If you ever see a chicken riding a bus, she used to live here.

Life was lacking chaos, noise, excitement and poop, so we did what any normal, self-respecting American family of 9 would do; we went out and bought 14 chickens. They started as small, fluffy chicks in the garage and over the last year we have grown them into quite a brood of feisty, squawking hens. They reside in our backyard and sleep in a coop that was more skillfully designed than my first car.

The kids dearly love the chickens and consider them to be “pets.” I do not consider them to be pets, because in my mind, pets are creatures that are kept around for the sheer enjoyment of cleaning up feces off the lawn and vacuuming fur off the carpet. These chickens are only around because they do two things very well: they create an abundance of food by laying fresh eggs each day, and they bother neighborhood dogs we don’t like. It’s a win-win.

Not only has this small flock provided food for us, they have also served to provide a more than adequate amount of entertainment. This has saved us at least five whole dollars at the local REDBOX. In lieu of renting what could be a riveting movie with an exceptional plot, we stand and stare out the kitchen window and vote on which chicken will be the first hen to go sailing down the slide after being carried up the play structure by a preschooler.

Particularly amusing, is the way our seven-year-old daughter has adopted a certain chicken named “Squirt.” Squirt is her friend. Squirt, she says, loves her. But Squirt, I believe, would quickly pack a suitcase and hop on the nearest Greyhound to Cincinnati if given the chance.

“What are you doing with that chicken?” I have hollered out my kitchen window more than once at my dear, petite daughter.

“Squirt wants a ride in the wagon,” she yells. Of course she does. What feathered fowl wouldn’t want to be hauled at light-speed around the yard in a red plastic apparatus on wheels.

Day after day, I’ve watched this gold-headed Ameraucana endure humiliating circumstances while other hens look on, snickering and pointing.

Poor Squirt.

My daughter heads toward her and she doesn’t even run away anymore; she just stands there in disgust, giving the stink-eye and glaring with a loathsome expression that clearly says “What’s the use.”

One day I looked out the window in time to see the hen and her “keeper” walking around the yard together. Unsurprisingly, Squirt wore a makeshift leash around her midsection and my daughter was happily walking her across the yard like one would walk a small puppy. The other hens gossiped, sneered and drank tea while poor Squirt performed like a trained monkey in what could be known as the worst chicken circus ever.

Like people, chickens have individual personalities. Some are quiet and gentle, others are loud and some are downright mean. We have one obnoxious hen who’s always screeching loudly about one injustice or another. She likely honed her protesting skills after watching CNN reports of various Occupiers and has taken to painting picket signs that read “I am the 99%” in really poor handwriting (or chicken scratches- if you will). At this point, I am 99% sure that she will be the first one to end up as soup, should the need arise.

Several times a day I say to one of my teens, “Go tell that chicken to SHUT UP.”  So far, she’s refused to give up her crusade against the misdeed of being forced to use one of the empty nesting boxes and is still demonstrating daily against the unfairness of someone else sitting on her egg, or using her spot on the perch. As a result, we’ve investigated several DIY chicken nugget videos that look absolutely golden and delicious.

No matter how irritated I’ve gotten, the children are delighted with the chickens, purely because of the unpredictability they bring.

One day, after leaving the sliding glass door open, one of the walking poultry bags sauntered right into the house. The kids screamed with delight and accidentally chased the Brown Leghorn into the kitchen where she flew wildly around looking for an exit. Her dirty feathers and muddy feet thrashed about in my previously sterilized kitchen while she searched for a safe place to land.

The children, (totally thrilled with a live chicken flapping and cawing in the house), ran in circles after her until she flew up on the counter and found what she thought was the safest place to be.

It just so happens that she decided to land on top of a large, open waffle iron.

Not being from the south, I’m not accustomed to eating chicken and waffles together, much to the relief of Mrs. Fluffington, (I’m sure), who is now back safely with her bridge club, telling tales and spinning yarns inside their luxury coop.

Truth be told, we don’t have plans to eat any of the chickens, especially the beloved carnival performer, Squirt. But if any of them decide to land on top of the BBQ grill, all bets are off.

Especially if that chicken is holding a protest sign.

 

 

 

 

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Gardens aren’t for pansies.

Each year I look forward to spring so I can try my hand at screwing up another garden. Experts say that gardening can relieve stress and help us feel more productive. All it does for me is keep the children outside longer so they aren’t creating more clutter.

