Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Where There's Smoke...

The Pony and I came up our gravel road Friday night with a cloud of black smoke looming several neighbors away. The wind was in our direction, but with a northern component. I told him it looked like any fire would have to jump the gravel road and get into the woods and sneak up behind us. That happened once before, when The Pony was a non-walking baby and Genius was a toddler. That time, I had to call Hick at his bowling league to come home and soak the house with the garden hose. Sometimes a cedar-sided home with a wraparound porch is not the best vessel for riding out a runaway forest fire.

That old fire was started by our teenage next-door neighbor. Her dad told her to burn the trash, and she left the barrel unattended. A spark got into their woods, which it kindly shared with our woods, which only needed a ten-foot jump onto a wooden playset and another ten-foot hop onto our porch. Neighbor was toiling away with a garden hose, digging a trench, trying to keep it contained when I called Hick. Hick ordered me to call the fire department if I saw flame through the smoke. So I stood on the concrete behind the garage (cedar-sided as well) in a late-fall swirl of hickory smoke, jiggling The Baby Pony on my shoulder, watching Genius run around pushing his "wheebarrow." That was after I backed our Ford Aerostar out of the garage, after loading both kids in it, because nothing is ever simple when you have a toddler and a lap baby. Our means of escape was ready if we needed it.

The problem was that Neighbor had not purchased a fire tag. To call the fire department would result in him being billed for all expenses involved in fighting the fire. To add insult to economic injury, the fire department would not put out his house if it was on fire. But they WOULD keep our house from burning, because we bought a fire tag. So it was not a simple decision. Save our house at the risk of bankrupting Neighbor, or risk our house to save Neighbor a bill which he could not afford? Hick said a 25-year friendship was not worth losing our less-than-a-year-old house. Call them if I needed them. I had the phone in my hand.

Hick arrived and jumped into the woods with our own hose. He wet down the playset and back porch, then the trees closest to the yard. He helped with the trench. Lucky for us (and Neighbor), the wind dropped, the fire burned down to the creek and stopped, and didn't jump the trench.

That's life in Backroads. You have to buy a rural fire tag every year to be protected by the fire department. It's due July 1 each year. They put up billboards on the way out of town. Everybody knows. It used to be $50 per year, but now it's $70. That's per piece of property. We have ten acres with our house, and another ten acres about a half mile away on the gravel road that town people use to cut through. AND we bought the ten acres next to our house property about five years ago. Hick says since it adjoins and has no street address, it should not need a separate tag from the house. I hope he's right.

That's $1500 minimum that we've spent on fire protection since we moved out here. To me, it's well worth the money. Because you never know when some nut is going to toss a lit cigarette out his window while he's sucking down a cold Busch on his way home from work while he's cutting five miles off his commute on our private roads. What am I going to do with $1500? My money is taxed when I earn it, taxed when I save it, taxed when I buy something, and taxed when I bequeath it to my offspring. I might as well fritter it away on peace of mind. It's not like I can earn cash as a singing waiter and have my wife save it for my kids Francie and Neeley in a tin-can bank nailed to the floor of the closet. Oops! That was Johnny Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

My point is: you can cut corners with some expenses, but not with the chance of losing your house (or life) in a fire. Or being responsible for somebody else losing their house. Because you don't have the option of saying, "Oh, here's my $70, now save my house, please," when the fire department arrives. They will stand by and watch it burn, and bill you for the trouble. They will, however, stop the fire from spreading.

This tale has grown lengthy, so I will share details of the current fire tomorrow.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Snakes in a Drawer

The Pony is following in the footsteps of his big brother, Genius. You remember Genius, don't you? The boy who lost his chartreuse pillowcase?

Both boys are going to the MSUSBC Youth Bowling Tournament this weekend. Don't go thinking it's an honor. As long as they've bowled enough games during the season, any kid can compete in the state bowling championships. Our local alley always takes a team.

Hick has mentioned for the past two days that the boys need their team shirts. According to The Pony, one shirt is in Hick's car. Probably left there from last year. Or at least from last fall, when their league may or may not have handed out new shirts. Hick swears that The Pony has a shirt somewhere in the house. Like that narrows down the search area.

I combed the laundry room last night. I knew there was a shiny blue, white, and red shirt with a Youth Bowling logo. It gets shoved aside every week during laundry, because it is a non-essential wardrobe item. I washed it and hung it to dry at 5:00 this morning. Hick says that is not the right shirt, but that it will do in a pinch. He wants the one with the local team name on it. A black T-shirt.

When we got home from school, I sent The Pony to his room to search for the bowling shirt. About thirty seconds later, he announced, "Nope. It's not in my room."

"Did you look in the drawers?"


"In ALL of the drawers?"


"It has to be there. It's not hanging in the laundry room."

"Well, it's not. I looked."

I may or may not have heaved a giant, long-suffering, sarcastic sigh. I'm a master at expressing myself with expelled air. No eye-rolling for me. I'm a minimalist.

I rifled through The Pony's second drawer. Old shorts. T-shirts for home wear, not good enough for school. The third drawer was school shorts with pockets and zippers. And some specialty shirts. BETA club. Academic team. An orange, don't-kill-me t-shirt for wearing outside at the beginning of deer or turkey season. Another blue, white, and red silky Youth Bowling t-shirt. A solid red league bowling team t-shirt. And a couple of school mascot t-shirts.

The Pony was dispatched to the living room to put the bowling shirts on the back of the couch for Hick to inspect when he came in from his nightly goat-and-chicken reunion. I opened the fourth drawer. Lo and behold, on the bottom of the right-hand stack of not-in-the-daily-rotation shirts was a black team bowling shirt. "You said you looked through all of the drawers."

"I DID!"

"Well, I found your bowling shirt."


"Right there on the bottom of the stack."

"It wasn't there a minute ago! I LOOKED!"

"I'm sure you did." I couldn't resist. As he bent over and peered into the drawer, in an effort to understand the mysterious, spontaneous generation of his team shirt...I took that shirt and touched the back of his neck with it. While making a rattling noise and a snake-hiss. "If it was a snake, IT WOULDA BIT YA!"

The Pony laughed nervously.

Please, please, PLEASE! Somebody out there promise me that if I ever disappear, a search party NOT comprised of my immediate kin will commence looking for me.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Robbery Most Foul

Another conspiracy has reared its ugly head to leer at Val and send her into a tizzy. Beware of the Pizza Hut Ten-Dollar Box Scam. You heard it here first.

To comply with the unwritten Truth in Blogging Law, let the record show that the Thevictorian family has enjoyed the Ten Dollar Box before. On several occasions. To rave reviews. But this evening, something went amiss betwixt the telephone order and the drive-up carry-out window. A dastardly deed that went undiscovered until the quick meal was unpacked at the old homestead.

Perhaps you've seen the Ten-Dollar Box on TV. It's a rectangular pizza, packed alongside breadsticks and cinnasticks, complete with marinara sauce and melty icing for dipping. We ordered two pizzas, because Genius and I wanted some leftovers to pack for our school lunch. Friday is not a good day to dine in the cafeteria. Especially so late in the year. We ordered a pepperoni (which I detest), and a sausage.

Genius lit into the pepperoni box like Kobayashi in his prime at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. I prepped for The Pony, removing pepperoni. He prefers breadsticks, but will eat cheese pizza. Nothing to see here.

I opened the sausage box. And beheld a disturbing sight. My pizza looked like a football. If you can picture the crust as pebbly leather, and the topping as the laces. If you took a square corner piece and compared it to a pie, a wedge comprising one-fourth would have been filling, and the rest, crust. Somebody had robbed my pizza Peter to pay Paul. I hope Paul was happy. And that he suffered a painful gallbladder attack from all that extra fatty sausage and cheese. I, on the other hand, will be carb-loading at lunch tomorrow.

It's enough to drive me back to the gas station chicken establishment. I'm running out of places where my students don't work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Answer Me This

I am suffering from a fit of consternation.

I am a teacher. I have a reputation to uphold. As do my fellow educators. Not because we want to. Because we have to. The public demands it. We perch on pedestals. Tall, wavering pedestals, in the style of those poles performers use to spin plates. Tall, bendy poles, where we sway to and fro, spinning, spinning, until one of us drops.

A few days ago, I received my quarterly professional educator organization's magazine in the mail. I browsed through it. Read the articles by or about people I know. Set it aside. This morning, I picked it up again. I was startled by an article with the title: Polices Protect Low-Income Students.

Hm...that's a lot of police protection. Polices. I read it again. Oh. Maybe the article is about policies. Policies! With an extra "i". That's got to be it.

