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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!

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.

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!

 

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!

When Mom Calls

Published July 30, 2012 by Ms. Nine

 

My mom called me today.  One of my uncles recently celebrated his 90th birthday.  I loved my mom’s version of the party.  After our conversation, I pictured the scene and drew out the memories of my uncles and cousins.  Home.

This post was buried in the archives.  It’s back in case you haven’t read it.

 

Nine Writes

I visited my hometown, a place I haven’t seen in years, to attend a wedding.  A day before the wedding, my feelings of nostalgia led me to the old neighborhood where I grew up.   How differerent it looked from the days of my youth!  It took days to untangle my emotions and wrap them up in words.

Here’s what I told myself:

What did you expect?  When you walked away thirty years ago, did you think you were the only one who would leave?  You thought home would always be there, didn’t you?  Well, things change.

Where you once lived, the new owners have installed wrought iron stairs leading to your old room on the second floor.  At the top of the stairs is a door instead of a window.  Two familites live there now.

As you walk the streets of your childhood memories, you notice the sidewalks where you learned to ride a…

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Kindling and Pinky Blood for 3WW

Published July 25, 2012 by Ms. Nine

3WW: hazard, cut, endangered

All you need to chop kindling is scrap wood, a hatchet, and a hard surface.  I have done it many times without endangering anyone.  Except once…

“Mom, m…m…ake a fire,” Thelma said through chattering teeth.

The stove, with its burned out coals, was as useless as an empty whisky bottle.

“Yeah, it’s freakin’ cold!” Sandy said, her breath forming icy clouds that hung over her head like speech balloons in a bad cartoon.

Freakin’?  I ignored her remark with a staccato of orders. “Marie, get some kindling. Sandy, feed the dog. Thelma, open the Spaghetti Os.”

They scattered like mercury beads in a broken thermometer.  I was about to take off my coat when I heard Marie yell, “Mom! The kindling box is empty!”  This was an informative yell, not a panic yell.  Mothers know the difference.

“I’ll chop some!”

“No! I wanna do it!”

“No, Mom! Let me!”

Unfortunately, the hatchet in any one of their hands could become a weapon of opportunity, a hazard; they’d threatened to kill each other once too often.

“Thanks, kids. But I’d better do it. It’s too cold out,” I said, going out the door.

The first pieces cut in four short whacks.  Just a few more…and… I saw blood dripping on the ground. At first, I was confused. Where was the blood coming from? I looked up at the sky. Was it raining blood? Is the wood bleeding? My God! It’s me. My blood. My pinky!

“Mom! What happened?” Sandy asked, watching me run to the sink.

“Just a cut,” I said.

“Let me see.” She bobbed her head around my body as I tried to hide my stumpy and bloody pinky.

She performed a quick medical assessment. “Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll fix it. We’ll sew that piece right back on. Where is it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It must be outside.”

By now, the rest of the children were hovering. “Go and find it for me,” I said, shooing them away like flies on rotten meat.

Sandy returned with the ax, the tip of my finger still clinging to the blade. “Just stick it back on and hold it,” she instructed. “I’ll get some tape.”

“Tape? That’s not gonna work.  Mom, let me sew it.  I’ll get the needle and thread,” said Marie.

“Let me see what it needs first,” I told them.  But they had already scattered to search for medical supplies.  My hands shook as I took the tip off the blade.  Phew! I’m okay, I told myself. It’s just a little slice. It slipped from my fingers and swirled down the drain.

“Here.  I found some tape. Should we sew it first? I can do it. Thelma, hold the tape. Give me the needle and ….Mom? What happened?”

“It’s gone. Washed down the drain.”

Sandy’s shoulders dropped.  Marie and Thelma started crying.  I removed the blood-soaked rag and peeked at my pinky.  It was half an inch shorter.  I collapsed.

My husband came home to crying children, a cold house, and a bloody kitchen.   After absorbing the shocking tableau, he bandaged my finger properly and made dinner.  Without a word, he went outside and chopped a three-year supply of kindling.

The ax is still hidden away.  So is that tender slice of ego that slid down the drain with the tip of my pinky…

Thanks for stopping by!

Pot of Gold

Published July 16, 2012 by Ms. Nine

I have four adult daughters who live nearby and often drop in to visit on the weekends.  During their visits, we share many astonishing moments.  I don’t always have a camera to capture their images, but I always have words.  So it is with words that I retain an extraordinary moment that occurred on Saturday.

It was a day when bright sunshine, humidity, heat, and too many puffy white clouds brought on a sudden rain.  First, I heard the drops fall on the tin roof.  It was play rain, the kind of rain that glimmers in the sun like a disco ball and beckons you to dance.  I’m compelled to witness it up close on a porch rocker and watch the diamonds fall from the sky.  My husband joined me to share in the scenic pleasure.

As I watched the rain, a red Honda Civic rolled down the street.  My youngest daughter drives this kind of car.  I squinted.  Is that Thelma?  The car turned into our driveway.  Yes, it was she.  But why did she stop at the end of the driveway, a football field away from the front porch?  The car crawled forward, a turtle’s pace, toward the house.  I wondered if she was taking her time because of the rain.  Did she find it as delightful as we did?

One hundred feet away, I noticed there were two people in the car.  My husband remarked, “Why, it’s Thelma and Sandy.  Look, they came together today.  Thelma must have been helping Sandy can tomatoes. ”  The car halted twenty feet from the porch.  They were talking to each other like best friends sharing a secret.

They waited in the car a moment then dashed for the porch.  Thelma’s eyes sparkled as she fell into a rocker, breathless and flushed.  Sandy shook the rain off her hair.

“Didn’t you see it?” Thelma asked, looking at me.

“See what?”

“The rainbow in the front field!”

We bounded off the porch, craned our necks toward the sky, and searched the heavens for what my husband and I hadn’t noticed before.  And there it was, faint and fading in the distance.

“It was brighter a minute ago.  And the weird thing about it? It stopped…I mean it dead-ended right in your front field,” Thelma squealed in high-pitched bewilderment.

“Yeah, that’s why we stopped.  We were looking at it.”

“Yeah! I’ve never actually seen the end of a rainbow before.  The end of a rainbow! And it was right in the front field!  It was amazing!”

“I told her to ask you for a shovel. There had to be a pot of gold,” Sandy teased.

They laughed, giddy and girlish.  And I knew exactly where to find that pot of gold – home.

Thanks for visiting!

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.

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