Why Did the Chicken Cross . . .

. . . spurs with the city council?

Well, actually, I don’t think most of the council members are all that cross with chickens. I bet they’re tired of hearing about them, though. Rapid City is having another debate about whether to allow people to keep a few chickens in their back yards.

Speaking as someone who is not a fan of chickens until they are safely beheaded, plucked, processed, and cooked (all of the aforementioned, preferably, done by someone else), you’d think I would be on the anti-chicken side of this argument.

Not so. If my neighbors want to have a handful of chickens in a coop in their yard, I don’t care. My objection to chickens wanes considerably when I’m not the one who has to feed them, gather their eggs, or help pluck them.

Besides, if the neighbors have chickens, the neighbors will have eggs. Possibly, even, extra eggs. I’m not proud. I’m willing to be a hypocrite if it gets me fresh-laid eggs now and then.

However, amid all the clucking and squawking about chickens, pro and con, I do agree with those who insist that chicken coops need to be well-constructed and secure. I don’t want a bunch of stray chickens attracting stray skunks, coyotes, and mountain lions who might be tired of venison.

I especially agree with the person who pointed out in our local paper that all the chicken coops need to be built with two doors.

Because if they had four doors, they wouldn’t be chicken coupes. They would be chicken sedans.

(Sorry. Sometimes when you scrape the very bottom of the idea barrel, all you come up with is chicken manure.)

Categories: Just For Fun, Wild Things | Tags: , | 2 Comments

House Guests, Mutant Mushrooms, and the Prime Directive

Warning: If there is a possibility that you may be an overnight guest in my house in the near future, it might be a good idea to skip this.

Okay, I tried. You’ve been warned. It’s not my fault if you’re still here.

At least it’s you, and not the intergalactic police force from the United Federation of Planets. Before they show up to arrest me and haul me off to some remote prison planet, I might as well confess and get it over with.

I have violated Star Trek’s Prime Directive. I have broken this crucial law which forbids interference with alien civilizations.

What I interfered with was alien, all right, though I’m not sure it could accurately be described as “civilization.” The word “culture” certainly fit, though. That’s culture as in “stuff growing in a Petri dish,” rather than culture as in “going to the opera.”

It all started with house guests. Not, let me hasten to add, that I have ever had house guests that could be described as “alien.” Well, there was that one guy. . . . He wasn’t a relative, though.

One of my most recent house guests happened to be at the sink in the downstairs bathroom while I was in the shower in the upstairs bathroom. When we met at the breakfast table a short time later, he told me he had been dripped on.

Yep, there was a leak, all right. The plumber came two days later, took apart the faucet in the upstairs shower, and discovered that it had been leaking inside the wall for a long time. The two-by-fours were spotted with yucky black stuff, and the whole thing smelled like the kind of basement you don’t want to go into even with the lights on.

After he fixed the leak, the plumber recommended bleach. Use a fan to dry out the wet area, he said, then apply generous amounts of one part chlorine bleach to three parts water and dry it out again.

The first time I did this, I thought the odd clumps of tannish stuff on the two-by-fours were bits of wood and sawdust left inside the wall by various plumbers and carpenters.

The second time I bleached it, I was wearing my reading glasses. Big mistake. It allowed me to see that those clumps were something living that had grown there. They were some sort of fungi or mutant mushroom. Alien life forms, for sure.

Did I call in a mycologist to identify them? Did I apply for a National Science Foundation grant to study them? Did I at least scrape some of them into a baggie for possible drying and smoking?

Nope. I doused the little critters with bleach. Not only did I interfere with that particular alien culture, I did my best to destroy it.

Maybe, by not eating or smoking them, I missed an opportunity for enlightenment. Never mind. Breathing the bleach fumes is hallucinogenic enough. If you were planning on visiting any time soon, I’d recommend waiting till the aura of chlorine has dissipated.

