Playing Chicken.

Chicken purse

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Best Medicine
Time to work out your own funny bone! This week, write about whatever topic you’d like, but go for laughs.

My sister Missy and my dad had an especially playful relationship.  They pulled pranks on one another, gave each other trouble, and goofed around constantly.  Missy was as much the instigator as Dad was.  For example, when Dad teased her, she’d admonish him and threaten, with mock seriousness, to ‘get the spoons.’ 

Getting the spoons meant she would pull two large serving spoons out of the drawer and ‘play’ them on Dad’s arm or back (or sometimes his head) like drumsticks.  Dad, in turn, might ‘accidentally’ butter her arm at the dinner table as he buttered his bread.  Sometimes he would go outside when it was getting dark, and, as Missy and I did the dishes, would sneak to the window above the sink, suddenly showing his face and making us shriek. You just never knew what to expect from Missy or from Dad.

I always wished that I could joke with my folks the way she did, but none of us other siblings had her special touch. Dad and Missy had a very close bond, and much of that was their shared sense of silliness.  Missy, especially, was always thinking of stunts she could pull on Dad; while she was the brains of the operation, I usually ended up being dragged along as the brawn.

One afternoon, when she was about 15, and I was about 12, Missy had a grand idea.  She collared me and told me to go find a box: we were going to pull a trick on Dad.  So, like the dutiful little sister (and errand boy) that I was, I found a box and reported back to her.  We went outside to the shed, and she got me a fishing net with about a 4-ft handle.  We proceeded to the chicken coop out back.  We were going to catch us a chicken! 

After running around in the pen for awhile, I was finally able to get the net over one of the agitated hens.  She squawked something fierce, and left me with a few scratches and welts, but once we put her in the box, she settled down.  We folded the flaps over on the top of the box so there was just a little opening at the top.  We peeked inside; the chicken was eyeing us, but she stayed quiet.  Perfect.

We sneaked in the back door, and I carried the box into Mom and Dad’s room.  Missy told me to set it down on Dad’s side of the bed.  Then, with hushed giggles, we ran upstairs to her room, which was directly above our parents’ room, to listen at the vent.  For some reason I can no longer recall, she knew Dad was heading to his bedroom

Soon enough, we heard Dad in the hallway.  We held our breath.  We heard him go into the bedroom, where he saw the box.  He went to open it, and we heard, WHAT THE — ?!??  MELISSAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!  And then laughter.  She had gotten him again.

Missy and I were rolling on the floor, we were laughing so hard. 

Fortunately for us all, Dad hadn’t let the chicken out of the box – he had opened it only far enough to see what was in it and closed it up quickly when the chicken started squawking and flapping her wings.  (I was really glad, because I didn’t want to be cleaning up the mess.)

★★★★

6/6 Daily Prompt: Four Stars
Write a review of your life — or the life of someone close to you — as if it were a movie or a book.

Finding myself Stuck in the Middle, I give this movie four stars – ★★★★ by Dink Winkerson

For all of the rattle-bang of the previews of this highly-anticipated second chapter in the I’m Stuck saga, the feature doesn’t quite measure up.  More drama than action, more comedy than tragedy, part 2 seems to have leveled off somewhat.

The first installment, I’m Stuck in the Past, though a wee bit slow and meandering at the outset (she had a pleasant, but boring, childhood), picked up speed in the middle (Stuck didn’t settle down until she was in her late 20’s) and toward the end, presented her as a sympathetic figure overall.  The understated, but dramatic, retelling of the family’s shocking loss left nary a dry eye, but by the end, her triumphant victory over tragedy turned tears into cheers and brought the audience to their feet.  The strong cast of characters (including Joe the Local Boy in a humorous turn as Mr. Stuck) made this a film worth watching again and again.  The chemistry between Stuck and her Mister is obvious and well-played.

Such excitement is not the case with I’m Stuck in the Middle, the second part of this story.  We rejoin Stuck (now with two titanium hips) later in her daily life, as she struggles to balance career and family.  Her hair is graying and the kids are growing up, leaving her wondering what’s next.  The ‘midlife crisis’ theme narrowly avoids cliche, saved by a job change and a few new faces, and thankfully, we are spared the melodramatic soliloquies so common in character studies.  Whew.

Nearing retirement, Stuck decides to act upon the urging of a friend to start a blog.  You see her caught between her dream and her doubts; she fears that she will fail, and her lack of confidence exhibits itself in procrastination and worry.  Blah, blah — that part is a bit long; it would have been better as a brief mention.  Happily, though, the film picks back up as she makes a name for herself, but it never quite achieves the same level of ‘ooh and aah’ as part 1.  Frankly, I don’t mind.