If awards were handed out for effort, I might earn a trophy. Or perhaps I could win for being the pathetic sap who keeps on trying. Despite my valiant efforts in horticulture, nothing ever seems to take root… except my disappointment.

I’m not new to gardening attempts. I’ve been steadily failing at this for years. If Post-Apocalyptic Gardening ever becomes my family’s sole chance of survival, we will all be knee deep in troubled waters.

I’ve been accused of various things in my life, but having a “green thumb” isn’t one of them. Nah. I have lethal Thumbs of Death.

Just so nobody can accuse me of being a quitter, every winter I pour over gardening websites and Youtube videos trying to unlock the secrets to victorious vegetable growing, all to no avail. Nothing can hold me back and I still try my Death Thumbs at gardening, again and again. This form of persistence is either very noble, or incredibly stupid based on the consistent end results of my craptastic “we-will-starve-to-death-in-the-apocalypse” garden.

This year we’ve gone a bit further and the kids have gotten involved too. “I’m going to water the plants,” they yell and off they trek to dump a gallon of muddy water on a single pepper shoot while neglecting eight other plants entirely.

None of my efforts have been successful and the kids are losing patience.

“Why can’t we eat this now?” the kids will ask as soon as they see a cherry tomato the size of a pea. “Why is this taking soooo long? Where are all the strawberries you said would grow?” These perfectly valid questions are followed by exasperated whining. “Why did we even start this garden if it doesn’t actually make any FOOD?” 

Why indeed.

By all means, I should have all of this plant-growing-stuff figured out by now. One by one, I’ve procured crucial gardening essentials: hoses, watering cans, gloves, raised beds, rakes, shovels, compost, mulch, horse manure, horseradish, horseshoes, and a charley horse. I have acquired everything except actual talent, which is apparently one more thing I can’t grow.

One year I was able to raise a billion and a half tomatoes. They never turned red. Another year powdery mildew rotted out all my zucchini and squash plants. Abusive squirrels and fat gluttonous insects chomped and burped as they devoured the tender leaves of my kale and lettuce starts. My seedlings fast became fodder for ravenous crows and demon-possessed chipmunks. I sighed and muttered “Maybe next year.” 

And here we are again.

Day after day, I have watered and tended my little sprouts while all of nature has perched on nearby tree branches, sniggering and sneering at my fruitless efforts. Furry woodland creatures have laughed and hurled out taunting animal swears. Snails have been throwing keggers and fraternity hazings on my raised beds.

In exasperation and anger, I plucked several snails off my dead leaves and squashed them under my feet. “Noooooo” the kids cried, “Mom just killed TURBO! She squashed TURBO! ” This was followed by shrieks, wails and catastrophic sobbing from my preschool crowd.

Look, Skippy, your slimy “friend” is the reason we won’t have food if zombies come.

The gardening efforts for this season are already forecasted as a total FAIL. At this point, all I can do is hope my children learn something from watching my repeated efforts. Perhaps they can learn perseverance. Perhaps they can learn patience. Or maybe all they’ll learn is that the definition of “insanity” means doing something over and over and expecting a different result.

You’re welcome to join us for dinner, but don’t expect lovely home-grown vegetables to grace the table around here.

All we can grow is clutter.

The day we brought a circus to Ikea

Every two years we load up the van, hit the road and trek an hour away to our closest Ikea store. We do this for two reasons:

Number one, we can only afford to shop there every other year because it’s easy to drop $800 in one shot. Two, it’s not exactly a quick trip to get there, especially with loading and unloading a family of nine. Three, (I lied, there are actually three reasons) every other year “Crap Fairy” runs out of crap to haul out to the dumpster in the dead of night, so we head down to buy more cheap junk. This keeps Crap Fairy in business, and in this economy, I believe I deserve credit from Obama for creating jobs.

But this year we had an entirely different motivation. We needed mattresses.

After the recent bout of flu that hit us, it was the final push to purge the crummy mattresses we owned and replace them with new ones. This wasn’t hard to do, since the mattresses my kids have been using were hand-me-downs and over the years have encountered multiple nighttime accidents, various blood and guts and recently, several gallons of vomit.

We also needed another bunk-bed for the two youngest boys who are moving out of babyhood and into big-boy-beds.

So with all those reasons, Crap Fairy wrote a list of future crap she wanted to toss out and we headed south.

