Tag Archives: Midwest

An Ordinary Drive

Image by RitaE from Pixabay.

My husband and I often drive to Ohio to care for his elderly father.

Not like traveling along California’s coastline, with its infinite, sparkling waves. Not like coaxing our car up Appalachian heights, where scary curves rival breathless beauty.

A between-snows drive on Midwestern highways doesn’t raise pulse rates — unless a semi crosses the line.

Or if we focus on a sunrise. Pastel hues stripe the gray horizon, then amid sherbet-colored clouds, the butter-cake sun shines on dark chocolate fields —

Image by Pexels from Pixabay.

Sorry. I’m driving under the influence of a post-Christmas diet. But the delicious scene raises my pulse rate. Maybe a bakery lurks nearby?

Hubby points. “The sun’s position has changed considerably since the fall equinox.” As he continues enthusiastic commentary on light angles, his pulse rate probably rises to new heights.

Mine doesn’t. Until he mentions ancient tribes who built mounds in the Anderson, Indiana, area. They marked seasons by studying scenes like this.

That’s how those Native Americans survived without phones?

My fascination with human behavior — Hubby calls it nosiness — quickly spreads to houses we pass.

I indicate a typical Indiana farmhouse. “Do they like strawberry or grape PBJ? Whatever, I’ll bet it’s homemade.”

Image by Stephen Marc from Pixabay.

Hubby’s look silences my mouth, but not my mind.

Yards that sport tired-looking Santas warm my heart. Someone’s farther behind than I. Others boast shining windows and perfectly sculpted bushes. Even their snowdrifts appear symmetrical. How do people live that way?

Pristine Amish homes grab me, though, with their simplicity and clotheslines full of black shirts and dresses dancing wildly in winter wind.

Slowing for buggies lets us enjoy trotting horses and large families snuggled like birds in a nest. However, rumspringa Amish teens skating down the middle of the highway don’t generate warm fuzzies.

Later, after a day of hugs, time with Dad and conversations with health care workers, we say bittersweet goodbyes. Hubby and I could drive the route home in our sleep, but watch each other closely so we don’t.

Against the sunset’s fiery rose, orange and purples, steeples along the way reach for Heaven. My thoughts do too.

Glory to God in the highest.

One more extraordinary ordinary drive.

Image by adonisbluemusic from Pixabay.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Describe your latest amazing, everyday drive.

Classic Post: August — the Not-So-Special Month?

This post first appeared on August 8, 2018.

My daughter once wished for a different birthday month. I referred her to God for further discussion.

I see her point. August boasts no holidays — not even a fake holiday like St. Patrick’s Day. Nobody parties on the eve of August 1, as in January.

The hotter the weather, the more we chill. Dressing up is wearing matched right and left flip-flops.

Still, a tiny tadpole of awareness wiggles into our days.

It’s August. Something’s different.

Outdoor projects delayed till warm weather now are postponed till fall. Yards need extreme makeovers, but we’re so sick of yard work, we pay 4-Hers to release goats on our premises.

August presents an end-of-summer reality check. I purchased a “miracle” swimsuit in May. Now I realize the only miracle is that I paid big bucks for it.

August affects mothers strangely. Kids talk Mom into buying cool new backpacks, though 23 uncool backpacks languish at home. Mothers also obsess about changes in schedules: “Go to bed now so you’ll be ready when school starts.” My mother did this. As of August 1, all five of us went to bed at 4:00 p.m.

Even the sun listens to Mom and retires earlier in August. Yet during daytime, it unfurls golden rays as if leading an everlasting summer parade. Eating watermelon in the backyard, we experience a different kind of reality check: It’s been a great summer.

By August, every able-bodied Midwesterner has ridden a Ferris wheel and consumed a warm, crisp elephant ear.

We’re recovering from that gathering of DNA-related strangers known as a family reunion, when we rendezvoused with cousins who long ago sneaked into drive-ins with us. We kissed baby kin’s brand-new cheeks and gave grandmas and grandpas big hugs.

In August, homeowners stop vying for the Yard of the Year. Instead, we concede the grand champion ribbon to God for His spectacular pastures of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and Sweet Williams.

