Tuesday, April 22, 2014

If Anybody Deserves a Trophy, It's Mrs. Thevictorian

Val has done it gain, folks. Let's start polishing that Nobel trophy. It DOES come with a trophy, doesn't it? Because who wants to win a Nobel Prize if there's no trophy? Not this ol' Val, that's for sure. That would be like one of those soccer trophies kids get when they're six. When everybody gets a trophy, just for being on the team. That's not for me. I am special.

Today I fixed two problems with technology in my very own classroom. Yep. You read that right. I did not merely solve one technological crisis, I solved TWO! Quick! You there! Here's a benjamin. Run out and buy some trophy polish. I want to have it ready for my award.

Things were running smoothly right up into sixth hour. Nary a problem. Young minds being stuffed with tidbits of work and force and simple machines and efficiency and mechanical advantage. And tiny-bit older minds feasting on a smorgasbord of homologous chromosomes, sister chromatids, meiosis, Gregor Mendel, pea plants, and the law of independent assortment. Then, between the end bell for sixth hour, and the tardy bell for seventh hour, that rainbow-and-unicorn-fest came to a screeching halt.

My DVD player emitted a noise best described as death throes from accidental choking. Not a whir, not a hum, not a grind...but a combination thereof. Without taking a breath. I tried to perform the DVD Heimlich by pushing in his power button, then his eject button, but Devie was having none of it. Believe me, it hurt me more than it hurt him. The kids gazed at me in horror. It was like hearing the screams of a rabbit being tossed and bitten by a dog not my sweet, sweet Juno.

To stop the insanity, I bravely reached into the tangled nest of 338,194,470 wires that lay coiled in disarray on the table behind my tower of electronic gewgaws at my corner control center. I turned that tower 90 degrees and found the umbilical wire that gave Devie life. Then I followed it to the lesser of the two power strips, and severed the connection. Devie wound down into blessed silence.

That little act of euthanasia accomplished, I put the tech tower back like it was and turned to take attendance, and cue up my textbook DVD for the projector, so we could hear the automated reader until I stopped her to emphasize important concepts. Don't worry. The textbook DVDs play through my laptop. The one I just fixed on Thursday, so it now charges to 100% when I leave it on the dock.

I introduced the lesson, explained a photograph, hit the icon to goose that reader into action...and silence deafened the room. WE HAD NO SOUND! What a monkey wrench that was! A conscientious volunteer began reading for us, while I fiddled about with my wires. I had a blue light on my sound amplifier. So I knew it had not been unplugged. I turned it off and back on. That sometimes works, you know. And I noticed that there was no crackle and pop like I'd been getting upon turning it on for months.

From past troubleshooting, my card-catalog mind pulled out the drawer concerning frayed copper wires screwed into a green plastic doodad on the back of the amplifier. I turned my tech tower 90 degrees again. Uh huh. The frayed copper of the red wire had come completely out of the green doodad. The frayed copper of the black wire held fast.

Our dear reader had finished the section. We discussed salient points, then I handed out the assignment. I called the office to see if they had a small flathead. The secretary told me I could come look at her selection. Au contraire. Not with a classroom full of high-spirited young learners. She asked if I had anybody smart to send in to choose my tool. "I don't know. Let me ask. Hey! Are any of you smart?" Three kids raised their hands. I went with the second one, since the first had forgotten her book this very day, which I think constitutes not winning the Smart Award on this occasion.

Tool-Fetcher brought me three humongous flatheads. I sent him back, with instructions to go down to the technology building for a better selection. He returned with just the right medicine. While he was gone, I showed half of a set of twins my severed copper, and discussed my plans for reconstructive surgery.

"Oh. I think, Mrs. Thevictorian, that instead of taking the whole green doodad off, you only need to unscrew that vertical screw right over the opening for the red-wire copper frays. Then you just screw that one down."

When my new surgical instrument arrived, I handed it to Helper. He had a bit of trouble straightening out the frays flatly, but soon had them installed in their slot. "There. I'm pretty sure that will work."

"Here. Let's test it. CLEAR! Get your hands off those wires. I'm charging the defibrillator. Wouldn't want to give you a shock." I turned on the amplifier. I thought I detected the tiniest of CLICKS from the speakers mounted on the front wall. I clicked my DVD textbook reading icon again. VOILA! Text to speech! "Hey, kids! The sound works! Now we can read it all over again!" Let's just say they were less than enthusiastic. Though they DID brighten up when I informed them that now they could watch five minutes of the Simple Machines video I had loaded from Learn 360.

