The Almost Daily Thread

musings from the blue chair

Tales from New Hampshire Drive

I am offering a story sample of the Tales from Smack in the Middle of New Hampshire Drive and Beyond. The book I just recently published. A book I’ve been thinking about writing for a long, long time.

My Dad and Ivan were a unique and entertaining pair. When they were around a story was created to be retold. Ah, their lightheartedness, their lust for life.

Here is of my favorite family stories. Thinking how lighthearted it is to reflect on the fun, good times — the goofy times.

Enjoy.

One Fast Chicken

Our property sat above the fence line of a hillside urban farm where my mom used to drop off Porky, the chicken, hoping the chicken would like the farm and the farmer would be grateful for an additional hen added to his livestock count. Porky had outgrown all the pink dye s/he arrived with so maybe none of the other chickens would make fun of her, you know, for being a suburban chick or a clucker from atop-the-hill.
Mary Jo and her best friend, Becky Jo, spot the chickens in a display just outside Foodland a couple of weeks before Easter. Purple and blue and pink chicks waddling, cheeping, falling all over each other. Chickens in a giant flat metal bin littered with chicken drippings – not the kind you save to make gravy with. So cute? Colorful pastels, because we all know that sweet, soft buttery yellow isn’t cute enough for a baby chicken.
The girls beg to become chicken owners for so many days-it works! Mary Jo’s chick arrives in a little cage just outside the basement door on Easter morning as part of the whole Easter basket tradition, the whole giant, big fat Easter bunny tale parents perpetuate. Mary Jo loves Porky at first sight. She holds it. She feeds it. She makes sure it has water. She learned that animals need food and water regularly when Gerry, the gerbil, succumbed during the previous summer’s 7 day vacation with none of either.
Of course my mother’s insistent, “Don’t bring that chicken into this house,” instruction doesn’t last long. Porky gets into the basement daily and struts his/her way around, upstairs and downstairs, looking for Mary Jo. Porky likes to sit on Mary Jo’s shoulder when she does her homework. Mary Jo swears she did homework on occasion. Was the fact that Porky pooped down her back the final straw in his/her banishment or was it because s/he never caught onto the multiplication tables? Was it the extra laundry or lack of tutoring?
Or was it because Porky started crowing?
In order to safely and kindly dispose of the barnyard animal, Mom, gently, repeatedly escorts said chicken down the hill to the adjoining farm, only to return to find Porky sitting patiently on the back porch waiting for her! One homesick chicken with a sense of direction. I can assure you Porky didn’t learn that from my sister who will tell you to turn right when, really, it’s left nearly every time.
To the farm and back. To the farm and back. And the daily frustration of feathers and other trails of the chicken’s whereabouts in the house forces a more straight forward action. A frustrated Mom has Joe, my boyfriend and future husband, and I take Porky with us one day when we are going to Greenbo Lake State Park to swim. “Just drop him off where you see a farm house,” Peggy instructs. “This is one educated chicken. Porky will survive and he can teach the other chickens their numbers.” We stuff the flapping, confused, unruly animal in a box with plenty of air holes and a couple of cucumber slices.
The farm looks friendly. There are other chickens. It is close to the road so we don’t have to drive cautiously down a very long unfamiliar driveway and approach the home of a total stranger. The deed is accomplished, although my mother looks for Porky to wander in for weeks after.
Even now, 35 years later, when chicken is served at a family function, decades later, the “trauma” of Porky’s banishment is abruptly brought to the attention of those gathered around a table sharing food and creating new family memories, Mary Jo will exclaim with theatrical melancholy, “You kidnapped Porky. You took Porky to a stranger’s farm. How can you eat that chicken knowing what you did to Porky. He was a shy chicken. He was my favorite chicken.”
“He was your only chicken,” some will remind her.
“He didn’t even know anyone at that strange farm.”
She is never comforted when I reply, “No one knows he started out pink.”
My sister can be a tad dramatic, like when she is asked to start the biscuits, she will pick up the plate, set it down in front of her and pull an “air” cord making a lawnmower noise as she jerks her arm. And she’s been known to show up with an empty bowl or plate when invited to a pot luck and is asked to “bring a dish.” She loves to wash dishes but sometimes has to go the bathroom – for, like, a long time! But, really, truly, she is the best carrot peeler and silver polisher.
So, why did they color dip those innocent newborn chicks? What color sold best? And how does one train to be a chicken dipper? Do all the purple ones go into one area until they dry so as not to flap purple spots onto a nice pink batch? “This won’t hurt for long little chick. Hold your breath and no flapping. It’s just like getting your hair colored.” Dunk.
Oh and FYI, Becky Jo’s chick died young. Note to self, “Don’t fall for the blue chick.” Guess the blue dye was a harsher chemical.
I am sure there was a neighborhood funeral; that the blue chick was buried in a shoe box and we read Bible verses; and that we set out to present a service with appropriate songs but the singers all broke into shyness or laughter before the first verse of Amazing Grace was complete.