Besides, by the time I bleach the afflicted area, dry it out, and pay the plumber, I will have gained valuable insight and wisdom anyway. To wit: A little plumbing leak, ignored long enough, will grow into a bigger plumbing leak. That’s quite enough enlightenment for one week.

Categories: Just For Fun, Odds and Ends | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Comforts of Camping

Ah, camping. Dozing in the shade, relaxing with your family, sitting around the campfire, making s’mores. It all sounds so laid-back and leisurely.

It is, I suppose. After you’ve done all the work to get ready for it. Digging out the tent. Finding the tarp and the tent stakes and the sleeping bags. Finding room for the lawn chairs. Remembering to pack all the camping stuff that isn’t only camping stuff—like towels, sunscreen, bug spray, and a clothesline. Oh, and don’t forget a flashlight. And soap. All of that is before you even start thinking about food.

While the idea of camping is about leisure and relaxing, the reality is that making it happen takes a lot of effort. Camping isn’t for the lazy.

I seldom go camping myself.

(If any conclusions are drawn from the two previous statements, I really don’t want to hear about them.)

Then, of course, when you get home, you just have to unpack all that stuff and put it away. I did that part this week, after my extended family’s annual reunion last weekend. As I was draping the tent and the sleeping bags over the railing of the deck to air them out, a whiny little voice in my head popped up for just a millisecond. It said, “But I’m doing all this work, and I didn’t even use this stuff.”

It’s true; I didn’t. My son and his wife, who flew in for the reunion with their two little kids, slept in my tent. So I hauled a carload of stuff across the state, but I missed the actual camping.

I wasn’t there for the first night’s thunder, lightning, and heavy rain. I didn’t get to experience the second night’s rain, high wind, and broken tree branches. Instead, I was a few miles away, all by myself. In my motel room, with its hot shower, its dry bed, and its nice solid walls.

Alas. Oh, dear. Poor, poor me.

Does anyone need to borrow a tent for next year? Just call me.

Categories: Family, Travel | Tags: | 8 Comments

The Biggest Jackass in the Family Tree

Genealogy has its hazards. When you start digging around among your ancestors, you never know just what you might find. Sometimes you come across information that isn’t appropriate to include in the official record.

This happened to me last week. It all started when my mother asked me to help her assemble a book of family history. I learned something that didn’t seem right to include in the book. Still, I just had to tell somebody, so here it is. It can be a just our little secret.

Back in 1925, after losing the lease on their rented farm, my grandparents had an auction to sell their machinery and livestock. My mother’s genealogy material included one of the original sale bills. She also had a couple of photographs of what was clearly a mule, described as “Jack” in someone’s faded handwriting, with a note that “Grandpa was proud of this mule.”

Among the horses listed on the sale bill was a “Mammoth Jack, 12 yrs. old, wt. 1100.” Also listed were six mares described as “bred to Jack.”

At this point, the elf in my brain who keeps track of odd bits of information piped up and said, “Wait a minute. A jack is what a male donkey is called, but at 1100 pounds that critter was no donkey. But mules are hybrids. They’re almost always sterile. How could those mares have been bred to a mule?”

Like any dedicated researcher faced with facts that seem to contradict each other, I knew just what to do. I asked my mother.

She knew that her father had owned a mule, but didn’t remember much else. Not surprising, since she wasn’t even born till several months after the farm sale.

Then I asked Google. Where I discovered that “Mammoth Jack” was a separate breed of “mammoth donkey” developed as draft animals in the 1700’s and 1800’s, mostly in Europe. Several Americans were involved in getting the breed established here; George Washington was one of them. Mammoth Jacks are still around as a designated breed with their own registry. They don’t need to be included in anybody else’s family tree, thank you very much; they have their own.

At half a ton each, these animals clearly aren’t donkeys. But it’s probably not wise to call one a “jackass,” either. Not unless you use a very respectful tone.

