Archive for July, 2012

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Ms. G. sorts food donations at Solomon House.

Why do we do service work? I could probably go to the Bible and find some cool verses, such as “Love thy neighbor,” and “Whenever you do this for the least of these…” I’d like to be able to say that I do service work because the Bible tells me to, but that’s just not it. It’s the right thing to do. Yes, but that’s still not why. Someone once told me I had a heart for ministry. Not sure if that’s the reason either. What I am sure of, though, is every time I show up, I’m glad I did. My heart is filled with gladness and fulfillment.

Every Tuesday for the last five years, I have gone to Solomon House, a local food bank, a mission for my church, the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany. I took over the job of greeting each client and having them sign on the list. The list is for data-collecting purposes, but, for me, it provides a way to get to know each person who comes through the line, by name. These people have become people I recognize, people I know, people I care about.

I have also met volunteers at Solomon House. Yesterday morning, I went to the Monday morning packing day. I went for two reasons: 1) to take pictures for our new Facebook Page, and 2) as Board president, I felt it was about time. I was put to work immediately by Ms. G. She knows the ropes as she has been volunteering for four years. Miss Tony was working next to me. I started talking to her about her involvement. As someone who is constantly on the lookout for new volunteers, I was curious about how she became involved. Basically, I was looking for a formula to emulate.

Soon I discovered that there was no magic formula that I could duplicate to get more volunteers. Miss Tony came to Solomon House to deliver some canned goods. She simply asked the question, “Can I help in any way?” And of course, you know the answer.

Tony is a cancer survivor. She told me that God has always been in her life, but she never really took notice. She said she wasn’t really listening. Until she needed Him. “Cancer halted my life,” she said, “I turned to Him, and He worked wonders. I know it could’ve been worse for me. He’s been talking, and now I am listening.”

Now, Tony wants to put her hands into everything. She volunteers twice a week at Solomon House. She serves at St. Francis Diner. She is giving back. She does not want recognition or praise. She did not even let me take her picture. She says, “I am doing this for God.”

I don’t need a Bible verse to tell me to do service. I only need to talk to the people in the trenches, the needy and the volunteers. They are here to show me God’s love in a very real way.

Read Full Post »

Broody Hen

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

On Friday I went to a pool party celebrating the Teachers Write Virtual Writing Camp. Still wearing my tie-dyed t-shirt from art camp, I sat in my kitchen with my laptop and talked with other teacher authors and read aloud a piece I had written this summer. What a fun party! It has been very rewarding for me to find a community of people like me. The support is valuable. The enthusiasm for the work of writing and the sharing of works in progress has filled my quiet writing world with encouraging voices and clapping hands. I have to thank Kate Messner and all her wonderful guest authors. Thanks also to Gae Polisner and Jen Vincent who led the Spreecast video party.

I read this excerpt from my work in progress, a sequel to Blessen. If you have followed this blog, you read about my chicken research. This chapter resulted from my visit with Harvey and Opal and their brood of hens.

Taking care of a chicken requires some expertise. Mae Mae has been helpful. When she was a little girl growing up in St. Martinville, she ordered 50 chicks of the heritage variety.

“We just went down to the post office and picked up the chicks, newly hatched. These were butchering chickens, grown for food. Of course, as a little girl, I had no idea what went into killing a chicken.”

Mae Mae told me all about caring for her chickens, what she fed them, how she cleaned up their poop, and all about their strange ways of taking a bath in the dust. I listened, all the while knowing my chicken would never be butchered.

Mae Mae said when she came home from school one day, she went out to care for her flock, and they were all gone. Her momma had butchered every one of them and put them in the freezer.
“I told my momma I would never eat another chicken, unless it came from the grocery store.”

Mae Mae raised her fist in the air and turned it up quickly. Snap! Just like that! Chicken for dinner.

Right then and there I decided I would never kill a chicken. I can’t even eat one without thinking about its suffering. Momma says death is a part of life and how would we live without the sacrifice of animals. She says that’s why God made them.

I say that may be why God made cows and pigs, but chickens are just too cute to butcher.

A few weeks ago, A.J. brought me a chicken-raising book from the public library. I am learning all kinds of stuff about Sunshine. For example, do you know how to tell if an egg is fertilized? Well, now I do. And there are illustrations to help.

Candling an egg: (Maybe in the old days they used a candle?) Use a flashlight. Shine it on the egg and look for a dark spot with veins spiraling off of it. A straight line with no black spot means no baby chick. Seeing as how we don’t have a rooster around and knowing what I know about the birds and the bees, there’s not much chance that Sunshine’s eggs have babies in them. But I check anyway.

Sunshine is acting so weird I may need to consult with my resource. I open the coop and call for her. She doesn’t move. She just sits still and makes a strange rumbling growling sound. No clucking, no happy head-bob. Her golden white feathers are fluffed so she’s all full and fat. I decide to give Mae Mae a call.