At this point, Stuck’s life is pretty well laid out, and, barring any strange or startling revelations, it promises to continue on the same trajectory.  All in all, a decent story; it’s not Gone With the Wind or Citizen Kane, but it is a tale that stays with you.  Kudos to the production team for bringing this slice of reality to the big screen — it helps us remember that reality can indeed be pleasantly dull.

Stay tuned for the final act in the trilogy, I’m Stuck in the Future, which is set to begin filming in September.

I’m Stuck in the Middle – rated R for language, prescription drug and alcohol use, and snark.

 

 photo credit: Princess Theater

A Patchwork of Memories.

quilt
Memory quilt

5/21 Daily Post: Bittersweet Memories.
You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?

The monumental task of clearing out my parents’ home after their deaths was made even more difficult by the tragic circumstances under which we’d lost them.  Nothing was normal about it, and every little normal thing in the house just reinforced that.  What to do with the contents of a house that grew from small to huge as the family itself grew large?  Where do you start, in a house where most of their 55-year marriage was nurtured and against which all of our childhoods were staged?  We did our best to evenly distribute the “things,” the mementoes of youth, the heirlooms, the books, the spoons.

When it came to their bedroom, it was another matter.  Here was the heart of the house.  Here is where the window stayed open, even on the coldest nights; here is where the ‘workin’ things’ that resided in my Pa’s pockets would tumble onto the nightstand: washers; marbles; screws and nuts of various sizes; a bit of string or wire; a fuse; a flashlight bulb; a butterscotch candy; a hose clamp; a wire nut; some coins (he always jingled the coins in his pocket); and maybe a broken piece of something he intended to repair.  Here were Mother’s ubiquitous safety pins and headscarves and the jewelry she seldom wore.

My parents’ bedroom was normally off-limits when I was a child; without express permission from one or the other, I had no business in there.  I am glad that my parents taught us to respect their privacy; we kids always knew that while we were loved and important to them, they put one another first.  A happy marriage makes for a happy family.

It was difficult to dismantle that room, probably more so than any other part of the house.  Aside from the closets and dressers filled with clothing they no longer wore, there were memories stashed everywhere — everywhere: Birthday cards.  Letters.  Dad’s WWII memorabilia.  Photographs.  Reminders of the early days of their marriage and family, when money was tight and they scraped to get by.  Gifts that we kids had proudly made for them; baby clothes; items that they had kept from when their own parents passed away.  Each drawer, box, and bag spilled more memories.

When we got to the clothing, we knew that most of it would be donated to charity; however, there were a few things we wanted to keep that were meaningful to us.  Those of us who could wear Mother’s lovely wool coat or her favorite blouse were able to choose those things.  There were plenty of Dad’s heavy, plaid flannel shirts to go around.  The clothing with tears or stains that was not going to be given away we set aside for the rag bag.

One of our cousins, who was very close to our family and our parents, is a very talented seamstress.  With great love for our family, she offered us a priceless gift: she would make each of us a quilt from our parents’ and sister’s clothing.  If we would select the items and cut the squares, she would help us lay out the pattern and she would do the piecework, with custom embroidery.  We would select the fabrics for the backing and the binding; a friend of hers would do the quilting.

IMG_20130521_210717_361
windmill pattern

Each quilt (she made SIX of them!) was crafted with loving care.  We chose our preferred fabrics and colors and cut the pieces.  She helped us lay them out, and she pieced them together.  There were scraps of Dad’s work jeans; mom’s aprons; the daisy-printed sheets we all remembered; my sister’s blouses; a red handkerchief here; and a tee-shirt there; all affectionately combined to make a quilt that would warm our bones and our hearts.

The relationships we had with our family reflected in the items we selected to use.  Each quilt is an original; none looks like any other.  Each quilt mirrors its owner and honors its subjects.  Each is embroidered with a brief note of provenance: my cousin’s name, the date, why it was made, and for whom.  She made us promise to use the quilts, not box them up and leave them in a closet.

I have kept my promise.  Mine is no longer stiff and new; it is soft and shows wear on some of the seams.  Some of the squares were made with fabric that was thin to begin with, and those have now worn through, showing the backing behind.  I sometimes look at each square and sigh as I remember Dad in his flannel shirt or Mom in her headscarf; I finger the fabrics deliberately as my mind wanders down that path.

This gift was truly the most heartfelt and bittersweet of anything I have ever been given.  At once it represents sorrow and joy; fun and work; and family and love.

Paris, the Beautiful.

Daily Prompt: Mad Libs
Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — anyone who’s accessible — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a noun. There’s your post title! Now write.

 

Gold plated
There is gold on everything in Paris. It shines like the sun even on the grayest of days.

For all of my life, I have dreamed about Paris.  Paris, the City of Light.  Paris, where poets and artists have spirited conversation over baguettes and demitasses; where style is both accidental and vehement; and where lovers drown in each others’ eyes.  Paris, where the men look like Johnny Depp and the women — well, the women look like models.  I hoped and prayed that some day I would get there.

