The Night I Came From Paris

As Chew and I crossed the parking lot, we were engaged in a lively debate with our dinner companions (we’ll call them Dave and Joe).
Chew and I were of the opinion that Americans, in general, tend to refrain from using simpler language when they speak to foreigners. Instead, they use the same slang, but speak much louder.
Dave and Joe disagreed. They believed that Americans are inclined to slow their speech down, focus more on clarity and pronunciation, and use simpler words when faced with someone who struggles with our language.

Between the cars and the door of the dining establishment, we agreed to put our rivaling opinions to a test. One of us would pretend to be from another country, when the server approached us. We would determine, from the server’s response, who was “right.” The reward would be a round of drinks, paid for by the other party.
One problem faced us. None of the three men involved had taken any foreign languages, in school. I had… several years of French… but my last class had been nearly thirty years ago. To say I was “rusty” was far too complimentary. The guys assured me that I wouldn’t have to say much. After all, once the server returned with our drink order, we would explain that we had been conducting a social experiment, admit that I am 100% American, and that would be the end of it.

When we stepped into the bar, the first thing that I noticed was that it was EXTREMELY crowded. Chew and I suggested going somewhere else, but Dave swore that the food and service were well worth the crowded atmosphere.
We sat at two booths, backed up to one another, so Dave and Joe could hear everything that was said at our table.
Our server was a friendly young woman, with a slight southern twang and an enthusiastic smile.
“Hey, y’all,” she exclaimed, “I’m Sammi, an’ I’ll be takin’ care of ya, tonight. Can I get y’all somethin’ to drink?”
Show time.

I tried to put a look on my face that was somewhere between puzzled and self-conscious. That part wasn’t hard. I looked at Chew. “Je ne comprends pas,” I said.
He made a gesture, like he was drinking from an invisible glass. “Drink,” he said. “She asked what you want to drink.”
I copied the drinking motion, and pointed at a beer sign on the wall. “Donnez-moi une Budweiser, s’il vous plait?” I said, trying to make it sound “more French” by pronouncing the beer as “Booed-why-zair.”

Sammi was looking at me, as if I had sprouted antlers.
“O…kay…” she said, “And do y’all want any appetizers, like tater skins or somethin’? The shrooms are awesome, and the cheesesticks are, like, amazing.”
I stared at her, and blinked, blankly.
Chew told Sammi, “You’ll have to excuse her. She doesn’t know much English. She just arrived here from France, a couple of weeks ago.”
“OH!” Sammi exclaimed. She leaned over the table, and practically shouted in my face, “DO Y’ALL WANT ANY APPETIZERS? TO EAT? WE’VE GOT TATER SKINS AND CHEESESTICKS…IT’S ALL IN THE MENU, RIGHT THAR…”

Behind me, in the next booth, Dave and Joe burst into laughter. Sammi turned to them, “Hey, y’all be nice. This girl here doesn’t know hardly no English. She just got here from France!”

Chew told Sammi to bring us some French fries.
“You want those plain or loaded?” Sammi asked.
Chew turned to me. “Loaded or plain?” he asked.
I looked confused and pointed upward. “Zee plane?” I asked.
“No, not an airplane…plain…” Chew said, “Nothing on them.”
(I blinked.)
“Naked,” he said.
(I wrinkled my brow and blinked, again.)
“Can you…?” he asked Sammi.
“Do you want those PLAIN,” Sammi shouted, “Or do you want them with melted cheddar, chili sauce, sour cream, and stuff on ’em…like, LOADED? With STUFF ON THEM?”
I cringed as she shouted. Dave and Joe laughed, like hyenas. Chew told her to bring us plain fries. Sammi rushed off to get our drinks and ring in our order.

“Ok,” Dave said, “You win. Next round’s on us. That was awesome.”
The three men started talking about work or something, and Sammi reappeared with our beer bottles…and a HUGE guy, with biceps the size of my (considerably large) thighs.
“This here is our bouncer, Cy. He’s gonna need to talk to your girl, a sec.” Sammi told Chew.

This was it, I thought. We weren’t even going to get a chance to explain our little experiment. Sammi had seen right through my terrible act, and the bouncer was going to ask me to leave.
“Hey,” Cy said, in a thundering voice. “Sammi tells me you are from France.”
I looked at Chew, waiting for him to confess. He looked at me, waiting for me to do the same.
Before either of us could get our mouths to move, Cy pulled a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. He turned to Chew.
“I’ve been talking to this girl. She lives in Paris, or around Paris, or something. We’ve been writing back and forth on the computer, but she sent me this letter, and I can’t copy and paste it into a translator, you know? Can your girl, here, tell me what it says?”

Cy passed the note to Chew, who handed it to me. In very choppy English, with lots of hand gestures, he asked me to read it for Cy.
A good portion of the letter consisted of words or phrases I couldn’t understand. For those, I mumbled my best approximation of the pronunciation, with a bunch of, “How do you say…? “I do not know the word, en Englais…”
What I DID understand was torrid, sappy, and mushiness extraordinaire.From his reaction, this guy…who probably held the bar up in the air so the servers could sweep under it, at night… was a lovestricken puppy dog of a romantic.
After my botchy translation attempt, he thanked me profusely. “Meal’s on me,” he told Sammi.

When Sammi brought out our fries, it became obvious that Cy wasn’t the only person that Sammi had told. Every employee, at one time or another, came over to welcome me to America. It soon became clear that every CUSTOMER in the crowded bar had been tipped off, as well.
There was only one thing we could do. We needed to chug our beers, gorge on the fries, and get the heck out of dodge.

Easier said, than done.
The bartender decided to introduce me to her favorite drink…something called a Red-Headed Slut… and insisted it was on her.
So were the refills.

As the drinks started to work on me, I started to relax… that is, until a hip-hop song started to blare over the speakers, and three servers came and asked Chew if they could “borrow” me.
“We want to teach her how Americans dance,” one of them exclaimed.
“This is called grinding,” said another, as she began humping against my hip.
I was aghast.
The crowd roared in appreciation.
I made some mediocre moves…somewhere between the “you’re NOT the father” struts ala Maury Povich and the thrashing angst of a wet raccoon in an electric fence.

Finally, the song ended. I rushed back to the table, only to find Chew and Sammi chatting.
“Watch,” Chew said, “Mia?”
I glared at him.
“Mia, I am a good provider, yes?” He said.
My glare melted into suspicion. “Oui?” I replied.
“I am good in bed, yes?” Chew continued.
I wasn’t sure where this was going. “Oui?” I said.
“And I wear the pants, yes?” Chew said.
“Oui?” I replied, once more.
“Good,” Chew said, “That’s all you need to know.”
“Oh, HELL, no!” Sammi exclaimed. She grabbed my arm. “You are coming with me!” She yelled, as she pulled me through the crowd and outside, to the employee smoking area.

For the next hour, I awkwardly pretended not to understand a word that the employees were saying about me. I parroted phrases that they were “teaching me,” and tried my best to answer questions through the fog of memory and Red-Headed Sluts.
Finally, Sammi marched me back to the table to tell Chew the new phrase I had “mastered:”
“You wear zee pants, monsieur, but I… I control zee zip-pair!”

By now, the alcohol had worked its way to my bladder, so I excused myself and headed to the ladies’ room. When I came out of the stall, I was shocked to find a VERY intoxicated young man, urinating in the sink.
Bursting out of the room, I nearly collided with Cy.
“There’s some dude, piss…” I caught myself… “How do you say, he is pissing, in the room of…” I gestured toward the women’s room door, and Cy headed in to apprehend the offender.

I rushed to the table and begged Chew to take me home.
He did. I told him that I was never, EVER, going to pull a stunt like that, again. My days as a French girl were…how do you say?… FINIS.
And they were.
Three days later, when Sammi called (remind me to speak to Dave AGAIN about how she got our number) to see if I would like to hang out and learn how American women go shopping, I decided that I was not going to be “the French girl” any longer.
Instead, I was “Chew’s very American fiancee, who wanted to know who in the heck he was out at the bar with, since I don’t even KNOW any French chicks.”

She never called, again… and I have remained Chew’s American fiancee.

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The Great Grainbin Invasion of 2012

(From my diary)

DAY 1:

That Friday was much like the rest of the week had been, in Central Ohio … humid, no breeze, and HOT… about 100-105 degrees, hot.

I took a break from doing laundry and working in the garden, and booted up the ol’ laptop. A longtime friend of mine (who happens to be a meteorologist) had sent me a message.
“Big storm, headed your way. Winds over 50 mph. Possible hail, up to two inches in diameter.”