Far be it from me to criticize a statewide magazine. I am not a shining example of perfection. When I go back and read my old blog posts, I notice several glaring typos or grammatical errors per post. But I am not a statewide magazine. Should somebody not have caught this error before the magazine went to press? Is that even what it's called? I know nothing about publishing a magazine.

Surely there are several people involved in proofreading the issue. We would not want our profession to become a laughingstock. "Ha, ha! Teachers can't even spell right! Look at their magazine!" What happens in a situation such as this? Do heads roll? Are letters placed in files? Official reprimands doled out? Double-secret probation? Will the magazine print a correction in the next issue? Or let this sleeping dog lie, hoping that only educators read such a magazine? Educators who will close ranks and protect their own.

I am curious. How could this happen, and what happens now?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Incredible Opposable Thumb

I had a minor kitchen accident this evening. Nothing like CHOPPED, where the chefs sometimes sever a digit, stick it back on with chewing gum, stretch on a latex glove, and go merrily about their chopping while it fills with blood faster than ground offal bloats a sausage casing.

The accident occurred while I was slicing two onions. Lucky for me, I was on the second half of the last onion. Because that acid that leaks out of the onion cells sure does smart when it comes in contact with an oozy layer of my dermis, once I carve away a hunk of epidermis.

Funny how much you take your thumbs for granted. They do countless thankless jobs all the live-long day, unheralded, unappreciated. Here are just a few tasks we rely on thumbs for, that I discovered tonight:

Picking up raw pork steaks and ensconcing them in Saran Wrap. Pretty difficult when you don't want to expose your open flesh to Trichinella spiralis, a species of roundworm that just might be infesting your pork. And a tough task to perform with a lone thumb.

Pairing and rolling up white socks that belong to boy children. Let's just say somebody is going to get the sock with the red dot.

Grabbing a handful of Scoops tortilla chips. Or as I like to think of it, deliberately rubbing salt in my own wound.

Pulling down pants. As in those frantic trips to the bathroom that women of a certain age are wont to experience.

Pulling up pants. Because to not do so is kind of frowned upon in polite society.

Changing channels on the Dish Network remote control. Dang! You might as well text 24/7/365 to build up your thumb strength, because that remote is a regular bear with all those fancy gewgaws.

Blowing your nose. Try it sometime. To pick up a tissue and blow your nose without using your thumb. Or try using the opposite hand. See? I told you so.

Opening or closing a ziplocked bag of Walmart Great Value Almonds. It takes two thumbs! Or one thumb and a set of teeth.

Thank goodness the wound is on the finger side of my thumb, so typing is not affected. As long as I leave off a Band Aid, I have enough sensation to type. And it's my left hand thumb. So writing for my job will not be affected, either. Though I AM ambidextrous, I have a preferred hand for many activities. Like nose blowing, and card dealing, and teeth picking, and basketball shooting, and chip eating are all for Lefty.

You know what else I discovered tonight? Saliva is a poor substitute for a Band Aid.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Carry On, My Wayward Son

Nothing startles one out of a perfectly peaceful recliner slumber than the tread of giant sweaty feet on the basement stairs. At 11:45 p.m.

While I was still in that "Whaaaa?" stage, Genius barked accusatorily, "Where is my pillowcase?"

Because of course I had smuggled it out from under his head and onto a slow boat to China. Had folded it over and over into a tiny square and enclosed it in a plastic Easter egg for him to find on an egg hunt. Had used it to make a sleeping bag for my sweet yet recalcitrant dog Juno. Had stowed it away to use next Halloween when begging for candy. Had used it to hold a bar of soap to beat that screw-up Private Pyle while he slept. Oops! That was Full Metal Jacket.

It's not like a pillowcase can disappear. Especially that one. It is chartreuse. It matches his sheets. The color he asked for after painting his room monochromatic shades of gray. Aside from his bed, there were only two places that pillowcase could be. In the dryer. Or in the washer. Each Sunday, The Pony gathers the towels and bedding, and brings it to the laundry room. I wash it. I dry it. The Pony gets it out. If he had not delivered the pillowcase to the room of Genius, it had to be in the dryer. Unless it stuck to the side of the washer and didn't get dried.

Genius declared that he had looked EVERYWHERE! That he had gone through the entire contents of the dryer, TWICE, and his beloved pillowcase was not there. I told him to check the washer, but in that instance it would be wet and unsleepable. He ascended the stairs in a huff. When I went to bed, I saw that he had laid his weary head to rest on his bare pillow.

There was no need for that. For his chartreuse pillowcase lay jauntily upon a shiny wooden table in the hallway between his room and the kitchen/laundry room area. The very path upon which he embarked to find his special pillowcase. The very path over which he went to look in The Pony's room. Because everybody knows a younger brother covets the drooly pillowcase of his elder sibling. The very path through which he returned to his own room to pout over his late-night misfortune.

If that pillowcase had been a snake, it would have taunted Genius with, "You're blind as a bat!" and "HELLO! I'm over HERE!" and then bit him on the butt. Just on general principles.

This morning, I asked The Pony if he happened to drop the pillowcase on the way to the laundry room. "No. When I got mine out of the dryer, before bed, I put his on the hall table where he would be sure to see it."

 Across the land, fugitive needles in haystacks are breathing sighs of relief.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Foreshadowing, Perhaps

We have four new baby chicks. Of course they're new. It's not like we're going to have old chicks. I'm turning into my mother. I used to rib her about saying somebody had a new baby. "It's not like they're going to have an OLD baby, now is it?" My wit was wasted on her. Perhaps on you, as well.

In case you've never been up close and personal with baby chicks, they cheep a lot. A LOT. Which reminds me of a story from when Genius was in kindergarten. His teacher contacted somebody who raised chickens so she could get some fresh eggs. Every year, she brought in an incubator so the kids could see the miracle of chicks hatching. Once they were all out, she kept them in the classroom for a few weeks.

Genius was a good student. An adult pleaser. He acted like a little politician. Or perhaps a salesman. Before I could stop him during his preschool year, he had the middle school secretary out in the parking lot, opening up the doors to our new car, explaining the child door locks to her. I asked her why she left her desk for that, and she said, "But he's so persuasive!"

The kindergarten teacher put the box of newly-hatched chicks next to the table where Genius sat. She thought she was doing this as a treat for him, I'm sure. Or maybe to give him something to do when he was bored. She was, after all, the teacher who referred him for testing in the gifted program. "He just seems more mature than the other students. And they irritate him. He thinks of himself as an adult. Those are usually my gifted students." Indeed, she had quite a successful track record with her referrals.

About a week after the hatching, I mentioned the chicks to Genius. "Do you like having those chicks in the classroom? Are they fun to watch?" We did not have chickens at home back then.

Genius sighed. "All day long, it's CHEEP! CHEEP! CHEEP! I never want to hear another chick in my life. I wish we could get rid of them already!"

Funny. Genius does not enjoy our chicks the way Hick, The Pony, and I enjoy them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Never Underestimate the Tenacity of a Teacher

When we last convened, I was explaining the black-and-blue markings that covered my dorsal side from cervical spine to coccyx. Hope you all paid attention back in high school biology.

The artist who made my back her canvas, Spastic Foot, had just set up camp behind my belongings. Even though she had an entire bleacher section from which to choose her seat, she chose the five-foot section of the second row overlooking my stuff. I took my time walking back around the field house. I looked over every other competitor and their display, competitors sitting down on the floor with their projects, not stalking innocent bags, backpacks, and hoodies in the empty bleachers. I even made a side trip to the bathroom. Just in case Spastic Foot needed further stewing in her own juices.

I nonchalantly navigated my way back to that middle section. And sat down a few feet away from my seat-savers. Heh, heh. Some call me the master of passive aggression. Some call me the gangster of love. Some call me Maurice. Oops! I'm confusing myself with Steve Miller. That joker. Anyway...I had the whole front bleacher, so I saw no need to submit to more backjabbing. The air gushing out in Spastic Foot's sigh could have powered the whole eastern seaboard for forty-eight hours. And it was a renewable resource!

Part of our group returned at that moment, and sat down to my left, away from the pointy patellas of Spastic Foot. We chatted aimlessly while my stalker fumed. Other people began to fill up the section. The participants were released from their projects. A tiny little thing joined Spastic Foot on her perch. "Let's go over there."

"No. I want to stay here."

"Why? Everyone else is over there."

"I just do."

Spastic Foot grew tired of no acknowledgment. She slid off her bleacher. Mind you, she did not simply stand up and go down the two steps adjacent to her seat. She flopped her legs over my bottom bleacher and slid down over the hoodie belonging to Genius. Much to her disappointment, I'm sure, it did not move an inch. She flounced down the walkway, paused, and flounced back. She stepped on the hoodie to return to her crow's nest. It slid to the floor, with one arm clinging to the bleacher. Spastic Foot plopped her butt down in a huff.

