Tag Archives: Family

A Different Christmas

Do your holidays cooperate? Occasionally, Christmas thumbs its Rudolph-red nose at me. Sometimes, though, it’s simply different.

In 1958, my family celebrated Christmas in our Mexican mission compound with a bare-limbed, thorny bush.

We dogmatic preschoolers protested, “That’s not a Christmas tree!”

Image by Alexander Kliem from Pixabay.
At a park for Christmas 2020.

With spun-glass angel hair, that odd, but lovely tree and borrowed Nativity introduced a different celebration. Hot-air balloons and fireworks lit the nights. Instead of dime-store trinkets, I received a wooden doll bed made by our handyman. My nine-months-pregnant mother, while sewing baby blankets, made doll versions from scraps. We ate weird sweets. We watched village children scramble for candy showered from a clay piñata my blindfolded dad smacked.

Strange for a five-year-old far from her Indiana home — but what wasn’t to like about candy and presents?

Although, if we’d spent Christmas in Austria, the celebration might have seemed less merry. Masked ghouls, representing Krampus, St. Nicholas’s evil counterpart, stalk city streets, shaking sticks at bad children. Scary for a kid who, despite missionary roots, pushed her little sister around.

Hot chocolate helped keep us warm.

Nearly meatless in Mexico, my family and I would have embraced the Japanese tradition of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Day.

However, I wouldn’t have savored South Africans’ holiday delicacy: deep-fried Emperor Moth caterpillars.

Bereft of television in Mexico, I would’ve welcomed Sweden’s Christmas Eve tradition: watching vintage clips of Donald Duck. According to one American visiting future Swedish in-laws, nothing can disturb this sacred ritual.

We all have holiday expectations. My missionary family was no exception. We didn’t want a different Christmas!

Grandpa watched the fun.

I didn’t want a different Christmas during 2020, either. I wanted normal, when our children and grandchildren filled the house.

Yet that odd Mexican holiday’s sights and sounds linger, 65 years later.

My parents treasured them too, despite hard times. Mom delivered my 12-pound brother at home.

Dad, who broke the clay piñata with his forehead, suspected villagers controlling it had intentionally smacked the gringo. Despite major headaches and self-taught Spanish, Dad pioneered a church.

The beautiful, thorny Christmas tree embodied that beautiful, thorny year.

Appropriate for followers of a Savior who experienced thorny years.

Image by S. Greendragon from Pixabay.
Even COVID couldn’t stop us from enjoying a special Christmas.

In 2020, Christmas was different.

We Zoomed gatherings. Met family in a park for masked Christmas walks. Pantomimed hugs.

Different. Thorny.

But Christmas 2020 was good.

One I will never forget.

Image by James Chan from Pixabay.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What unique Christmas sticks in your mind?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: When I Try to Help God

 

O Lord, recently, I saw a preschooler “help” her father unload items at checkout. The little girl worked diligently, but squished a loaf of bread. I tensed, expecting frowns. Impatience. Yelling. Instead, Daddy thanked her for her help. OMG, that’s so like You. When I offer eager, squishy-bread obedience, You smile. 

Weird Things for Which I Am Thankful 2023

First, for all of you who require normalcy, I’ve recorded one everyday reason for thanksgiving: good weather. Here in Indiana, we expect winter, like an obnoxious relative, to blow in during November. Instead, sunshine, moderate temperatures, and glorious fall colors have prevailed. We Hoosiers are suspicious, but grateful.

Image by Leopictures from Pixabay.

