Tag Archives: Midwesterners

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?

Once Upon a Blizzard

This post first appeared on January 13, 2016.

We Midwesterners share a rich heritage of blizzard stories. Deprived tropics dwellers can’t appreciate our 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 refused to navigate three-foot drifts. My medical student husband hiked to a police station, catching 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 also was missing in action, helped eat it. Walking 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, Indiana, 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 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 — along with remodelers who braved the storm to sledgehammer walls.

Blizzard days two decades later prove far less traumatic, but can stop our lives cold. Yet even if I must search for leftover Christmas candles to light my longhand efforts, I’ll do my usual January thing: tell blizzard stories.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite Snowmageddon tale?

Take This Job and Love It?

“What do you do?”

You’ve been asked this quintessential icebreaker a million times, right?

Has your answer made the questioner blink? Twice?

Probably not.

We Midwesterners like others to think we’re normal. Occasionally, I regale a cornered listener with tales of my jobs during college days. One summer, my brother and I cleaned our county’s 86 phone booths. We also cleaned telephone companies, creameries and lumberyards. I learned the value of hard work, fortitude, and singing high operatic scales while cleaning men’s restrooms.

I also worked as a nurse’s aide in a county home for patients like Glen, who pantomimed shooting the staff. I combed the grounds for booze James had smuggled in for resale purposes.

After that job, even a secretarial position in academia seemed tame.

Other workers push occupational limits too. Cleaning seems safe — but washing skyscraper windows? Ulp. Few adventure films feature dusting, but consider the heroism of a cling-to-the-scaffold IMAX screen maintenance guy.

I’d rather be a paper towel sniffer, paid $19,000-$52,000 per year.

According to Reader’s Digest, airplane repossessors make big bucks. However, considering some foreign governments’ possible displeasure, a million-dollar paycheck (and funeral) hold little appeal.

Nor do I aspire to be a lion keeper, snake milker, or caregiver to other dangerous animals — though my mom experience running children’s birthday parties would qualify me.

Those who prefer underwater excitement can work as divers, inspecting oil rigs. Or they can dive for pearls, establishing meaningful relationships with passing sharks.

I’d rather become a “Keeper of the Cup,” a Stanley Cup-sitter who accompanies the coveted hockey trophy wherever it goes.

Modeling appears an equally cushy job. However, consider the stresses of smiling for hours while starving. Even at my wedding, I, well-fed as always, grew tired of posing my pearly whites.

Wouldn’t we all like a career as a bed tester?

Some consider that snoozy job equivalent to my writing profession. I do spend hours in my PJs, as defined waistbands stifle creativity. When I’m parked in a comfy chair with my laptop, the necessary daydreaming (we writers call it brainstorming) sometimes morphs into nap-dreaming (subconscious research).

Like William Faulkner, I work when inspired. He claimed he was inspired at nine every morning. I am inspired anytime from 6 a.m. on — depending on deadlines — six days a week and, occasionally, seven.

I have experienced peril in my job, climbing a fire tower so I could write authentically about my characters’ acrophobia. I’ve spooked myself riding a nighttime ferry to an Ohio River pirate cave, experiencing terror my nineteenth-century heroine felt. I’ve even faced editors who couldn’t find a Starbucks.

Still, I’ll take this job and love it.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s the best job you’ve held? The worst?

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?