The Master Blaster


The end of school is near. I can hear the summer calling. No more getting up at 5:30 to catch the 6:41 AM bus. The kids are excited but busy. Field Day. Party Day. Movie Day. Lots of testing and more testing. One of the last things for a fifth grader to do each year is decide what kind of classes they want to take as they rise to the next grade. One night over supper we had the serious discussion of which would be the youngest’s first choice, his second choice and so forth for his first year as a Middle Schooler.

At the same time we are preparing the Senior for her final days as a High Schooler. Mainly each morning I would encourage her to go on to school because she really did not need to fail out at this late date. “Awweee mom. We aren’t doing anything and I am just so tired of going!” I agreed with her as I pushed her out the door each morning.

And if this isn’t enough we have the new chickens which came in the mail. They have to be watched, heated, and tended to while attending all of the end of school events. For some quirky reason I received three extra chicks in the box which was not part of our master plan of having backyard chickens.

My new Mother’s Day chicken coop recommends 8-10 chickens at the most. I ordered fifteen because that is a minimum order. They sent two extra Rhode Island Reds and one “exotic” bird. So, not only did I have too many birds, they were not sexed either. Meaning that I received a mix of hens and roosters.

The master plan was that we would go ahead and get the fifteen mixed chicks knowing that most of the time two or three did not make it past a few days. That would help a little bit. And then we would give away any roosters because we were worried about the neighbors. That should get us down to the recommended 8-10 hens. 

However, every single one of the chicks survived the shipping so I had eighteen peeping, hopping, fluttering chickens. Unfortunately, one got caught under the watering station and died. Another was inadvertently dropped and suffered a concussion until moving on to chick heaven. And one morning we found one dead in the box. Not sure why but dead none the less. So, down to the original fifteen and hoping that the ones that died were the roosters.

I have nothing against roosters. In fact, I absolutely love to hear them crow but I am afraid that our neighbors might not like that as much as I do. I love listening to a good flock. The hens all chatter and cluck while the ol rooster tosses his head back and lets out his croaky cock-a-doodle-do.

However, with these last few days of school I am not so worried about the roosters as I originally was. One sunny afternoon, out past the deck, at the new chicken coop, I am chattering with the flock when I hear a loud “SPlllaaaatttt” coming from inside the house. I listen for a moment and decide that all is well.

I return to the chickens and secure them in their pen when I hear “Sppplluuuuttt!” This time the noise is right behind me. I turn to see my new Master Trombonist OUT ON THE DECK blasting his new horn as loud as he can. He giggles between blasts. Yikes! What will the neighbors think?

“Hey Mom! I can really blow this thing!”

I raise my eyebrows and give him a thumbs up. “Spppllllasaaatt” He dies laughing and blows even harder.

Am now rethinking the chicken count as I doubt that the neighbors will even notice the rooster’s crow over the ardent tones of a newly minted trombonist.



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Teens and Chicks

Five AM is not the absolute best time to call me. But I did receive a call this morning at five AM and was delighted! My new chicks had arrived at the post office in their little packing box. So easy. I go online, pick out the chicks I want, place my order and wait for the shipping call. Once I get them home, I dip their little beaks in the water for a drink and then they are off. So Easy. 

So much easier, in fact, than kids! Can you imagine if we could just go online, pick out the children we want and then place the order? I am sure that the docile, mile-mannered ones would all be snapped right up. Kids with athletic builds might go rather quickly and the obedient breeds would never be in stock. There might be a HUGE back log of smart-alec, smart-mouthed, irritating, ungrateful, whiney kids. They would probably be half price with free shipping!

The same thing happens with chicks. The good, egg-laying, docile ones are often out of stock while the aggressive ones are often the only ones left to offer. I am not entirely sure but they might even end up in the freezer. Good thing that does not happen to kids. However, I met a lady one time on an airplane who told me that all teenagers should be deep frozen until they are twenty-five and then thawed. I nodded along as she told me this.

She might have been right in some ways, but for the most part I don’t think I agree with her. Teens can be vexing but think of all the things we learn. We learn ultimate patience. We learn new songs and dance moves. We get matching tattoos. We wear strange clothes to look “cool.” We learn to love when we are about ready to chop their little heads off. We learn to think outside of our adult box. We learn that absolutely anything can happen and we will all get over it.

Teenagers just might be God’s perfect training tool for us. But mostly, with teens, we learn about ourselves. We learn how strong we must be. We learn that we better be living what we talk or they will crucify us. We learn how to handle heartache, mistrust, and disappointment. We learn how to love another in spite of.

