Thursday, August 28, 2014

#Disclaimer




For sixteen years I’ve been writing and drawing and reaching out from the desk in my office . . . or from my bed, which I treat like a desk until I get up, have a shower, and get dressed. Then I go and sit at a proper desk to write. 

No, I don’t. That’s a lie.

I never get out of bed to write because I’m short, and my legs don’t touch the ground when I sit in grownup chairs and that hurts my knees, so I type in bed where I can keep my legs elevated and relax back into about one thousand pillows. 

And that’s a long sentence.

When I first went back to college, the instructor gave a speech about love, respect, and mutual approbation. Then he had us read from an assignment he’d given us. I read. One of my sentences was longer than the average fifth grade reading level, and the cool girl in my college writing class told me, “Good grief, Hemingway must be turning over in his grave at the length of that sentence.”

I found her less than loving, respectful, or approbating—not to mention wildly ignorant. Hemingway wrote both long and short sentences. But you have to read more Hemingway than just that story about hills and elephants and abortion. 

And that last comment drips with sarcasm. I’m aware of that. It’s possible I’m not as loving, respectful and approbating as the average college kid. But then again, I’m not stoned. 

Shoot. There goes that sarcasm gene again. So you see, I struggle a bit with the silliness that is modern education, literature, and art in general. 

As a kid I read books that weren’t on any government approved reading list—hard books with long sentences and big words. Most of those books have long since been sold at used book sales or dumped in landfills. I know because I bought up a lot of those hard books with big words at those used book sales. So now I have an entire room dedicated to books—IN MY HOME. It’s called a library.

That’s my silly disclaimer, kind of. 

When I was a child, reading wasn’t an assignment so that I could be the cool girl in a cool college; it was life. 

My childhood was less than . . . ummm . . . er . . . how to say this . . . well, it was less than warm and fuzzy. Let’s put it that way. I was a lonely, sad little kid and books were better than drugs. I read everything from cereal boxes to (gasp) the classics. Reading was more than an escape; it was a magical bubble of words that kept me safe from the poison of a world I could not control or change or understand. 

I thank God that there were long sentences and short sentences and stories in those books that kept me safe until I could write my own. 

Linda (Can’t Quit) Zern 


Saturday, August 23, 2014

CSI - Saint Cloud




“What is that smell?” I said, sniffing the air like an elephant sensing danger or a circus tent. I was in our family office.

Number two son mumbled, “What smell? He did not look up from his computer.

Sniffing loudly, I said, “That. Funky.” Sniff, sniff. “Smell.”

The mumbler mumbled something else. I was left to my own conclusions.

“That smell . . . you can’t smell that? It smells like bat guano in a crock pot.”

The mumbler may have shrugged, but I was already on my hands and knees sniffing behind various pieces of office furniture. Our cat blinked and stretched as I pushed the futon she was draped over away from the wall. She may have shrugged.

A trail of wispy feathers spun wildly as I sniffed my way along the baseboards behind the futon. My hand landed in something gunky, just as I noticed a gicky stain on the back of the futon skirt. I knew at once what I was looking at—a crime scene. 

I studied the swirl of feathers around my head. I measured the gicky stain. I sniffed some more. 

“Either it’s bat guano in a crock pot or something is very dead,” I said, to absolutely no one; son number two had left the crime scene. 

Suspicious, I thought. Make a note.

Pushing the futon farther into the room, I uncovered the source of the smell. Immediately, I began my investigation. 

Out loud, I reported, “The victim seems to have been deceased for extended period of time judging from the amount of gicky gunk that has been allowed to soak into the grout. Victim appears to have been a bird (note wings, feathers, and beak.) The body may have been placed under the futon in a ritualistic fashion with the head pointing to the wall socket and the feet pointing to the ottoman—possible occult overtones.”

The cat stretched, meowed, picked a feather from her teeth, and jumped from her perch on the futon.

I prepared to start my interviews with everyone even slightly connected to the office, futon, ottoman, or baseboards. 

