Memoir

All posts in the Memoir category

A Chicken in Every Plot

Published September 10, 2012 by Ms. Nine

By mazaletel (Flickr: the ladies) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

During Labor Day weekend, my husband decided to build a chicken tractor.  What is a chicken tractor and why did he want to build one? Simple answer – someone at work talked him into it.

“It’s a mobile home for chickens,” he explained, “a coop and a run on wheels.  The chickens will perform magic by changing a patch of ground into fertile garden space within a few weeks.  We’ll move it so the chickens will make lots of garden plots.  By spring, the plots will be ready for planting,” he told me. “What do you think?”

“Go chickens!” I said. “Let’s do it.”

“Great.  I’ll take some time off work.  We can build it this week.”

The fact that we didn’t know a cluck about raising chickens didn’t deter our enthusiasm.  How hard could it be to build for chickens?  After all, we’ve been building from scratch for years.

We researched building plans, inventoried our own stock of scrap materials, and foraged in hardware stores for materials we needed.  Within a few days, we were ready to start building.

When my husband and I build together, my job is “the holder and go-fer”.  This means I hold off the distractions (kids, phone calls, and visitors) and get necessities (food, beverages, and music to maintain the work rhythm).  Occasionally, I’d hold a board in place for my husband to nail, but usually someone else does the heavy lifting (a daughter’s unwitting boyfriend trying to make a favorable impression).

Sadly, after years of observing my husband, none of his skills has transferred to me.  I can’t even swing a hammer.  Unfortunately,  all other conscripts have flown away leaving me holding the screws and everything else.  My poor husband has no idea how limited I am regarding basic carpentry skills.

“Hand me the square. It’s on my workbench.”

His workbench is not my domain. It is littered with tools, boxes of screws, deely-bop-its, and buckets of nails –  a Home Depot garage sale on clearance.  I needed a hint. “What color is it?”

“Yellow.”

Ah, that’s better. It’s easy to spot yellow in a grey area.

He placed the square on a piece of wood to mark a line.  His pencil broke.  He cussed.  “Get me a pencil. No. Get me a pen.”

What were my chances of finding a pen on his workbench?   I scrambled into the house to retrieve a box of pens on my desk.

The pens didn’t write on the damp wood.  He cussed again.  “I can’t figure out the angle for these rafters. Get me the angle guide.”

I handed him a metal object shaped like a triangle. “No, not that,” he said.  Eggs-asperated by my lack of  nomenclature knowledge, he huffed, “I should have said the ‘adjustable’ angle guide.”

By now my husband thinks I’m a wing nut.  His instructions become more explicit.

“Go get me a half-inch socket. Tool case. Third drawer. Round objects – calipers on the side.”

During the next few days, I handed him screws, nails, boards, held up things, plugged in power tools, and picked up things he dropped.  I cheered when pieces fit together and cussed when they didn’t.  I cracked chicken jokes and made him laugh.

More than a few days later, we managed to build the basic frame.  Our next step is making it mobile.  I have a feeling we’ll nail this thing hens down.

Okay, no more fowl jokes.

For now, we’re thinking of names. Yes, we’re going to name our coop.  Any suggestions?

By VanTucky (Own work) [CC-BY-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks for stopping by!

FaceBook, Smart Phones, and Fishing

Published August 31, 2012 by Ms. Nine

I’m not an expert with social networking, but I have a Facebook account to connect with people I’m closest to, and I have a blog to connect with folks on the web.  To my husband, a social network means a company picnic and his face on a billboard… I never expected there’d come a day when he’d be schooled.

When he returned from fishing, horns tooting and “Whoopie!” shouting, Marie and my husband flaunted their prizes and took pictures with their phones.

“Baby Beth, hold this up so I can take your picture,” Marie told her daughter.

“I don’t wanna.  It’s icky,” Baby Beth said.

“Oh, common.  I’ll help you,” said my husband.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

After taking several “good ones” with their smart phones, my husband and daughter compared their catches.

“I’m posting my shots on Facebook,” Marie declared, deftly tapping her phone.  Within seconds, the picture of Baby Beth’s grimace holding an icky fish was shared with the world.

Marie hopped to the computer and logged in. “Mom, come look.”

