Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Sunday" haiku

Not my normal style, but I have been playing with the haiku form lately, just for fun.

©2014 William L. Steen

Storytime Sunday #6: The Parable of the Dying Chick

Parable of the Dying Chick

I own a flock of hens; eight to be exact. I don’t particularly like chickens, but I keep a few because like me they are scavengers. Along with their normal feed, they will gladly consume any leftovers I don’t claim first. Unlike me, they produce more than belly fat from those leftovers, so we enjoy a few fresh eggs.
Our children are all “city kids”, but a bit of residual agriculture runs through the veins of my wife and I. For all my many moves, I grew up mostly on or around farms in northeastern Washington State. My wife was raised on a small farm in southern Idaho, where her dad also worked as a state potato inspector.
The other day, I stopped by the local feed store to pick up a bag of chicken feed. My wife and 18 year old ‘citified’ daughter were with me at the time. It was spring, so as we entered the store it was alive with the peeping of baby chicks. While my wife was off checking on some items for one of her projects, my daughter and I wandered through the aisles looking at all the varieties of chicks on display.
As we were looking at the chicks, I pointed to one and said, “That one is dying.”
“Oooohh!” was my daughter’s sympathetic response. “Why is it dying?”
My intent was to supplement her urban education. I explained how fragile baby chicks were and how high the mortality rate could be; especially if they were not cared for carefully. I pointed out how the chick sat stationary against the side of the box. I told her it had either become sick, or more likely, injured during transport. Now it did not have the ability to fend off its fellows who were walking on it and curiously pecking at it. I wanted her to understand that the “Circle of Life” is more than a Disney song by Elton John and Tim Rice.
I don’t know why I expected to give this daughter any agricultural insight, when I had so completely failed with all her siblings. When we bought our house in a somewhat remote area of the city nearly 30 years ago, our nearest neighbors had a variety of farm fowl as well as a few rabbits and goats. I thought raising a few chickens and rabbits was a great way to supply some meat and eggs; supplementing my meager income.
I set to work building the needed chicken coop and rabbit hutches. We acquired the necessary livestock. I had heeded the call of the soil. I was excited to be a farmer again. I wanted my children to be excited too. I encouraged them to wander in and out of the animal pens like I had done as a child on the farm. They did. Of course after about a week, all the critters had names and were pets. Rabbits and chickens were carried around like dolls. When the children learned that I intended to kill and eat their pets, they were all appalled. They were never going to eat Fluffy, Pecky, or Trouble.
As you may have already guessed, no sharp blade has ever touched an animal on our place. Even worse, most of the beasts live well past their “sell by” dates. They enjoy a long life; very long life; extremely long life, where they eat me out of house and home and (aside from an occasional egg) never produce as single edible thing.

