Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Baloney Sandwich Needs a Diaper

If you are going to comment that I should have spelled b-o-l-o-g-n-a, don't bother. I remember that little boy singing the Oscar Mayer song, too. But around these parts, nobody says bologna. That would make me a laughingstock. It would be like telling somebody that I laid ON the floor to watch TV. In my neck of the woods, we lay IN the floor.

But getting back to my baloney...I have been taking it in my lunch this week. Yes, it's a bit unhealthy. But have you ever eaten a school lunch for 180 contracted school days? Didn't think so. I normally take frozen chicken tenders from Aldi's. They are handy to microwave. A side of Sun Chips completes my two-course meal with a minimum of fuss. With lunch coming at 10:53 a.m. four days a week, and at 10:38 on Fridays, I need something that doesn't settle in my belly like a stone.

Because you can't have a proper baloney sandwich without mustard, and because mustard makes my Wonder Whole Grain Wheat bread soggy, I use two pieces of baloney, with mustard in between. Today, I made myself such a baloney sandwich for my Saturday lunch. Hick and The Pony were out terrorizing the chickens and goats with some project, and Genius was in town mowing yards for cash. I took my one-handed meal to my computer. Sometimes, I enjoy my lonely repast in front of the television. Baloney did not seem appropriate for The Joy Luck Club.

My computer, New Delly, as Genius and I named her, is in my basement office. My dark lair. I set down my delicious baloney sandwich and commenced to catching up on blog reading. Every now and then, I picked it up and took a bite. One such bite, over half-way through the sandwich, drew my attention away from New Delly's cheery screen. I felt something plop onto my shirt. Knowing that I had not included pickles nor onions nor any other such fixin's, I looked down. And saw a blob of mustard bigger than a Dwight D. Eisenhower dollar.

I don't use so much mustard for school. Not because I don't want it dropping on my shirt. That thought never occurred to me. But because I don't want it squeezing out on the corner of my mouth. I'm not so sure anybody at the lunch table would tell me. And wiping your mouth with a paper towel does not always remove the yellowy goodness of mustard.

I went immediately to the NASCAR bathroom adjacent to my office. I call it that, because Hick designed it with a black-and-white checkered tile floor, a custom-made countertop with airbrushed stock cars, and eleventy-thousand little hooks on the walls, each hung with a Hot Wheels NASCAR collector car. Several clock and book-cover likenesses of Dale Earnhart watch you do your business. Yes. We are the epitome of sophistication.

Some purple liquid soap rubbed into the yellow offending spot removed the stain straightaway. I returned for round two of Val versus lunch. Not to be outsmarted again, I took a tissue and wrapped it under my baloney sandwich's bottom.

Fool me twice? I don't think so.

Friday, April 29, 2011

My Thoughfulness Knows No Bounds

Sometimes, I am just too nice. Stop snickering. It's totally true.

Every day, at the end of 5th hour, I straighten my desks. Not in an obsessive-compulsive way. But because I'm too nice. My plan time is 6th hour. That is when the custodian cleans my room. My classroom is at its worst at that time. It's been twenty-four hours since the last cleaning. Bits of paper appear on the floor, and shoe mud, and pencil shavings around the sharpener. The desks and chairs are askew. So I straighten them.

My students 5th hour are too cool for school. They are not the type to straighten up before they leave. I call it even if they take all of their possessions with them and the furniture remains upright. They are not like my sweet freshmen 7th hour, who dutifully align their chairs two minutes before the bell each day. Align them with the legs on specific tile cracks, and push in the chairs, exactly as I have requested. No, that's not happening 5th hour. So instead of a room ready for cleaning after the final bell, I have a room in disarray with two class periods remaining.

At times I feel pressured to complete this task before The Broomsman enters. I try to stand in the hall to supervise huggers and runners and hacky-sackers, but he sweeps by and commences the cleaning without me. So I rush in and begin. Put the desks in straight rows with adequate spacing, push in the chairs, pick up any full-sized papers that might have dropped. I feel like an assistant of sorts. I have danced this ballet for years.

Today was reading day, as is every Friday, which means that we are on a shortened hourly schedule to steal thirty minutes of reading time from the day. This schedule discombobulates The Broomsman. It throws him off by fifteen minutes. I spend Fridays 5th hour in the computer lab, on Study Island, preparing for the End Of Course testing that is imminent. So it's a long walk up the hall to get back to my classroom. And sometimes nature calls, which necessitates a stop at the faculty women's restroom on the trek.

The Broomsman was busily brooming when I arrived. "I put some of your chairs in rows for you," he said as I walked in.

Which kind of seems like the natural order of things to me.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Transformation

Today I am one of the popular people. You know, the people who are the hottest thing going. On the tip of everybody's tongue. The IN CROWD. The hep cats. The bee's knees. That's me. Today.

By popular people, of course I mean Zombies. My transformation began at 12:30 a.m., when I woke up in my basement recliner with a pounding headache across the front of my forehead. I went upstairs to bed, where the headache worsened. After tossing for two hours, and then tossing my stomach contents,  I sat awake in the living room recliner until time to arise for work at 5:00. It's amazing what four hours of sleep can do for a person.

My skin is pale gray. I mumble incoherently while trying to communicate. I shuffle along in a shambling walk. I am starving for brains.

Yep. I'm a zombie, all right.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dear Crabby, 4-26-11

Well, the weekend slipped by, and Dear Crabby was not in the house. But she's here now, ready and positively eager to take your questions. No inquiry is too small or too large. Dear Crabby is willing to devote her meager spare time to helping those with burning issues. Give her something to type about. Or gripe about.

Here's one to kick things off:

Dear Crabby, 
Is it true that you can't go home again?
Signed, Homebody

Dear Homebody,
Of course you can go home again. But please note that when you do, you will be suckered into a game of CatchPhrase with your sister, who will take her twenty-one-year-old daughter who owns the game as her partner, along with your sixteen-year-old son, leaving you with a seventy-seven-year-old woman and a thirteen-year-old boy, neither of whom are familiar with the Beatles hit "Hey, Jude," or the fact that "tassels" grow on the tops of ears of corn, or that Dolly Parton's first song was about her corncob doll, Little Tiny Tasseltop, and the only thing that will allow you to score ONE point all afternoon is that the thirteen-year-old knows that strippers wear tassels.

