The Perennial Middle Child

This is reprinted (with a few changes to some previously irritating syntax) from Nov. 2015.

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Know what prudes don’t like? Short-shrifting months.

To  short shrift means To give little consideration to.
  A shrift was the penance imposed by a priest to provide absolution.
 Death row in the good old days of jolly old England didn’t last for years.
 Usually one went from the trial to the sentence to the gallows.
 So they only had time to consider a short penance, or shrift, before facing the hangman.
 Every cloud has a silver lining.

The short-shrifted month to which I refer is November. Squeezed right on the back of Halloween, most participants on 11/1 are too sugar-dazed with trick-or-treat candy to notice its arrival.
Poor November grew up believing its real name was “Only a few dozen shopping days till Christmas.”
The typical middle child. Sandwiched between the over-achiever and everybody’s favorite.
November isn’t much to look at, at least in most parts of the northern hemisphere. October is a flamboyant exhibitionist, with its “look at me, everybody!” attitude. December gets grace and affection and enough twinkle lights to give Jupiter a migraine.

But the eleventh month is drab and modest and unmemorable. It shies away from weather extremes. Every few years it works up a doozy of a blizzard, or a few balmy, halcyon days, but they are soon forgotten in the gray chilliness.

No matter what November does, its reputation is set. It is the awkward, frumpy month. Occasionally it can be found huddling with March and grousing about ingratitude and kiss-up months like May and June that everyone likes even though they have no major holidays to commend them.
November may be disgruntled at times. It might indulge in spates of self-pity and drizzle its misery all over our windows, but it still has reasons to hold its head high. Cheer up November. Look what you’ve got to offer!

Veterans Day

After a shameful period beginning about 50 years ago, when the armed services were treated with disdain, veterans are finally, in some quarters, given the homage due them. November is the perfect month to recognize these men and women. Humble enough so as not to obstruct their honor under a plethora of picnics and three day weekends. Sturdy enough to support them on matching 11/11 legs.

Deer Hunting Season

While the season has been extended so far that Pilgrims are now applying for licenses, its apex is November. The quiet sky (bereft of birds that have sought out the warmer fraternal twin of November somewhere ‘down south’ ) is filled with the ringing of shotgun blasts. The drab woods are brightened with jackets, vests, hats and pants in that glowing color affectionately known as ‘blaze orange.’


The shining jewel in November’s dowdy crown. The holiday that exempts us from buying gifts, sending cards, and untangling two hundred miles of twinkle lights. The holiday that only requires us to cook our turkey till it reaches an internal temperature of 165°, include at least one menu item that vaguely resembles a vegetable, and watch football games through a poultry and carb-induced stupor.
November is waving its unprepossessing hand and wants to say something.
 Don’t forget to be thankful. Don’t forget to articulate the thanks. If you have the breath of life in you, there is something to be thankful for.

November remains out of the limelight and lets Thanksgiving take center stage, and Thanksgiving will gladly step back and showcase what really matters.
Gratitude. Hearts filled and overflowing and bursting with so much thankfulness that voices are raised to God and hands outstretch with shared bounty.
Never give the middle child a short shrift. A meek nature can hide a heart of gold.


Fly in the ointment, or, Silver Kisses Among the Gold

Autumn purists are everyone’s heroes come September. Pumpkin this and apple that and spices and yellows, oranges, reds and browns begin popping up while temperatures still hover around triple digits. At the close of Labor Day autumn appreciation explodes everywhere, including my house.

An entire day. That’s how long it takes to decorate my house for fall. And come November first I add the Thanksgiving decorations to the mix.

Here’s the problem. Autumn, so beloved at the end of summer, gets kicked to the curb before the Halloween candy is passed out. Christmas has been hovering around the edges of autumn for two months now and at the stroke of midnight on October 31st it springs full blown to coat the nation in red and green, holly and berries and silver bells.

The ramifications for autumn purists are manifold. And not the least of these is the dearth of autumn colored candy. My pumpkin jar stays out till Thanksgiving but no red or green candies will ever see the inside of it. The problem is getting hold of appropriately-colored candy after Halloween. So I stock up as soon as the Autumn Mix and gold, red, orange and brown M&M’s hit the shelves because they’ll be gone faster than the carved pumpkins on your front porch.


