Chicken Wire to the Rescue

Last week I broke down and decided that I needed to clean up the backyard and get ready for winter. The summer warmth has lingered and lured us into believing that we will never have winter, but I suspect that it will eventually turn cold. We still have inflatable balls scattered about the fence line along with the bits of a remaining pool noodle. My vines are dragging down my nifty metal support cages purchased from Lowes early in the spring.

I worked all morning throwing away and picking up. I could hear the table saw running in the barn and the neighbor’s leaf blower going. I was also determined to get the chicken pens cleaned out. Over the summer we had raccoons and skunks visit and try to make my Rhode Island girls into their dinner, so we created all kinds of extra fences and blockades to keep them out. We had chicken wire tied to about a zillion pieces of board and more chicken wire wrapped around all manner of metal contraptions designed to let the girls bask in the sun during the day BUT keep the predators out at nights.

Once the predators were taken care of, we let our small flock run loose again. However, we still had the contraptions and cages out in the open. I unwound and clipped and yanked chicken wire. I stretched it and cursed it and rewound it into nice bundles. I moved all the bricks into a neat pile and hauled the boards back to the barn. I cleaned out the chicken house, changed the water, and spread new shavings in their nesting boxes. Then I sat down to rest for a minute.

At that point – when I was finished – the kids came out to the yard to join me and we sat on our rickety, webbed lawn chairs to watch the hens peck and scratch. We discussed the raccoons and the skunks and the two deer who come up to the house at nights. Midway through one conversation the youngest looked over and gasped, “Mom! Your arm is bleeding.” I looked down and sure enough there was a line of blood from my elbow nearly to my wrist. I suppose it was from the chicken wire as it wasn’t deep, and it didn’t hurt.

College girl reached over to touch my hand and took on a solemn attitude. “Poor Mom, you have a shooting scar.” We laughed over that and I told them that I thought it was from the chicken wire. I sighed deeply and told the kids that we had some more to do before we could declare the backyard ready. Before I could even finish the thought, they were back inside. I didn’t mind because I liked being outside and I like being alone at times.

I don’t know why but as I worked I began to think of all the things I was grateful for and for how long had I relied on these simple tools to make my life easier. I started, of course, with chicken wire as I was holding a small piece of it. I thought, “It is always nice to have a small roll of chicken wire.” It is easy to work with even though it can scratch and cause one to ahhh, mumble, ahhhh, unsavory words under one’s breath. But all in all, chicken wire comes in handy in so many places and has been helpful over the years.

Years ago, we had a small batch of kittens who crawled their way into the dryer vent and died. We only ever used the dryer in the winter because we dried outside on the clothesline most of the year. It had gotten colder, and the kittens would huddle under the dryer vent to keep warm when momma cat was out and about.

After the episode, dad needed just a small bit of chicken wire to create a barrier, so any future kittens could not crawl up the dryer vent. He turned to our oldest son, then about third grade, and asked him to go get a small piece of chicken wire. He was gone a good little while but when he returned he had the wire cutters in one hand and a square piece of chicken wire in the other. We thanked him and made him feel big for being able to go to the barn and get what we needed.

All was well until I went out to lock up the chickens for the night. Smack in the middle of my chicken pen “wall” was a large square hole. Right about the height of a third grader. It was nicely cut and fairly even on the edges. I had to fix the hole in the pen before I could go after the oldest son. Turns out that we had asked him to get chicken wire but did not tell him where to get it and he thought that it would be FASTER to cut it out of the pen “wall” rather than to go into the barn and find the roll and cut it from there.

Really? I would have never thought cutting a large square out of the MIDDLE of my chicken PEN wall was faster!

Third grader is now a Veteran and as far as I know doesn’t use chicken wire much these days, but I am waiting patiently to teach his children all about the FASTEST way to obtain wire should the occasion ever arise.

Happy Veteran’s Day to all Veterans! Thank you for your Service.