Tales from Smack in the Middle of new Hampshire Drive can be purchased from Amazon:

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My yard is alive!

It’s spring, a warm spring at that and things are growing! The veggies are happy, the weeds are happy. The lawn mower is getting used. The rains come with thunder and leave humidity. Some days feel like August in KY not May! Maybe those few warm weeks in February were our spring.

The oak tree in my front yard was most likely planted around the same time the house was built in the 1020’s. It is tall and shady and scrumptious and at some times really messy. I don’t mind raking leaves but when it dumps the green stuff that hangs from the gutters? It’s messy. The worst this year is the sap that has mandated daily trips to the car wash for a week or so. Annoying. Not the perfect urban tree, yet it protects my house from the afternoon sun, that hot brutal summer afternoon sun. And I don’t have to air condition until the temps get into the high 80’s or the humidity gets as sticky as that sap.

Guess I am about to describe my front yard! Since you readers already know lots about the back yard. I have shade and the challenge of shade gardening and color. Columbines and ferns and hosta and wild local “somethings” I have brought home from the woods grow rather randomly. Amid lots of rocks outlining the beds! Rocks line the gardens in front of the house and encircle the Oak.

My favorite scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy is when the Ents come to the rescue. The giants who are the forest.

I believe the separation from nature has cut us off from centuries of a deeply rooted relationship where we have had a working familiarity with the natural elements to support, feed and cloth ourselves. Now we conquer, bulldoze and concrete and level. And I believe the separation has created much of the issues of poor physical and mental health issues that plague our current culture.

I’m reading The Findhorn Garden. An amazing story about how the founders cultivated growing space where there was only sand and rock. Also a fascinating glimpse into the connection between the farmers and the natural elements. The farmers learn to communicate with the devas of each plant, of the soil, the water. They grow to have a personal relationship with each, believing, respecting, honoring the life force of each plant as it grows in relationship to the other. So, they talk to the plants. They listen to the plants, abide by their wishes and instructions and the garden grows better.

I do feel the life force of my plants and am grateful for the nutrition and the beauty. I do speak to my oak tree. I pray for it to hold on tight when the winds blow crazy. I thank it for the sticks it leaves me for kindling. It is a live protective being that lives with me on this little piece of property I call home.

Where Hobbits meet Treebeard.

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Gardening of all flavors – an update

Hugelkultur. It’s my new gardening method! Adapted to my urban “farm.” Urban farm sounds so much more professional than backyard hobby! Really, urban gardener, sounds more like it.
Am I a farmer? Well, I suppose I kind of am on a very small scale.

What denotes a farmer? One who grows plants? And while I mostly grow to feed myself, I am still growing plants to harvest and eat. The title farmer takes too much from those who work bigger areas. I will keep gardener on my resume.

As my gardening knees get creakier, I wish to raise my already raised beds so there’s not so much bending and moaning when I plant and weed. And there is the issues of dogs and rabbits and other critters…so, rather than buy more boards which are expensive (I have a couple of beds that need replacing after only a few years), I am replacing with an adaptation of Hugelkultur Gardening. https://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/many-benefits-hugelkultur

I have adapted the bed that needed replacing by digging it out (ughhhh) and removing the rottening boards. I end up with flat ground, a blank slate.

