Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Microwaved Gummi Bears Formed Virgin Mary

How's that for an eye-catching title?

Actually, it's my entry in a six-word story contest at Jennsylvania, blog home of Jen Lancaster, author of Bitter is the New Black, Bright Lights Big Ass, My Fair Lazy, Such a Pretty Fat, Pretty in Plaid, and her new novel, If You Were Here. I have all of Jen's nonfiction/humor/memoir books, but I'm still on the fence about trying her novel.

If you would like to enter this contest, get on the stick! It ends at 9:00 a.m. CST April 1st.

My six-word story is actually nonfiction. Years ago, I offered one of my classes some gummi bears left over from a fundraiser. I felt obligated to buy something from my own kids, and then they up and declared that they didn't really like gummi bears all that much. So I took them to school as snacks for my students. The gummi bears, not the kids. That's crazy talk, offering young boys for cannibalization!

One of the students asked to put his gummi bears in my microwave, to alleviate the hardness. That's not a euphemism. The candy was stale, and he wanted it softened. I agreed, but only for ten seconds. He shook them out of the bag, onto a paper plate. The microwave dinged, and he sat down at his desk with his tasty treat.

I was reading out loud to them, my at-risk class, because they were loathe to read on their own valuable time, which was better used for trespassing on private property that they mistook for a haunted house, until the owner jumped out with a gun and called the police. They were chowing down on gummis, wrapping their brains around one of the Dive books, by Gordon Korman.

"I can't eat these. It's Mary, praying."

I motioned for the student to bring Mary to my desk. Indeed, I saw the resemblance. She was kneeling, a baby swaddled in her arms. After a short disagreement concerning the phone-picture-taking of The Virgin, the student returned to his seat, and I resumed reading. The entire episode is recounted here, on my super-secret other blog. It was not a favorable outcome for Mary.

Let's just say that I won't get rich by selling the gummi Virgin Mary on eBay.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Life of Medication Hasn't Hurt Me None

By popular demand (okay, one person requested to read this story in a comment a couple of posts ago), I bring you my ninth-place winner from the Dead of Winter Nonfiction Contest at The Write Helper. If nothing else, it will give a plethora of writers the opportunity to feel superior. Like the homely girl accompanying her friends on a trip to the mall, my writing will make others look good by comparison. I'm providing a service, actually. A big ol' syringe of self-esteem to be injected intraocularly. And now, without further ado, my entry.

My Life of Medication Hasn't Hurt Me None

When you come down with a rash due to an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, the doctor really doesn’t want to see you.  Or even give you an appointment.  So the only alternative is to drop in and show the receptionist your spots.

The woman behind the window stopped hacking away at her computer and looked at me over the top of her glasses.  I didn’t even have to tell her why I was there.  "Oh, my. I'll see what we have."  She told a pleasant little story about breaking out from a reaction to Cymbalta.  Then one of the nurses passing by chimed in to say that she, too, had a reaction to Cymbalta.  The last commercial I saw told me Cymbalta was an antidepressant.  Perhaps my doctor’s office was not such pleasant place to work.

The window lady asked me if I would mind seeing Julie, the nurse practitioner, at 11:15.  I looked at the clock.  The current time was 10:00 a.m.  "Sure.  What else am I going to do, looking like this?"

At 10:15, they called me back to the inner sanctum.  I knew better than to get excited. Ever since that time I waited until 6:00 to be seen for my 4:00 appointment, I have come prepared.  I brought a Reader’s Digest this time.  Because I have a thirst for knowledge.

A nurse who must have developed a tolerance to Cymbalta, judging from her smooth, non-rashy complexion, took my vitals.  I gave her the details of my Cefprozil dosage for a sinus infection.  I had been taking the Cefprozil as directed.  On the ninth day of the ten-day prescription, I broke out with the bumpy red rash.  The nurse had never heard of Cefprozil, so I gave her the bottle.  She disappeared into the labyrinth of exam rooms.

Around 10:30, the nurse practitioner poked her head in the door.  She looked like Dr. Susan Lewis from ER, only shorter, and with more than one facial expression.  She inquired, "Stella?"  I didn't know who Stella was, but I hoped she’d brought a Reader’s Digest.  An unannounced stranger in a white coat accompanied Julie.  They both stared.  At Stella, they presumed.

"Noooo...I'm Val.  With the rash."

Julie the Nurse Practitioner peered at me though her granny glasses, and said, "Ohh!"  She possessed quite the repertoire of emotions for someone so similar to stone-faced Dr. Susan Lewis.  In fact, her look of concern made me a bit nervous.  You would think I had a football-sized goiter on the side of my neck like the senior citizen Elaine volunteered to help on Seinfeld.  The one who dated Mohandas Gandhi.  The Mahatma.  I only had a bright red neck.  And forearms.  And shoulders and back, too, but I tried not to flaunt them to the public.  Julie took the white-coated woman she was towing and left, saying she'd be back in a few minutes.  Like I was going to believe that.

Several articles later, in the midst of Life in These United States, Julie poked her head back into the exam room.  "Uh...we have three people ahead of you.  Your appointment isn't actually until 11:15."  Which in doctor-speak means:  “You'll be lucky to see me by 12:00.” 

I knew the drill.  "That's okay.  I didn't really have an appointment.  They worked me in."  Julie said she'd be back as soon as she could.  The white-coated stranger remained mute.

I read some Humor in Uniform and scratched a little bitty bit.  Julie returned around 11:30 with the mysterious white-coated woman.  I wished Julie would introduce this silent partner who was about to become privy to my personal medical peccadilloes.  

Contrary to her social skills, Julie’s bedside manner was adequate.  She was thorough in going over the chart, asking me questions, and inspecting the rash in various places.  She said she felt sure it was the Cefzil, which is what Cefprozil really is.  Probably in its pure and non-generic incarnation, not as a cheap knockoff imported from a third-world country after being hand-pressed into pills by five-year-old orphans.  Julie offered me a shot of Benadryl or a steroid.

Hey!  Julie!  I'm not a doctor, even though I watched one that looked like you on ER. Don't be giving me the choice, like it's a shot of liquor.  Because in that case, I'd say, "Give me one of each."  If  I was a drinking woman, which I'm not.  Now.

I asked which one worked better, and Julie said it didn't make much difference.   I told her I had a 30-minute drive home, so she said I'd better not have the Benadryl, which could make me sleepy.  You ain't a-woofin', Julie girl.

I had a shot of Benadryl in an emergency room many years ago, due to an allergic response to Ampicillin.  The last thing I remember, I sat down on the passenger seat of the car, and my head toppled out the window.  It felt like a balloon, but without the helium.  It didn’t want to float.  It wanted to roll down my right shoulder, pause for dramatic effect at my elbow, which was hanging out the car window, shout , “Look at MEEEE, everybody,” and then execute a swan dive (as good a swan dive as a balloon head with no arms or legs could execute), and skim like a skipping stone along the weedy U. S.  Highway 60 right-of-way that the MODOT crews had neglected to mow.  Benadryl was not my friend.

Julie took one more look at my spotted arms.  She pulled a puzzled visage from her bag of expressions.  One of the rashy blotches had taken the shape of a straight line.  She said she was going to run it by one of the docs, and hauled her constant companion, White Coat, out of there.

After running a few laps around the building, arm-wrestling the other nurse practitioner, and having a rousing game of dominoes with the doctor over a Meat Lover's Pizza, Julie and White Coat came back.  Julie had decided on a shot of whatchamacallit, which I assumed was steroidal in nature.  She said a nurse was getting it ready.  Just then, a woman hollered from down the hall, "Do we mix anything with that?"  It took me a second to realize that the "EEEEEEE!" I heard was coming from my own vocal cords.