Puzzled, I looked out of the big double windows. Blue skies. Not a cloud in sight. He must have me confused with someone else. I sent him a reply… “Clear skies, sunny, and bright, here.”

After I sent it, I waited for an answer.
To pass the time, I watched the men working across the street. For nearly four days, these guys had been toiling away in the scorching heat, building a new grain bin. It was finally done… 48 feet tall (not counting the roof) and 30 feet around. They were installing the anchor bolts, now. Pretty neat to watch, actually.

Three minutes later, I sent my friend a second message.
“Sky grew dark. Hearing the first roll of thunder, as I type this.”
Black clouds had suddenly rolled out of the Northwest, and it was obvious that we were going to have one doozy of a thunderstorm. My oldest daughter ran out to collect the grandbaby’s toys, so they wouldn’t get blown into the cornfield if the wind picked up.

One minute later, she came into the house. Her nose was bleeding, heavily. I asked her if she had fallen. She shook her head no, and opened her clenched fist to show me two pieces of hail. Each was roughly an inch in diameter.
Now, the hail was pelting the house. Concerned for their safety, I looked out at the men across the street. Two had sought shelter. The third was frantically trying to collect tools and keep papers and plastic buckets from blowing out into the street. I saw a large (2 1/2 foot by 4 foot) piece of steel sheeting fly up off of the ground, and soar over my rooftop like a plastic bag in a heavy breeze. The man ran for shelter.

Instantly, the rain began to pour. My daughter and I began closing windows and unplugging electronics and appliances. The electric flickered off, then immediately came on.
There was a tremendous crash, as a section of our front porch wall slammed against our front door. The trailer began to sway, like a boat on a rough river.

A huge POP exploded through the house. Flames shot out of every outlet, as the electricity shut off completely. I heard a second POP, and saw a 2 foot ball of fire, where my surge protector had been.
“Take the baby and get into the storm cellar,” I said. “I will be right out. Leave the back door open.”
As she headed out the door, I smothered the flames and shut off our main breaker. I grabbed my “document binder” and cellphone, and bolted to the door. My daughter was standing there, in horror.

“Why aren’t you in the storm cellar?” I shouted.
“Lightning hit it, Mom… it’s on fire!”
I told her to take the baby, and head to the doorway of my room. I ran outside and dumped the raincatch onto the flames. The rain was extinguishing it pretty well, so I ran to the corner of the house and looked up the driveway (Plan B was the tornado shelter at Chew’s workplace, across the street). An electric pole was lying across our driveway, splintered like a toothpick.Two more leaned at a 45 degree angle, ready to fall. Downed power lines were strewn all over my yard and the road in front of our house.

I ran back into the house and dialed 911. No answer. I called three times. No answer.
We took refuge inside the walk-in closet of my bedroom. The trailer kept swaying, and there was an ungodly metal sound, like our roof was being stripped from the top of our house. When it finally died down, I went back out to survey a safe route, to get us over to Chew. That’s when I saw it.
The new grain bin… all 80,000 pounds of it… was lying on top of our barn. The roof was wadded like a piece of foil, in our driveway.

The wind had blown that 40 ton building across the street, digging deep ruts across our yard. It had, apparently, been deflected by our old maple tree, and crashed into the barn.
The roof of our chicken barn had been stripped like a banana peel, and was hanging to the ground.

The electric company came, 5 hours later, to move the power lines off of the road. They said it would be a couple of weeks before we could have power again. The important thing? Everyone is ok… AND we learned an important lesson.
Having an emergency plan is good, but it isn’t enough. A “Plan B” isn’t enough. Have plans for your plans, and then have back up plans for THOSE.
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DAY 5:
Living without the electricity was an inconvenience, I won’t lie, but we managed. We cooked and heated water on the grill or firepit… washed laundry, using a wringer bucket… lit the house with lanterns… and made sure we get the chores done before nightfall.
Chew set out a “solar water heater,” of sorts… we filled buckets of water, and left them in the sun, all day. By dusk, they were warm enough to use for bath water.
Over the prior couple of days, friends had brought us coolers full of ice. We put those in the ice house, and were pleased to see how well it worked. Our frozen foods had not even begun to thaw, on day 5!
There were a few reminders that things were NOT “normal,” though. The obvious one is the 40-ton bin, laying on our barn. The owner of the bin and the construction crew each filed a claim with their insurance companies, and the two companies decided to go to court, so… no one is allowed to move the bin. The weight started shifting, and three of the rafters were now broken in half. This section was where we keep our hogs, so we had to skip the next round. This put a damper on our pork plans for the winter.

Another “reminder”… all of the cars that stopped to gawk and take pictures. I wasn’t comfortable with this, at ALL. I began approaching the stopped cars with a bucket, saying, “Hi! Thanks for stopping. We are taking donations for the Grain Bin Memorial Fund. How much would you like to contribute, today?” That slowed things down, considerably.
The only real inconvenience was the heat. We never had A/C, but I DID miss having fans! We kept a cooler full of ice water, on hand, and the girls made good use of the wading pool and creek. With the well pump down, any water that we drew had to be done by hand. It was so cold and icy, though, that it was worth it. We were grateful to have supplemented with city water, as it was running just fine. I would hate to have to trapse back and forth, to the well house, getting buckets of water.
All in all, we were glad to have made it through, without any injuries or destruction to the actual house. We had food, water, and a roof… flushing toilets and a way to bathe… a grain bin, on the roof of the barn…
*sigh*
What else can you do, but laugh about it?

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DAY 6:

So, on Monday evening, we sat in our front yard and watched guys from the construction crew gather up their busted jacks, scattered tools, and remaining materials. They loaded them in the construction trailer and hauled out.
Tuesday morning, the trailer was back.
I thought nothing of it, until I was awakened by a banging on the back door.
Turns out, the guys we saw were thieves. They backed the work trailer (full of tools and materials) up to the rubble, threw everything in, then drove the truck 72 miles. They unloaded it, then brought it back. Unbelievable… in plain sight, unafraid of getting busted.

Meanwhile…
The electric company stopped by, last night.
They surveyed the damage to the exterior poles and lines, shook their heads, and wrote some notes. They said that we were looking at a lengthy wait. They told us to consider finding someplace to stay, until they can get to us. I laughed.
“We aren’t going anywhere,” I said. “We were here before that dang grain bin was! Tell IT to go somewhere else!” I thanked them for stopping out, and offered them a bottled water, for the road. The looks on their faces? Kinda cool.

On another note…
Even though most of our neighboring town has had the electric restored since Saturday or Sunday, the stories are astounding.
One apartment building had a roof collapse. Fortunately, it was empty and being renovated, at the time. Looters busted holes in the walls. They stole all of the wires and copper pipes… and the furnace!
A man was assaulted, Friday evening, as he returned from the store. The attackers stole his ice chest, two bags of ice, and three jugs of water.
One gas station closed down, Saturday. They were requesting cash only. People started acting violent, so they locked up.
Generators were stolen from a retirement center.

Made our first trip to the store, this morning.
No bread.

Lost three hens and a roo, since it all started. Not sure if it was shock or heat related. The others seemed to be doing well, with the extra shade we put over the pen, and the flaps on their doors left open for cross breezes.
Emotional stress reared its head, for the first time, through this event.
My two daughters started bickering, the grandbaby dumped my fiance’s dinner on the lawn, and the fireworks went OFF. I walked out in the cornfield, sat down, and bawled like a baby.

I’d like to say we were all prepped and ready, but there are just some things you can’t really prepare for. Having every member of your family experience stress and negative vibes at the same time is both overwhelming and disheartening.
It’s amazing how much the family unit can mean to you, at a time like this. Most of the time, we all work together… lighten the days with jokes and laughter… encourage one another to keep on “chinning it up.”
Today, though, it seemed unbelievably hot. The air was heavy, and you couldn’t keep that sticky sweaty layer off of you, no matter how many times you soaked down. It seems like every routine in our lives had a dozen extra steps… bathing, laundry, dishes, cooking, tending to the garden and the chickens, housecleaning… EVERYTHING.
It’s not that HARD, really… but it’s not “fun” and “interesting” after 6 days. We’ve done the two week camping trips… but we weren’t ALSO trying to keep our gardens from wilting, our chickens from suffocating, our work clothes laundered, a one year old baby from overheating, regulate the house temperature without a fan, AND download pictures and create videos online… while constantly keeping a battery, phone, or computer on the car charger.
Our newer generator had stopped working… the big one is in the barn, beneath the splintered rafters and creaking grain bin.

