Every field holds a kernel of thanks

We are imprinted by the land where we are born. At least I think that is true, for I know of no other reason that I find cornfields beautiful.

My early years were spent in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our parents grew up on farms and many of our relatives lived in rural communities, so we often traveled gravel roads bordered by rolling prairie and rich farmland, kicking up dust clouds behind us as we barreled along.

The topic of conversation in the front seat often turned to corn, usually introduced by Dad with an exclamation of, “Look at that corn!”

Of course, we looked because if you’ve traveled Nebraska you know there are not a lot of spectacular attractions lining the roadsides.

In spring, tiny emerald green shoots pushed through the ground in straight rows without end. A few weeks later, young stalks shot out gangly leaves at peculiar angles. It was the awkward adolescence stage of corn.

At the start of summer, “Look at that corn!” was followed by, “Knee high by the Fourth of July.” It usually was. And more.

As the sun beat down and the days of summer stretched and yawned, the corn grew taller and taller. Husky stalks transformed spindly leaves into huge arched leaves with sharp edges. Now when someone said, “Look at that corn!” the response from the backseat was, “How could we not look at that corn?”

Everywhere you looked, all you could see was corn. Corn closed in from both sides. Corn to the left, corn to the right. Massive blurs of cornstalks with tassels whipping silk in the air whizzed by as we sped along. Attempting to look directly at the corn as we blew past triggered a terrible maize motion sickness.

Summer crawled to an end and the green leaves began to fade and dry. The once golden silk shriveled and turned a charred brown.

After the corn had been harvested, there remained a fullness to those empty fields. Even today, they stand as testimony to perseverance and hard work that dates all the way back to our nation’s beginnings. Harvested fields are silent witness to the age-old partnership between the Creator and the created, laboring together to bring bounty from the ground.

Cornfields and prairies, like the oceans and mountains and sprawling forests, are part of this wide and varied patchwork quilt we call America—breath-taking reminders that despite our fractures and turmoil, we are blessed to live in a land graced with beauty, abundance, opportunity and freedom.

“Count your many blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

And, please, look at that corn.

Sunday, Dec. 1, from 2-3:30 P.M. I’ll be at the Champaign Public Library talking about  “What Happens at Grandma’s Stays at Grandma’s.”

Monday, Dec. 2, 6;30 P.M., I’ll be at Holy Cross Parish in Champaign, Ill. sharing “Happy Holi-daze” —  you start with a string of the lights and the next thing you know you’ve gift wrapped the mailbox and have a wreath on your car! Call (217) 352-8748 to make sure seating is still available.

Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Stretching out the holidays

The holidays are here, which means seasonal weight gain will be close behind. Or in front.

Or both behind and in front. Some people are more gifted at even distribution than others.

I’m one who tends to gain a few pounds around the holidays. The worst part is, I count 50 holidays on the calendar.

I celebrate them all.

What’s more, I have a bad habit of forgetting that I was going to limit calories until after dessert. Isn’t that the way it always goes?

A research project claims that holiday weight gain is nearly a universal occurrence. Findings were based on studies in Germany, the U.S. and Japan.

Graph from livescience.com

Three countries hardly seem like the universe, but I suppose they deemed the findings universal because they monitored people in three different countries, on three different continents. And they all put on weight around the holidays. Americans gained an average 1.3 pounds, Germans, 1.8 pounds, and the Japanese, 1.1 pounds.

Having German ancestors, I can’t help but wonder if that puts me at risk of double jeopardy—a  1.3 gain for being American, plus a 1.8 gain for the German heritage.

I do know that Germans do amazing things with butter, flour and sugar, and beef, gravy and potatoes.

Oh, go ahead. Put me down for the full 3.1 pounds.

Those numbers aren’t terrible on a large scale (pun intended). Most people lose half the weight immediately after the holidays, some lose it later in the year and others . . .  well, others buy the next size up.

The truth is, our bodies need food so that we can store fat in order to survive eight hours of sleep until we wake up and start eating again.

A couple of years ago Stove Top Stuffing offered Thanksgiving Dinner pants—stretch pants that grew as you grew. I call those kinds of pants my workout pants; it gives the whole concept of overeating a more uplifting psychological connotation.

Stove Top took relaxed fit to a new dimension. The pants were like a maroon parachute gathered at the waist with a wide band.

The pants sold faster than you could say “pass the potatoes,” and Stove Top has not offered them since. Perhaps Stove Top feared the pants would be a reminder of the calories in stuffing and thus be a detriment to sales.

If you tend to gain a few pounds at the holidays, remember this—helping clean up after a big meal for one hour can burn 100 calories, and light house cleaning for one hour can burn 150 calories.

If you’ve cleaned up at your place and are still feeling stuffed, you’re welcome to come over and help clean up at ours.

I’ll save you a piece of pie.

Raise your key fob if you lost a black car

To my deep regret, we own a black car. Technically it’s a metallic brown, but it only looks brown two days a year when it has been to the car wash and the sun tilts at a certain odd angle for 1.6 seconds. Every other day our brown car looks like black.