“Mae Mae, something is wrong with Sunshine!” I cry louder than I expected. Lowering my voice, I describe the symptoms, “She doesn’t want to move off her nest. She’s all fluffed up; her head is tucked down. She seems depressed. I’m really worried.”

Mae Mae is calm. “Blessen, listen carefully. I think Sunshine is broody.”

“Broody? What’s that mean?”

“She wants to nest. It’s her instinct as a woman. You need to pay close attention to her for the next few days.”

“What do I need to do?”

“As often as you can, take her off of the nest and wet her down. Be sure she eats. Give her her favorite foods. She could starve herself if you don’t help her.”

I’m in a panic. I barely take the time to say my thanks to my grandmother and run outside to attend to my ailing hen.

There she is, right on her nest. No egg is under her. I gently grab her on either side and carry her to the water bowl. She’s still growling. Brr, brr…

The water calms her a bit. She jumps out and walks about head bobbing some, but no talking. She finds her way to the coop and starts scratching under it. I grab the bag of feed corn and toss some on the ground, but she’s focused on her scratching.

“Come on, Sunshine. Eat somethin’. Don’t you go dyin’ on me like Blue did. Poor Blue didn’t have a chance against that hawk. But you, you’re my little Sunshine hen. You just gotta make it. You hear me. Now eat some corn here.”

Sunshine looks at me as if she understands. Her head turns this way and that. She bocks in her normal voice, takes about two bites, and hops back up in the chicken coop to roost on her nest.

This is going to be a tough job!

Read Full Post »

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

A writing exercise that is often successful for me is to borrow a line. I have done this a number of times to jump start a poem. See The Day, Fallen Oak and also in the poem from the 30 Day Challenge Blackberry Time.

Last week my writing partner, Stephanie, led a writing camp. She used this exercise with the students. I joined them on Wednesday for their writing marathon. It turned into a virtual writing marathon due to rain, but we managed to spend time visiting different places (through pictures) and responding with writing. Stephanie posted pictures on the kidblog she set up for the camp. For one of the pictures, her prompt was an Emily Dickinson poem and a picture of a mountain waterfall with the sun bursting over the hillside. For some, the picture led the poem. For others, Emily Dickinson’s words. Later in the week, the students were asked to find a favorite poem and “steal a line.” While we instruct them on plagiarism and the correct way to credit the original author, this activity is often successful. Somehow it breaks through the barrier of “I can’t write,” and leads to deeper creativity.

Here are a few samples from the writers at Write Your Way Camp 2012:

From Sophia with a borrowed line from Emily Dickinson

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
and stories of this place.
Its beauty just lights up my eyes,
and fills the land with grace.
I see the mountains, puffy clouds,
and greatly blinding sun.
But in some time,
I will realize,
That my journey’s just begun.

From Matthew with Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers,
hope is the thing with fur,
hope is the thing that rises the sun,
hope is the thing that purrs.

Kaylie with a borrowed title by Joe Fazio.
This is… Our Life

This is the game we play,
start at the beginning of the day,
run in circles, having fun in the sunny rays.
Lie down in the dewy grass,
wait for the day to pass.
Go back home and start again.
I know you’ll be there tomorrow, my friend.

Read Full Post »

Morning Walk

The poetry prompt this week from Poets and Writers The Time is Now asked me to collect six images and to use two to create a poem. I collected images on my morning walk using my iPhone.

Then I read the prompt from Teachers Write. Using two lenses, examine your landscape, panoramic and monocular, and write a description of the two views.

The sun rises over the oak trees,
a spotlight on the landscape.
Shadows painted on scaly trunks
guard my path like silent soldiers.
The distant bayou draws a border
on this land, this soft, soggy space
softened by the glowing rays of morning sun.

My companion trots like he belongs here,
black fur saturated and slinky after a romp
across an empty field.
He doesn’t pull or tug,
keeping the rhythm of his step in time with mine.
Never mind the cawing crow;
never mind the passing car.
We are happily walking, enjoying the morning,
drinking in new light and life.

Read Full Post »

At dinner last night we were discussing the chicken research I have been doing. See Raising Chickens for Dummies. My daughter said she remembered that a friend in high school raised chickens, and he talked about hypnotizing his chickens. She said, “Google it.” So I did, and I found this funny video of some kids hypnotizing their chicken. Chicken research continues…

Read Full Post »

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

So you published a book, what now? The answer keeps coming to me as “write more.” After 471 free downloads from Kindle when Blessen was free for the 4th of July holiday, I wondered what it may mean for book sales. An author friend said, “Your readers will want more.” This is a tremendous burden. And terrifying! In an attempt to embrace this burden, I decided to do some chicken research.