Dear Crabby awaits your questions.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I've Been Cheated

When we last visited stylin' governor Val, the tough taskmaster, she was not grinning, and was absorbed in her steamy fling with Vicks. To update the situation: Vicks is OH SO SEVEN days ago. He has been replaced by a new liquid love, who hooked up with Val through an introduction by her doctor. More on him in the future.

The business at hand tonight is my smell. More specifically, the lack thereof. For ten days, I have been forsaken by my olfactory senses. I could have taken a blindfolded chomp out of a big red onion and called it an apple. I could have embarked on a leisurely stroll through a hog farm on a humid July evening and deeply inhaled the night air. I could have worked double shifts in a combination horseradish/Limburger cheese factory for minimum wage and not thought to complain.

My sniffer has been on the fritz.

The timing of this tragic event is quite inopportune. Every year, I look forward to the blooming of my lilac bush. I used to have three wonderful lilac bushes at my $17,000 house in town. A dark purple one, and two light purple ones. They were laden with blooms. They sagged under the weight. They had more shoots than you could count. I loved my lilacs. When we moved out of town, to the countrier part of the country, I told Hick that I wanted lilacs. Hick dug up part of my grandma's lilac bush. He planted two of them in our front yard. The third year, frost killed the smaller one. Never mind that I told Hick to protect it from the hard freeze. Hick knows best. Hick knows what is best for himself, in not going out in the cold to wrap a sheet around a lilac bush.

The remaining lilac bush hung on. But didn't bloom. My grandma had told me it would take seven years for it to bloom. I thought that was preposterous. Just an old grandma's tale. How could nurseries survive selling lilacs that took seven years to bloom? But I didn't get mine from a nursery. I got it from Grandma's yard, courtesy of Hick. And wouldn't you know it, the eighth year, that lilac bush bloomed.

Flash to this year, when Hick let his herd of goats loose to mow the front yard. Goats really like lilacs. And roses. Or the bare branches. They ate as high as they could. I had just a few buds remaining. I saw them bloom. But they had no smell detectable by my malfunctioning nostrils.

Today, my smell returned. I stepped out on the porch, where goatherder Hick was sitting, surveying his goat kingdom. He normally rides his four-wheeler around with them, but it was raining tonight. Just like it has rained for the past five nights. And days. I asked Hick if my lilac buds were going to bloom. I had seen them last week, but tonight there were only buds. Or so I thought. Hick informed me: "Oh, they bloomed. But now the rain has beat the petals off of them."

I try to be optimistic, though it is contrary to my nature. What's another year? It's not like I missed the 100-year blooming of the corpse flower.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Val is The Governor

I am giving myself a new nickname. The Governor. Not an executive who exercises authority over a group governor. An instrument that maintains a steady speed governor. I believe I've mentioned that drivers tailgate the living daylights out of me. Even when I'm going over the speed limit. In a non-lawbreaking kind of way.

I'm versatile. Like that dude, Mayhem, in the Allstate Insurance commercials, I'm a chameleon. I can be your pace car at the Indy 500. Walk your thoroughbreds to the post to the tune of My Old Kentucky Home. Drip glucose and meds into your vein through your hospital IV. Act as metronome for a pianist performing at Carnegie Hall. Set the pace for Adam Richman vs the food of the week.

Val has many hidden talents. Right now, they are duking it out under a bushel.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Val is Stylin'

Josh Hoyt, at The Blog That Helps You Diagnose Your Characters, has presented me with an award. I was kind of hoping for a Major Award, like the leg lamp in A Christmas Story, but that would have been a bit inappropriate. Josh's wife and my husband might not appreciate such a risque, fish-netted, electrified gam passing between Josh and me.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this Stylish Blogger Award. Oh, I definitely have a style all my own. But I am concerned that somewhere in the blogosphere, two people are typing whispers about me. Kind of like Lily Tomlin told Dolly Parton about Jane Fonda in Nine to Five: "We're gonna need a special locker for the hat."

Here are the rules of the Stylish Blogger Award:

To accept the award, you have to do the following

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Award 10-15 blogs who you think deserve this award.
4. Contact these bloggers and let them know about the award.

I would like to share 7 things about Val's style.

1- My hair is all my own, and I keep it cut in an unstylish lady-mullet so as not to distract my students with my great beauty. I do not use hairspray, due to a childhood Aqua Net incident. My coiffure holds its shape in compliance with the laws of science, using good ol' static electricity. On my best days, I might be accidentally mistaken for Bob, of Big Boy fame.

2- One of my most stunning childhood ensembles was the combo of sky-blue stretch pants with foot strap thingamajigs paired with a rose-colored polyester dress with black rickrack hand-stitched by my grandma festooning the sleeves and neckline. Only a future valedictorian could rock that look.

3- My most memorable school picture is from fourth grade, featuring a smile in which I pulled my teeth over my lips like a toothless grandmother yearning for Heidi to bring her some soft white rolls. For the record: I really like soft white rolls.

4- As a miler on the high school track team, I possessed a kickin' pair of shoes with long metal spikes for running on cinder tracks. It is not such a good idea to use your teammate's head as a drum on which to practice your spiked-shoe drumstick cadences between races, as some people have really fragile scalp skin, and are not up-to-date on their tetanus shots.

5- To ward off the midwestern winter chill, the well-dressed high school gal, Val, rotated her stable of wraps, consisting of a dark brown maxi coat, a flannel CPO jacket, and a white, fur-lined Southwestern Bell Telephone windbreaker with two stylish blue and gold stripes down the left side.

6- My high school band uniform required black shoes. Not one to go with the basic flow, Val obtained a pair of funky platform saddle shoes in black and gray. They were more of a fashion statement than they were a viable option for marching up the field at home football games, or down Blue Goose Hill during the homecoming parade.

7- A promotional poster of a Coors Light beer label can be made into a fetching Halloween costume when wrapped around your torso, held up with black suspenders, and teamed with a gray sweatshirt, gray sweatpants, silver Nikes with a red swoosh, and an inverted visor wrapped in foil for the pop top.