"Would you please pick up my son's jacket that you knocked off?"

"I didn't do that."

"I just watched you step on it as you climbed up. You knocked it off."

"No I didn't."

Her thin friend joined in. "You did. Just pick it up."

Spastic Foot grabbed the hoodie and flung it down. Half of it fell on the bleacher, and half behind, where they had their feet. I didn't care. My point had been made. I turned back to talk to my teacher buddy. A male acquaintance of Spastic Foot showed up. "Whose stuff is this?" He started to pick up the backpack.

"That's my son's backpack."

"Oh. Sorry."

Spastic Foot had to get involved. "Why is it there?"

"Because he will be sitting there. I'm saving the seat." Such a foreign concept. I wonder if I can patent that idea.

Spastic Foot and friends hobnobbed in the manner of middle schoolers. Two wanted to move, but Spastic Foot did not. She had put down roots like a Forty-Niner defending her claim. The boy left. Spastic foot stood up and turned around, then knocked the backpack off the bleacher onto her foot space. Indeed. That girl had a true spastic foot. How you knock a backpack toward you is a skill I have not mastered. She had her feet all over it.

"Now you're stepping on my son's backpack, which has electronics in it. Please put that back." Let the record show that a backpack belonging to Genius is not lightweight. It took some wrangling to get it off the bleacher, and some hefting to put it back. Of course, Spastic Foot denied any wrongdoing.

"I'm not stepping on it."

"Please put it back before something is broken."

Again, her thin friend interceded. "Stop being like that. Put it back!"

Spastic Foot flopped the backpack onto the bleacher. Much like Mattie Ross of near Dardanelle in Yell County did not like the way Quincy was chopping up LaBoeuf's turkey, I did not like the way Spastic Foot flung the backpack. "What school are you from?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"What school are you from?"

"We're from REDACTED." The thin friend filled me in.

"Thank you." I picked up my program. I'm not a member in good standing with Mystery, Inc. for nothing. I had the school name. I had the program. And I had spied the science fair certificate of Spastic Foot's male schoolmate on the floor at their feet. So I had his name. Plenty of evidence should I need to mention the incident to my principal, who could call her principal, and give the name of the kid sitting next to her who would no doubt finger her in a sting operation, because 1) he did not seem all that fond of her, and 2) he had encouraged her to straighten up and fly right. Good to know.

Genius and one of our teachers appeared. I moved my bag and the hoodie. Genius put his backpack between them. You know. Because a 17-year-old boy and his former 6th grade teacher cannot sit next to each other on a bleacher. I found it hilarious that Teacher took up all of Spastic Foot's legroom. Funny how she reigned in that foot. Teacher's back went unmolested.

Spastic Foot, though, was having a cow. Thin Friend told her to calm down. "She's looking for your name."

I would have looked for her name, but I am terribly unobservant, and had not listened all the times she was yelled at by her crew. I was merely verifying the certificate dude's name with the school. Because believe it or not, kids have been known to give false information to adults.

Spastic Foot ranted and raved, and I think I heard mention of, "Well, I might just have to kill her, and that wouldn't be good." Schools don't take this kind of letting-off-steam lightly these days. Spastic Foot could be in a world of hurt should I pursue justice. Her fair-mates migrated to friendlier climes. She was left sitting alone, cramped, behind Teacher and Genius. Who rubbed salt in her imaginary wounds by swinging his backpack behind him to lean upon, further cramping her style. And her newly-trained spastic foot.

I am not seeking revenge. It's an unfair fight. In a battle of wits, I am armed to the teeth, and that poor girl is without a weapon. I am a professional middle-school-girl slayer. They get all wound up. Like a snapping turtle, they won't let go until they hear thunder. Maybe. They refuse to admit defeat, even when smacked in the face and hit over the head with the facts. (Let the record show that Val has never literally smacked or hit a middle-school girl.)

There is hope for Spastic Foot. She picked up the hoodie and backpack, if snottily, and only after being prodded by her peers. She could have refused altogether. She has a civilized support network to advise her of proper protocol in the real world. Because life is not one big middle school. There will be consequences for uncouth actions. But the one lesson I think Spastic Foot learned at the science fair was:

Never mistake a teacher as just some science fair kid's parent.

Friday, March 23, 2012

One Lump or Twenty?

Today was the local Science Fair. Schools from miles around brought pupils to compete. Our school took five students, and earned two firsts, two seconds, and a third. A fairly successful outing. You would think a good day was had by all. But you are forgetting that Val Thevictorian was involved. So think again.

Only Val could return home beaten and battle-scarred.

The morning was uneventful. Projects were judged on the floor of the college field house. Our attending faculty staked out a spot in the bleachers to while away an hour or seven. At 9:30, sponsoring teachers retired behind the south bleachers to hash out the specifics of next year's fair, pick up complimentary T-shirts, and eat cookies. Participants were dismissed for lunch at 11:30. And at 12:30, the poo hit the fan.

Part of my contingent left for lunch off campus. I agreed to stay behind and supervise, even though they expressed concern at leaving me "unattended." I promised not to run amok, so they left. I returned to the general population from that cozy back-bleacher retreat, and saw that our original observation area had been usurped by parents from our district. Too bad, so sad. We snoozed and losed. Snost and lost. Gave up our seats because we did not leave anything to hold them.

Two sections over was a clear area. Nobody in sight. I took the front row and set out my bag and program to save enough space. Students began to trickle back into the gym from the cafeteria area. They milled around. Some went down to their projects. Others sat on the floor. Some came to the bleachers to run up and down the steps and tip over Coleman coolers. My section remained magically empty, save for a man who sat two rows up, directly behind me, with a foot stretched out on each side. I found that a bit pervy, but only because I had a bad experience long ago in another field house with a genuine, certifiable perv sitting behind me. But that's a story for, um, never.

Then my teacher people returned from lunch to share the front row with me. A boy student that apparently belonged to the two-footed man sat on the bleacher behind me, to my right a bit. A girl climbed over him to sit a bit to my left. Briefly. She crept closer. And closer. Each movement garnering me a kick to the kidney, a knee in the rib, a battering ram to my spine. After the third hit, I tuned to look at her. "Oh. Sorry." She did not sound very sorry. And the abuse continued. I would say that she poked and prodded me no less than fifteen times.

The boy beside her mentioned it several times. "You're hitting that lady. Stop. Go back over there."

"I don't want to go back over there."

"You're being rude."

"Oh, well. She's sitting in a bad place."

I turned around. "No. YOU'RE sitting in a bad place. I was here first. You squeezed your way in. Now you're kicking me. That's very rude."

She shrugged her shoulders. Her buddy told her to stop acting like that.

Another onslaught nearly sent me off the bleacher. I turned again. "You're killing me."

"I have a spasm in my foot."

"You've given me a spasm in my back."

The two-footed guy even told her to move. "I don't want to."

I turned to my support team, who had also been giving her the eye. "I've a good mind to drive to the emergency room and have them take pictures of my bruises, then press charges for battery."

Spastic Foot hoofed her way out the end of the bleacher, making sure to jostle me in the process, and left for parts unknown. Some more people from our school showed up, so a couple moved back behind us where Spastic Foot had been sitting before she attached herself to my back like a jockey in the home stretch on the third leg of the Triple Crown. Spaz's buddy sighed. "Finally, she's gone." The words were barely out of his mouth before she reappeared like the Dunkin' Donuts Coffee neighbor.

"Uh...now I don't have anywhere to sit!"

"Why don't you sit up there? Or on the steps?" Her buddy was downright helpful.

"Are you trying to get rid of me?"

"No. Yes. Unsuccessfully."

She plopped onto the steps until the participants were called back down. We had an hour-long lull in the action while Best of Fair was judged, and the public was allowed to peruse the exhibits. My compatriots took a hike, leaving me all alone to hold the seats. I set out my bag, stretched out the jacket of Genius, and laid his backpack longways. Then I took a lap around the field house to stretch my legs and determine whether I had been dealt a debilitating spinal injury by Spastic Foot. From the far side of the field house, I looked back at our saved section. It was completely empty. Except for Spastic Foot. She had forsaken the floor and her project to return to the scene of my abuse, and sit directly behind my stuff.


To be continued...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Living to Tell the Tale

And now...the rest of the story.

Last night, I was a bit concerned after I let a stranger come right up my alley. Showed him the way in fact. I couldn't have led him there any better if I was Hansel and Gretel's bread crumb trail. From his appearance, I supposed he might be a real estate agent. Or somebody here from the city to look at real estate. He wasn't exactly Ted Bundy with a cast on his arm, asking me to help him load something into his VW bug. He wasn't even driving a VW bug. He had a shiny black SUV with dealer plates. Cue the screeching phonograph needle.