Julie assured me, "Oh, she means do we add a painkiller."  Julie hollered back, "No.  It's just the shot."  She made a note on the chart about a Cefzil allergy, and said she hoped I got to feeling better, and that they'd keep me about ten minutes after the shot to see if I had a reaction to it.  Then she and White Coat left to find bigger fish to fry.

The nurse came in with my shot and laid the syringe down on the counter.  She also had a companion.  I entertained thoughts of how on-schedule these people could be if they each worked on a patient instead of going in pairs.  The nurse looked like she was right out of nursing school, having just injected countless oranges and her lab partner with saline solution. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Shooter said, "It has to go in your butt.”  Her little white shadow nodded.  I asked Shooter what I would feel like if I had a reaction to the shot.  She said, "I don't know.  Maybe you'll break out in red bumps."  White Shadow snickered.  Apparently, they were compiling material for All in a Day’s Work.  Perhaps I would read their story on my next visit.

I asked if it would hurt, and Shooter said, "I don't know.  It's a shot."  She jabbed the needle into my gluteus maximus, which did not hurt, but then pushed the medicine in, which kindled a small fire in my nether regions.
I must have vocalized my displeasure, because White Shadow said, "Well, now I know that this burns when it goes in."  I’m always pleased to assist in medical research.

Shooter put a band-aid on my new booboo, and then washed her hands.  Quite a redeeming quality in a nurse.  She told me I could go.  I told her that Julie wanted me to wait ten minutes to see if I developed a reaction to the shot.  This was news to Shooter, but she agreed, and closed the door as she and White Shadow left.

Lucky for me, and the doctor’s malpractice insurance, I didn't have a reaction to that shot. Nobody would have known until they needed that room after lunch time.  I read some more Reader’s Digest.  Twenty minutes passed.  Nobody came to get me.  I opened the door and saw the original nurse who took my vitals.  At least she seemed embarrassed.  "Oh.  It's been way longer than ten minutes.  Do you feel all right?"

I told her I was ready to leave, but I hadn't paid the copay yet.  She took me up front.  The two ladies working at that window said I didn't have to pay, because the computer showed I had a credit.  That was news to me.  A salesman with his whole torso through the window said, "I'll take her credit."  I told him that the rash went with it.  He declined.  He must have been the Cymbalta supplier for the office.

I stepped into the elevator with the Pizza Hut delivery girl, who said the elevator was taking a long time.  I told her that I'd been in the office over two hours, and I didn't think a few more minutes would make a difference.  She said she had another load of pizza to bring up, and was in a hurry.  I knew those folks were eating pizza instead of consulting!  That little delivery gal was so pleasant, I almost gave her a tip.  She didn't even stare at my red neck.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Santa Claus, G-Man, and Bob

Has anybody here, seen my old friend Saa-aanta? Can you tell me where he's gooo-ooo-ooo-ooone?

Santa Claus is missing.

He has been my faithful companion for several months, slumbering quietly in my top desk drawer, sleeping off his holiday indulgences. Oh, every now and then, I take him out to spread good cheer to assorted students. Some need his assistance on a daily basis. But until now, he has always returned to his oaken bunk after carrying out his designated duty. Until yesterday.

The overwhelming majority of students arrive in my classroom with necessary materials to facilitate maximum learning. Two, do not. They are in my more mature group, not so much in behavior as in years on this earth and grade level in school. These two politely request the use of a pencil, and promptly return it when finished.

Because I did not just fall off the yellow turnip bus, I know that often "loaning" a pencil is akin to "loaning" a tissue. The student asks to borrow it, but you're not getting it back. For that reason, if I deign to dole out a pencil, I make sure it's the most undesirable writing utensil ever to be grasped by a student's sweaty palm. The ratio of borrowers runs about twenty to one, boys to girls. I used to loan a hot pink pencil, but then those young whippersnappers got all metrosexual and real men wear pink on me, and that color was no longer a theft deterrent.

Santa Claus, and his dear friend Gingerbread Man, are popular on the paper, but not so much in the pocket. Like the biology text, *Bob, they are highly-prized in my classroom, but not outside its boundaries. Santa, G-Man, and Bob are starters in the regular rotation of supplies that are proffered in order to keep kids in the classroom during the daily game of I Forgot Something In My Locker.

I normally don't loan items to freshmen. A freshman is an unreliable borrower, with no credit record, no visible means of support, likely to leave town in the dead of night with my pencil strapped to the top of his four-wheeler, never to be seen again. So it was with some trepidation that I allowed Santa to assist a ninth-grader. I'm not sure what came over me. Perhaps it was the heady excitement, nearly palpable, of the very first day of the brand-spanking-new FOURTH QUARTER.

Like a Baby Jesus missing from the manger of a churchyard nativity scene, I fear that Santa is irretrievably, unequivocally, indisputably lost.

*Bob is an old biology textbook, not checked out to anybody. One of his past assignees wrote the name "Bob" on the closed pages opposite his spine. He resides alone on the battered wooden bookcase at the back of my classroom, waiting for the day his brethren are collected and stacked about him in a joyful last-day-of-school textbook reunion.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More Tootelage of My Own Horn

Oops! I did it again. I entered a contest, and I placed amongst the winners. I have only entered two contests. So I'm two for two.

On March 18, I placed  FIRST in the Author! Author! Rings True writing competition. There were three divisions: Memoir, Freestyle (fiction that could fit in several categories), and Literary Fiction. Mine was memoir.

This time, I placed 9th in the Dead of Winter Nonfiction Contest at The Write Helper. It was a smaller contest, not quite as prestigious, and I barely made the top ten, but I did it, by cracky! I was in the top third. Not too shabby, considering some of these entries probably concerned weightier matters than my humorous memoir. It was open to memoir, essays, articles, and prose.

So...I think I might enter some more contests. Perhaps my recent success is an anomaly. Maybe I should try to shrink my enormous Easter Island head down to manageable proportions. While I'm at it, I can rest my shoulder that has grown sore from patting myself on the back. And slather some industrial-strength Chapstick on my lips made raw from tooting my own horn.

Who knew that this contest-placing business was so physically demanding?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Val's Tasty Treats: The $300 Car

Another weekend has rolled around, and I'm about to let it get away without foisting an excerpt from my WIP on you. Please note that you dodged this bullet last weekend, and now it's time to face the music and take your medicine.

Today's tasty tidbit involves my husband's car-dealing skills. Hick wakes up in a brand new world every day. That's one of the things I love about him, how he has such a gusto for life, and sees the promise in things that my jaundiced eye would dismiss as junk. And now, your just dessert:

The $300 Car

Hick spotted the bargain on his way home from work, parked beside a mobile home just off our blacktop county road. It was a dark blue, two-door, 1996 Toyota Tercel. Written on the windshield with white shoe polish was the price: $400.

"It has to be a good car," said Hick, nearly breathless with excitement. "They've been driving it every day, but now I see that they have a truck, and the Toyota is for sale." Hick scans people's yards on a daily basis, mentally cataloging which items of their junk he can make his treasure. Because he was so pleased with his find, and because he needed a little car with better gas mileage than his Ford F250, I scrounged up $400 from my Hick Emergency Fund and sent him out to barter.

The minute Hick pulled into the driveway, a teenage boy came out of the trailer. "You can have it for $300," he said, before Hick was even out of his vehicle. "We got a truck, and now we need to get rid of this car." For me, that would have been a sign that perhaps this car was not a bargain. Twenty-five percent off the asking price before an offer was made. But I was not privy to this information until the deal was already done.

