Memoir

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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!

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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!

Watching Grass Grow

Published August 30, 2012 by Ms. Nine

A rare creature adapted for life in a single cave may be wiped out in a collapse, but something like grass, with a few strategic nuances, will survive almost anywhere.” 

“The grass is getting high.  Have you noticed? I can mow tonight if you want me to,” my husband said.

“No, I should do it. I’ll mow tomorrow.”

Does he think I sit at home and watch grass grow?

The truth is, I have been watching the grass grow.  It grows dreadfully fast and mowing it cuts at least four hours out of my writing time.

So, if you’re visiting today you’ll hear the Deere running.  Feel free to grab a rake.

Thanks for stopping by.

Poetry Lessons Missed

Published August 28, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Lately I’ve been reminiscing about my days as a teacher. I miss watching children enjoy learning by trying the activities I created for them.  One activity we did together was as much fun for me as it was for them.  I’d like to share it with you today.

It’s called “Copycat”.  Think of a poem you know and like.  Now copy the style of the poem using your own theme or idea.

Here’s one from Sylvia Plath’s Mirror.

Computer

I am sleek and black.  I have no thoughts of my own
Whatever you type, I save immediately
Just as you typed it, unedited or revised
I am not a critic, only a device —
The batch of nanoes, four-cornered
Most of the time I’m booted, clicking on a desk
It is hard, cluttered with paper.  I have stayed on it so long
I think it is part of my hard drive.  But I flicker.
Sleep mode and blank screens separate us over and over.

Now I’m a tablet.  A woman bends over me
Searching the internet for what she  wants
She turns to those search engines, google and yahoo
I show her favorites and posts on face book
She rewards me with giggles and tapping fingers
I am important to her. She opens and closes me.
With me she has news feeds and weather apps, and with me she
Shuts off the TV, like an ugly lamp.

 

Have fun writing today.  And thanks for stopping in.

(I would love to see a new Robert Frost in the comments.)

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.

Elementary Lessons

Published August 24, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Sometimes the lessons we learn in school aren’t found in a teacher’s plan book. This lesson was taught to a sixth grade class during the last century, but I will never forget what I learned from it.

“Who drank from my cup?” Mr. Skip hurled his voice at the rows of twelve-year-olds in his charge.  A giant of a man, Mr. Skip disciplined with a rolling voice.  We were bowling pins; he could knock us over just by breathing.

Silence.

“I want to know who drank from my coffee mug.  Until someone comes forward, there will be no recess.”

Groans.  Was this the end of recess as we knew it?  Who among us would snitch or confess?

A hand jerked up, hoisted by a good angel and a pulley.

“I did it.”

Gasps.  Billy?  He’s here today?

When he came to school, which was not often, we usually knew it because his odor was unmistakable – fermented onions, Romano cheese, and cow shit.  The kids teased him constantly.  He fought back with dirty fists and kicks from his cardboard soles.  His shirt tails hung to his knees while his filthy jeans frayed and dragged at the cuffs.

This unlikely game changer, a frail shadow of a boy, was the only obstacle between us and Dr. Death-of-Recess.  Billy, the goat.  He stood up and instantly became a warrior, a soldier, a hero.

“Oh, so you like my cup, Billy? Here, take it. Fill it with water.”

Billy smirked, winked at the class, and took the cup.  He returned from the water fountain and handed the cup back to Mr. Skip.

Mr. Skip refused to take it, a gesture of contempt aimed – no doubt – at Billy’s grimy fingers. “Drink it.”

Billy chugged down the water.

“Go and fill it up again.”

By now, we understood Mr. Skip’s story book.  No one would enjoy a happy ending with this script.  Billy shrugged as if to say Is this all you’ve got? Bring it on.  He drank the water a second time, a third, and a fourth. On the fifth fill Billy pleaded, “Aww… Mr. Skip…please…”

Mr. Skip’s eyebrows raised like a stage curtain and engaged Billy in a stare-down.  One minute.  Five minutes.  Billy kept his eyes trained on Mr. Skip’s and brought the cup to his lips.