My questions included: How could you not have smelled that smell? At any time were you aware that there was a dead bird corpse under the futon in the office—melting? Did you know about said bird corpse and simply ignored it so that you wouldn’t have to clean it up? Where were you every minute of your life for the last two weeks? HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY NOT SMELL THAT? Let me see your nostrils.

Everyone had an alibi. I was back to square one.

But then I formulated a theory to explain the inability of absolutely everyone in this family to smell a decomposing animal under the office futon except for ME!!! Mostly, I live with boys—big grownup boys. And it is my belief that because of a propensity they have to sit at their computers in a haze of their own bio-methane they are no longer able to detect the presence of a dead body in the same room due to an advanced case of dead nose syndrome. Son number two swears that he does not produce bio-methane—ever. And husband number one swears that everyone produces bio-methane at least and on an average of twelve times a day. I’ve got my nose on both of them. 

It’s just a theory. DNA testing will, of course, prove inconclusive.

What it comes down to is this. I had to dispose of the corpse (I used a dust pan), strip the ruffled skirt off of the futon, vacuum up the bed feathers, and scrub the grout with bleach. I also had to dispose of a dead field mouse, two dead moles, and a dead snake. (Note: Not all on the same day.) 

There’s only one conclusion that can be made. That’s right. I’ve got a serial killer on my hands.

Linda (Book ‘Em) Zern



Sunday, August 17, 2014

DOWN ON THE HOBBY FARM - A CLASSIC



The shadows of cranes, vultures, and eagles coast across the ground of our farm, and at night the lonely cries of Whippoorwills float through the air like ghosts through fog and mist. It’s hard not to be charmed by the nature thumping all around us. That’s one reason we moved here, to be surrounded by the thumping of nature, and to have horses, and butterfly gardens, and grandchildren, and quiet weekends in the country—surrounded by the thump of nature, of course. 

Country living is like having an obsessive-compulsive hobby, and my husband and I are obsessive-compulsive hobby farmers. We bought six acres in Saint Cloud, and then we bought three horses and had someone give us a dog. There’s a cat, but she came with the place. We don’t raise corn, or soybeans, or veal. A hobby farm is a lot like a black hole—stuff (like money) goes in but nothing (like money) comes out. 

My husband has a real job. He fiddles around with computer related software during the week and makes money. I have a real job. I fiddle around with words on paper. I barely make enough money to pay for the paper, but we both play hobby farm on the weekends: by mowing, chopping, digging, burning, nailing, pressure washing, and sheath cleaning. The real point of our hobby farm is horses—the brushing, the riding, the watering, and the feeding of horses, and then there are questions of gelding hygiene, of course. 

One of the horses in our stable is an old sickle-hocked gelding in an advanced stage of aging, or as I like to say, “He has two good legs, one bad leg, and one hoof on a banana peel.” Sonny is a rescue horse, and once upon a time, he must have been something to look at—now he’s a broken down paint horse standing in the shade of a live oak—nursing a bad attitude and gas. Also once, he was a boy horse, but now he’s a gelding with a high pitched whinny, arthritic hips, and sheath issues. He gives our hobby farm an air of slow moving southern charm and the feel of days gone by—sometimes. 

Sometimes he needs his sheath cleaned—mostly in the fragrant, gentle spring. 

“Honey,” I said to my husband, one fragrant and gentle spring, “I think that it’s time to clean old Sonny’s sheath.” The sun drifted over the barn like a fried egg. Flies buzzed in groggy, dopey circles. Horses pooped. 

My husband looked mildly suspicious, his hands instinctively clenching a pitchfork, his knuckles growing white.

“Sonny’s what?”

“His sheath,” I repeated, leaning against the barn door and waving my hand vaguely in the direction of the paddock. “Think, sword and scabbard, like in pirate fighting.”

His knuckles started to look like bloodless doorknobs.

“Scabbard! Sheath! What are you talking about?”