After looking at the assorted baby chicks, I bought my feed and carried it to the car. I deposited the sack on the back seat. When I turned, my wife and daughter were walking purposefully back into the store.
“Where are you going?” I asked (as if I didn’t already know.)
“We’re going to buy that baby chick!” was my daughter’s response. “I’m not going to leave it to die where it is being picked on. If it dies it is at least going to be loved.”
So that is how we got into the business of providing hospice for a baby chick. I went back into the store with them, fished the pathetic little critter out of the flock, and placed it into the provided transport container.
At the check out, the clerk looked in the container to determine the breed. Noticing something was wrong, she asked with concern, “Is this one okay?”
“No!” was my daughter’s terse reply, “That is why I am buying it.”
I’m sure that answer confused the poor clerk because she spent the next couple of minutes explaining the return policy. If any of the chicks expired within the first 24 hours, the store would happily provide a replacement free of charge.
At home the baby chick was provided with a warm light, a cozy nest, food, water, and lots and lots of attention. Over the next few hours I thought I noticed some significant improvement, but predictably the next morning it was dead.
That should have been the end of it, but my daughter has been raised by a psychological Scotsman. “Waste not, want not.” My daughter had no original intent, other than caring for the dying chick. After its predictable demise, her pragmatic thrift kicked in. “We already paid for it and bought the feed. We just as well get a replacement so we don’t waste our money.”
Of course, when they returned to pick up a new chick, my wife and daughter decided they should buy a second chick, so the replacement chick wouldn’t be lonely.
That is how I went to the store for chicken feed and ended up raising two extra chickens.
What is the legacy of that dying baby chick? I am confident that in less than 24 hours, it received more love and attention than the combined flock of little ‘peepers’, but what did that insignificant little ball of fluff do for others. Did its last 24 hours have any impact?
My daughter was able to display some of her latent compassion on the terminally ill chick. I may have a few eggs produced by the new infusion to my flock. Two chicks lucked out. Whether they produce eggs or not, they will never find themselves sitting beside the mashed potatoes at Sunday dinner. My grandchildren had the joy of watching two piles of peeping fluff endure their awkward (unruly feathers poking out everywhere) teenage stage and mature into respectable looking hens. My children and grandchildren gained some additional insight into their parent’s and grandparent’s agricultural roots as they learned a little about what it takes to care for chickens. Isn’t that quite a legacy for such a brief and insignificant life?
Moral: No life, however insignificant or brief is without influence. 

©2014 William L. Steen

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"The Last Kiss"

This was an entry for the “Fire and Ice” poetry contest.

©2014 William L. Steen

"Fire and Ice" Haiku

This was an entry for the “Fire and Ice” poetry contest. It is my first attempt at writing a haiku.

©2014 William L. Steen

"For the Birds"

For the Birds
I had hoped to see some blue jays,
A robin, or gold finch.
I was sure I’d see a cardinal;
A bluebird was a cinch.
I laid my seeds out carefully,
Then waited for some fun,
When a flock of nasty sparrows
Came and ate up every one.
©1998 William L. Steen

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"The Howling of My Heart"

The Howling of My Heart
I cannot sing without your touch.
I've known it from the start.
So stay nearby, lest all endure,
The howling of my heart.
I took this photo through the arches of a downtown railroad overpass to a portion of a mural painted on the far wall. When I saw the result, it so epitomized the anguish of loneliness and loss, the line, “the howling of my heart” just popped into my mind. Writing the rest of the poem was as easy as a root canal.
©2014 William L. Steen

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs"

Earlier this year I wrote a series of poems based on Aesop’s famous fables. We usually think of them as written for children since they are ‘fables’, but originally they were often intended as morality lessons for adults. My hope is that mine will entertain children and adults alike. This is a sample.

©2014 William L. Steen

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Storytime Sunday #5: Jack and Jill and the Bean Stalk

Jack and Jill and the Beanstalk
Jack and Jill were very poor. Their only source of income was one boney old milk cow. One day the cow quit giving milk. She had dried up and so had their income.

“Oh no,” moaned Jack, “we are going to starve!”

“Well,” said Jill, “this is the way things are now. What are we going to do about it?”

“Let’s eat the cow,” proposed Jack.

“Once the cow has been eaten,” suggested Jill, “we will starve. Let’s take the cow to market instead and sell her. We can then buy a little food and some seeds to plant. If we raise a garden we won’t starve.”

Jack agreed.

The next morning Jack took the cow to market. Well, you all know how the story goes. We may never know if Jack was a good horse trader, but we know that he was not a good cow trader for he arrived back that evening with only a small bag of “magic” beans. By the time he arrived home, Jack had a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Even he knew he had made a poor bargain.

“Well,” said Jill when she heard the news, “this is the way things are now. What are we going to do about it?”

“I’m hungry. Let’s eat the beans,” suggested Jack.

“Once the beans have been eaten,” Jill said, “we will starve. Let’s plant them instead and see if anything good comes of it.”

So they planted the beans and went to bed. Yes, you know the story. The next morning there was a giant beanstalk growing up through the clouds.

