Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rockin' Robin and Mate Plus Two

On Sunday, exactly two weeks since I saw eggs in Rockin' Robin's nest, I realized her little Robinettes (my friend Sarie's cute and perfect name for them) had broken out of their eggshells. What a sight it was! Rockin' Robin had been very attentive to her nest ever since she laid the eggs, leaving only for extremely short periods. In awe of her vigilant mothering skills during the incubation period, I'm even more impressed as I observe her and her mate as they constantly feed, warm and protect their young. The process is truly constant and I'm drawn repeatedly to the window to wonder at it all.

When Rockin' Robin leaves her nest, I sneak out the patio door, plant myself as close as I dare to her nest, focus my camera on it and then freeze and wait for her to come back to her nest. As you can see, I captured several photos of the feeding process. I don't know exactly how many babies there are but I know for sure there are at least two.

The Robinettes' heads appear for only a few seconds above the rim of the nest as they're fed. As fragile and weak as they appear, they strain with all their might to stretch themselves up to accept the food from their parents. Their wide-open mouths atop their wobbly necks are an easy target for the endless meal deliveries.

After each feeding, Rockin' Robin snuggles herself down atop the tiny bodies, wiggling herself until she's low in the nest. I don't understand how the newborns can breathe and don't suffocate, nevertheless, you won't catch me criticizing Rockin' Robin again. I accused her of gallavanting several days ago and shortly thereafter, I was compelled to apologize for my false and ungrounded suspicions. Subsequently, I'm confident she's wisely keeping the helpless and naked little bodies warm and that they indeed manage to get the air they need when she shifts her position, leaves the nest, or attends to them from her perch on the nest's edge.

As the Robinettes grow, I hope to get an accurate count of their number. When I do, you'll be the first to know.

Click on the photos if you'd like a more intimate look.

"Light tomorrow with today."
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Caution: Words At Work

(I wrote this 500 word story as the final assignment in the beginning writer's workshop I took in September of 2006. My previous post here in Paper Cut Screams was written the following year. Leave it to me to do it backwards!)

Every cell in my body trembled, and my muscles tensed as I approached the starting line. I tentatively set my feet in the blocks. Unbeknownst to me, I was at a turning point in my life, and when the gun fired, I ran wildly, not knowing where I was going or where I would end up.

Now that I’ve hooked you, I confess: I’m messing with you a little bit. In reality, with emotions much like an athlete taking his first step out of the block, barefoot at my computer, I downloaded Lesson 1 of what an outsider would deem a seemingly tame, online, beginning writer’s workshop. Like a sailor approaching uncharted waters, I was hesitant to embark on this venture; I had seriously considered canceling my enrollment a few weeks earlier. Who, you might ask, would punish me if I failed? One and only one person would deliver the blows: me, myself and I.

Cloaked in a reader’s familiarity with the written word and clutching my meager satchel of writing forays, I skulked into class, lured in by the promise of anonymity and ease of this classroom genre. I knew that writing was the vital key necessary for me to achieve freedom of expression, and I dared to hope that with the writing tools acquired in this workshop, I could begin seriously to put my memories and thoughts into words.

I pondered my plans to embark on an expedition into my past and realized, not for the first time, that it would require that I come to terms with loathsome, lingering memories. Immediately, I noticed an unsettling ruckus in my mind and heart. Long-held secrets, sensing the potential danger of exposure, writhed and strained in the overloaded mental baggage that I’d been struggling to carry for what seemed an eternity. Ragged and torn from frequent periods of my inward prodding and poking, ancient secrets huddled and whispered as they sought out dark places to hide. Their beady eyes squinted prematurely at the light they suspected was lurking just around the corner.

I shook off my uneasiness and plunged into the first lesson. Our instructor asked us to introduce ourselves in the discussion area. Persons from nearly every state in the union and locations worldwide presented themselves and shared bits of their lives. One participant wrote her introduction and submitted it online from a café perched atop a huge oak tree on the island of Trinidad in the West Indies. We were a diverse group, yet we were all seeking the same wisdom. I was thrilled and intrigued to be a part of this assembly.

Our first assignment was to light a candle and to describe in one paragraph what we observed. Unfortunately, it was late in the evening when I began to write. I struggled, but my words were dull and lifeless in contrast to the flickering light. Around midnight, fatigued and lacking inspiration, I tossed my fruitless attempts in the wastebasket. I threw my writing dream under the bed with the dust and missing socks and crawled in between the sheets, pulling the covers over my head.

The following morning, I awoke refreshed, retrieved my dream from under the bed, and dusted it off. Throughout the day, between laundry and errands, I sat hunched over my keyboard with my burning candle before me. I rewrote and submitted my candle description to the discussion area. Sipping a glass of wine for comfort, I waited. With my right hand tipping the glass and my left hand gripping the bottle, I waited for validation. It came. The words of my instructor and my classmates lifted me up. Immediately, I held my head higher, and I stood taller.