 

 

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The Barfly Mysteries

As most of you know I love to write. I can write nearly as fast as I can talk. The best thing about writing is that I get to go back and edit what I have written and hopefully make things sound just as I have intended. The bad thing about writing is that once it is printed it can be kept forever and there is no opportunity to explain further. The audience gets to interpret and make comments or decisions not only about the content but also about the writer. While a bad conversation can lose significance because there is no proof that it was actually uttered, a badly written document is there seemingly forever.

Most of us talk throughout the day and never think a thing about it but a writer must give some thought to the words that are committed to paper. Let me re-phrase that to say that a writer SHOULD give thought to the words that are committed to paper. Consider the recent news surrounding e-mails. They can be kept and they can be printed and they are waiting to condemn or acquit. Lots of verbosity surrounding the bits of paper but still they remain as part of someone’s story.

Stories are the fabric of life. Some are true, and some are not. Nearly everything that goes through my mind is processed as a story. For instance, when I sit at a stoplight I look around and see people and create mini-stories about them. It does not have to be a stoplight, it can be at a restaurant or church or a ball game. Wild things flit through my mind. I can start a crying jag just fleshing out my setting. Mysterious, fleeting thoughts buzz through all tangled up with hilarious dialogue. For the most part these gems pass right through the memory zone and don’t get recorded on paper.

Now and then an idea sticks and either makes its way to the paper trail or keeps me awake at nights. Lately I have been having a nagging fit to write a story about a Barfly. Not a barfly as in a buzzing, pesky fly that is swatted in a bar but rather the cloak and dagger stuff from yesteryear about the blonde dame who sits at the end of the bar and sees everything through a smoky haze.

Listen for the voice of the guy from the old TV show Dragnet telling the audience about the dame. The Barfly.

I can see her in my mind twizzling her drink and throwing back her head to laugh at something the bar tender says. Sultry is the word that comes to mind and I begin to think of the different ways I can paint her as a sultry dame with a smoky voice, sipping on a cool drink. In a bar of course.

Unfortunately, my personal story hasn’t got much background to inform my new fictional story. It makes sense that a blonde Barfly with a Beehive hairdo would want to sip on a drink. Perhaps something greenish with a twizzle stick of course. I don’t really see her sipping along on a dark brown, carbonated drink through a straw. Although she could lick the Dr. Pepper off the end of the straw now and then. I will have to work on that part of the story.

I don’t have many bar memories to draw from but two distinct bar episodes pop into my mind when I begin to flesh out this story. The first was an old bar out in the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico between Ruidoso and Plains, Texas. We were coming home from a trip to the mountains and I absolutely had to use the bathroom. On the dusty plain amidst the tumbleweeds sat a small shack with several motorcycles in front of it. I think a large yellowish Caterpillar was out to the back and one corner of the tin roof was flapping in the wind.

“There is a place to stop!” I screamed at hubby. He screeched to a halt and I vaulted into the bar. It was small and dark. I scared the guy behind the bar in my rush to find his bathroom. He nodded towards the back and I yanked open the door under the half-lit Coors sign. Relief at last.

The second bar was when we got lost on the way to a wedding up in Michigan. Same story. I had, had, had to go to the bathroom. We were lost on the backside of the wrong kind of neighborhood, but we found an old bar on the corner. We bumped across several potholes getting to the door and I rushed in towards the back, took care of business and rushed right back out, found the wedding, and had a great time.

Drawing on the VAST experience from my own story I offer the first line of a new story:

The honey-blonde batted her green eyes as she patiently waited for her drink. Her polyester Beehive was hanging on valiantly to the back of her upswept “do.” The room was quiet except for the soft scratching of a leather, pointy-toed boot upon a skinny shin bone.  “What’s a dame gotta do to get a Dr. Peppa in a joint like this,” she whispers under her breath.

…To be Continued…

 

 

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Profiling Humanity

I used to be one of six and one of four respectively. I guess, at times, I was really one of eight. I am the youngest of six children. Two boys and four girls. So, eight in our family, six kids, and the youngest of “the girls.” To further classify I was always one of the “little” girls because the two oldest sisters were the “older” girls.

Most of us look very similar and have similar body types. As the youngest of six I was instantly profiled at school. “Oh, you are one of the Dent sisters,” they would say, and then automatically assume that I was going to be exactly like my older sisters and make the same choices that they made.