He drank, bowed for the curtain call, and promptly vomited.

Show over.

None of us made fun of Billy after that incident.  Later, we saw him on the bus holding Mr. Skip’s cup like a trophy.

By Will Murray, via Wikimedia Commons

Have a great weekend and thanks for stopping by!

Higher Education

Published August 23, 2012 by Ms. Nine

 

Nerner Moore White (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

For the first time in over fifty years, I’m not preparing to enter a school building. When I stopped teaching and started writing full-time, I didn’t anticipate the feelings I’d have at the start of this school year.  I feel like a blood hound sniffing for a lost scent.  For Heaven’s sake, where are my crayons and wheat paste?

When you think about it, school consumes a large chunk of your life.  You might be a student, a teacher, or a parent of a school-age child; sooner or later you’ll march through the doors of a school building.  For many of you, that time is now.

As you poke through your school memories, you’ll find moments of truth.  If you’d like, share them in a comment.

Have a great year and thanks for stopping by!

 

Five Things

Published August 20, 2012 by Ms. Nine

“Your book sales hit 1,000 today,” he said.

I didn’t know this tall, skinny man who sat at my circular writing desk located at Barnes & Noble.  I stared at his grey goatee and put down my coffee cup.  My heart beat wildly, and the first thing I wanted to do was write about my feelings.  I jumped out of the dream with an idea.

What are five things that could happen today that would make my heart beat wildly?

  1. My readers will stop in for a look-see.
  2. I will write something worth reading.
  3. New ideas will percolate.
  4. One of my kids will call or come by.
  5. I’ll think of something else to add to this list

The day has just begun.  What are five things you would like to happen today?

Thanks for stopping by!

Does it Matter?

Published August 10, 2012 by Ms. Nine

When I discovered blogging, I made a mistake and told my mother about it.  She didn’t get it at all.

“Why are you doing that?”

“It’s fun to write stories and read other people’s comments,” I said.

“How do you know they are who they say they are?  They might be scammers. You could get a virus, you know.”

Trying to tell my mother about secure servers, virus protection, and anonymity is like telling the Holy Father about birth control.  Why bother?

I simply said, “It’s safe, Mom.  I don’t even use real names.”

“So what.  Hackers could find out.”

“You know the story about the tree and the elephant cables?  Well, I write stories like that on my blog,” I said. “You’d get a kick out of them”

“I don’t go on the internet for stories.  My computer is too slow. No. No..No..I wouldn’t do that.  Can’t you just mail the stories? Just send them to me.”

We didn’t need to be skyping for me to see her shaking her head. I dropped the subject like a coconut from a skyscraper.  I told myself it didn’t matter if she reads my blog.  That was a fat lie.

Mom called today.

“I read your blogs, you know,” her sing-song tone sounded like a nananaboobee.

“Oh.” I said. I wanted to jump up and down, shout hallelujah, and do a cartwheel.  I was proud of her.

Silence.

“Well, what did you think, Mom?”

“There’re wonderful!….You should be writing your book.”  There it was – a “should be” – an admonishment dressed up and ready for church.

“I’m doing both at the same time,” I said.

“Okay, yeah, yeah,yeah… You remember Bob? Well, his father died and the funeral was yesterday…”

A funeral?  So she called to tell me about a funeral?

She told me she sang at the service, baked a cake, and brought over a casserole for the family.  When she received the thank-you note, she was baffled at how much her gifts had meant to them.  An implied  shucks it was nothing.  A lie.  Maybe she didn’t expect them to express their gratitude so deeply. I’m sure she appreciated knowing that what she did mattered.

“Mom, remember how grateful we were when Dad died and all those people brought food to the house? We sent thank-you notes, too.  Kindness matters.”

“Yeah, well…”

Not long after our conversation ended, it occurred to me that shucks, it was nothing was the same response I had made when she told me she reads my posts.  It matters.

Thank-you, Mom.

Happy writing and happy weekend!

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!

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