We, more than 300 aspiring authors, were instructed to consider ourselves writers, to write freely, and not to fear writing poorly. I accepted the nudge and, in response to a suggested exercise, proceeded to describe a room in my home. In a chair with pen and paper, I compared the color of my bedroom carpet to that of a dusty, golden retriever lying at my feet. When I considered my description, I was pleased. My comparison was accurate and image-provoking. For the first time, I felt like a writer.

My brain popped its cork. I made a toast to my life as a writer and poured my thoughts onto paper and into my startled computer. Rivers of words gushed from my mind with a fearsome velocity, as my long-repressed desire to write broke through the dam of my self doubt. With racing thoughts and quickened pulse, I ran easily through the online classroom, waving at everyone I met along the way.

As I wrote daily in my notebook or at my computer, I gained strength. My self confidence grew as I flexed my writing muscles. One dark afternoon, I made my move. With newly acquired boldness, I dragged my stash of rotting secrets, one by one, out from the sinister corners of my mind. I faced each one and forced myself to look directly and deeply into its soul.

My fingers pounded feverishly on the keyboard, and my heart hammered in my chest as I spat words into my computer. My errors of judgment, repeated mistakes, and their dire consequences were exposed and vulnerable as their ugly details spewed out. Infected memories blistered up, and I, like a madwoman, continued beating on the bruised and rattled keyboard.

As the purging process continued, I yielded up a lifetime of rage and despair. The demons of my past fled, clutching bits of guilt and shame in their claws, terrified by the pelting. Cleansed, but shaken, I slogged on. Late in the day, I sat back and rubbed my stiff neck and aching shoulders. A few minutes passed with an absence of movement or thought. When I finally stood, I was keenly aware that I had substantially lightened my distressed mental load, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Following in the wake of my catharsis, I was buoyant as I worked on the lessons. I flitted from one discussion area to the next and back again, chatting and laughing with abandon. Addicted to the comradeship, I spent endless hours online. I cherished and felt cherished as I interacted with my classmates.

In one of the final lessons, we practiced galumphing and bricolage writing techniques. I welcomed the playfulness. Galumphing, which I mistook to be a gala event for folks who enjoy sugar lumps in their tea, and bricolage, which I wrongly presumed to be an elite bricklayer’s skill, are designed to increase creativity levels.

In response to the instructions, I chose a piece of gravel from the instructor’s list of common objects as the focus of my writing assignment. As I observed the gravel specimen that I had placed on my desktop, I let my imagination run free and playfully laid out a string of sentences. I grinned when I read the scenario that I had concocted. A few weeks later, when the workshop was behind me and I was flying solo, I wrote a children’s story, inspired by this piece of gravel.

My final, 500-word project, which I was encouraged to begin work on early in the workshop, evolved during the six-week course as an ever-growing pile of paper. Full sheets, half sheets, sticky notes stuck to sticky notes, and countless paper scraps bulged in a folder on my desk. As my writing knowledge expanded, my project often took on a mind of its own. Frequently, it recoiled at its own reflection and ran this way and that, demanding endless rewrites and revisions. My final project rivaled childbirth on my list of exhausting experiences.

Access to the online classroom is no longer available; the workshop doors are closed. During the six-week experience, my instructor, my fellow classmates, and I met briefly, yet we touched each other intimately. As we shared our work, we wept, rejoiced, and became better writers. Six weeks ago I skulked into class, but I’m leaving it with an upbeat outlook on life and a sense of pride. The writing tools and self confidence I have acquired are propelling me down a road I previously feared to navigate.

I’m striding through each day with my fears in perspective, no longer allowing them to oppress me or to obstruct my way. The sights, smells, sounds and souls I encounter along my chosen road are breathtakingly raw and pristine to my unbridled vision, and I can boldly say that I look forward to tomorrow.

(As a writer who loves to entertain her readers, I must admit that I may have exaggerated the quantity and seriousness of wrongdoings I claim to have committed. Oh, but wasn't it hypnotic to read of such a life?)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Returning To Writing (I wrote this in 2007)

I've had six weeks to write 500 words in an online beginning writer’s workshop or what I have nicknamed, BWW. I deemed myself capable of creating an admirable piece of work in that big chunk of time. I envisioned at completion, a march from room to room with my head held high, waving its pages triumphantly, unashamed of the spectacle I presented. Instead, I hedged and made excuses. Guess what? I have 500 words, minus the handful of lines above, yet to gather and craft into something readable and at least a smidgen pleasing to the instructor. This final assignment is due in a few short days.

Last year, I enrolled in this same class, levitated in the first lesson and hit the ground again only after I was locked out of the website after the final lesson. I returned this year, for a second scoop of its flavorful wisdom and encouragement. The final lesson assignment faced and taunted me in the classroom yesterday. For me, writing 500 words has become easy, but writing well stretches me to my limits. Yoga poses are mundane compared to the agonizing postures my brain is often forced to assume to secure the perfect word. My final project deserves several weeks of work and I apologize for my last minute attempt to display my writing improvements. Should haves are useless, but please know that my heart is now fully set on my task.