“Oh, Lordy!” On the nineteen inch monitor flashed a picture of my granddaughter struggling with a  dead 4lb. bass.  At this very moment, our entire family could see them on Facebook.  Ah…the wonders of the modern world.

“These are great. How can I print these out?” my husband asked, looking over my shoulder.  My dear husband, bless his heart, does not know how to use the features on his smart phone.  Marie, bless her heart, did not want to teach him how people pass around pictures nowadays.

“You need a Facebook account, Dad.  I’ll set one up, if you want…”

He sighed, shook his head, and left.  It was not his thing.

Marie and I seized the moment to introduce him to social media and all its glorious splendor. While he was outside cleaning the fish, Marie and I zip-lined him to the twenty-first century.  We opened a Facebook account for him, uploaded his pictures (a profile, too!), and sent “friend” requests.

After dinner, Marie braved a Facebook demonstration on his smart phone.  She had synced his accounts and showed him how to upload pictures and access his email.

During her lesson, he held his breath and concentrated.  Yes! He’s taking it in, I thought. Within minutes, his eyes glazed.  He blinked repeatedly.  Oh, no.  Marie had overloaded his microchips. The program is not responding.  Do we wait or end program now?  We waited.

It worked!  We squealed as he accessed Facebook and patted him on the back as he opened his picture files.  I can’t say he was delighted, but he grinned at our enthusiasm.

The next day, he slammed his phone on the table. “I hate Facebook.”

“Why?”

“My phone’s been vibrating all day. People keep leaving messages wanting to be “friends” on Facebook.  I’m too busy for that crap.”

I took his phone and tapped off  the notifications. Poor guy.  He’ll still catch fish, but he won’t be using the networks of the twenty-first century.

 

Have a great weekend. And thanks for stopping by!

When the Wind Blows

Published August 27, 2012 by Ms. Nine

By NOAA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As Hurricane Isaac threatens the Gulf, I am reminded of the devastating effects of nature.  There’s something feral about hurricane winds.  Your animal side responds to its howl.  Can you outwit nature? Subdue it? Do you really have dominion?

“Mom, can we stay with you tonight?” It was Rachel.  She, her husband, and their infant son lived in a mobile home surrounded by trees. “We’re supposed to evacuate on account of the hurricane.  Mike’s on his way home from work, now.  I’m scared, Mom. ”

“You have time.  But please, honey, come as soon as you can.  We’re getting ready for it.   Bring everything you’ll need for the next several days just in case….” I said.

That night after the wind knocked out the power, we listened to news on a battery operated radio.  My daughters, all of them, huddled in the living room and clung to every word of the emergency broadcast…A loud crash broke the concentration.

Armed with flashlights and rope, my husband and son-in-law left the house to investigate.  The girls held hands and prayed.  As I watched the men though the window, their flashlights illuminated blurs of their movement – the struggle to tie rope to the posts and tether themselves, their blown faces like distorted images in a fun house, the rain slamming them sideways.

When they returned, the girls threw questions at them.  What happened? Did you see the barn? Are the horses okay? What was that noise?

“The sycamore, the one by the driveway, toppled over,” Mike reported.

“It’s okay,” my husband said, “it didn’t hit the propane tank.”

At this point, most of us were exhausted.  We were tired of listening to the wind, the tinny radio voices, and the pelting rain.  I blew out the candles and brought out blankets and pillows.  We dosed.

In the light of dawn, the brightest light I had ever seen, we stumbled awake and gathered outside. I heard a scream.

In the blink of an eye, our yard had become a strange landscape.  Toppled trees and branches obscured the view of the street, the barn, and the pond.  A large oak lay across the front field.  The top of  an old cedar had hurled like a spear into Marie’s ragtop.  She was still screaming.  She loved that car.

We comforted each other and checked on our neighbors.   All the people on our street were without electricity too, but no one was hurt.  For the next several days, I would bond with my neighbors in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.  We held grilling parties to share thawing food, passed around generators for our well pumps, and took turns with chain saws to clear the road of fallen trees.  A friend fixed Marie’s car.

Within a few weeks, our lives returned to normal, but we would never be the same.  We learned about the power of people and the power of nature.  United in humanity, we do have dominion.

