Orion: A Constellation; A Memory Made; A Celestial Wonder With a Message for a Defective Man

When I woke up this morning it was still dark. I got the coffee going and woke up my kids. I stepped out the back door with my son with the dual intentions of feeding the dog and figuring out whether or not today was a short or long pants day (short pants were fine) and noticed that Orion was visible right over my garage.

I called for my daughters and, when they had stepped out and shut the back door (it was nearly dawn and the light from the laundry room was enough to blind us to the stars) I pointed out his belt and the four stars that insinuate his feet and hands. They couldn’t see it in its entirety. My middle child only saw his belt. I think they might have been having trouble connecting such unreachable dots. Either way, though, I was proud. It felt good to share something like that with them. I stood there staring at Orion long after they’d lost interest and I suddenly remembered that the North Star is part of one of the constellations. But which one? I simply cannot remember. Is it the bright star at the bottom of Orion that denotes his left foot? Or is it part of the Big Dipper?

Thinking about this took me back to basic training and all the times during our land navigation courses that I disappointed my Drill Sergeants (not to mention my Battle Buddies who trudged through the woods behind me in the exact wrong direction) to the point of nearly giving up on me. They never actually quit trying to teach me, but they were certainly frustrated that, hundreds of push-ups later, I still couldn’t sufficiently navigate my way out of an MRE bag when given a map, a compass and a block of instruction.

Then I thought about all the times in my civilian life when, trying to back-track some road-trip route, I swore up and down that I needed to go left when I actually should’ve gone right.  I don’t tend to give in to the fact that I’ve taken wrong turns, and, though suspicions are sneaking up on me, I continue making wrong turns until the web of wrong turns is so convoluted that I can’t even reverse the wrong turn route to get back to the first wrong turn I took. I’ve ended up turning around in so many private drives with no trespassing signs posted that I’m surprised my back bumper isn’t riddled with bird shot. I’m also surprised my wife has never actually thrown up all over the car. She gets car sick, especially when a twisty-turny route is combined with the stress of knowing she’s lost with an idiot who won’t admit he’s lost. She’s a real trooper. Thank God she didn’t know me in my Army days when my poor direction finding could’ve landed our necks under the blade of some radical’s machete. (They never gave me the map in a combat zone, by the way. I made it perfectly clear that doing so would mean certain death.)

As I thought about all these things this morning, staring up at the sky with my children chirping at the periphery of my hearing that we needed to go inside and eat breakfast, I realized I’m a defective man. I don’t have whatever it is they say men have that help them find directions. I don’t have a genetic compass, and for a moment I felt cheated. I mentally shook my fist at Orion for bringing on this realization.

We finally went inside to get ready for school and as my daughters ate granola bars and my son dumped peanuts from the jar to a bowl and back again for some reason, I realized, no matter what I may be missing in my own genes, I have my children. I have my wife. We have a house and food, jobs, cars, our vision and hearing and health. We have hope for the future and a contented complacency in the present.

I may be a defective man, I realized, but I’m perfectly OK with that. Thank you, Orion. Thank you for speaking to me simply by sitting in the morning sky. I mentally unshake my fist at you, you big celestial dude, you.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…step outside in the dark now and then and let the stars speak to you. You never know what they might say.

A don’t…forget what you do have when you’re bummed out by what you don’t have. What you do have is probably pretty great. You might just need to take a few quiet minutes to realize it.

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A Few Unconventional Ideas for the Home; I Bet They Won’t Work

I posted previously about the large pecan tree in my back yard. This tree is close enough to my house to cause some concern on windy days and my wife and I have spent many an afternoon watching the kids play and discussing how much of the house we would lose should the tree topple in the right direction. My dire prediction is that we would lose most of the house. She disagrees, but I think she might be in denial. The tree is huge, the house small. I think she’d compromise and agree that we could lose perhaps 40%. I don’t have a huge problem with it since the majority of our loss would be the kitchen (which I nearly burned down making Halloween decorations. I owe my family a new countertop and some flooring.) and the laundry room. These could stand to be rebuilt and the likelihood of anyone being in these rooms during a massive windstorm is fairly low.

