Pizza and Me: a 180-Degree Flip

Were you one of those weird kids who did not like pizza? I was.

Known during that era as pizza pie, even the concept sounded odd. “Pie” translated to my mother’s deep-dish peach masterpieces, topped with ice cream. Crust topped by tomato sauce and cheese? Too weird to imagine, as well as vaguely healthy, another strike against it.

Pizza rarely frequented the truck stops and drive-ins where our family ate. Instead, it was sold at pizza parlors. I associated parlors with scratchy “company” clothes and sitting still. Who wanted anything to do with a parlor?

My mother attempted to introduce pizza as a lunch alternative. She baked the cheap boxed kind, whose taste rivaled that of its container. Pepperoni cost too much, as did most other toppings, so she covered pizzas with nutritious, inexpensive onions. Onions! Yuck.

I clung to my dislike until my teens. Unaware that no sleepover achieves official status without pizza, I accepted an invitation to one. Since no onions desecrated the pizza’s surface, I tasted a slice. To my amazement, I liked it. Sort of. Enough that thereafter, when my group ordered pizza, I could participate with passable enthusiasm and, thus, be accepted within the caste.

When my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I discovered deep-dish pizza during college, however, my reticence disappeared forever. We later passed on our pizza passion to our children. Also blessed with our penchant for reading, they raked in hundreds of free-pizza coupons.

If such rewards had been offered when I was a child, I would have kept them (our family never tossed anything free), piling up pizza credits that would have financed my addiction throughout adulthood.

But enough of lifelong regrets. What toppings do you like on your pizza?

I lean toward veggies, mostly for their rationalization value. Meat provides no such benefit. Also, if a diner samples international pizza offerings, she may encounter more protein adventures than she thought possible.

For example, in Japan, she might find eel pizza. In international competition, Finnish chefs baked smoked reindeer pizza, defeating the Italians. Pizza topped by haggis — a blend of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs — is dear to the hearts and stomachs of Scottish diners. Russians are fond of mockba, a mixture of sardines, tuna, mackerel, salmon, and onion on their pizza. Consuming this digestive bomb, no wonder Russians cannot get along with their neighbors.

However, a Swiss chef tops all — or did, before authorities banned his creations from public consumption. He sprinkled spiders, scorpions and snakes on his pizzas, claiming small amounts of venom cause no harm and may even cure arachnophobia.

I’ll stick with veggies and keep my arachnophobia, thank you very much.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite pizza?

Piano Magic

My five-year-old fingers stretched across the keys of our church sanctuary’s piano.

My mom, who’d never taken lessons, played for services. The keys sang lovely songs she’d absorbed after one hearing. Soon, she played them in any key.

The piano would do musical magic for me, too.

Our family, preparing for a mission trip, lived in our church’s two back rooms. We children were forbidden to touch the church’s unlocked instruments.

Right.

My brother Ned explored the organ’s mysterious tubes and wires.

The baby grand’s rich tones drew me. Besides, fooling with the organ warranted worse punishment.

But keys rarely cooperated when I played. Sometimes, a strand of melody escaped the chaos. But the piano did not love me.

Later, I realized that before confronting us, Mom listened. Her belief in our budding talent later led to Old Camo’s appearance in our sparsely furnished living room.

I’ve never seen such a piano before or since. Gray-and-white camo vinyl covered it. Metal studs outlined its silhouette. No wonder we could afford it. Still, I fell in love.

My fumblings drove my family to the same sentiment as George Bernard Shaw, music critic as well as playwright. He said, “Nothing soothes me more after a long and maddening course of pianoforte recitals than to sit and have my teeth drilled.”

Our daughter passed the music magic on to her children.

But I recognized more and more melodies. My excitement grew … until lessons sapped the magic.

Mom encouraged practice, then bribed, then chained me to the bench, hoping I would make friends with written notes. After four years, I continued to balk. She gave up.

Still, I played for church youth meetings. My peers dove for cover, but melodies and harmonies eventually found my hands. I even played the sanctuary piano (though neither Ned nor I crawled inside the organ anymore.)

Ned, also a piano practice delinquent, nevertheless worked for a piano craftsman. After Old Camo collapsed, teenaged Ned rebuilt a baby grand for Mom.