In Blessen, her chicken Blue dies quickly, attacked by a hawk. In the next book, Sunshine, Blessen’s new life chicken, will not die, I promise. But that means I need to know more about the actual raising of chickens. In our household, we have had fish, cats, and dogs. No chickens. But my neighbors, Harvey and Opal Broussard, in their retirement are raising 6 hens.

As a young girl, Opal participated one year in 4-H. She got 50 chicks to raise. They were of the butchering variety. She didn’t name her chickens, but she cared for them. She fed them, kept their coop clean, and was committed to proper record keeping. She was ready for the Chicken of Tomorrow contest. All 50 of her chickens were ready to go to the LSU Ag Center, but for some reason that she does not remember today, they didn’t go. And sadly, one day when she returned home from school, her mother had butchered all 50 chickens and placed them in the freezer. Opal told her mother she would never again eat chicken out of the freezer.

Needless to say, Harvey and Opal’s brood of 6 hens are laying hens and will die of old age. They each have names and unique personalities. They are Stella, Rhoda, Lacey, Estelle (nicknamed “Big Mama”), Buffy, and Laura.

Opal told me that there is really a “pecking order.” In my opinion, Harvey is on the top rung. The chickens watch and follow him where ever he goes. Stella likes to be held, so she walked up to Harvey, pecked his shoe, and he gently wrapped his hands around her feathered breast and cradled her in his arms. I took this opportunity to pet her. How can I describe this softness? Softer than silk. Softer than my kitten’s fur. The softest thing I have ever felt.

Harvey was most concerned over his Austrolope hen, Laura. She was “broody.” Broody means she wants to nest on an egg. These hens usually lay daily, but there is no rooster around, so their eggs are unfertilized. Instinctual, however, they occasionally want a family of their own. This behavior can be detrimental to the broody hen. She wants to sit on the nest all day, no eating or drinking. Harvey being the careful papa would take Laura off the nest about 15 times a day and put her in a pool of water to cool her off and try to influence her to eat. She did not run around and cluck like the others. With tail feathers poofed out, she stopped and dug in one spot making a rumbling growl. She could not be satisfied until she could rest on her nest. Then here comes Harvey again. She was one miserable momma. I know how she feels.

Broody Laura

I learned a lot about raising chickens and think that at least one chapter may need to be dedicated to the subject. Do you think young readers will enjoy learning about taking care of chickens? Blessen and her author need a copy of Raising Chickens for Dummies.

Read Full Post »

In the Teacher’s Write Online Writing Camp, I wrote a poem. The prompt came from guest author D. Dina Friedman, whose titles include ESCAPING INTO THE NIGHT and PLAYING DAD’S SONG. Dina grew up in New York City and can be found online at http://ddinafriedman.com/.

Her prompt was one I use often to jump start my own writing and my students’ writing. I call it “stealing a line.” Thumbing through a book of poetry, you find a line that jumps out and wants you to write about it. My post Fallen Oak came about when I borrowed a Mary Oliver line. The line I used today was Richard Hugo’s ” The day is a woman who loves you.” Here’s my poem.

The day is a woman who loves you.

Like the grandmother oak who
stretches her arms wide
offering a rope swing
for your very own pleasure.

Jump on and sway
or pump your legs until they ache.

This day offers you this kind of joy,
the joy of an open blossom–
morning glory blue
as deep as the Aegean Sea, the color
of your mother’s eyes.

She looks at you now,
hoping you will notice
her loving glance
and embrace this new day
as a gift.

Read Full Post »

The Dovekeepers

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Here it is Tuesday again. I committed to writing a blog every Tuesday for the Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Tuesdays. Last week we were on our family trip to Chicago, so I skipped writing. All week I have tried to start a new post about our trip. Why is a family vacation so hard to write about? A lot happened. We had a great time. We made up a few new family sayings like “Get on the train,” and “He’s right off the Pirate Float,” but it’s a kind of woulda-hadto-been-there situation. Not easy to convey, you know.

Inspired by other slicers today (one was inspired by a billboard, the other by Hallmark magnets), I decided to write about a book I am reading. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman is a beautiful novel set on Masada two thousand years ago. Written from the point of view of 4 women, it is rich in historical and mystical details. One of the exercises I enjoy doing with my students when they are reading a novel is a “found” poem. Using the text of the book, the writer finds a poem. Using Alice Hoffman’s beautiful language, I found this poem:

The Dovekeepers

People say our mother walked on water.
She traded rubies for a boat.
Pure, elemental, hot to the touch
given by your father’s blood.

A storm rose like stones
set out to block our way.
Our mother saw our destiny
saying water will heal
and protect us.

Mountains became our vision.
Our journey scented with fire and metal,
I could hear the beating
heart of the world,
the center of creation.

Our mother released the doves.
Those winged creatures
rise upward.

(Borrowed words from pages 293-294 of The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman)

Read Full Post »