Yes. Mrs. Thevictorian has solved THREE technology issues since Thursday. So what if she had a little help from a ninth-grader today. Can kids under 18 sue for a portion of the Nobel Prize? I don't think so.

I'm cleaning off a shelf for my future Nobel trophy.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mine is Not to Reason Why, Mine is But to Eat and Die

Hey! My mom is at it again!

Yesterday she offered me the turkey breast carcass to take home to my sweet, sweet Juno. "He can have it, can't he? You give him bones like that?"

Okay. First of all, after almost two years now, and her the one who "gave" me that pup, knowing full well it was a female, even though Genius professed it to be a male so I would say we could have it...Mom still calls Juno a "he" every single time her name comes up.

Secondly, I don't know why Mom is all of a sudden concerned about what Juno eats, considering that the three days Juno spent at Mom's house, after being dumped off by ignoramuses at her mailbox, Juno ate exactly NOTHING. Because Mom thought if she didn't feed that tiny puppy that was too young to even be weaned, that it would A) learn to hunt and feed itself, or B) leave Mom's house and go to the neighbors across the road.

Thirdly, it's probably not a good idea to give a turkey breast carcass to a dog who lives with a real live turkey and (allegedly) pulls approximately fifty tail feathers out of the turkey in the driveway next to the garage while we are gone to work.

But Mom is a giving soul, so I told her that yes, I would take that turkey breast carcass home to Juno. "Where is it, in the fridge? I'll get it when we pack up our stuff to go home."

"Oh, no. It's out in the garage."

"Mom! It's a hundred degrees in the garage! That's going to stink."

"Well, it's not in my car. Just in the garage. And it's inside a big baggie. Gallon size."

"Last year, when you gave it to me a week or so after Thanksgiving, your turkey carcass, which had been INSIDE the FRIDGE, stunk so bad I almost passed out on top of Juno when I unwrapped it."

"Oh, it's not that hot out there. It will be fine."

As luck would have it, I went off and forgot Juno's carcass. Mom decided last night, on our bedtime phone call, that she would drop if off at school today before we started home. I was caught up with my work, and planning to leave within fifteen minutes. The Pony went out to the car to get his laptop, and got the carcass from Mom to put in our T-Hoe. He said Mom didn't want to come in, since we would be leaving shortly. Huh. Best-laid plans. I discovered some homebound work clogging my mailbox, and decided to get that graded and recorded. Then I had to ready some new assignments to send back. So it actually took me about a half hour before I was ready to leave.

"Hey, Pony. That carcass is going to stink up the car by the time we get out there."

"No it won't. Grandma put it in a cooler."

We hopped in T-Hoe. There was no odor. Good for Mom. I stopped for gas. We had to wait for an available pump, because the price had gone down TWO CENTS PER GALLON since yesterday, and of course the pumps were jammed by bargain hunters. I sent The Pony in to pay. He grabbed a soda to go with the Domino's pizza he wanted for supper. It's Hick's bowling night, and I was having leftovers from yesterday's feast. Traffic was heavy along the boulevard by the gassing up place. We waited. We puttered along the back road by the lake to get to Domino's. I missed my left turn light in town because the car in front of me had the audacity to wait for a left turn into the drive-thru liquor store parking lot, thus blocking my lane before I could whiz through that light. We picked up The Pony's pizza. We stopped for the mail. We admired a new NO TRESPASSING sign on our gravel road, all routered out on dark wood, with the letters painted yellow. We paused in the driveway for The Pony to point out that the remains of my goat-decimated lilac bush sprout had tufts of leaves that made it look like a just-trimmed poodle. Then we pulled into the garage and gathered our belongings.

"Hey, Mom. I'll come back out and get Juno's carcass. Here. Do you think you could carry in this ham?"

"HAM? Where did you get HAM?"

"Grandma brought it for you. Since we were leaving soon, I just left it in the car."

"HAM? Are you sure it's not for the dogs?"

"No. It's for you. For sandwiches, Grandma said."

"So that ham has been laying in this black car in the sun ever since Grandma came to school about...oh...NINETY MINUTES AGO?"

"Uh huh. But that's okay. She said it was. Because it's ham."

"And you didn't think to put it in the cooler?"

"No. Grandma just handed me the baggie of ham. She said the cooler was for the carcass."