These facts are of no comfort to my wife, however. She prefers that none of our house be demolished by trees. Perhaps she is the sane one. Perhaps…

With her in mind, though, I have begun to design in my head a novel defense. Solar powered roof top wood chippers. Actually, make them wind powered. That way they run without the need to turn them on with very little notice and they won’t be causing a cacophonous crescendo simply because it’s daytime. And trees could fall at night. I’m convinced. Wind is the way to go.

There’s a lot more science to be considered, positioning, weight, strength of roof, attachments, how to get them up there, maintenance, legality of such a device, etc., but I feel the underlying idea is sound.

Again, my wife disagrees, but keep in mind she is also not a fan of my plan to develop miniature smart missile batteries to shoot down stray drones that wander into the restricted airspace around my house. The local airport might not respect the fact that I’ve deemed the air above my property a no fly zone, but at least I could keep some kids’ toy with a streaming hd camera attached from looking through my windows.

Now if only I could convince the woman I love that it is ok to fire tiny warheads within the city limits…and do the science of developing said warheads…and procure the materials…and have nothing to do but sit and wait for someone to fly a drone into my yard which has never, to my knowledge, happened.

Again, perhaps she is the sane one…

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu… think me nuts if you must, but consider this; If my house is destroyed through no fault of my own it is not insane to appreciate the opportunity to rebuild.

A don’t…contact any watchdog organizations. I have no plans to develop tiny warheads. I’m simply a guy with an imagination. I just happen to enjoy imagining mini mushroom clouds and tiny heat seeking missiles zooming around. I’m also not a scientist and couldn’t make this a reality even if I actually wanted to. Also, I’m broke. No worries.

Pecan Pie…Or Not; A Natural Disappointment

There’s a dream tree in my back yard. The tree was bare when we moved into our house last fall, but as soon as the leaves started budding this spring I started day dreaming about the pecan pies my wife would (hopefully) bake this fall with the bounty of our back yard dream tree. My wife makes the best pecan pie I’ve ever tasted. It rivals even Amish recipes, of which I’ve tried several, and found they all pale next to hers. I’m convinced that she has been divinely touched to make a pie that could beat the offerings of such a very devout and down-to-earth, tradition rich folk.

I was convinced of that until this year, anyway. Maybe it isn’t her, though. Perhaps I am the one who is cursed. After all, she could still make the pie…if she had the pecans, that is. Let me explain:

Just a few short weeks ago the tree was so heavy with pecans that I couldn’t walk under it without leaves brushing the top of my head. I’d feel the tickles on my scalp and the top of my ears and think about everything they meant. The branches are heavy with nuts. They’ll soon be ripe. They are hanging so low that I’ll barely have to work to get them! Then, one fateful day, I was in my garden checking on my ghost peppers, tomatoes and pumpkins. I heard a chittering sound and something that certainly wasn’t a leaf hit me on the head.

I thought perhaps a bird had made me its bathroom, but no such luck. I patted my head and, my when my hand came away unbefouled, I looked up at the tree just in time to catch a bit of the green covering that encases pecans in my eye. For the next few days every trip to the garden was an adventure as a squad of special forces squirrels scampered around the upper branches of my tree, dropping natural bombs on me and screeching at me when I threw the projectiles back into the foliage. I even released my hounds in the hopes that their size would be enough to scare the thieves off, but alas, my baying hounds were reduced to whimpering scaredy dogs at the hands of these efficient intruders.

And so, out of options, I resigned myself to losing my pecans. The squirrel squad stayed in the upper branches, audible but barely visible, so I allowed myself to believe they’d leave the lower ones for me. Or perhaps not even notice them. No such luck though. I had about three weeks to keep dreaming pecan pie dreams, but this morning I stepped out and immediately noticed that the branches were hanging much higher than they had been.