Now begins the weird list. I am thankful for:

  • Tangerine peels whirring in my garbage disposal. The fragrance takes me to holidays past when my dad brought home boxes of tangerines.
  • Aisle signs in parking lots. I usually disregard them, but when I do memorize my car’s location and later find it, I experience a major rush.
  • Purple hand towels. They defy even grandchildren’s noblest efforts to stain them.
  • Piano tuners. My very bones scream when a piano tuner pounds and adjusts my keys. As tuners possess sensitive ears too, I salute their bravery in attacking enemy tones.
  • Nearly 340,000,000 Americans who prefer forks and spoons over sporks.
  • Television. Inevitably, some lunatic sports figure or pubescent program convinces me I’m actually rather sane.
  • Black olives, a time-honored family fetish. Children and grandchildren share my taste for them, though my son-in-law attempted to teach his toddler the little black things were bugs. Grandma’s DNA prevailed!
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.
Image by Milly from Pixabay.
  • Flo, the star of the insurance circuit. If she can wear 1960s eyeliner and blue eye shadow, maybe I will star on TV too!
  • Pennies. A fistful still conjures up a vestige of my childhood Richie Rich feeling when I exchanged pennies for a sucker-bubblegum-Pixie Stix feast.
  • Hundred-calorie bags of popcorn.
  • Big, ugly rubber boots, my best buddies whether mudding through gardens or wading through slop, politely called wintry mix.
  • Rear window heaters and wipers.
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay.

Finally, I’m thankful for hours in the Atlanta airport, surrounded by 4.72 million other travelers. As I stood in a restroom line, a janitor took charge. When her superhuman ears detected a stall lock’s jiggle, she directed the next woman to it.

Insignificant? No. When 2.36 million women wait in line, two seconds apiece add up. This janitor’s heroics comprised the difference between making our flights and dying of old age in the airport.

Even better: she touched our shoulders and said warmly, “Blessings on you today, honey.”

A little weird.

But sometimes weird blessings are the best.

Image by Prawny from Pixabay.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What weird gratitude comes to your mind?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: A WWE-Worthy Rumble

O Lord, though wrestling an uncooperative bird out of the wrapper and into the oven will resemble a Friday night smackdown, OMG, this turkey is grateful to celebrate Thanksgiving with yummy turkey! 

Classic Post: A Plunker’s Piano Lessons

This post first appeared on October 21, 2020.

I started piano lessons at five. Stopped at the ripe old age of nine.

Statistics indicate I’m not alone; 6,761,141,370 of the world’s 6,761,141,379 people have taken — and quit — piano lessons.

I blame my parents. Neither had musical training, yet Dad’s big hands overran the keyboard. Mom, though partially deaf, could listen to a song, then play a full-fledged accompaniment in any key.

At five, I also picked out tunes. Why bother with notes? Neither did I (shudder) count beats. Mixing music, God’s gift, with arithmetic (eww), appeared one more weird complication adults demanded.

Image by Davidatpoli from Pixabay.

Mom tried to explain. If only she could’ve taken lessons!

I’d have remained unconvinced — except for strong capitalistic instincts. Mrs. Snyder charged 50 cents a lesson, but she always refunded a nickel to me. With yellowed books and sheet music piled everywhere, her musty house smelled mysterious and musical. Thousands of former students’ photos adorned her walls, as Mrs. Snyder had been teaching 200 years.

I liked Mrs. Snyder, I liked nickels and I liked Mom’s shining eyes when I practiced.

Sadly, Mrs. Snyder passed away. My new teacher handed me practice sheets instead of nickels. I played songs like “Requiem for a Student Who Didn’t Practice.” Mrs. Mozart made me (choke!) play duets with my brother. We bowed and curtsied at stiff, scary recitals. The longsuffering teacher informed Mom we weren’t destined to play at Carnegie Hall.

She finally let us quit.

Not until college did I realize my loss. There, I met people whose fingers blurred over the keyboard. One blind friend played as if part instrument, part human. Her music rippled up and down my backbone, joy unleashed.

Why are mothers always right? Especially when they preach, “What goes around comes around.” My children blossomed with initial interest, but only one persisted into high school. As they plunked through first practices, I wondered if Mom had enjoyed mine as much as she’d claimed.

Still, my kids learned to read music, and piano background fueled interest in other song forms.

Our piano — the first purchase my husband made after medical school graduation — often sits silent now, though I try to play daily. My fingers itch to exchange my laptop’s tippity-taps for music. Soon, I’ll touch piano keys and listen to less-than-perfect love.