As the full horror sinks in, let me further state that yesterday, after dinner, when everything else had been put away, Mom said, "Do you think it's okay to leave out that ham? It's wrapped in foil."

"No, Mom. I think it should go in the fridge, too. You don't know when people will want to eat again, or others will drop in."

She grudgingly put it away. Seriously. I know the pioneers let their hams hang in the woodshed for months. And that flies might have lighted on them and done their no-good fly business of propagating their young. And that pioneers did not have refrigerators. And that pioneers carved away the mold and still ate that ham.

Val is not a pioneer.

Right now, that ham is in Frig alongside yesterday's ham that I brought home straight from the refrigerator at Mom's house and put away immediately. Or IS it?

Hick hollered down before he left for bowling and announced that he had fixed himself some ham and potato salad and deviled eggs.

I'm not sure which one of us was Mom's target.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Hot Time In the Old House Today

Excuse me while I wipe my brow with an old red bandana pulled from the back pocket of my overalls, and wring out the sweat in order to wipe the other brow. Oh. Wait. That was my grandpa, after a scorching August day of working in the cool underground lead mines until 3:00, then weeding the upper garden, hoeing a hill of potatoes, twisting some fat red tomatoes off the vine, then plucking some roastin' ears from the lower garden garden for supper, as Grandma turned the chicken pieces frying in the cast-iron skillet of Crisco, and sizzled bacon for grease to pour over the greens she dug out of the yard, so she and Grandpa could have a sit-down meal together before she hustled off to her night job as an aide at State Hospital Number Four.

What I meant to say was...I am just now recovering from the heat stroke I suffered silently at my mom's house for Easter dinner. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE my mom. She's a selfless lady, sometimes even slipping me five dollars here and there, who never complains, and would do anything for her children and grandchildren.

I, however, take after my father. I cannot change my spots. I am never happy, unless it's while I'm in the midst of ranting about some real or imagined slight or stroke of misfortune. That's my nature. I apologize half-heartedly to all the Pollyannas who would wish to be my Professor Henry Higgins and turn me into a cockeyed optimist. Not gonna happen. I bear the instigators of my misery no ill will. It's me. Not them. That said, let's get on with our story...

What a beautiful day we had here in our secret, secluded section of Missouri. The sun shone brightly, grass was at its greenest, a few puffy clouds in the sky, and a temperature of 81 degrees. Perfect, right? Perfect for hunting Easter eggs outside, if one so desired. Perfect for travel, like Genius back to college. Not perfect for eating the main meal in the house that baked the ham and turkey with no air conditioning to cool the kitchen eating area.

Oh, there was nothing WRONG with the air conditioning. Mom just doesn't like to turn it on before August. It's a game with her every year. "It doesn't really get that hot. I don't notice the heat. I'm comfortable downstairs." Uh huh. Except we were not downstairs. We were in the kitchen. I couldn't stand the heat, yet I couldn't get out of the kitchen. Are you crazy? That's where the FOOD was!

Mom knew it was hot in her house. When we arrived, we saw that she had opened a kitchen window. Yes. A kitchen window. But she had not put up the storm window. And Hick found the other one stuck shut by the black rubber weatherstripping. So we had one window half-way open, with no cross-breeze because Mom's front door is a glass storm door. She brought up a little fan thingy that looks like a post that rotates. After the prayer, after we all filled our plates, as we were sitting down to eat, there was Mom, lugging an ancient box fan from the basement, through the family room, up the steps, through the kitchen, into the dining room where the grandkids eat. Poor grandkids. They had a window, but when they offered to open it, Mom said, "That window has never opened since we built his house back in 1970."

Oh, she knew. Why in the world she could not just flick that thermostat from OFF to COOL, I'll never know. You'd think she woulda had to prime a pump, go to the icehouse and sweep sawdust off a big block of lake ice, tear off the roof shingles, or saw a hole in to floor for sucking cool air up from the basement.

What is with these septuagenarians? Seventy-eight degrees is too hot for a full meal at a family gathering. It's not going to break the bank to run the air conditioner for three hours on Easter Sunday. Not that Mom doesn't have the money. As Hick likes to say, "Your mom has enough money to burn a wet mule."

I'm not sure who I should mention first in my informational call to State Hospital Number Four...Mom, or Hick.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Yeah, I Think I'll Give it a Whirl

Have you recently experienced a dark and stormy night? Somewhere, in the distance, did a dog bark? And if so, were you moved to write about it? All in one sentence?