Not a pecan to be found. And the surreptitious squirrels had also vanished. Where is the love? If they were going to steal my pie fixings the least they could do would be to stick around so I could watch them chase each other around the tree trunk. I got the message. I’m a pecan tree haver to them. Nothing more and nothing less. I guess it’s ok though. I can stand to lose some weight anyway and from what I understand they’ll need to gain some for the winter.

Maybe it’s a symbiosis after all.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…appreciate your animal neighbors, even if they seem nefarious at times.

A don’t…bother making room for skunks. There’s no benefit at all to be had from them.

The Haunted Garden

I see them sometimes through the kitchen window. A flash of green when the wind blows just right or a glimpse of brilliant red-orange as the setting sun catches one off guard. They are odd, for ghosts. Whereas most ghosts are described as cold to the touch these are quite oppositely hot. And, as I learned the other day, they are mostly benign until you work up the courage to disturb them.

I encouraged the haunting on purpose. I literally cultivated it. I waited patiently through the long summer watching them mature through their otherworldly stages of pale yellow-green to a deep, verdant green to orange and finally, two days ago, one exuded the most shockingly vibrant shade of red I’ve ever seen. It was still a bit green at the tip so I begrudgingly gave it an extra day.

That night my dreams were haunted by the ghost of what could’ve been. I could’ve made salsa that day. I’ve been dreaming of making salsa ever since I first set out my onions and hardened off my tomato plants. These ghosts I grew were the last bit I needed to satisfy my hunger for a fresh, homegrown sauce with a luscious kick. I tossed and turned and hoped and, finally, slept a time-killing sleep.

A noble virtue is patience, usually, however this time it did not reward me. When I went out yesterday to pick the first ripe pepper of the season I saw that I had been beaten to the fruit by some sort of burrowing bug.  I pronounced many curses upon it and, out of spite, picked the pepper to deprive the pest of further enjoyment. I found an untouched bit near the stem and defiantly tore it away. I touched my tongue to the juice on the ragged edge of the tear…

…And quickly realized that the curses I placed upon the bug were moot. That creature had cursed itself and I had now also fallen victim to the curse of  Bhut Jolokia. I pronounced, then, many counter curses to no avail. I hacked and spat and struggled to breath. My pores wept. My every breath haunted my tongue as the air supplied the ghost new fuel with which to burn. I tried many things to exorcise it. I tried to breath through my nose. Thanks to the curse of seasonal allergies, though, the nose that had been plugged as if with a cork mere moments before was now draining like a bottle of champagne after the cork has been popped. I gnawed on bread and guzzled the holy water of the pepper world, whole milk. All for naught.

Upon my eventual recovery I counted the peppers I had left. Nearly thirty. Thirty ghosts hanging silently, eerily upon the plant. The very sight was terrifying. Perhaps they’d make good Halloween décor, I supposed. I could hang them under a sign that says BOO! Anyone familiar with these particular ghosts would run screaming at the sight.

In the end, though, I know what will happen. I’ll harvest them. I’ll make salsa. I’ll eat it. I’ll share it with friends. And enemies. I’ll suffer. I’ll scream. I’ll counter curse and exorcise.

I’ll do it all again next year. I’ve read a lot about the benefits of peppers. Whether it is true or not the fun of spice is, to me, as fun as being horrified. I’ve spent many a sleepless night haunted by movies or books or stories told by friends. And though I’m regretful in the morning it isn’t long before I again crave the novelty of terror.

My haunted garden is scary. But amongst its benefits are the destruction of monotony and the opportunity to try to “beat” a fearful pepper.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…face your fears. Even if takes a lifetime to beat them, you’ll learn something about yourself every time.

A don’t…forget the importance of a little spice, in your cooking specifically and life in general.

P.S…a don’t…think that the cheesiness and cliché of the last few lines is lost on my. This has been a traumatic re-telling and my brain has become fearful of going deeper on the subject.

Living Jack-O-Lanterns; In Answer to Why I Say Why Not.