He treats us to evening concerts by cicada choirs. Fireflies, now veteran presenters, perform spectacular light shows at dusk with few technical glitches.

Whether we own farms or only farmers’ tans, the cornucopia of gardens, tasseled cornfields and leafy rows of soybeans reassure us: After harvest, we’ll celebrate with plenty of food on our tables.

All during August — the not-so-special month.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What do you like best about August?

Spring’s Mixed Signals

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay.
Image by Sergey Gricanov from Pixabay.

If you’re like me, you’re relishing signs of spring that crowd your senses like April customers at a Dairy Queen.

Signs like a dramatic improvement in Mr. Fahrenheit’s and Ms. Celsius’s attitudes. Like the births of tender, green leaves. Like bevies of daffodils flaunting finery like little girls on Easter morning.

We are in love with spring, the only season when even joggers smile.

So do flocks of cyclists and skateboarders. Intoxicated with warm weather, they forget that narrow-minded laws of physics don’t care if it’s spring. They still insist the riders cannot occupy the same space as a car.

However, though Midwestern weather is always iffy, scraping windshields and icy roads are perils of the wintry past, right?

Surprise! Road construction and road closing signs, like the season’s first weeds, have popped up along every highway.

Are we still in love with spring?

Image by 00luvicecream from Pixabay.
Image by julita from Pixabay.

Absolutely. Apple and lilac blossom fragrances mingle with those of lighter fluid, charcoal, and hamburgers, wafting throughout neighborhoods. We have surrendered to the mad urge to clean grills for the first time this season (and the last).

Even the first smell of sunblock, now required for outdoor forays, becomes a portent of warmer and better things.

Image by Markku Vuorenmaa from Pixabay.

Spending more time in the yard, though, awakens us to the realization that snow no longer covers fast-food cups, broken pencils and soaked letters from the IRS. That hundreds of small stones, shoveled with snow into the yard, might cause sulky lawnmowers — already reluctant to start — substantial grief.

Are we still in love with spring?

Absolutely, as Hubby and I know the perfect antidote for home improvement commercials: getting away from it all, aka, camping. When the first ray of springtime sun penetrates March gloom, he begins preparations for our escape. Researching new camping gadgets — er, equipment — represses melancholy anticipation of yard work, repairs and remodeling. New purchases bloom on our Visa like dandelions.

Sadly, though, we give up winter’s comfort food to consume odd meals from the ice-encrusted freezer — such as Squash and Smelt Tortellini Surprise — as I make room for summer garden vegetables that, as of now, are only imaginary.

Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay.

The smelt tortellini casserole wasn’t so bad. It beat the rhubarb-succotash dish, covered with ancient turkey gravy.

But we are still in love with spring.

Right, dear?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What are your favorite/least favorite signs of spring?

Classic Post: Brown vs. White Winter

This post first appeared on January 24, 2018.

Today, we’re experiencing a brown winter.

Typing those words makes me quiver with fear. 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 dreariness, some consider it a gift, especially after enduring Snowmageddon. Anyone who mentioned “global warming” then was sentenced to shoveling the town’s driveways with a teaspoon.

No one battling the notorious Midwestern blizzard of ’78 had ever heard that term. 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 give cause to celebrate.
  • Mothers rejoice. Their offspring won’t 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.

Worse, 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. (My son’s snowsuit antipathy is no surprise.)

Still, I welcome whispery snowflake kisses on my hood as we walk to church. Thousands of priceless diamonds glittering in my sunny backyard. Wind-carved curves of snow defy human artistry. …

Uh-oh.

I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

The Weather Channel predicts snow’s soon return. 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?

Classic Post: Festival Magic

This post first appeared on August 1, 2018.

If you’re a normal Midwesterner, you have attended or will have attended a festival this summer.

If abnormal, you saved lots of money. And added years to your life.

Still, we who joyously hand over cash and longevity wouldn’t miss these hometown Mardi Gras for anything.

Not long ago, I helped staff a booth at the Blueberry Festival in Plymouth, Indiana, my former hometown. Not a novelty. When we resided in Plymouth, I sold soft drinks to fund my children’s activities. I also joined most of the town’s population (10,000) in parking cars that annually brought 350,000 people to the party.