Let me explain why I‘ve been delinquent. My daily writing habit, inspired by last year’s workshop, came to an abrupt halt when my mother died unexpectedly in June of this year. Daily writing had become as natural for me as eating and sleeping. I always shared my writing with Mom when I visited her in her assisted living facility apartment. Her eyes shone from her otherwise expressionless face; Parkinson’s disease had stolen her smile years ago.

After she died, I focused entirely on the funeral arrangements, the family gatherings, the funeral itself and dealing with the emotional components of my loss. I returned to work and life went on. June and July were turned to the backside of my calendar. I was pushed and shoved by the changes in my existence due to Mom’s death. Each day stretched endlessly long and left me feeling thinned out and unsettled. At the end of one of those days, I picked up my pen and studied it. It felt foreign but still fit in my fingers. I set the nib to paper and wrote from an altered perspective. A huge piece of my life was missing. As I wrote, I unfolded memories, shook them out and pored over them. Then I quickly refolded and stuffed them into the aching and empty places within my soul.

August packed her bags and left at the same moment September rushed in. As if on cue, when the leaves dropped to the ground, I stood up and ventured on. I knocked on the door of the online writing classroom and then stepped inside.

I’m reaching the 500 word mark and now I don’t want to stop. I’m back in my creative rhythm after a long, hard detour. Writing has regained its honored place in my world. It’s essential for me. I write when I feel lonely and small. I knit a blanket of words and wrap it around me for warmth and for the touch of its weight on my soul.

I’ve gained my happiness back by my efforts and I'm buoyant again. Here. Take the keys to my BMW but don’t touch my treasured BWW.

(To be honest with you, I confess that I don't own a BMW. I just liked the idea of owning one and it worked well in that final sentence. Writers have license to stretch the truth now and then you know. My mission is to entertain you and so it goes).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Had A Dream

As a child did you have dreams? I mean big old dreams that you disclosed only to those special grown-ups who stooped to your level and asked with gravity, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The one and only dream I ever had as a small child, and honestly the only dream I've had until recently, is this: I want to be a truck driver when I grow up.

During the ensuing years, between my first desire to climb behind the steering wheel of a large motor vehicle and just recently, I forgot my dream. Breathing, eating, going to school, sleeping, going to work, getting married, having a baby, watching television, and so on and so forth, flattened my dream up against the back of my skull. Thinned out to the point of transparency, it nearly ceased to exist.

As I look back, I do detect one quite obvious attempt of my dream to resurrect itself. It occurred back in my early thirties, shortly after my son was born. I bought Jared the book, GO TRUCKS GO, and read it to him every chance I got. At the time, I assumed he loved it, but now I realize that it was I who loved it. I wonder what he thought when I shuffled through his stack of books and chose GO TRUCKS GO over and over again when I read to him. Bless his heart for enduring.

When my dream did come true, I didn't even appreciate it. We purchased a Chevy Avalanche "truck" in 2002 so we could pull our trailer easily, not because I had once dreamed of driving one. I've had a "truck" for seven years! I unbelievably alluded the realization that my one and only dream had come true until only recently. It took over six years before remnants of my long-forgotten desire yanked themselves away from the back wall of my skull, tiptoed to the front and rapped on my forehead. In a moment of revelation, I connected the dots that were scattered like bread crumbs between my childhood wish to drive a truck and the fact that I've indeed been driving one for many, many years. In fact, at this point, I'm an experienced truck driver. My lifelong dream, subconscious for the most part, has come to fruition.

My life is fulfilled and I should be content. But wait, there's more.

After my enlightenment, I sat quietly in my chair going over those childish words: I want to be a truck driver when I grow up. Without warning, a second revelation threw me back against the headrest of my recliner. Based on my childhood dream, if I'm a truck driver, then I must also have grown up. Now, ain't that something! Since 2002, I've been a grown up; that's an unspoken dream, one I never even dared to contemplate.

Wonders never cease. Realizing that dreams do come true, I've concocted a few more. When most folks are winding down, I'm coming alive. I'm doing biathlons and triathlons. I'm creating things with words; things like stories and blogs and such. Now at sixty, I'm a seasoned grown up who's sprouting dreams like tender seedlings in a moist environment.

So sit still and think about what you dreamed of as a child. You'll very possibly realize that you're living your dreams but have been too senile to be unaware of it. Such realizations are likely to give you a second wind. If that happens, don't just sit there, throw up a sail and catch it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

They're Everywhere, They're Everywhere

I promised to show you the birdhouses Lon has collected to decorate our screen porch. They hang, sit on tables, are shelved, stand on posts, and look down on us from the rafters. In other words, they're everywhere. You can click on the photos if you'd like to see their many details up close. As in the yard, these unique additions bring cheeriness and a nice touch to our screen room.

