The Danger in Chickens

I am currently between jobs. Or, as I prefer to put it, between contracts. This is mostly true, as I hope to obtain a teaching contract by this coming Fall which will give me what is considered to be a paying job and/or gainful employment by most of the masses within America. For isn’t that what we are truly measured by? “What do you do?” is a question that I really no longer have a straight answer for. The reality is that I take care of my four month old son while my wife, who has been named “Best Wedding Photographer” in Virginia two years in a row, works her magic with her camera and computer equipment, making beautiful brides more beautiful, and is there such a thing as an ugly bride? I think not, so her job is mostly enjoyable and very rewarding.

So is mine. I feel productive when I’m writing something such as this while little brown eyes grins and coos at me from his favorite perch in my office, which must also include his brown stuffed bunny, roughly the same size as him, his pacifier equipped monkey, which I feel mostly sorry for as he (the stuffed monkey) has a pacifier permanently jammed down his throat, a special little blue blanket constructed of the same material as his Mommy’s robe and assorted colorful plastic toys that also float. (My mind skitters to the line “WE ALL FLOAT” for just a moment and I then toss it aside, for the sun is shining and his bouncy chair also plays music and vibrates. I sometimes wish I had one.)

So we’ve established my job is pretty cool. Long hours are involved, and Nolan gets up really early, but he is still rather attached to his mother for early feedings so I can generally sleep in until seven or so before conjuring up some sort of breakfast. I then take a couple of hours to pretend to hunt for the elusive ginseng while Laura does magic in her office. The reality of the situation is I have no earthly idea what ginseng looks like and wouldn’t if it were chewing on me in the forest. My grandfather was famous for his ability to locate this elusive root, but as I ponder on the past I realize he never seemed to have any and was usually drunk. I wonder at the coincidence.  I’ve tried to teach my dog Axl to help look for it, but he has proven to be most unfit for finding this magical plant. He is wonderful at finding other people’s gardens and trampling about in them while I apologize profusely to angry neighbors. I wonder why he hasn’t been shot. He is also very gifted at locating and eating roadkill. I’ve learned to give him plenty of time to vomit everything up before returning home as to not spoil the rest of the day.

I’m also given tasks to accomplish by my wife. This would be relatively easy were I trained in one specific field or trade. Instead, I’ve been a geologist, an engineer, a writer, a coal miner, a teacher, a cook and a very poor excuse for a carpenter. So while I am quite convinced I can accomplish most any task, my training works against me.

For example, my wife asked for a chicken coop. I assumed chickens were included.  This requires research, extensive research, for there are my childhood preferences, which may or may not be suited to this microclimate, heritage breeds which are preferable to all other breeds, as they are just cooler because Daniel Boone may have eaten one of their great-great-great-great grandfathers or something. Then there are “ornamental” birds which I assume don’t do very much until Christmas, so they are out.

Then there is the matter of the coop, or chicken house. The engineer in me wants it to be able to withstand a small nuclear strike and have a moat. Complete with genetically modified crocodiles (which as an activist, I am totally against) who have a taste for coyote. The geologist in me wants it built with matching, continuous, uniform sedimentary rock types that all strike in the same direction. (In this case, strike means direction, not a work stoppage. The coal miner in me would never allow such a thing) As an environmentally conscious and dedicated human being, I need to make sure all waste is disposed of correctly and redirected back to the coop as a potential emergency backup energy system while abiding by all applicable permits from the Army Corp of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Depeartment of Homeland Security and whatever other Acts Obama has deemed necessary. As a teacher, it needs to be constructed to maximize teacher/student/parent interaction while enhancing SOL’s. As a writer, the coop needs to spin slowly about its three apparent axis’ while simultaneously opening hidden doors to facilitate murders and escapes for the wily chickens so that I may observe and write a  NY Times best seller on the previously unknown escapades of chickens.

I’m so excited I overheat the breast milk stowed away in the fridge for Nolan. He gives me a pitying look while my loving wife berates me for not setting the timer. It’s not my fault I’ve just discovered that there are giant breeds of chickens! Unfortunately, I underestimate both the food costs and their ability to forage for the giant chickens and they don’t survive while I am designing the foundations for the moat. The slope stability calculations are a bitch, too, so I order some ornamental chickens to pass the time and help stimulate my thinking.