Have you thought about entering your flowery prose in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? So what if the official deadline was April 15th--the ACTUAL deadline is June 30th. Still plenty of time. No need to dilly-dally right up to the absolutely positively very last day.

I don't mean to put on airs, but I think, perhaps, my style of writing just might be compatible with what those Bulwer-Lytton folks are looking for. Can I not write a long-winded, serpentine-winding, circuitous sentence like a champ? Where else will this talent be valued, if not by the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest?

You can check out last year's winners here. If that doesn't get you motivated, then somebody needs to release a colony of agitated ants under your rumpus. It's not like you have to write a whole novel to go with your first sentence. A mere 50 or 60 words will do the trick. And there's NO ENTRY FEE! One guy even submitted over 3,000 entries! Now, I will be the first to admit there is the brink of insanity, and then there is the abyss, and 3,000 seems like somebody has stumbled over that brink and is plummeting towards infinity. Oh. Wait! I am SECOND to admit that abyss thingy, because first was Andrew McCarthy to Demi Moore in St. Elmo's Fire.

I'm not suggesting that you write 42.25 entries per day from now until June 30th. Just a couple here and there. You can submit electronically by email. There are even different categories. I'm not suggesting you are all writers of bad fiction. Simply that this could be fun. If you don't feel like it, don't do it. No skin off my bulbous nose. Better odds for ME!

I hope this isn't like that annual faculty golf tournament my friend Jim and I entered when I taught at another school district. The one where we were SO bad that we finished next-to-last. Right out of the money that the very worst team won for being most sucky.

Start building a fence around that abyss. Just in case I get off my ample behind and put butt in chair to pour my heart and soul into this, and then miss out on winning the grand prize pittance.

Friday, April 18, 2014

And Now, the Curtain Rises...to Reveal Fanny Hugg

I didn't grow up in Mayberry, Mayfield, or on Walton's Mountain. I was, however. allowed to run wild, run free from the time school let out in May until it resumed in August. Seven homes adorned our block, and five of them housed children in my age group. Sometimes we were a roving gang, all for one and one for all. Other times, it was all-out war, boys versus girls.

Guys can be so BARBARIC! Like that time the young Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals smashed the clay pottery we girls had worked so hard to craft, digging clay from the creek bed, sorting out the pebbly bits, shaping bowls and vases, and painting them with watercolors. Yes, left on the end of my patio to dry, they were mere shards when we returned from a trip to town. There was none of this Twitter-feuding and lawsuit-filing and bullying-claim nonsense that fills the news these days. We simply vowed revenge, and found a better place to cure our pottery.

One activity in which we joined forces was downhill racing. Not that there was an actual race, mind you. The concrete sidewalk was only wide enough for one vehicle at a time. We took turns, and used the distance traveled and the magnitude of the crash to judge speed. The race started at the top of the hill in front of my grandpa's house. We provided most of the vehicles. Bikes were left at home. They were for street-riding.

The favorite racer was a pedal-car fire engine, with wooden ladders on racks on each side. Fire Engine was not fast. It had a built-in coolness factor. It was grand to ride on, but did not steer well. Perhaps because the rider on the back sometimes caused the front wheels to lose contact with the sidewalk. The big red tricycle was also popular, because it went fast (as long as the person on the seat held their legs out from the pedals and let them spin), and the one riding on the back could stand comfortably, yet jump off before a crash. The smaller, blue tricycle was a single-rider vehicle, and lacked the handlebar streamers of the big red one. The daredevil contingent preferred the Radio Flyer, once red, but picked up at a garage sale sporting a coat of baby blue. Blue Flyer was tricky. You had to coerce a smaller passenger to sit in the front, then give it a big push and jump in like a bobsledder, wrapping your legs around the passenger, and grabbing the steering column out of their panicked clutches.

The racetrack itself would not meet today's OSHA standards. Lining the left side were assorted yards, some with a little drop at the edge, some with a hill that could act as a ramp for sending a racer into an inadvertent barrel roll. Running parallel, on the right flank, was a ditch. Not just any old ditch. An open sewer ditch. That meant nothing to us, of course, kings and queens of our eight-year-old world, until we hit ninth grade and attended the consolidated high school, where we learned that our town was called "Sewer City." Which was only a little bit more pleasant than "Moosec*ck, our other nickname.

At the bottom of the hill was a culvert. It was kind of like this, but with only one opening, a stream barely as wide as the tunnel, and houses on each side. Oh, and no men standing on top.