“You know the thing that the sword goes into—the scabbard—you know, the thing that protects the sword.” I pantomimed putting an invisible sword into an invisible scabbard. “Sonny’s scabbard (i.e. his sheath) needs cleaning.” I crossed my arms across my chest confident in my diagnosis. 

Frown lines creased my husband’s forehead, as he pondered all the potential symbolic sword related possibilities. Leaning on the pitchfork like a D.O.T. worker on a break and standing in a puddle of horse droppings, the slow light of understanding crept into his face. Horror etched harsh lines under his eyes. 

He looked at the old grouch of a horse napping in the shade next to the barn, and said, “You can’t possibly mean . . .” He bit his lip, and I though I detected the glint of a single tear in his eye. “That someone has to reach up and . . . grab or clean . . . inside his . . . with what? And how? And more importantly for the love of all that’s decent—why?!”

“Because boy horses, who are geldings, get waxy gick buildup if you don’t clean their . . .”

“Yea, yea, yea, sword holder.” His sarcasm hid despair and mild panic. “I get it.” 

Sonny slapped at one boney hip with his tail. He snorted, shook his head at some imagined slight, and then farted.

“Now there are a couple of ways that you can do this. You can wait until he goes to the bathroom and drops his . . .”

“I am not standing out here waiting for that old grump to pee.”

“Or you can go up in there and grab it.” 




The horror spread from my husband’s face to his entire body. His limbs went rigid right before he dropped the pitchfork. Then his hands flew to his mouth, and through gritted teeth he asked, “Clean it with what?”

“Well, I’ve seen people use Vaseline, or warm soapy water, or . . .” 

Sonny decided at that very moment to drop his sword and urinate. 

Snapping to attention, I yelled, “Hurry Sherwood, run for the Vaseline.” He froze like a hunted rabbit staring into a rattlesnake den.

“Hurry man, now’s our chance.” I rolled up my sleeves, and squared my shoulders. Sherwood turned and stumbled into the gloom of the barn like a man planning to boil water for an emergency birth on a kitchen table. 

“And Sherwood,” I yelled. He paused and looked back. “Don’t forget the rubber gloves.”

He didn’t.

That’s one reason we moved here, to be surrounded by the thumping of nature, and to have horses, and butterfly gardens, and grandchildren, and quiet weekends in the country, and to be up to our elbows in nature, of course. In the fragrant and gentle spring, the American Bald Eagles swoop down from their massive nest behind our house to tear our neighbor’s baby lambs bloody bit from bloody bit. Watching the eagles take turns turning the baby lambs into Bald Eagle jerky, my husband took my hand and asked, “I wonder if PETA knows about this?”

“I think there’s a lot PETA doesn’t know about Mother Nature,” I sighed.

An eagle’s shadow drifted over the swayed back of our old rescue horse, Sonny, as he dozed in the shade of a live oak.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A BRIEF HISTORY OF BOOBS





My husband’s family was horrified when I decided to breastfeed our first baby. They insisted I remove myself from the public rooms, retreat to a bedroom, cover myself with a blanket, and nurse my baby in shame and private.

Which was rich coming from a family that regularly discussed—at the dinner table—the various uses of whipped cream in dating situations. Boobs covered in whipped cream, complete with a cherry on top, was considered wildly humorous. Breastfeeding was considered . . . well . . . icky.

It was confusing at best.

When I had our second baby, I said, “Nope. Not going to the bedroom of breastfeeding shame. If you want I’ll cover the baby’s head with whipped cream and call myself dessert. But that’s it. Now back down.”

They backed down.

Over the years I’ve tried to figure out the mixed messages that society expresses when it comes to female breasts.  Sorry, I got nothing. Society is nuts.

However, here are a couple of random observations on the subject:

God gave women boobs and then said, “When you can get a guy to look you in the eye, even if it’s for thirty seconds, marry him.”  NOTE: It’s still good advice.

National Geographic magazine did more for modern underwear makers, than any advertising agency on Madison Avenue ever thought of—ever.