I would like to share my special Stylish Blogger Award with two most deserving folks who have followed flaky Val here from her supersecret long-time blog abode:

Mommy Needs a Xanax, a middle-school teacher now deep undercover as a Mississippi mom,


Kathy, the Krafty Kampground Kaperer. who can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and sew it back on the sow so that all the other sows turn green with envy.

Should you ladies decide to accept, I look forward to finding out 7 things I don't already know about you!

Thank you, Josh, for bestowing this honor upon me. I shall cherish it and set it on the mantle next to the coconut-shell monkey that my son bought me at a flea market, to be dusted twice a year, whether it needs it or not.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Val is a Tough Taskmaster

There are some items which I have found necessary to outlaw from my classroom. They are not necessarily listed as prohibited in the student handbook. Still, I am the queen of my classroom, and my subjects must abide by the rules or be cast out until they can comply. I do not find the limitations to be unreasonable.

Items on Val's Classroom DoNot List:

Headphones, earbuds, earphones, etc. 
No matter what you call them, they are competition for Val's attention. Val is not hooked up to U.N. translator. That's because everyone in this school speaks the language of Val. No good can come of these not-listening-to-Val devices.

Blankets, pillows, stuffed animals.
We are not having a sleepover. We are having class. Bringing sleeping instruments will encourage you to nod off. Besides, who knows what you've got going on under that blanket. You could be sneaking a peek at your phone, or something more inappropriate. Wear a jacket if you're cold-natured. You don't see me strolling around with a quilt draped around my shoulders.

Bottles of water, soda, juice, Powerade, Gatorade, milk.
I don't think you will dehydrate in fifty minutes. Beverages can wait until after class. The handbook says no beverages outside the cafeteria. Who knows what you might have added? Bottles leak. Bottles make noise because you feel the need to squeeze them. My classroom is not a cool cafe where you hang out and chat with friends. It is a den of dry discussion where the thirst for knowledge is quenched with facts.

Oranges, apples, cupcakes, chips, sunflower seeds, ice cream, etc.
There is a time for lunch, and a time for class. Finish your feeding in the cafeteria. My classroom is not a movie theater. It is not dinner and a show. Don't think I can't smell you peeling an orange behind your big purse.

Big purses, backpacks, gym bags, limitations on:
They can come in, but they have to go under your desk. Do not clog up the aisles. Do not set it on your desk to obscure some clandestine operation. Nobody ever fishes their book, notebook, or pencil out of such a bag. It is just for show, and to bring in contraband. You're lucky this isn't the middle school. You would have your bag confiscated. Don't act like this is a new, cruel and unusual rule.

Perfume, cologne, nail polish, lotion.
Get ready at home. Don't let me catch you with smelly contraband. I will toss it in the trash. Nobody wants to smell your stuff for fifty minutes while we are confined in this classroom. I, especially, do not want to smell it for the rest of the day. It makes my nose run. It chokes me up. It's not permitted.

Various and assorted items that you think of later, to which I object.
Whatever you think up, I will disallow.

That's how Val rolls.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's Not You.

It's not you. It's me.

I have an issue. Everybody has issues. Some people are afraid of clowns (ha, ha). Others must have their currency folded in half in their pocket, arranged in ascending order of value (seems perfectly reasonable to me). Still others claim that flu shots give you the flu (that's just crazy talk!).

My issue is with people who end comments with "grin". I bear them no ill will. It's me. I have the problem. It makes me feel like somebody thinks my funny bone has been removed and replaced with a lacking-in-social-skills bone. And that's not true! "stamps foot"

See? One should be able to discern the intended levity or pique from the comment itself. I don't need an emotional road map. You might as well tell me, "This is what I meant, you durn fool, because I don't want you flyin' off the handle over something I said as a joke."

If I can not make people understand my meaning by the way I write, then I should not be posting comments in which I need to tell people to laugh. Okay. That's kind of a rip-off of Mattie Ross in True Grit:

"If in four months I could not find Tom Chaney, with a mark on his face like banished Cain, I would not advise others how to do so."

I love that old movie. The 1969 John Wayne/Glen Campbell/Kim Darby version. You can never quote too much True Grit. You can, however, leave too many "grin"s.

I'm sure people who use the "grin" are very nice. Much nicer than cranky ol' Val. Like I said, it's ME. Not you. Like in Stand By Me, or "The Body," if you're a reader. Don't call Teddy Duchamp's old man crazy. It sets Teddy off.

"grin" is my crazy

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Clandestine Dalliance

Vicks VapoRub and Val,
sitting in a tree:
First comes love,
then comes marriage,
then comes Val
with a baby carriage.

Okay, we haven't progressed quite that far in our relationship. No stinky little bundle of joy for me. But things have been heating up between my new love and me. Vicks caught me at a vulnerable time. I have been feeling less than attractive. Over the past three days, the dark circles under my eyes have grown more pronounced. I had hoped that the new red tint around my nostrils would draw attention away from my eye bags. A furtive glance in the mirror revealed that I was sadly mistaken.

Vicks has been in my life off and on since childhood. I had a tendency to overlook him in those early years. Even when he was right under my nose. This time, however, I sought him out. I didn't have to go far. Vicks, ever on the lookout for a prime opportunity, had ensconced himself behind the vanity mirror in my bathroom.

We resumed our on-again, off-again relationship slowly at first. I deeply inhaled his signature scent. That really got my juices flowing. Vicks always knew how to make me hot. Try as I might to resist his slimy advances, I knew we were destined to spend the night together. My chest ached for Vicks.

Throwing caution to the wind, I ripped off my blouse. And foundation garment. Before you could say Holly Robinson Peete, Vicks was all over me. Our melding was as good as I remembered. Emboldened, I crept into bed next to Hick, the sticky essence of Vicks still clinging to my flushed skin. Hick remained unaware. Perhaps it had something to do with the CPAP machine shielding his nasal passages.

For now, Vicks and I bide our time. Our rendezvous are always furtive. Behind closed doors. In the privacy of my home. Though I can't imagine life without him, I refuse to be seen with Vicks in public. Some things are better kept private.