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to go when my son’s teacher and her husband, also a teacher, chaperoned a school trip to Paris for a week, with a day at the beaches of Normandy.  The four of us — both boys, Mr. and myself — decided to go.  I brushed up on my high school French (“Quelle heure est-il? – What time is it?”), bought some new luggage, read some Paris guides, and counted the days.

After a long flight, we were met with a charter bus and a tour guide, Franc.  Franc was very good at herding 14 middle-schoolers and their parents around Paris.  At a brisk pace.  So brisk, in fact, that I took to calling him our personal trainer.  Our first trek, on the first night, was Notre Dame de Paris.

The grand lady is a wondrous sight, with her iconic flying buttresses and intricate carvings. I was excited to see her.  We were allowed to tour while a Mass was performed, and I stood on the worn stone and drank in the cathedral.  I turned to my sons and told them that here was where Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804.  To think we were walking in the footsteps of kings and popes was thrilling to me.

Notre Dame
Just a tiny bit of the incredible exterior of Notre Dame.

We also visited Montmarte, the artists’ quarter, that sits behind the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur; Sacre-Coeur is the lovely church at the top of the hill.  The artists and their easels are packed in close, and you can have your portrait drawn if you stand still long enough.  I enjoyed meandering through the cobblestone streets, admiring the paintings.

montmarte
Some of the art we saw in Montmarte.

We spent way too little time at the Louvre; we had to find some lunch, see what we wanted to see, and be back in less than two hours.  If you’ve been there, you know that is an impossible task if you want to see anything.  The Louvre is enormous, and spectacular, and overwhelming.  Strangely enough, I had wandered right up next to the Venus de Milo without even realizing it.

venus

When I did, I was amazed.  She stood tall in the middle of the hall, without a velvet rope or barricade; I could have touched her, but I wouldn’t have dared.  Wow.

We made our way through wings with paintings as large as my living room or bigger, through incredible artifacts, until finally we came to the line to see the grandest lady of all, the Mona Lisa.

Mona Lisa
My blurry photo of Mona over the heads of the others in line. This was as close as I got. Moooo…..

She was smaller than I expected, behind glass, behind a rope, and protected by two guards; we had to file past her, only pausing long enough to get a quick photo.  But now I could say I had seen her, face to face.

We rode the Seine in a riverboat with many other passengers; I loved how each of the historical bridges has interesting carvings and decoration.  After the boat ride, off to La Tour Eiffel.  I truly enjoyed visiting the Eiffel Tower and riding to the top.  You take two elevator rides to ascend; one takes you up to the first and second levels of the structure, and the second elevator takes you to the top, for an extra fee.  The elevators go up at the same angle as the legs; it’s pretty cool.  You have the opportunity to get off the first lift and not continue up the rest of the way if you change your mind.  There are also stairs up to the second level, but you can only reach the top by elevator.  It was night when we were there, and the view from the tower was incredible: all of Paris spread before us.

Eiffel
I always thought it was bigger.

We descended by elevator, where I got to push the button; the kids took the stairs.  At the bottom was a contingent of soldiers canvassing the area.  I felt pretty safe, actually, but I wish the soldiers had saved us from the aggressive vendors.  As we drove away, we saw the tower light up in a dazzling array of strobing LEDs.  It does this for ten minutes every hour.  What a show!

The day we spent driving up to the beaches at Normandy was drizzly and gray, like most of our trip had been.  It also happened to be our wedding anniversary.  I had looked forward to this part of the trip the most; my father was a WWII veteran who came across the English Channel, and I wanted to see what he saw here.

french stone building
Typical of the French countryside as we drove north.

The bus trip through the countryside was filled with old farmhouses and rolling meadows.  I closed my eyes and imagined tanks and trucks and infantry on these roads.  It wasn’t so hard to imagine — many of the buildings looked exactly as they did so many years ago.

When we arrived at Colleville-sur-mer, my heart was in my throat.  The rain had stopped, but the gloom hung in the air.  We walked a long road toward the Normandy American Cemetery, passing a reflecting pool and carefully manicured hedges.  The memorial is a semicircle of columns with a loggia, or open gallery, at each end containing maps of the landings; there is a bronze statue in the middle.

cemetery flag
At the Normandy American Cemetery.

When you turn and look out over the nearly ten thousand markers, you can’t help but be moved.  Most of the men here died on D-Day.  There are another 1500 names on the Wall of the Missing.  The numbers are staggering.  It is truly humbling to be surrounded by acres and acres, row upon row, of gleaming marble headstones.