To complicate matters even more, our normally quiet little paradise was a nonstop parade of visitors. Insurance guys, the grain bin owner, the construction crew, the sheriffs (regarding the tool theft), friends and wellwishers, and every nosy gawking passerby with a camera in their cellphone or I-Pad.
(Note: I’m not whining, just venting. If anyone is wanting to know what this is like, this is it. No sugarcoating, no Superhero syndrome… this is just…well… reality. The crap they don’t warn you about in the disaster movies.)

We all split up (my fiance went out front, to sit under the big maple… I was in my plot of personal space, in the cornfield… my youngest went back to the creek… and the oldest sat in her bedroom, with the baby),and we all collected our emotions.
I was ashamed of myself, for letting a petty event like this get to me. We had everything we need… we were healthy… what was WRONG with me?
Then…

The storm warning sirens went off, in town.
I headed back to the house. The rest of the family was waiting for me. They had sliced up a watermelon, and we all sat and munched on our big slabs of chilled pink sweetness. As the storm rolled in, we laughed at the funny shapes the clouds made (“Look… it’s a duck!” “Yeah, and he’s talking to two elephants and a mouse!”). As it grew darker, we watched the lightning show come dancing across the sky.

I guess I just needed some time alone, to find my “happy place.” I did. It’s called “family.” Tomorrow would be a new day.

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DAY 7:
We woke in better spirits. I’m wondering if we didn’t need that little spell of emotional meltdown, to remind each of us of what we need… what’s REALLY important.

Chew had to leave for work early. He was delivering some farm equipment to one of the other hard-hit areas, in our state. It was past his usual lunchbreak time, and he hadn’t returned. I could only imagine the closed roads and downed trees he had to navigate around, as he rolled through the side streets and country access roads of the Buckeye farmlands.

I got up, did a load of laundry, and started in on the chores.
I read that FEMA was dispatched to Central Ohio… supposedly handing out generators and water. I assume this is for the 425,000 people in Columbus/Franklin County who had no electric, because there was no sign of them around here. That’s ok by me, but I wonder about all those lesser-prepped people who were (most likely) among those looting and panicking, over the past week. That had really been my biggest concern. It sucks that we have to worry about people like these… ones who’d rather steal or commit violence, than to take the time to stow away a few jugs of water or a jar of peanut butter. Fortunately, the only case we saw close to home was the theft of the trailer full of tools, across the street. I’m actually feeling relieved that so many people have no clue what an icehouse or root cellar are, if only for the comfort of security this ignorance brings.

The storms last night cooled things down, but only for a few hours. Just after noon, and the sun was beating full force. I set off to check on the chickens’ water, fill the wading pool, and start fixing lunch.

DAY 8:

We were heading to WV, and then MD. We would be home on Sunday, as I had to be at work.
My older daughter and the grandbaby would be staying home, this trip. As hot as it was, expecting a one year old to do well on a 6 1/2 hour trip, with no A/C… spend 2 nights sleeping on the ground, with day times spent at a racetrack… then to make another 6 1/2 hour trip home? That’s too surrealistic to qualify as “doubtful.”
So, we charged up her phone and a computer, to give her two ways to reach someone… made a list of emergency numbers and a reminder of the “chicken chores,” asked a few local friends to pop in and check on her, and loaded her up with some little-to-no-cook foods and a special treat…lemonade drink mix.

Meanwhile, I got our gear charged and ready through the car adaptor (except the big computer… I’d have to find electric, en route). I had our clothes washed, dried, and packed… I even “pressed” our professional media shirts, by pressing them between two sheets of the steel sheets we picked up, in our yard.

As I was packing food into coolers, and boiling water for coffee, two detectives came to the back door. They wanted to know about the thieves, who robbed the items across the street. I noticed them, eyeing the kettle of water on the grill… the girls, eating chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs…laundry, on the line… me, with hair coloring settling in… and the sounds of a Disney movie, coming from the living room. Must not be what they were expecting, in a house with no electricity. This made me chuckle, to myself.

There is strength in self-sufficiency.

DAY 11:

We returned from our work, in Maryland, on Sunday afternoon. I took in water from the “solar buckets” and got a quick bath, changed clothes, and headed into town for my other job.
The oldest (and the baby) did fine, while we were gone. She even had the bed linens washed and drying on the line. The dishes were washed, and they had followed the meal directions I had left, to a “T”… no “extras” were nabbed, from the icehouse. This was a HUGE accomplishment, as two years ago, my oldest would not have cooked anything more complex than a microwaved Hot Pocket, couldn’t go an hour without SOME kind of internet/DVD/video game/cellphone/etc.

One of the hens had gotten her leg tangled in some twine, that had blown into our field. She was SO proud that she had found the hen and cut the line off of her. She has the right to be proud… the hen would have surely died, by heat or raccoon, had she not been found.

I came home from work to find a message from the sheriff. I called him back, and he brought out reports for my fiance and I to fill out, regarding the stolen tools. Funny. It happened a WEEK ago, and they wanted us to fill out the reports NOW?
*shaking my head*
I don’t like having folks show up, ininvited, here. That has been the most difficult part of the week. Police, detectives, insurance guys, nosy passer-bys, well-meaning neighbors and coworkers, church representatives… apparently, having a grain bin smashed into your building is the structural equivalent of being a very pregnant woman, at the store. Everyone wants to ask questions, offer advice, and gawk. At least no one is rubbing their hand on it, or asking if it is our “first.”

I was terribly annoyed by random “stop-inners”… even the detectives, who felt the right to just walk into our house (apparently, no electric means your house is no longer a private home).

Last night, to our delight, the electricity was finally restored! UNFORTUNATELY, the surge had burned out some of our fuses and outlets, and melted most of our wiring. We had two working sockets in each of the two bedrooms, an overhead light and two sockets in the living room, the hot water heater worked, but our kitchen and bathrooms had no electricity.

We put a fan, in each bedroom. We had an extension cord running from our bedroom, to power the refrigerator. I unplugged our fan, at night, and used the outlet to charge my big computer. My daughter used her spare outlet for a light, or to charge her school computer. The surge fried all three of our computer chargers. I bought a universal charger, and we shared it. It also fried our phone charger… we use the car’s cigarette lighter to charge it. If we needed to wash clothes, we had to unplug the refrigerator, and use the extension cord.

Chew got the little generator working, but we had already adapted to being without electric. Already, today, I had started a load of laundry in the tub… hung it out to dry… only to have him come home on his lunchbreak to remind me we CAN use the washer. I won’t lie… I’m truly grateful to have the luxury of a hot water heater… a refrigerator… and fans.

This morning, the electric company came back. It seems that they accidentally wired us directly to the pole, bypassing our meter. They said they have to shut us off, again. Once they saw how limited our usage ability is, though, they offered to wait to do this.
We may not have been in our comfort zone, fully, yet… but, by Golly, we had reached the perimeter!

The One About the Kid in the Truck

Today, it was really cold and snowy.
It reminded me of another cold and snowy day, about eight years ago…a day I’ve tried to forget, without success.

I was a waitress in a sportsbar, at the time. I had just stepped out back for a cigarette break after a busy lunchtime rush.
The wind was blowing the flurrying snowflakes across the parking lot, and the air was so frigid that I couldn’t tell my cigarette smoke from my breath.

That’s when I heard it… a sobbing voice, crying out from across the blacktop: “Daaaaddddd!”
At first, I thought I’d imagined it. Then, I heard it, again: “DAAAAAAAAAD! *sob* DAAAAAAAAAD!!!”

The voice was coming from the direction of the only vehicle in the lot, a rugged pick up truck with a cap covering the bed.
Someone had left a child in their truck, out here in the cold, while they were in the bar.

As quickly as I could, I rushed back inside and beckoned my manager. He followed me out to the parking lot as I explained the situation.
Almost immediately, he heard the sorrowful voice…. “Daaaaaaad.”
His eyes widened, then narrowed, in anger.
“What should we do?” I asked.
He tossed me his cellphone. “You call the police,” he said. “I’m going to make sure that son of a bitch stays put until they get here.”

I did as I was instructed, peeking into the bar as the manager approached the customer we suspected had driven in, in that truck.
“Hey,” the manager said. “Do you drive that blue pick up, out back?”
The man looked at him, curiously. “Yeah,” he said. “Why? What’s up?”
“Do you have a kid in that truck?” The manager asked.
The man paused before responding, “Yeah…I put him in the back, in the bed. Why? Is there a problem?”