Women in the 1970’s burned their bras to protest the repressive 1950’s when Madison Avenue had decided women’s breasts should be shaped like nuclear missile silos.

Then something called “Cooper’s Droop” was discovered. Women put their bras back on in the 1980’s and invented Victoria’s Secret.

The secret was that Victoria was a hooker.

Breastfeeding threats are the best threats on earth to control older children. When my kids gave me a hard time about pulling the plug on leaving the park, the swimming pool, or the Little League Field, I would simply shout, “Come get in this van in three minutes, or I will tell everyone at this park/pool/field that I breastfed you and for how long.”  Enough said.

When I got married I was still wearing a training bra.  No joke. It was true love on my husband’s part.

Once you get them trained, they’re kind of fun, because being a girl is fun.

Nothing has changed. GQ magazine this month, a men’s magazine for men, has a picture of a topless girl wearing a flower lei over her boobs—sort of. Men are dopey.

Feminists would have us believe that there is no biological difference between boys and girls. No seriously, I had a college professor tell me that. “If girls were treated like boys they’d be big and strong too.” I noticed that Dr. Kooper was wearing a bra, and I was pretty sure I could take her in an arm wrestling contest.

Boys of all ages find girl stuff fascinating or as my grandson Conner asked me one fine day, “YaYa, why you got so many booby bras?” Or as my daughter (mother of four boys and one future bra wearer) said, “Oh no, I don’t go anywhere near the underwear aisle of the store, or all four of them will run through the bra section, fondling the merchandise, yelling, ‘Booby bras, booby bras,’ at the top of their lungs.”

Therefore we can conclude, who the heck knows? But as a friend of mine remarked,  “Burn my bra? Bras are expensive.”  I know, right?

Linda (Hang Ten) Zern


  








     




Thursday, August 7, 2014

HOBBY MOWING - CELEBRATE SUMMER



It’s called hobby farming, and it’s a lot like hobby boating or hobby mountain climbing—money goes in but not much money comes out. We are hobby farmers. My husband is Lord of the hobby farm. I am a hobby farmer’s wife. 

He has a “real” job. I’m not sure what he does, but it involves gluing a lot of receipts to pieces of paper. He also travels. On the weekends, he rides his horse and practices finding dead people in the woods. It’s a volunteer posse thing.

If you’ve been a long time reader than you know that I have a tarnished reputation for being something of an unreliable farmhand. While I do a lot of farm chores, I often have bad luck—mostly while mowing.

On our first John Deere lawn tractor, I managed to pull a faucet right off the barn, jam the mower blade through a pine tree root, wrap a doormat around the deck, hit a dead bird carcass, catch the pulley’s on fire, hit a stump and bruise my liver, and run over the Comcast cable. (Please be advised this is not a complete list.)

My luck got so bad that we had to purchase a brand new John Deere lawn tractor (bigger, better, more.) It’s way cool. Or it was until I ran it into a stump with sticks that jammed into the grill of the lawnmower. Because of my bad luck, I had no idea that I was jammed. When I innocently backed up, still jammed, I ripped the lawnmower hood clean off. Bad luck.

My husband, the hobby farmer, does not believe that I have bad luck. He thinks that I am a menace to his wallet—also cursed—by gypsies.

I may be cursed, but he has a death wish.

My husband has never done a single farm chore without smashing, bashing, crushing, slicing, mangling, dislocating, or squashing one or more of his fingers. He often requires stitches. While loading field fence at Tractor Supply he jabbed wire into the soft bits between his fingers. It required six sutures.

He showed me the gaping hole and said, “What do you think? Will a butterfly bandage do it?”

“What’s the rule?” I asked patiently.

“If you can see fat, tendons, ligaments or internal organs it needs stitches.”

“Excellent.” I patted him on the head. “Hey, do you mind if I don’t go with you to the emergency room today. I’m really backed up on the mowing?”