Categories: Family, Remembering When | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Finding the “Team” in “Tee”

The batter, his oversized shirt hanging past his knees but his stance firm and his grip on the bat determined, took his first swing. It was a clean miss. His second knocked the tee over. His third, though, was a solid hit straight toward the outfield.

Or maybe that was the infield. At any rate, it was the spot where a dozen or so five-year-old fielders, arranged in rows, were waiting. They were quivering like a bunch of bright-eyed puppies waiting for someone to throw a ball for them to chase.

And chase the ball is exactly what they did. As it came toward the center of the pack—oops, the team—they surged toward it in a mad scramble to get there first. Half a dozen of them ended up in a tangle of skinny arms and legs that looked more like a post-tackle football pileup than something that should be happening on a baseball field. Meanwhile, the batter, after a pause to watch the action and some encouragement to run in the right direction, trotted to first base.

This wasn’t baseball, exactly. It was teeball, which is sort of baseball lite for little ones, intended to teach them the fundamentals with an emphasis on the “fun.” My own kids having been involved in music, drama, and debate rather than athletics, this was my first-ever teeball game.

It was also my grandson’s first game. He’s a budding athlete, and for him this was a big event. He looked quite professional and handsome (cute, actually, but he hates being called that) in his uniform shirt and ball cap, his uniform pants, the bright blue belt he had picked out himself, and his hot green soccer shoes. He was serious about the throwing and catching practice that preceded the game, he was intent when it was his turn to bat, and he was alert and focused out in the field.

Maybe a little too focused, actually. That pile of kids trying to get the ball away from each other? Guess whose grandson was right in the middle of the pile. Guess whose grandson was one of the kids who got a little extra talk from the coach after the game. He told us later that the coach explained they weren’t supposed to fight over the ball because they were all on the same team.

Being on the same team isn’t a concept these little ones quite grasp yet. But over the next six weeks of teeball, they might just begin to learn it, because they have some excellent teachers.

Fathers. There was the official coach. His official assistants. Several unofficial helpers, like my grandson’s father, who were out there on the field helping herd—er, coach. Volunteers, of course, the whole bunch of them, who almost but not quite outnumbered the kids. They were all over the field: encouraging, supporting, and teaching. With no yelling, no scolding, and no unrealistic expectations that these five-year-olds were going to act like “real” ballplayers. They appeared to be having as much fun as the kids were.

And that, I realized, is the real team in teeball. Happy Father’s Day to them all.

Categories: Family, Living Consciously | Tags: | 1 Comment

The Things We Do For Love

I had my left foot on the third step of the ladder, my right foot on the counter, and my left arm braced on the top of a kitchen cupboard (and my, it does get dusty up there, doesn’t it?). With my right hand, I was applying a strip of gleaming white paint along the edge of a ceiling that someone, under the influence of too many decorating magazines, had painted brown.

Focused on my task, I was only vaguely aware of a whirring noise close to my left ear. I finished the strip of ceiling I could reach and shifted back onto the ladder so I could climb down and move it. As I reached for my paint bucket, something hit my left arm.

That’s when I realized that I had been working away in perfect serenity, oblivious to the ceiling fan blades whipping past just inches from my head. I had a quick flash of the news item: “Woman struck in face by ceiling fan and knocked off stepladder. She suffered only a mild concussion and the loss of a couple of teeth, but on the way to the hospital in the ambulance she nearly died of embarrassment.”

I don’t know how someone in full possession of her faculties, wearing her reading glasses, and fully fortified with caffeine could fail to see a ceiling fan literally in front of her nose. Never mind. Sometimes luck is as good as skill, and a narrow escape from injury and humiliation is still an escape.

After that little incident, the rest of the day was uneventful. I painted edges, using a nifty little pad with rollers along the side to help keep even amateurs on the straight and narrow. My friend applied glistening swathes of white with a thick-napped roller. Loaded with paint, it looked like a long-haired cat that had fallen into a milk jug. We worked, and we talked, and we enjoyed ourselves. By mid-afternoon we had transformed three dark-ceilinged rooms into much brighter spaces for the young family moving into this house.