I then got fencing and chicken wire and posts. The dirt was soft where the boards were removed. I pounded the posts in and engaged the help of two of my grandchildren in to help me pull the fencing and wire around the posts.

And the layering began. I started with green oak logs in the bottom. I layered and built up with leaves, compost, sticks, and the dirt I had just removed! I used a layer of peat and dirt at the top. As I was filling I lined the outsides with straw to keep any dirt from falling out. And I put two old screens along the sides as well. Call me obsessive!

And then I stood and planted! YES, I stood and planted!!

As the boards of my current raised beds rot I will replace them with this layered gardening. I’ve read I can put my composting scraps right on top of the dirt this winter.

The aquaponics system is up and running. Plugged the pump back in and it worked first cycle. As soon as the water is warmed I will add fish. For now, I have planted Black Seeded Simpson and snap pea seeds. I don’t know it it’s too late for the peas but the system is in afternoon shade so I am taking a chance. Worth the half a packet of seed gamble. The peas I planted in Feb in the raised bed were about half successful. I’m blaming the weather, which every gardener can certainly do this weird spring.
Asparagus didn’t do well either. Sigh….

I also placed a basil, some celeric, and broccoli still sprouting from the latest microgreen tray into the rocks of the aquaponics tub.

In the dirt, the old fashioned way (!), I have planted arugula, spinach, broccoli, kale, lettuce, brussel sprouts, peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, yellow squash, watermelon, and cantaloupe. And strawberries. I have potatoes in barrels.

Here’s to eating so local it’s right from my back yard.

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Typos

I hope there is one on my tombstone to honor the struggles with editing I have endured! Ugggg.
I have taken New Hampshire Drive down for review because I have found numerous typos. I swear to you all, my fingers nor my toes are crossed. Not even my legs or arms are crossed. I swear to you, I edited this. I had 3 people edit this. WTF? And Yes I mean the “f” word very strongly!
So here I am, humiliated in public again by the imperfection in my written presentation. Maybe that’s what life is really about, how many times one can publicly humiliate oneself and still remain vertical with one’s face, your humanity bare naked to the public? To those who support me, to those I want to think highly of me, respect me, enjoy sharing my words. Ahhh, I am sorry.
Sigh.
Vulnerability. Shame. These are the words floating around my mind chatter. Vulnerability and shame are the words being shouted from the critic on my shoulder who is so capable of shouting down the calm, peaceful voice on the other shoulder who is proud of this another publication, a dream of mine for at least two decades. She is proud of the writing. Proud that she was able to successfully write humor and bring to life a really special and unique chapter in her life. She is proud of the cover and the typeface.
So here, the whole of who I am has taken New Hampshire Drive off line to return as soon as I reread it, again. Soon. Not as long as it took between versions of Joseph’s Journey or Betty Rea (still awaiting it’s most current editorial review).
I can hear your commentary. She’s done it again. Poor Susan, she just can’t get this right. Why doesn’t someone tell her? It’s like the erratic chin hair or a broccoli piece between the teeth or an open zipper no one speaks about out loud but knows the embarrassment and prays it will be rectified soon.
And oh yes, I am an English Major. Well creative writing major certainly not an editor. Maybe these technical difficulties are the result of my touch of dyslexia getting worse with age. Maybe it’s age catching up with me telling me I better get the bucket list completed before it’s too late. Maybe I just move to fast, take on too many projects. Maybe I’m just simply a lousy editor.
And, I still think the stories are good even if I somehow break down in the editing process and continue, unintentionally, to send them out imperfect. Is it a disrespect for myself and my craft?  It sure does take zap the joy out of the excitement of a new publication.  Of this I am well aware.
So, audience, forgive me, yet again. And just because it did happen again, it won’t keep me from writing. I love writing stories too much. This may force me into asking for more help or seeking another method of publication, but until then…
If you want a copy that is fixed I am so happy to replace it.
Sigh.
I listened to these TED talks again. And I will listen again and again every time I feel myself stepping onto the shame spiral.
Thank you Brene Brown for saving me from the spiral of “I’m not….” And PLEASE, Susan, figure this out.