Even if nobody gives me a nickel.

Image by Piro from Pixabay.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How did you feel about piano lessons?

Jack Frost: Terror, Trickster or Artist?

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay.

Given hurricanes and fires across our nation, why the drama about Jack Frost’s arrival?

I understand why his ancestor, Jokul Frosti, a scary old giant, made northern Europeans want to flee to Florida. However, I don’t get Jack’s German great-great-grandma, “Mother Frost.” What mom in her right mind would initiate the never-ending rituals of zipping coats and searching for mittens and boots?

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay.

The Jack Frost I encountered during first grade seemed friendly. Our teacher read stories about Jack painting trees’ foliage with brilliant colors. He froze mud puddles into brittle layers we stomped when mothers weren’t looking. He carved icy designs on windows we licked to see if they tasted as sugary as they looked.

Still, Jack never rated the attention we gave other holidays. The obvious reason for his lack of popularity: Nobody received presents or candy in Jack’s honor.

As adults, we harbor mixed feelings about him. Many welcome Jack’s fall arrival far more than spring visits, when gardeners cover freshly planted seedlings. In spring, according to the Fruit Growers News, some farmers even hire hovering helicopters to warm trees and prevent Jack’s mischief.

Yet we fall fanatics celebrate russet, gold, melon and chocolate hues Jack paints on hardwoods’ leaves. James Whitcomb Riley would approve of the silvery sheen he spreads on pumpkins.

Allergy sufferers like my husband welcome Jack Frost with open arms. Hubby also celebrates mowing less often.

However, Jack gets carried away with fall decorating. Not content to paint individual leaves, he arranges thousands to beautify our lawn.

Jack also seems to enjoy watching plant lovers like myself scurry around our yards like squirrels. We haul flowerpots inside — though where we will park 43 ferns and geraniums, we have no idea.

Image by Valentin from Pixabay.

Also, Jack is super-thin. Can I trust someone that skinny?

His arrival portends ice that isn’t as pretty as his window designs. Sooner, not later, his Jokul Frosti side shows up.

At least, meteorologists — unlike their treatment of hurricanes and blizzards — don’t give Jack a new name each time he appears. Frankly, I couldn’t take Arnold Frost seriously.

Despite mixed feelings, this fall fanatic continues to admire Jack’s exquisite autumn colors and stomp through frozen puddles in his honor.

But lick icy windows?

Probably not.

Image by Aida Khubaeva from Pixabay.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How do you see Jack Frost?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Who Needs Cardio Training?

O Lord, You know I wouldn’t spend a typical day attending a hockey game in which spectators cheer fights, jangle cowbells and throw pucks.

I wouldn’t help socialize a grandrat.

Or witness the morphing of a human into a freaky trick-or-treat alien.

But with two grandsons — OMG, what fun, doing them all! 

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Corn Maze Camaraderie

O Lord, getting lost in a 10-acre corn maze, looking for Bigfoot, could be pretty scary — except, OMG, thank You for such excellent company! 

You Deserve a Fork Today

“Why didn’t we do this years ago?” I savored my pasta Alfredo. My husband clasped my hand across the restaurant table.

We knew the answer.

Dining out now: priceless. Dining out as a family decades ago: panic.

Like many young parents, we cruised drive-throughs. The pizza delivery guy was our patron saint. Cabin fever drove us to kid-friendly establishments. Or maybe we wanted to watch our small children trash somebody else’s property.

Image by Chris from Pixabay.

Venturing out without Hubby, I wished I could sprout an extra arm. My children shot through restaurant parking lots like pinballs. After chasing them down and gathering survival gear, we headed inside.

If fast-food restaurants were in tune with young mothers, they’d provide parking lot pack mules to carry kids, diaper bags, baby seats, and the Strawberry Shortcake potty my discriminating two-year-old favored. Instead, the pack mule answered to the name “Mommy.”