Dealer plates? Maybe he stole that car in order to leave fewer traces after killing me!

I puttered around in the kitchen, wondering what City Slicker could be doing over at the neighbor's house. I scolded Genius for eating cheese and crackers right before his supper of fish and corn-on-the-cob was ready. I lamented that I had been watching that pot of water for nigh on ten minutes, waiting for it to boil, yet it refused. Almost as if it sensed me watching it. Like I sensed that City Slicker dude watching me from across the road. I almost jumped out of my skin when the back door opened. It was Hick, back from his doctor's appointment.

"You scared the snot out of me!"

"Huh. What did you tell the repo man?"

"You mean that guy in a black car?"

"Yeah. He stopped me as I turned into the driveway. He's looking for a little compact car like that lady has up by the boys' land. I think she gave him the wrong address."

"I doubt anybody's going to give the repo man the right address."

"No, when she bought it. I think she gave the wrong address."

"Did you tell him where to find her?"

"I tried to. That's not on Battle Axe Drive. Or maybe she thought that was the road name over there."

"Sure she did. I don't feel bad. People need to pay their bills."

"Yeah. I didn't mind telling him."

Let's hope it's not a domestic violence situation. One where he was trying to track her down. Ted Bundy can't be the only criminal mastermind.

Life used to be so simple here in Backroads.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Good Samaritan or Sitting Duck?

I tried to help a stranger today. Mark your calendar!

There I was, driving The Pony home from school, when an approaching car stopped in the road. The driver stuck his hand out the window and motioned for me to stop. I did. Which is probably a good way to get killed in some necks of the woods. But here on the blacktop county road, in the light of day, with a cow pasture on each side and a house down a lane, I took that chance.

"Is this Battle Axe Lane?"

"Um. No. This is Backroads Byway."

"I'm trying to get to 1313 Battle Axe Lane."

"I live at 1212 Battle Axe Lane. I'm going there now, if you want to follow me. I'll go slow across the bridge."

"Let me turn around."

Let the record show that the dude looked like a city slicker. Or a real estate salesman. No flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off, or overalls, or wifebeater. No hockey mask. No chainsaw. A tasteful polo shirt. I couldn't see them, but I pictured him as wearing Italian shoes.

The closer I got to my turnoff, the more I second-guessed myself. What if he was a murderer? Genius was home. He wouldn't get me today. What if he was a process server? Oh, well. Wrap up your loose ends, people.

When I hit the gravel, I put up a wall of dust. Not intentionally. That's just a happy accident that lets me feed my dust to tailgaters. I swerve back-and-forth for them. But this guy got his shiny black SUV all be-dusted with no malice from me. I pulled sideways across my driveway entrance. Both to block him, and to point him up the road. He thanked me. "I never would have found this road on my own." I had mentioned to The Pony that he looked like a guy trying to find something with GPS.

He continued, and I pulled into the garage and closed the door. The Pony carried in his school stuff. I took a few minutes to gather my things, then followed. That City Slicker was coming BACK down Battle Axe Lane! He slowed at my driveway, but didn't turn in. He went down the driveway of our neighbors across the road. Then I started to worry some more. What if he was staking out the place? Coming back after dark to slit my throat? I think he saw me petting the dogs. THREE DOGS! Ya got that, City Slicker? THREE DOGS!

Genius greeted me inside. "What was that all about? I saw you talking to that black car."

"I wasn't talking to a CAR! I gave a guy directions. He may or may not come back to kill us."

"Oh." Genius went back to his room.

I'll update you tomorrow...IF I CAN!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Val, the Shifty, Shifty, Time-Shifter

Some parents in Backroads liked conferences a lot
But Val Thevictorian, sadly,
Did not.

Ol' Val needed me-time, for writin' and readin'
Not chattin', not waitin' for the fast-food feedin'.
She preferred to be sitting in her basement lair
In the glow of her monitor, nary a care.
A most scathingly brilliant idea took shape
In Val's odd steel-trap mind wound with silver duct tape.

"I know just what I'll do," Ol' Val chortled with glee.
"To keep up with my writing that's all about ME!
I can't do it at school with computer or pen.
Stealing time from my students? I'll not teach again!

All I need is to time-shift," Ol' Val said aloud.
"Since I can't be two places at once, and that crowd
Demands to see syllabi, and teachers, and rooms...
I will be there in person and mind, and not doomed
To while away hours, thinking what might have been.
I'll just type it up now, and I'll publish it then."

No promises made she of quality writin'.
Like casting a line when the fish are a-bitin',
Sometimes you can catch large-mouth, sometimes you'll catch perch.
Wasn't this better than being left in the lurch?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cutting Corners to Fill the Page

I had so much I WANTED to do this month, but life seems to have gotten in the way. Now it's parent conference time, and I have to spend two evenings this week at school. Oh, the payoff is that school is not in session on Friday. But that's the day of the science fair at the local junior college, and we always have entries. They give prize money, you know. And a scholarship. So I will be there from 7:30 until 4:00. Longer, even, than a regular school day.

Further flies in my ointment, bees in my bonnet, thorns in my side, pains in my patooty, kicks in my head, objects stuck in my craw, and rain on my parade, are the following:

Hick's knee surgery and convalescence

The Pony's recent illness and subsequent medical appointment

Tax time looming

It's not that these items aren't worthy of my attention. They are good causes. But they have kept me from doing things I'd RATHER be doing. Like whipping some submissions into shape, and actually submitting them. That loss of an hour to spring ahead did not help matters. I can do a lot in an hour. Like type up four blog posts. I'm not saying they're GOOD blog posts. But they're posts.

I could probably eliminate chair napping. But that would cut into my five hours a night. And I kind of need my rest. Only yesterday, a colleague asked if I was sick. I don't hold it against her. She's known for asking chubby women if they're pregnant, inquiring after people's dead relatives, and complimenting young girls on their Halloween costume mustaches. Which are, at times, merely a manifestation of a facial hair issue.

Something's gotta give. I'm going to broach the subject with a game of family Would You Rather. My first question? Would you rather eat off dirty plates, or wear dirty clothes?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Walking the Talk

Years ago, I took a character education class that was held on the campus of a local high school. We met one evening per week, way down at the end of the main building, in an isolated kind of space, a pie-shaped classroom with doors on each side. The hallway that ran behind it contained student restrooms, and led out to the athletic fields and a parking lot. Not one that we could park in, mind you. We had to park out front and traipse through dim hallways to arrive at our classroom. Most of us found out early on that it was best to use the restrooms on the main hall, because they had doors. The ones by our classroom had no outer doors, and only one stall inside with a door. I suppose the reasoning would be to prevent clandestine activities in such a remote part of the school.

Our instructor was all gung-ho for character education. As faculty members, we were daily examples for our students. Our actions could sway them in any direction. Were we people of character? Teacher Lady lived in black and white. No gray areas for her. Like Boston Rob on Survivor, her attitude was, "If you're not with me, you're against me." No such thing as a little white lie for her. A lie is a lie, no matter how you slice it or embellish it or dress it up an parade it around for the purpose of sparing somebody's feelings. In Teacher Lady's book, any time a wife asked, "Does this dress make me look fat?" the husband needed to answer truthfully. If you saw your best friend out with a gentleman who was not her spouse, it was your duty to inform her husband.

Class time was full of just such scenarios, and discussions of how we might react, and how a person of character would react. Teachers shared stories of recent events at school, wherein they had made a conscious decision to act as a person of character. Teacher Lady was well on her way to indoctrinating her roster.

About six weeks into the course, we heard a ruckus in the hallway one evening. There was the sound of running, girls giggling, guys laughing. I assumed some student-athletes had come in after a track meet. As teachers ourselves, we strove to be good students. We tried to concentrate on Teacher Lady's lecture. Then we heard a girl squeal, "Stop! Get out! You're not supposed to be in here!" It was not in the playful manner of the previous exchanges.

Nobody went to investigate. One man even got up and closed the door on that side. Teacher Lady nodded to him. She heard it. Yet she did nothing. Which ruined her credibility for me. It was all an act. A lecture. Lip service. Even without my recent instruction in the tenets of character education, I felt that somebody needed to check on the situation. I am ashamed to say that I, too, did nothing. I've never been one to rock the boat, to stick my neck out, to upset the apple cart. But somebody should have checked! It's like we all sat there, meekly, waiting to inherit the earth.