“Are you SERIOUS?” our bartender blurted. “Do you know how cold it is?”
The man scoffed. “He’s fine. He’s got a blanket, and I’m taking him home as soon as I get done with my sandwich.”
“I don’t think so,” the manager fumed. “We’ve called the police, and they are on their way. They might have different plans for you.”
At that, the man stood up from the stool and started toward the door. The manager grabbed him and pulled him back. “Not so fast, buddy,” he said, “They’re going to be here any minute, and they’re wanting to talk to you.”

The officers were there within a matter of minutes, and they walked in to find the manager (a kickboxer and cage fighter, in his spare time) and the driver of the truck (a burly cornfed kind of guy), getting ready to spar in the middle of the bar.
When they demanded an explanation, the manager told them that the guy had left his kid in the cab of his truck while he came in here to eat.
I won’t repeat what the burly guy said, but it was a non-family friendly version of “mind your own business.”

One of the officers interrupted the two men and asked how old the child was.
Suddenly, the truck owner got a strange look on his face. He stared at the officer, in silence. The officer repeated the question, and the man burst out in the rollicking cackle of a sheer lunatic.
Gesturing toward the door, he told the officers to “Come on out and ask him, yourself! Maybe you guys will want to babysit his ass, for a while.”

He led the officers out to the truck and stood, watching, as they opened the back.
There, in the bed, was a large cage… the kind that dogs or small livestock are transported in. Inside of the cage, clad in a blanket, was a young goat.
The kid.
He greeted the officers with a bleating cry: “DAAAAAAD!”

NOT a proud moment, in my life…

Sports Confession

Recently, a friend of mine got a whole bunch of crap dumped on her because she wrote a very nice post on social media, expressing her disgust at one team’s displays of poor sportsmanship.

She had nothing negative to say about the actual SPORT that the team plays. In fact, she compliments one of their rivals on their role model-esque class.

And yet, after the post went viral, she was harassed, threatened, and ridiculed for her post. I guess, if I think about it, that’s the exact kind of behavior I would expect from people who defend an unsportsmanlike group of pseudo-athletes.

Well, her haters are REALLY going to love this confession.
Are you ready?
I don’t like sports.

There. I said it.

Allow me to defend my position, please, before you release the Anthrax spores.
When I was a kid, my parents became concerned that I was…shall we say…the opposite of active? I was a bookworm. I didn’t run and climb trees and all of the other stuff that kids are expected to do. In fact, I was a klutz. I walked into walls, tripped over my own feet, and had more bruises than a truckload of apples that had been dumped off a rocky mountain.

(You know what’s cool? I said all that in the past tense, as if anything has changed. It hasn’t.)

Anyway, my parents decided that I needed to get over my hatred of motion, so they signed me up for softball.
Nobody knew it, at this time, but I am legally blind in one high and hopelessly nearsighted in the other. Even with my visual impairment, I was able to break a record for the city sports league, that summer…for catching the most balls…with my FACE.
Every practice, every game, I left with a bloody nose or black eye.
Still, my parents had committed me to this sport I never asked to be a part of, so I was under an obligation to finish the season.

Shortly after my final game (and dental repair), my eye problem was diagnosed.
I guess my parents must have felt a little guilty for my season of blind terror, because they never insisted that I play any type of ball sport, again.

Instead, Father brought home a quarter midget race car and informed me that I was going to be a race car driver.
I was so excited. I had never watched racing, but I figured that it would be self-explanatory. Race cars were cool. Heck, in fifth grade, driving ANY car was cool. I wasted no time in telling anyone who would listen that I was going to be (*ahem*) a RACER.

The day came. I was going to sign up for my very first race.
I was ready. I’d read the rule book, studied lines, and learned all of the terminology and flag colors. Halfway to the track, my mother must have realized that this was a ten year late abortion, on her behalf, and suicide, on mine.
She turned the car around and drove home. Some guys came and got the race car.
I never even got to hear it run.

She knew I was upset about the whole thing, so she signed me up for karate.
I enjoyed karate, and made it up to the green belt in no time. However, to get any further, I would have to spar with other karate people. Apparently, the only thing Mother felt killed more kids than sparring was quarter midget racing.
I wasn’t allowed to go to classes, any more.

A summer at a lifeguard-training class had me feeling pretty confident about my water skills. When I got into high school, I immediately joined the school swim team. That is how I learned that I could only save people who were drowning in slow motion.

A friend of mine had horses, and I took up barrel racing. I did very well until, one afternoon, when I was eating my lunch and watched my horse run the cloverleaf without me.
He got a faster time, too.

You know how some kids say that they were the last to be chosen in gym class? I ENVIED those kids. My classmates would actually choose kids who were ABSENT before they picked me.

So, yeah. I suck at sports.

Because of my lack of an athletic gene, I decided to dislike all sports until I discovered flat track motorcycle racing, a decade ago. This is a sport where men and women race…at speeds topping 130 mph, on some tracks… inches away from each other, with little-to-no protection.

The rewards are few and far between. There is no celebrity status, no big money, no paparazzi or book deals. These are the most down-to-earth and genuine people you could hope to meet. Most impressive of all is their incredible sportsmanship. It’s nothing to see two guys working on a third racer’s bike, with parts borrowed from a fourth guy and tools, from a fifth… and then see all five of them line up side-by-side on the starting line to fight tooth-and-nail for the coveted win.

I see other athletes, in other sports, punching opponents and screaming at coaches. I read about some athletes who commit robberies, rape, and even murder. I hear about fans of these athletes, harassing a former fan for having the fortitude to speak up against the terrible example that these players are displaying, as potential role models for children like hers. I can’t do a thing but shake my head in disgust…

And, maybe, write a little blog post in her defense. You see, these people that inspired her to speak out against unsportsmanlike behavior? The people that are threatening her and calling her awful names, under the guise of being “loyal to their team?” Yeah… these are the kinds of people that make me glad that I’m not a sports nut.

A nut, yeah.
But not a sports nut.

A Realistic Guide to Moving

When we made the move to our new homestead, we found all kinds of tips on the internet:
1. “Color code your move! Put a Post-It note or a square of construction paper on the doorway of each room, in your new house. Give each room its own color. Use a corresponding color of duct tape to mark and seal each box that you are moving. This will easily identify which room each box should go into.”

2. “Place a floor plan of your new house at each entry, with the rooms labeled (in the same color marker as the assigned color code). Those helping you move can quickly and easily locate where each room is located!”

3. “Remember to place plastic tarps or runners on the floors of your new home, so carpets don’t get muddy.”

4. “Number each box. On a clipboard (or, if you prefer, in a cute journal), inventory ALL of the contents of each box. That way, if you suddenly discover that you need something particular… like a favorite bracelet, or a child’s favorite action figure… you know exactly which box it is in. Bonus… the list will identify any boxes that are forgotten in the vehicle or left behind!”

5. “Pack a few days worth of clothing, daily toiletries, and other essential items in suitcases, for each family member. Then, you can take your time to unpack. Keep two separate boxes of ‘essentials’ that you might need, over the first few days… a coffee maker and coffee, towels, bed sheets, lightbulbs, aspirin and bandages, etc. (they give you two lists). Mark these ‘Last to Load… Unload FIRST!'”

6. “Create a photo essay of your new house and neighborhood, featuring all of the wonderful features that you and your family are looking forward to… a playroom, local park, library shelves full of exciting books, etc… and display it in your home, to build excitement!”

7. “Prepare pets and children for the move, well in advance. Take them to visit the new house and neighborhood, pointing out the features that you think they will love.”

8. “Have a big yard sale, before you move… this will drastically reduce the number of unwanted objects you will be moving, reduce your moving costs, and add a little extra money towards new furniture or decorating in the new house.”

The list goes on and on.
With all due respect to the well-intended authors of these lists, I’m calling B.S.
I would like to offer everyone a more reasonable, simpler, and more REALISTIC list of moving tactics… one that I have utilized successfully throughout each of the many moves I’ve made, over the years. including the one to our new home.

THE CHEWVILLE GUIDE TO A REALISTIC MOVE:

1. Put stuff you want to keep in boxes. Fold them, with the ol’ standby “overlap fold.” Tape them with whatever strong tape you have, handy, if you must. On each box, write a simple word to identify where the crap goes: “Bedroom.” “Office.” “Kitchen.” You get the idea.

2. If you really want to, write a second word to help give you a general idea of where the stuff in the box goes. For instance: “Bedroom (nightstand).” “Living Room (Movies).” If you have too many boxes of “Office (Desk)” to figure out where a pen or pencil is, you need to downsize.