May I direct your attention to the upper left photo, please. If you look closely in the background under the overhang, you'll see Rockin' Robin atop her nest where she presently spends nearly all of her time. Per my research, I expect to see her young chicks in approximately one week give or take a day or two.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Forty Years Together

June 21st, 1969 is the day my husband, Lon, and I were married. Every year, June 21st launches all of us into summer; that particular date in 1969, launched Lon and I into a marriage that has held for forty years.

Our paths first crossed at Turner High School, Lon’s being the first class to graduate from the new school and mine being the second. Turner was a small school so everyone knew everyone else, at least on a face-recognition level . Lon and I were in only one class together, French. He still shakes his head when he remembers how I talked back to the teacher upon occasion. (Being a good student, I got away with things). Mr. Yost was a frail, timid man whose lower lip would tremble when he was frustrated and it quivered more than once because of me. (I often wonder why Lon later hooked up with me when he’d seen my mischievous side. I take some consolation in knowing he had fair warning of what he was in for).

My first impressions of Lon weren’t earth-shattering, but I did take notice of him. For some strange reason, my most vivid mind video is of him and his buddies rushing to the cafeteria for lunch. They were starving, but were trying to obey the no running in the halls rule. He was brimming with energy and anticipation as he rounded the corner and caught sight of the cooks in the kitchen. That was my first positive impression of the man I would marry. (Fortunately, my mother loved to cook and satisfied him in that department with frequent big meals for many, many years because cooking wasn’t and still isn’t a passion of mine).

Our first dates were double dates, but not with each other. Lon was dating a classmate of his and I was paired with one of his best friends. These were our first chances to get to know one another, yet we weren’t brought together as a direct result of those shared experiences.

Lon was a basketball star, a baseball star and he played football. He was a coach’s dream, giving everything within his ability to whatever sport he was playing. He rarely rode the bus home from school because he normally had basketball, baseball or football practice right after school. On what I thought was a typical school day afternoon, I climbed on board the bus to find every single seat filled. As I headed down the aisle, I saw Lon sitting about two-thirds of the way back. As usual, he was wearing an ear-to-ear grin. Our eyes met, he patted his thigh and with only a second or two’s hesitation, I took a seat on his knee. We were both dating someone else, but that didn’t seem to matter. Fine students that we were, safety on the bus came first. (Yeah, right).

To reciprocate his offer of a place to sit, I invited him over to play pool. We lived on adjacent streets and not too far from residing in back-to-back houses. The bus dropped Lon off first and then me. I no sooner got in the house and put my books down and he was bounding up the steps and knocking on the door. I wonder what Mom thought. She’d never laid eyes on him before but had to be impressed by his boyish enthusiasm and sincerely friendly personality. I led him downstairs to the pool table and after showing him how the game “should” be played, the rest is history.

From then on, we were inseparable. A year or two after we claimed each other, we planned to marry, but we both wanted to have a good start so we waited, worked and saved our money. Doing that, we had all new furniture, appliances and everything else we needed to move into an apartment when we married three years after that fateful bus ride.

My first job was at Sears and Lon worked for his father in his painting and decorating business. In October of 1978, our son, Jared was born. Our lives changed but at thirty years of age, we were ready for the change. Now Jared is thirty years old. He works with Lon in the business that Lon’s father started in 1952.

I’ve had a ringside seat to watch as Lon and Jared have played and worked together. The bond between them is amazing for me to observe even after all these years. Lon thinks that Jared and I are the greatest gifts he’s ever received. How do I know that? How do Jared and I both know that? Lon’s actions and words more than prove how he feels.

I don’t understand Lon’s capacity for loving me and I never will, that much I have figured out. All I can do is accept it and do my best to deserve it. I know that I'll never be able to give as much of myself to him as he does to me. He shakes his head when I tell him that and thinks otherwise, of course.

So tomorrow is the big day. I’ve brought out our wedding pictures and we’ll sit down and go through them by ourselves and again with Jared. Forty years is a long time. I thank God for Lon, for Jared and for the joy of every single year.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ralph E. Doll, My Dad

Father's Day is coming up on Sunday and I've got a treasure chest full of memories of Dad.

Off and on when I was growing up, I thought I had it tough. Of course, my thinking was unrealistic and immature. Nobody has a perfect life but now when I look back, I can see that I had it made and then some.

Dad worked hard, no matter what he was doing. For 35 years, he worked at the big corporation in town as a patternmaker. Dad never missed a day of work, in fact, the only time I recall him being ill during those years was when he had a bad case of hives.

Mom got up early with Dad every morning. She made his breakfast of coffee, a soft-boiled egg or two and a shredded wheat biscuit or two in a bowl with milk. After he ate the shredded wheat, he'd pick up the bowl and drink the remaining milk from the bowl. If it was time to leave for work and his second cup of coffee was too hot to drink, he'd pour it from his cup into the bowl to cool it and drink again from the bowl. (He wasn't concerned with highfalutin ways and wasn't impressed by folks who were). While he was eating, Mom packed his lunch in a metal lunch pail. When he finished his coffee, he'd walk around the kitchen table, kiss my mother and then me good-bye (if I happened to be up early that day), pick up his lunch bucket and walk out the door. I liked his kiss and the smell of coffee on his breath.