The final nail that Teacher Lady drove into her own coffin, as far as I was concerned, was the night she rejected the subject of my required report on a person of character. I asked if Kurt Warner would be suitable. It's not like there was enough of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa to go around. Teacher Lady waved her hand dismissively, and said that we were not here to write about sports figures. I might have imagined it, but I think I detected an eye roll, and "Pshaw!" in that little exchange.

You, Teacher Lady, are no Kurt Warner.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hicks and Chicks

"Next week, we should be getting some new chicks," Hick told The Pony this evening.

No, he's not procuring sweet young things for The Pony's pleasure. He was referring to the five eggs he put under a hen that was setting. It takes twenty-one days for the chicks to hatch. Hick was a bit perturbed, because a couple days ago, he found eleven eggs under that broody hen. That means the chick-hatching will be all out of kilter. That the five will hatch, and the hen will abandon the other eggs. Hick sees that as a waste of potential chicks. Yes. He counts his chickens before they hatch.

Hick revealed his plan. He will take the chicks away from the hen so she will keep setting. I called him on it. "What are you going to do with the chicks? They need their mother. The hen always keeps the chick near her. Remember how the hens get hysterical when the chicks go in and out of the fence, and they can't get to them?"

"The hen won't even know. I'll put the chicks in the rabbit hutch. They'll be fine."

Perhaps in all his years of chicken husbandry, Hick has not noticed how the hen is protective of her chicks. How she tucks them under her body to keep them warm. How the chicks poke their heads out of random feather crevices to see what's going on. How you can't shut up a cheeping chick. It's not like we're a production line, and put chicks in separate pens with warmers, all protected from predators and the elements. Our chicks have to deal with frosty nights and hawks and cats and goat feet and dogs and whatever sets those dogs to barking all the live-long night.

I think I talked Hick into putting another broody hen on the remaining eggs as soon as the first ones hatch. I don't know how it will work out. But at least the chicks will have their adoptive momma. Who knows what kind of eggs she is setting on. It's a toss-up. At least she will have the Egghead Juniors she has been dreaming of.

I don't want to think that Hick is being heartless. Or ignorant. I'd rather think that he's doing secret research in the field of nature versus nurture. Are new chicks hatched knowing all they need to know to survive? Or do they need a mother hen to model behavior for them?

Perhaps The Pony is lucky that Hick didn't send him off with a sandwich in a paper sack as soon as he could walk, in order to seek his fortune and fend for himself.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I Want to Thank You, Ray Don

No. I'm not Julia Sugarbaker. And I'm not sarcastically thanking Ray Don Simpson for being that guy who is always where women gather, or try to be alone, asking if the book they're reading is any good, or if he can keep them company on the plane. Nope. But I love that speech, and especially the way Dixie Carter said, "Ray Dooonnnn."

I do, however, want to thank my commenters. Not simply for the act of commenting, but for serving up some nice, juicy fastballs for me to launch over the center field fence in batting practice. I LOOOVE responding to comments. It gives me practice for responding to students' off-the-wall observations. Like the lad who asked me yesterday if I had any education whatsoever. Well. That's not really a fair example. It was more of an Emily Litella moment, because he was actually asking if the citizens of a certain county had any education whatsoever, because their annual consumption of BTUs compared to that of the U.S. made them look like the Flintstones compared to the Jetsons. My mistake. I have trouble imagining a world where everything is not about ME.

Genius says he does not even bother to read my blog. He goes straight to the comments, because they're the best part. Oh, but if a post is about HIM, he will go back and read it. Just because. One single seventeen-year-old can't be wrong. The comments are where it's at.

They are also good practice for when I pack up my old kit bag and hit the road to seek my fortune on the stand-up comedy circuit. Practice for responses to hecklers.

Hey! Here's a Top Ten List of WHY COMMENTS ROCK:

10. They prove I have real, live readers, not just Google searchers looking for "wiener nose monkey"
9.   Every day is a surprise, finding what comment format Blogger has laid out for me
8.   The number of responses informs me of the suckitude level of individual posts
7.   Free, unsolicited advice!
6.   People reveal their dark secrets
5.   I can be snotty AND sweet, kind of like a Sour Patch Kid with the sniffles
4.   More chances to talk about ME
3.   I can harvest scathingly brilliant ideas for future posts
2.   Less filling than a regular post
1.   Limitless possibilities for Seinfeld references!

Thank you. I'll be here all year.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Shuttered, Off-Kilter Window To My Soul

I have an issue.

There is a person at my lunch table who persists in staring at my shoulder throughout our conversation. Every day. No matter what the topic. No matter what I'm wearing. My shoulder.

At first, I thought I might have a piece of lint stuck to my shirt. I looked for it. Like when a person talks to you while staring at your hair. You smooth it. But this is the shoulder. I don't have hair sprouting in tufts through the cotton of my shirtsleeve. The obsession baffles me.

Am I so butt-ugly that one cannot look into my face without perishing? Am I such a huge collection of matter that one must orient herself by focusing on a certain point, lest my gravitational pull make her feel as if she is spiraling toward the center of my black hole? Did somebody sneeze and leave a booger on me? Does my sleeve have a little smart-mouth that drones on and on while one is talking to me, requiring a firm silencing with a Tide Pen? Do I have a feminine hygiene product poking out of my pocket? Did I nod off to sleep in my classroom, resulting in a student-administered, oozing tattoo of a dancing hula girl? Do I have a large mole that strains the seams of my shirtsleeve? Do my irises spin like two hypnotizing black-and-white spirals, causing one to fall under my control with the power of suggestion, lest one looks away to break the spell?

I don't get it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Sordid Vignette from the Medical Files of Val Thevictorian

Please excuse my rather unappetizing details as I relate the current state of my health.

I developed a splitting headache between the time I arose and the time I sat down in Hick's La-Z-Boy for my morning chair nap. It did not improve when Hick plopped himself down on the short couch instead of dashing back to work after his recent knee surgery. That interfered with the morning routine of The Pony, who usually lays on this couch for few moments between waking and dressing.

Once he saw that he had derailed our well-oiled machine, Hick drove off to work to report that his doctor wants him to take three more weeks off. Which I don't believe is happening.

Even Hick's departure did not make my head feel better. It just felt more like the brow of a Neanderthal. By the time I sat down behind the control center in my classroom, my head felt like an American Pippin in a cider press. I did not want to take a pain-reliever so close to the time I had ingested my daily medication. So I tried to hang on until lunchtime. That meant I needed one thing to get me through until first bell. The vibrator.

The Vibrator is a flat-egg-shaped, smooth plastic holder of batteries and good vibrations. I ripped it out of an airline neck pillow massager. Because all I needed was the vibrator. Originally, I extracted my contraption to use on the back of my neck after my thyroid was ripped out two summers ago. Bet you didn't know that cutting your throat in the front makes your neck hurt in the back, now did you? Seems they shove you to the end of the operating table while you're unconscious, and let your head fall over the edge. The better to cut your throat, you see. I can't thank my surgeon enough for sharing that tidbit on my follow-up visit. Now where was I...

As I powered up my controls, and logged on five times, I held The Vibrator in my left palm and placed it against my forehead. A couple of minutes over each eye, then a couple of minutes under each eye. It was fantastic. If I was a dog, my hind leg would have been twitching. I had to stop five times. Not because the pleasure was too intense. To blow my nose. A regular river of clear, thin snot gushed out of my snout. I had a bubbling source in my sinuses, culminating with its mouth at my nostrils. Snot River. I rank its discovery right up there with the Mississippi and Missouri.

The good feeling lasted about twenty minutes. Then my head returned to being one of those bug-eyed stress squeezers. It stayed like that until I popped an acetaminophen at 11:15, and continued to feel as compacted as a snowball in an L. L. Bean snowball maker until 1:15. When it suddenly faded away.

I am now clear-headed, with a slight wheezing in my chest. More reports from sick bay as symptoms develop.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I've Been Cheated, Been Mis-Cheese-ed

Here I sit, broken-hearted...

Don't worry. I'm not talking about Dutch Ovens or my fundraiser popcorn again. I'm setting the mood. Following a theme. Preparing to share with you the major disappointment that befell me today.

For two days I've looked forward to the school lunch. Don't adjust your trifocals. I'm serious. I have lunch duty all week, which kind of puts the kibosh on cooking anything in my microwave. I need to ship out to the front lines as soon as the 10:53 bell rings. In lieu of bringing a tasteless, soggy baloney sandwich to grab out of the mini-fridge, I have been repasting on fare from the cafeteria line.

Monday, I had two BBQ hamburgers and some chips with salsa. That was the regular meal. I refused the buns. The burgers were pretty much interchangeable with hockey pucks in size and shape. The taste was not bad, but the texture was spongy. My plastic fork kept bouncing off the meat. I had to cut them with a spoon, because knives are not allowed. Needless to say, my mother and her purse are not welcome at our table. The salsa spent the afternoon trying to burn its way out of my belly like Alien blood through metal. So I'm probably not going to consume that meal again.

