Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Stay Outa My Space!

Oreos were my go-to comfort food when my personal space requirements felt squashed.

Do you, like most Americans, value personal space?

Because my large family was stuffed into small houses, I developed an early yen for breathing room. If a genie had offered me wishes, I would have wished three younger siblings elsewhere.

But when I rubbed living room lamps, the genie never showed. So, I competed for the bathroom, the best car window, phone privacy, and a quiet place to read.

Recently, our pastor reminded me of those futile cravings. Using a room and duct tape, he illustrated how we compartmentalize our lives, attempting to bar God from areas we want to control.

My husband’s righteous elbow jabbed me.

He knew that as a child, I’d done exactly that — though I used The String, not duct tape. Another difference: I wanted to live close to God. I didn’t want to share a bedroom with my sister.

A pack rat, she never made our double bed. Her kitten never messed on her pillow. Only mine.

With that almighty String, I divided our bed and our room. “You and Kitty stay on your side,” I decreed, “and I’ll stay on mine. If we touch each other’s side, we pay fifty cents.”

She stared. “But you have the door.”

“And you’re standing in it. Fifty cents, please.”

Our parents spoiled my privacy plan. They showed zero respect for budding capitalism. How could they destroy such a profitable enterprise?

Little did I know I someday would share dormitory rooms with aliens. A fellow introvert, also smothered by a 30,000-student campus, wallpapered the inside of an appliance box. Whenever excessive togetherness made her crazy, she retreated into The Box.

Our family at Christmas 1985.

A similar box wouldn’t have worked for me as a young parent. First, I always flunk do-it-yourself projects. Second, three small children — two probably fragrant with needed diaper changes — would have crawled inside with me.

Hubby and I had stuffed our family into a tiny house. When I began consuming whole packages of Oreos, he realized something my parents didn’t get: I truly needed space.

Terribly North American. In some countries, whole families could have resided in our little home’s closet space.

Our move to a larger home provided breathing space for our family — especially me.

But we moved to a larger house. My Oreo-snarfing behavior — rather than my children — disappeared. Of course, a parent never possesses sufficient personal space. Amid slumber parties, snow days, and laser tag battles, I didn’t realize my personal space would expand beyond belief.

The pandemic provided more distance for us North Americans than we’d ever dreamed of. The pastor preached his duct tape message to a socially distanced, masked congregation.

For months, my siblings and I couldn’t visit. Now, with loosening restrictions, we will. There will be no Strings or Boxes at my house.

Unless they try to move in.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you crave space?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Baseball DNA

O Lord, You know I spent many summer nights, sitting on hard bleachers, watching our baseball-crazy son and his team play T-ball. I slapped at mosquitoes and applauded every player (“Yay! You only missed that catch by 20 feet!”). OMG, You didn’t tell me that one day, I would watch my son coach his son too. 

Our son, circa 1990, taking a swing at his birthday T-ball while Great-Grandpa cheers him on.
Our son, who disliked his beauty parlor sponsor, nevertheless encourages his son to welcome his funeral parlor sponsor.

Pandemic Positives

Written during Summer 2020, hopefully, this piece will remind us of what we’ve learned.

Can you believe COVID-19 has stolen headlines for four months?

Many would answer, “No. I thought it was four decades.”

March through July 2020 will not highlight anyone’s yearbook. Still, some good has emerged.

You don’t believe it?

I don’t, either.

Just kidding. In a grouchy, 2020 sort of way. Despite endless complications, this bizarre experience has presented us with positives. Even if you’re grumpy, too, check out a few below:

We no longer must dream up excuses to avoid boring events. First, events — boring and otherwise — have been cancelled. Or delayed until this virus learns some manners. Second, a reluctant attendee need only cough, and both crowd and event vanish.

For some, credit card bills have dropped. Ours have diminished to 1990 amounts. Because I’ve overdosed on screens, online shopping holds zero appeal. Besides, why buy new clothes to check the mail? They don’t impress the mailbox at all.

Our cars may last another decade. Though my ten-year-old Ford has doddered so long around the garage, it may forget how to start.

As TV time has shrunk, reading time has expanded. Because of aforementioned aversion to screens, I avoid TV like an irritating relative. Instead, I read more books the past four months than during the past four years.

Canceled sporting events = big savings. Hubby and I have not blown a single dollar on Cubs games, only to sit in the rain for hours. Or watch them lose. (Usually both.)

Masks cover a multitude of greens. For chronic spinach-between-the-teeth people like myself, masks are a godsend.