It all looks lovely, doesn’t it? But here’s that fly in the ointment. I don’t understand the silver kisses. Do they fit in with the warm colors of fall? They do not. I try to bury them in the middle of the jar or convince family members to only eat the silver-wrapped kisses. But some always worm their ways to the visible outer portions and MESS with my autumnal color scheme.

I’m thinking of starting a campaign to convince the Hershey’s Kiss folks to Save the Silver for Christmas. Want to join my cause? That’ll earn you a kiss.


And now for something rather horrifying

Once the mosquitoes die off I hit the bike trail again. One beautiful, misty, moisty morning last November I set out with my camera for some final autumn photos.

The frost lay heavy on the fields.

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Except that it wasn’t frost.

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What it was, was spider webs.


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Is the quality of the photos wonderful? No it is not. I was afraid if I stood still, the army of spiders responsible for all this would start in on me. Because you see the mass of web in the trees over the creek in the above photo, right?


What you can’t see here is the vast expanse of webs across the field, the bushes, the weeds…

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They stopped at nothing.

And you know the creepiest thing? The next day when I went back, EVERYTHING WAS GONE! Only a few innocuous strands blew here and there.

So I ask you. What kind of spiders could coat acres and acres of landscape with sticky strings of—of—stickiness? How big were they? How many of them were there?

And something for you to ponder:



The Dowdy Deciduous


SONY DSCMaybe autumn by you this year is spectacular. Maybe the trees are blazing with vermilion red and juicy orange and Fort Knox gold leaves.

Or maybe, like me, you are seeing deciduous trees that should be reaching their glory days but instead are fading to a meek grayish-brown. Their leaves hang from the trees as though too exhausted to put up a fight against winter—the kind of gritty brawl  culminating in those vibrant primary-tinted bruises of foliage that won’t go down without a fight. No, the trees here are waving dingy dishrag-color leaves in surrender.

What is the deal? Our hit-and-miss precipitation of the last past season may be responsible. We’ll go for months with almost constant rain and then see weeks of iron skies and parched earth. The leaves may be tired of all the drama and just want to drift quietly to the ground with little fanfare.

Are these leaf-shedders following the spirit of the times, ashamed of their deciduous privilege? Or, conversely, envious of their evergreen siblings? Who knows. And who knows but that autumn might surprise me and coming storming back in a blaze of eye-searing hues.

It could happen.

In the meantime, (and for my Midwest-homesick son living in gravelly L.A.) I will feast my eyes on these visions of Autumn Past.

Happy almost-October!




Apples Mellow, Pumpkins…Yellow?


Where did I learn this song? Was it born into me? I never remember not knowing it.

Apples mellow,

pumpkins yellow,

Tell the time of year.

Nuts are falling, nature’s calling.

Autumn time is here.


The yellow pumpkins always bothered me a bit, but since the rhyme’s the thing I didn’t question.

Recently I learned that the name for that bright blend of red and yellow—orange—is fairly recent in the history of the world. It used to be called red, or possibly yellow. Which is why you have a robin redbreast whose lower regions are actually orange, in our modern etymology.


So maybe my “pumpkins yellow” song is old, old old. Maybe it came down through generations. I sang it to my boys and now I’m teaching it to my grandsons because I LOVE AUTUMN!


It is 90 degrees here on the first day of fall, a temperature no self-respecting Midwest autumn should tolerate. However, the heat and humidity will be kicked to the curb sometime next week and we can pull on cozy sweaters and simmer pots of chili and take long, mosquito-free walks and kick up our heels in the leaves. Happy autumn, my friends!


Humility Efficacy

Seems like just yesterday I posted something here…oh wait.

It was the day BEFORE yesterday!

More humbling


I’m over at Heartwings today discussing deep theological terms like humility and theology, and their significance as it relates to a gang of second grade boys and their mud.

I’d love a visit!