Small, soft babies are so easy to love and then they grow. Not unlike chicks, teens clomp together while making non-stop, undecipherable noises. They make huge messes and walk right over them. They are awkward and sometimes fall over themselves. The “roosters” are very full of themselves. They peck at everything, especially their mothers. They eat more than they weigh about every three hours or so. And they are so stinkin cute we put up with them and encourage them to grow up and produce.

At some point in encouraging and putting up with teens, most parents reflect back. “I surely did not talk to my parents the way these kids talk to me!” Were we as obstinate and pig-headed as these young teens? Surely not! And at some point it hits – our poor parents! How did they make it through? The same way we are going to make it through I suspect. One day at a time with gritted teeth.

As I pamper my new little Rhode Island Reds, I also pamper my pre-teen, young teen, and older teen. I set out water and food and listen to them cheep. I encourage them to come out of their box and to quit pecking on each other. I guard them and watch over them until they are ready to leave the coop and then I quietly thank the good Lord that I made through yet another teen experience!

While my downy chicks are brand new, I have a chick ready to leave the coop. I am both excited and fearful. She is both excited and fearful. Graduation from High School and leaving the coop are major milestones for older teenagers. There are foxes out in the world ready to snap them up. There are dangers around every corner but she is ready and I think I am ready. 

As graduation approaches for many, we pray that our chicks have learned the lessons that they need to avoid the foxes and the pitfalls that await them. We pray that they remember how much we loved them along the way and we pray that they find their own path to success and a productive life.

And we pray for all the parents who can’t help but bawl at the opening notes of Pomp and Circumstance even if it is number six.

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The BEE Garden

My kids come home from school nearly every week and inform me that the bees are in trouble and we need to do more to help them out. Last week I was told that some bees are now on the endangered list. This concerns me and should concern everyone.

A story from states that “Pollinator decline is a global trend. A recent major global assessment sponsored by the U.N. suggested that about 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species are facing extinction. Since some 75 percent of food crops rely at least partially on pollinators, that raises serious concerns about the future of the global food supply.”

I have always been an avid gardener but understanding how important my flowers are to our future means that it is more important than ever for us all to plant flowers around our homes. I have friends who say that they can’t be bothered with flowerbeds because it is easier to have grass – or concrete – everywhere. I prefer flowers.

In addition to helping the Bees, a flower garden is a great place to teach children about chores that are fun. Gardens are work to be sure. To some it is fun and to others it is torture. Either way, mine have all been dragged out into various gardens until that momentous day they leave for college or move out. No one is exempt. Here are some tips to managing your gardens.

Parenting Tip Number One: Don’t give them a choice. About once a day, unless it is snowing, I walk through the house clapping and I say, “Outside. Outside. One hour, One hour. Meet me outside in five minutes.” They moan and groan and begin to make excuses, but eventually they make it out to the porch. I quickly assign the different chores.

Parenting Tip Number Two: You have to be involved with them. This is a chance to be together doing something different and fun. It is a chance to teach them about so many things or, as I have found, it is a good place to listen. Something about having your rear-end in the air that opens their mouths.

Parenting Tip Number Three for budding young men: I often use this encouraging logic – this is just a different way to build up those muscles. Think of this as your daily workout. This is CrossFit. This is like going to the gym with your buds – only better! This doesn’t always compute but I always feel better when I get to say it.

Parenting Tip Number Four: If things get slow you can always sing Encouraging Work Songs. These are generally sung while standing over a reluctant worker. Sing in a very loud Operetta Voice until they get back to work. Here is a sample verse that I particularly like, “Work, Work, Work is fun. Work is good. This is an Encouraging Work Song. We Work for fun. We work for mom! OOOOhhhhhhhououou!”

Parenting Tip Number Five: Spend about a third of the required outside time rocking on the porch sipping cool drinks. It is amazing the topics that will crop up.

Just last week I had a reluctant worker in our Bee Garden. She was slinging dirt and mumbling under her breath. Jap, Jab, Jab. She worked the little hand shovel. I let her blow the steam off while I helped the boys work on their rock lifting technique for biceps muscles. When we finished, I gingerly approached her with a box.

“Here is a box that I ordered that is supposed to be a “Bee and Butterfly” garden in a box. Why don’t you help me get these planted?” I smiled. She glared, sniffed, and grabbed the box. I went over to the barn to get the shovel. When I returned to the flowerbed I saw a neat row of plants which had been unpacked and were ready for the dirt.

I smiled at her until I noticed she had removed all of the white information tags. I gasped. She whirled around, clutching the tags. “What did I do?” 

I explained that without the tags I didn’t even know what I was planting or which to put in the back or shade or sun. She did have the grace to lower her head. I laughed and told her that the bees would not care.