Of course there were no rails, nothing to keep a kid on a fast-moving downhill racer from careening off the side. And to encourage such careening, the concrete of the sidewalk was all broken and crumbling where it passed across the culvert. That's why we made a habit of yanking hard left into Lewis's yard just before we reached the culvert. That, and what lay on the other side of the culvert...

THE HOUSE OF FANNY HUGG!

In all likelihood, her name was probably "Fannie." But not in our eight-year-old minds. As you can imagine, it was a rite of passage to stand in front of Fanny Hugg's house, and chant her name. Seriously. What eight-year-old kid can resist hollering "Fanny Hugg" with glee? It's as good as yelling, "Who FARTED?" instead of inquiring, "Did somebody let a stinker?"

Various styles were employed. The girls usually giggled, and said in a conversational tone, "Fanny Hugg, Fanny Hugg, Fanny Hugg!" The boys took it several steps further. Sometimes they turned and pointed their own fanny at her house, even slapping their cheeks for emphasis. On occasion, if one felt particularly full of himself, he might run up her sidewalk and put a foot on her porch before shouting her name! Of course he darted back to the safety of the public sidewalk immediately, before Fanny Hugg could open up her door. We were certain she could not harm us on public property.

Fanny Hugg did not hesitate to let us know of her displeasure. She was probably in her early forties, maybe even late thirties, but to us, she was ancient. And old hag. Old bat. Old witch. A kid-hater. Nobody EVER went a-knockin' on Fanny Hugg's door at Halloween. Even if she had put on her porch light to entice us, we would not have gone. Whenever I heard the story of Hansel and Gretel, I thought of Fanny Hugg shoving kids into her oven. Fanny Hugg had short kinky hair like she had just given herself a Toni home perm and not combed it out. She was not an attractive woman, being short and stout and pale and thick-eyebrowed. She stopped short of shaking her fist at us, but she had that you-kids-get-off-my-lawn attitude. "Go on home now. Leave me alone. Stay out of my yard." A simple request, really.

Of course we could not leave like that. "It's a free country. This sidewalk is public property. We can stand here if we want to." Yeah. The guys. Their mouths writing checks that Fanny couldn't cash. We WERE on public property. What was Fanny Hugg going to do? She couldn't call the police for such a miniscule offense. She couldn't turn the hose on us. She couldn't grab us all by the ear and march us home. If she had come out to knock on our doors and talk to our parents, we would have followed her, mocking every step, the boys most likely acting like apes and picking imaginary lice from their armpits to toss into their open mouths for imaginary chewing.

Fanny Hugg knew we had her number.

I don't know why we delighted so in tormenting that poor woman. She kept to herself, and only wanted to peep out her venetian blinds to watch the world go by without looking over a throng of barefoot kids with sticky trails of melted cherry snowcone juice down their dusty bare chests. The boys. Not us girls. We were shirted, and not dribblers.

Fanny Hugg, I apologize for the angst we generated. I know how you must have felt. Because now I am just like you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lunch Caters to the Young

We have a new delicacy in the Backroads High cafeteria. Not that I've tasted it myself, of course. I'm a lunch-bringer. But my cohorts ate it. They didn't even know how very special it was, until the first bite.

"Whew! That broccoli is spicy!"

"Yes, it is rather strong."

"Since when did we get cheese on our broccoli?"

"This is nacho cheese!"

Of course the rest of us chorused: "It's NOT YO CHEESE!" Because we're not mature. Not ready. Can't act like adults yet.

Perhaps the palate of the young is different from the palate of the old. But I think a more practical approach would be to drench that broccoli with syrup.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You Almost Got Fanny Hugg

Alas, my creativity has ebbed. Seems like only a few moments ago it was flowing out my fingertips in comment responses. But now it has forsaken me. The genie is out of the bottle, and it ain't goin' back in. I guess the bottle of the creativity genie does not bear the slightest resemblance to the bottle of Major Nelson's Jeannie.

It's a shame, too. I was all set to tell you a little story about Fanny Hugg. Doesn't that make you want to run out with buckets and bowls and saucepans and spittoons and chamber pots, to capture the fast-flowing lost creativity of Val before it seeps into the ground, down to the creativity table, where it will remain until tapped by a well drilled by someone in desperate need of creativity? Like Val!

If only I could store my creativity in Tupperware in my neighbor's freezer until I need it. Then I wouldn't have to worry about losing too much creativity, and being rendered dry and droll like a Backroads Hick.

Perhaps I should write my posts before tending to comments.