I should be able to distinguish our mid-size, boxy black car from other mid-size boxy black cars by the outline of the roof, the silhouette of the hood, the curve of the bumper or the shape of taillights, but I can’t.

Not only do I have trouble identifying our car, I have trouble identifying cars that good friends and long-time neighbors drive. Consequently, I wave at every car I pass in our neighborhood. If I don’t wave at a car and it carries someone I know, they’ll wonder why I’m unfriendly. Of course, if I wave at a car carrying someone I don’t know, they’ll think, “That woman must be batty!” It’s not much of a choice, but in the interest of maintaining friendships I tilt toward batty.

The worst part is running errands. I exit the grocery with a full cart, head to my car and wonder why it won’t unlock. I try a second and third time. I pull on the door handle that won’t budge, peer inside the vehicle and see unfamiliar books in the passenger seat, a soft drink wedged in the beverage cup holder and realize it’s not my black car.

I look around to see if anyone has seen me because it looks like I am attempting to break into a vehicle, although few car thieves are women pushing fully loaded grocery carts. Fortunately, no one has ever called the police on me. Yet.

If only someone would invent a key fob you could click to launch a giant, neon orange foam arrow that hovers over your vehicle with the words “You are Here!”

They could even be personalized as to color and message: “Seriously? Lost Again?” or “I’m Right Here Where You Left Me!”

Recently, the husband dropped me off at the entry to a store, so I didn’t have to walk through the pounding rain. I texted I was ready to be picked up, then dashed outside as a boxy black car pulled up and nearly got into the wrong vehicle.

The husband pointed out it could be worse, because there are even more silver cars than black cars and even more white cars than silver.

Maybe our next car will be blue—with big yellow stripes and red polka dots—something to subtly set it apart.

The other day I saw a woman walking up and down the aisle in a parking lot waving her key fob overhead, punching it frantically.

“Can’t find your car?” I asked.

“Right” she said with a look of exasperation.

“Maybe I can help. What color is it?” I asked.

I knew the answer the minute the words were out of my mouth.


I’ll be sharing “What Happens at Grandma’s Stays at Grandma’s,” on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the at the Johnson County Library in Franklin, Ind. Grab a dozen of your closest friends and stop by. (You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll  laugh some more.) If you’re busy on that Tuesday, you catch me on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 6:30-7:30 at the Bartholomew County Library in Columbus, Ind. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Framed for not hanging all the artwork

We now have more art than we have wall space. We could make the Louvre look like an annex.

A painting on canvas of a big red barn with a blue sky leans against my desk.

A bright orange pumpkin caps my towering “to do” pile, and a family portrait, in which one of the grands drew herself, her mom and dad, and omitted her siblings, is tucked behind the buffet in the dining room.

The pieces are fine art in that they are fine considering the ages of the children who created them.

We have masterpieces in crayon, pencil, tempera and ballpoint pen. We have pictures of babies, unicorns, tulips, turtles, heavy machinery, tall buildings, vases of flowers, spaceships, aliens, trees, parks, wild animals, night skies and all four seasons.

We also have a lot of, ahem, modern art, if you get my drift.

“Can you tell me about this drawing? What is happening here? I like the way these lines look like a giant ball of tangled string.”

When conversations with the artists do little to bring clarity, we classify these as “postmodern, untitled.”

This is every parent and grandparent’s dilemma—what to do with your art surplus when you’re related to the artists.

It would be easier to throw away a Rembrandt. I’m not related to Rembrandt. I didn’t monitor his mother’s labor and delivery by text. I wasn’t there moments after he was delivered. I never changed his diaper, rocked him to sleep, burped him or made him chocolate chip cookies.

Swoosh! There goes a Rembrandt into the trash.

The thing about budding artists is that they like their work displayed, which is why we have refrigerator doors. Alas, the refrigerator only holds so much.

Where do we store all these treasures? What do we do when we are finally overtaken by pictures of unicorns?

“Where’s my painting, Grandma?” is followed by Grandma suffering sharp pangs of guilt.

A friend has a large basement filled with huge plastic tubs holding every scrap of artwork her children created in school. Late at night, she goes downstairs, sits on the cold, concrete floor and spends hours going through the tubs, pulling out drawings and paintings, reminiscing, clutching the artwork to her chest, shedding tears over days gone by.

No she doesn’t. She never opens any of the tubs. They sit there untouched collecting dust.

On the upside, if her kids ask where a drawing is of a caterpillar one of them made at age 6, she can honestly say, “It’s in here somewhere.”

I’d rather say the caterpillar became a butterfly and took flight.

Our present Microwave to Oblivion system works fairly well. We pile art on top of art on top of the microwave. They see corners of their work when they visit. We slowly eliminate from the bottom of the pile and, by that time, the artists have added new masterpieces to the top of the pile.

I don’t know how we live with ourselves.

I wonder what Rembrandt’s grandma did.