Hick came back home and grabbed a gas can, a sign that I might have construed as an omen. How good IS a car that won't run for the three-mile, downhill drive home? It had stopped at the row of mailboxes that marked the turnoff onto our gravel road. Fifteen minutes later, Hick arrived home, pulling the $300 car on his trailer. Strike three. The car didn't run, even after he put gas in it.

Hick thanked the teenage seller for his help in delivering the car, and drove him home. He then came to the house for our son, Genius, who was nine years old at the time. "Come help me with my new car." Genius skipped toward the barn with Hick, anticipation fairly oozing from his pores.

Five minutes later, Genius was back. He came running across the yard. "MOM! Dad caught the new car on fire. With ME in it!"

Here came Hick behind him, to do damage control. "I told him to sit in the car and push on the gas pedal while I shot ether into the engine. It blazed up a little bit, but I put it out with the fire extinguisher." He coaxed Genius back to the scene of the conflagration by promising him a ride if they got the car started. 

A bit later, Hick and Genius pulled up in front of the house in the $300 car. By in front of the house, I mean front yard. Hick filled me in on the plan. "I'm going to drive it around the yard, so if it stops running, we'll be close to home." You can do that when you have ten acres. Genius struggled to put on a seatbelt. For a ride around the yard. In a $300 car.

Hick went back to the car, which he had left idling. It emitted so much black smoke that I could hardly breathe, even in the well-ventilated area of outside. After a couple of laps around the perimeter of the property, they returned. Genius got out. He had flecks of yellow-gold, crumbly material all across his back.

"What's that all over you?"

"Oh, that's part of the seat. It looks like someone locked a cat up in this car, and it clawed the seats trying to get out."

As I write this, the $300 car is parked by the barn, with two flat tires. It has been upgraded from Toyota Tercel seats to seats from a Porsche. You don't see that very often. Someone at work was going to throw away two perfectly good Porsche seats, so Hick volunteered to get rid of them for him. We still have the cat-scratch seats under the lean-to on the side of the barn. 

Because you never know when you might need some junky seats from a 1996 Toyota Tercel.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sonic Unhappy Hour

I was not happy when my Sonic changed Happy Hour a couple of years ago. It used to be from 3:00 to 5:00. Never mind that technically, it was Happy Two-Hours. That time was perfect for allowing me to tie up my after-school loose ends, and still stop by Sonic in a timely manner on the way home.

This 2:00 to 4:00 Happy Hour is inconvenient. I always miss it by ten or fifteen minutes. So I curtailed my habitual afternoon beverage treat to two per week. I find $2.05 a bit steep for a Route 44 Diet Coke with lime. Gas is cheaper than that. Not that I want to drink it over those enchanting Sonic ice pellets.

Sonic Unhappy Hour is the hour directly after Happy Hour. The workers are still in the cheap soda mode. They fill the cup with ice, and shoehorn in a bit of soda. And you pay full price for it! If I'm going to shell out $2.05 for a soda, I at least expect to get some soda. I don't think that's unreasonable.

Thursday, the window gal handed me my magical elixir. I was pleased, because I could see limes in the top. Occasionally, they forget. There was one unfortunate citrus faux pas in which I was given lemons, but usually, I get a whole lime, cut into four wedges.

I never drink my keg of carbonated nectar until I get home and squeeze the juice out of the limes. Thursday, I had only three wedges. Each wedge was half a fourth. That's an eighth for those of you who don't do math. To make up for the shortage of lime, the gal had added extra ice. And then didn't even have the common decency to top off the styrofoam cup with soda. So when I scooped out my munchkin citrus sections, I saw that the level of ice and soda stood at about three-fourths of the cup. I had paid $2.05 for three-fourths of a cup of ice, a dash of Diet Coke, and three-eighths of a lime! That's highway robbery!

I'm not a person who looks at the glass as half full. I challenge one of those namby-pamby, unicorn-loving, every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining, walking-on-air, head-in-the-clouds eternal optimists to pay $2.05 for a soda, open it up to see what I saw, and declare, "Oh, look! My glass is half-full!"

They might also expect to buy gas station chicken from a woman who has all of her teeth.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Conversationalist

I spent the day cooling my heels at a local science fair. My little team came home with a 1st Place record of 67%. Just think, if they were all rolled into one baseball player, they would be batting .667. Not too shabby. But I'm not here to brag about their scientific methodology. I'm here to relate a tale of what happens when teachers stop teaching school, and start interacting in the real world.

First cat out of the bag, I was accosted by a clinger. I sent my students on the bus with another teacher, and got to the college early to stake out our spot. I felt like Elaine saving movie seats. "Taken. That's taken. Taken!" The science fair is held in a field house, with participants set up on the gym floor. The bottom section of bleachers are folded up, and off limits. We take the front row of the upper section, the walk-around section. I put down my son's project board and wooden tray of cups full of nails. I set down my bag full of glue and paper and pencils and water and bifocals. I spread out my coat. I laid down my wet umbrella. I figured I had the whole section covered, from the wall to the first set of steps.

But no. I did not even have a chance to sit down in the middle of my barriers before Clingy appeared. I am not a very nice person. I'm sure she was just trying to be friendly. However, it's not my job to nurture the fragile self-esteem of strangers. My students, yes. I AM paid for that. But this was not my student.

The initial greeting went a little something like this:

"I didn't bring my wheelchair today."


"I always sit here. So I can put my back against the wall."


"We brought two buses. I couldn't believe the school told the parents they had to bring their kids."


"They had the nerve to say that if the kids weren't there by 7:30, the bus would leave without them. A lot of parents can't get them there by then. They work."


"That's our kids lined up. We brought two buses."

"Our bus isn't here yet. Oh, there's my son."

"My daughter is here. I brought some sewing to work on. She lost her junior jacket that had a bunch of letters on it that need to be transferred. So I'm sewing them on."


A director came up the steps, and hollered down that participants might want to get a chair off the racks in the corners of the gym. Clingy asked, "Can I get a chair?" Not with the inflection that she wanted to walk down the steps and get one, but with the inflection that she wanted somebody to bring her a chair. The director gave her a blank stare. Clingy sat down sideways on the bleacher, with her back against the wall. I saw a colleague walk in behind Clingy's line of vision. Clingy continued her soliloquy. "I have one child here, but about five of them will call me Mom. I've been the director of their scout troop all along. That girl there with my daughter is her best friend. She split her head open in daycare, and the next day sent her to the hospital."

Colleague rolled her eyes. "Don't we want to sit farther down this year? People will walk in and stand in front of us."

I started gathering my stuff. "That's right! Help me carry some of this. Let's go over a section, right in the middle."

Clingy's jaw dropped. How dare her new best friends/captive audience high-tail it out of hearing distance! We made a big show of rearranging our stuff, checking out our viewing angle, pantomiming picture-taking toward the awards table. It's not that we were being mean on purpose. You can only take so much. And this lady was not getting the hint. At least a student will eventually get the message that you're just not interested in chatting at that moment. But not Clingy.

I don't know how else to have handled it, but then again, I am not a people person. I might have said, point blank, "Ma'am, I am not interested in talking right now. I am looking to see if my students are checking in. I can not do two things at once. In a few minutes, I would like to read the book I have brought along to pass the time." That seems rude. Now I know why people complain about being trapped next to a Chatty Cathy on a plane. It's hard enough to worry every minute so that plane doesn't go down, without also humoring a non-stop conversationalist.

Your right to talk does not take away my right to not-listen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Too Few Cooks Spoil the Sloth

Last night, as I was frittering away my valuable time not-writing in the kitchen, my son Genius demanded that I make him a baloney sandwich. Never mind that I was in the midst of preparing the evening meal, busily chopping onions, slicing tomatoes, shaking shredded lettuce and shredded cheddar from their respective bags, and intermittently opening the oven door to prolong cooking time. Genius did not want to partake of the splendid repast that would imminently be placed before him.