A lady reveals nothing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dear Crabby, 4-17-11

I feel remiss in my blog behavior of late. Here I am, operating two blogs, when some people have none. How selfish of me! It's time for me to give something back to the blog community. And because I am so selfless, and so adept at making good decisions, such as the time in college when I went over to that car as it pulled off the side of the street, to the dude behind the wheel, who beckoned to me by pointing at his naked wrist and asking if I had the time, only to discover that his wrist was not the sole appendage which was naked, I am going to open myself up to your inquiries.

Yes, you can write to Dear Crabby with your questions about life, love, and the pursuit of crabbiness. No question is too deep. Or too shallow. What's kickin' around in your noggin? Shake it out like a hairless baby mouse from the pocket of coveralls left hanging in the barn, and send it to Dear Crabby.

Dear Crabby is a trained professional. She has an A.A., a B.S.Ed., and an M.Ed. Those three things, along with her high school valedictorianship, plus a dollar and eight cents, will get you a Route 44 Diet Coke with Lime between 2:00 and 4:00 each day at Sonic.

Gather your wits and send Dear Crabby a piece of your mind. Her services will be available every Sunday until May 22. Don't delay. Get your questions in now.

Here's one to prime the pump.

Dear Crabby, 
Why does my son keep telling me that school is like prison?
Signed, Out of Touch

Dear Touchy,
Your son is very observant. The reason he tells you that is because school IS like prison.

*Every fifty-four minutes, there's a head count. Students who are not accounted for are sent to The Hole, also known as In-School Suspension. There, they spend the day in small cubicles with work assigned by their guards.

*Food is dished out onto compartmentalized trays. No knives allowed, only plastic forks and spoons. A minimal time is allotted for meal consumption, to prevent behavioral issues. 

*No physical contact is permitted between student or students/teachers.

*Strict rules are enforced regarding personal grooming, clothing, and hairstyles.

*Student lockers, purses, and pockets are searched with due cause.

*Gum is the currency of the student population.

*The most common sentence is four years, though some are released early for good behavior, and a few are retained for lack of progress.

Send Dear Crabby your questions. In the immortal words of Bluto in Animal House: "Don't cost nothin'."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

'Tis the Season of the Peep

I looooves me some Peeps. Sugary, squooshy, neon-colored treats, ripe for the picking off Walmart shelves since the day after Valentine's Day. I've been pretty good about resisting them. Until today, I had only indulged once. They were yellow. The bunnies, not the chicks. Chicks are too asymmetrical for me. After I bite off the head of a chick, I don't know how to proceed. Should I pop the whole body into my gaping maw? Or savor it in two or three bites?

No, chicks are not my bag. I prefer the bunnies. They are a three-course snack: ears, head, torso. Okay, so the bunny's torso kind of morphs into his butt. We all have our little body image issues. Today I partook of some delectable purple Peep bunnies. I might still have some lavender sugar crumbs clinging to the corner of my mouth. Aren't you glad I don't have a webcam?

My purple Peeps were quite attractive in a marshmallow-paper-doll kind of way. I didn't take a picture of them because...well...I was wanting to rip them open and chow down. So here's a stock photo. You've seen one Peep, you've seen 'em all, right?

 Except that you haven't. Really. Because last Christmas, I purchases some Peeps snowmen. They certainly looked delicious, after that long dry spell since Peeps pumpkins and ghosts went away. But when I removed the wrapping, I saw a most embarrassing sight. Fearing that nobody would believe me, I took a picture.

They're smirking, don't you think? They look like naughty, fluffy, pirates. "Yo ho ho and a bottle of eggnog!" Those rowdy ruffians had no place in a holiday snack display. It wasn't just one three-man chorus line showin' their business. The whole package was like that. All three rows. At first, I thought it was just me. Perhaps I had an impure mind. I called my son Genius, then fifteen, to take a look. "Do you see anything wrong with these Peeps?" His hoot was enough of an answer for me. I could not let these jolly gentlemen appear in public.

So I ate them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Welcome to My Nightmare

Perhaps I have neglected to mention that my husband, Hick, is a collector. Not in a well-heeled, artsy-fartsy, gallery-perusing, benefactor kind of way. In a one-horse-town, flea market, Thursday night auction, hoarder kind of way.

This is what he brought home last night:

Not the just-turned-thirteen-year-old boy. I'm pretty sure that's against the law, even here in Missouri. That's The Pony, our youngest son, modeling the wooden mask that Hick paid money for at the auction.

We hate the mask. My introduction to that hideous false-face came at 9:30 p.m. There I was, relaxing in my basement recliner, watching the season premier of Triple Rush, that bicycle messenger show on the Travel Channel. Maybe I had nodded off. It has been a long week. I was lulled into a light slumber by the ambiance, toasty warm under the green velour throw that I won at my sister's Christmas Eve party, watching the big-screen TV by the light of my plier-lamp and the soft, colorful glow of the lights on my artificial Christmas tree. Yes. I know it's April 15. Let's just say I have trouble with transitions.

You know what it's like when you're startled awake. Your heart pounds as you try to discern where you are. There was The Pony, halfway down the steps, holding the creepy mask at arm's length.

"Dad says to show you what he got at the auction."

"Get that out of here! Take it back up. Right now!"

"I didn't want to touch it. But Dad made me."

Hick chuckled from the upstairs recliner. "I thought you'd like it." Uh huh. Like the Dirt Devil vacuum that he gifted me with in our sixth year of marriage.

Sometimes, Hick is a little slow on the uptake. He does not sense subtle clues. Like, "Get that out of here!" means I don't want the mask in my home.

Fifty minutes and another nod-off later, I was awakened by a muffled, "Mom!" I looked to the steps and saw the shadowy figure of Genius, our sixteen-year-old, with the mask over his face. I heard a scream. Then realized it came from me.

Sure, laugh at my expense, sitting there safe and secure, viewing the mask in the light of my kitchen while wide-awake. You can't truly feel my angst until you snooze an hour in my recliner, and spy a dim, masked dude watching you at the moment you regain consciousness.

Hick swears that he is taking the mask to his cabin down in the woods. Which pretty much guarantees that I won't be visiting the cabin any time soon. He left it on the kitchen table overnight. This morning, in our rush to get off to school, I noticed that The Pony had turned it face down. When Hick came home from work this evening, he said, "Who moved my mask?" He flipped it over. After he went out to feed the chickens, I saw that the mask was once again face down.