Today was grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup. I know. They don't really go together. We used to have our grilled cheese with vegetable beef soup. That was fantastic. But now we have a new food supplier, and we get something called a Bosco stick with our vegetable beef. It's a tasteless tube of wheat bread rolled around some tasteless mozarella-looking cheese. But that's neither here nor there, because I'm here to talk about my precious grilled cheese. You know that bacon-marrying dude on the Jack-in-the-Box commercial? There, but for the hand of Hick, go I. To the altar with my grilled cheese, of course. Not bacon. He's taken.

I love our grilled cheese. I've even tried to recreate it at home, with limited success. The harder it is, the more I like it. A good school grilled cheese should sound like the plastic cafeteria tray when you knock in on the lunch table. Hard as a metamorphic rock. That's how I like my grilled cheese. But something went horribly awry today.


Call the wahmbulance, because I was nearly screaming like a big, next-to-you-in-an-airline-seat baby over this unexpected development. Most of my colleagues taunt me about my crunchy sandwich preference. But they also made note of the new texture.

"This side of mine isn't even brown!"
"It's soft."
"My sandwich is not the same."
"I can't even trade you, because yours is like that, too."

We can send a man to the moon and back, but we can't make a decent grilled cheese in the oven (with 399 other grilled cheeses) that will have a rock-hard, toasty crust.

I sense a conspiracy.

***DISCLAIMER: I do not blame our cooks. They can only heat up what the supplier ships to them. Perhaps there was a different kind of pasteurized processed cheese food, or different bread, or a new oleomargarine that was the fly in the ointment of my precious sandwich. I'm going to give them one more chance.***

Monday, March 12, 2012

Who Got My Snake Dirty?

It's impossible to have nice things around here. I left my basement office to fetch an important paper from my school bag, and there it was. My snake has a dark footprint on his yellow side. It looks like a footprint. It could be some greasy smudge. But in any case, that's not the way I left him last night.

Oh, it's not a real snake. It's a stuffed snake, chartreuse and red and yellow, about two feet long. The Pony won it for me at the school carnival last year. He actually won two. I have an upstairs snake and a downstairs snake. I wonder if that would make a good TV series: Upstairs Snake, Downstairs Snake. Probably not. But you never know. Ever hear of a show called My Mother the Car? I rest my case.

These snakes are in high demand from my cervical region. That's not some lady part. It's the neck. Cervical spine. The snakes are just the right thickness to fit between my skull and shoulders like one of those airline neck-rest thingamabobbers. Only comfortable. I can squeeze the snake's belly if it's too plump. The upstairs snake sprung a leak of white stuffing, so my mom stitched him back together. Too much belly-squeezin', I suppose.

Every night, or, to be more accurate, the wee hours of every morning, I wake up from my inadvertent chair nap and drape my chartreuse and red and yellow Christmas throw that I won at my sister's New Year's Eve party over the arm of the couch. (Yes. It complements my snake color scheme. You don't think I want the back of my neck to clash with my blankie do you? I leave the blue and orange and yellow snake upstairs.) Upon that throw, I stretch out my snake. So they're ready and waiting for me the next night. You would think they would remain undisturbed. But you don't live in my house.

The Pony flops down on that couch most nights to play games on his laptop and watch the big-screen TV. He claims the other end. He has his own blanket. He doesn't turn on the end lamp unless I'm coming out to join him for one of our special shows, those being Amazing Race, Survivor, Big Brother, and WipeOut. Yes. We're quite the highbrow family. Rarely does The Pony disturb my stuff. He's generally a picker-upper of others' messes.

Hick has been home for a week with his knee surgery. Or his knee that went through surgery. Don't go thinkin' Hick's got an operating theater for freelancing. He was laid up for three days with crutches. Stairs were not his friend. Neither was the proper manner of walking with crutches. But by Friday, Hick had graduated to a cane. And he came down the stairs a couple of times. I'm not sure what goes on when he's home and I'm not. He might have held a car-mechanic hoe-down for all I know.

But one thing I WANT to know is WHO GOT MY SNAKE DIRTY?

The inquisition will start tomorrow. At 6:30 a.m.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Like a Coffee Table Book about Coffee Tables, Perhaps?

I'm so excited! And I just can't hide it! I'm about to lose control and I think I like it. I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it. And I know, I know, I know, I know...

Oops! That's some Pointer Sisters lyrics from my misspent youth. My mind took a holiday there for a moment. Packed its bags, turned off the water, bumped down the thermostat, checked the appliances, locked the doors, loaded the SUV, and pulled out of the driveway at 4:30 a.m.

My excitement comes from the announcements from Linda and Sioux and Dianna that submissions are open for something that I kind of have a knack for writing. In my head, I hear Doolittle Lynn telling Loretta, upon finding out she was pregnant, "You know, we may have found something you know how to do." I hear ya, Doo. Time to get off my duff and start tickling the plastic, burning the midnight monitor. Put my proboscis back on the proverbial grindstone.

At last, I've found a place that might be interested in my stories about revenge flatulence, announcing to the entire waiting area of Little Caesars that I had grown tired of holding my son's balls, hairwads in hot tubs, and perhaps, even kid-unfriendly holiday Peeps with obscene protuberances.

I need to get crackin'!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Regifting a Dutch Oven

Seems like only yesterday that I was touting the joys of my school fundraiser purchase of chocolate-cherry popcorn. Oh. That's right. It WAS only yesterday.

Thanks to my blog buddy, Linda, I now know that my decadent treat not only shoots my blood sugar into the stratosphere, but also blows up my belly like flat tire connected to an air compressor. Though in my case, it was more like a spare tire. I might have figured out the etiology by myself. But Linda shortened my investigation.

When I arose from my recliner shortly before midnight, having fallen into a low-blood-sugar coma after the initial spike, I felt something was amiss. There was a rumbling in my tummy. Not a hunger rumble. Lower. In the vicinity of my large intestine. #2 Colon Avenue, to be precise. The contents were really starting to percolate. Much like chicken nuggets from a school cafeteria lunch, trying to peck their way out by fifth hour. I suppose the deadly gases had been unable to escape due to the pressure of my ample posterior upon the cushion of my recliner. A situation which was remedied upon standing. Gases rushed forth like air from a near-to-bursting balloon. I'm surprised that I did not sail willy-nilly about the basement, corkscrewing, slamming off walls and ceiling until I was completely deflated.

I ran through a quick meal inventory. No beans, no broccoli, no burritos, no cabbage, no cauliflower, no chili. Yes, I'm one of those special people who think in alphabetical order. Since I had not consumed any such foods, I was at a loss as to where my emanations originated. But this morning, Linda put my question to rest.

You all know Val is not one to be pessimistic. A regular ray of sunshine is she. When life gives her lemons, does she not make lemonade? When the universe conspires against her, does she not use the atrocities to regale readers with witty blog posts? Rest assured, Val's digestive system emissions will not go to waste.

I plan to exact revenge on Hick by releasing the excess gas at night, under the quilt which he tucks so tightly around his head while insisting that his breather gives him plenty of oxygen from outside his cocoon. Hick does not realize that several times per night, his breathing mask is shoved asunder. I know. Because I hear the whistle of escaping air. We'll see how long it takes him to sputter awake.

Hick has underestimated my intestinal fartitude for far too long. Let the games begin.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Sweetest Things in Life Ain't Free

I try to support our students with their fundraisers. If they ask, I will usually buy one of what they're selling. That's how I came to be in possession of some $15 popcorn.

When my seller delivered it this afternoon, I was surprised at its size. Not in the usual way I'm surprised by my fundraiser purchases. Like when I buy the cheapest candy in the catalog, and my $11 nets me a six-ounce box of chocolate-covered cashews because the sugar-free peanut butter cups I chose for Hick were not available. How kind of the company to substitute for me, rather than refund my money.

The popcorn was in a clear plastic tub. It certainly looked like the picture of what I ordered. Only larger. And it was not just any popcorn. Not the buttered, caramel, or cheese that I could get in a big Walmart tin for $10. Nope. This was gourmet popcorn. Chocolate-cherry flavored.

I stashed it away in my cabinet, lest the students get wind of my treat. They are not shy about demanding a taste of whatever they find. Kind of like army ants, they are, devouring everything in their path. I, myself, have not had a problem, because I am too wise to leave consumables in sight. Besides, I run a no-eat, no-drink classroom. It would not be polite to break my own rules. However, I hear tales of violations in other classrooms. Just last week, a student took a ring-pop off a teacher's desk and ate it. Why she had a ring-pop on her desk, I'm not sure. Last year, she had a student pick up her beverage and take a sip through the straw.