I questioned his tactics over my shoulder. "What do you think this is, some kind of short-order-cook kitchen, where you can get anything you want, any time you want?"

Genius responded with the lightning reflexes inherent to sixteen-year-old boys. "No. It's more like a short-temper cook kind of kitchen."

Before you go thinking he's a natural for the stand-up comedy circuit, cutting down hecklers with his rapier wit like Michael Douglas slicing through the Colombian jungle in Romancing the Stone, consider this. I offered Genius some spaghetti left over from the previous day. Nope. Not good enough for him. The reason?

"I don't like it after it's been eaten once."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When the Wind Put My Foot in My Mouth

An ill wind has been blowing all day. I hate the wind. It reminds me of the time I traveled from Missouri to Salina, Kansas. I didn't even want to get out of the car. That's some serious wind there in the flatland state.

The main reason I despise the wind is that it wreaks havoc with my lovely lady-mullet. My stringy locks whip about my head like an inanimate cartoon Tasmanian devil. This effect is particularly annoying when I try to walk from the parking lot into school in the morning. My freshly-applied spearmint Chapstick has an affinity for the flying tendrils of hair that buffet my countenance. Which gives me the appearance of Medusa, trying to swallow her snakes.

One of my most embarrassing moments was caused by the wind. No, it was not an unfortunate Monroe-esque skirt-whipping incident. In fact, I did not even know that it was about to become my most embarrassing moment when it occurred.

Many years ago, as I was entering the school upon morning arrival, I happened across an important district employee. We exchanged pleasantries as the wind pelted us with dried leaves, twigs, and gravel. "This wind is something else," I ventured. "It'll blow the hair right off your head." The employee nodded, and went on his way.

I have a work friend who confesses to always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. She might run into an old acquaintance at the store, and ask, "How's your dad and everyone?" And the acquaintance will say, "Dad died on Thursday. I just came from the funeral." Then there was the time she told a student, in costume, just before the Halloween dance, "How cute! You even have a little pirate beard!" As soon as the student walked away, a companion said, "That's real. She has a facial hair problem."

I normally don't have an issue with this type of faux pas. Imagine my surprise when I mentioned the encounter to my 1st Hour class of sophomores, and they gasped. Gasped! It's hard to shock a sophomore. When they recovered, I asked them to explain what was wrong. They looked at each other. Finally, one brave lad said, "You know he has a toupee, don't you?" Um...no. I had no idea. It must be a really good one. Because that issue had never entered my mind over the entire school year.

Now, if I'm going to make such a flippant comment, I modify it. "That wind will blow the eyebrows right off your face." And I hope they don't have alopecia.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I've got a little problem at work. I'm being eaten alive.

Granted, my job is not as tough as that of a herpetologist searching the wilds of South America for the world's largest green anaconda.

But I am wrestling with my own biting issue. As a molder of young minds, braving the rugged terrain of ninth grade social mores, I need a pair of comfortable shoes. And I have them. Therein lies the problem.

My brown leather cushy-soled shoes get me through the day. They get me through the half-day even better. Changing shoes at lunchtime makes me feel like a new woman. And if not new, at least like a recently-detailed and new-on-the-market woman.

Nobody complains about my casual footwear, my white leather New Balance that start the day with me. My workplace has a relaxed atmosphere. You can wear just about anything besides jeans or sweats or belly shirts. It's not like I need a pair of Manolo Blahniks to hike down from my perch on the parking lot wall and remove a condom from the varsity locker room door handle. Okay. Honestly, I just reported that to the principal, and the custodian did it for me. But he wasn't wearing Manolos, either.

I don't need a J. Peterman Himalayan walking shoe to tramp around the classroom while visually probing the landscape for cell phones. My comfy brown shoes do the trick. But with a price.

My shoes are hogs. Sock hogs. They eat more socks than a truckload of recalled dryers on the way back to the manufacturer for the sole defect of sock-eating. The shoes scarf up socks like a sixteen-year-old boy scarfs up pizza at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Those sock-hogs have my little piggies squealing, "Wee, wee, wee!" all the way home, in fear of being cannibalized. At some point, I fear, they will need to be shoeuthanized.

But they are so comfortable.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Goldilocks Syndrome

I think I have discovered a new syndrome. A disorder. An abnormality. It has been observed in only one woman in the world. Me. I'm going to call it Oppositional Temperature Disorder. Its victim has an issue with thermodynamic equilibrium.

I can not maintain my perceived body temperature at an even keel. In between arguing po TAY to / po TAH to and Missour ee / Missour ah with everyone, I must also argue it's too hot / it's too cold. Maybe I'll rename my disorder Goldilocks Syndrome.

At school, where my thermostat hovers at 72 degrees, I am either too hot, or too cold. My face flushes reddish purple, or my hands are colder than the Grinch's heart when he pulled that candy cane out of little Cindy Lou Who's slumbering hands.

At home, where the thermostat is also set at 72 degrees, I must use a sweatshirt, blanket, and electric heater to cut the chill. I am not at all like my son, Genius, a strapping sixteen-year-old boy who wants to crank the thermostat to 70 and open the windows in his room.

No matter what the temperature, I feel the opposite temperature desires of the people around me. I'm sure I inherited this gene from my mother. She does not display the actual symptoms, but she verbalizes her opposition. Perhaps she's a carrier.

In the summer, when the outside temperature is a steamy 98 degrees, Mom sits in her home, thermostat showing 89 inside the house, dabbing at her neck with half of a Bounty Select-A-Size paper towel, proclaiming, "It's cool down here in my family room. I don't see any need to turn on the air conditioner until August."

When winter rolls around, you will find Mom's thermostat set at 62 degrees. "Oh, honey. I have these two tower heaters and a fire in the fireplace, and my warm velour pajamas and my robe, and that thick blanket, and I tie my scarf around my head. I'm comfortable. I don't like my furnace to run continuously."

She might have her own syndrome, that one.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Big Fish in a Little Pond

I feel like a big fish in a little pond. Not to be confused with a fat guy in a little coat. That was Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. He was very good at what he did, which was make people laugh. And apparently, I am good at that as well. Take a gander at this:


Yep. Don't mind me while I shine my fingernails on my coat lapel. Not a little coat. A regular coat. My head is rapidly expanding with pride. It is fast becoming a humongous, overinflated, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float kind of head. Hang onto those guide ropes. Steer me out of harm's way. We wouldn't want a Woody Woodpecker accidental deflation like the one that befell Mr. Pitt, Elaine's boss, after she won him that rope-holding gig by naming big band songs on the radio.

The basis for my sudden craniogigantism is the fact that I WON A WRITING CONTEST!!!

Yes. I am not Miss Congeniality, not a runner-up, not second place with the responsibility of fulfilling the winner's duties if the winner is unable to do so. I am the WINNER! Pardon me while I calm myself. I have known this for a couple of weeks now, but kept it secret. Loose lips sink ships. And loose fingers promote premature har-bringers, as my son might say.

Now the word is out. That cat is soundly unbagged. I have been outed as a writer for all the world to see. Well, all the world that reads Anne Mini's blog, Author!, Author!, or checks out her Facebook, or pops into her page at Publishers Marketplace over the next couple of days.

To bring my gargantuan noggin back down to earth, I insert myself into the movie Coyote Ugly, where Bridget Moynahan tells the rest of the gals, "She won the memoir section of an online writing contest. Let's not start polishing the Nobel Prize for Literature."

