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.

972252_211835108973067_1189191510_n.jpg

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.

Advertisements

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.

Girls, Girls, Girls

Chew’s Version:

At one time, we had two of ’em, left at home… Ages 13 and 18.

 Of course, that also meant we had teenage boys… a WHOLE HERD OF ‘EM.

  Both girls worked us hard.

  “Can we go here? Can we go there? Can so-and-so (MR.”KEWL” of the week) come over for a few hours and visit???”

  One night, I came home from work to find… (OH, NO!)… a BOY in my house, introduced by  the 18-year old as “BRUNO”,or “SLASH,” or… I don’t know… he might have been one of those two letter guys that the girls talk about all the time (“B.A” or “C.D” or whatever).

   Anyway, the kid REALLY impressed me the whole first 2 seconds after I met him. The first second, he stuck his hand out to shake mine…and the next second he said, “I’M REALLY A GOOD KID, DUDE.”

  DUDE?
DUDE.
He called me, “DUDE.”

  Not sir, but “DUDE.”  I would rather he would have said “Mr. John Deere Guy,” but no.

   I was, to this young guy, a “DUDE.”

   OK, SIS… TRY HARDER!!!

  This lovely young lady was the congresswoman of our bungalow. She stopped short of nothing to get what ever bill she thought she could pass on us.

  A typical conversation with her went as follows:

  “OK, Mom and Dad? Is it ok if ASHLEY comes and picks me up? We are gonna get pizza, then MIRANDA is going to go with us to see a movie at TAYLOR’S house (after we go and pick up KATIE, who is over at JESSICA’S house, ’cause her DAD’s gotta work ’til 8, and the movie starts at 7, and before we can go see it we have to call BRIT and see if she can…” yada yada yada.

  “But wait, Sissy… you said you were going to TAYLOR’S to see a movie. Why do you have to be there at 7?”

  Then it started up again with a flurry of “”cause” and she, once again, went into her auctioneer’s impression… and, by this time, MIA and I were ripping up the white sheet to make little flags to fly in her face to let her know, “YES, CHILD… WE GIVE UP! GOOOOOOOO!!! Be home by 11… not 11 L.A time… 11 good ol fashion EST.”

  Another thing we have found is that, if these two teenage TNT sticks wanted something, WATCH OUT FOR THE “-DY” on the end of the word DAD, or the “-MY” on the end of MOM… with an “I LOVE YOU” AT THE END OF EACH SENTENCE.

  When they want something, you would think they made a living writing Valentine day cards for a living.

  YES, they both got along very well, until one pissed the other one off.

  It was these times that MIA and I used to our advantage, to see what one or the other is up to.

  As long as they were getting along, it’s LOCKED… But let ’em get mad at each other and they spilled their guts to us about what evil deeds the other was doing.

  It worked like truth serum.

Mia’s Version:

Oh, how true this is.

Whenever one of them received an item of ANY value (be it a pack of gum or prescription eyeglasses), the eyeballs of the other one began to whir in their sockets like the symbols on an old-time slots machine. The “CHA-CHING” of a cash register would ding from their lips, and the image of a dollar sign began to form above their heads.

  The  “non-recipient” usually started the show.

 “That is SO unfair. How come SHE gets $10, and I can’t get $5 to go to a movie?”

 “Because her old glasses are broken,” I would explain, “And she needs to be able to see.”

  “Sight is over-rated, mother. You’re always saying appearances don’t count (as IF), and I learned on a documentary that decreased sight ability actually IMPROVES the other senses. What, are you TRYING to deprive us of experiencing the best of life?” She stomped out of the room, dramatically.

  I haven’t even figured out what THIS is supposed to mean, when the  non-recipient will snarl, “And I can’t even get a DOLLAR extra for cleaning up YOU GUYS’ MESSES. By the way, sissy… is that MILK in your room, or were you eating COTTAGE CHEESE out of mom’s COFFEE CUP?”

  By now, the other child has come back into the room.(Uh-oh… here it goes.)

   “You little brat… You only do that cleaning stuff to kiss up to THEM.” (Enter hostile glare, my direction.)

  “No, I do your cleaning because that’s how I earn my keep… AND to keep the Health Inspector away. I don’t have some rich Disneyland parent to shower me with cash every month.”

