Tales

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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!

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.

Prompt: Everything Went Black

Published July 12, 2012 by Ms. Nine

From http://wordsformwindows.com/

There were twelve of us at the dinner table when my sister and I washed dishes.  I was never in a hurry to finish the chore because of the evening entertainment just outside the kitchen window.  The main character, a blazing ball of hot orange, bowed for the final curtain call.   Exiting stage right, it hung back a little sharing the limelight with its supporting cast, the streaks of brilliant colors.  These streaks would blend and bend like ribbon candy.    I held my applause, gripping the last plate, entranced.  Next, I’d drain and refill the sink to wash the pots and pans.  Like an automaton, I’d scrub them, my attention fixed on those colors.  They were different every night.  One night the reds would dominate with a stage presence so profound that cold stones wept and glimmered with tears.   On other nights, the yellows and pinks prevailed.  Their dainty and wispy wings would flutter a final good-bye.  Sometimes all the bands would orchestrate together in a medley so compelling that it I would genuflect.   Nothing compared to those sunsets until everything went black.

The Last of the Summer Shorts

Published July 6, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Writing shorts has been a learning experience.  I recommend it highly.  As a writer, I’ve learned to wipe away words that don’t perform, clean up clutter, and bend the rules.

Here’s to Friday of summer shorts week–

Do You Hear What I Hear? 

Lily, a curtain maker, listened to streamed music and sang along to Brighter than the Sun.

“Melodious voice, Lil,” she heard.  The DJ?

A joke, surely.  “Thanks,” she replied to her humming serger.

“You don’t need to audition for Idol.”  Who was that announcer talking to? Not her.

Weird how the words fit.

Next, Lily sang along with We Found Love as she created the curtain toppers for Mrs. Bobbitt.  (Mrs. Boob-it for reasons unmentionable).

“Your voice has a timber, an unusual quality,” words again, emerging from the satellite radio.   (The speaker must be interviewing Adele…) “a ring, a pleasant sound.” (Streaming music – that’s what I’m paying for.  Skip the commentaries, thank-you-very-much)

“Yeah, right.  Whatever. Play music,” she muttered.

Energetic, yet lyrical.”

“Enough.  The music now!”She asserted.

“It’s streaming in. Listen.”

Too much talk!  She punched the serger’s foot as if she was Danica Sue Patrick racing in the Daytona.  She braked for the intro to A Thousand Years, then sang.

To millions listening, the voice was not Christina Perri’s, but Lily’s.

Thanks for stopping by.

Love Shorts

Published July 5, 2012 by Ms. Nine

 

English: Exmoor : Dry Stream & River Barle

English: Exmoor : Dry Stream & River Barle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Yesterday, the brutality of the summer heat ticked me off and sent me over to the dark side.   But, not today. Today, I’m staying away from the heat.  I’m thinking about the sweet side of summer – convertibles, watermelon, and time off. And who doesn’t love a swimming hole?

The First Time

Behind the Baptist Church in Whynot, Jesse waded in the river of his baptism.  His skin chill bumped from the cool water and tingled at the promise of summer delights – like sweet Lula Mae, home from her first year in college, whose head bobbed ahead of him.

“Come all the way in, Jesse.  The water feels so good,” she coaxed.

He removed his tee shirt and flung it on the shore where it caught on a branch and waved like a white flag.   He plunged in before he could say, “I’m coming.”  His dive splashed her, and she giggled.

When his head resurfaced, her cheeks apple blushed.  He dove again, this time he held her ankles and dragged her, flailing and laughing, to the lee side.  There he would experience a baptism of another sort.

Lula Mae christened him under the birch trees.  With this single act, she enlightened him to the beauty and godliness of his body.   In the grass where he lay, he heard his soul sing

Thanks for stopping by!

 

Fragmented Shorts

Published July 4, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Flash fiction and sentence fragments.

Only for a Minute

Driving home from work.  Picking up kids from day care.  Watching the temperature soar to 106 degrees.  Forty minutes from home.  The intense urge to urinate.  Can’t think.   A gas station ahead.  Stopping.

Only for a minute.  Urgent business.  Locking the doors.  Leaving the kids inside.  Only for a minute.  Molten pavement.  Racing to the bathroom.   Occupied.  Waiting only for a minute.  Hot urine.  Liberation.  Relief.  Washing hands.  Thinking clearly.