We had one car. If Mom needed the car for the day, she took Dad to work. My brothers and I rode with her when she picked him up at the end of his work day. We'd eagerly watch the back door of the castings division building for his face while we waited in the parking lot beside the river. Each of us wanted to be the first one to spot Dad when he came out. He'd appear amid a swarm of men, all swinging their lunch boxes and happy to be breathing the fresh air. To this day, I remember the smell of iron castings that drifted from his skin and clothes when he slid behind the steering wheel. I liked the smell.

Dad always planted a big vegetable and flower garden in the backyard every year and flowers along the side of the house by the driveway. He nicknamed me, Shaddy, because I followed him around the yard like a second shadow. I liked being his Shaddy. Peony bushes, rose bushes and endless other flowers grew over the years under his care. He planted apple and cherry trees, including a Bing cherry tree, about the time his family began to grow. A table for two grew until, eventually, seven of us sat at the supper table and squeezed to fit into an entire pew in church.

Being an experienced patternmaker, Dad happily and skillfully worked with wood. He appreciated all the varying types and kept a sizable inventory of scraps for his woodworking projects. He crafted anything my brothers and I asked of him when we had homes of our own. All he needed from us was either a picture or a detailed description of what we wanted. While I was expecting our son, Jared, I found a picture of a hanging crib in a magazine and fell in love with it. Of course, Dad made one just like it. Lon painted it bright yellow to match the colorful giraffes and elephants in the wallpaper. Our baby's room was something to see, thanks in large part to Dad.

Although Dad wasn't against relaxing with a beer and enjoying life off his feet, if a project needed doing, he stayed at it until it was completed. "You've gotta make hay while the sun shines," he'd say as he toiled for endless hours, shoveling dirt, cutting wood, hammering boards or whatever was needed. The harder the job, the harder he worked.

At supper time, Dad worked hard too. "You can tell what kind of worker a man is by the way he eats," he'd say as he hunched over his plate and shoveled in Mom's good cooking until his plate was clean. Mom would refill his plate and bring him dessert and coffee when he was ready for it.

When I was a little blue-eyed blonde toddler, Dad would sit on the davenport with his legs stretched out in front of him and his feet on the floor. I'd climb up on his lap and then slide down his legs for the pure fun of it. I never tired of climbing up and sliding down. When Mom said it was bedtime, my brothers and I'd pretend we didn't hear her. Dad would simply click his fingers and my four brothers and I scrammed.

When I got my first job, I had money to buy Christmas presents. Dad's eyes filled with tears and he jumped up and gave me a big hug when I gave him his gift. I'll never forget how my small gesture affected him.

Lon and I remember Dad often as we go about our daily lives. We use some of his sayings and tell some of his jokes or just remember the way he was. I could go on and on and on with memories of Dad and it'd be fun, especially for me. I'll do that again some other day.

I wish Dad could come back for a visit on Sunday. Lon would grill him a steak and I'd make him strawberry shortcake. We know if Lon would ask Dad if his steak was good, he'd smile and say it was absolutely perfect. The strawberry shortcake would be the best he'd ever had. Yup, that's what he'd say with appreciation, sincerity and love beaming from deep within him. We'd soak it all in.

On June 21st this year, Lon and I will be celebrating Father's Day and our 40th wedding anniversary with our son. I don't want to detract from memories of Dad, yet this milestone is memorable as well.

Thanks for letting me tell you about Dad; Happy Father's Day to all of you dads out there.

(I've included photos of a cast iron ashtray with Dad's first and last employment dates and a sampling of his handiwork. He made the rocking horse to entertain his grandchildren, the glass-topped tables and wall mirror for our home per our special requests, the truck bank for our son, and a whole bunch of other items (a bracelet, letter opener, boomerang, whistle, napkin holder, birdhouse and trinket box) for our use. You're looking at only a tiny, tiny fraction of all the woodworking projects he tackled and completed in his lifetime for my family alone).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Rockin' Robin Returns

I haven't seen Rockin' Robin (who built a nest under our screen porch overhang) for several days, until this afternoon. She came back and was sitting on the nest. I checked Wikipedia and discovered that the female robin builds the nest alone and incubates the eggs also alone. Lon said he thought there were eggs in the nest already and that got me wondering.

When Rockin' Robin left her nest this afternoon, my curiosity got the best of me and I hauled Lon's aluminum ladder from the garage and opened it next to the nest. When I climbed up, I couldn't see down inside the nest because it sits too close to the overhang. I went in the house and came back out with a small mirror. Using the mirror, I could see down into the nest where one aqua blue egg rested. I angled the mirror in several directions but still saw only a single egg. I was careful not to touch the nest. I'm puzzled because a clutch normally consists of three to five eggs.