I need to be grounded on occasion. But without inflicting deflated Woody Woodpeckerness on unsuspecting parade-goers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I usually get my best writing ideas in the morning. Because doctors made me part with my thyroid last summer, I have to take medicine to do the work of my furloughed friend. I like to think of his absence as a furlough, though the physicians and I both know that my thyroid is never coming back. He's not like that cartoon heart in the old Prevacid commercials, checking out of the Heartburn Hotel with a tiny suitcase, his ascending and descending aortas flapping in the wind.

Some people with perfectly-working thyroids try to wangle the medication from their doctors for weight-loss purposes. I don't know if that works in reality, but in theory, the medicine would speed up a person's metabolism. All I know it that if I forget to take it each morning, I have to drag myself through the day. It has only happened one time. You wouldn't think it would be so instantaneous, since the levels of that stuff take months to build up or deplete, according to my blood test results.

But I am not here to host a medical symposium on the aftereffects of a thyroidectomy. I am here to give away too much personal health information, and to entertain anybody who drops in. As well as to use prepositions to end sentences with.

My roundabout point is that I take this medicine upon arising, and have to wait an hour before partaking of nourishment. That little pill is like a shot of espresso, I imagine, though I've never sampled the strong brew. Once a topic enters my noggin, thoughts about what to write hurtle rapid-fire through my brain. I'm like the character Henry Steele in the old movie One on One, written by Robby Benson and his dad, Jerry Segal. Sweet, sweet Robby Benson, in his 1977-style little yellow workout shorts, taking a pill proffered by his roommate, Tom, to make him "play better" at practice. Which results in a frenzied one-man-show of naive country-boy attempts at performing Harlem Globetrotter moves.

Note to Self: If you ever go to college on a full-ride basketball scholarship, and discover all the other players are bigger and more talented, and the coach tries to make you give up your scholarship by forcing you to play one-on-one against the meanest dude on the football team, who's at basketball practice for one day only, don't take a pill proffered by your roommate, Tom.

See? I'm actually providing a public service announcement for the proper ingestion of prescription medication.

Disclaimer: I said I get my best ideas in the morning. I didn't say they all pan out by afternoon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Challenge for Inventors

I have an embarrassing little problem. It involves the leakage of nasal fluid. Don't be grossed out. It could be worse.

My nose has a mind of its own. Most snouts let the watery effluxion flow out the bottom of the nostril, like this:
Most normal noses. Mine is different. I'm not exactly a proboscis monkey.

My snout is different in the way it allows nasal juices to drip. Can I get a little trickle that can be remedied with a discrete daubing? No. My nose, specifically my right nostril, permits my mucous to dribble out the top of the orifice. That's just abnormal.

What do I have up my nose, some freaky upside-down slide, like those little metal ramps that launch quarters into the backs of toy dump trucks at the arcade? How does this fluid defy gravity and run out the top of my nostril? I can feel it getting ready to drip like a raindrop off the end of a tree bud.

No matter how many times I blot the ol' snout drop, it returns. Short of stuffing a piece of tissue in there to absorb the liquid offender, I know of no method to stop the intermittent flow. It may happen when I'm at the lunch table, or when a student enters my classroom after a generous dousing of cologne/perfume, or when the custodian is especially energetic in his sweeping.

I am waiting for somebody to invent a little pierced-nose gadget that is not so much a nose ring as a tiny bucket for gathering snot drops from the upper shelf of the right nostril. Like a miniature maple syrup collector for the nose instead of a tree.

Start filling out those patent applications.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Steering The Pony

On the way to school this morning, I spied three robins hopping through the city park. I spoke over my shoulder to The Pony, my youngest son, "Oh, look. Robins. They're harbingers of spring, you know."

The Pony giggled, in the self-conscious manner of 7th-grade boys with changing voices. I asked what was so funny. "Don't tell me. You thought it was pronounced har bing erz, didn't you? In the tradition of your brother wearing muh kos inz on his feet, and wanting a copier/printer e quip ted with all the extras." I didn't add my other peeve of folks who have their pets spaded to prevent unwanted litters.

After an uncomfortable moment of silence, during which he thought I'd let him off the hook, The Pony ventured, "Actually, I thought it was pronounced har bring erz. Because they bring spring."

You can lead The Pony to vocabulary, but you can't make him pronounce properly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

East Coast Mouse, Midwest Mouse

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a blog written by a teacher in a state like Vermont or New Hampshire, talking about how one of her 7th-graders took the SAT test, and how the majority of the kids don't watch television, and how the teachers and students take an annual three-day trip to a camp in the woods where they all mentor and participate in character-building exercises. I can't remember the name of that blog. But it made me think. About public schools, not private.

I am very happy teaching in my small, low-income, rural district. I am right where I want to be. It's a good fit. You won't find our students taking the SATs in 7th grade, nor do they ride unicorns to school, unicorns which fart strawberry-scented rainbows, and leap over cotton-candy clouds. Our kids take the driver's license test. Sometimes in 7th grade. A student rode her horse to school one day. I don't know what its farts smelled like, but I'm betting it was akin to those of Rusty, the carriage-drawing horse that Kramer fed Beefarino. If our students don't watch television, it's because they can't afford a television. Or they have a television, but no money for cable, so they watch yard-sale DVDs. If we took a camping trip, the time would be spent gathering firewood and setting up army-surplus tents. That's just the girls. The boys would be rustling up some squirrel, rabbit, or deer for supper.

We don't have a library with leather wingback chairs, mahogany wainscoting, Georgian bookcases, or a roaring fireplace. We do, however, have a library. The chairs are hard, blue plastic, and most of them set level unless you get the one with the bent left legs. Our walls are white-painted concrete block, and the shelving is black metal. There's no fireplace, but if you get there first, you can sit under the heating vent that keeps you a toasty 68 degrees if the wind is blowing from the right direction. And guess what. Our library has books. Books that kids want to read so badly that there's a waiting list. And when one of those books is returned, the librarian looks up the top-of-the list student's schedule, and delivers it to the classroom.

We're doing okay.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You Know You're Old When...

I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but one morning I woke up and I was old!

Now I am reminded of my oldness daily. Or nightly. Like when I reached down to pull the lever and lean back my recliner last night, and hurt something in my shoulder. My back shoulder, to be specific. The part where my right wing would attach if I was an angel. But several people have told me that I'm no angel, so you'll have to use your imagination.

To injure myself reclining is quite embarrassing. More so, even, than the time I broke my neck in my other recliner. It wasn't broken, as in a severed spinal cord, or a chipped vertebrae. Broken as in not working properly, unless by properly, you mean sending a searing pain down my spine, making me nauseous.

Those are times when you are glad you have some prescription pain pills left over from your husband's neck surgery in 2006. Hydrocodone (or fake vicodin, as we call it around here) doesn't have an expiration date, does it? And since those pills were for his neck, they would surely work for my neck. Right? It's always handy to have those drugs cooling their chemical heels in the medicine cabinet for these little emergencies. Kind of like a morning-after pill, but without the promiscuous sex.

This evening I whipped up a supper ripped from the countertop of school holiday potluck dinners. Nothing as elaborate as a corn casserole, my least favorite of all such dishes. Nope. It was sliced ham rolled around cream cheese and a dill pickle spear. Don't worry about the family. They had a normal dinner of buffalo chicken chunks and salad. But I was not in a spicy mood. As I was opening the chip clip on a bag of sunflower seeds to sprinkle on the salad, the dang clip snapped a plastic squeezy part. It shot into my chin and ricocheted into the sink. That's what people get for eating healthy. Injured.