Grabbing two popsicles.  Waiting in line.  Only for a minute.  Running back to the car.

Not sleeping.  Not nodding off.  One semi-conscious.  One dead.

Be safe.  Stay cool.  Thanks for stopping by.

Summer Shorts

Published July 2, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Like these summer shorts, less is more.

Here’s the first of my summer shorts.

That Woman

She put her salad fork down.  “I want a dog for my birthday,” she announced to her old man, her husband of thirty years.

“A dog? But you don’t even like dogs,” he grumbled, mouth full, steak juice dripping from his chin.

“Not a big one, a toy, a house dog to keep me company and sit in my lap at night.”

So he bought her a dog, a designer mixed breed, small and cute.  He snapped a photo of her holding the peppered fur ball as he sang the birthday song.

Later when she viewed the photo, a shadow from a clouded memory crossed her brow.   “I’m that woman,” she said, “the one I said I would never be.”  Her tone did not betray the lament that boomeranged back to her from the past.

She was pushing a stroller in the park, her attention fixed on an old lady sitting alone on a bench.  No, not quite alone, she was tethered to a Yorkshire Terrier which was sharing her ice cream cone.  Gross!  When I’m old, I won’t need a dog for that.  I’ll be feeding ice cream to my grandbabies instead.  I’ll never be that woman.

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!

 

The Stein and Ms. Nine

Published May 24, 2012 by Ms. Nine

The writer married technology a long time ago.  Think about it.  They’ve always walked hand in hand – the invention of movable type, the ball point pen, the electric typewriter, and the ultimate machine – the word processor.  I thought it would be fun to consider writers of the 20th century like Hemmingway, Faulkner, or Fitzgerald using the technology of now.  Would they have accomplished more?  What would they say about it?  What would John Steinbeck think of word processors, the internet, or blogging?  To satisfy my curiosity, I invited Mr. Steinbeck into my imagination for an interview. 

Here’s a transcript of our conversation…

Ms. Nine:  Welcome, Mr. Steinbeck.  Thanks for spending e-face time on my blog today.

Mr. Steinbeck:  Please, call me ‘the Stein’; it’s my tag.

Ms. Nine: (the Stein??  I could NEVER!)… >cough< …I’ve invited you here so writers could benefit from your perspective on being a writer in the 21st century. 

Mr. Steinbeck: Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.

Ms. Nine: Uh..okay, if you say so… This is my first posthumous interview and I’m a little nervous… So here’s my first question.  How do you feel about using a word processor?

Mr. Steinbeck:  I hate computers.  They know so much more than I do.  Using a computer forces a writer to think harder, faster, stronger. 

Ms. Nine:  Would these modern tools have helped you write?

Mr. Steinbeck:  After I won the big P for The Grapes of Wrath, it was tough getting back on track.   I mean, I still had more writing to do.  Maybe if I had a word processor I would have won that Nobel Prize a lot sooner.  Who’s to say?

Ms. Nine:  Would you have finished The Acts of King Author and His Nobel Knights?

Mr. Steinbeck:  You had to mention that thorn in my side.  I’m not making excuses, but in my day writers had to set priorities.    Yeah, maybe a word processor would have helped.  But back then writers believed in the perfectibility of man.  We didn’t write frivolously.  We wrote – I wrote – to bring awareness of the economic and social injustice of the time.  I was making a statement!

Ms. Nine:  This brings me to my next topic – J. Edgar Hoover and the League of American Writers.  Do you think using social media and the internet would have made a difference?   

Mr. Steinbeck:  If I could have tweeted about what happened to Charlie Chaplin and the Smothers brothers, the resulting public outcry might have stopped that Communist brouhaha.   I am clever with words.  But remember, if I could’ve had access to social media, so too would McCarthy and Hoover.  The ability of social media to shape collective consciousness is astounding.   It flows in all directions. 

Ms. Nine: One last question – would you have used a website to promote your work?

Mr. Steinbeck:  At this point, I have grown beyond my work, walked up the stairs of my own concepts, and emerged ahead of my accomplishments, all achieved without a website.  Ironically, now that I’m dead, I have at least a dozen.

 

Well, there you have it – a 20th century perspective on writing in the 21st century.  Makes you think, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

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