This time, however, I signed books I’d written, including The Return of Miss Blueberry, set during this festival.

Yay! I didn’t sink into melting asphalt. Nor did I, like dozens of stand owners, hover over sizzling stoves. Instead, I perched inside the souvenir/information booth, yakking with old friends. I even met Miss Blueberry, whose golf cart graced the park.

My privileged position, however, brought new challenges.

If you stand behind book stacks, people think you know something.

Thankfully, after 28 years of Blueberry Festivals, I could answer the Number One Question: “Where are the bathrooms?”

When 350,000 people need to go, they mean business.

“Paid restrooms across the covered bridge,” I recited. “Free portable johns near Jefferson School.”

By the 177th inquiry, a tiny inner voice whispered, “For this you achieved an English degree?”

I quashed it (See, the degree didn’t go to waste.), glad I could, um, serve humanity.

Question Number Two: “Where are the blueberry doughnuts?” The seekers’ eyes mirrored the restroom hunters’ urgency.

Yes, people came to scream themselves into spasms on carnival rides, to applaud bands, crow in rooster contests, paint faces, reenact battles, cheer Little League, rassle pigs, and test testosterone with sledgehammers and souped-up tractors. They scoured craft tents for quilts, stained glass, handmade furniture, John Deere china and marshmallow shooters.

But whether attendees wear polyester shorts, Amish attire or tattoos with little else, food sends them to festivals. All year, everyone dreams of favorites:

  • Corn popped in an enormous black kettle.
  • Thanksgiving-platter-sized tenderloin sandwiches.
  • Deep-fried elephant ears, butter, Pop-Tarts® and Kool-Aid.
  • Plus, all things blueberry: doughnuts, pies, sundaes.

“If you buy here, neither of us starves!” read one stand’s caption. Watching the line at his window, I doubted any danger of either.

Back to booth duties. I was not only expected to know all, but to locate all: lost eyeglasses, car keys, phones and preschoolers.

I also was to ensure good weather for the hot-air balloon launch.

I had no idea that booth would grant me such cosmic power. But that’s what festival magic will do for you.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What is your favorite festival and why?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: the Light of the World

O Lord, my Indiana farmer friend decorates his machinery for Christmas. Others trim cacti or palm trees. But, OMG, wherever You are celebrated, You are the Light!

Winter Outerwear: The Mayhem, The Mary Magic

If you live in Florida … why are you reading this?

To gloat? Floridians do that.

So did Aristotle Onassis, who married John F. Kennedy’s widow, Jackie. Aristotle’s logic: “Because I am a rich person … I have to tip $5 each time I check my coat. On top of that, I have to buy a very expensive coat, and it would have to be insured. Added up, without a topcoat, I save $20,000 a year.”

Instead, Mr. and Mrs. Onassis probably spent cold months — and considerably more than $20,000 — where wintry mix is unknown.

If you, like me, endure cold weather and lack $500 million, you know the blessing and curse of winter outerwear.

The curse?

All Midwesterners recall being stuffed into snowsuits like sausage. Perhaps the sleep-deprived woman I called my mother, having stuffed, unstuffed (bathroom breaks), and restuffed five children into snowsuits, grabbed the wrong girl off the playground. Maybe she extracted, fed and hurried me to bed without recognizing she’d goofed.

I later endured her sweaty, August ritual of trying on winter outerwear. Buttons and zippers refused to cooperate. Tight sleeves crawled up arms.

Mom grimly calculated costs. Why couldn’t children grow wool like sheep?

As a second grader, I remember shopping for (drumroll) a rare new coat. I adored a blue parka with a hood — super-cool!

My mother’s choice: a long, old-lady coat. As school codes decreed girls wore dresses, it would have kept my legs toasty.

Mom bought the parka! She wasn’t so bad. Even if she wasn’t my real mother.

Eventually, I overcame my accidental kidnapping, acquired a job, and bought a double-breasted, navy coat. With a tam I privately tossed like Mary Tyler Moore during her TV show’s theme song, I felt like a star.

Sadly, I forgot the Mary coat in a restroom. Within minutes, it vanished.