3. Nobody has the time to spend on planning a yard sale. Things are chaotic, enough. When you sort your stuff, be ruthless. Pack the things you want. Give away, throw out, or haul off the crap that you DON’T want. If you really hope to make a few bucks, wait to haul off the “donate” pile until you’ve got everything else packed in boxes and the house cleaned up. THEN have your dang yard sale. Whatever you don’t sell, throw back in the bags or boxes and take them in to the thrift store or church for donation. If an item isn’t good enough to sell, it shouldn’t be in the donation bag to begin with… pitch it.

4. Arrange to clean your new house’s floor the day after you move. Seriously. That plastic is just going to be a pain to move, when it has furniture and boxes on it… and it adds a new tripping/slipping hazard to the game of “carrying heavy boxes through a house.” Just don’t.

5. Do you really have the time to bring your cat and goldfish over to take a tour of the new neighborhood? Are you willing to sacrifice a couple of afternoons, taking a photo shoot of the grocery store and the playground? Most of all, do you want your new neighbors to think of you as “That crazy lady who was taking pictures of my kids on the swings, and telling her poodle ‘That’s where you are gonna go potty…. yes, it is! Isn’t it wonderful?”  No. No, you don’t.  The pets will adjust.

6. Packing a couple of boxes of “essentials” for the first night is a fine idea. Be realistic, though. You know the box that says “Utility (Cleaning)” has the cleaning supplies. Little Johnny can play with his toys when the box that says “Johnny (toys)” comes off the blasted truck. Pack basic tools (whatever you used to take furniture apart), lightbulbs, and the furniture hardware (don’t believe them when they tell you to “put them in a plastic bag, and tape them to the furniture pieces…” this only insures that you will lose ALL of the hardware, at once. Instead, put them in the bags, with a piece of paper that says what each bag of hardware goes TO, and throw it in the “essential” box).

7. Don’t be lazy. Get started, putting your stuff put away. An overnight bag? Sure. Overnight bags are great. But… SUITCASES? Look, if it takes you “three to five days” to unpack a box of underwear and t-shirts, you have no business having your own house, to begin with.

So, there you have it.
While the internet is full of ideas that sound great, be realistic. Select the ones that work for you and leave the others to the people who thrive on sorting their hamster’s wardrobe by seasons and colors, or have their jeans alphabetized by name brand, in the dresser.
This is YOUR move. Enjoy it.

Latifah: A Chicken Tale

When Chew brought home the 25 meat chickens that September, he warned us not to get attached.

No problem.

These Gargantuan Godzillas were freaks of nature. Bred for one purpose, and one purpose only, they SERVED that purpose WELL. By the time they were a month old, they had grown too big to support their own weight. They lay around their feed dishes like white-feathered Sumo wrestlers on vacation, moving only their heads, as they ate their way into a gluttonous stupor… except for one.

One tiny hen refused to grow.

She darted about the pen, seemingly oblivious to her siblings…much less, to the fact she was roughly a quarter of their size.

She was friendly, lively, and inquisitive. Chew adored her, and named her “Queen Latifah,” breaking the cardinal rule of farming…”Thou shalt not nameth thy supper.”

No one was surprised when, on slaughter day, Chew decided that Latifah was “far too small for butchering,” and decided to keep her.

 

Latifah didn’t seem to mind having the big meat pen to herself, once her penmates were gone. We, however, had a bit of a dilemna. We NEEDED that pen, for an incoming flock of show Bantams which Chew had agreed to tend to, for a coworker. The laying hens would surely trample little Latifah (if they didn’t peck her to death, as the books warned us they might), and the head honcho-rooster of our Sebright Bantams had become downright VICIOUS after a migrating Marsh Hawk slaughtered our other two Bantam roosters. In fact, he had turned on our feather-footed little Cochon so violently that we feared for her life.

Chew had put FluffyFeet in an isolation pen, for her own protection, and she was not faring well. Already traumatized by the death of her mate, the further peckings and harassment had taken their toll.

Chew did the obvious thing. He put Latifah in the pen with FluffyFeet.

 

I TOLD him it was a bad idea.

I TOLD him it would never work.

I TOLD him it was a BIG MISTAKE.

I was wrong.

FluffyFeet adopted the undersized meat hen, as her own chick. She fed Latifah, taught her to scratch, tucked her beneath her wing (as best as she could) at night… all the things a Mama hen would do for her own baby chick. Latifah responded in turn, and the two became inseperable.

With new purpose, FluffyFeet began to thrive. Her comb turned bright red again, and she carried herself with a renewed confidence and strength we never would have imagined.

Latifah thrived, as well, in her new Mother’s care…and began to grow… and grow… and GROW.

 

Soon, Latifah was four times the size of her adoptive mother. She’d try to climb under FluffyFeet’s wing, at night, and poor FluffyFeet would be thrown from the roost by the effort. Latifah would try to scratch, and poor FluffyFeet would be literally buried beneath the shower of bedding her “daughter” had thrown. The real test came when we released the pair into the yard, the following spring. When the aggressive Sebright charged towards her, FluffyFeet stood her ground. With her signature half prance-half hop footsteps, she marched right up to her assaulter… and pecked him square on the head.

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Latifah, incidentally, was right behind her mama…perfectly mimicking the characteristic hopping steps of the feather-laden feet of her adopted mother…even though HER feet are UNfeathred, and her legs are perfectly capable of taking steps twice the stride.

 

The pair moved themselves into the pen with the Sebright (and his two hens) that very night. The five did very well together, mingling with the layers by day, and returning peacefully to their own pen each night…

UNTIL…

A few months later, when I heard an ungodly screaming/cackling from out back. The Chewable came into the bedroom, fear on her face.

Something was wrong, with the chickens!

 

As I slipped on my shoes, I heard it again…this time, from farther away… Far into the wheat field.

My daughter and I raced out the backdoor, flashlights in hand, and nearly stepped on the Sebright rooster who was sitting in the middle of the back porch.

That’s when I realized…WE HADN’T LOCKED UP THE PEN!

When I reached the pen, with the quivering rooster in my arms, my fears were confirmed. FluffyFeet and one of the Sebright hens were cowering together on the roost. The other Sebright hen and Latifah were gone.

 

Frantically, we began searching everywhere we could think of, for the missing hens. We found the other Sebright hen, cowering at the edge of the wheat field. She was in shock, and ran, clucking wildly, when we approached her. We had an AWFUL time catching her, but managed (finally) to return her to the pen.

Turning back to the yard, we began to search again for our beloved Latifah. Just when we were about to give up, I saw something white, in the grass.

A feather.

A few feet away, another feather.

Like Hansel and Grethel, we followed a trail of Latifah’s feathers through the darkness, until I came upon the very thing I had feared.

A PILE of feathers.

LATIFAH’S feathers.

Right at the edge of the field.

With tears burning our eyes, we continued our search…but could find no trace of the little meat hen who had grown up to be a Bantam.

 

Finally, we woke up Chew. As my words began to register, and his eyes focused in on the two handfuls of snow white feathers I was clutching, his face broke into an expression I never dreamed I’d see on a man so accustomed to the hard facts of life on the farm.

He jumped to his feet, pulled on his shorts and shoes, and grabbed up his animal call.

Until 2:30 in the morning, the two of us roamed the field, searching for the predator who had snagged our little hen. At last, we surrendered. With heavy hearts, we returned to the trailer. It was a lesson, hard-learned, and ill-received…as most of the biggest lessons in life are.

 

The next morning, Chew went out to examine the “scene of the crime” once more. As he approached the pen, something unexpected met his eye.

Latifah.

She was waiting by the pen, like a teenager who stayed out past curfew and forgot to take her key.

Inside the pen, a lone clue to her abductor…an owl feather.

Apparently, an owl had darted in through the open door, grabbing the white hen, and lost its grip on her somewhere over the wheat field. The wheat had succeeded in hiding Latifah from her would-be predator, and she had made her way back to her home once the coast was clear. She was missing some plumage, but was otherwise just as lively and sociable as ever.

 

The next spring, several of our hens decided that they wanted to hatch out eggs. Several times, we thought we had a new batch, coming. No such luck.  What a surprise we received, one Sunday evening, after coming home from a race.

We heard a peeping.It came from the egg box.

Surprised, Chew lifted the lid, and found a single tiny chick… with its mother, Latifah.

We determined that she had hidden one egg, in the bedding, and… despite all we had heard about meat chickens being poor mothers… she had hatched out this tiny rooster.

We named him Peeps.

