or white winter today?
Stay tuned for our latest paranoia.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Which do you prefer, a brown or white winter?
When we moved into our first house with a fireplace, a primeval pyro urge pumped through our veins. A friend gave us firewood, appropriately enough, as a housewarming gift. We could hardly wait to rest chilly bones by a roaring fire, snuggling close with our children and toasting marshmallows.
The kids would say, “Tell us stories from long ago, Mom and Dad. Teach us your words of wisdom.” When we needed wood, they would fight for the privilege to trudge into the cold and haul it in.
We built a real fire. Once.
My pyromaniac father considers this immoral. He turns on gas heaters only in an emergency (if the U.S. is attacked by ice aliens). We wear shorts during visits, even in January, because Dad builds fires that make us sweat like August athletes.
He designs woodpiles as objets d’art. The wood must be perfect in composition, age and texture. With the precise calculations of an engineer, he stacks it in symmetrical rows, and woe to the bumbling, fumbling fool who upsets his perfect balance.
Dad mostly grants sons and grandsons the privilege of helping. Occasionally he extends this glorious favor to granddaughters. But I, his 60-something daughter, endure the ignominy of being left out with a martyr’s smile. Somebody has to sleep in front of football games.
Occasionally, we adult children consider buying him firewood because we fear for his safety and well-being. But we don’t, because we fear for ours. The wood never meets his standards, and Dad, seasoned by years of chopping, can also throw it.
My siblings and I confess, to our shame, that we have not inherited his noble fire-building genes. We own wussy gas fireplaces with ceramic logs and fake coal beds that don’t emit the magic fragrance of wood smoke. We, the children of hardy pioneer stock, use decorative fire pokers and shovels to hit the ON button. From the sofa. Before we fall asleep in front of football.
Occasionally, Dad has visited, condescending to sit by our fireplace and marvel at its convenience. Just the same, we hide any old Boy Scout hatchets hanging in the garage and count our trees every morning.
We stand in awe of our father — but we keep his fire-building activities a deep, dark family secret. After all, we don’t want him to get in trouble with the government. Despite extensive research, they still don’t know Dad is the primary cause of global warming.
And if they try to take away his ax or woodpiles, we know Dad will get a little fired up.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you use your fireplace? Is it the real thing? Or fake?
Forget postcard views of palms waving in sunny breezes. Forget panoramas of azure ocean and white sands sent by gloating relatives. Warm-weather residents miss some of the most exciting winter scenes one can experience: first-class snow removal.
Admittedly, imagination and keen discernment is required, but therein lies the beauty.
Even Hawaiian residents must concede that neighbor kids rising on a sleep-in snow day to shovel their driveway is a beautiful sight.
Add to that quiet heroism of snowplow and salt truck drivers who often work 24/7 so we who must remain home because of closed schools and businesses don’t have to remain at home. While panicked meteorologists must be put on oxygen while reporting winter’s mega-storms, many snowplow operators venture out gratis. Some have itched all winter to drive their honkin’ big trucks with monster blades, but machismo can’t hide big hearts that determine to plow roads and driveways for the elderly, the infirm and the bank-account challenged.
We fell into the latter class the year my husband opened his solo medical practice. Living on borrowed money, we pinched pennies until they begged for mercy. Hubby often vanished, spending rare time at home sleeping and eating. I, toting a toddler and pregnant with a second child, didn’t rate the world’s most efficient snow remover. But my husband’s patients never had to worry about his timely care. When Lake Michigan gleefully dumped half its H2O in flake form into our driveway, a snowplow hero, paid only with my homemade bread, faithfully cleared it. Thus, my toddler, unborn baby and I could sally forth between blizzards for groceries.
Some snow heroes use only shovels, blowers, and strong backs. Our neighborhood children didn’t appreciate snowblower-toting guys who ensured they would arrive at school on time. But cabin-feverish moms, elderly folks and a cancer victim were eternally grateful.
During one Snowmaggeddon, I awakened to discover the multitude milling outside was our church youth group and their pastor, clearing out the last of the snow from our driveway. I’ll bet both my snow shovels that no San Diego residents awaken to surprises like that.
But warm-weather residents miss an even greater view we savor every year. The snow giants will eventually disappear before the power of gentle rains and stubborn green baby fingers poking up through the soil. Certainly, the giants reassert their power during tourney time, as every basketball-crazy Hoosier knows. But their second-class strength will bow to God’s spring every time.
If that isn’t first-class snow removal, I don’t know what is.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do winter heroes live in your neighborhood?
These January words echo across several decades.
Actually, as a child, I liked my clumping, galumping boots. Despite Mom’s firm faith that I would catch 19 diseases, their podiatric force field protected me when stomping ice-covered gutters.
I wished in vain, though, for thigh-high fishing boots like Dad’s. Such superhero footwear would have rendered me invincible, like him.
Unfortunately for my parents, my feet and my siblings’ grew hourly. While my sister acceded to wearing my hand-me-downs, I drew the line at my brother’s galoshes — unless gutters were way full.
Recycled boots weren’t always an option because we children had honed losing winter wear to a fine art. Sporting only left mittens, we misplaced right boots, too.
The positive side: Lack of sufficient winter garb kept us inside warm classrooms at recess. While friends shivered outdoors, I read books I’d longed to sample.
Some favorite stories featured boots. In Little Women, Jo March’s boots helped her play swashbuckling heroes and villains in homegrown dramas. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, a traveling cobbler designed Almanzo Wilder’s first manly pair. Puss in Boots never would have brought his master fame, fortune and a princess if he hadn’t strutted about in that all-powerful footwear.
Still, boots seemed mostly mundane until go-go boots invaded the fifth-grade fashion scene. Unbelievably, my mother refused to buy me white boots amid the muddy slop season.
I whined. I pined. I promised I wouldn’t lose them, not even one.
She wouldn’t budge. So I languished without the go-go boots every girl on the planet owned, except me — and Becky Andrews, a nonconformist who wore tall black boots like Nancy Sinatra’s when she sang “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”
Ten years later, I wore a similar pair that stretched my height well past six feet.
But snow time with my toddlers required sane mommy boots. My little ones readily wore garage sale Strawberry Shortcake and Ninja Turtles boots, even with PJs. They also waded in yucky gutters, despite my warnings.
Years later, they cornered me in a boot discourse similar to my go-go debate with Mom decades before. My children wanted me to spend a gazillion dollars on short-topped “boots” designed to frostbite toes. When I refused, the kids left the row of sensible boots I’d bought to an undisturbed existence in the closet — until I discovered my son’s worked well when I shoveled sidewalks.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you wear your good boots during yucky weather?