I missed it after I married. No money for pianos. Given our fabulous $97.50-per-month studio apartment, we’d have had to sleep on the bench.

We were skinny, but not that skinny.

After graduation, a new spinet graced our living room. Despite toddler abuse, teeth-gritting kids’ practices, and my thumping, it remains a monument to the magic.

As is our daughter. Like her mother and grandmother, she often ignores little black notes and discovers her own songs.

Mom was, too. Battling dementia, she played what Dad called his “dinner music” while he cooked.

“Beautiful,” Dad told her.

Though Mom didn’t remember repeating the same song seven times, her fingers and her spirit found their way to lovely music.

The magic triumphed again.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Is piano music magic for you?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Scratching My Head

O Lord, thank You for a gifted 10-year-old grandson who loves to draw cartoons and also loves to bake. Only he would put the two together.

OMG, You know everything. Where does the kid gets his quirkiness? Could You please fill me in?

Indiana Spring: Prepare for Anything

“Would you write a note that says I can’t go teach today?”

My husband, a retired family physician, often heard similar requests about missing work. Today, though, he’s the speaker. Glaring at hail pelting our backyard, he dreads Indiana weather’s hormonal tantrums.

I don’t blame him. While I enjoy gentle raindrop melodies, I dislike hail’s percussion. Poor spring flowers probably don’t appreciate that music, either.

I settle deeper into my cozy robe and sofa seat, tapping on my laptop. One gloating glance from me, and Hubby might park beside me for a month. Maybe two.

Past Aprils have dumped snow on us. Today, thunder, lightning and hail prevail. Will tomorrow bring a biblical plague of frogs?

But spring peepers in nearby wetlands, the amphibian Mormon Tabernacle Choir, remain strangely silent. Perhaps they’re in a mucky mood too.

A born-and-raised Hoosier, I should accept this climatic insanity as normal.

Golfers like our neighbor consider it an unfortunate par for the course. They crave the 70-degree April in which my son was born, with lilacs and crab apple blossoms dizzying us with fragrance.

Or even the spring in which our daughter was born, when April blizzards morphed directly into 90-degree temperatures.

Even without that extreme temperature change, panicked weather personnel have trumpeted tornado doom for our state.

I appreciate their concern. Yet, how do we prepare for such climatic craziness?

Plus, Floridians don’t face the wardrobe problems we brave. Hoosiers cannot retire cold-weather clothing, yet must jam closets with spring-friendly outfits. Do we choose a parka or spring raincoat? Woolies or sleeveless? Wearing layers works, but how many? And not even the most flexible Midwesterner pairs flip-flops with electric socks.

Spring weather also scrambles food choices. If we bravely plan a barbecue, we may squint through a whiteout to see if the chicken’s done. Mother Nature, off her meds, may blow our grill to Cleveland.

Surely, she’ll get over her snit soon. Sunshiny weather will last through a five-minute walk. My miserable diet, kept with swimsuit weather in mind, will prove worth it. Hubby, who persists in making desperate camping reservations, will set up our pop-up without joining our grill in Cleveland.

For now, though, he must face Indiana weather as it is.

“Take an umbrella,” I say.

Hubby rolls his eyes. “It’s in my backpack.”

“Do you have a snow shovel in the car? Boots? Food and water? This might turn into a blizzard.”

“Check. Glad we had the air conditioning fixed last fall. Could be 90 by evening.”

He dons his suit of armor.

I open his helmet visor and kiss him goodbye. Now he’s prepared for anything — even an Indiana spring.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s spring weather like in your state?

Why I Am a Plant Person

Before pet owners condemn me to deep doo-doo, please believe that I hold the utmost respect for animal lovers. They invest enormous amounts of time, money and love in their animal buds. One friend even shares hot fudge sundaes with her German shepherd.

I’d share with my husband. On his birthday. But with a dog?

Sorry. I don’t get it.

Yes, God made sure Noah took animals aboard the Ark, though it soon would rain cats and dogs. However, plants would have required feeding only once every two weeks. The family wouldn’t have shoveled nearly as many, um, by-products.

But the Lord counted on plants to take care of themselves — a big reason I’m a plant person.

My dear, departed fern was named Carolyn.

I’ve never paper-trained a plant. They don’t nudge me at 5 a.m. to go outside. They don’t bark or jump on guests. Plants don’t lick.