As I was climbing down the ladder, Rockin' Robin or her husband came back and swooped in my direction, scolding me loudly for getting close to the nest. He or she sat in a tree nearby and I was concerned that maybe she wouldn't come back to sit on her egg after seeing me near it. I was relieved when a few minutes later Rockin' Robin settled back over the egg once again.

She didn't stay on the nest very long and now she's been gone for quite a while again. Wikipedia didn't go into detail about the nesting habits so I don't know if what's going on is fine or not. I don't know if a second and third egg may be laid soon or if there will only be one. I think Rockin' Robin should be on her nest instead of gallivanting all over the countryside.

According to the encyclopedia, the egg or eggs will hatch in two weeks and the chick or chicks will leave the nest two weeks after that.

(I've included two photos taken outside the screen porch and one from inside. Rockin' Robin didn't seem to mind when I slowly moved closer to her to take the pictures).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Shaddy and Our Gang

The following short, short story is a piece of creative non-fiction based on an actual day in my life at least fifty years ago. I've embellished it out of necessity; too much time separates me from the exact details of that particular afternoon.


My two younger brothers, Carl and John, and I are watching Spanky and Our Gang on television after school. In this particular episode, Alfalfa, one of the main characters in the show, opens his piece of bubble gum and reads these words inside the wrapper: Every fourth child born is Chinese. The remainder of the half-hour follows Alfalfa and the rest of the gang as they proceed to the Chinese laundry downtown to observe a Chinese family first hand.

My attention shifts immediately from Alfalfa to on my brothers, sitting on the floor in front of the TV. My eyes come to rest on Carl, the fourth child born into our family. Poor Carl. He’s so easy to pick on because he's so sweet; without hesitation, I pounce because sweet, I'm not.

“Well, Carlie. Did you hear that? You know what that means, don’t you? Tom, Bob and I, we're one, two and three; you're next at number four. No doubt, you're Chinese! How about that! You can start up your own Chinese laundry when you’re all grown up. Meanwhile, here are a few shirts for you to clean and press. It'll be good practice. Hop to it, would ya? Please? Pretty please with fortune cookies on it?

Carl goes into the kitchen. “Mom, Shaddy says I’m Chinese. Am I?”

“Shaddy, what nonsense are you feeding him this time? Stop it before I come in there,” Mom calls out to me from the sink where she's peeling potatoes for supper.

Carl comes back in the living room looking content with Mom's reassurance that I'm talking nonsense.

“Mom doesn’t want you to know the truth,” I whisper to him. “You heard what they said on TV. They don’t lie on TV,especially on a show like Spanky and Our Gang! It's a kid's show. Really now!

Carl looks a bit puzzled, but not really upset. Darn! I don’t think he cares one way or the other if he’s Chinese or not as long as he’s fed when he’s hungry and has a bed to crawl in when he’s tired. That wasn’t much fun, I think to myself. Hmmm. Where’d John go? Maybe I can convince him every fifth child born is a raving lunatic.

“Hey, John. Where’d ya go?”

(As I look back on that afternoon and many other days as I was growing up, I wish I had it all to do over again. I wouldn't be so mean. Fortunately, neither Carl or John harbor any resentment for the stunts I pulled as their older sister, at least they don't appear to. Hmmm, maybe they're waiting for just the right moment to show me otherwise).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rockin' Robin

My husband, Lon, and I were on our screen porch eating dinner on Saturday and listening to fifties music on the radio. A robin was hopping around on a section of downspout under the porch overhang. We'd noticed him earlier in the day hanging around in that same spot. We watched him as he jerked, jumped and hopped in circles, back and forth. He appeared to be dancing to the song playing on the radio. It was so funny to watch that we laughed and laughed and soon I was jiving right along with him. We named him Rockin' Robin and laughed some more.

We wondered why he was so interested in that section of downspout. On Monday, we found out. He started to build a nest while we were at work. At that stage, by the looks of the mess of grasses and twigs, I couldn't begin to imagine that the robin's project would be successful. After work on Tuesday evening, I became hopeful and this evening I was blown away by the finished product. Rockin' Robin must have used mud to form the nesting bowl because after a close inspection, I determined the bird's labor of love had become much more solid and well-shaped than it was yesterday. I should know the basics of robin nest building at my ripe old age of sixty, especially since it's Wisconsin's state bird and I've always resided in this lovely state. Unless something parks itself practically under my nose, I don't take much notice of it. Unfortunately, I live in my own little world and many things around me go unobserved.

I've included pictures taken on Tuesday and Wednesday. The top photo was taken on Wednesday and the lower ones on Tuesday. Rockin' Robin picked a busy area for his nest. An unoccupied birdhouse and a wall-mounted flag pole and flag are at that some corner. We eat out on the porch every chance we get and Lon has the TV going out there nearly every evening. I know Rockin' Robin likes fifties music and I can only hope he'll enjoy the evening ball games.