We unloaded the family and spent 20 minutes schlepping children on and off the public toilets and scrubbing everyone’s hands to death with soapy water. Then we lined everyone up at the starting gates. Arriving a bit early, we were roped into a small space among several European bedroom displays, along with 36 other people who were waiting for the store to officially open. We stood with our three shopping carts full of miniature humans, plus one stroller, while 72 eyeballs sneakily stared at us. Everyone stood quietly. Which was perfect, because our 12 year old daughter (who happened to be manning the stroller) took those quiet moments to loudly say things like “Oooh, that bedroom is soooo prettyyyyy! And clean! Oh, wow! Ohhhh! Look over there at that room, mom. It’s sooooo clean,” because apparently she’s never seen a clean, well designed room of any sort in all twelve years of her life.

She was nearly giddy- “Dad, LOOK at that bedroom! Wouldn’t you like a bedroom just like that? Imagine if you had NO KIDS! If you had NO KIDS you and mom would actually have a reaaaally nice house. Just imagine, Mom, you could relax in a beautiful bedroom and all your stuff would be super nice and organized. You and dad would be totally alone!  Nobody would ever bother you!” – which was followed by a few choking-coughs and quiet guffaws from fellow sardines packed in next to us.

Because who doesn’t love hearing the oldest daughter of seven asking her bedraggled parents to imagine life with no kids.

Finally the Angel of Mercy came and opened the small yellow chain that held back the Ikea cattle/shoppers and let us onto the store path.

Our first stop was MATTRESSES, where each child became permeated with desire to try out every single bed in sight. But I forbade them to leave their respective carts or strollers and they sat there hollering out pre-school curse words over the injustice.

Mr. Diaz wasn’t entirely convinced about the comfort of the thin Ikea bunk-bed mattresses, so he took it upon himself to remove mattresses from the display beds, throw them on the middle of the floor and force each of the older children to lay on them. Which wasn’t Red-nex-ican at all. Nah. It was entirely classy, and nobody stared at us while pointing and snickering. And if you can believe that, I have a Red-nex-ican bridge to sell you.

Eventually we strolled our loud, mobile carnival over to the Ikea cafeteria where we gave the overworked college student behind the prison buffet glass quite a shock when we announced we’d be needing 7 FREE Swedish-meatball-meals, plus two regular ones. Kids eat free on Tuesdays, which almost makes up for the $800 we spend on knick-knacks and gasoline, and we are certainly going to take advantage of those 2,450 FREE calories.

A lady with just one baby tried not to gawk as we seated our family around a jumbo cafeteria table. I caught her sneak-staring at us, and I’m fairly certain she pretended to text with her phone while actually taking photos of us. Right off I noticed she was well put-together; with make-up done nicely, a cute outfit, stylish hair cut and ONE sweet baby who was dressed immaculately. I’ve been there. Back when I only had one child to manage. Back when I only had one child to manage and the very thought of having more than one cherub was enough to make me sweat blood. I’m sure we were more than mildly amusing, and I figure all the attention is just preparing us for our future reality TV show. I would have offered to sign an autograph but I was too busy wiping small faces and trying to convince several young boys that free meatballs aren’t billiard balls and that forks aren’t pool cues.

Fifty-six minutes and half a mile later, it was on to the warehouse portion of the store where you collect all the larger items you wish to purchase. We stacked up six mattresses, a disassembled metal bunk-bed frame and various other things onto a flat dolly cart that nobody seemed able to manage. This is the exact same cart that the petite seven year old insisted she could push on her own, with zero interference. “It’s not workinggggg,” she whined loudly down the aisle, “I can’t control the wheeeeeeels. The front keeps spinning. NO, GO AWAY! DON’T HELP ME! I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” I caught the astonished looks of passerbys as we maneuvered our (now very loud) family of nine  -complete with 5 overloaded contraptions on wheels- through the remainder of the store, in and out of the check-out desk and off toward the loading zone.

Of course, as luck would have it, we strolled past a “last chance” food stand where Ikea expertly markets ice cream cones to weary parents and screaming pre-schoolers. This cruel marketing ploy meant we had to buy 8 soft serve ice-cream cones just to get out of the store. One man stopped mid-lick of his cone and stared at us as we passed through the exit doors. I’d like to think it was because we are just so sweet and good looking. But my better sense tells me that it was because one kid was flop-tantruming over the side of the cart while wailing at the top of his lungs. He did the wailing flop because Mr. Diaz, realizing the 4 year old could never finish an entire ice cream cone before entering the van, bent over and devoured half of it in one fell swoop. Apparently, said 4 year old was scarred for life and now has a reason to see a therapist as an adult.