So, we added twenty-three Bee Specific plants to our garden. We just don’t know what was added or if they will overtake the plants nearby.

The IMPORTANT thing is that we do have a BEE Garden and are doing our part for the Bumbles.

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What’s Your Name?

I am of the generation who knows the entire cornball movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail by memory. We – hubs and I – can be in the deepest of conversations and when certain things come up we burst into laughter and quote a line or two from this old movie. Many of our friends can as well. We have been faithful to the oddball comedy and have taught our children to like it as well.

In one scene King Arthur and his minions approach a bridge of death and are asked three questions in order to pass. The scene gets totally silly as one Knight passes with the easiest of questions and the next gets thrown into the abyss of death with difficult questions. Finally King Arthur tricks the bridge keeper with a question of his own and the old guy is immediately thrown into the abyss of death. The first question is always, “What is your name?”

Sometimes we play around the house and don’t let certain small folks pass unless they answer our questions. We always begin with, “What,” enunciating crisply, “is your name?” They laugh and give goofball answers to the questions. We all have a good time and eventually they get to pass.

These days I am feeling like this old movie has gained in popularity when I go to certain fast food chains and other establishments. I can be checking out and hand over my ID and the cashier – who appears to be about twelve or thirteen – looks at me with disdain and demands my name.  Sometimes I act like I don’t hear them and say, “Pardon me?”

Then they are confused because they don’t know what that phrase means. Generally I repeat it louder like they didn’t fully hear me. “Pardon me?” We stare at each other for a moment and they say, “Name.” Honestly! This irritates the fool out of me. And sometimes they specify that they need my first name. Why do they need my name? I am trying to buy something and get out of there.

Just as irritating are the ones who are punching in some numbers while holding my ID and then they try to say, “Thank you Mrs. uhhhh… Mrs. uuuhhh…mzucuckkzck.” They flip the ID to me and yank my receipt out of their machine and turn to the next customer. Well, at least they got the “Mrs.” right.  

I don’t really like giving my name to unknown clerks and cashiers. Not that I think they are going to do anything with it but it just seems weird to me. It seems disrespectful. Perhaps because I am a teacher and NO ONE calls me by my first name in my classroom. Or because I am a mother to a small herd and NO ONE calls me by my first name. So, I am uncertain of this new corporate push to have bracy teenagers asking us our names to put on the receipts of our order. I have always thought numbers worked just fine.

At one particular fast food chain I am not very cooperative with the name bit. They just seem so pushy to have my first name. As I drive up to the kiosk the young cashier comes up to my window and stands looking down into my car while cradling an iPad. She has a credit card holster on her hip to enable her to run the plastic through at blazing speed so we can get our food three to four seconds faster.

On this sunny day I rolled my window down and waited for the young lady to approach my car. I gave her my order and watched her tap it into her device. She smiled at me and said, “Can I have your first name?” I smiled back and said, “Musick.”

Her smile wilted. “Music? Is that your name?”

“Sure is.” And just to confuse her a bit I added, “With a K.”

She repeated, “With a K.”

Her finger hovered over the alphabet displayed on her screen. She did not know what to do. So, I sweetly said, “That is my last name. Does everyone give you their first names?”

Her smile was no longer smiling at me. She took the plastic and was trying to run it through the slot at her belt, “Uhhhhh, all but a few give me their first name.”

I took back the card, thanked her and was ready to drive on through when she said, “Uhhhhh, ma’am, I need you to wait until the red car five cars back in the other lane comes through and then you are good to go.”

I gave her a tight little smile. She said, “Thank You.”

I said, “My pleasure” and rolled up my window.

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Flower Power

Spring is such a great time of year and yet it can be so frustrating as well. I have my pots all ready and it rains. I go out and yank out the old foliage from last year and scrape around and it rains some more. I wait inside for some sun to warm things up so I can begin my gardening season. One day is warm and perfect and the next three are full of clouds and rain. Each year near spring I turn into my grandmother – needing a geranium fix.

My grandmother always wintered her flowers inside. She had pots of leggy geraniums on every ledge, table, and surface. She would go into her garage and put paper over the windows before relocating all of the geraniums and other plants inside. I think she wintered them because if you could winter a flower then you would not have to re-purchase in the spring! My grandmother did not spend money on matching pots or cutesy pots. She had flowers coming out of old aluminum coffee pots and wooden ice cream makers. If it could hold a bit of dirt and a flower, then it was filled.

I have tried to run my life along those lines as well. Tried is the key word here. Every winter I faithfully drag in plants and find them sunny locations for the winter. At first they are so pleasant looking in the house but eventually they begin to sag. Some of the leaves turn crispy and decorate the floor. Then inevitably I overwater and the stems begin to droop and turn the whole enterprise into a soggy mess.