   “It’s called CHILD SUPPORT, you dope. And I EARN that money. With all I have to put up with, and everything I do around here… Besides, YOU get grade card money. When I was your age, I sure never got grade card money.”

  “That’s because, when you were my age, you were as lazy as you are now! Ingenuity comes with motivation and dedication. Remember that, kid.”

  This said, she turned to me.

  “I would have been here sooner, but I couldn’t find the knob on my bedroom door,” she said. “Mom, I can’t find the table… can we get my glasses today?”

   “I told you, I get paid Friday. We’ll go after school.”

   “I can’t make it that long!!!” She wailed, clutching her heart Scarlet O’Hara style.

  (Today is Thursday, BTW.)

  “I think you’ll make it,” I said.

  Defeated, she slumped to the table and dropped into a chair… well, a few inches NEAR a chair… on the floor.

  Sister laughed like a hyena, and the “blind” one set off like a wildcat whose tail’s been tied to a chainsaw.

  Instantly, our cozy little kitchen became a cacophony of chaos.

  “SPOILED BRAT!!! I’m telling mom what you did with her toothbrush!”

  “JERK!!! I’m telling her what you hid in your sock drawer that’s making the room smell funny!”

  “BUTTHEAD! I ought to knock you silly. And you had BETTER not even THINK about telling Mom about that phone call yesterday, or I’ll…”

  Debating whether to put a stop to this brutality, or grab a pen and take notes for later interrogation, I finally allowed my maternal instinct to decide.

   “Which drawer is the sock drawer? Who was the call from? And WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY TOOTHBRUSH?”

   As for equality?. My girls could tell you exactly how much they got for each baby tooth, the current market value of their first birthday present, the cost of every item of clothing they’ve ever CONSIDERED wearing, and how much I ordered from their respective fundraisers and book sales.

 But they couldn’t remember where they put their hairbrushes…

  All 18 of them.

  They wanted the same jeans…identical cut, shade, and style… then refused to wear them because “she’s always gotta copy me.”

  The youngest was content with hand-me-downs, which she proceeded to alter to her own style with strategically smeared mudstains and blobs of mustard. Upon seeing this, the older one would set off in another tirade, citing how much WE had spent on those clothes. We tried to explain, the clothes don’t fit YOU, anymore. YOU didn’t buy them. Chill out!

  The response? “But LOOK at her. She’s got a PINK shirt with RED PANTS. She looks RIDICULOUS.”

  The bickering got to be enough. “The bus is coming. Get your coats on, get outside.”

  The whole thing may seem like a nightmare, but I had other things on my mind… like buying a new toothbrush.

  Speaking of toothbrushes…

  We found it necessary to schedule our ability to enter the restroom in an almost-military fashion.

   (“COMBINE 12, this is DRIPPY HIPPY. The front zone has been secured! Repeat, you are cleared for entry!”)

  Sometimes, one of us would detain the teens (“Hey, who’s this young guy, pulling into the drive?”) while the other hopped cross-legged through the house, barricading the bathroom door with an overflowing hamper).

   We can grow wonderful things in our gardens, but we still haven’t found a way to raise toilet paper. What do they DO with the stuff? Do they think that it grows on TREES? We wish.

   We tried to schedule our showers, shaving, and other “extended restroom needs” around their school schedule, but the ungrateful girls INSISTED on going to school while we were at work!

  Then we selected time frames when they were “out,” which seemed to be the majority of the time, those days. This didn’t work, either. The minute we had unplugged all curling irons, blow dryers, hair straighteners, and other devices (they left them plugged in and dangling near the sink, hoping we’d mistake one of the said items for a toothbrush, and ZAP! At least, that’s my theory)… Moved three large storage tub’s worth of assorted bottles and compacts, tubes and jars, creams and gels, hair accessories and nail products, loofahs and pumice stones… collected various articles of clothing from their posts in and around the shower (ever mistaken your daughter’s thong for a hair scrunchie? Talk about embarrassing)…and dug through the couple dozen freshly washed towels that they used that morning (why do they need to use four-six apiece, for one shower? I’m stumped. Real quote: “I can’t use that to dry my hair! I dried my FACE with that!”???)…and gathered my OWN bath products (kept hidden in a spot they’d NEVER think to look- the laundry hamper!), I was finally ready for my shower…

… And there’d be NO hot water.