“Wow,” said Jack, “what great shade! I’ll bet my hammock will just reach from the corner of the house to the beanstalk.”

“There are certainly a lot of beans growing on it,” observed Jill. “At least we won’t starve.” 

“Yea,” admitted Jack reluctantly, “but I wish we had the cow back. I like steak better than beans.”

“Well,” murmured Jill gazing thoughtfully toward the top of the beanstalk, “this is the way things are now. What are we going to do about it?”

“I’m taking a nap in my hammock,” mumbled Jack around a mouthful of raw beans.

Jill, on the other hand, decided to investigate their only asset. She climbed the beanstalk. Yes, you are ahead of me again. She did find a castle belonging to a giant, a singing harp, and a hen that laid golden eggs. Before Jill could decide what to do with her discovery, the giant came home. Now for the sake of time, let’s skip all the “fee, fi, fo-ing” and cut right to the chase—well not much of a chase because the giant caught Jill in about 5 seconds flat!

“Well,” thought Jill as the giant flipped through his favorite Not for Vegetarian’s Cookbook, “this is the way things are now. What am I going to do about it?”

While the giant was looking for a good recipe, Jill seized her opportunity and changed careers. She became a talent agent. Talking fast, she convinced the giant that a 40 foot tall giant, a singing harp, and a hen that lays golden eggs are not every day sights. She pointed out that by going into show business and traveling with the circus they could both clean up. The Giant could eat anything he wanted (other than a stringy Jill) and Jill’s percentage as the Giant’s agent would insure that she wouldn't starve either.

That is exactly what they did.

Jill and the Giant traveled all over the country for many years performing with the circus. They even traveled to Europe three times. Jill’s percentage accumulated over time and she bought a nice vacation home in Sarasota. The Giant, harp, and hen bought a mondo-condo in Ft. Lauderdale. And they all lived happily ever after.

Oh that’s right, I forgot Jack.

Well, Jack lay in the hammock munching on beans and wishing he had the cow back until one day the beanstalk became so old and brittle that it fell over and crushed Jack’s house. He too, eventually took a job with the circus. It wasn’t quite as glamorous though—mainly because of the size of the elephants and how hard they are to housebreak.

But, this is the way thing are now. What are you going to do about it?
Moral: Circumstances seldom change themselves.
©2006 William L. Steen


Yesterday I made a joke about trying to decide between writing or weeding the garden. Someone suggested I do both. That is exactly what I did. As I weeded my garden, I wrote the following which explains why I needed to do both.

©2014 William L. Steen

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day!!

Several years ago, the children at church (with the encouragement of their mothers) decided to custom make some neckties for their fathers to wear on Father’s Day. A wide variety of less-than-fashionable neckwear was assembled. Some ties were rescued from the back of Dad’s closet. Some came from thrift stores or yard sales. Others were undoubtedly donated by vindictive mothers-in-law.
The ties were all assembled along with a wide variety of craft accessories a couple of weeks prior to the big day. The children set to work with artistic passion. The results were… well, you can probably imagine. An ‘acid’ flashback to the 60’s could not have rivaled the outcome.
On Father’s Day there was a significant test of courage. Some dads were found wanting, but most gritted their teeth and wore that coveted gift to church. 2005 went down in history as the most memorable (and never to be repeated) Father’s Day on record. It also inspired the poem below.

A Just-For-Father Tie

The definition of awful
Is known to every guy
Who's had to smile while knotting,
A "just-for-Father" tie.
That special plaid and paisley
In shades of orange and green,
Cannot be imagined
The horror must be seen!
And only love unbounded
Would wear a thing that vile,
To see the satisfaction in
That tiny little smile.
So on this coming Father's Day,
Prove you are a man.
Wear that "just-for-Father" tie.
Come on!  You know you can!
©2005 William Steen
A little “worse for wear”, but I still have mine!
©2014 William L. Steen

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Truth is Plain to See

The Truth is Plain to See
 The truth is really plain to see
To those who surely know.
One sided arguments decree
Exactly what is so.
But time has a way of showing
All flaws that lie within
Our unquestionably knowing
What is…or might have been.
Reporting from my perfect view,
Alas, I must confess,
That what I often “know” is true,
Is really just a guess.