We are getting a bad vibe from that objet d'art.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Backroads Miz Manners

It has come to my attention, gentle drivers, that you are not well-versed in the etiquette of navigating rural two-lane blacktop. Perhaps a refresher course is in order.

When driving a dump truck, behind which is attached a flatbed trailer loaded with a yellow backhoe, it behooves one to utilize the right-hand road lane at all times, especially when cresting a hill.

Citizens who reside on gravel roads feeding into the two-lane blacktop are not in need of one's charitable donations of cardboard beer cases, fast-food bags and cups, kitten litters, portable methamphetamine labs, truckloads of trimmed branches, non-working refrigerators, full garbage bags, forlorn canines, used disposable diapers, and metal frames of incinerated recliners.

A divided highway is best utilized when one's goal is to travel swiftly to one's destination. Alongside many a divided highway run two-lane blacktop roads, which are routinely traveled by those who live off said two-lane blacktop. It does not bode well for a motorist with an ETA agenda to meander along the two-lane blacktop when a divided highway is provided. No matter how proud one is of one's ability to drive 45 mph while maintaining a distance of three inches between one's front bumper and the rear bumper of the car one is following, such an exhibition of skill is, at best, unflattering. One will find that this tactic does not engender one's fellow drivers to alter their speed in the way of increasing mph.

Next week: The Feeding and Eating of Dust.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Not-Amusing Amusement Park Ride

This morning, as I was trying to sneak a quick nap in the recliner before time to wake the boys, while Hitch enjoyed the prime shower time, I had the most scathingly brilliant idea.

I'm going to design an amusement park ride called The Screaming ZZZs.

The ride is a cross between a roller coaster and a haunted house. The cars will be shaped like recliners. As the bar closes, it will cover the thrill-seeker with a hand-knit afghan. Styles will alternate, with one car having an orange/brown/olive green loose-weave afghan, and the next having a cream, tight-knit, afghan embroidered with Master Teacher.

The track will not have outrageous loops, lip-pulling g-forces, Indiana-Jones-mine-car chasms, or record-breaking heights. The scare comes not from the fear of death by flying off the track. It comes from heart-thumping shocks to the system every five to seven minutes.

The Screaming ZZZs is a long ride, you see. Patrons have time to snuggle under the toasty afghans, close their eyes, coast themselves to sleep with the gentle swaying of the recliner-cars, and then all not-heaven breaks loose!

An  ear-splitting tone startles the slumberers. Riders are rudely awakened by various alarms. A cuckoo here, a heavy chime there, a cell phone electronic beep, a Toby Keith song, a resounding clunk. The recliner-car passengers snap bolt upright. Their collective hearts thud in their collective chests. Their bugged-out eyes can discern no landmarks in the inky darkness. Slowly, they recover. And lean back. And drift off again. Until the next onslaught of auditory assault.

Or maybe that's just something I dreamed at 5:35 this morning.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lethargy, Inc.

I fear that I am a latent narcoleptic. By the end of the work day, I can barely keep my eyes open. I've never actually nodded off at a crucial moment. But I feel like I could.

My drowsiness is not as bad as Sigourney Weaver in HeartBreakers, the DVD deleted scenes, where she's at a luncheon with Gene Hackman the cigarette baron and his cronies, and finds them so mindnumbingly boring that she stabs a salad fork into her own thigh to stay awake. But it's close.

Do you suppose my dearth of zzzzzzz's has anything to do with those five hours of sleep I get almost every night, whether I need them or not? I'm sure there's a reasonable diagnosis kicking around out there in Internetland. My doctor proposed sleep apnea. I'm not so sure. I don't wake up gasping. I sleep quite soundly during the hours that I sleep. I have no trouble falling asleep. It's just that darn alarm that keeps interrupting my slumber.

By the time I pilot my large SUV home every evening, I need a little fifteen-minute nap. It's quite refreshing. Then I'm ready to go for another six hours. The afternoon hours are the problem. I run out of steam. My get-up-and-go gets up and goes. I need the energy of Sally Field as Abby's mom, Maggie Wyczenski. If you don't know who I'm talking about, turn in your ER superfan card right now! Granted, I don't need to be sashaying around the workplace, handing out bagels and cream cheese that Dr. Susan Lewis, the woman with one single solitary facial expression, thought she threw away. Nor do I need to run off to Oklahoma with a trucker and find myself abandoned five days later in a cheap motel with no money to pay, necessitating a call to my daughter, the nurse/doctor, who is busy juggling two doctor boyfriends and is in no mood to bail me out of my cesspool of depression. Again.

I really need more hours in a day. Or a maid. Or a cook. Or one less blog to pick up after.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Personal Peccadillo

Do you have words that annoy you? Words that jangle on your last throbbing nerve? Words that have never done anything to you, personally, to elicit such revulsion?

Here are some words I do not care for. Words that I can't give a fair shake.

Onus, peccadillo, hausfrau, Amanpour, chromatids, tantamount, quesadilla, parsimonious, subterfuge, uber, fractious, qualms, schadenfreude, obfuscate, bloviate, ogle, titmouse, promulgate, giblets, putrid, harridan, brooch, milquetoast, clabber, junket, thesaurus.

I don't like the looks of them. Nor do I like their sound. Which is not to say that I would never use them.

Other words please me. I overuse them. I try to find convoluted reasons to include them even more. 

Sternocleidomastoid, shenanigans, usurp, faux pas, nefarious, flibbertigibbet, ruse, curmudgeon.

That second list seems short. I can never summon up the word I want when I want it. I have to stop thinking so hard, move on to something else, let it blindside me.

Here is one phrase the sets my teeth on edge: "Beyond the pale." It has nothing to do with shades of hue. But that is how I think most people use it. 

Let's retire this saying. Grab it a hand-crocheted shawl, put neon-green tennis balls on the feet of its walker, pour it a hot toddy and place it on the end table upon a lace doily, set the TV to a marathon of Murder She Wrote, order it a Jitterbug telephone, and crank up the thermostat to 80 degrees. Mission accomplished. "Beyond the pale" is officially out to pasture.