Later, a young mother, I cherished a mauve parka with different magic. Diapers and bottles fit in kangaroo-sized pockets. Or a baby in the left one and a toddler in the right.

Only when I stuffed three little ones into snowsuits did I realize my not-real mom should have won a Purple Heart. Every venture outside included a howling smackdown with my son.

Now, he (heh-heh) wrestles his toddlers into snowsuits.

Since then, attractive coats have warmed me, but none possessed Mary magic.

Recently, Hubby took me shopping for a new coat. I almost settled for another serviceable one. Then I spotted it.

A Mary Tyler Moore coat.

With its furry hood, I’ll be super-cool when I brave Midwestern tundra.

Floridians, who never experience such enchantment, eat your hearts out.

Aristotle Onassis, you, too.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever possessed a Mary coat?

Fifteen Reasons Why I Feel Fine in February

When Midwestern citizens select their favorite month, February is among the first voted off the calendar. Even 2020’s relatively civilized temperatures (so far) don’t suffice to keep February in the running.

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay.

We still wear long undies. Yet swimsuits go on sale. Ack!

February Visa bills bristle with charges we’d repressed.

We’ve already lost the right gloves of new pairs our in-laws gave us for Christmas.

Cars define dirty. Even if some thug attempted to steal mine before my very eyes, I wouldn’t realize it. If I did, I’d offer him the keys.

But I’m still feeling fine in February for 15 reasons:

  • God has not run away to Florida. He knew we needed Him here big-time.
  • I love baggy clothes. Fitted-waistline spring and summer outfits constrict my creativity. Not to mention, my breathing.
  • On Groundhog Day, a marginalized species is celebrated with newspaper headlines. Isn’t it nice that groundhog groupies crowd around Punxsutawney Phil as if he were Justin Bieber? Insane, but nice.
  • I don’t have to do spring-cleaning yet. Shoot, if we squeeze a little more snow out of winter, I don’t have to take down my Christmas wreath yet.
Photo by Linnell Esler from FreeImages.
  • Let’s hear it for half-price chocolate the day after Valentine’s Day!
  • If that’s not enough to make you smile, February is also Great American Pie Month.
  • Because my toes are buried deep inside fuzzy socks, I don’t have to polish my toenails.
  • Nor must I face my March birthday yet. An added bonus: because leap year comes in 2020, I receive an extra day of reprieve.
  • My youngest grandchild was born on the 10th — a reason to throw confetti all month long!
  • February’s sloppy weather creates an excellent working environment for a writer. With a recluse sun rarely showing its face, my laptop and I snuggle in my chair with zero desire to play hooky outside.
  • A steaming mug of coffee tastes 10 times better on a February morning than in May.
  • Everybody’s windows are dirty. Everybody’s yard looks lousy. Regardless of color, houses look gray. February in the Midwest is a great equalizer when it comes to property upkeep. Unless you haven’t taken down your Christmas wreath.
  • Girl Scout Cookies arrive in February.
  • Hot flashes come in handy.
  • Finally, it’s February, not November. Only a few weeks until legal spring.

The birds, chirping a little louder, feel the change. So do brave, if stupid, daffodils poking up green fingertips in my sheltered flower bed. With these tiny pre-signs of spring — along with a few hundred Girl Scout Cookies — how can I keep from feeling fine in February?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite thing about this month?

March: The Dream Month?

Few Midwesterners regard March as the dream month.

Though Halloween’s goblins haunt October, March often qualifies as the year’s worst nightmare.

First, the time change disrupts biological clocks. “Spring forward?” Time saved?

That Sunday ranks as the crankiest of the church calendar. If I were a pastor, I’d refuse to preach until everyone had consumed two cups of coffee, plus three doughnuts apiece to sweeten tempers.

By March, we who have braved winters have had it with gloating snowbird social media — especially if Mother Nature goes off her meds, delivering a final winter blow.

Before attempting to consider March a “dream month,” let’s visualize it as a combination of pluses and minuses — a wintry mix, as weather gurus term it.

First, March weather in the Midwest presents a huge opportunity to complain. We love to complain!

Also, most snowbirds return by March’s end, when Indiana typically suffers its wickedest weather. Watching beach babies shiver in sandals makes it all worthwhile.