Latifah was an incredible mother. Peeps grew up big and strong… an excellent rooster.

Then, the miracles ran out.

Following a derecho, we were without electricity for a lengthy amount of time. To top it off, there was a massive heat wave. We had no way to keep the coop fans running,  so we did our best to put up extra shade covers, keep cool water on hand, etc.

We were unsuccessful. While most of the flock did survive, we did incur several casualties. Among them were Latifah, Peeps, and FluffyFeet.

As with any of our lost birds, we were heartbroken.

However…

Sitting on a shelf, we have a single white feather.

It was one of the feathers that the owl had plucked, from Latifah’s tail section.

It’s a reminder, that miracles DO happen. It IS possible to overcome unbelievable odds. You CAN make a difference.

Even if you are “just” a chicken.

No More Resolutions

Every New Year’s, I content myself with only one resolution…not to make any resolutions.

For years, this had worked out just fine. THIS year I decided to try something DIFFERENT. I had picked up one of those antiquated books on self-improvement… “Lessons on Life” or “Life’s Lessons” or some such obscure title… and decided to try implementing its quaint motivational quotes.

I started out the new year with a burst of enthusiasm.
Peeking at the book, I read the first few quotes… “Be more spontaneous in showing affection.”
Tiptoeing into the kitchen, I saw Chew, pouring a cup of coffee. Spontaneously, I wrapped my arms around his waist and kissed him on the back of his neck.

CRASH!

 

Chew whirled around to face me, arms raised in a Kung Fu attack position. The contents of the shattered coffee pot spread in a widening pool around his feet.

“What in the…DON’T DO THAT!” he cried.

(Note to self…if you’re being spontaneous, announce it first.)

 

“I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to startle you.” As I stooped to pick up the larger pieces of glass, I remembered the second tidbit of wisdom from my list…”Never pass by an opportunity to help others.”

“Here, honey, you just sit down. I’ll make you a cup of instant, and clean up this mess. Then I’ll go buy us another coffeepot after breakfast.” I grabbed a rag from beneath the sink and started wiping up the spill.

“Stop, stop!” Chew grumbled. “You’re just smearing it around. I’ll mop it up, myself.”

“Ok,” I forced a smile, remembering the third quote (“A task done cheerfully can hardly be deemed work”). I started humming as I removed the skillet from its nail and set it on the burner. I threw in a chorus of “La-dee-dah-dums” as I took the eggs and bacon from the refrigerator, and even threw in a little dance-type spin as I headed to the pantry.

Chew just stared.

 

(#4… “Enthusiasm is contagious.”)

I grabbed Chew’s hand and lifted his arm, forcing him to be an unwilling participant in my Breakfast Time Ballroom Dance as I twirled beneath it. He yanked his arm away and wiped it on his Carhart’s, as though my chipper mood was a disease he didn’t want to catch.

“What in the…what is the MATTER with you?” he blurted.

“NOTHING’S the matter, Honey!” I chirped. “I’m just in a good mood!”

I moved aside the box of pancake mix and proceeded to dig out the baking soda and vanilla.

“What are you doing with THOSE?” Chew asked, as he timidly took a seat at the table.

“I’m making you some hotcakes from SCRATCH!” I declared.

 

(#5… “A meal prepared from a box is convenient, but a meal made from scratch is prepared with LOVE.”)

 

As I lifted the flour from the top shelf, I was engulfed in a cloud of white. Apparently, our cat’s mouse-hunting abilities did not extend to the top shelf of the pantry. I looked at the empty flour bag, with the gnawed bottom, and then at the freshly-powdered floor.

Chew groaned, burying his face in his arms.

 

“I’ll get it cleaned up,” I said, “And then I’ll just make us some French Toast, instead.”

I grabbed the broom and tried to sweep the spilled flour into the dustpan. I hadn’t taken into consideration how difficult it would be to sweep up flour from a freshly-mopped flour. I realized that I was now succeeding in little more than smearing the sticky paste around the room. Chew got a bucket and rag, and helped me clean the floor AGAIN.

 

(#6… “Gratitude is more sincere when eye contact is established.”)

Dropping to my hands and knees, I looked up into Chew’s face. Startled, he dropped the rag and tried to back away, cracking his head on the open pantry door.

“Thank you.” I said.

“You know what?” he muttered, “I’m gonna go on into town and buy that coffeepot. You just do…well….whatever in the heck it is you’re doing, and I’ll be back.”

In a flash, he had grabbed the car keys and bolted out the back door.

 

(#7…”Never part ways without telling your family that you love them.”)

Running after Chew, I hollered, “Wait! WAIT!”

He rolled down the window.

“I love you.” I said. He stared at me again, as the window slowly slid back up, I went back inside.

Bird had gotten up, and was sitting in the recliner with a book.

 

(#8…”An earnest compliment is worth its weight in gold.”)

“Good morning, Sunshine!” I chirped. “My, don’t you look pretty, this morning.”

“Look,” she growled. “It’s not MY fault. The neighbors were shooting off fireworks all NIGHT. I’m TIRED.”

 

(#9… “Actively listen to your child’s problems, and encourage them to find their own solutions.”)

“Hmm… sounds like a rough night. What do you think you are going to do about it?”

“Mom, I’m a minor… what am I SUPPOSED to do about it? Put sleeping pills in their next batch of Girl Scout cookies?”

I decided to change the subject.

 

(#10… “Be involved! Ask children questions about their interests and ideas.”)

“Sooooo… how are things going at school?”

She stared at me with the same look Chew had given me.

“Mom,” she said, “We’re on winter break. I haven’t been to school in two WEEKS.”

“I know… but I bet you’re looking forward to going back, on Monday.”

She shrugged, noncommitedly. I decided to try again.

 

(#11… “Take an active interest in your child’s social life. Know who their friends are.”)

“I bet you miss your friends, at least. How’s Abby doing? She’s such a sweet girl…”

“Mom,” she interrupted, “Abby and I quit being friends last year. She stole my Smencils and gave them to Alexis. Then, she told all the other girls in class that I liked Clayton, and it got back to his girlfriend, and I;m not even INTO him, like that.”

“I never did trust that kid… What about Matrix? Is he still giving you a hard time? It must be hard, dealing with Abby‘s backstabbing AND his bullying…”

“Not really. He moved in October. Right before he left, he wrote me a note and told me he was sorry, and we got to be really good friends.” She sighed. “I miss him.”

“Oh.”

This “keeping up with the social life” stuff was too challenging for me. I was going to have to build up to it.

 

I thought about rule #12…”Talk to kids at their own level…” and decided against it. The book she was reading was “Broca’s Brain,” by Carl Sagan. I just didn’t have the energy to even PRETEND to be on THAT level.

 

I decided to skip ahead to #13…”Organize your home, and your life will ease itself.” I began hastily sorting the pile of papers on my desk, clearing cupboards and drawers, and fluffing cushions. Bird, apparently disturbed by the flash-cleaning frenzy, silently disappeared into her room with her book. I grabbed the broom, and began swatting away at the cobwebs in the corner of the ceiling. I had forgotten that I had previously used the broom to sweep up the flour paste. The white splotches on the ceiling and walls reminded me quickly. Not quickly enough. Chew was coming in the back door with the new coffeepot.

When I heard him kicking the snow from his boots, I panicked. Grabbing a rag from the top of the laundry hamper, I climbed on top of a chair and tried to wipe away the incriminating white splotches. No luck. It seems that I had selected the rag used to clean up the flour mess, too.As my beloved stood in the doorway, gawking, I assessed the situation.

 

(#14…”Try to view your actions from the viewpoints of others.”)

It didn’t look good.
I climbed down off of the chair, and tossed the rag into the hamper.

“I didn’t mean to.” I said. “I forgot, when I started to sweep the ceiling. I’ll clean it up.”

“You were just…sweeping the ceiling.” he murmured.

 

(#15… “A sense of humor can diffuse an awkward situation.”)

“Yep. I‘m not tall enough to vacuum it.” I forced a chuckle. It came out more like a cackle. Chew backed up a step. Before I could tell him I was teasing, and explain the TRUE situation, he had scooped up the tote full of papers which I had discarded, and was headed across the yard to the firepit. I watched through the kitchen window as, shaking his head and muttering, he began trying to light the rubbish ablaze. The wind was a bit strong, as January Ohio winds often are, and the lighter was extinguished each time he touched the flame to the papers.

 

I remembered an old survival tip I had once read, and rule #16 (“Never falter to share a lesson learned”).

Grabbing a handful of lint from the dryer’s lint trap, I ran out to offer my assistance.