A young family, including two little ones, that is part of my family. As I painted, I could easily see them growing up here. It’s a great family house with a wonderful back yard. But the very best thing about this house is its location. Instead of growing up two states away, these kids will be growing up right here in Rapid City. I’ll get to see them often, along with their parents, who are the kind of people I would like a lot even if they weren’t related to me.

For that, I’ll paint ceilings, with pleasure. It’s one of those things that we wouldn’t do for money (well, maybe—but only for lots and lots of money), but we’re happy to do for love. You know those things; I bet you’ve done plenty of them yourself.

Things like reading the same book over and over to a toddler who memorized it several thousand hearings ago and corrects you if you slip in an extra word. Or trotting up and down the sidewalk for miles, supporting a little kid who is just learning to ride a bike. Or sewing special-occasion dresses with just-barely-adequate skills. Or cooking family meals every day, for months and years and decades. Or—never mind; I’m sure you can fill in the blanks with your own examples.

After the painting was done, I made a quick trip to the library and ran into an acquaintance. When I told her I’d been painting ceilings, she laughed and said, “I guess you know how Michelangelo felt, then.”

My first impulse was to disagree. After all, I was in an ordinary house, painting plain white paint. He was in the Sistine Chapel, painting God.

On second thought, when you’re painting for love, maybe those two aren’t so different after all.

Categories: Family, Living Consciously | 3 Comments

“Open Wider, Please.”

Okay, I admit it. I bit him. But he started it—he hurt me first.

True, that’s not much of an excuse. But surely I wasn’t the only child to have committed this particular offense. I can’t be the only one who ever bit the dentist. I may, however, have been the oldest one. I was nine or ten at the time, certainly old enough to have known better.

I remember it clearly, because it was such a deliberate choice. I’m not sure what the dentist was doing, but it hurt, and in cold-blooded retaliation I bit down on his fingers. His only response was to say quietly, “Open up a little wider, please.”

Which perhaps was the appropriate response, because I immediately felt so ashamed of myself that I not only opened wider, but I’ve never been tempted to bit a dentist since. (Well, maybe once. But I had great provocation. Besides, as a mature adult, I didn’t bite him. I got my revenge the 21st-century way instead, by posting something snarky about him on the Internet.)

All of this came back to me this week while I was getting my teeth cleaned. Lying back in my dentist’s well-padded chair, wearing my cool pair of plastic shades to keep the light from shining in my eyes, listening to pleasant background music, it occurred to me that going to the dentist isn’t what it used to be.

I have no desire to go back to in time when it comes to dentistry. I remember—and have no wish to repeat—that old-fashioned experience of being trapped in the chair for what seemed like hours, smelling the pungent aroma of singed tooth enamel as the drill ground deeper with excruciating slowness. I’m not sure why they even bothered to touch your teeth with the drill. The shrill, piercing noise it made was enough in itself to vibrate any cavities right off your teeth and clean out your ear wax into the bargain.

Today’s high-speech, high-tech drills are certainly a great improvement. So are the other amenities of modern dentistry.

Like the supersonic—oh, wait, maybe that was ultrasonic—cleaning tool that scrubs your teeth like a miniature vibrating fire hose and gets the job done in half the time with half the discomfort. Yes, the hygienist still does some finishing work with her little picks and scrapers, but at least it doesn’t feel so much like she’s trying to pry your back fillings loose.

Or the baby vacuum cleaner/sump pump that sucks the saliva and miscellaneous debris out of your mouth so you don’t feel as if you’re going to choke on your own spit.

Then there’s the foamy fluoride treatment stuff that tastes just slightly of citrus or mint. It fizzes as it is brushed gently across the teeth, and makes you feel a bit like a serving of strawberry shortcake being finished off with whipped cream.