Normal people ordered their favorite cholesterol. Me? I led my caravan to restrooms while others ate juicy burgers and hot, crusty fries.

My stomach growled. I hadn’t tasted anything warm since the ’70s — except melted ice cream.

Potty Party trumped Pity Party. I unbuttoned, unzipped, toilet-paper-ripped, then reequipped. I sang the Strawberry Shortcake song 19 times. I passed out compliments and balloons for jobs well done. Only two hours later, we emerged triumphant.

Finally approaching the counter, we received gold cardboard crowns. Baby ate his.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay.

Can you say “free toy”? Sisterly relations disintegrated when the restaurant had only one Princess Penelope Piddle doll. Discontinued.

Grudgingly accepting Princess Penelope Piddle Sings Punk cassettes instead, my offspring talked me into a playground picnic.

Are fast-food restaurants really responsible for children’s obesity? Of 11,451 hamburgers ordered, only 5.37 made it inside my kids.

Also, with chasing them, why do parents gain weight?

Oh. I ate the 11,445.63 leftovers.

When our family attempted meals at restaurants where diners didn’t ride horsies, toddlers left their smiles at the door. Ours loved fast-food forks. In “nice” surroundings, we hid metal ones and handed him spoons. He sent them flying, yelling, “FORK! FORK!” for a solid hour.

Image by Barry Jones from Pixabay.

He couldn’t pronounce Rs.

You figure it out.

The following week, we donned cardboard crowns.

No more. Now, Hubby and I dine out weekly. We remain seated throughout the hot meal and converse.

I don’t even hide my fork.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your should-have-stayed-home restaurant story?

What’s in a Name?

Image by CCXPistiavos from Pixabay.

How did your parents select your name?

Perhaps you, like Hubby and I, are a Baby Boomer. Tradition ruled, and many infants were named after parents and grandparents. Later, the plethora of Juniors and Roman numerals would confuse every computer on the planet.

One-syllable, biblical boys’ names often prevailed, e.g. John, Mark and James. Hubby, one of thousands of Stephens (also biblical), always met other Steves at school.

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay.

According to the Social Security Administration, the top 1950s names for baby girls included Mary, Linda, Deborah and Susan. My schools teemed with them. I met only two other Rachels, their names spelled differently from mine. Pastors’ daughters too. Sigh.

My mother, Betty, disliked associations with Betty Grable and other brazen hussies of her era. Her children’s names would be biblical and different.

We were different, all right. No respectable Boomer bore names like Nathanael, Rachael, Aaron and Jonathan.

Yet, Mom named our sister after a singer, Janis Paige. Why couldn’t I have been named after Debbie Reynolds? Instead, I received not only a little-old-lady name, but Mom handed me an additional “a,” as in “Rachael.”

The nurse “helping” her with my birth certificate frowned. “Not the correct spelling.”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

I want it spelled that way.”

Later, Mom told me I was “Rachael.” I spelled my name her way into adulthood.

When I applied for a passport, though, I discovered my birth certificate said “Rachel.” That “a” provoked hostility that rivaled the Cold War’s. Eventually, I plowed through bureaucracy to pay for the name Mom gave me.

My mother may have borne the popular name, “Betty,” like pin-up Betty Grable, but no movie-star names for her kids!

Then Jennifer Aniston played a character named Rachel in Friends. During 1990, “Rachel” rated 15th in girls’ names.

When Rachael Ray hosted cooking shows, even computers stopped rejecting me as an alien.

Nowadays, in grocery stores when a stern mother commands, “Rachael, put that down,” I still cringe and return the squash I was planning to purchase to its shelf.

I miss my name’s uniqueness. Maybe I could smear it with individuality: ®àĉhæɬ.

Recalling the Great A Controversy, maybe not. Such a hassle over one silent letter.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.

Shakespeare, whose name has been spelled 80-some different ways throughout the centuries, would agree. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I bet the IRS didn’t like him, either.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: If you changed your name, what would it be?