My hidden snack made it safely through the day. I sat down to watch TV tonight, and the sweet treat beckoned to me. My resulting tribulations kindled an idea for a new marketing plan. A way for the kids to sell many more tubs of $15 popcorn.

My plan was to pop the top off that bad boy and have a couple of clusters of chocolate-cherry popcorn. Val plans, popcorn laughs. I pried. I twisted. I stretched. I poked. That tub was not compliant with my appetite needs. It mocked me. So close. But so far from snagging my snack. I think I worked up a sweat there in my recliner, wrestling with that hermetically-sealed torture device. I could see the popcorn. Yet I could not get my hands on it. I finally grabbed a mechanical pencil from the end table and took a stab. My implement was not up to the task. I discarded it and snatched a pen. Fine point. That did the trick.

The first bite sent me spiraling into sugar shock. I might just as well have scheduled a late-night house call from a health professional and submitted to a maple syrup IV. I'm not so sure I didn't light out in a frenzied dash around the basement, putting to shame the antics of Aunt Polly's cat, Peter, when Tom dosed him with painkiller. The resulting crash after coming down from my blood glucose spike put me into a four-hour chair nap. That's some powerful popcorn.

I did not know the popcorn would be caramel corn. It was stuck together in blobs, coated with chocolate, drizzled with pink cherry stripes. I highly recommend breaking off one kernel of this confection at a time. It will satisfy your sweet tooth. No need to overdo it.

The student popcorn-pushers should advertise this item as a workout tool. It is so hard to open that many more calories will be expended than consumed if servings are limited to a single kernel per sitting. And just think, the labeling can advertise a thousand servings per container. A good selling point. I suggest they set up shop outside women's fitness centers. Just like the commercials for those tiny one-or-two-bite decadent cakey kind of treats, this gourmet popcorn would sell like hotcakes.

Of course, they didn't have any trouble selling it to me the regular way. But I'm a soft touch for kids trying to earn money to fly to FCCLA destinations.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Shaving Lesson from Occam

On Tuesday evening, I headed back to school to pick up The Pony from his last regularly-scheduled academic meet. I stopped by the pharmacy to grab some crutch toppers for Hick. He's worth $4.85, don't you think? For entertainment value alone. I know you're thinking, "Well, that must be the gift you give somebody who has everything." Or else you're thinking we're an odd family. That may be. But in case you've forgotten, or in the unlikely event that I kept some personal information to myself...Hick had knee surgery on Tuesday. He used the old crutches with crumbly armpit rubbers that have been hanging on a nail in the garage since his other knee surgery four years ago. No, he's not a professional athlete. More of a chicken kicker. From when he had his flock of seventeen roosters and three hens.

Now where was I...oh, the trip to town. I pulled out on some lesser-used back roads to avoid the Backroads rush hour traffic. A small, dark SUV in front of me kept veering across the center crack. We don't have center lines out here on these town roads. I followed at a safe distance. I assumed that the driver was texting a significant other on the way home. Perhaps seeing if she should pick up something for dinner.

Just my luck, that SUV turned up the street I was using as a connecting route to reach my main road. Again with the swerving. Then it signaled a left turn. Directly into the lane for the drive-up window at a mom-and-pop liquor store.

When you hear hoofbeats, think horses. Not zebras.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More on the Creeping Crud Conspiracy

I know there is a conspiracy to infect me with the flu virus.

There must be. Everywhere I appear, people go out of their way to share their sickness. There must be a ring of top-level secret operatives who track my movements. Sure, they look like everyday Backroads denizens. But they are highly trained to take out Val with one sneeze.

Take, for instance, the District Honors Band concert on Monday night. Hick could not attend, being needed elsewhere for a meeting with parents of the junior class that involved Genius. My mom volunteered to go, perhaps looking for another opportunity to show off her three purse knives. We selected seats on the end of the oval field house. Most people sat in the main section, behind the conductor, facing the band. The choir was on the opposite side of the oval, taking up seventy percent of the seats. Mom and I had a good view of The Pony's face, a side view of the conductor, and were as happy as a baby who just found his feet with our somewhat isolated seats.

A woman walked in and crossed in front of me. She stepped up to my row and sat down. My nonexistent conjoined twin could sit farther away than that woman did from me. Nobody else was within eight rows or thirty feet of us. Let me reiterate: we did not have prime seats. Oh, and did I mention that the Close Lady had a hacking cough? Yeah. And instead of facing forward, like most people do who sit on bleachers, she turned sideways, like a man with size sixteen shoes descending steep stairs. Did she turn to the side away from me? What do you think? Heck no. She angled herself toward me, the better to spray her phlegm over my encroached bubble of personal space like mist over the produce at the local Backroads County Mart. But without the cute thunder noise to warn me. Unless some of you find a noise like hacking up a human hairball cute.

Every time I needed to inhale, I turned toward my mom. She offered to trade places with me. I declined. She was on the end, by the stairs, where people sometimes paused before walking down. And breathed and coughed while gathering enough oxygen to continue. That would be just asking for infection. Unlike sitting away from people. Or so I assumed. I've really got to stop doing that.

At the surgery center with Hick on Tuesday morning, we faced a minefield of hackers. They were scattered randomly, like bombs on a Minesweeper game. I cut across a middle row, where nobody had yet staked out a place to expire from lack of oxygen, and made a beeline for the back row, in front of the windows. Hick followed. "Why are you sitting way back here?"

I don't blame him for his line of questioning. He was, in fact, there for surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. And my chosen encampment was as far away from the reception desk and operating suite entrance as one could get. We were at the opposite end of the hypotenuse that formed when the rectangular waiting room was bisected by a diagonal. That's a free math lesson for you. Using your brain in later years can slow the onset of dementia, you know. Use it or lose it. Which is how I justified making Hick walk up to that reception desk twice on his bad knee.

The Hacking Bombs sat on their duffs and hacked at intermittent intervals. If they only had the wherewithal to organize, they could have treated us to an impromptu performance of the Hallelujah Chorus, to rival that of the barking dogs Jingle Bells. So sly was I! They were all coughing AWAY from where I sat. Plus, I had the positive air flow of the cold draft from the window pushing the room air forward. The only fly in my clean air ointment was the lady to my left. She was merely accompanying her own husband while happily hacking to beat the band. She was superfluous. The Hacking Bombs had numbers without her. But she insisted on supporting her dude. And she got up every five minutes to walk across in front of me to the corner coffee and snack room, hacking all the way.

I'd like to know her secret agent badge number.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Choir and the Art of Removing Skin from Felines

Last night I went to watch The Pony play his trombone in the District Honors Band. There are eleven schools in our conference, so this was quite a production. As if a full band was not enough, the District Honors Choir also performed. That's a lot of middle-schoolers under one roof.

The choir went first. One of the songs they sang was Alabama's Mountain Music. You know the one..."Oh, play me some mountain music, like Grandma and Grandpa used to play, then I'll float on down the river, to a Cajun hideaway." They did other songs, too. And very well. But this is the one that caught my attention. Because when they got to a certain part, it was missing. I don't know if they left out the whole stanza, or switched the words. I was too busy noticing that a crucial part was not sung.

I did not hear..."Climb a long tall hick'ry. Bend it over, "skinnin' cats."

Now it's possible that the kids did not enunciate clearly. And it's possible that my old ears ain't what they used to be. But I was listening specifically for that part. I heard about drifting away like Tom Sawyer, and swimmin' across the river to prove that I'm a man. But as my mom is my witness, I did not hear about skinnin' cats.

Was I merely inattentive? Or was this song censored? Who doesn't know what "skinnin' cats" means? Well. Apparently, my son The Pony, my husband Hick, and my stepson The Veteran. Go figure! I'm sure all of my readers, as persons of a certain age, have skinned a cat or two. Pity my poor Hick, who must have had quite a disadvantaged childhood, bereft of cat-skinning. I know he was poor. But I didn't think anyone could be so poor as to be denied the inalienable right to skin a cat.

Are we so politically correct now that we cannot sing about a childhood playground gymnastic move? Seriously? My sister and I used to skin cats all the time. We were nigh on world-record-caliber cat-skinners. We skinned cats in the backyard on our rusty swingset. You remember swingsets, don't you? Those metal contraptions with a couple of swings, a two-man glider, and an attached slide that burned the flesh off your rumpus from noon 'til four? The legs of said swingset that lifted off the ground once your swing reached a certain altitude, threatening to tip the whole kit 'n' caboodle over on your head?