Toilet paper never looked so good. The shortage has eased. Stacks lining Walmart’s back wall assure me that when a crisis arises, America will triumph.

Entertainment costs have dropped. Not once have I spent big bucks on a lousy movie with a soul-sucking ending, as theaters are closed. Nor have I squandered ten bucks — or 200 million calories — on popcorn.

Cleanliness is off the charts. Personal and business cleanliness standards have set new records. The U.S. population has never boasted such clean hands. My mom would be proud.

Finally, we’ve become a country hungry for conversation. When people do gather, fewer stare at phones and more talk to humans. When a driver stopped in the street to chat with us — a small-town practice that usually annoys Hubby’s safety sense — he welcomed the chance to talk. The young driver (gasp!) seemed to enjoy it, too.

Living through a pandemic isn’t easy. But unlike many during the 1918 flu and Europe’s bubonic plagues, most of us are living through COVID-19.

If we pilfer small positives, our days will brighten. We may even become easier to live with.

You don’t believe it?

Hubby doesn’t, either.

But if our credit card bills continue to drop, he can live with that.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What positives have you gleaned from the pandemic?

Elevator Experiences: Eeek! And Otherwise

I’ve often attended Christian writers’ conferences with hundreds of participants. Attendees squish so close into hotel elevators that we could receive organ transplants by osmosis.

Such unsolicited togetherness recalls college days when other music students and I — considerably skinnier than now — packed into elevators like Pringles® into a can. We made room for tuba players. Once, we squeezed the string bass section in and dropped a floor.

Dormitory elevators also presented perils. Picture riding morning elevators with a thousand women, all having a bad hair day. Or sneaking to your room at 3 a.m., hoping to avoid trash can terrorists. These attackers prowled outside elevator doors with full cans of water, waiting to douse their victims.

As a child, though, I loved elevators. An early memory recalls a department store where the elevator operator exchanged pleasantries with me. Like a fairy godmother, she made the windowless little room rise as if it possessed wings.

I gasped, then giggled. Other nice people in the elevator laughed with me.

“Look at her eyes.” One gentleman sounded as if he wanted to borrow my joy.

But kids grow up. Eventually I, like other grown-ups, discovered official Elevator Etiquette, listed below:

  • Never look other passengers in the eye or initiate friendly conversation. These will make the elevator drop.
  • The person whose destination is the farthest must occupy the front. She is required to bring seven suitcases, a rolling office, and a large, predatory parrot on her shoulder.
  • No elevator’s population should exceed that of Indianapolis.
  • Smiling is restricted unless adults are accompanied by children.
  • Lighted numbers must be scrutinized by all passengers. Otherwise, the elevator will drop.
  • Passengers under age 12 are required by law to jump up and down, preferably while eating ice cream cones.
  • Adults should not. But they may bring overflowing cups of beer.
  • Follow posted emergency procedures — even if the fire alarm, gunshot or rattlesnake’s warning is only mimicked by a passenger’s cell phone ringtone.
  • In a glass elevator, passengers must never face outward. Otherwise, atrium spectators will be denied a traveling view of their backs and butts.
Fellow author Christy Miller and I attended the awards banquet at the 2016 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference.

Fortunately, most attendees of the aforementioned conferences break these rules. Though we compete for space, oxygen and publication of our writing, we smile a lot. We introduce ourselves: “Oh, so the elbow mutilating my right kidney belongs to you. Glad to meet you. Where are you from?”

We press buttons for others and hold our collective breath to accommodate new passengers. Twice, a fellow passenger took my heavy box of office folders, giving me a temporary, but much-needed, break.

Flouting Elevator Etiquette together helps make it an uplifting experience for all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you like to ride elevators?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: The Shirt Lies

O Lord, Hubby donned a shirt this morning whose label implied he’d owned it since the early permanent-press era. Laundry instructions: “Tumble dry. Hang on a hanger. No starch.” OMG, that’s a misprint, right? The pictures lie, too, because the shirt can’t be that old!

We can’t be that old, either. …    

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Did your parents insist on holding your hand?

At age three, I declared my independence. Yanking my hand from Mommy’s, I zipped into a busy street. After that, she chained me to her.

Holding hands took on different dimensions when I entered fifth grade. In 1964, The Beatles had serenaded the world with “I wanna hold your hand!” Some classmates dared embrace the lyrics. Cool boys and girls sat in the back of the bus, (gasp!) holding hands.