The Wizard and Blueberries for 3WW

Published August 8, 2012 by Ms. Nine

CC Wikimedia

3WW  prompt: crumble, uneasy, drawn

“Hey, do you know where the Wizard’s Cauldron is?” Faith asked the driver across from us.

We had an address but couldn’t get a handle on the pick-your-own blueberry farm. I rode shot-gun and navigated.

“It’s that-a-way,” the driver shouted, pointing toward Route 158.

The light changed and Faith U-turned. “Didn’t we already drive this way?” she asked. The familiar landmarks, a liquor store, an empty shack, and a set of run-down mobile homes, made me feel uneasy.  Then again, we had driven by so many streets; any one of them could have evoked a déjà vu.

“Okay, now watch for a sign,” she said.

“I’ve seen it.”

“What? Where?”

I looked at her. “In the haunted forest right before the witch’s castle.  It said I’d turn back if I were you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly. We’re not going back empty-handed. Carol told me to look for a small sign next to a warehouse.  Is that a warehouse?” She pointed to a row of garages clumped together like bad teeth.

“Yeah, could be,” I said.

She lifted her foot off the gas without ramming the brake pedal, an improvement in her driving I could only attribute to magic.  To me, this was proof of our proximity to the Wizard’s Whatever.

“Look! There it is!” she squealed, wrenching a hard right.  I never noticed the sign as my head hit the roof when she ignored the curb. She stopped her new Ford Focus behind the ramshackle warehouse.  Another sign propped against the wall was harder to miss.   I read the primary-grade print in purple letters.

Pick your own. $1.00 a pint. Leave money in jar. Use honor system.

I twitched.  A pint? How many blueberries are in a pint? Can you pick a half-pint? What if we didn’t have the exact amount of money? Who makes change? I’d never experienced self-service like this. It felt strange, but I followed Faith down a path between the wind break.

Hidden from the road, acres of blueberry shrubs dotted an open field. I could spot the blueberries from yards away. They hung like mini-ornaments in splendid clusters.  They glistened with the promise of blueberry crumble and all else that is holy.

Within thirty minutes, we had drawn a gallon of berries from the Wizard’s Cauldron, stuffed two bills in the jar, and flitted..

During the drive back to town, Faith described the recipes she would use, who she would make them for, when she’d make them, and why.  “I’m going to make Bobby a pie.  I’m old fashioned.  I think if he tastes my cooking, he’ll love me even more.  Isn’t that a ridiculous sentiment?” She turned to me for what, reassurance? Too bad she didn’t see the bakery truck barreling down the wrong side of a country road.

“Faith! Look out!” I grabbed the wheel. She kicked the brake pedal and screamed.

I’m sure a scenic road becomes a kaleidoscope of pretty colors when viewed from the widows of a spinning car.  I can’t say.  My eyelids and cheek bones instinctively formed a seal, protecting me from all visuals, beautiful or otherwise.  My ears, however, were blasted with the audio of Faith’s screams.

Like a windup toy, the car lost its energy and stopped.

“Are you okay?”

I nodded. “Are you?”

“I’m a mess. That truck! Where did it go?” Faith fumed.

“Drove away.”

“We’re lucky no one got hurt. Hell, we’re lucky to be alive!” she turned to look in the back. “Look, the blueberries didn’t spill.”

Faith thought it best if I drove the rest of the way. I looked in the rear view mirror at the peculiar black circles staining the road. I shrugged, shifted to drive, and punched it.

I was sorely in need of to-die-for blueberry crumble.

Don’t you love 3WW…Thanks for stopping by!

 Why write?

Published July 26, 2012 by Ms. Nine

I would never post anything my kids shouldn’t read. In fact, my writer’s soul wants them to read my posts. I want to share my words with them like I did every day when they were little.  My daughters live close by and we talk often on the phone. But my blog posts, especially the stories about them, are special memories set to the speed of light. Yeah, kind of mystical and magical…

“Felda, did you read my blog today?”

She chortles. “I didn’t have time today, sorry.”

“Audra, what did you think of my post today?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t read it. Yet. I’ll read it later. I promise.”

“Heidi, did you like my post?”