I do have mixed feelings about the computer monitor that allows me such a clear look at my dental X-rays. Seeing the intimate details of my teeth, roots and all, enlarged to vampire-movie proportions, might be just a bit too much information.

But all in all, going to the dentist is much pleasanter than it used to be. Maybe that’s why none of those nostalgic tributes that circulate around the Internet look back wistfully at the “good old days” of dentistry.

Categories: Remembering When | 3 Comments

Odd-Sock Words

Odd Sock Syndrome. We all know about this phenomenon. Two matching socks are worn. Two matching socks are removed. Two matching socks go into the laundry hamper. Two matching socks embark on the laundry process that should see them both washed, dried, folded, and back in the drawer, together. Sole mates, as it were.

But every now and then, only one sock makes it through. The other one is never seen again.

Nobody knows what happens to these odd socks. They simply vanish, possibly into some sort of odd-sock alternative universe. We don’t understand this; we can’t explain it. We simply accept it as a fact of modern life.

What most of us don’t realize is that a similar thing happens with words. Modern English is sprinkled with words that ought to have mates but don’t. Here are just a few of these odd-sock words:

Ruthless. It means cruel, unfeeling, without compassion. Think Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians, or maybe Star Trek’s Borg. Ruthless is a reasonably common word. But its onetime companion, ruth, meaning kind and compassionate, has long since disappeared. (Maybe we don’t want to think too hard about what that may say about humanity.)

Uncouth. It means awkward, ill-mannered, or unsophisticated. Even though it certainly doesn’t apply to any of us personally, we can all think of a couple of people it fits. But we don’t use its obvious opposite. We don’t say, “Her new boyfriend is so much more couth than the last guy she brought home.”

Reckless. We all know the meaning of this one. But its wiser and sorely needed opposite, reck, just isn’t around any more. Considering the consequences of reckless behavior (Loosely defined as “Hold my beer and watch this!”), one might think the wrong word became the odd sock here.

Unkempt. It means pretty much what it sounds like: untidy or disorderly. Like the typical kids’ bedroom, maybe. Or my desk. I really wish I could keep my desk more kempt, but by now I’ve accepted the reality that it’s just not going to happen.

Disheveled. This means untidy, too, but more in the sense of messed up or wrinkled. The way your hair looks when you first get up in the morning? That’s disheveled. Sorry, though. You can wash it, blow-dry it, mousse it, and style it to perfection, and nobody is ever going to say, “Oh, your hair is so heveled today.” This poor odd sock never had a mate to begin with.

Just to save the nerds among you the trouble of looking it up, some of the lost mates to these odd-sock words are still in the dictionary. I found ruth, reck, couth, and kempt. The first two are centuries old and have long since faded away. The last two are more recent back-formations from uncouth and unkempt. They were probably launched by a few optimistic word nerds trying to bring a little balance into the universe, but they never caught on.

But there’s no need to feel discombobulated about all this. Just imagine a place, somewhere in another dimension, where all the lost socks and all the lost odd-sock words live happily together. They are beings of great couth, filled with reck and ruth, living in surroundings that are always kempt and heveled.

When I think of it this way, I feel much more calm and serene. It gives me a reassuring sense of combobulation.

Categories: Words for Nerds | Tags: | Leave a comment

“Be One With the Smart Phone, Grasshopper.”

Scenario One: You are standing by the table. Your phone is lying on the table. The phone rings. You reach over, pick it up, and answer it.

Scenario Two: You are standing by the table. Your brand-new smart phone is lying on the table. You hear an unfamiliar fragment of music. You hear it again. You hear it a third time and finally figure out that it’s coming from your phone. You pick up the phone. On the screen are two icon images of telephone receivers, one in green and one in red. Being not exactly dumb, even if you’re not as smart as a smart phone, you deduce that the green icon probably means “answer.” You tap the icon. The phone keeps ringing. You poke the icon. Nothing. You swipe at the icon. The ringing gets louder. You keep swatting at the image, with no result. Finally the music stops. You put the phone down, gently, so as not to scramble its smart little brain. The way you might if, for example, you threw it against the wall or slammed it to the floor and stomped on it.