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I sew because I am or is it I am because I sew?

People find value in varying things. I personally find value in fabric and fabric scraps. Yes, guilty. I do save scraps. Not the really tiny ones even though I am self-diagnosed ADD. My need to waste as little as possible, recycle and reuse has supported me in myriad ways. And, yes, it can get a little out of control.
The first quilt I made – after years of protesting loudly and often, “I am NOT a quilter. If the instructions say cut 42 of these and 84 of those, I am not interested.” I fact, I am bored before the whole process begins. But, a strip quilt…she thinks, eyeing that basket of scraps too good to toss. No geometry. No math. Hummm. Folk art!
My mother and Aunt Mary taught me to sew. Oh, and Home Ec class. Mrs. Hoflich. I think of her grade cut threat every time I put a pin in my mouth. I’ve been sewing flat things, pillow cases, table cloths, curtains for a long, long time. The clothing I made was never comfortable and I never liked to hem or put in zippers. Clothing is not my forte.
With the discovery of collage wall hangings I get to collect more than fabric and notions. I’ve branched into found objects, jewelry, beads and on and on.
In addition, I’ve crafted bags of all shapes and sizes for all shapes and sizes of objects from crystals to bedding. The scrap piles grew. And guess what fits the reuse, recycle agenda? Quilts. During the wars women made crazy quilts out of scraps, clothing too worn to wear, linings of purses and even feed bags were designed to be reused as clothing or bedding.
So, I sewed a bunch of scraps together in strips and made my first quilt. It was quickly claimed by my oldest daughter. It’s not precisely rectangular but is warm and colorful. So then, a non-partial Libra mother can not possibly justify sibling imbalance. The second quilt was for my second daughter.
And as the grandchildren get older and gift giving opportunities cause a drought in my “present” ideas and as more and more fabric is being gifted to me, the light goes off. I’ll make them all a quilt. I’ve been making a homemade Christmas present for several years now including pillow cases and aprons. Why not a quilt for everyone’s birthday? After all, it’s my grandson’s 21st birthday. What else to get him besides a bottle of Maker’s Mark? Some of the fabric I am gifted has similar patterning so I expand into a block quilt fitting for a 21 year old male. And then there is a 16th birthday. Are you catching the pattern?
Ready to expand I do a t-shirt quilt from Life is Good shirts and a UK quilt and my brother is such an environmentalist and I love to applique, so I did squares with triangle trees and little rectangular trunks. He doesn’t know yet. It’s still at the quilter. His February birthday is long past, so don’t’ tell him! I’ll bake a cake and give him his gift when it gets back to me.
Then my writing companion asks me to make a quilt for her grandchild! I make it in 5 days. Back to the basics, a strip quilt out of yellow and gray.
Now, onto the fifth grandchild and…well, it certainly looks like a year of sewing for me!
I am because I sew. Or do I sew because I am? Or maybe I sew to keep my studio room from exploding! Keep that fabric and those embellishments coming.

 

 

 

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A storm and winter

The glowing fire is warm
and the white day looms vast ahead.
Alone.
Projects listed
to occupy snowed in restlessness.
Alone to ponder
to complete
to create
to be.
Who will I be when spring (or even morning) emerges?

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Historical Fiction: The Magic of combining Fact with Fiction :by Kathryn Gauci

Source: Historical Fiction: The Magic of combining Fact with Fiction :by Kathryn Gauci

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One Pepper Plant at a Time

I am saving seeds from a Jingle Bell Pepper plant. cute, sweet red peppers. The seeds are easy to save. Eat pepper. You can eat them like candy. You can eat them raw, cook in any recipe or preserve them for later use and have a bit of delicious red in the dark, cold winter.  Dry seeds. Label to plant next year.  Freeze or keep in a dry cool place.

In the spring plant the seeds!  They make a great container plant. Lovely and decorative and etiable!!  Water.  Watch it grow.

Preserving the seed and replanting takes you our of the corporate food chain and lessens the burdens and control of feeding the people.  One pepper plant at a time we can gain some independence, taking a minimal amount of pressure off the system.