Engaging (or, How About It?)


ring-2350560_1920You know a daunting way to go on a first date? In a bathing suit. Yep. This cute guy I’d been intrigued with for several months had been intrigued with me too. He called and asked me out. To a water park in Wisconsin Dells that he’d helped build.

I have no great love for swimsuits and less love for pattering about in public wearing one. But I did it. We had fun, and I learned more about the inner workings of water parks, slides, filtration systems etc. than I knew there was to know. More dates ensued and Labor Day weekend one year later we were at the Dells again.

In that year we’d gotten close, and at one time he’d even let the “m” word slip. But he had already gone through a horrific marriage and Biblically-sanctioned divorce. I was in my middlin’ twenties and determined not to send out vibrations of marriage desperation. When we walked past jewelry stores in the mall I looked in the opposite direction lest I appear to be hinting.

We were both more relaxed this second trip up to the Dells. The whole swimming suit/water rides/drag a big inner tube around thing was less daunting. We went on a duck ride down the river. (Ducks are those amphibious vehicles left over from WWII.) Pretty romantic. Maybe, I thought, maybe he will propose this weekend. Or at least propose the idea of proposing. The duck ride ended with no mention of marriage. Like good Christians we thought we should try the under-visted Biblical Gardens next, where we felt less than piously comfortable with all the unchangingly pious expressions on the various life-size “Jesus” figures. Still, it was a pretty location. Maybe here, on a bench overlooking the nativity scene in the tall pines, maybe this would be the place to discuss the possibility of entering into holy matrimony. It wasn’t.

Or possibly, I thought, after dinner, as the sun set and the air cooled, possibly it isn’t going to happen today.

That evening my boyfriend wanted to take a boat ride to Stand Rock for the Indian Ceremonial program. It would be chilly on the water so he ran back to the pickup to grab his jacket while I worried that all the other tourists flooding in would mean we’d miss the boat.

We didn’t. The sun was all the way down; I sat next to the railing where, if it hadn’t been ink-black out, I could have watched the water churn. The thought of all that cold water gave me goosebumps and I twitched the jacket from my boyfriend’s lap and pulled it on.

You would have thought I’d pulled his fingernails out while calling his sainted grandmother scurrilous names. He demanded to know why I’d grabbed the coat. He dropped to the floor and scrabbled under the seats, muttering something that didn’t sound complimentary. I watched with interest but not much concern. He could, on occasion, become excitable. I was just getting warm and cozy but obviously he needed the jacket more than I did, and I handed it back.

It was the right, good-girlfriend thing to do. He hugged it close and popped back onto his seat as though nothing had happened. We shuffled off the boat with the rest of the folks, found seats in the amphitheater and watched the ceremony. I don’t remember much of it except a performance of the not-quite-native Indian Love Call. (When I’m Calling You-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo)

At intermission my boyfriend nudged me and handed me a beautifully wrapped square box. The one he’d been had under the jacket. The one he’d been so certain had gone over into the churning water when I grabbed that jacket from his lap. (To this day he swears that if it had, he would have dived in after it.) The box was sturdy, squarish and chunky with some heft to it. It’s a stack of those fancy soaps was my first and only thought.

Not soaps. Inside the wrapping I saw a chunky squarish box. Honestly, folks, I still had no clue. Engagements happened via a ring slipped from a man’s pocket and onto a woman’s finger. Not via a chubby box.

Inside the box sat two rings. Both had diamonds. I puzzled over this. Multiple choice?

Then my boyfriend breathed those magically intoxicating words. “How about it?”

I responded with something equally soul-stirring. I think it was “Why are there two?”

My boyfriend, it turned out, hadn’t watched the same romantic films I had. He’d bought the engagement and wedding ring as a set, had the jeweler wrap them, and presented them to me as “Will you answer too-oo-oo-oo-oo?” echoed from Stand Rock.

To cover my anticlimactic initial reaction I squealed (more like a quiet squeak, we were in public, after all) and kissed him. The one he indicated as the engagement ring went on my finger. My now-fiancee, continuing our unscripted scene, breathed a sigh of relief when it slid all the way down.

“Why do I always think you’re so much bigger than you are?”

Any wonder that I said yes?