The picture above is of a budding pumpkin. It is the first to have appeared in my garden and is of a variety that boasts the ability to grow to upwards of half a ton if properly cultivated. I don’t hold any misconceptions about my first attempt being successful at growing it to maximum size, but my research shows that this variety of pumpkin consistently produces fruits that weigh a few hundred pounds. If I can successfully grow just an average pumpkin of this variety, which I now realize I haven’t mentioned is called Dill’s Atlantic Giant, it should be sufficient to satisfy my goals.

Goal one is to make a living Jack-O-Lantern. I’ll hollow it, carve it, coat the inside with something to control the slime factor, then place my kids inside with flashlights. Not only will I have the first ever (as far as I’m aware, anyway) living Jack-O-Lantern with the potential for responsive lighting, I’ll also have the first Jack-O-Lantern that I know of with intuitive sound effects. I think that the kids will enjoy this greatly. They can pop out and scare people and just have a generally entertaining Halloween experience.

Goal two is to figure out what to do with the pumpkin shell after the holiday. I need an idea that doesn’t involve carrying it anywhere. So far I’ve entertained a few ideas for using it as a planter. I could either coat it with some sort of resin and attempt to make a permanent pot or just fill it with dirt and let it serve as a planter that will also provide some food to the plant I plant in it as it rots away.

Perhaps, if my neighbors don’t begin to complain, I can turn it into some sort of time lapse art project. Or it could serve as a combination bird bath/street side urinal for the homeless. This is the least desirable of all, so I hope one of the other ideas will work.

I likely wont have to worry about any of this at all because my green thumb is more brown with a greenish tinge.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…try new things even if you expect only very limited success.

A don’t…pee in my pumpkin if I am somehow successful.

Guard Mastiffs; A Paradox

We recently bought a small sign that hangs on our front door. It says “Guard Mastiff On Duty” and has a depiction of an English Mastiff’s face on it. It makes me laugh every time I see it. While the sign (and Stella’s bark) might be effective if anyone who isn’t familiar with Mastiffs tries to rob us, any future felon familiar with the breed wouldn’t be intimidated in the least.

My giant dog is a giant wimp. I’ve posted before about her lack coordination. Let me now explain how fearful the poor thing is.

We got her as an adult dog from a friend of mine whose fence is more fashionable than it is functional when it comes to containing dogs the size of farm animals, so I can’t speak for what may have happened in her puppy years that may have traumatized her. Our first indication that we had adopted a ‘fraidy dog came a few weeks after we brought her home. She had already sufficiently overcome the expected fear of a new place and new family. She was waiting comfortably on her bed in our laundry room when we came home from the store one day. I had seen a large cat in the backyard when we pulled in the drive and I was anxious to see if she would be willing to chase the thing away. Please note, it wasn’t cruelty that drove my curiosity. My wife is allergic to cats and while I’m not one to unnecessarily inconvenience animals I feel that the needs of a human being take precedence over those of an animal. That being said, I let Stella out the back door and stood close by, watching, just in case she took the job of clearing our yard too personally. I needn’t have worried. In addition to being afraid of cats, our Stella is less than observant. It was nearly a full minute before she even noticed the creature. When she did she let out a deep and intimidating woof. The cat didn’t even react. It just kept sniffing around the kids’ gardens. Stella stuck her tail straight out and stalked to within about ten feet of the cat and barked again. The cat turned around and a massive Mastiff turned around and ran so fast and so footloosely that she barely stopped before crashing head first into the garage. She barked again, weakly, and trotted back into the house, nearly knocking me over.

Her running past me through the doorway seems surprising now since if I want her to stay in the laundry room, usually because we are eating dinner and she is eye level with our plates and not shy at all about sharing our food whether we are feeling generous or not, all I have to do is prop a broom against the wall just inside the laundry room door. She is horrified to walk past it. She’ll stare at it and whine from the back of the room and the second I move it she bursts in like she owns the place.