©2014 William L. Steen

Monday, June 9, 2014


Many years ago I was tasked to give an opinion to a superior who was a couple of decades my senior. I studied the situation, analyzed the data, considered the options, and made my decision. As was expected of me, I made the case for my choice with great enthusiasm and in the strongest terms. When I finished my presentation I was quietly asked, “Is this want you think I should do?” to which I replied thus.

“It is my job to give you the very best advice I can based on the knowledge I have gathered and my experience. That is exactly what I have done. But I am quite certain that when I get to be your age, I will likely look back on this day and be embarrassed by what I have just recommended.”

The sagacity of my answer stemmed from times when I looked back at previously held certainties with a certain amount of mortification.

I have learned that no matter how carefully I study a problem or how convinced I am of the infallibility of my recommendations, my advice will rarely stand the test of time. Every season that passes has a way of adding golden reserves to our Fort Knox of experience. Time has a way of clarifying facts already thought clear and remolding opinions once thought chiseled in granite.

My old, fat Pappy used to say: “Son, free advice is usually worth what you paid for it.” As with so many things, he was right about that. I have also found that advice you pay for is, in time, often worth far less than you paid.

So, should you ignore all advice? No! Listen to advice. Take it into consideration as you think about your options. Make a decision, act upon it, and move on with your life. Chances are that in 20 years the choice you make will embarrass you! Chances are that in 20 years the choice you make will seem far less important than it does right now.

©2014 William L. Steen

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Storytime Sunday #4: The Parable of the French Bread

The Parable of the French Bread
I am the oldest of six children. I often tell people, “I was my father’s oldest son and my mother’s oldest daughter.” As a result, I was a fairly proficient cook even as a young man. Not long after returning from my service in the U.S. Army, I decided to improve my cooking skills by learning to bake bread. I didn’t want to make ordinary homemade bread like my mother and grandmother. I wanted to make something a little fancier. I decided to learn to bake French bread.
I gathered all my bread making ingredients and began mixing them together. I carefully followed the recipe. One step told me to dissolve the yeast in warm water. Being an impatient young man I thought, “If warm water is good, hot water will be better.

I mixed all the ingredients and set the loaves aside to rise. Nothing happened. I moved them close to the warm oven. Nothing happened.
Not to be defeated, I tried again. I carefully measured the ingredients—double checking myself at every step. I again dissolved the yeast. “If warm water is good, hot water will be better.” I again set the loaves near the warm oven to rise. Again nothing happened. Now I was frustrated.

Although I had watched my mother and grandmother bake bread all my life, I did not know that yeast is a living plant. I did not understand that warm water activated the rapid growth of the yeast resulting in some chemical reactions which produced the carbon dioxide necessary for the bread to rise and be light. Like most self-impressed young men, I thought myself a relative genius on most subjects, but I did not know that hot water would kill the yeast so no leavening could occur.

My mother managed the small general store a few block from where we lived in the small rural community of Marlin, Washington. I walked down the street to seek her advice. I told her I had very carefully followed the recipe and failed twice. She suggested that perhaps the yeast was too old. I purchased new yeast and more ingredients for the bread. I returned home and tried again. “If warm water is good, hot water will be better.” For the third time, my bread did not rise.
In frustration I went back to my mother’s store and told her that the yeast I had just purchased must also be bad. It was the only explanation. I had followed the recipe with the exactness of a scientist. I had failed three times. It must be bad yeast.
My mother then asked me if the water was warm enough when I dissolved the yeast. When I proudly told her that it wasn’t just warm, it had been hot, she started to laugh. It was then I learned yeast wasn’t just an inert ingredient. It was a living thing. Three times I had killed it before it could provide its leavening magic. My bread was flat because, while I had followed the recipe meticulously in most respects, I had failed to observe one seemingly unimportant detail.
Moral: It's better to assume ignorance than false knowledge.
©2014 William L. Steen