Need seeds?  i am honored to send you a few to get started.  One pepper gives 30-50 seeds and the opportunity to share. Abundance is inherent, grown in each fruit.

I challenge you, just like the manager of the Kroger challenged Uncle John with the Impatience in 1956.  Would you like some Jingle Bell pepper seeds?

Uncle John grew impatience from his own seeds until 2006.  And they were happy and healthy plants that held the love of Uncle John, the gardener, that I absorbed every season.  My annual Impatience are beautiful and splash color under the oak tree that shades my front yard, but they don’t have the same gift for me when I look at them.

They are tiny seeds, like a grain of black pepper.  Such a miracle that they grow to produce lively, colorful flowers.  Sadly, I didn’t get my greenhouse together to plant the Mason jar full of seeds we found in his basement.

So, I continue the legacy with red peppers.  They match my hair and feed my body and my beliefs in living with some degree of independence!

If you want some seeds, let me know!

 

 

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A total eclipse of the sun

Awesome!

A family road trip. Picnic and back roads. Wishing for a paper map because, while the phones are informative, the details are difficult to “stretch” into existence. The phone benefit is the red line, heavy traffic warning. I-65 and 31E.  The phone experts in the car found a route and we had an adventure. Springfield. Lebanon.  Across the Green River.  Columbia and the Cumberland Parkway. Edmonton.  Haywood and Barren River Lake to Scottsville.  A spectacular drive through rural Kentucky.

While watching previews from Oregon.

We found a small park.  Paid our $5 to park and claimed a vacant spot.  We spread our blankets, set up chairs and ate an amazing picnic lunch among a thousand or so other spectators.  Lots of funny glasses, tents, coolers, kids, telescopes, cameras and excitement.  Vendors sold festival food, watermelon and slushies.

A festive, holiday Monday in south central Kentucky.

The blue sky back dropped nature’s spectacle with only a few wispy clouds.  Hot.  High 80’s.  Humid.  August.

We arrived just as the moon approached the sun and we watched through our paper safety glasses while the cloaking began.  A local man had his telescope set up with protective lenses and invited every passerby to have a look.  A sun of brilliant, golden yellow with a dark circle encroaching.

As the moon slid across, the temperature dropped and the crowd quieted.  The hot dog man turned off his generator and the venue was stilled.  Whispers of conversation.  People mesmerized by nature’s theater.  Not a leaf moved.  Did the clouds actually stand still?  No dogs barking.  No traffic noise. No music.

As the temperature dropped and the light faded an energy seemed to surround us.  A blur, a haze of just the slightest distortion of the outline of things.  Complete dark didn’t happen so the remarkable thing was how much light the sun provided even with the smallest fingernail of itself visible.

When totality was reached, a cheer arose.  The awkward glasses came off and all voiced in wonder.  Awestruck at the black hole and it’s corona of glimmering white glory.   A super white electric with a small red flame of light and beauty.  Not blocking all light.

Dusk at 1:30 pm.  Eerie.  Still.  Stillness.  A calm, quiet, stillness.

Planets hung in a muted fuzzy day sky the night sky darker, like their point of light against denim not solid dark.

Taking the brief opportunity to scan the fields during totality we saw a hazy dawn atop the hazy trees.

And then in total reverse shapes the moon continued it’s journey.  And the glasses were again put on as the sun reappeared.

The 2 1/2 hour drive there.  The 4 1/2 hour drive home.  Worth every second of this wonderstruck one hour experience.

Going into a crowd of total strangers feeling totally safe to share an event of a lifetime together in peace and awe – Priceless.

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Prompt #8 – I do not choose to

The suggested prompt is: All good things must come to an end. That one way too close to a death and finality for me today so I say, “I do not choose to write about that,” which brings me to a story I can tell you about I do not choose to.

August 25, 1996 The Clinton family stopped in Riverfront Park Ashland on a whistle stop tour on their way to Chicago to accept the party’s renomination for Bill.