As I consumed my ham/cheese/pickle roll, I suddenly bit down on a hard chunk. Double dang. Ham, cream cheese, and pickle are not crunchy foods. So I knew I was in trouble. I removed the offending debris and set it on my plate. Wouldn't you know it? White. My tongue mounted a search mission to ferret out the offending tooth. But it was unsuccessful. Refusing to ask for help from the broken-tooth search dogs, Captain Tongue declared the mission complete. All teeth were accounted for. I looked again at the mouth debris. It couldn't be a portion of tooth. Too white. Closer inspection revealed the foreign particle to be smooth plastic. From the chip clip. It had fallen onto the cream cheese before rolling, apparently.

Such a simple pleasure for the aged: discovering that you still have all of your teeth after a meal.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Hall of Lame

I don't mean to be disrespectful. Which of course means I'm about to start a prolonged harangue concerning a sensitive subject.

Today I heard one of the most Jeff Foxworthy here's-your-sign-deserving statements ever. Imagine a quiet lunch table, missing some of the regulars, a couple of new faces in attendance. As a courtesy, one of the regulars pointed out that the break room harbored a plethora of donuts, left over from Absent Regular's mother's funeral. To which a new face replied, "Oh, did Absent Regular's mother pass away?"


Even I, with my cold, cold heart, could not retort, "No. She had the funeral just in case."

Surely, New Face knew what she had done, the instant it was out of her mouth. I'm hoping. Because if ever a statement needed walking back, that one did.

It needed to be walked back like a petulant child to the car, after tossing a fit in the Walmart toy aisle. It needed to be reeled in like a sparkling, spiny-backed, iridescent sun perch chomping on the last shred of worm, pulling the red-and-white bobber under the sun-dappled surface. It needed to be retrieved like a Flintstone lunch box containing an uneaten tuna salad sandwich, forgotten in the classroom on a Friday afternoon. It needed to be recaptured, like a cat let out of the bag in a endangered-species mouse sanctuary.

But New Face let it go. To live forever in Val's Hall of Lame.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Val's Tasty Treats: The Many Tongues of Val

I let last weekend slip by without subjecting you to a snippet of my WIP. You're not so lucky this weekend. Here's a bit where I brag about knowing many languages:

Hola! I am feeling bilingual today. But that's about the extent of my Spanish. Maybe a few more words, like agua, or caliente, or amigo, since some of my students take Spanish, which is right next door to me, and I can hear the teacher through the wall. Maybe I am quadrilingual, because I know a smidgen of French and shhh...Japanese. Mostly words like merde and konichiwa and bon jour and chapeau. Okay, I confess. The last two came from watching Madeline. (We love our bread, we love our butter...but most of all, we love each other.)

When I was in high school, a friend of a friend hosted a Japanese exchange student. She was a calm, quiet kind of gal. The FOAF taught her how to drink and swear. She went on our senior trip to Daytona Beach. She stayed in our room. I learned an important fact about the Japanese culture. They do not understand the mechanics of a shower curtain. Someone had to show her how to work the shower. After she came out, the next person discovered the bathroom floor was covered with all of our towels, wet to the bone. If towels had bones, which they don't, because then they couldn't wrap around your hair like a turban, and they would crunch when you sawed them back and forth on your back, and they would fall off when you tried to wrap them around you and people would see your dirtypillows (thanks so much, Stephen King, for leaving me with that visual image after reading Carrie). Getting back to our shower...Little Miss Yoshimura did not know that a shower curtain is supposed to stay inside the tub. She carefully put it out. I guess she didn't want it to get wet, ha ha!

Even when speaking English, there are time lines that I must consider, lest my students misunderstand my meaning. Some of them went into the Beavis and Butthead "heh heh" laugh when I read from Tom Saywer. Becky Thatcher wanted Tom to come to her picnic (after she'd made him mad by not inviting him). "Oh, won't you come, Tom? It'll be ever so gay!" They wanted to know why Becky was having a gay picnic, and why that fact would make Tom want to go.

Back in the day, nobody looked askance if you were gay, wore your thongs to the picnic, fingered the fabric before you bought it, tooted at your neighbor, licked somebody to teach him a lesson, collected fairies, laughed at someone's crack, snowballed the kid next door, or ate a weiner or two. Maybe even all in the same day, though the thongs and the snowballing might have been stretching things a bit.  

Times are different now. The language, it is a-changin'.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Save Us From Ourselves

We live in a Nanny State.

I thought I had seen the ultimate nannying when raindrops began to fall gently, and my Chevy Tahoe automatically turned on the windshield wipers for me. Because obviously, people who drive Tahoes are too stupid to turn on the wipers. We're a bunch of water-blinded bats, tooling around in our 4WD bumper cars, swerving willy-nilly until we finally hit a possum or come to rest wheels up.

We have to be told that coffee is hot. Plastic bags are not children's toys. Don't operate heavy machinery while tranquilized. Dang! That railcar was just a-beggin' to be picked up with a crane and set down across the interstate.

This week, our low water bridge was sporting some new bling, courtesy of the county road commission.

For a bit of perspective, I am parked beside the sign. The water comes up that far. There is not even a glimpse of bridge when that road is flooded. The county must be tired of fishing Tahoe drivers out of the drink every time we have a heavy rain. I tried to drive across that bridge once, when I could still see the bridge beneath about six inches of water. Right before I reached the opposite roadway, my vehicle shifted ever so subtly. I gassed that sucker and counted my blessings. So I'm smarter than the average Tahoe driver when it comes to this flooded bridge.

Here's a view from the other side, during late summer, with the original sign. You would have to be a booger-pickin' moron to think you could drive through a raging torrent in that gulch. Thank goodness our county commissioners know what's best for us.

If we're not busy driving into floods with our Tahoes that let us down by not maneuvering like the Branson Ducks on Lake Taneycomo, we are just as busy making shortcuts through one of three local roundabouts. Silly MoDOT. How could those state merit job engineers expect good ol' boys to drive around in circles like some fancy schmancy European in a Le Car? Guess we showed MoDOT, huh?

I am waiting for a sign to go up (just as soon as inmates at one of the local prisons can make one) that says: Proceed in a circle around red-brick trim and grassy center. Do not drive through roundabout.

It could happen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rip Van Genius

Children are such resilient creatures. My son, for example. He's playing in a kickball tournament tonight from 6:30 to 10:00. It's no Iron Man competition. Not even a triathlon. But it speaks volumes of his stamina.

Only last night, Genius was on his death-couch. He was too exhausted even to fetch himself a blanket. I can certainly see why a sixteen-year-old might lack the vigor to sit, stand, and walk three paces to where the afghan rested on the floor near the recliner. His get-up-and-go had got up and went during his supper of three chicken legs, a cheeseburger, a chicken ranch wrap, and a slice of cantaloupe. It's hard work lifting that much food to your mouth. And then there's the chewing. And swallowing.

Genius would be a good poster boy for why kids should not swim until an hour after eating. Or in his case, a couple of days. It was all he could do to drag himself from kitchen to living room. He flopped onto that couch like a played-out 160-pound trophy largemouth in a bass tournament.

When I was halfway down the basement steps, he called to me. "I'm cold. I need a blanket."

"There's one by the recliner."

"But that's way over there."

"It's five feet from you."

"But I'm tired."

"I'm halfway down the steps. Get it yourself."

"My feet are cold."

"Too bad, so sad."

"Hey, here's two sock caps on the back of the couch. They can keep my feet warm."

"You're pitiful."

"It's not working. My feet are still cold."

"Then get the blanket."

"I can't believe you're making me get up."