Cranky old curmudgeon, ain't I?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Val's Tasty Treats: The Armgate Scandal

Time for another heapin' helpin' of Val's Tasty Treats. Tonight, I bring you an unpolished gem that may or may not be included in my WIP. I find it enjoyable, but it doesn't have much oomph. It's a tale from several years back, concerning my classroom control issues.

My son, Genius, won a stretch limousine trip to Pizza Hut as one of 16 students who were tops in the Middle School fundraiser. It was a white, SUVish stretch limo kind of trip.

My 9th grade students and I were shooting the breeze, having finished our math work in record time. It's amazing what these little whippersnappers can accomplish when they know the rest of the time is theirs. I don't mind. They never give me any trouble, there are only 13 of them, and it gives me time to grade their papers. Yesterday we reached a high temperature of 79 degrees. I had the heat turned off, but could not bring myself to turn on the air conditioning. We had snow days last week, by cracky, and there are still a few drifts of the stuff hanging around. My room was a classical room temperature 72. One of the kids asked if she could open a window. I agreed.

Next thing I know, there are 6-8 kids at the two windows, each sticking out one or more arms. In retrospect, they were just 'feeling the weather', as one told me today. I never let the kids stand by the windows. In fact, that's number 12 on my Never Ever List. But I made the exception, you know, for the nice weather. Then I hear, "Hey, look at that limo! Where's it goin'? Hey! It's turning in!"

Yep. The stretch limo went through our circle drive. I told the kids to get away from the windows. They did. They asked why. But it was too late. The limo had already gone by. I explained. "Chances are, that's the limo from the Middle School. How many limos do you think there are, driving around our town at noon on a school day? And if that's the MS limo, my son is in it. And he will point out to his friends, 'That's my mom's room right there. The one with all the arms sticking out the windows. She always lets her kids stick their arms out the windows.' And in two years, when that class is over here, and I teach them science, they will go rushing willy-nilly to the windows to stick their arms out. When I correct them, they will say, 'Well, you let everyone ELSE stick their arms out the windows.' So that's why we can't do that any more."

Oh, and I forgot to mention that at the time the limo was turning in and preparing to cruise my windows, a man on a horse rode by the other way. And the kids said, "Can we holler at the horse?" I hope you know the answer to that. Then a kid said he bruised his arm on the window, and I could already see it forming, and I told him great, if my kid noticed that, he would tell his cronies, 'Sometimes they hurt their arms on the window, and then they sue the school to pay their medical bills.' All this because Val tried to play Mrs. Nice Guy for a day.

Nice guys finish last, with kids sticking their arms out the windows.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Tale of Two Sitties

I have a chair at my computer desk that is the best present Hick ever gifted me with. It totally rocks. According to Hick, it set him back three figures. He purchased it all by himself at Office Max, and kept it hidden in the barn until Christmas. I'm not sure exactly when he slipped it into my office. Santa stays up late and arises early around these parts.

My chair is dusty red and cushy, with arms at just the right height. It rolls admirably. I can raise it and lower it. I can tilt it back like a recliner without a footrest. Chairy is aging gracefully. In dog years, she would be forty-two. I shall rue the day that Chairy breaks a leg and must be destroyed.

At work, I have a rolly chair. Not a roly chair, not a rolling chair, not a roll-y chair. A rolly chair. I can call it that. It's my blog.

Rolly is adopted. He used to live in the business lab, on a carpeted floor. Rolly has five legs, a soft blue seat, a padded blue back, and a distaste for rolling. Go figure. His wheels do not like my industrial tile. He balks when I want to move. He locks his five wheels and scoots crossways over the floor like an uncouth dog dragging his itchy butt across the berber.

I shouldn't disparage Rolly, considering that before he joined my classroom furniture family, I rested my rump upon a hard blue plastic student chair. Without wheels. But at least I knew what to expect: a sore gluteus maximus at the end of my eight-plus-hour day. Which is not to say that I sat for eight hours solid. For the record.

The problem with Rolly is that just when I expect him to roll back, or toward my desk, he scrapes his wheels in protest. I might as well be sitting on a regular chair for all the rolling that I'm getting out of Rolly. Rubbing salt in my emotional wound is the total insouciance of Rolly's back. I adjust it to fit my spine, and Rolly lets it slide. A horse bloating its belly to play fast and loose with the cinch at a most inopportune moment has nothing on Rolly. No matter how tight I screw the seat-back knob to the right to be tighty, Rolly lets it slip. So I am continually going behind my own back to yank the support into place. For a moment. Until it slithers stealthily down to the seat proper again.

I have a good mind to load Rolly up in an oversized basket and leave him outside the business lab door, like that red-headed brat in Problem Child, the one who idolized The Bow Tie Killer.

Rolly and I are a match made in Not-Heaven. I have been spoiled at home by my sweet Chairy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Desperately Seeking Beaker

I have another blog that has served me well since 2005. It's a place where I let my hair down and babble endlessly about more personal matters than I share here. One thing puzzles me about my alternate blog universe. The stats reveal that most of my hits come from googling "beaker."

Those folks must be sorely disappointed to seek out "beaker," and land on my homespun corner of the internet. It would be different if I had a love for beakers, or used them for crafts, or had named one of my children "Beaker," or devoted the blog to my favorite Muppet. And how far down the Google hit list must my little blog lie? I mentioned a beaker in one post. One post in six years, to the best of my knowledge. So I don't think the people who land on that page will be returning. I don't serve their beakerish needs.

Today, the top two keywords that led people to that blog were "beaker" and "chemistry beeker." Makes you feel confident, doesn't it, that the scientific community is garnering valuable data from a blog written by Val's alter ego. And that the scientific community has spelling issues. Or maybe it's just middle school kids trying to do their vocabulary assignment.

The post that consistently draws people there, day after mysterious day, is titled The Beaker Calling the Erlenmeyer Flask. It resulted from my son, Genius, the son of a science teacher, mind you, confusing a beaker with an Erlenmeyer flask. The horror! It took me weeks to live down the catcalling from the other science teachers.