 

Most of this was OK because I have fun and wonderful sisters, but there were times I just wanted to be myself. I suppose most younger children have the same feelings that I had growing up. I wanted to find my own space and not be constantly compared to others. And yet, I loved having that comfort of knowing that I belonged in a group.

Our sister group was, and still is, tightly knit. Several years ago, I lost my life-long partner in the “little girl” group and I still feel that keenly on some days. Other days I am busy being my unique self. Over the years our groupings have gotten married and created newer groups within our own families.

Nowadays, we are re-profiled as moms and grandmothers. No one knows our given names anymore. And if they called us by our given name they would get into trouble. Not that they haven’t tried it and found out very quickly that only a few are privileged to call me Mom and they better stick with the safe route and call me “Mom” and not “Fawn.” I love my mom profile.

I can be shopping in a large grocery store and when any young voice calls out, “Mom!” I immediately turn and look for the child as do many others in the store. The mom profile is universal and hard to beat. There are times, however, that I step back from the mom profile and shoo them on to someone else – mainly their dad. “YOUR child got in trouble at school today.” He chokes on his supper and says, “Since when did he become MY child? You are the mom go and fix it.”

Our lives are inundated by different groupings, profiles, and other categorizing. Some we tolerate and others we despise. While I like being Spiritual, I don’t really want to be classified as religious. I love being in the mom group, but I am not ready for the AARP group even if they do send me colorful mail almost daily. I prefer being in the healthy group over the sick and needing prayers group.

Some groups we aim for but never quite get into. I am hardly ever classified in the calm and quiet group. Somehow, I end up in the loud and ornery group, but I must say that we usually have fun in that group. And I am never immediately placed in the serious group even though I can be pretty serious about some things.

As I have gotten older I find that I enjoy my groupings more. I know who I am and where I belong. That is comforting for me. No more trying to be someone I am not. No more trying to get others to like me. No more getting upset if someone chooses another path.

Maybe I am just old, but I find the culture we live in to be very sad indeed. Many of the basic groupings have gone virtual. Friendships are maintained online. Neighbors stay indoors. Grocery shopping is going online for Pete’s sake. I love to grocery shop to see all the folks that I haven’t seen in a while. Movies are online. Bill pay online. Recordings. Recordings. Recordings.

The online groups might be faster, and we don’t have to get dressed, but we miss so much humanity along the way. Calling real people for appointments and listening to their encouragement. Handing over a check or cash for a product and chatting it up with the cashier – commiserating that they don’t get Thanksgiving Day off. Hugging another at the park after walking the trails. Looking at the handwriting on a note. Smelling a newborn. Or at least, the Johnson’s baby lotion. I am not ready to give up on the “real” group just yet.

In fact, I am going to take a knee at the next ballgame I attend and protest the use of classifying humans as account numbers. I am not just an online account number.

I am a sister, a mother, a grandmother, a quilter, a spiritual person and I firmly belong into the loud and ornery group. And I might belong in the AARP groups but am protesting that as well. 

 

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Left Out

When I attended graduate school I was taught many different things. Different ideas and ways to think were impressed on me as well. Along the way, morals, beliefs, and political leanings were discussed openly and hashed over. I was taught different formatting skills for every possibility. I learned how to cite from outside sources and how to craft my own work.

I learned to build websites and fill them with appropriate content and I learned that an argument is not really an argument as most folks see it. An argument should put forth new ideas and new ways of looking at things in an attempt to better understand the issues. Both sides bring out their information and try to sway the other side to come over to their way of thinking or perhaps they both learn something and a new way of understanding is achieved.

Whether I was working on websites, written documents, or oral presentations, one concept continually tweaked my brain. Because I am a “doer” and work at whirling dervish speeds, the concept was a little more difficult to grasp than some others. The concept is that the stuff we leave out is just as important as the stuff we put in. GASP! I was being asked to fill page after page with words and ideas and thoughts and charts and headings and, and, and, and they wanted me to think about what I left out when I was struggling to fulfill the assignment by adding all that I could possibly think about.