   Now, I don’t know if they used all the hot water on their personal hygiene, or if the pair of ankle socks and bikini top in the washing machine (on hot, supersized load, settings) contributed. Still, it’s frustrating to head out to work with icicles in your hair BEFORE you’ve even stepped outside.

  Revenge is rising, though.

 The oldest is grown, now, and has two youngsters, herself…

  Both are girls.

Random Thoughts

1. I think birthing tapes should be called “Bornography.”

2. There IS a reason to beat a dead horse! It shows all the other horses you mean business! (Sarah Morrow)

3. I never touch baby carrots because I’m afraid the mother will reject them from the nest.

4. For the most part, adulthood is basically the “before” segment of an infomercial for a revolutionary new floor cleaner.

5. 75% of being me is looking like every limb hears a different beat when I’m dancing.

6. Finally getting around to shaving my legs. Blow drying them took too long.

7. Turn Signals: They come free with every car! (Pell Ington)

8. Daddy Longlegs: Proof you need to settle your inner demons before naming animals.

9. My life is just one long improvisation.

10. There’s something seriously wrong with people who ask other parents if their baby isn’t the cutest baby they’ve ever seen.

Mealworms and Mail Carriers

Got up. Made coffee.
Went to take care of the animals. No cat food.
Remembered the canned cat food some dear friends gave us as part of a Christmas basket. I’ll go to the store, later.
4 large cans. WAY more than four cats. Decided to pour cat food into a bucket and mix it with other kitchen scraps.
Cats loved it. Hands now REEK of “seafood blend.” Washed hands. Now, hands smell like “citrus seafood blend.”
Overwhelmingly, might I add.

Also in the basket… a large package of dried mealworms, for the chickens. Nice treat.
Mix mealworms into the bucket of scraps for the chickens. Oops. Big bag. Spilled mealworms all over kitchen floor. Not good to have dried mealworms on the kitchen floor. Might give someone the wrong idea.

Quickly, grabbed the broom and dustpan. Swept up the mealworms.
New problem.
Already took the trash out, when I fed the cats.
Otherwise-empty trashcan, with large amount of mealworms would also be bad, and wasteful. Decide to throw the mealworms out into the yard, as an extra treat for the birds.
(Incidentally, the chickens come to “Here, kitty, kitty.” The cats come to, “Here, chick-chick-chick.” Our animals are… unique.)

Mail carrier came.
She had a package.

She chose to deliver said package… being the nice lady she is… directly to our front door.
Now…
Mail lady is not as nice, today.
She didn’t give me a chance to explain why she had a dustpan full of worms thrown on her, by the lady who was shouting, “Here, kitty, kitty” and smells like lemon and salmon.

Pride and Plumeria

Chew takes pleasure in order and simplicity. How he puts up with ME is puzzling, to say the least.

Scenario: 6 a.m. I’m fumbling, one-eyed, searching for the coffee filters. Chew is heading towards the bathroom for his morning shower.

“Do we have any towels?” He asks.

“I just washed some. They’re in the drawer.” I said.

“It’s empty.” He said.

“Dryer?”

“Nope.”

He watches as I check both locations… just in case my nearly-blind-but-at-least-semi-open eye can spot something his pair of well-functioning ones could not.

“There’s none in there.” I said.

By now, he had gathered his work clothes, and was staring at me from the bathroom door.

“I know.” he said.

Muttering about teenagers and water consumption and high energy bills, I opened the onion bin and pulled out a folded towel and washcloth.

“What the…Why were they in THERE?”

“Well, we weren’t using the bins for anything, and the oldest HATES onions.”

Chew blinked. He sniffed the towel and blinked again.

“It smells like…peppermint.” He said.

“Yeah. I hid the candy canes in there last Christmas.”

Chew blinked one more time, turned, and started his shower. Shortly after the water began running, he called to me again.

“Where’s the shampoo?”

“Do you want the tangerine or the plumeria?” I asked.

“What’s the difference?”

“Tangerine is for deep-cleaning and shine. Plumeria is for volume and…”

“MIA… I JUST NEED TO WASH MY HAIR.”

“Well, let me go out and get you the tangerine.” I started to slip on my shoes.

I heard the shower curtain open. “What do you have to go outside for?”

“The shampoo,” I said. “It’s in the chicken barn.”

“BOTH of them? Why on EARTH…”

“No, no,” I laughed, “Just the tangerine. The plumeria’s in the laundry room.”