“Try using this, as tinder.” I said.

Chew held the lint in one hand, and proceeded to light it with his other.WHOOSH! He was instantly engulfed in a ball of blazing flame. Frantically, he tossed the fireball into the firepit. The pile began to burn, quite nicely. Chew extinguished his burning arm in a snow bank.

 

I decided that this would be a good time to go back inside and start that French Toast. I found Bird, sitting at the table and staring at the portable DVD player with a puzzled frown.“How does this thing work?’ she asked.(#17…”Always encourage your child’s curiosity.”)

“That’s a good question!” I exclaimed. Pulling a book from the shelf, I browsed through it. Then, I sat down with a piece of paper and a pen, and proceeded to sketch a diagram of the DVD player, explaining each part of the machine as best as I could.

Chew came inside, just as I was drawing the laser light “eyeball.”

“The on-off switch is on the bottom, right side.” He said.

“Oh, ok…thanks, Dad!” Bird grabbed up the DVD player and skipped off into her room.

 

I turned my attention to the dark smoke, rolling from the stovetop. I’d forgotten the French Toast. Scraping the charred mess into the chicken’s scratch bucket, I rinsed the pan for another attempt.Chew was standing at my desk, staring at the shelves.

“Mia,” he asked, “Where is the phone book?”

“On the end table.”

“Not THAT one…the OLD one… LAST year’s phone book. I had the money for the car insurance hidden in it. Now, I can’t find it.”

I froze… LAST year’s phone book? I looked out towards the firepit. Chew followed my gaze.

“You didn’t…”

I felt tears burning in my eyes… and not just from the smoke, rolling off the second forgotten batch of French Toast!

 

Chew let out a blast of swear words and ran back outside. Bird peeked out of her room.

“Is Dad ok?” she asked.

I saw him, digging through the dying embers with a stick. As he snapped the stick into three pieces and hurdled them across the yard, I began to weep. Chew stomped back in, and saw me sobbing. Bird’s arms were around my shoulders, and I could sense the two of them exchanging THAT LOOK above my head.

“I TRIED!” I blurted, “I REALLY tried! I just can’t do it! This resolution stuff… it’s too much! What’s WRONG with pancakes from a box? Just the fact that I worked my butt off to pay for the danged mix, then heave my exhausted buns in to cook them just right…plain for YOU,” I gestured at Chew, “And chocolate chip for YOU… THAT should show you two that I LOVE you! Curse this stupid self-improvement book! I liked things better the way they WERE!”

I jumped up from the table and hurtled the book into the rubbish bin.

“No more stinking resolutions for me. You and everyone else can just accept me the way I am, or else you can BITE MY…what are you SMILING about?”

The two of them were grinning, ear-to-ear.

“Welcome back, Baby.” Said Chew.

“Yeah, Mom. We like you better this way. You were scaring me.”

And so…life has returned to its normal abnormality, in Chewville.

Plumbing Problems II: Tub Turmoil

As usual, it started out as being all my fault, although I will thoroughly deny it. In Plumbing Problems…Part I, I mentioned a small hairline crack in the bathtub. This story continues from there.

 I had climbed into the shower before work. A sharp “CRACK” (and searing pain in my right leg) let me know there was a problem. Namely, my right foot had gone THROUGH the bottom of the tub.

 I tried to pull my foot back out. No luck. I hollered for Chew.

 He appeared in the doorway and, with a concerned look, asked me how in the bloody (heck) I had managed to break the tub. I believe a diet was also suggested, as he urged me to get out and let him see how bad it was.

 “I don’t think it’s bad, just a little gash,” I whimpered.

 “I meant the TUB!” He groaned.

 His suggestion that we dial 9-1-1 was vetoed. Instead, we busted out the already-cracked tub from around my foot. I bandaged the wound while he appraised the REAL damage.

 When I got off work, my handyman had been busy.

 “The buffoons who lived here before us had used one of those plastic liners, with NO TUB under it! Can you BELIEVE it? It’s a MIRACLE this didn’t happen SOONER!” He declared. “I’ve already taken measurements, and it turns out that the hardware store has a steel tub on sale for $99.00.”

 We stopped at the store.

 They did, indeed, have a steel tub for $99.00. It was a 60-inch model. The space for our tub was a 54 1/2 inch area. Chew asked the helpful guy at the counter (“Dwayne”) if they had a smaller size of the “sale tub.”

 Yessir,” Dwayne said. “We have a 54-inch model. It’ll be $189.00, plus tax.”

 “$189.00???” Gasped Chew.

 “Plus tax,” said Dwayne. “It’s a special order. Monday through Friday, the factory pumps out these 60-inch models. On the third Saturday of every month, they shut down the whole assembly line and switch molds for one day, to make the 54-inch model. Workers are flown in from Siberia, just so the regular workers don’t get confused and start pumping out the mini tubs, by mistake.”

 Grumbling, Chew fished out his wallet.

 “Now,” said Dwayne, “Were you needing a left- or right-handed drain?”

 Chew looked at him, blankly.

 “What side of the tub would you like your drain?” Dwayne asked.

 “On the same side as the faucets!” snarled Chew.

 “Well, I need to know if you have a left or rightside tub.” Dwayne rolled his eyes. Bad thing for Dwayne to do, to an irate Chew.

 Chew pulled out a notepad and pen. He drew the bathroom. He drew the tub. He drew the faucets. He added arrows and measurements, with the drain area circled.

 We got our tub, and Dwayne put a gold star on Chew’s artwork.

 Returning home, we lugged the steel tub into the living room. Chew went into the bathroom and began smashing the old tub into pieces. I heard cursing, and peeked through the door to find Chew, clutching his head with both hands.

 Beneath the tub, he had discovered…nothing. No floor. The particleboard the previous renters had placed beneath the plastic tubliner had disintegrated.

 Chew lugged the pieces of plastic tub out to the burn pile, and set to work tearing up the REST of the bathroom floor, including the beautiful tiling he had installed after the prior toilet fiasco. Balancing on the floor joists, he measured the room. As I started dinner (translation: ordered pizza), he returned to the hardware store. A bit later, he came home with a van load of wood, nails, and various tools. He hammered and sawed, for several hours. By bedtime, we had a floor.

 Of course, the toilet he had painstakingly installed the previous week was now in the hallway…

 “I’ll put the tub in after work, tomorrow.” He said.

 True to his word, Chew got off work early the next day. I found him, reading the directions on the back of the new tub’s box.

 “Five easy steps,” He read. “Sounds simple enough. Step one: Put tub in position.”

 We maneuvered the steel basin into the bathroom, carefully lined it up, and…ripped a giant hole in the drywall.

 Confused, we remeasured the wall space… 54 1/2 inches! We looked at the tub box…54 inches! We must have angled our entry wrong. We tried again. Two more massive gouges into the walls. Chew measured the tub…56 1/2 inches.

 It seems that “54 inches” was the length of the INSIDE of the tub.

 I thought quickly.

 “Well,” I said, “If THIS tub went, I bet the tub in the other bathroom will, too. We can put THIS tub in OUR bathroom, and install a shower, in here!”

 We returned to the hardware store.

 Chew had already determined that the gravity-feed for the old tub would not drain a shower (hence, the rotten floor), so we were here to buy lumber so that he could build a platform, to mount the shower on.

 My role was to calculate the number of boards needed to create said platform. I figured we could do it with 2 boards and 2 pieces of wood sheeting. As I waited for Chew to return with more nails, I noticed a sign. “We’ll cut your lumber to size, $1.00/straight cut!”

 When Chew returned, I showed him the sign.

 We scouted around the store, 9-foot boards in tow, until we found an employee who wasn’t quick enough to evade us.

 “We don’t cut wood.” she said.

 I mentioned the sign.

 “We don’t cut wood.” She repeated.

 Frustrated, we toted our bulky load into the lumber yard (roughly the size of New Hampshire). Not an employee in sight. Chew stayed with the lumber, at one of the store entrances. I guarded the other. Our theory was, SOMEBODY must be here, and they weren’t getting into the restrooms or breakroom until our lumber was CUT!

 Patience paid off. Eventually, two guys peeked out from a building across the yard from us. We shouted. One tried to make a getaway in his forklift, but he was no match for Chew. My handyman drafted him with the cart full of lumber, taking the inside line towards the door, and cut off the worker’s line at the last turn.

 Defeated, the guy cut our lumber.

 We headed home, victorious.