The more I worked on things, the more I thought about that concept. I graduated and began teaching. The concept became more important as I taught students to pick only one or two fonts at most when I read through resumes or cover letters filled with curlicues, pink text, and many fonts. Then I impressed upon my students the idea that what we leave out can be more effective than the things we leave in.

Amidst all the ruffled feathers of the NFL, the natural disasters, the horrific crimes, and all the Trump bashings on mainstream media, I am even more aware of the importance of leaving things out. Seemingly our culture wants immediate and complete disclosure of every event happening world-wide. At times, our military have been put in jeopardy because of this cry for all information all the time. However, in many instances when more was needed, the information was conveniently left out to the point it is virtually impossible to know what/who to believe.

Last week I read a report showing that cellular usage by teens corresponds with higher instances of teen suicide and depression because so much information is shared publicly. Nothing is left out. Teens make a mistake at school and the whole world knows about it in just a few seconds. Someone breaks up with someone and the cyber bullies are at it before the heartbroken one can even process the news. Images, texts, and thoughts are not edited because it is easy to crucify another when it is “just online.” Everything gets published and nothing is left out.

As I ponder my life these days I am even more aware of the importance of things left out. Perhaps we should keep our opinions to ourselves a little more often and perhaps we should strive to find out all the details before making swift judgments. My sister used to tell me, “No matter how flat the pancake there are still two sides.” Sometimes we don’t have all the information and sometimes we don’t need it. Sometimes, what is left out will hurt others and sometimes what is left out is truly not important enough to mention.

Our world is filled with information and we must act, daily, as human filters. Can we believe this? Can we believe that? What makes this person do this or that? What information don’t we know that would make us think differently?

The concept that we have a choice of what to put in and what NOT to put in can become mind-boggling if we let it. Information is just one area for this concept to work. Our life can be looked at in the same manner.

What do I leave out and what do I NOT want to leave out?

Of course, I would like to leave out ugliness, untruth, and selfishness. I would like to NOT leave out kindness, grace, and integrity.  Like the writer who deliberately leaves out certain words, phrases, and thoughts, I, too, can wake up every morning and make deliberate choices about my life.

Be kind or be ugly.

Be gracious or be an old goat.

Be a whiner or get on with life.

I hope that what you leave out this week will be a blessing to others and I hope that what you choose to leave in this week will be a blessing to others.

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Fall Yuuummm

I love fall. I love the cool mornings with the mist/dew hovering over my plants in the garden. I love how spider webs appear in the light from the sun and the leaves begin their transformation from green to orange, red, or bronze. I especially love the streak of bright yellow as the school bus roars past our house in the mornings and afternoons. Fall is the point of going forward.

We move from growing to harvest in the fall. I love the harvest time because it takes me back to so many good memories of my life. Pulling the baskets off the wall and walking up and down the rows of peas, beans, and cucumbers to bring in the harvest is the best point of going forward. We pick, pull, snap, and shuck so that our families will be fed in the winter. We mash, peel, and chop to our hearts delight in the fall.

Nothing makes me prouder than my rows of red and green filled jars marching along on my pantry shelves. Add in the grape, peach, and cherry jellies and I am ready for anything. Fall brings such a feeling of satisfaction. The cool lifts our hearts and the eagerness of the kids hopping off the bus in the afternoons restores my spirit. Life is ongoing and it is good.

The coolness of the fall also brings about an irresistible urge to bake. Carrot cakes, pumpkin cakes, apple pies, pear/cranberry muffins bring about such memories. My banana nut bread is from an old recipe that I got from my grandmother’s sister. It makes huge amounts of banana bread but I would never use a different one. My peanut butter cookies are from an old recipe my sister gave me. Her brother-in-law was a cook for an old country school and he made these cookies for hundreds of school children over the years. Now I make them for mine. I suppose that over the years of pleasing our families we cook certain things at certain times because the activity and aroma are firmly tied to a memory.