I don’t remember if grandmother had problems when wintering her plants or not. I do know that once spring hit her yard was covered with pots of flowers and her flower borders were edged in rolled up newspapers. Sometimes I would help her lay out the newspaper in rows. Once I helped her shred and wet down paper to use as mulch. At the time, I was a little embarrassed because no one else’s yard was covered in old pots filled with flowers and wet newspaper. Now, the shredded newspaper makes total sense.

I remember that she had a nice, large tree in the front yard and one of the branches was a little bit low. Without fail, come spring, that low branch sported dozens of hanging baskets full of geraniums. Her front yard looked like a farmer’s market and each year I try to make my yard just a full of flowers as I remember hers being.

Last year I started a “Bee Garden.” It is a large corner bed with a stone border. On a day last week when it was warm I headed out to my Farmer’s Market and purchased my first geraniums of the year. I really would like to have several of every color of the geraniums. And the verbena. And the petunias. And, well, just a few of everything would be nice but reality sets in. It would cost a fortune AND someone has to plant all of those flowers.

I like to plant and work out in the garden so it works out for us. Last week, I talked hubs into taking his pickup truck to the dirt place and getting me a load of dirt mixed with compost. He was very compliant and brought the dirt home. The youngest and the young teen helped shovel it into my beds. The day was warm and beautiful. The boys worked hard and then slid away as soon as possible. I planted the few vegetable plants I had and then I began to work in earnest on the Bee Garden.

One young adviser instructed me that we needed ONLY flowers in there that would attract pollinators. I informed him that EVERY flower in my Bee Garden was chosen specifically for that reason. He sniffed and slunk back to the deck, not even offering to help plant.

I am a bend-over gardener. My knees don’t work so well, and I am so close to the ground that it is easier to bend over to weed and to plant my flowers. On this beautiful day I was bent over working ever so hard when I felt a hand on my rumpus. I thought hubs must have come into the garden area so I gave it a wiggle and a giggle and kept on working. I thought that I must look OK upside down or he wouldn’t have patted me so. In just a moment, I felt the hand begin to slide and I jerked myself up to tell someone to mind his own business.

When I did the shovel slid on down my rumpus and hit the ground at my feet.

Well, Good Grief! I don’t suppose I looked all that great after all!

At least I got some Bee flowers planted!

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Ice, Ice Baby

During the fall and through the winter I played a lot of tennis. I was playing about four or five times a week. I loved playing and I loved being with other people while playing tennis. I loved everything about the sport until mid-January. After the third set on a beautiful, mild winter morning I limped off the court and felt as if my leg were on fire. As soon as I got home I took some Aleve and iced it. By the next morning I couldn’t walk and had to cancel a match.

I wasn’t certain what had happened because I hadn’t fallen and I hadn’t twisted or torn my knee in any way. In all of my wisdom I decided to ice my knee and give it some rest. I cancelled my matches and settled in for some big time quilting. Quilting should not hurt my knee. However, standing at the ironing board did. So did standing by the stove or over the sink. Nearly everything I did was painful. Over the next few weeks I rested my knee and quilted. It got somewhat better but some days I could barely walk.

My friends urged me to go to the doctor to get X-rays and the dreaded MRI but I kept saying that I was letting it heal naturally. Well, naturally got pretty old because after several weeks I still couldn’t do much more than a slow walk. The oldest teen and I decided to go to the gym to strengthen it. We signed up for a Challenge at the Y. We were to complete fifteen workouts in one month. I decided that I could always walk slowly around the track with all of the oldies who were really hurt. Sniff. Sniff.

Along the way, I quit icing and decided that the Aleve was not good for my stomach. I stretched and walked and did all of the same knee exercises that were given to hubby after his knee surgery. I sat and sewed and made several quilts but I was unhappy because I could not move about as I was accustomed. Mentally, I thought through my age and all of the things I like to do and started to feel sorry for myself. Poor me. My old knee is hurt and not getting a whole lot better.

My kids and friends were insisting that I see a Doctor. Finally, I admitted to one of my friends that I was scared. I didn’t want to find out that I had torn something or that I might need surgery. I didn’t want to face some diagnosis of never playing tennis again or walking at a pace slightly faster than a large snail. I had had an MRI once before and I did not really intend to have another in this life time and I was convinced that I would need one. So, I quilted, and thought, and hurt.

And felt sorry for myself.