 On the NEXT day, Chew had the platform finished, and we returned to the hardware store to buy the shower. After much debate, Chew decided it made no sense to buy a WHOLE shower, since two waterproofed walls were in place. Instead, he bought a shower BASE. He took it home, and it fit on his platform PERFECTLY! The only problem? The drain angle. The kit with the shower included a 90-degree elbow. we needed a 45-degree elbow. I went back to get the right part, as well as a new wax ring and hardware to reinstall the toilet.

 When I returned, Chew was waiting. HE had to return to the store to get some kind of special sealant, to attach the base to the platform.

 The NEXT day, I came home to a nice surprise. The shower was finished, complete with the third, waterproofed wall and a shower curtain! The toilet was reinstalled, better than ever. Chew had torn out our master bathroom’s tub, lugged the steel one in, and had just returned from the hardware store (where he purchased the necessary pipes and elbows). Thanks to the internet, we were able to discover that the “stringer” mentioned in “Easy Step #4″ is actually just a 2″x4”, and Chew had it installed in place (even though there are no studs in the wall, and he had to build a sort of supporting frame to nail it up). Now we (once again) have TWO FUNCTIONING bathrooms, in Chewville!

 Only one thing…

 It seems that the tub did not include a drain, or something called an “overflow.” Chew said we also needed some stuff called “Plumber’s Putty.”

 So, we were off to the hardware store. Chew said, when we got home, we were going to have a big bonfire, to celebrate our newly finished bathrooms.

And, we did.  Chew started it by lighting those “5 Easy Steps,” printed on the tub box.

Plumbing Problems, Part I: Toilet Trouble

Poor Chew.

 It all began one winter, a few years ago, when he decided to use his holiday bonus to make some much-needed repairs to our home. He started by replacing damaged flooring in the main bathroom and the teens’ bedroom, installing a new toilet, and replacing the tiles in the front entryway. He “winterized” the chickens, by revamping the egg boxes and roosts and building an enclosure and doors for the main coop. Finally, he splurged on some new carpeting for the living room and foyer, and new floor tiles for the main bathroom.

 We welcomed in the New Year with a beautifully revamped and ready-for-winter abode, content and proficient egg-layers, and the addition of Chew’s 16-year old, “Bop,” who would be spending the winter as one of the resident “Chewables.”

 Following the purchase of a television set and the rearrangement of furniture, we were able to get the teens into their room, and the youngest to her own. At last, we THOUGHT we were finished.

 At least, until we heard a cry from the main bathroom.

 “DAD!!! The toilet won’t flush!”

 Sure enough, the water in the commode was dangerously approaching overflow. Chew plunged, but to no avail. Rushing to the hardware store, he purchased a new, top-of-the-line plunger. With the cardboard tag still dangling from the ergonomically-designed handle, Chew began to churn like an Amish woman in a butter-making contest.

 From the bathtub, a six-inch geyser erupted. As the water level in the toilet receded, the water in the tub grew deeper.

 “This ain’t good,” muttered Chew, philosophically eyeing the situation. As he continued to plunge the commode, he set me to work plunging the tub. Eventually, the water drained from both the toilet AND the tub… and spouted out of the bathroom sink, splattering the counter and floor.

 The next day, Chew purchased some Clog Remover, and set to work battling the drain. Miraculously, our teens reported that the sink and tub were working and draining just fine. Only the toilet was stubbornly refusing to drain.

 We drove into town with our laptop, and did some online troubleshooting. Everything confirmed Chew’s initial diagnosis: “Gonna’ hafta’ run a snake through them pipes.”

 He returned to the store, and purchased a “snake.” Removing the toilet, he ran the new gadget through the hole in the floor. It crawled along the drainline, completely unhindered by any obstruction.

 Another trip to the hardware store, and Chew returned with a new wax ring and reinstalled the troublesome potty… only to discover that it still refused to flush. Unearthing the septic tank revealed that it was neither frozen nor full. A trip to the roof confirmed that the vents were unobstructed. Baffled, we called an expert in these matters… Chew’s Uncle Dick, in Florida.

 Several cell phone minutes later, Chew announced that the plug must be somewhere INSIDE the toilet, itself.

 So, he took the toilet off of its base again, and we set to work running a variety of objects through the coiling draining system hidden within the base of the porcelain demon. The “snake,” a wire coat hanger, and a small length of tubing each made their way through the coil without deterrence… from either direction. Puzzled, Chew returned to the store AGAIN for ANOTHER wax ring, reinstalled the commode, and flushed.

 Nothing.

 Thoroughly frustrated (and twice as baffled), Chew decided to phone another expert. This time, he called the guy at the Hardware Emporium. Actually, he had ME call the guy at the Hardware Emporium. (Chew was apparently suffering from a stress-induced speech impediment, that caused every other word out of his mouth to contain four letters.)

 After several more cell-phone minutes, during which I valiantly struggled to hide my ignorance concerning all things technical, I handed the phone over to Chew in defeat.

 “He wants to know the diameter of one thing and the adjustment setting of another,” I said, helpfully. “Also, he was asking me about some kind of valve-flap thingamajiggy.”

 Chew groaned and took the phone. Within minutes, he announced the verdict.

 “He says Uncle Dick’s probably right, and it must be a clog in the toilet itself,” he said. “They sell a special tool there at the store. I’ll go pick one up in the morning.”

 Just then, our youngest daughter (Bird) came into the room. “Hey, Dad?” she asked meekly, “While you are fixing the toilet, I just wanted to know if you were going to fix the bathtub, too?”

 Simultaneously, Chew and I turned. “What’s wrong with the TUB?” we groaned in unison.

 “Well, I noticed a crack in the floor when I was in the shower today. Actually, I was CLEANING the tub, BEFORE my shower, in case there was any…STUFF… from where the toilet backed up. I thought it was a piece of hair, but then I saw it was a crack…”

 Sure enough, there was a four-inch long hairline crack in the base of our fiberglass tub. Groaning, Chew hit redial to inquire about a fiberglass repair kit, and I ran water into the tub to see if the crack was leaking.

 “About 20 bucks,” Chew announced. “I can pick one up tomorrow, when I get the… why is there water in the tub?”

 “I was checking the crack. It doesn’t seem to be leaking, but it will if anyone steps here or here…”

 He picked up a round rubber disk. “Here is the stopper, right? Why isn’t the tub draining?”

 Bird and I exchanged glances. She announced that she was going to clean her room, and vanished. I swallowed hard and gave Chew’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’m going to go make some coffee,” I whispered.

 Chew sat on the side of the tub. With a sigh, he slipped the plunger over the tub’s drain and began to churn. Suddenly, the room was filled with the gurgling of water, rushing down simultaneous drains.

 The tub was empty. He tentatively turned on a faucet. The water drained immediately. Moving to the toilet, he cautiously pressed down on the silver lever.

 “WHOOOOOOSH!!!!”

 Victory! Three… eight… twenty practice flushes later, and everything was operating like new! (Yeah, our water bill will be higher this month, but the feeling of victory was WORTH the price of a few extra gallons.)

 Once again, Chew had proven himself to be a “REAL handyman” (as my ex mother-in-law calls him). We could flush with freedom… the two of us rejoiced in the moment!

 “I’m so proud of you, Baby!” I cooed. “That whole thing had me bumfuddled!”

 “Yeah, it was pretty weird, all right,” said Chew. As he walked toward the coffeemaker, he continued. “I couldn’t figure out what in the… where is all this water coming from?”

 From the wall, where the washing machine drains out, a cascade of sudsy water splashed onto the utility room floor, spreading into the kitchen.

 “Just shut the !@#$ off for tonight,” Chew sighed. “I’ll get on it after work tomorrow.”

Random Thoughts

1. I don’t know why Smokey  Bear carries a shovel, but it used to scare the crap out of me, as a kid.
2. “Do you like big butts?” should be the control question for every polygraph test.
3. Confession: One of my biggest fears is that my car secretly records me singing.
4. “You snooze, you lose” sounds like something that overly competitive insomniacs would say.
5. Before you tell me that you “value my opinion,” I think it’s important to know that two of the three wishes granted to me by a genie would undoubtedly involve weight-loss ice cream and a mansion with trampoline floors.
6. If I learned anything from Peter Pan, it’s that I can leave my dog to watch my kids while I go out and party.
7. Just once I’d like a number between 1 and 10 to think of me.
8. Motherhood means never questioning why you found a Stormtrooper in the toilet just now.
9. Healthy as a horse? Um…they usually can’t walk down the street without shitting themselves, but… sure…ok.
10. Pretty suspicious that everything we know about the human brain came from somebody else’s brain.