“The president is here in Ashland, Kentucky, first stop of his campaign train trip to Chicago, where he’ll accept his party’s renomination of the Democratic convention. His mission, to explain to Democrats and to Americans all over the country why he should be reelected and why Bob Dole should not enter the White House.” from an interview with CNN.

http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/news/9608/25/clinton.interview/interview.shtml

Ashland is a river front town where the railroad tracks parallel the river.  A flood wall built a block or so away from the river protects with gates that can be open and shut at the streets that cross it.

The town rose to the call of the event.  Clean up.  Paint.  Build a speakers platform and podium.  Chairs.  Bunting and banners.  Celebration.  For several weeks, secret service men, yes, in trench coats, wandered the streets obviously not “from here,”  but setting up observation posts.   Our town was honored, decorated and safe.

After much anticipation, the train pulled from West Virginia where Hillary had spoken that morning and stopped just past one of the street openings of the flood wall.  Maybe 14th Street??

My step-ex-mother-in-law (that is a whole other story!), a long time Democrat, got tickets in the VIP seats via our friend, head of the Democratic Party at the time.  Juanita was beyond excited to attend the event, however, her physical health was such that she couldn’t walk great distances.  I picked her up early so we could get a parking place close to the speakers platform and her seat.  We that happened!  We found our seats, talked and visited all morning with all those gathering.  We watched from the center the frenzy of a Presidential visit to our small town.

The only other time a President graced us was when Nixon came through Russell to receive an illegal campaign contribution from Ashland Oil.  We, then, lined the streets for a glimpse.  Nixon didn’t stop to speak, just breezed through with his hand out.

I digress.

https://mobile.nytimes.com/1974/12/31/archives/170000-in-illegal-gifts-admitted-by-ashland-oil-special-to-the-new.html

So, the chugging train arrives as the anticipation grows.  And the President of the United States of America on stage with our local heroes and politicians speaks.  A fabulous speaker, Bill Clinton.  He smiles.  He offers promise and hope.  He entertains in an eloquent political speech.

When the podium empties and the applause stops the crowd is directed to leave through a street a block down from where our car was parked.  The train would stay parked while while Clinton does an interview with Wolf Blitzer.  CNN was so brand new then.

Juanita and I stand, speak to people leaving, wait until the crowd thins a bit.  When we leave we are directed to walk past the open flood gate where our car sits just on the other side to down to the next street.  Like from 14th Street to 15th.

“But my car is parked right over there,” she points to just a half a block away.

“Ma’am, this gate is closed now,” replies the secret service man very kindly.  And he turns to walk away but stops when he hears her speak.

“Sir, we came early to  park close so I wouldn’t have to walk far to get to and from my car.”

The man comes closer to us.  “I understand that, Ma’am.  But this street is closed for as long as the President’s train is parked.  I am going to ask you to walk this way,” and he points towards the crowd that is flowing out of the next street.

“And I am telling you I don’t choose to.”

“Ma’am, this street is closed.”

“Well, look, at all the other people using this street.”  She points behind him.

“I see them and each of them are an authorized part of the team here to protect the President.  Now, would you just walk on to the next block and exit.”

“I don’t choose to,” she firmly states.   “My car is parked right over there and I am going to walk straight to there from here.”

I look behind her to see several local officials now aware of and watching this conversation.  The Ashland Chief-of-Police is standing with his arms crossed and I suspect he and the mayor and council men have just placed a bet on who wins this one.

“Perhaps then you need assistance, Ma’am.  I can get you a wheelchair or I can call for an ambulance?”

And I knew at that moment, no matter what kind of weapon was under that coat,  the secret service man had lost his cause.

“Sir,” she took a step forward, “I can assure you I do not need assistance.”  And she took my arm.  “Let me remind you, sir, you are in my town only for a brief passing and I am going to use the streets in my town to my benefit.  I am going to walk across here and go to my car and you may arrest me or assist me.  Now, come on Susan.”

I see the local authorities smiling and I put my hand on her hers and we start to walk.

The man in the trench coat shrugs his shoulders, turns and says to the locals, “This is one tough crowd.”  And he follows us across the railroad tracks to our vehicle.

The text of Bill Clinton’s speech is:

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=53232

 

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