Our first Christmas season with her was interesting. We had our tree up and once, after dropping the girls off at school I returned home with the precocious five year old boy. Stella greeted us at the door, and, wagging her tail ferociously, knocked several ornaments off the tree. My son had run toward the street and as I hollered at him to stop, the ornaments began to hit the floor. Stella startled and charged forward, knocking me on my back as I desperately grabbed at her collar. For several short eternities I lay on my back, clinging with all I had to the worn bit of cloth that was all that restrained a monster from running amuck as I screamed at the youngster I could no longer see to get back to the house before he was killed. Somehow it all turned out ok. I wonder what if the neighbors noticed the disasters nearly averted that day?

Despite her uselessness as a guard dog she is quite adorable sometimes. I’ll try to walk by her as she lays on her side on the floor and she’ll paw at my ankle, nearly tripping me because she wants to be petted. Other times she lays her head on my lap and I’ll scratch her shoulders. Once it relaxed her so much she leaned against the ottoman. It slid, she fell, quite entertaining. She opens the door with her face when we come home. As soon as we crack it wide enough a huge, wet nose pokes through and she’ll jaw the thing open and block our entry in her excitement to say hello.

Her endearing qualities scored her a supporting role in the children’s book I wrote. If you’re interested, or know a young reader who might be, you can find “How Sir Donkey Legs Became a Knight” in paperback or ebook format on Google, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and xlibris.com on their online bookstore. You can also connect with me on Facebook. I use the username William Ennis. Everyone is welcome. Know that a portion of all money I receive from sales of my book (soon to be books) will go to programs dedicated to the enrichment and strengthening of families.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…love dogs, or any pets, for their endearing qualities even if they fail in other areas.

A don’t…judge me for plugging my book. I won’t be offended if you call it a silly thing. Also a don’t…think I’ve forgotten that Schnauzer. He’s scheduled to appear in the third book of the Sir Donkey Legs series.

Backyard Wonders

My family and I moved into a new house almost a year ago.  The house itself is sufficient, if rather small.  But the backyard…it is huge and full of wonders! There are two small ponds in the back.  Cement man-made ones.  When we first looked at the place it was early August and the surface of one was covered in lily pads while the other had very tall and unusual flowers in it.  They had very large blossoms with bizarre seed pods in the center.  A bit of research revealed that they are lotuses.  I found this very exciting because of how exotic they are and, more nerdily, because it made me think of Dean Jones in The Lovebug and the Lotus Special he apparently crashed in a race.  I worried that perhaps the winter had killed them off, but about two weeks ago they started poking up through the lily pads and have since blossomed!  They are a beautiful flower and have an interesting scent that is not quite licorice but is highly reminiscent of it.

I find myself walking through the yard randomly just looking at things.  It isn’t because I’m senile.  Not as far as I know anyway, but there are always just strange things to notice.  For one, I’ve noticed that my apple and pear trees haven’t produced a single fruit yet.  Last year when looking at the house there were apples and pears everywhere. It has been a very hot, dry summer so maybe that is why.  Disappointing, but interesting.

Sometimes my backyard wanderings are unexpected.  I see something that leads me to something else.  I read an article about Tolkien and how no one would take walks with him because he would spend several minutes silently staring at every flower and tree he came across.  I fear I have the same problem.  I don’t fear the problem itself, I enjoy staring at trees and flowers, but I fear that others might think I’m crazy.  I suppose I shouldn’t care.  Anyway, during my absent-minded wandering, with my wife watching from the kitchen window googling the best convalescent homes even though I’m only 34, I noticed two cocoons.   I’m absolutely fascinated by them.

Soon I’ll post something about whatever comes out of the cocoons.  If I’m lucky enough to see them, that is.

Until then I bid you Adieu…and A don’t.

Adieu…stop and smell the roses, even though the sound of it is quite cliché.

A don’t…let anyone stop you from enjoying the nature around you with their judgmental stares.  Anyone who judges a nature lover for loving nature is too caught up in the electronic world and needs to Anti-Hollywood.