“This is nothing,” we stalwart Hoosiers brag. “Wait till you hear The Weather Channel’s predictions for April!”

Another March mixed blessing: my birthday — far more welcome during my childhood.

Now, though, my birthday presents a legal opportunity to abandon my wretched diet and silence my exercise video’s cheery nagger.

A new mixed blessing arrived with this year’s birthday: Social Security. I look forward to its benefits — but, Uncle Sam, haven’t you made a big mistake? I’m still in college.

Given my “young” mindset, I hardly plan to retire, as I’ve grown inordinately fond of shooting off my mouth via print. Good behavior doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

Plus, around my birthday, I dream of next year’s writing adventure. What stories will tease me? What new imaginary friends will visit while I write their novels? March brings the best writing weather of the year, when I rarely venture from my cozy writing cave.

March also presents a lo-o-ong transition time in which we can contemplate spring cleaning for a whole month without actually doing it. Ditto for yard work.

Winter days remain for camouflaging flab with baggy sweaters. Yet, during thaws, we can raid spare room closets for (baggy) spring clothes.

During March Madness, basketball fans dream of their teams winning it all. Yet, spring training baseball scores awaken cravings for the sound of bat on ball, hot dog fragrances, and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” wafting on spring breezes.

Daffodils, the ultimate dreamers, urge us to leave winter behind, as does the calendar that naively celebrates spring on March 20.

So what if they’re out of touch with reality? March is indeed the dream month, and I’m ready to celebrate. Who’s with me?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How do you celebrate/survive March?

Festival Magic

If you’re a normal Midwesterner, you have attended or will have attended a festival this summer.

If abnormal, you saved lots of money. And added years to your life.

Still, we who joyously hand over cash and longevity wouldn’t miss these hometown Mardi Gras for anything.

Not long ago, I helped staff a booth at the Blueberry Festival in Plymouth, Indiana, my former hometown. Not a novelty. When we resided in Plymouth, I sold soft drinks to fund my children’s activities. I also joined most of the town’s population (10,000) in parking cars that annually brought 350,000 people to the party.

This time, however, I signed books I’d written, including The Return of Miss Blueberry, set during this festival.

Yay! I didn’t sink into melting asphalt. Nor did I, like dozens of stand owners, hover over sizzling stoves. Instead, I perched inside the souvenir/information booth, yakking with old friends. I even met Miss Blueberry, whose golf cart graced the park.

My privileged position, however, brought new challenges.

If you stand behind book stacks, people think you know something.

Thankfully, after 28 years of Blueberry Festivals, I could answer the Number One Question: “Where are the bathrooms?”

When 350,000 people need to go, they mean business.

“Paid restrooms across the covered bridge,” I recited. “Free portable johns near Jefferson School.”

By the 177th inquiry, a tiny inner voice whispered, “For this you achieved an English degree?”

I quashed it (See, the degree didn’t go to waste!), glad I could, um, serve humanity.

Question Number Two: “Where are the blueberry doughnuts?” The seekers’ eyes mirrored the restroom hunters’ urgency.

Yes, people came to scream themselves into spasms on carnival rides, to applaud bands, crow in rooster contests, paint faces, reenact battles, cheer Little League, rassle pigs, and test testosterone with sledge hammers and souped-up tractors. They scoured craft tents for quilts, stained glass, handmade furniture, John Deere china and marshmallow shooters.

But whether attendees wear polyester shorts, Amish attire or tattoos with little else, food sends them to festivals. All year, everyone dreams of favorites:

  • Corn popped in an enormous black kettle.
  • Thanksgiving-platter-sized tenderloin sandwiches.
  • Deep-fried elephant ears, butter, Pop-Tarts® and Kool-Aid.
  • Plus, all things blueberry: doughnuts, pies, sundaes.

“If you buy here, neither of us starves!” read one stand’s caption. Watching the line at his window, I doubted any danger of either.

Back to booth duties. I was not only expected to know all, but to locate all: lost eyeglasses, car keys, phones and preschoolers.

I also was to ensure good weather for the hot-air balloon launch.

I had no idea that booth would grant me such cosmic power. But that’s what festival magic will do for you.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What is your favorite festival and why?