Monthly Archives: January 2016

January Birthdays

BirthdayCakeRosesI hold a soft spot in my heart for people born in January.

Not that those who celebrate December birthdays have it so great. Do children born in June receive gifts with tags that state “This is for D-Day and your birthday”?

Still, in December, the whole world puts on its festive best. You share your birthday month with Jesus, and that’s a cool thing.

January birthdays don’t generate similar enthusiasm, as the whole world diets. No matter how you decorate it, a birthday veggie tray with fat-free dip doesn’t attract the same crowds.

At Christmas, people mortgage their organs to be with kin. By January 2, however, even close relatives develop allergies to the cold – and each other. An important safety principle: the cosmos will crash if we see relatives more than once a year.

Even those willing to risk life and limb to attend January celebrations face gift challenges that would daunt Santa. As of December 25, Birthday Boy already owns a robot that makes his bed, does homework and gargles for him. He has stashed his excess Christmas cash in T-bills, since the stock market is down.

Mom and Dad could use a nice little check, which makes gift-giving easy if the birthday person is a grown-up. But many adults don’t feel like blowing out birthday candles in January. Their years have risen like heating bills. Nice little birthday check? They need gold bars to shrink January Visa bills.

I even sympathize with my brothers, born this month. I didn’t when we were children, however. Only weeks after Christmas, they received another gift, whereas I waited until March to collect birthday booty.

Two of our grandchildren celebrate January birthdays. My husband notes that they enjoy the old-fashioned games we give them more than electronic versions: when they lose, they can throw game pieces at their siblings.

But if January birthdays bug them as they grow older, we will point out that even January birthdays haven’t stopped Martin Luther King, Jr., Carl Sandburg, or the painter Cezanne. Or Benjamin Franklin, Mary Lou Retton or George Burns. Or Edith Wharton, Mozart or Jackie Robinson. No birthday veggie trays have kept them from leaving unique footprints in their worlds’ snowy paths.

God Himself decorates for January birthdays. Plus, He gives hills to sled, snow forts to build, and hot chocolate with gooey marshmallows to guzzle.

Best of all, He has made January the premium snuggle and huggle month for all ages. Hugs never show up on a Visa statement, and they leave love imprints no raging snowstorms can erase.

Actually, a January birthday is pretty special. Just like our grandkids.

Are you a lucky January birthday girl or boy?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Back Home Again

O my God, thank You for our weekend in the city. A luxury hotel at a bargain price. Steaks, seafood, Chinese. An incredible symphony performance that made our hearts sing. Now we’re home again. Work. Laundry. And nobody jumps to fill my coffee cup. OMG, so glad You live here, too!

Coffee Confessions

CoffeeI love coffee.

So do one hundred million other Americans. On winter mornings, spouses attempt to drag us out of bed, but only coffee’s rich aroma can coax us from warm covers.

However, we demand — er, appreciate — our beverage of choice in diverse ways.

Take, for example, the Coffee Connoisseurs. Even if shivering on an Arctic island, alone with a can of cheap coffee (and opener), they would suffer until a Starbucks floated their way. Connoisseurs own roasters and gravitate toward flavors like jalapeño coconut. They may not remember their kids’ birth dates, but they know their coffee’s pedigree.

At the spectrum’s other end: the Coffee Classicists. Most purchase their parents’ brand, though some have been seduced by bags of beans given by pitying offspring. A large gimme-it-black contingent rules within this group. Those who take cream and sugar want exactly that. No organic sassafras sweetener. No fat-free peppercorn creamer. And they want coffee served in favorite mugs or china cups and saucers.

Both groups reject decaffeinated coffee as counterfeit. Decaf advocates, however, cite better sleep cycles. Plus, their work rage manifests itself only in yelling at computers, rather than throwing them.

However, caffeine addicts — er, devotees — insist that coffee without the main ingredient is not real, though it is the stuff of which 6 a.m. nightmares are made: “Out of coffee!?” Gasp! Gag. Body systems shut down. “Must crawl to Quickie Mart … must …”

Consumers often claim they can distinguish between decaf and high-octane by mere taste. My former boss spotted the difference before he tasted it (his wife had replaced half his favorite brand with decaf).

My Louisiana grandfather also rose up in righteous wrath if my grandmother dared brew anything other than his usual high-voltage sludge: “Elvira, is this decaf? Stump water!”

Aware of my decaf consumption, my 88-year-old dad, during my last visit, sniffed his favorite mug as if I’d slipped in anthrax. Eyes twinkling, he said, “Tell me which kind you put into the pot so I can decide whether I like it or not.”

Me? I just love coffee. With or without caffeine, plain or flavored (though I draw the line at jalapeño coconut), black or sugared and cream-ated, in mugs, china cups and saucers. I usually brew my own, but occasionally buy it at Quickie Mart, Mickey D’s, or Starbucks, if I have a gift card.

You’ll find me at any friendly coffee corner where a fellow drinker and I can shoot the breeze, sip and savor.

Are you a Coffee Connoisseur or Classicist? Or perhaps you take coffee with your cream and sugar?