A few seconds later, the plain, dumb landline phone made a plain, dumb telephone-ringing noise. I picked it up and answered it. My partner, two states away, was calling on his own semi-smart phone while he was out for a walk in a small town in southern Colorado. Truly, the wonders and convenience of modern mobile technology are amazing. The only bad part is learning how to use them.

When I told him about my new phone that was apparently too smart to talk to the likes of me, he described an experiment he had heard about. Apparently several four- and five-year-olds were taken to a room equipped with an assortment of electronic gadgets like laptop computers, ereaders, music players, and cell phones. The kids were given no instructions, just allowed to play with the stuff. Within a few hours, they had figured everything out. They were playing games, taking pictures, playing music and videos, and making phone calls—no doubt to buy stuff from Amazon or order pizza from Mongolia.

I did not find this inspiring.

At least, not at first. Then I gave it some more thought. To little kids, a piece of new technology is just another toy. They don’t worry about minor details like having to pay for it if they break it, or whether they might mistakenly delete all their friends’ phone numbers, or what it might cost if they accidently place a call to Siberia, or whether they might embarrass themselves by inadvertently sending rude text messages to their bosses. They just play. They try something; if it doesn’t work, they try something else. They tap icons and swipe screen symbols and mess around until, accidentally or on purpose, they figure out how to make the thing work.

It seemed like an approach worth trying. It worked, too. Once I started playing, I easily figured out how to send text messages, make calls, and use the camera. And it only took me a day and a half of experimenting (well, plus asking my daughter) to learn how to answer the damned thing.

The phone is no help, either. I don’t care how “intuitive” its designers may think it is. It doesn’t provide answers; it just sits there in sleek, superior silence and insists that I figure things out for myself. I’m trying to think of this as an opportunity to learn, not just technology, but important inner qualities. Like persistence. And patience. I’m trying to see the phone as a sort of spiritual guru. Like Yoda, only with a ring tone.

So far, I’m not feeling particularly enlightened. I have realized, though, that technology companies are missing a great opportunity. When I bought the phone, the salesman at Verizon did his best to sell me a whole line of extras, from carrying cases to extended warranties. I declined most of them.

There’s one extra, though, I probably would buy. What they really need to offer with their smart phones is a couple of hours with a smart five-year-old.

Categories: Odds and Ends | 1 Comment

Mother’s Day for the Practical Woman

Anybody who thinks women are more romantic and sentimental than men has never been a woman. Or at least has never been a woman in my family.

Oh, we like getting flowers, and we definitely like getting chocolate. Some of us, I’m sure, have shed a tear at the end of Lord of the Rings or Charlotte’s Web. But all in all, we approach life in a practical way. I suspect there are plenty of others out there just like us. You might be a Practical-Minded Woman yourself if:

• You have ever served leftovers to invited dinner guests.

• You have ever worn snow boots with an evening dress.

• There is at least one tissue in the pocket of every jacket you own.

• You own a pair of insulated coveralls. (Extra points if you’ve ever been whistled at while wearing them.)

• You have a frequent-shopper card at the hardware store.

• You have never owned a pair of shoes with heels higher than two inches.

• You have a multi-purpose tool in the glove compartment of your car, and you’ve actually used it.

• You see an attractive guy in a Corvette and think, “Hmm. . . I wonder where he puts the groceries.”

• The only silk underwear you own is long and came from a sporting goods store.

• You have ever worn long underwear on a date.

• You think the pretty scented candle on your nightstand would be handy in case of a power outage.

• Your favorite poet is Dr. Seuss.

• You’ve ever wrapped a gift with newspaper or duct tape. (Extra points if you’ve used them together.)

Happy Practical Mother’s Day.

Categories: Just For Fun | 3 Comments

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