I wasn’t cool.

A late-blooming teen, I continued to observe friends holding hands at ball games and parties. Eventually, at a roller rink, I entered that mysterious world where a touch could electrify an entire nervous system — making me so nervous, I tripped and nearly crippled my skating partner for life.

Dangerous business, holding hands.

When a super-shy guy asked me out, I figured that after dating six months, we might hold hands. During the romantic play, though, his fingers found mine. Electricity! Four years later, we held hands as we said wedding vows.

When did hand-holding become another memory snapshot in our wedding album? Hubby’s 24/7 medical career often kept us apart. Our outnumbered hands constantly clasped six little ones, protecting them. Perhaps we kept the chiseled-in-wedding-ring commandment: Never let anyone know you like each other. Especially your kids. And God forbid you hold hands at church.

Our children began to explore college possibilities. Hubby kept busy as ever, caring for patients. I was writing and going to school. We could run in circles that never touched until our 50th anniversary.

Was that right?

One evening, I said to Hubby, “Let’s go for a walk.”

“Where?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just a walk. Together.” Then, I dropped the bomb: “I want to hold your hand.”

“Huh?” A walk without a clear destination? Holding hands, when we’d been married two decades?

He cooperated, though his narrow-eyed gaze said he suspected a woman-trap.

Not the walk I had in mind.

Despite un-movie results, I asked him again.

The second experiment went better. He even said, “This is kind of nice.” And after our third stroll, “This was a good idea.”

The added bonus: We embarrassed our children.

Years later, we continue hand-holding walks. We don’t count steps. We don’t measure our heartbeats — we share them. Sometimes we, er, discuss things. We laugh.

College students alternate incredulous looks (“Old people like each other?”) and the Lord-bless-’em gazes they’d expect from us.

I always was a rebel.

Unlike my three-year-old self, though, I don’t want to declare my independence.

I always wanna hold your hand, babe.

I never wanna let go.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: When did you and your spouse last hold hands?

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?

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?

Classic Post: Loony the Lamb

This post first appeared on April 12, 2017.

For years, I celebrated holidays by directing church musicals. One fateful Easter, I chose Watch the Lamb, which focused on Jesus as the Lamb of God. A live lamb would make the ancient story come alive.

During rehearsals, the cast greeted our lamb with enthusiasm.

Church janitors did not. “Do something before that animal pees all over — or worse.”

Why hadn’t I considered this minor complication? Especially as the lamb made entrances down different aisles.

Most Passover lambs in 30 A.D. did not wear Pampers®.

What other option existed?

God provided the perfect solution: we would cover the stage and church aisles with the burlap-like backside of my recently discarded carpet.

However, God didn’t send angels to cut, arrange and duct tape the carpet throughout the sanctuary. After two unspiritual, aching-knee days, all my bases were covered. No worries now, right?

Wrong.

Loony the Lamb had his own ideas about entrances and exits. A hay bale helped keep him quiet, but for obvious reasons, we avoided feeding him too much.

The 60-member cast’s noise made Loony more nervous than your Aunt Nellie. Kids petted him without mercy. Bright lights and heat caused him to hyperventilate. During dress rehearsal, Loony the Lamb collapsed onstage in a wooly, quivering heap.

Watch the Lamb? No audience would want to watch this.

Two animal lovers carried the prostrate lamb outside while we prayed — and Loony recovered. One guy built a pen outside the stage door where our prima donna cropped grass between scenes. Visiting hours were restricted, with no autographs. We did everything but paint a star on Loony’s gate.

Thankfully, he showed no new signs of cardiac arrest. His brassy baaaaa erupted only once during performances — during solemn prayer after the crucifixion.

Our ingenious actors shifted and blocked escape routes, all the while looking very holy.

One child earned my special appreciation: “Loony was peein’ on my foot the whole time Jesus was on the cross, but I didn’t say nothin’.”

Even after Loony returned home, I couldn’t shake off sheep. Scriptures about lambs leaped from the Bible’s pages. Jesus frequently called his followers His sheep. After Watch the Lamb, I figured He didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Nevertheless, the King of Heaven volunteered to take on the title “Lamb of God.” It meant daily life with stupid sheep and deadly encounters with wolves in sheep’s clothing. What God in His right mind would do that?

Only a King who loves confused, clueless sheep more than His own life.

Even one dithery pageant director named Rachael — which, BTW, means “lamb.”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever participated in a pageant/play that taught you more than you expected?