After skillfully packing all the new purchases and 9 people into our giant party wagon, we were off toward home while youngsters drowsily slipped into sugar comas; vanilla ice-cream drool drying on their chins like slug trails.

All said and done, we made it home with 6 bed mattresses, a bunk bed, 2 pop-out circus tents, a clock, 2 “road” play mats, several rolls of craft paper, batteries, dish rags, a large candle lantern, 3 wicker baskets, colored drinking straws, fluorescent plastic silverware, a green spatula and several chocolate milk stains.

I didn’t end up signing any autographs. (Unless, of course, you include the receipt I signed for an amount that could rival the commerce of a small nation.) And since I realize I’m not likely to get a reality TV show, I’d better just stick to keeping Crap Fairy employed, which is easier now that the kids are sleeping peacefully in brand new beds.

Crap fairy is on the move.

 

*This post has been featured on For Every Mom

 

 

Dear Santa, it’s too late to bring us trendy names, so please bring us some allergies.

Dear Santa,

My brother, Uncle Fun, got all the good stuff when we were growing up. He was the one that got the roller-blades, the bunk-bed,  and all the good allergies. Now, I’ll grant you this, food restrictions were simply not cool back in the 80’s, but they’re rip roaring trendy right now and I’m feeling a bit left out.

Not only do none of us have any riveting hipster names, like “Jansen” or “Ryker,” none of us here have any reason to read food labels. Having no food restrictions means we can’t claim, “I’m so sorry Aunt Myrtle, I can’t eat your Figgy Pudding because I’m allergic to figs,” at those horrific family get-togethers that require such atrocious pudding traditions.

You see, Santa, I believe some allergies could improve my friendships. Having severe allergies and near anaphylaxis has resulted in deeper relationships for Uncle Fun. Uncle Fun can tell who really cares about him based on how much epinephrine they store in their emergency kit at their homes, just in case he should happen to visit and accidentally pet a small Scandinavian pony standing in their dining room. By the time he was 25 years old, he had acquired a lineup 50 friends deep that claimed dibs on sticking him with an Epi-pen, should the need arise. Those are true friends right there, Santa, and those are the type of sacrificial relationships that I want too.

I’m only allergic to cats, which is rather boring and isn’t unfortunate enough to make me interesting. I’m just not trendy, and I feel a bit like an outcast. I feel entirely inadequate while meeting with other moms during play-dates or park rendezvous.

Discussing their childrens’ allergies, Amanda turns to Lauren and says “Stella is highly allergic to deep-sea-squid, shellfish, pine nuts, pine cones, pilot whales, airline pilots, bees wax, candle wax, ear wax, vanilla extract, felt, snowmen and anything the color of yellow.”

“I understand,”  Lauren replies “Atlas is allergic to anything containing the word “cheese,” any type of pickled radish, calcium citrate, all herbs, fresh fruit, spring water, toothpaste and anything pre-packaged in plastic.”

“I know what you mean,” Meghan responds, “Finley is solely a peskatarian now, and his father and I are gluten-free-Paleo-vegans.” 

The moms exchange looks of solidarity and I feel completely left out. Then I hand my kids CHEEZ-ITs and they quietly gasp, and exchange horrified glances they don’t think I can see.

My kids have been noticing the difference too. Just last week my seven year old came to me and explained the cake she wanted for her next birthday.

“I don’t want a plain old Betty Crocker cake this time,” she demanded. “I want what everyone else is getting. What I want is a gluten and dairy-free, vegan, non-soy gelatin,  formed into a cake-like shape with carob icing. I want faux gelatto made from organic, hypoallergenic Peruvian goat-milk, from goats raised free-range on a mountainside and fed exclusively with “fair-trade” acorn and hemp-flour pellets.” 

“Are you sure you want that?” I questioned her.

“Yes,” she whined, “I want it exactly like Crispin and Lavender had it, and don’t forget to decorate it with the dancing Narnian wood nymphs.”

So here we are. It appears I’m not the only one from my family trying to blend into mainstream society.

This year I’m asking for a bit of help, Santa. It may be too late to bring us vougish-mod names, but you could at least bring us some fashionable allergies and provide a reason for us to shop exclusively at Whole Foods. An extra Epi-pen or two would be nice for Uncle Fun if you happen to have some lying around somewhere.

Thanks Santa,

Sincerely, Mrs.Diaz and family

P.S. I’ll leave you some soy-free, vegan, hemp chips and a tall glass of coconut milk. I know you’re trying to blend too.