I'm excited to have a ring-side seat to this spectacle of nature. I'll keep you posted on any further developments.

Don't leave here yet though. I have a valuable tip for you so read on.

If you'd like to enter a drawing for a really neat pen, made from a vintage silverplated knife, please go to my friend Sarah's blog at www.dayspringsarah.blogspot.com or go to my blog list and click on Dayspring. Don't delay. The drawing is tomorrow morning.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month is an opportunity to take a fun approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1st with the goal of writing a 175-page (50,000 word) novel by midnight on November 30th.

I heard about this a couple of years ago and then stumbled upon it again recently. The website with all the details is http://www.nanowrimo.org/. This year, NaNoWriMo is "celebrating 10 years of literary abandon." Yesterday, I signed up to join a whole bunch of crazy writers from all around the world in this seemingly silly challenge.

Because we only have 30 days to write, the ONLY thing that matters is the quantity, not the quality. "The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly."

Each participant writes on his own computer. If I write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight on November 30th, I can upload my novel for official verification, and be added to the hallowed Winner's Page, receive a certificate and a web badge. I've read on the website that there's a way to scramble the content of my novel before I upload it, although all novels are deleted after verification.

There is no charge to participate although writers are encouraged to donate at least 10 dollars to the Office of Letters and Light, a nonprofit charity which pays for NaNoWriMo's youth and adult novel-writing programs and the operating expenses of NaNoWriMo.There are no prizes. Everyone who completes the required number of words is a winner, a winner in his own mind and that's all that really counts.

The rushed writing we will be doing reminds me of what I did in a writing class I took nearly three years ago; it was called free writing. We were instructed to set a timer for five minutes and to write as fast as we could for that length of time. We weren't to worry about spelling, punctuation, making a whole lot of sense, or writing anything of significance. The object of free writing is to tap into your "stream of consciousness." It taught me to open my mind, tap into my thoughts and then allow them to flow out through my fingers on the keyboard and onto the blank page. I'll show you what a bit of free writing looks like.

Okay. Here I go. Free writing is like opening a faucet and just letting the words runonot the page no stopping no fixing so litle worrying about the stuff that pours out i love the way it works and that the way we'll wirte in the nanowir mo thing. How in the world will I think of things to wirte I wonder I guess I'll just put my fingers os the keyboard and let them do the walking for me

That's enough of that. I think you get the idea. I've been surprised at some of the good writing I have come upon simply by opening my mind and letting the thoughts come out raw and unedited.

In order to get an idea of how much writing I will have to do in November's challenge, I divided 50,000 words by 30 days and came up with 1,667 words per day. Yesterday, I sat down at my laptop for a practice run. I wrote continually until my word count on my word processing program showed 1,667. I should have timed myself, but I didn't. It didn't seem to take too long, although my shoulders and neck complained during the process. I'm looking forward to getting the used copy of a NaNo Handbook that I ordered on amazon.com.yesterday. I have a handful of questions I'm sure will be addressed in it.

You might enjoy checking out the website. The whole attitude on the site is light-hearted. The challenge is meant to be fun and that concept is emphasized repeatedly. "Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap."

In 2008, NaNoWriMo had 119,301 participants, with 21,683 winners. A number of the novels written in the challenge have gone on to be published, after a great deal of editing of course. One was a New York Times #1 Bestseller.

I'm looking forward to November and the crazy ride I'll be on.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Little House (A Short Story)

(I wrote the following short, short story a couple of years ago. I thought you might get a kick out of it. I had a big, bald head when I was born so I included a photo of me that was taken when I looked a little better).


In January of 1949, I poked my head out of my familiar world into a new and very different one. My scalp cringed in the cold air and my eyes squinted at the light. That was enough. I wanted to go back inside. To my dismay, no one asked me what I wanted. Instead, I was tugged and squeezed until my shoulders, arms, legs and all the rest of me appeared.

The noises, the voices, the hustle and bustle swirled around me. Again, I wanted to duck back inside, but nobody gave me the option. I didn’t realize that no one who pokes his head out of the womb ever returns to that safe haven where he lived and thrived for nine months. When it’s time to be born, you just plain are.

I wasn’t sure about this strange world I’d come into. I was tempted to grab the umbilical cord like a bungee rope in my hands and to swing down and away. Instead, I postponed that stunt. Years later, I plummeted in a downward spiral and found myself dangling by a thread. That’s another story.

Back to January of ‘49, after Mom rested for a few days in the hospital, Dad brought her and me home. When we arrived at Elmwood Avenue, I was whisked inside. Winter in Wisconsin is not welcoming to a newborn or anyone else for that matter. The house I was brought into was twenty feet wide by twenty feet long. Honestly, I had expected more.