To make the blog matter more disturbing, I visited dear old Mr. Google myself. I typed in "Erlenmeyer flask." And up popped the auto list:

Erlenmeyer flask
Erlenmeyer flask deformity
Erlenmeyer flask bong
Erlenmeyer flask bones

Ain't that a kick in the head? People in need of identifying a proper Erlenmeyer flask can learn how to make a bong! And those looking for how to make a bong don't even know how to spell "bong." They think they're going to fire up their stash through Erlenmeyer flask "bones."

What a curious world we live in.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Would You Ever

My students are quite comfortable with asking me somewhat inappropriate questions. That is not a good thing. All it takes is one not-so-innocent query, and they are off to the races.

On Monday, as I was returning graded assignments, with the intent of discussing the errors and enlightening their spongy minds thirsting for knowledge meted out in a trickle so as not to choke them, a fly was flung into my educational ointment. "Did you dye your hair?"

I continued to pass back the papers. "That is a bit personal. It's not the kind of question that you should ask while I'm trying to start class."

"I just wondered. Because it looks darker." She smoothed her own locks. They were back to their normal hue, after a month of parading as two different impostors.

"Maybe I fell into the Fountain of Youth." That rendered Rapunzel speechless. But awoke a slumbering giant seated two rows over.

"Were you drunk? That sounds like something you would do when you were drunk."

I let this one go. No need to feed the trolls. They quickly tire of the game when they don't receive feedback. That's the fine art of teaching. Knowing when to respond, to what extent, and when to ignore. The papers were handed back, and class began as normal.

Today, my younger students started the would you ever inquisition. Not at the beginning, but just before the dismissal bell. It began with a boy telling the girl next to him that he wanted to come to school in a dress, rip it open down the middle, and reveal black biker gear. He turned to me. "Has a guy ever worn a dress to school? Can you get in trouble for that?"

I explained that any clothing that caused a disruption to the learning environment could result in a trip to the principal's office. Dress Dude went on to describe his outfit. It would be pink. He would have a string of beads to swing around. That put his confidant in question mode. "Would you have piercings? Tattoos? How about for twenty dollars? Would you get a tattoo if somebody bet you twenty dollars?"

I stated that the twenty dollars would be gone in a jiffy, but the tattoo would last forever. No, a few students declared, they could be removed. "You're right. By being burned off with a laser!" I always like to inject a dose of realism into their dreams.

That started my line of questioning. I was asked:

Would you ever get a tattoo for twenty dollars?
For forty?
One hundred dollars?
Would you dye your hair for twenty dollars?
Get your nose pierced?
Your septum?
Get gauges in your ears?

Thankfully, the bell rang. I don't know why they think I need extra money so badly.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Debt, Like Rome, Wasn't Built in a Day

Could somebody give me a hand? Just for an instant, while I climb up on my soapbox? I'm not as surefooted as a goat. But I really must get up on that soapbox.

There's a commercial that has gotten stuck in my craw. Perhaps you've seen it, if you watch a lot of reality television, or Malcolm in the Middle reruns on FX between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. Central Daylight Time. There's a woman sitting on a couch. She answers her phone, and becomes agitated. "I told you we can't pay. My husband lost his job. Stop calling me!" That's not verbatim. But that's the gist of it.

Here's what bothers me. That woman, let's call her Debty, has the unmitigated gall to castigate the collection agency (or creditor) for trying to collect money that she owes them. She does not say that they are mistaken, or that they have the wrong phone number, or that she put the check in the mail. Debty flat-out states that she can't pay. Like that makes everything hunky-dory.

What does Debty expect? That her creditor will forgive her loan? "Oh, that changes everything. Sorry, Debty. Since you can't pay, we will leave you alone. Go ahead and keep that car and big-screen television and 4000-square-foot house. We'll get our money from somebody else. I'm sure they will be happy to cover your payments for you. It's not your fault that you can't pay us. We expect that when we loan money. Actually, we look upon it more as a gift. You deserve to have the same things as people who, crazy as this may sound, pay for their stuff. Forgive us, Debty, for disturbing you. Let us know if we can help you in any way. Take care."

Come on. The loaner or collector made a phone call in an effort to recoup their money from the borrower. It's not like a goon showed up on Debty's doorstep and offered to snip off her pinky finger with a bolt cutter if she didn't count out the full amount in crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. Debty's husband is not going to be whisked off in the dead of night to become the cellie of Richard Hatch. It's a phone call. Lose the attitude, Debty.

This process doesn't take shape overnight. Several months of nonpayment must occur before it gets to this point. I'm guessing that for the level of ire exhibited by Debty, she's been receiving calls for a while. Surely, Debty could have contacted her creditors before things went this far, and set up a reduced payment plan, or made arrangements to give back the unpaid items. Surely.

And while we're holding Debty's feet over the coals, let's comment on her slacking, layabout ways. What's she doing on the couch? Couldn't she be out looking for work? Cutting coupons? Reading Help-Wanted ads? Babysitting? Crocheting beer-can hats?

Debty does not look like she's going to be moving into a cardboard box anytime soon. She appears to live a comfortable life. Before she hops up on her very own soapbox and declares that the world owes her not only free stuff, but peace-of-mind from phone calls by people wanting back the money they loaned her, let's tone down Commercial Debty's attitude. Make her a more sympathetic figure. Then hawk the credit-counseling service.

And while I'm up here on the summit of Mount Soapbox, I have a message for Geico. Bring back the Namby-Pamby Jackwagon commercials. People living under rocks are poor substitutes. Furthermore, the three tangoers, and Honest Abe insulting Mary Todd, just don't cut it. Even the woodchucking woodchucks would be better.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blacktop Bird Silent in the Dead of Night

Several years ago, I spent the latter half of my workdays at our middle school facility. My boys rode the bus there from the elementary school. They puttered around in my classroom until I was ready to leave. We always exited the building through a side door, followed a covered walkway, and stepped onto the blacktop parking lot. I was fortunate to garner a respectable parking space in those days by arriving soon after another fellow traveler departed for the high school. My spot was not far from a large sweet gum tree that grew beside the building. It littered the lot with stemmed balls sporting spines. I routinely stepped on that tree's balls on my walk to the car. Depending on the season, and their squooshiness factor, those Sweet Gummy balls could wreak havoc with a person's stride.