I haven’t lost a single new shoe to a plant’s fangs. Nor does my fern, unlike my daughter’s dog, shred the family’s underwear. If a plant outgrows its space, I can trim it. A plant will even hold still. (Just try this with a Lab.) I don’t scour neighborhoods for runaway plants or pay hefty shelter fees to bail them out. No vet appointments inflate my budget.

Unlike horses, they cannot kick me in the head.

Plants never eye me with the “Oh, is that you, peasant?” stare favored by most felines.

My black-eyed Susans and tiger lilies engage in leaf-to-leaf combat for dominance, but they never yowl under my window during the wee hours.

Plants even diminish carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the air. Animals? The reverse.

Admittedly, plants are not perfect. While they don’t bite, some boast nasty thorns. My child preferred to teethe on poisonous ones.

Plants shed, but their shedding is localized. I don’t find a thousand leaves stuck to my Sunday morning attire.

Plants also can be fussy as your Aunt Prilla Lou. They readily lay on wilt-guilt when I subject them to too much sun, not enough sun, too much moisture, not enough. Despite my friend’s assertion that “you can’t kill herbs,” I am a serial basil killer.

That’s the biggest reason I am a plant person. I grieve the herbs I kill and the poinsettias that shrivel, but I rarely shed tears for them. I never conduct plant funerals, as I did for our children’s hamsters, ceremonies so numerous the neighbors suspected a cult.

Hats off to folks who not only risk tears, but share sundaes with animal buds.

Still, unless my daffodils ask outright for a taste, I’ll handle hot fudge by myself.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you a plant or animal person? Both?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Always Behind

O Lord, thank You for giving me three generations of special guys. Not sure why You granted them legs twice as long as mine or 100 times my energy. Nevertheless, OMG, thank You that we can hike and love Your creation together!

Rendezvous with the Rain

“Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day!”

Some preschoolers let weather spoil play-outside plans. But one warm, rainy spring day 60 years ago, my brother Ned and I begged to play outdoors. Mom, seeing no lightning — and desperate for peace — dressed us in bathing suits she’d sewed. Mine was the most beautiful suit in the world, with ruffles on the rear.

At the neighboring playground, we danced through God’s sprinkler system. Ned and I soared on swings, welcoming rain’s laughing pitter-patter. We experienced the joy of mud, chocolate-brownie-batter stuff we smeared on the merry-go-round and watched the rain scrub clean. We worried less about our own state. Mom almost locked us out.

Later, having sworn off mud baths, I still loved awakening to rain rhythms plunking on the roof. I sometimes avoided sibling anarchy with an early morning walk in the rain. At 10, I didn’t run outside in a homemade bathing suit with a ruffled butt. Instead, I ducked raindrops until I found an umbrella under the swing set, where my brothers had conducted parachute jumps.

I strolled along wet, black roads where iridescent oil jewels gleamed. Silence ruled the slumbering village’s lush lawns and rainbow flowers. I breathed newly washed air and listened to raindrops skittering across my umbrella. Sometimes I talked to God. Sometimes neither of us said anything. I counted it a major triumph to return before my family awoke. We had managed this secret rendezvous, the rain and I.

During young adulthood, love often turns to hate. I attended a college under a huge rain cloud with a permanent “on” switch. I spent a bundle on umbrellas because dastardly thieves stole the hundred I forgot in cafeterias.

Noah floods with 30,000 gloomy students wielding 30,000 umbrellas didn’t charm me like my childhood walks. Elevators, where we absorbed each other’s wet-dog fragrances, became danger zones. When the film, Singin’ in the Rain, was shown on campus, the student body flew to California and staged a sit-in at Gene Kelly’s house.

Now an (ahem!) mature adult, I’ve shed youthful habits. I don’t lose umbrellas in cafeterias because I am the cafeteria. Loading groceries into my car amid a deluge, I gnash my teeth and weep.

Yet even on this dreary April day, rain calls to me.

I probably won’t play in the mud. Nor will I wear a bathing suit with ruffles on the rear. But before the nearby school erupts at three, I grab my umbrella.

I know where deep puddles hide. Where wet tulips and daffodils will listen to quiet, spring songs in silence.

I know the perfect route for my rendezvous with the rain.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you love a rainy day?