“What post?”

I shrug off their indifference and stop asking.  It doesn’t matter whether they read it or not, the story is alive on the web.  I’ve not used their real names, but they’ll recognize themselves nonetheless. And they will read those posts eventually….

Today, my phone rings.

“Mom, I called to tell you I laughed when I read your blog story.”

How cool is that! I get to make them laugh and they call me to let me know.

I hope everyone has found a way to keep those family stories alive.

Writing for Revelation

Published July 10, 2012 by Ms. Nine

When my daughter talks to me, which isn’t very often, our conversations are one-sided.  She does most of the talking, which is usually a rant, and I do the listening. She’s toxic, and it’s better when I don’t take the bait.  When she leaves or hangs up the phone,  I fill my journal with what I wanted to tell her.  I thought I’d share with you a recurring theme.

#

      “Why did you adopt me?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I replied.

She scrunched up her face.  The answer, after all, implied that if I had hindsight, my decision would have been different.  Well, what did she want to hear?  Because I loved her?  Because she needed a family?  Because it was the right thing to do?  All this she already knew.  The truth is, even when I try to remember the reason, I really don’t have a better answer.

     Honey, you’re thirty-seven, an adult.  So your life sucked for the first eight years, then you got a new family.  It’s been twenty-nine years and you’ve yet to call me Mom.  Your therapist said you couldn’t say it because the word dredged up feelings of horror, pain, and dread.  Maybe if I had pushed the issue, made you talk the talk, eventually you’d see me as your “real” Mom.  Just so you know, being the “adopted one” never made you any less of a sister or daughter.

      We accepted you for yourself, the crooked sapling that we loved regardless.  Could anything have straightened out that sapling so its trunk wouldn’t grow up gnarly?  Does it matter?     

     Is that why you stuck the needle in your arm?  You blame your heroin addiction on being adopted?  Well, Honey, that’s what addicts do – they blame.  All the therapy in the world won’t change that.  True, you could have been someone else’s daughter.   But you’re mine, and nothing will change that, either. 

     So, why did I adopt you?  I can’t promise you’ll like this answer any better.  It’s a divine poker game and God’s dealing.  When He gives you a chance to love, even if the stakes are high, you don’t fold. 

    And if God ever gives me the chance to tell you this, I will.

 

Writing this has helped.  It’s her birthday and I’ve no way to contact her.

Thanks for stopping by.

Foreshadowing, the Ties That Bind

Published June 5, 2012 by Ms. Nine

     Foreshadowing is necessary to add suspense, connect scenes, and convey information that helps the reader understand what comes next.  If you don’t use it, your reader will disconnect.   

     So, what is foreshadowing?  Think of foreshadowing as signposts in your narrative that lead the reader to a destination in your story.   The signs can be expressed in the setting, in a set-up scene, in dialogue, or in symbolic objects (and lots of other ways!)

In this post I’m going to have a little fun with foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing in the setting:

     Marcy woke up to Here Comes the Sun playing on her ipod alarm clock.  The bright tempo and lyrics bounced her out of bed.   Indeed, the sun streaming through her bedroom windows reflected the song’s sentiment and convinced her that today, she too would shine.  Last night she had worked on her portfolio long after Jay Leno said goodnight.     Now it pulsed on her laptop, a dazzling multimedia presentation.    This morning, she didn’t break the eggs, her coffee perked to perfection, and her toast didn’t burn.  Today will be different, she told herself as she pranced into the shower.   A few minutes later, she donned her only power suit, a coral skirt and blazer trimmed in navy blue.  Grabbing the flash drive and gathering her scattered papers into a folder, she headed out the door.    Carpe Diem!

{—this might be Marcy’s best day.}

Foreshadowing in the set-up scene:

     Marcy gripped the steering wheel of her Honda Civic as she rolled down Main Street at the tail end of the noon rush.   Why would anyone schedule an important meeting at one o’clock?  People are either sleepy from eating lunch or tired and hungry from skipping it. Well, that’s corporate thinking for youEither way, I’ll show them my prospectus and they’ll be eating out of my hand.  She squeaked by three traffic lights just before they turned red.  Bolstered by this good karma, Marcy was certain her interview would result in that promotion – Senior Merchandiser for Kmart’s Kitchen and Bath Department.    She turned right onto Crawford Street with five minutes to spare.    Those five minutes would be eaten up by red police lights flashing in her rear view mirror and the burping, sick horn of a police warning signal.