When I crossed the threshold, I assumed I had entered the foyer. I’d been eavesdropping from Mom’s tummy when she read books aloud before I was born. The stories of princesses in huge castles and handsome couples dancing in beautiful mansions had filled my head with grandiose expectations. This dwelling, my home, resembled that of the old woman who lived in a shoe. In time, I came to realize that this was the best my father could do when he built this house four years before I made my grand entrance.

There wasn’t much to see inside this tiny square box of a house; I took it all in with a slight turn of my head. I scowled as I pondered my situation. Just how would Mom, Dad and I get along in such close quarters? As I wrestled with this whole mess, Mom laid me in a cradle and covered me with a blanket.

After a short nap, I looked up, blinked my eyes and saw two smiling eyes blinking right back at me.

“Hi,” the eyes said, staring at me in wonder as I stared right back. I didn’t know it then, but the eyes belonged to my brother Tommy. My tiny mind balked, once again. Would these walls soon burst off their foundation with four of us squeezed inside this cracker box?

“I want to see her,” I heard from a second young person. Two small hands appeared on the edge of the cradle and a face peeked at me for just a second and then it was gone.

"Stop jumping, Bobby. You're bumping the cradle," Mom said.

“I have to see her,” the hands on the cradle seemed to say. Presently, Mom held the little fellow up above the side of the cradle. This was brother number two, Bobby. I rolled my eyes, as I added one more to the running total. I counted on my fingers and then recounted on my toes. Anyway I figured, it still added up to five people in 400 square feet of house. My face grew red and I grunted in disbelief. What were Mom and Dad thinking back in April of 1948? Did they even consider the possibility, that nine months later, I would be waltzing in? And besides that, where were my beautiful gowns and glass slippers?

I wanted to kick my legs and wave my arms in frustration, but I feared I might clobber somebody or something. I wasn’t born yesterday. For Pete’s sake, I was already five days out of the uterus. Even so, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that frantic movements could easily spell disaster in these elbow-to-elbow conditions.

After a bottle and a burp, I realized that my wondering was escalating to worrying--advanced thinking for a newborn (even one of my caliber). Annoyed and weary, I closed my eyes and dreamed of how simple life used to be.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I've Hit the Walls

While I do silly things, my husband does meaningful things like hanging wallpaper in our home. I've hit the wall as far as writing goes this evening, so I'm going to focus on walls, specifically those in our home. When it comes to making wallpaper choices, Lon and I work together. When it comes to doing the actual work, Lon is on his own. (My first grade teacher noted on my report card that I don't work well with others. I took her comment to heart and never even tried after that).
The top picture is taken in our kitchen.
The pine cone paper in the photo with the coat hooks is in the entry at the front door.
The reddish paper is on two walls in the family room and the textured paper (in the photo on the right) is on the other two walls.
The striped paper above the chair rail and the solid colored paper under the chair rail are on the walls in one half of the bedroom. The leaf pattern is on the other half of the bedroom.
The tree paper is in the bathroom.
I like it here in our home and appreciate all Lon does to make our house fun to live in.
Thanks for visiting. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Two Right Feet

You'll be relieved to know I arrived fully equipped for my swim today. My Y experience was a stroll in the park compared to Saturday's. The only rule I broke was not showering before I entered the pool. I must admit, I've become a hardened criminal regarding that regulation; I don't even flinch when I see the sign and promptly disobey it.

I took my sweet time as I entered the pool area, nonchalantly kicking off my flipflops, rotating my arms to loosen my shoulders, and adjusting my goggles, all BEFORE I very gradually let myself into the water. How truly sweet it was. I repeated Saturday's back and forth, back and forth routine until I was done and then I got out of the water. I felt a slight surge of residual guilt when I found myself face-to-face with the lifeguard. I quickly relaxed when he simply smiled and chatted with me for a minute or so and then went his way and I went mine.

Before I let you go, I've got another Y story to tell. Can you stay just a little longer? I planned to run on the indoor track one day a year or so ago. When I put my running shoes on, the right one went on just fine and dandy. As I attempted to slip the second shoe on my left foot, I groaned. I own a few pair of cross-training shoes, all white with varying trim colors. I had grabbed two right shoes from my closet at home when I packed my bag. I sat back down on the bench and groaned again.

As a rule, I'm not mentally flexible. When I set out to do something, I'm serious about it. My options that day were: I could forget about exercising and get out of there or I could put the two right shoes on and go work out on the weight machines. Running was not an option. (I bet you know what I did). It was only a little awkward as I made my way upstairs, but once I started using the machines I was sitting down so the shoe issue wasn't an issue. I took some comfort in knowing that at least I didn't have two LEFT feet.

I have to admit I did feel self-conscious and tried to slink from machine to machine so no one would get a look at my shoes. Little did I know that this slinking ability would come in handy at a later date in the pool.
I don't know why people think exercising is boring. It's actually quite challenging in more ways than meet the eye.
(If you haven't read my previous post, Wanted: Dead or Alive, you may have felt lost at times as you read this one. You're welcome to go back to it. Then you'll know the rest of the story).