I now have ornamental, heritage breed, (new) giants and banty roosters all inhabiting our five acres. My neighbor, a tall man dressed in worn Carhartt pants with lots of tools in them burst into laughter when he gave me the crate with the roosters. I thought he was very generous and thanked him profusely while vowing to find Carhartt pants on line. He must have been a nice fellow, for he was still laughing as he walked away.

My new Carhartt pants made me feel quite the farmer the next morning, hung as they were on my favorite chair. I stood them in the corner while making breakfast, admiring their apparent toughness. My wife rolled her eyes. She never takes me seriously.

After I hammered the pants for an hour or so, I was able to put them on the dog. He was then no longer able to move but I assured him they would break in soon, at which point I would do the honor of wearing them while providing him with all the glory of being the first on the farm to don Carhartt clothing. He did not seem to appreciate what I was doing for him.

I entered the yard to find that the ornamental chickens has eaten the rest of the chickens, all the feed, dug a moat and commandeered a very strategic command central. There was one rooster left, which we located at the very top of the house. He refused to come down. I immediately began a 3-D plan set for a tunneling device to access the far side of the moat. As I excitedly rose to this new challenge, I noticed that the dog was waving his Carhartt pants in surrender while marching very slowly towards the moat. Traitor.


I had the rare opportunity to talk with a good friend of mine yesterday afternoon for nearly an hour. Our connection wasn’t all that great, but we were mostly able to understand one another without too many repeats or dropped calls. I often wonder, in our world of instant social gratification, has our ability to communicate clearly and compassionately as human beings increased or decreased? We definitely seem to be much better and more adept with our thumbs than any other species on this planet, but I highly doubt that our thumbs evolved as they did in order to press small buttons to write highly abbreviated small sentences to one another in what is rapidly starting to resemble some sort of military code. I have realized as a teacher, that were I to appropriate someone’s thumb writing device I would not be able to decipher what was written on the screen of this highly advanced communication based gadget that is currently linked to several satellites, thereby embarrassing myself in front of an entire room full of children who can telepathically detect the slightest hesitation in an adult and turn it into their advantage instantaneously.

All that is neither here nor there within the scope of what I wanted to write – I wonder why my editors get so frustrated? What I really wanted to write about is friendship. In this very world of instant communication, facebook, Skype, email, texting, you tube and the thousands of ways that we can connect, how many friends do you really have? Five thousand? Isn’t that the cutoff for facebook these days? You can’t have more than five thousand “friends?”

I can count the number of friends that I have on one hand. I think my criterion is a bit different to qualify me as a friend. The friends that I have will and have pulled me out of a ditch on a snowy night. The friends that I have will bail me out of jail, if they believe that I deserve it and they will have the presence of mind and know me well enough to make that determination and choose to leave my ass there if it is so fitting. The friends that I have will help me split wood for my wood stoves when I’m sick or unable to do so. They will babysit without being asked. I can complain to them about relationships, addictions, responsibilities at work and my family without fear of judgment or retribution. I don’t have to worry about my friends trying to steal my wife or acting inappropriately in front of her or my son. My circle of friends extends into my family, but is not inclusive to them. In fact, I have friends who could be anywhere in the world right now.

My therapist has on numerous occasions made it very clear that she does not approve that I don’t have a circle of so-called friends nearby that I can run to every time that I want to talk to someone or have a bad thought or dream. I do have a circle of friends, and they exist within a realm in which I can reach at any time. If needs be, I can find them, each and every one. I’d like to hope they can find me, too, ready at any moment to help, listen, care and hopefully give meaningful advice. You know what the best thing is? My very best friend is almost always at arm’s length, and kisses me goodnight every single night. So, here’s to friends. Let’s cherish them and not take them for granted, no matter where they may roam or how long it’s been since you’ve heard from them. What adventures they must be having!