We have certain cookies and quick eats that we only make at Christmas. There is no reason we can’t have them at other times but we have them down as Christmas and that is when we enjoy them. Iced cookies are enjoyed at Christmas and Valentines. Pumpkin pies are just not the same on July fourth as they are on Thanksgiving. Sausage balls are fun to make and eat but we usually only make them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am sure they are yummy in June but in June we are into melons and berries and sausage balls don’t even sound appealing!

Fall has its own recipes. Apple cake, pumpkin bread, baked turkey, chili and cornbread, beans and cornbread, pineapple upside down cake in the cast iron skillet. Warm things to help us get through the new, chillier evenings. When baking, I almost always bake from scratch and for the most part I use recipes from old as well. Some are written on paper with splots and splashes of vanilla or chocolate powder. Others have been copied several times over onto little cards. Some pages of my cookbooks fall open to selections because of the goo leftover on the pages.

I have little notes written in beside the ones I make the most and if I get a recipe from a friend or relative I usually note the name of the person I got it from. I have snapped many of these writings on my phone and sent to grown kids wanting to establish the recipe into their own homes and memories. Sometimes, I replace the oil with applesauce and sometimes I add in shredded carrots instead of mashed pumpkin or I toss in a bit of cloves with the cinnamon to add a deeper flavor but the basic recipe remains the same. I prefer to use eggs from my own chickens and I believe that all cookies go best with a cold glass of milk.

So, fall is here and my college child came home for her first weekend and asked for my pumpkin cake. “You know, the one you make every year. I can’t wait to have it again.” I hugged her tight and promised her that we would make it before she had to return on Sunday evening.

The Pumpkin cake was delicious and I thought I would share it with you here. On old friend gave me the recipe years ago. I have it written on a little scrap of paper with her name on it. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Pumpkin Cake

4 eggs

2 C Sugar

1 C oil (you can use ½ oil and ½ applesauce)

2 C flour

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon (I add sprinkles of nutmeg and cloves when in the mood)

½ tsp salt

1 can pumpkin (I use the smaller can)

Beat eggs and sugar. Add oil and beat again. Add flour, soda, cinnamon and salt and beat again. Blend in Pumpkin. Spray pans before filling. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

I make mine in loaf pans. This is a thick cake and needs to bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I also like to use several smaller loaf pans and make smaller cakes. When cool, I wrap them in foil and freeze them. I mark the date on the top and then I send them to teachers or to the office. Unfortunately, there are times that the teachers must wait until the next batch. Enjoy!

 

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Mirror Reflections

 

The players of the NFL continue to disrespect our country by refusing to stand for the National Anthem at their ball games. Last week the Cleveland Browns circled around each other rather than standing. The police union responded by stating that they would not be carrying the flag if the players were not going to stand. Everyone has their opinion – including myself – about the players.

Some have suggested that they be fired immediately or somehow be forced to stand and recognize our flag. Some have suggested that all the fans boycott the games, the television productions, the shirt sales, and every money-making effort carried out by the NFL until they rectify the situation. Some have suggested doing nothing and let it blow over. Others have suggested leaving them alone because they have the freedom of expression.

And freedom is the key to their entire shenanigans. They do have the freedom to disagree. They do have the freedom to protest and mock the very ones who have protected them. They have the freedom to make a gazillion bucks a year to play a game while the military and police who protect and serve them make a fraction of their annual salary.

One of the coaches stated that the players protesting were highly encouraged to make commitments to their communities and to give back. He went on to state that while they were doing that very thing they noticed the disparities and unfairness and that is what they are protesting. What??? A mega millionaire goes into a poverty neighborhood and notices the disparities? What about when he was growing up? Did he notice then? Did he notice others or was he taught that only he and his family were done wrong? Did he notice that kids whose parents worked didn’t get scholarships or handouts? No one bought them fancy shoes or athletic gear either. That in fact, when it came time for college ball many did not get to play or even go to class because there are NO scholarships for kids whose parents work or who are not considered a minority. 

Did these players realize that many service men and women whom they are disrespecting are the very kids who grew up around them in junior high and high school but did NOT receive the handouts and scholarships that would insure they ended up a mega millionaire playing a game for work?