“Well, just get me THAT one!”

As I returned with the shampoo, I heard him muttering, “What the heck is plumeria, anyway? A fruit? Sounds more like a DISEASE. ‘The doctor says I’m suffering from severe plumeria…’ ”

I handed him the shampoo, and silently counted to three.

“WHAT in the… it’s FLOWERS!?!”

“Plumeria,” I said, “Is a kind of flower.”

“NOW you tell me!?!”

“But, Honey, YOU said…”

“For Pete’s sake… do you know what it’s going to be like, being around all those tractor guys and farmers today, with my head smelling like a freakin’ BOUQUET?!?”

He reached for the conditioner.

“Honey,” I said, “I wouldn’t…” Too late. He had already begun rubbing the Lilac Cream conditioner on his scalp.

I hurried back into the kitchen and poured our coffee.

“Mia… Where is my bar soap?” Chew hollered.

“Oh, yeah,” I called back, “Tia had to take a bar to school today, for art class.”

“So… what am I supposed to WASH with?” He asked.

“Chew, honestly… between the girls and I, there must be a DOZEN different kinds of bodywash in there.”

He muttered, “Sugar Kiss? Baby Soft? Strawberry Passionfruit? Gee, how about  BUBBLEGUM BREEZE? Maybe I could just SKIP to work today?!?”

I opened the cupboard under the sink and rummaged through the bottles. Tutti-Fruitti? Raspberry Sass? Romantic Rose?

We were in serious trouble.

“MIA… at least get me the dishsoap, so I can weaken this crap down.” He popped a lid and sniffed. “Maybe the Sugar Kiss and a lil’ dishsoap won’t be too bad.”

“Dawn or Palmolive?” I asked.

“What diff…ohh, for Pete’s sake… Dawn.”

“Ok, Honey. Let me get my shoes on. It’s out in the icehouse.”

He didn’t ask.

When the whole shower ordeal was over, and Chew was dressed and ready to warm up his coffee, he asked me if I knew where a hairbrush was.

“Yes,” I said, “It’s behind the couch.”

“Behind the COUCH? Mia… if you KNEW the brush was THERE, why didn’t you pick it up and PUT IT AWAY WHERE IT BELONGS?”

“Because, if I did, someone would use it and put it somewhere, and I wouldn’t know where it was!”

Chew glanced at the clock. “I’ve gotta go,” He said.

“Have a good day, Baby, and I’ll see you tonight. Oh, you’ll want to grab your keys out of my make-up bag, and your wallet is in the laundry hamper. Love you!”

As I watched him heading across the field to work (shaking his head and making occasional hand gestures), I wondered if I should have mentioned that he had grabbed the oldest girl’s hooded sweatshirt by mistake. I decided against it.
Who says that the picture of “Happy Bunny” on his back isn’t manly?

Meeting the Neighbor

(Me, talking to our closest neighbor for the first time…we’ve lived here for two years):”I noticed your chicken coop. It’s beautiful! How many chickens do you have?”
(Her): “We had 16, but they all got killed one night and I haven’t gotten any more.”
(Me): “All of them? In one NIGHT? What on Earth happened?”
(Her): “Well, I found them all dead, so I buried 13 of them. I left the other three in the coop with a live animal trap. Sure enough, the killer came back, and we caught him. It turned out to be a weasel.”
(Me): “A WEASEL? How awful! I’m so sorry.”
(Her): “Well, it was over four years ago, but… yeah.”
(Me): “Wow, I didn’t even know we HAD weasels, here. I’m glad you told me. We’ll have to make sure the coops are secure for our chickens.”
(Her): “I’ve got it in the freezer still, if you want to see what it looks like.”

(Pause, as I let this sink in… this woman has kept a dead weasel in her freezer, for over four years. What in the living…)

(Her): “Anyway, I just thought I’d stop by. It’s nice to have neighbors, again.”

(Another awkward pause…Chew’s mother has lived here for about 30 years. Not sure what the ‘again’ refers to.)

(Me): “Well… um… I’m glad you stopped by. It’s nice to meet you.”
(Her): “It was Max’s idea, really. I never would have bothered you. I know you’re busy.”
(Me): “Oh, is Max your husband?”
(Her): “No… Max is my dog.”

(Another awkward pause, as I ponder an advice-giving canine.)

This is why I fail at people-ing.