Two hours later, I ascended the stairs in order to put a load of clothes in the wash. Genius needed a school shirt to wear to the W.Y.S.E. (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering) competition the next day.  I started the laundry. I cleaned up the kitchen. I folded some clothes and put them in the boys' rooms. I doled out the weekly cash allowance to Hick. I put away some clean dishes from the sink. I laid out The Pony's clothes for morning. A woman's work is never done. Especially in the House of Genius.

Sensing the presence of a personal servant, Genius awoke from his two-hour slumber. He rolled over. He stretched. He sighed. His eyes focused on his target like a heat-seeking missile. "While you're in there, could you bring me a cup of water?"

"No. Get up and get it yourself."

"But you're right there." 

"I'm busy."

"I'm tired."

"From what? Sleeping? Isn't that the cure for tiredness? Not the cause?"

"My mouth is dry." 

"From all that sleeping."

"I need water."

"I need rest."

"Come on. You're already there."

"You are young and rested. I'm old and exhausted."

"Mom. Bring me some water."

"There's a cup on the table that you left there days ago. The ice is melted now. Drink that."

"I don't want that. I want some cold water."

"Then get it."

"You're right by the refrigerator. Bring me some water."

I went to the pantry and bent over to pull a red Solo cup out of the package. Genius had used up the ones I set out on the counter in a convenient stack. I took him a cup of water to shut him up. I know. That only reinforced the behavior.

Next time, I'm going to pull the trick my sister pulled on me. Except that I was laid up the week after knee surgery. Mom left Sis in charge of me, with instructions that I was not under any circumstances to go up or down the stairs on my crutches while she was gone. So after two hours, I asked Sis if she could possibly bring me a glass of water when she came downstairs to the family room. She agreed. Which seemed awfully out-of-character for her. She lovingly carried my water to the chair, where I sat with stitched knee outstretched. I thanked her profusely. I took the long-awaited sip.

She had given me a cup of hot water.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Unfortunate Phone Pas

Ah...the nuances of simple words. You can thank my friend Google that I did not say "subtle nuances." That would be like saying "subtle subtle meanings." Which I believe is soundly frowned upon by the Redundancy Police.

I called my sixteen-year-old son, Genius, this evening to gauge his food preferences for supper. Thursday nights are our fast food nights, because Hick has his bowling league. Not that Hick is our prime cook or anything. I simply declare the kitchen closed on Thursday nights. We had reached a consensus this morning of gas station chicken. Since I did not sense a need for the 20-piece box, and since the 8-piece box has pieces we don't want, I planned to buy our petroleum pit-stop fowl by the body part.

During a lull in my after-school meeting, I called Genius.

"What kind of chicken do you want?"

"Um, breasts." 

Thence ensued such a cacophony of catcalls that I could barely make out his next request.

"And that part that Dad likes so much."

The hoots and hollers would have put World Cup Soccer fans to shame.  

"Guys! I can't hear. It's just my mom. NO! Not like that! It's about chicken! For supper!"

I had forgotten that Genius went to a friend's house after school to rehearse with his choir quartet for the upcoming district contest. While I couldn't see his audience through the phone, he, himself, knew the company he was keeping. Like an industrial arts teacher who must discuss wood with his class on the first day of school, Genius should have seen this coming. He is, after all, a sixteen-year-old himself. What an unfortunate faux pas, to be overheard discussing breasts on the phone with his mother.

And that part his dad likes so much? The leg. The chicken leg. Just because the kid's a genius doesn't mean he's worldly. He's the child who complained, upon eating his first chicken leg: "There's a bone in it!" At home tonight, Genius said he didn't know if it was called a leg or a thigh. Thank goodness that is not a question on the ACT. On which he has already scored 31 this year. As a sophomore.

I believe a crash course is in order. On words not to discuss with your mother while your friends are listening. And another on parts of the chicken.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writing Prompt: Ripped From the Conversations at Work, #1

I'm starting a new series. When I overhear some especially juicy or odd conversations at work, I will bring them home to you. No need to thank me. Just one more service I provide. Aside from letting everyone feel superior to me in the writing-skill department. Kind of like the fat friend who makes you appear more attractive by comparison.

Today's conversation happened first cat out of the bag this morning. It was between a woman and her cell phone.

"Be sure to call and tell me what color the baby is!"

There you go. See what kind of story you can write with that gem. I'm not so good at writing fiction. I would never invest in one of those writing prompt calendars. Nothing gives me inspiration. It's like my muse took a hefty dose of valium.

While I can't craft a good tale, I do have images that pop up in my sluggish brain. Who could possibly be on the other end of that cell phone?

*a promiscuous daughter?

*a midwife consulting with a doctor concerning a high-risk pregnancy?

*a spouse at the hospital checking on a jaundiced newborn?

*the client of a substandard fertility clinic?

*a nanny on a working vacation in the Bahamas?

I will update on Thursday evening with the actual context of the conversation. Just in case. Don't wanna to be killing any cats with curiosity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Can You Tell When Val is Lying? Her Fingers are Moving.

I don't mean to brag, but Tammy from Message in a Bloggle has bestowed two awards upon me. For this, I am grateful, because it has given me something to blather about.

Guilt over the first award plagues me. Like Hoyt Axton buying a Mogwai from a backstreet Chinese curio shop, I am saddled with great responsibility. I'm supposed to post a picture of myself blogging. No can do. I can't take a picture of myself tickling the keyboard in my dark basement lair, and one son is busy ignoring me, while the other is getting ready for bed. Don't even ask me why Hick can't take my photo. Now don't get all worried that you're going to wake up with Gremlins encased in gooey cocoons scattered throughout your attic. My lack of attention to the instructions will only deprive you of a picture of me in action. Which some might consider a good thing. But in the spirit of trying to find a suitable substitute for a photo of myself, I bring you...

...Nellie, one of Hick's precious goats. Perhaps some of you will feel her pain, and mount a far-reaching internet campaign to Save Nellie. She can be the Ferris Bueller of the caprine world. Look into Nellie's ice-blue eyes. Hone in on her telepathic beam. "Help. Me."

Hick is not so much a goat-torturer as a misguided gadget-creator. Kind of like Hoyt Axton, our Mogwai-meddling friend, with his Bathroom Buddy and Juice-O-Matic. Hick's attempt to stop Nellie from catching her horns in the hog-fencing and standing all day without food and water resulted in her lovely chapeau of wood and yellow electrical tape. It's all the rage this spring in goat headdresses. The other goats find Nellie's headgear to be not only charming, but quite tasty, as well.

Moving on to my next special award (gosh, I'm starting to feel like Darren McGavin uncrating a leg lamp), I present you with four truths and a lie. In no particular order. That's the catch, you see. You have to discern the lie.

1. I make a kick-ass garlic cheese bread, and once sold the recipe through classified ads in the National Enquirer. I am famed district-wide for my world-class holiday Chex Mix, and a certain principal has tried to hire me twice to whip up a big batch for his family gathering. My other culinary masterpieces include delicious deviled eggs and an Oreo cake that co-workers clamor for.

2. I love to play the lottery, and sometimes ride the old people's bus to the casino. Twice, I have won $1000 on scratch-off Missouri lottery tickets.

3. In college, I shared a one-bedroom apartment with a lesbian couple. Every Saturday night, we hosted theme parties with live entertainment. One of my roommates and I wrote all the entertainment sketches on Friday evenings, and were told by our guests that we should write for SNL. Which was maybe a backhanded compliment, because at that time, SNL royally sucked. We bought pretzel sticks to set out for snacks at our parties, because people don't like them much, and they last longer. We funded our endeavor with money earned among the three of us from jobs at the YWCA, a car collision-repair shop, and by selling plasma twice a week.