Once upon a Blizzard

BlizzardPatio4Midwesterners not only experience a low cost of living, low crime rate and scenic cornfields, we share a rich heritage of blizzard stories.

Deprived tropics dwellers cannot appreciate our pulsating anticipation when The Weather Channel threatens wild winds, arctic cold and snow up the wazoo. Nor do they understand the joy of swapping lies — er, stories — of bravery amid Snowmageddon. A lifetime Hoosier, I have plenty to share.

A preschooler during my first blizzard, I recall my mother’s positive thinking. Despite three days in a two-room apartment with three little ones, she described the trees as “chocolate with white icing.” The Frosty we built resembled a malnourished alien, but we waved at him from our window. It seemed a friendly blizzard.

The second blizzard wasn’t. Winds howled like wolves, savaging electricity for several days. Cupboards emptied. Fortunately, shivering neighbors brought groceries when they came to enjoy our gas heat. Thirteen shared our three-bedroom, one-bathroom house. Survivor had nothing on us.

But we nine kids, playing infinite games of Monopoly, Candy Land, and the unofficial but essential Freak the Grown-ups, considered it fun. Our parents, with extended therapy and medication, finally recovered.

A young married couple when the Big One hit in 1978, our car (not-so-affectionately known as the Lemonmobile) refused to navigate three-foot drifts. My medical student husband hiked to a police station, where he caught a ride to a hospital. For three days, he, another student, and a young resident physician — aided by stranded visitors — cared for little patients on a pediatric wing.

Meanwhile, I baked bread. A nearby fellow medical student wife whose husband was also missing in action, helped eat it. On my way home, I foundered in a sea of snow-covered landmarks. Only a faint traffic signal in ghostly darkness sent me the right direction. Then a tall shadow blocked my way.

Gulp. The only rapist crazy enough to be out in this?

“How’s it goin’?” he rasped.

“F-f-fine.” I squeaked.

He passed by. I slogged home. When the snow finally stopped, my husband appeared, fell over like a tree and slept.

Not content with that harrowing weather, we moved north near South Bend, where blizzard stories abound even more than blizzards. Babies and emergencies ignored storm warnings, expecting my doctor husband to show up. How rude.

School snow days brought hungry hoards incapable of studying English or algebra, but well able to conduct snow wars outside our house. Once I was trapped with snow-dueling middle schoolers, teens armed with boom boxes, and soon-to-be-separated college sweethearts, VELCROed to each other — along with bathroom remodelers who braved the storm to slam sledgehammers against the walls.

Today, some predict an imminent blizzard. Unless electricity goes, my computer battery fails and I can’t find leftover Christmas candles to light my longhand efforts, I will do my usual January thing: tell blizzard stories.

What’s your favorite Snowmageddon tale?

We’d Only Just Begun

SteveandRachaelWedding-010475My husband and I just celebrated our 41st anniversary.

We became engaged at the ripe old age of 19. When we married, Steve had completed exactly one semester of medical school. I was unemployed, due to a recession with double-digit inflation. We planned an Indiana wedding in blizzard-prone January — with his mother in charge, because I happened to live in Oregon. I flew in two whole weeks before our date. Plenty of time for Steve and me to work out wedding details, right? And get reacquainted after not having seen each other for five months.

We made promises to God and each other on a snow-white, blue-sky winter day. Finally liberated from to-do lists, we escaped to beautiful downtown Indianapolis, famous during that era for crumbling architecture and parking lot shootings. A coal truck had demolished Steve’s car earlier, so we drove a borrowed car that died only at left turns.

After our honeymoon, we arrived at university married student housing and hauled meager belongings up three flights of stairs. After months 2,300 miles apart, rationed phone calls and yearning letters, we finally could stay together forever in our $97.50-per-month furnished heaven on earth.

The first night in our new home, roaches welcomed us like long-lost relatives. The tiny refrigerator froze lettuce and melted ice cream. The bathroom was located in the back of a large closet. Our bed consisted of a worn, drop-dead-ugly fold-out sofa.

Undaunted, I pulled it out and spread our prettiest wedding sheets: a pink and white striped floral set. We snuggled in, but before turning off the light, I observed a disturbing phenomena not described in helpful marriage manuals I’d read. Steve’s ears were turning fire-engine red, deepening to purple. Would they explode?

“Is something wrong?” I stammered.

He muttered, “I’ve never slept on lacy pink sheets in my life.”

We changed to plain sheets. I resolved to go to sleep.

Except that my feet hung off the bed.

Half my new husband dangled into thin air.

He bent himself into a Z. I formed a lower-case z  beside him.

During the night, the bed’s middle sagged almost to the floor, entangling us like skeins of yarn. I awoke with Steve’s elbow in my armpit. He choked on my left foot.

We had wanted togetherness, but, ahem . …

Decades later, I marvel how we, our children and their spouses have survived and thrived while practicing married love, student style.

But I am convinced that a couple with faith, love and commitment can survive anything.

Even lacy pink sheets.

Do you and your spouse tell we’ve-only-just-begun stories that bring you fresh grins, no matter how many times you repeat them?