That little yellow bar that held the two blue legs at one end of our swingset together, the end opposite from the slide, was our favorite skinnin' place. First, we grabbed that bar and pulled our legs up over it so we were hangin' upside down. Then we swung our legs back away from the bar so we kind of turned inside out. At just the right moment, we knew to let go with our hands and drop onto our feet, right side up again. Because otherwise, I'm pretty sure something gristly and grindy would have happened in the shoulder area. And the back of our head might have whacked that bar. It's been a long time. But I know what skinnin' a cat means.

And so, it seems, does this unidentified connoisseur of cat-skinnin' that I found on the internet.

Perhaps these days, it must be done under cover of darkness.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Backroads' Most Wanted

Shh...don't let Homeland Security in on this, but my mom is a latent Public Enemy Number One.

Last week, we attended The Pony's academic team meet. One of his buddies has a younger brother, so the parents had picked up some earphones for him to listen to his computer games while the meet was in progress. You know how hard those plastic packages are to pry open. The mother came to our table and asked if anybody had some scissors.

Don't go thinking that folks here in Backroads roam the countryside, concealing scissors willy-nilly. That's not our style. The academic coach was sitting at our library table, so the mother was wondering if there might be scissors in the librarian's desk. She wasn't being forward. She's also a faculty member within the district. We have certain unalienable rights. Don't begrudge them. We have so few perks.

Before Coach could rifle through the librarian's desk, my mom hauled her snack-filled purse onto the table. She rummaged momentarily, then withdrew a zippered bag. The kind of purse bag that most women of her years would use to hold lipstick and powder. Not MY mom. She whipped out three knives. They were Case pocket knives of varying colors and sizes.

Some might assume that Mom was merely carrying them as keepsakes. That they had belonged to my dad. Au contraire. You know what happens when you assume. And I'll thank you not to make me an...um...one of those donkey-animals. Mom carries those knives just in case somebody might need a knife. And not to cut warm butter.

She handed the medium-sized brown knife to that mother, who used it to slice through the hard, clear plastic at approximately the speed of light. That blade was razor-sharp. The kid put on his earphones, the mother folded the knife and handed it back, and Mom stowed it away like it was perfectly normal.

Did I mention that weapons are not allowed on school property?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Some Might Call It OCD. I Call It an Isolated Incident.

Yesterday, on my bargain-hunting quest, I popped into The Dollar Store to look for things I couldn't find at The Dollar Tree. One thing I found was that The Dollar Store needs to change its name to The Five-Dollar Store. Used to be, you could get things there for a dollar. Don't count on it now.

I did, however find some items on the clearance end-cap for fifteen cents. FIFTEEN CENTS! Can't beat that with a stick! But what I would like to beat with a stick is the woman who was ahead of me in line. Sorry. I am not a tolerant person at times. Times when instead of going through the checkout line between the magazines, last-minute candy and battery displays, and the cart corral, a person comes in sideways and gives me the evil eye like I am the one going against convention. Criminy! I know she was there ahead of me. Excuse my audacity to stand in the actual line. It's not like I was trying to cut her off or ask for cuts from the smelly old man handing over his money.

As if that was not bad enough, she was hacking up her left lung and half the right. See, if she had been in the line proper, her effusions would have gone straight ahead. But as it was, she was sending them at right angles to my respiratory system. AND the checker had the same germ-dispensing act down pat. So bad was it that I actually turned my head toward the back of the line to avoid breathing their spray.

When Sideways Susie finished her transaction, both giving and receiving a dose of Stephen King Superflu to and from Checker, she left her tiny yellow-handled cart right there. At a right angle to the counter. Didn't even bother to push it into the cart corral. Wench. I hipped it out of my path. No way no how was I touching Sideways Susie's infected buggy. I even pulled my shirt collar up over my mouth to get a somewhat filtered breath of air while Checker bagged my bargains.

The next step was to get to my car without contracting their crud. I opened the store door and turned immediately into the 30 mph wind. There. I got a good breath. Then I put my bag in the back seat, climbed in, and grabbed my GermX. A good scrubby dub dub, a wipe of the steering wheel with a clean tissue, another scrubby dub dub, a blow of the nose to get rid of any virus that might have invaded, a swig of water to wash any back-throat virus into my deadly stomach acid, and I was off for home. I made certain that I did not allow my hands anywhere near my face. No scratching, no eye-rubbing, no picking of teeth or nose. Gosh. Doesn't that make you want to get to know me on a personal level? I'm a regular high-class lady, I am.

After carrying in the bags, I washed my hands with soap and water before I began construction of my big salad for lunch. I don't want to seem like a germophobe. I don't do this routinely. But that double-whammy made me a bit paranoid. Even though I had the flu shot, there's no need to temp fate.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

It Was Real, and It was Spectacular

I made a run to town around noon to check out bargains at The Dollar Tree. My mom met me there, because she had some coupons for the allergy medicine Genius takes. We're all about saving a buck out here in Backroads. The more you save, the more you have to spare for fattening yourself with gas station chicken and getting all hopped up on caffeine from those 44 oz. Diet Cokes.

I found a few items I was looking for, and picked up some Buncha Crunch for The Pony. We are having movie night with the second installment of The Planet of the Apes set that he got for his birthday. Tonight is Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

At the end of the aisle, I snagged a green plastic see-through leaf-shaped dish. It looks like the type of container that you might use to set out snacks on your coffee table if you threw a party in the 1950s. I'm not planning a party, and I wasn't around to throw any in the 1950s. But I know a deal when I see one.

I've been looking for a bowl to hold a big salad. I didn't want a deep bowl. And I didn't want to put my salad on a plate. I wanted a large, flat bowl to get maximum saladage, and dressing across the top so I didn't have to eat a bite with plain lettuce. This leaf bowl was perfect. It was about two inches deep, perhaps ten inches long and five inches wide. But irregular, of course, because it's shaped like a leaf. A monocot, apparently, because its veins are parallel, not netted or branched. That's some free science knowledge for you to lap up from my leaf bowl. Enjoy.

To endear itself to me further, this leaf dish was my favorite color: green. And I'm going to use it for salads. Green, leafy vegetable salads. Of large proportions.

The minute I got home, I washed my leaf. I set it in the dish drainer while I boiled an egg from our recalcitrant chickens. I also tossed some fajita chicken strips in there, just to boil the salty fajitaness out of them, not having any regular chicken to add to my salad. Shh...don't want my front-yard fowl to hear of this plan to consume their brethren and sistren.

While that pot was cooling, I grabbed some romaine, some shredded cheese, some croutons, my pepper-grinder, sliced some tiny tomatoes-on-the-vine, and commenced to constructing a masterpiece of a big salad. The only thing missing was some sunflower kernels that I had forgotten at The Dollar Tree. A dash of Hidden Valley Ranch Light, and I was good to go.

Mmm...there's nothing better than a big salad. Unless it's a big salad that somebody else picks up for you and pays for, then lets another somebody hand it to you and get the credit.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Sound of One Hand Washing

Here are some words of wisdom that I learned at The Pony's middle school academic meet last night. Some of the knowledge imparted was impressive. The kids are math wizards without wands or calculators. They know their parts and participles of speech. The geography of the globe. But when it comes to proverbs, they have a bit of perfecting to do.

The question was, "Finish this sentence: 'One hand washeth...' "

Now, older than the hills am I. No spring chicken. Long in the tooth. It has been suggested that God signed my yearbook. That my social security number is "1". So of course, I was familiar with this expression. "One hand washeth the other, and both, the face."

The first team buzzed in. "One hand washeth...and the other taketh away." A unique take on beginnings and endings, but no match. Try playing that Concentration game some more.

The other team had a chance to steal the point. "One hand washeth...and the other dryeth." Cleanliness is next to point-scoring. Not.

All students seemed surprised by the real answer. Go figure!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reason #167

This morning as we walked to the garage, our rescued pup, Juno, galloped around the corner of the house and sat down on the porch to be petted. She usually waits by the kitchen door to launch her ambush, refusing to join the others on their morning rounds. She's about six months old now. Growing like a weed. I don't partake of our special lovefest in the morning, because I don't want to smell like dog all day. Besides, Juno likes to lick the fresh Bath and Body Works Vanilla Bean lotion from my arms and hands. That can't be good for her. And it's a waste of good lotion.

I reached down to give her a little pat before saying, "See you later, Alligator," our special parting words. The wavy, silky black hair of her neck was wet like her canine companions had tried to chew off her bright red collar. "Yuck! Later, Alligator." I followed The Pony through the garage door and into the car. "I think Juno has been play-fighting with the big dogs." We snapped our seatbelts.

"Your theory is lent credence by the fact that she came from the front yard."

Reason #167 that my son will be a subject of ridicule throughout his high school career. Not that he will notice.