4. One of my best-ever Christmas presents from Hick was a pair of tickets to see Kathy Griffin at the Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis in 2008. It was doubly special, because it was in February, a couple of days from my birthday. We got there early, and Kathy was out in the vestibule checking out the crowd. I got to shake her hand, my most notable brush with greatness.

5. This one time, during surgery, I woke up. I said, "I can feel that." The nurse repeated it to the surgeon, and he said, "Yeah, but will she remember it tomorrow?" I spent the next 30 minutes with my arms strapped down, listening to the surgeon profess how he hated to see patients in his office. How he'd rather they were just wheeled into surgery, as in: here's the gallbladder that needs to come out. The nurses joined in about how they were averse to certain ugly body parts. Only the nurse at my right arm remained silent, as she stroked my hand and wiped away the single tear that slid toward my ear.

Good luck with putting the kibosh on my lying ways. I am a pretty good prevaricator.

There are two bloggers I would like to bestow these awards upon. Kathy at her Kampground, and Jennifer the Cookie Crumbler. It's okay if they choose not to participate. But I think they would have fun lying to us.

Oh, and I just love the word upon. It's two prepositions in one! So I get double satisfaction in using it to end sentences with.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Val, the Mother of Invention

I am about to take you on a tour of what it's like to be Val, thevictorian. No charge. Just a warning that some images might be disturbing.

If you know me from my previous, long-running, and still kickin' blog, you may remember that I'm the kind of woman who forks her hair. Oh, come on. Don't act surprised. Have you ever known a teacher with a fashionable, attractive hair style? For those of you who are not insiders, think back to a time when you saw teachers, members of the AFT, perhaps, walking a picket line. Uh huh. Not an alluring coiffure in the bunch. It's like they just took off a rasta hat, or a shower cap, or used not a fork, but an eggbeater as a comb.

But that is neither here nor there. I am quite satisfied with my lovely lady mullet, plastered though it is some days to my head, like a smaller version of Bob's Big Boy's hairdo. No, what I am about to tell you has nothing to do with my appearance, but rather with appearances. As in, keeping up appearances. I am not obligated to divulge this little incident. It happened in the privacy of my own home. But perhaps it will give you some insight into just what kind of woman Val really is. If you are squeamish, look away. At least for the next two paragraphs.

I am presently drinking from a large cup of water filled with knee ice. The cup itself is no crystal goblet, sparkling and ready to sing with a wetted finger circling its rim. Nope. It's a plastic mug with a lid, emblazoned with BJC Health Care. A remnant from the hospital stay last summer, when my thyroid was ripped from my neck. In this cup, I have a red plastic straw from Sonic. I can use a straw for a week. It's only water.

Every morning and every night, I fill my cup with ice and top it off with water. Cool, clear well water. Mmm. Unfortunately, the in-door ice-maker in my Frigidaire sometimes goes on the fritz. Like tonight. My sixteen-year-old, Genius, cleaned out the clog in the works. The bad news is, he took the remaining ice. That left me with none.

I am not one to swill lukewarm water. Nor can I wait two hours for a cup of ice. So I took the logical step of fishing my knee ice out from behind two frozen containers of chicken broth. The knee ice started out as ice cubes in a Ziploc bag, their purpose being to ease the constant pain of the bursitis in my right knee. As the ice melted, I put it back in Frig, the Frigidaire. It re-froze, and was used another day. Perhaps ten or twelve other days. In fact, as my frigid compress began to leak, I encased it in another Ziploc. It has been stashed away for two weeks or more behind the chicken broth. Out of sight. Out of mind. Until tonight.

My quest for a cool beverage led me to the freezer, with a hope that by gazing longingly into Frig's innards, I could make some ice appear. It worked! I spied the knee ice. Within thirty seconds, I had stripped that frozen log out of its plastic skin, and plopped it into my BJC tankard.

Val is the mother of invention.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Words Make the World Go Round

Words are a problem for the ill-read. If children don't read, they don't develop a well-rounded vocabulary. And by reading, I mean books or newspapers, not text messages. I would have simply said texts, but some might interpret that as textbooks, which is not my purpose.

Take, for example, the student who thought I was bragging about being Valthevictorian. That's how she wrote it, all one word. She had never seen the word valedictorian. And if she had heard it before, her mind made sense of it by filing away Valthevictorian. Not Val, the Victorian. Simply Valthevictorian.

Our school has an in-school suspension program. The students assigned to ISS remain in one room all day, completing assignments sent by their teachers. Twice a day, they are walked single-file to the restrooms. They are not allowed to talk. Once their business is done, they line up along the wall to wait for all to finish.

Many years ago, we had a teacher who walked down the hall past this group, as they stood against the gym wall. The ISS teacher had stepped away to round up the stragglers from the men's room. One of the students in line dared to mouth off an insult to the teacher. Rumor had it that the teacher was a former Navy SEAL. Just a rumor, which he did nothing to dispel.

Not being one to suffer insults from students gladly, Faux SEAL retorted, "Well. If it isn't the malcontents." Not anything that could get him in trouble. Simply a statement. A generalization concerning the mindset of the ISS students.

I was teaching an at-risk class back then, and these students were my regular clientele. When one returned to class the next week, he brought up the incident.

"I better not catch him away from school. I'll beat the crap out of him. He called us Milk Tits!"

"Oh, I think you must have heard it wrong. Why would he call you that?"

"Because he's a jerk, that's why. He was calling us little babies."

"Hold off on that beating. I'll check with him at lunch and see what he meant."

I was able to smooth things over the next day, when I explained that Faux SEAL had merely called the boys malcontents, not Milk Tits. They were fine with being called chronically dissatisfied people who rebel against the establishment. Because that definition suited them. But the word malcontent was not in their vocabulary. Milk and tits were.

A well-rounded vocabulary is a terrible thing to lack.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

One Woman's Ear Candy is Another Woman's Ear Poison

Art is such a subjective entity.

Take, for example, Roxanne, the song by Sting and the Police. CALL the police, is what I say. Listening to that ear poison is cruel and unusual punishment. I've heard better caterwauling under my porch at night. Who decided that racket was a song? I have to switch stations when it comes on my XM radio.

So averse am I to Roxanne that I have never heard the lyrics. I can only make it as far as Roooox aaannn. Today it came on when The Pony and I were on our way to Grandma's house. I switched to the Eighties station, and a real song by the Georgia Satellites, Keep Your Hands to Yourself. The Pony asked if Roxanne was the worst song I ever heard. Yes.

Tonight, I looked up the lyrics for Roxanne. They're a bit sparse. I suppose I expected more for the 3:11 running time. A much better song about a man wanting a woman to stop whoring herself would be Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town, by Kenny Rogers. Now that's a song. And all told in only 2:54.

There's just no accounting for taste.

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Apologies For Your Abandonment

I have neglected the newest addition to my blog family. Shoved her away, left her to her own devices, to rummage under the bathroom sink, run naked down the sidewalk, insert grilled-cheese sandwiches into the VCR, stick pennies up her nose, squeeze the kittens, reprogram the remote control, taste the dog food.

I apologize, my dear blog. It's hard to be a single author and work full time. Two blogs require more love and attention than one blog. Forgive me. I have forsaken you this week to dance with the one what brung me. And to dredge up new cliches.

Truth be told, I have been cooling my heels at my other place. The one where I can let my hair down, and let my freak flag fly. It's different here. I try to be polite. Which stifles my creativity. I save my best stuff for elsewhere, and I dare not link it.

Val is not one to give out milk for free. So, just in case she ever acquires that cow she is chasing, all you will get here, from there, are brief snippets of other-blogly unpolished goodness.

And a bit of extra funny, if there's any left over.