Finally, I got up my courage and visited the Doctor who had done the surgery on my husband’s knee. He was very kind and took X-rays and moved my knee around a bit. I waited for him to suggest an MRI or extensive knee surgery. He pulled up the images and said, “Well, all looks good.”

I was a little stunned. “Good? Are you sure?”

He smiled and used his pen to show me all the things on the X-ray that were good.

I had been so afraid for so long and was a bit surprised. “Nothing is broken or disconnected? Torn or shredded?”

He laughed and said that I had a major case of inflammation and should ice my knee and take an anti-inflammatory medicine. He prescribed one and marched out the door.

Good Grief! For three months I had limped around in pain because I let my fear of an MRI or a bad diagnosis rule my life. I felt so silly. I had not trusted my instincts. Instead, I let things build up in my mind. I knew what to do but had quit doing them when I didn’t get fast results. I thought back to my prayer journal and all of the times I asked the Lord to heal my knee or help my knee get better. And He was probably thinking, “Good grief silly woman. Go to the Doctor! You are not hurt that bad.”

And so, once again, I have promised myself that I will not let my silly fears keep me from living my life to the fullest, from trying difficult quilt patterns, from going on trips with teenagers, from admitting I am wrong, or from giving grace when I know in my heart it is the right thing to do.

I am going to thumb my nose at fear and I am going to ice my knee and take my new yellow pill and get back on the tennis court. I am going to have fun and laugh really loud and listen to my friends when they tell me to go to the Doctor!

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Most people who know me know that I like to quilt. I have fabric in piles all over my house and my kids think the ironing board is a sofa table. You know, the long skinny kind that sit right behind the sofa holding lamps and other interesting stuff. Well, my “sofa table” sits right behind my chair and is slightly angled out of the door opening. It is full of interesting things as well, namely patches of various colors and sizes. Eventually the patches will make their way into a quilt for someone.

Quilting can be tedious but it can also be exciting when a new design is evolving. There are times that I simply do not like a particular color but when blended as part of a whole quilt I never notice the odd color. Unfortunately, I have to rip out seams to make sure that I get a nice point or that the corners match. I do like the design process so that I can see new designs emerging from behind other designs. I ceaselessly badger my children with photos of emerging quilts. Most of the time they are nice and say, “Love, Love, Love it” followed by, “That one is mine!”

One of the best parts of quilting is that I get to think as I sew. I often marvel at how we quilters take a heap of little patches and slivers and match them up to make larger blocks which are then joined to make a quilt. As I sit and lop off corners on three hundred fourteen tiny triangles I have time to contemplate life. 

What I have come up with is that life is definitely as complex as the most complex quilt with points, circles, straight lines, and enticing color schemes. Life is complex. No other way to say it or explain it. There are days we can be overwhelmed with the mess of different directions that our thoughts and actions take us on. Other days we are feeling like an art quilt. All is beautiful and good and we should hang in a museum for the world to see.

There are days, I feel like a small sliver of fabric just waiting patiently on the ironing board. I can’t see the whole design and I don’t know if I will end up on the border or squarely in the center of the quilt. Of course, I like to think that I am the center square and the rest flow around me! But, when I look at our lives I can clearly see that most of the time it is the little slivers of life which are meaningful.

Big events, such as marriage, kids, and graduations are nice and welcomed but the little daily things are what makes things run smoothly. I had a friend ask me once what it felt like to have a long marriage. I thought about it for a while and told her that it was difficult to maintain a long marriage and that I couldn’t pick out one, single Spectacular thing that made it work BUT I could pick out many small things that kept it going.

And in reverse, I suppose in marriages that don’t become long, there are some very specific, small things that make the relationship unbearable to the other. Being a parent is certainly that way. The gift of children is the ultimate, spectacular, gift but then it is the daily pecking that is so hard to take. Those little insane issues that look so innocent to the bystander such as: smirking when being talked to, surviving the Jr. High make-up trials, standing in front of an open fridge door, shoving everything they own under the bed and declaring their room clean, eye-rolling, and whispering under their breath.

I took the teen male to account for this one day and he said, “It must not be under my breath if you can hear it.” I walked out of the room muttering under my breath, “…on my last nerve…” That boy is not only on the border of the quilt, he is also on the border of his life.

Just like little pieces of fabric add up to make an entire quilt, little bits of life add up to create our relationships. It is the little pieces we take for granted. Putting the toilet seat down. Bringing home flowers from the grocery store. Not flushing when others are in the shower. Clearing the table after a meal. Saying we are sorry. Opening the doors. Getting rid of the snakes that the cats drag up – now, that’s a man worth keeping.

I am going to keep on quilting as long as I can and be thankful for all of the slivers of life that come my way.

I don’t think I am on the border just yet.

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