Where is our perspective? Thousands of kids of all races and ethnicities are in foster care. Homeless shelters are jammed tight. Soup kitchens are overrun. Children are abused by the minute. Hate is rampant in our streets. And yet, mega-millionaires are offended because they are asked to stand for the very flag which grants them the freedom to do so.

I have no solution other than the mirror. What have these players done to alleviate the problems? What have they done personally? And I don’t mean with their money. What have they done to promote integrity? What have they done to promote fairness? What do their lives reflect about goodness and honesty? It is difficult to tell when primarily the news surrounding NFL players is about domestic abuse, criminal abuse, shootings, drunken episodes ending in car wrecks or murder. What have these players done to be role models for their young fans? The same fans they are so worried and distressed about?

Perhaps we all need to look in the mirror instead of pointing fingers. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves these very questions. What have we done to improve the lives of others? Have we honored our military? Have we honored our teachers and supported them? Have we helped a child in need? Have we lived a life of integrity?

Maybe they could pipe the Michael Jackson song, Man in the Mirror, over the PA at the NFL games from now on.

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer

If you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

 

 

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People Vs. Stuff

The hurricane and flooding in the south of Texas this past week have certainly been something to think about as we watch ordinary people go out of their way to help others and we see others not helping at all. Why is it that catastrophe brings out both the best and the worst in us humans? Floods, tornados, fires, mudslides, hurricanes and other natural disasters break down so many barriers and makes us review who we really are inside.

In difficult times, fancy homes, expensive cars, and STUFF take a back seat to helping others. And it should be that way. Too often in our daily lives we forget about others and rely on our STUFF to make us happy. We rely on our stuff to create a status for us that allows us to congregate with some while snubbing others – just because of our stuff. We often think that our STUFF is life and living.

A week ago, we came together to watch the solar eclipse. The best piece of advice all week – other than to have the appropriate glasses –  was to put away the cameras and recording devices and experience the eclipse. Experience the change in light and temperature. Look up at the phenomenon in the sky. Forget about your STUFF for a moment or two. Congregate with others to share the experience. The solar eclipse was a once in a lifetime event for most and we were being encouraged to live it and share it with others because being there and living through the eclipse itself was so much more amazing than fiddling with a phone or camera and missing it all.

Stuff is cool but it is not life. We forget that sometimes. This week we are inundated with news about the hurricane and rains in Texas. I am from Texas and have family in the Houston area. I have friends/family there and some nearly there and some in the outlying areas who are taking part in the rescuing. I avidly watch the news outlets and have seen cowboys on horseback herding cattle and horses to safety. I saw a pastor swimming down his street looking into flooded cars for stragglers. I have seen boats floating up and down streets picking up people and transporting them to safety.

Donations of time and supplies are pouring in. Police departments, the military, the red cross are just a few who are rushing to the scene to help. Prayers are being said across the nation. Social media is working at its best in finding help for those who are stranded or can’t get through to 911. In short, we are living. We are cooperating with each other. We are helping those who need help.

Some have closed their doors and others have opened their doors. Some have been shamed for their actions and others have been praised for theirs. Either way, catastrophe is a grim decider of who we really are. Who is full of courage? Who is full of good will and grace? Who is all talk and no action? Who gives willingly and who has to be talked into it? Who is a natural leader and who shrinks back in the face of responsibility?

Through the past two weeks of great events – one fantastic and the other catastrophic – people have come together to celebrate and to commiserate. My one thought is why do we humans wait until there is an event to notice each other? Why are we so wrapped up in our consumption of goods that it takes a hurricane to make us meet our neighbor or open our doors to strangers? A few minutes in the work day peering at the sky might be just what we all need to relax and enjoy each other again. It worked last week during the solar eclipse. I did not see a single report on how much money was lost during the workday because people took fifteen minutes to go outside and observe the wonders of nature. 

Instead of worrying about statues and monuments and dissecting every syllable that the president says, perhaps it is time to look around us, at the PEOPLE living around us, and smile and offer our friendship and pledge our help in times of crisis. Perhaps it is time to focus on people and forget our STUFF.

My prayers and thoughts go out to the people struggling in Texas this week and to the people rushing down there to help.

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