One fine fall day, footing my way across the pavement, I nearly turned an ankle. My son, the one we call The Pony (due to a strong aversion to a pink My Little Pony girly-toy mistakenly slipped into his boy-specified Happy Meal by an incompetent sixteen-year-old server), saw it happen.

"Are you all right, Mom?"

"Yeah. I just stepped on one of those tree things."

"Uh. No you didn't."

"What do you mean?" I kept walking while The Pony lagged behind.

"You just stepped on a dead bird."

That stopped me in my tracks. I turned to look. My older son, Genius, was already on the case.

"You sure did. You stepped right on it." He poked it with the tip of his shoe. For the record, Birdy was partially obscured by autumn leaves. It's not like I sought him out to grind under my heel in an effort to release the day's pent-up frustrations.

The boys thought it hilarious that I had stepped on a dead bird. They virtually crowed about it. They chattered like magpies about my burgeoning avocation as a bird-stomper. The Pony was swift to parrot his brother. Together, they nearly drove me cuckoo. It was just a lark to them. As they were humming along, besmirching my walking skills willy-nilly, I swallowed. I warned them to stop their mocking. They were violating the cardinal rule of Val:  enough is enough. I needed to stop them before Birdy became my albatross. Just my luck that The Pony had eagle eyes. I most certainly didn't see Birdy before I tromped on him. Tired of their sniping, and about to turn into a cantankerous old coot, I told them to settle down and stop being such turkeys.

You would think I had stalked that bird, set up a blind, darted out when the time was right, grabbed him by his birdy feet, flung him to the ground, and hopped up and down on him until his free-as-a-bird days had ended. I was a victim of circumstance. Birdy was already taking a blacktop nap when I chanced upon him. And I do mean upon him.

Something was fishy about Birdy. Day in, day out, sunrise, sunset, like sand through the hourglass, he rested in one piece on the parking lot. I know, because I inadvertently stepped on him about three times per week. Which was brought to my attention by the hoots of my offspring. You would think that a neighborhood cat might have pounced on Birdy, seized him as a gift offering for his master's porch. Or that free-running dogs would have rolled and wallowed over him, spreading the remains. Or that microbes would have devoured Birdy over the course of several weeks, a real-life exhibition of time-lapse photography. But no.

Birdy remained in the same place on the parking lot through Christmas and into springtime. I know he stayed in the same place, because I continued to step on him. Three times per week. You'd think I would have altered my route. But I was not thinking of Birdy every day when I left work. I had bigger fish to fry.

Then one day, Birdy wasn't there. I'm guessing that my constant treading ground his bones to a fine powder, microbes belatedly fulfilled their role in the cosmos, and the feathers blew away. Only a slight discoloration marked the near-eternal resting place of Birdy.

Birdy still lives in the imagination of The Pony. Every time we walk through that lot, he mentions my unfortunate bird-crushing faux pas.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Off the Beaten Path

Nothing makes you feel isolated like finding out that you live twenty-five miles from where the wreckage of a plane was discovered after six days of searching.


We can practically zoom in to peer into the front window of a home by using Google Earth, but we can't find a plane after a half-dozen days of looking.

That is the definition of remote.

Hermits would not want to set up solitary shop in my neck of the woods. It's too far off the beaten path. A recluse would feel deserted. A lone wolf would become lonely within twenty-four hours. Superman could erect a southern Fortress of Solitude, and never be detected.

Note to Self: If I ever even think about going into seclusion...it won't be necessary. I already live there.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Val Goes Postal

I stopped by the post office this afternoon for some stamps. I need them, because I'm one of those old fuddy-duddies who refuses to pay bills online. I'm not much for putting my financial information out into the swirling, nebulous, ethereal entity known as cyberspace, free for the taking.

My post office is not the most pleasant place to spend a Friday afternoon. It was built in 1917, and appears to have undergone minimal modernization. The entryway has been fitted with a push-panel automated door, to make it handicap-accessible, presumably. There are actually two doors. You push the panel to open the first, step inside, and grab the door handle of the next. By giving it a strong pull, that door swings open automatically. I am not sure how a differently-abled person is helped by this system. The entrance is at the top of a wide row of five steps. There is no ramp.

Entering the post office is a feat best accomplished with the assistance of the Indiana Jones special-effects team. Once the front door swings open, you must step inside the vestibule, yank the handle of the second door, back up for it to open while avoiding the closing of the first door, then dart inside before it slaps your backside. Woe is the postal patron who must juggle packages to or from the counter. Especially woe is the person who meets a fellow adventurer attempting to exit the building at the time of his entrance. Such a feat begs the advice and expert timing of the national double-dutch jump-rope champions.

Upon successful ingress, the senses are assaulted by an odor of dead mouse. The smell has been present for as long as I can remember. Either the building has ventilation issues, or a mischief of mice leads an unhealthy existence in the confines of that stone edifice.

I dodged a chubby young man who was exiting with a package, sucked in a breath of fresh outside air, and grapevined my way through the doors like Dorothy and her brainless, heartless, cowardly friends embarking on their tribulation-filled journey down the Yellow Brick Road. The clerk disappeared into the back room as I stepped to the counter.

I am certain the postal clerk saw me enter. I dropped my keys with a jangle onto the granite countertop. She had to hear me, even over her chatter with a male mail clerk in the bowels of the back room. I stared at the silver bell sitting in front of the Ring Bell for Service sign. Normally, I am loathe to ching-ching for attention. It smacks of impatience, of self-importance, of entitlement to immediate attention by the public servants. But because I felt she had passive-aggressively snubbed me, I dinged.

The clerk came out and scanned a label. She greeted me pleasantly over her shoulder. I told her that I was intent on purchasing two books of stamps. During my pre-bell-ringing interlude, I had surveyed the samples of stamps. I saw Ronald Reagan and shelter pets and wedding rings and Latin music legends. My old friend the Liberty Bell was missing. The clerk asked me if I had a preferred design. I told her no, that any design seemed as good as the next.

She handed me two books of evergreen forevers. Those are Christmas stamps. But after saying that any type of stamp would do, I could hardly cry foul and renege on the pine cones.

I suppose this is Karma's way of telling me that my Christmas tree should not still be glowing cheerfully in my family room every evening, what with this being the first day of April.