When he got back from the emergency room he started in on the hedges with our brand new electric hedge trimmer and a hundred foot extension cord. He trimmed the hedges beautifully—also the extension cord. He trimmed that right down the middle. It’s the second one he’s chopped in half.

I observed, “Are you trying to electrocute yourself? Or are you trying to pioneer a poor man’s taser?”

“Since you’re going to Walmart, can you pick up another extension cord? Why are you going to Walmart anyway?”

“Duct tape, to tape the hood back on the lawnmower.”

“Right,” he said, pausing. “Get two, three rolls.”

“Right.”

Because in the end, there isn’t much that can’t be fixed with duct tape, including bad luck and double negatives.

Linda (Mow Hard, Mow Fast) Zern 


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Throwing Down






Understanding the eternal unrest in the Middle East has always been a challenge for me, until this weekend. I have seen for myself how the world can spiral out of control as quick as a monkey can fling poo. And I’m only sort of kidding.

First of all, there were a few superficial similarities between our family beach vacation dust-up and the kettle of fish that is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: both have a lot of sand and both occur in a confined space. Sure. Sure. The Israeli/Palestinian kettle of fish is as old as sand, and the entire world teeters in the balance at its outcome, and our “dust-up” was just kind of goofy. Still, there are lessons to be learned . . . lessons to be learned.

The Set-Up: Zoe (10) and Sadie (5) played happily on the balcony of our room overlooking the Hilton hotel pool. The air was salty. The ocean foamy. The girls were probably playing mermaids who ride unicorns or unicorns that wish they were mermaids who ride unicorns.

The Others: Below a family—mommy, baby, various other sorts—lounged by the pool, smoked by the pool, scratched various body parts by the pool. 

The Provocation: From high above, out of the fine Florida sky ice fell—hotel ice, chunks of manmade and unnatural hotel ice—bouncing next to the baby and causing an inter-hotel incident.

The First Salvo: Looking up, the baby’s mother saw the mermaid balcony girls prancing about, jumped to conclusions, aimed her verbal missiles at the two girls, and let fly. Those girls threw that ice and tried to hit her baby. She KNEW it.

The Escalation: Zoe, pale as a unicorn’s horn, fell into hysterics and terror. “That lady thinks we tried to hurt her baby. She’s going to call the police. She yelled at us. We didn’t do anything. Arrrrrrggggg.” Tears poured. Hysteria clamped sharp claws around her heart.

The United Nations Tie-In: Zoe’s mother and grandmother closely question the balcony girls, examine the evidence, and stare down at the pool loungers with varying degrees of evil eye. The loungers grab up a hotel official, count off the room where they assume the ice chuckers dwell and sic security on room # 803, registered to grandfather Sherwood Zern and tribe.

Rising Tensions: Grandfather watching beloved granddaughter fall into tiny, shredded pieces stormed from the room declaring, “I’m going down to talk to those Philistines.”

The Peace Talks: In the elevator, grandfather, going down, ran into hotel official, coming up, and talks ensued.

Meanwhile: Anger and frustration grew as evidenced by the balcony grandmother yelling, “Children prepare to fling poo.”

Double Meanwhile: The pool loungers below scowled up, pointed at, and gestured towards the balcony dwellers, preparing to fling poo of their own.

The Truth of It: While the mother and grandmother debated raiding the mini-bar for teeny-tiny bottles of alcohol to make teeny-tiny Molotov-cocktails, the true and actual ice-chucking culprits (the Hamas family) one floor up and directly above, dumped a bucket of water on the balcony dwellers of room #803 below.

The Irony: The pool loungers did not witness the stealth attack and continued to blame the mermaid girls and their unicorn family high on the balcony above.

And then we went to lunch at McDonalds.

A couple of lessons learned: hotel ice melts before you can dust for fingerprints; people are sure they are right; ice water is cold; misunderstandings are rampant; escalating a conflict is easy; McDonalds serves gross food that resembles poo; Zoe and Sadie didn’t do it.

Linda (General Molotov) Zern 


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