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Whistle in the Dark"

Life can be a bit daunting especially if you are in a strange place, lost, feeling alone, or facing a troubling decision. Many times those we live side-by-side with, or pass on the street daily, may be unaware of our dilemma or feelings. At times like these a random act of kindness, or an encouraging word or nod; a smile from a stranger, or a “Whistle in the Dark” may be all that is needed for our resolve to be restored and our courage to return. At other times, we should do some whistling.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Storytime Sunday #3: The Parable of the Black and Blue Bike

The Parable of the Black and Blue Bike
When I was six years old, my dad bought me my first bicycle. It was an old second hand model (or perhaps third or fourth hand). Someone had carefully painted it black with sky blue trim using a paint brush. My dad told me that before I learned to ride it, I too would be black and blue. He was right.

At that time we lived in a rented basement house on a small acreage next to a large irrigation canal outside of Sunnyside, Washington. You reached our house by turning off the gravel county road and driving a couple of hundred yards to our driveway down a single-lane dirt track on the edge of the canal bank.

My dad told me that the best way to learn to ride my bike would be to push it to the top of our short driveway and coast down. To be fair, Dad was only in his mid 20’s and had probably never taught anyone to ride a bike before. What he was suggesting was what he thought would work best. It might have worked for any number of other kids, but not for me. Every time I made the attempt to ride down our driveway, I crashed and burned. I was an absolute disaster as a wannabe bike rider. Eventually my dad’s limited patience was exhausted and he went into the house leaving me on my own.

Riding a bike was important to me. A bicycle was a kid’s passport to the world. The neighbor kids rode their bikes all over the country and had grand adventures. My short little legs couldn’t keep up, so adventures were denied me… unless I learned to ride that bike.

Time after time I pushed that bike up our driveway. Time after time I coasted down to disaster. I crashed into the fence, the parked car, the house, the pasture fence, and, of course, the ground—over and over. I had dirt and gravel embedded in my knees, elbows, palms of my hands, and other more delicate parts of my anatomy. I just couldn’t seem to get the knack of riding a bike.

At one point as I stood at the top of the driveway taking a well deserved breather before plummeting once again to certain disaster, I began thinking of why I was having difficulty. I determined that it was because I was unable to control my speed. The driveway was too steep and I was too inexperienced. I felt certain that if I could just find a level spot, I would be able to ride the bike.

There was only one level spot near my house. It was the narrow dirt road on the edge of the canal. I knew it was dangerous to ride there. I knew my parents would not approve. But I really wanted to ride that bike, so I decided to give it a try.

Now testing my new bike riding hypothesis on the dirt road had three possible outcomes. The first, and most desirable, was that I would be able to ride the bike. The second, and far less desirable, was that I would fall into the canal and drown. I was only six and couldn’t swim. The canal was deep and swift. Drowning was almost a certainty if I lost control of the bike and plunged into that murky ditch water. The third outcome, somewhere in the middle of the other two, was losing control and running off the road on the side opposite the canal. The downside there was a barbed wire fence and a thicket of wild roses.

So those were my options. Run to the house crying, scratched and bleeding from the roses; disappear inexplicably and have someone find my bloated little body stuck in a sluice gate next week; or ride that black and blue passport to adventure. Some might call it stupid, but back then I called it MOTIVATION.

I am writing this today because, fortunately, I experienced outcome #1. I rode the bike on my very first try. I started off a little shaky, but within a few minutes my confidence grew and I was a master. Even our driveway was no longer a challenge.

I had my dreamed of adventures. I rode my bike all over the country from that day on… although it was several years before I told my parents exactly where I learned to ride it.

Moral: Trying something different is often better than persistently doing what fails.
©2014 William L. SteenI wandered lonely as a cloud