{—Marcy is going to be late.}

 

Foreshadowing in dialogue:

     Marcy rolled down her window as the officer approached.  “Is there a problem, officer?” she asked in a friendly way.

     “License and registration, please,” the officer replied, all business like.

     “Sure.” She fumbled through her purse, and then handed the items to the officer.

     “Marcy McDonald?  The break light on your passenger side is out.  I’m issuing a citation; you’ll have five days to fix it.  You’ll go to traffic court with proof of the repair and pay the fine.  Understand?”

     Marcy nodded.  

     “One more thing,” the officer continued, “are you planning on parking in this area?”

     “Yes.  I have a meeting in that building,” she said, pointing to a high rise across the street.

     “Then use the off-street parking.  There’s been a rash of break-ins at the municipal parking lot during the afternoon hours.”

     Great! I’m already late.  Finding an off-street space is next to impossible!  I’ll take my chances, carry mace, and lock my doors.

     “Thank-you, officer,” she said, flashing her friendliest smile.

{—Marcy is going to be very late}

 

     In my writing, foreshadowing is often constructed during rewrites.   How does foreshadowing work with you?  Do you write phrases about the future? Do you write changes in setting that guide the reader to a future event?  Do you write scenic elements that suggest emotions, emotions that are tacked on to what comes next? 

Share some examples of your foreshadowing by posting a comment.

Thanks for reading!

 

Writing Recipes

Published May 21, 2012 by Ms. Nine

When you share your favorite recipe, don’t forget to serve it up with a good story.  Nothing enhances the flavor of  home cooking than the story behind it.  If you’ve ever read the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe (now an urban legend!), you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, here’s the link Neiman Marcus $250 cookie recipe.

Today, think about your special recipe.  I’ll bet there’s an amazing story behind it. Food is more than nourishment. It’s inspiration, family, and playtime.

Twenty-five years ago a Vermont newspaper featured an article about New Orleans Jambalaya.   Absentmindedly, I read the list of ingredients aloud, “Hmmm – shrimp, spicy sausage, chicken, tomatoes, cayenne pepper… That sounds good, doesn’t it?”

My husband put down his coffee. “Yeah, make it for dinner tonight, why dontcha.”

“But it’s meatloaf night,” I protested.

“Well, golly gee whiz! What was I thinking? Of course, nothing compares to your meatloaf, Dear.”

“Okay, Buster. You’re on.  But I’m warning you – this is hot stuff.”

Hot stuff, indeed.  That evening, the aroma of sautéed garlic, peppers, and onions wafted through the neighborhood.    Add the shrimp and the whiff of it spawned many a rumor.

“What’s she done now?”

“She wants a new car.”

“She definitely wants something.”

“Forgiveness.”

“She’s pregnant again…”

After that night, I swore I would only make this dish for special occasions.   The last time I cooked this up was for my step father’s 80th birthday.  It sure put some pep in his step!

Here’s the recipe and a caveat.  This stuff draws a crowd, so make a lot.  Like sex, there’s never enough.

New Orleans Pasta Jambalaya

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 2-inch strips

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cups each chopped green and yellow peppers

½ cup chopped onion

½ teaspoon minced garlic

3 ½ cups (28 oz can) crushed tomatoes in puree

¾ cup chicken broth

½ pound fully cooked spicy sausage cut in ¼ inch slices

¾ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 pound cleaned medium shrimp

8 ounces dry pasta, cooked and drained

2 to 4 drops of hot pepper sauce

In medium bowl, toss chicken in flour. In large skillet, heat olive oil over high heat; sauté chicken for three minutes.  Add green and yellow peppers, onion, and garlic; sauté for three to four minutes or until crisp tender. Add tomatoes, broth, sausage, black pepper, salt, and cayenne; stir to combine thoroughly.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.  Add shrimp and continue to cook for 2 to 4 minutes or until shrimp are pink and loosely curled.  Serve over pasta. Makes 8 servings.

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