And past the cemetery, the sea still pushes to shore and retreats over the smooth sand.

beach cliffs
Looking from the beach up to the sheer cliffs at St. Laurent-sur-mer.

We stood on the beach at St. Laurent-sur-mer, where you could still see the bunkers in the hillsides.  I tried to imagine what the men felt when they saw what they were up against.  The climb was steep for our Allied soldiers, if they made it that far.  My heart hurt; I could feel the pain in this place. 

I reached down, selected some smooth stones and scooped a little sand to bring back home to my siblings.  Dad was here.

There is more to tell, but I will get to that later.  My visit to Paris meant so much to me in so many ways.  To be able to do it at all was huge.  I would love to go back and spend more time exploring the museums and cafes and historical places.  Even if I never do, I still have the most wonderful memories of Paris, the Beautiful.

It’s All About Me.

5/1/13  Daily Prompt: Personal Space
To what extent is your blog a place for your own self-expression and creativity vs. a site designed to attract readers? How do you balance that? If sticking to certain topics and types of posts meant your readership would triple, would you do it?

When I started to blog, I wasn’t sure what direction it would take me.  Four months into it, I have a better idea, but that’s not set in stone.  I love connecting with the world this way, and I love that there are folks out there who are interested in what I have to say, but this is not a gimmicky site.  That is to say, I don’t see myself grooming this blog for more traffic; at least, not to a large extent.

If I find that some of my topics are more popular than others, I can write more on those, but I don’t intend to sacrifice the character of my blog to get more readers.  I don’t want to emulate anyone; I just want to be me, and you can decide whether you like me or not.  That said, I hope you do. 😉

photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Million-Dollar Question: Why Do I Blog?

A blog and a handfull of quarters will get you a cup of coffee.

Daily Prompt: Million-Dollar Question  — Why do you blog? 

I’ve read a lot of bloggers’ answers to this question, and they range from ‘I can’t not write’ to educating the public on a certain topic, to therapy.  All in all, a wide range of good, valid reasons.

Since I’m fairly new to the blogosphere, I don’t know if I really have a direct, complete answer.  I think my answer is, “I’m still finding out.”  I started Stuck On Zero at the urging of a friend who thought I had a voice that needed to be heard.  I’m thankful for that encouragement.

Like most of the bloggers I’ve seen so far, I’ve been writing since I was young, and I have entertained thoughts of novels and poetry and short-story compilations.  I have dreamed of seeing my name on the spine of a book.  People tell me, and I believe, that I have a gift.  I want to share it with you.

But really, I don’t write for you.  I write for me.  I like the sound of my own voice — my own writing style.  I like choosing the perfect word or polishing a phrase for perfect nuance.  I’m peevish and moody and emotional, and I like doing this because it’s my words, my phrases, my emotions, my self.  Like it or not, in this case it is all about me.  I’ll never get rich, but I may make some friends.  And I’ll say what I think and write what I feel, and it will give me satisfaction.

 photo credit DonkeyHotey

My Alphabet of Songs: A

[ Classic Radio : Still Supports and PLAYS Radio Stars ] @ PROTOTYP : Hamburg Hafen City : Hamburg, Germany

Today’s Daily Prompt at The Daily Post:
The Satisfaction of a ListWho doesn’t love a list? So write one! Top five slices of pizza in your town, ten reasons disco will never die, the three secrets to happiness — go silly or go deep, just go list-y.

So I decided to write about some of the songs on my iPod.

  1. ABC by The Jackson 5 – pure, innocent fun from the 70’s.  I always sing along.
  2. Amie by Pure Prairie League – I love this song and have been known to put it on repeat for extended periods.  Before we married, Mr. Stuck had a roommate who was a local musician.  I loved to harmonize with him.
  3. Aqualung by Jethro Tull – love the imagery in this song.
  4. Amos Moses by Jerry Reed – we had this album when I was a kid and I learned it word for word.
  5. Aubrey by Bread – I think David Gates is an underappreciated songwriter.
  6. Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – a classic.
  7. American Pie by Don McLean – this was overplayed when it was first on the radio, but now I really enjoy the whole dang thing.
  8. Annie’s Song by John Denver – I sang this for my sister’s wedding, and now I associate it with her.  This is for you, Missy.
  9. At Seventeen by Janis Ian – I first heard this as an insecure adolescent and it seemed to ring pretty true.
  10. A Beautiful Morning by The Rascals – I can’t sing this without smiling.  It makes me feel good.
    And a bonus:
  11. A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash – I don’t think he wrote the song, but he sure made it famous.  Do you have some “A” songs?

And, now that I’m linking, I have one to add:

12.  Africa by Toto – normally I would link the Toto version, but I happen to love the version by a capella group Perpetuum Jazzile of Slovenia.  I think you will, too.  Watch how they make it rain.

photo credit: UggBoy♥UggGirl