I haven’t been paying attention to this medium in some time, but this morning I’m to take a few minutes and be thankful for the view outside of my window and for all that is good in my life. The redbuds have bloomed, as have the butterfly bushes, dogwoods, tulip poplars, mayapples, trilliums, the wild lilies and even the daffodils have shown their faces in the soft stillness of this spring. The mountains are turning to green that it is almost painful to look at and I pity those among us who are color blind.

I still have no word on a permanent teaching contract, but I hope that my patience and hard work will be rewarded. There aren’t many of us earth science teachers and you’d think we’d be at a premium. My son, Nolan, is healthy and giggling at his mother this morning, waiting on me to come down and play with him. I’m feeling like a long walk with the dog along the New River and further, up Spruce Run, where I know that later this summer there will be crawfish to boil and enjoy with a few friends, with leftovers to make absolutely delightful sandwiches with. My garden boxes are nearly ready for planting; we just have to make the final call on what we are going to plant. Our little plot of land still enjoys messing with our attempts to grow just anything.

For the first time in a very long time I am healthy, both mentally and physically. I’m nearly fifty pounds down from where I started a couple of months ago and I’m feeling better every day. There are setbacks in moods and attitude, of course, but everyone suffers from mood swings to some degree – they just mustn’t rule our lives or days!

Laura wants a patio built in front of the new entrance to her studio, so I must go attend to the material lists for this project and along the way today I’m going to pester a few principals of schools about possible science teaching positions and I will more than likely prepare some freshly made chorizo on our grill, which will be served with a carrot salad on fresh French bread. Life is good.

The Perfect Southern Woman

My mother-in-law is the ultimate southern woman. Never mind that she lives on the eastern shore in a house that fronts the Chesapeake Bay, was raised in Maryland and went to school in Delaware – she is the ultimate southern woman.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an insult. This is perhaps the greatest compliment that I could give a person. You see, I am from the south (although those rednecks in Mississippi thought otherwise) so therefore I am qualified to make this decision. I must also stress that I love my mother-in-law, Mommy Sue. She, after all, provided me with a fully trained southern wife, ready to go with me to the New River Valley in Southwestern Virginia, which, despite some confusion by Yankees, is not the same as West Virginia, but I digress. Her mother is also a perfect southern woman, with the ability to talk with her hands while holding her martini without spilling one, single, drop.

Why is she the ultimate southern woman? She never leaves the house with wet hair. As the matter of fact, I have only seen her with wet hair once. At our house here in the NRV. Just before bed. She never leaves home without makeup perfectly applied. When I say perfectly, that means you really can’t tell she is wearing any, she just looks a little more, well, perfect. Her clothes compliment the event, situation or occasion. She remembers to wear or display things I’ve given her, no matter how small, when I visit.

There are always leftovers in the fridge, ready to be eaten. There is always a cheese plate when you arrive to visit. Her hair is perfect. She wears big floppy hats and big sunglasses outside, yet sports beautifully tanned legs. She has a Scottish Terrier named Mattie. Her husband is happily obedient. She could carry on a conversation with a tree, if necessary, for a lady never allows a conversation to die or become stagnant. She says what she means and, even if it’s negative, people still smile. She buys, washes, irons and lays out her husband’s clothes and they are also appropriate for whatever situation they are to be in.

She throws the perfect party, pours the perfect wine, roasts the perfect chicken (ahead of time, so she can mingle with guests), makes the perfect salad (which shall be served in a bowl, separate from the main course, for God forbid, they may touch otherwise), bakes the perfect pie. She plans everything. Everything. Nothing is left to chance.

She runs her household like a great general runs his battle campaign. The deer and woodchucks are pretty diversions, until they eat her landscaping. Then they must be shot. She wears the perfect pearls, the perfect diamond (big enough to cause envy, small enough to be tasteful), shops at the right stores and knows all the right people. She is gracious to the help and remembers waiter’s names. She loves gossip, but would never spread rumors. She knows all that is going on around her that may impact her husband in any way.

You see, you don’t have to be from the south to be the perfect southern woman. Being a southern woman is all about being the perfect woman – something that can be accomplished anywhere. Except New Jersey.