Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Well, I Suppose THAT Idea has Already Been Taken

Yesterday, I finished reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Read it over two days, in fact, and could have finished it in one day if I didn't fritter my time away with cooking, laundry, blogging, and driving to town for a 44 oz. Diet Coke. It's a tale of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail as a single woman with no previous hiking experience.

It was a compelling page-turner. I know it's a memoir. But I could have done with more hiking and less backstory. Not that I am an experienced hiker. I used to walk a local trail in the state park every day. Just for fun and exercise. Not on a personal quest for inner peace.

My trail was blacktopped. Bikers used it too, which was disconcerting at times. Just like Linda said today over at her blog. One minute, I was walking along, at peace with the world, and the next minute I'd hear a bellow of "TRAIL!" right behind me where a cushion of solitude had buffered me from the world's hustle and bustle. The only thing to do after hearing "TRAIL!" was jump off the side into the twigs and dead leaves. Quick. Because in the woods, nobody can hear your bones break. And it's going to take a while to get the message out that you are incapacitated, and then haul your broken body to a medical facility. By the same token, you want to be careful to watch your step. Slipping on an errant acorn could cause a sprained ankle that would hamper your two-mile hike back to the road. The bicyclists didn't ride it every day. Depending on the time I chose for my outing, I was often the only person on the trail.

This was before I was married. Before I had kids that needed minding during my two-hour escape. Oh, it didn't take me that long to walk four miles. I chugged along at about 20 minutes per mile. But I had to get ready. And drive to the park. The whole trail is 11 miles long. I only walked the whole trail about once every three weeks. It was kind of an all-day affair. And I took a companion most times. Because it's kind of eerie to be a woman alone five miles into the woods when a biker rushes past you. You never know. This was in the dark ages, before cell phones.

At least I never had to worry about getting lost. The trail was paved, for cryin' out loud! So I didn't have to wear hiking boots. My comfy, broken-in walking shoes were fine. I didn't carry a hefty backpack with all of my belongings. I didn't have to find a place to sleep and set up camp and cook a meal. I could shower and put on clean clothes when I finished. But still. Eleven miles is an accomplishment. Heck, even four miles is an accomplishment. I wish I could do that today.

I admit that I have a vivid imagination. Sometimes, on my solo daily walks, I would wonder what might happen if the rustle I heard down in the holler was a fugitive camping out. What if some un-law-abidin' scalawag jumped from behind a tree trunk and waylaid me? Who would know? Nobody, until I failed to call my mom the next morning. Because it was summertime. The living was easy. Teachers across the nation recharging their batteries in unemployed bliss.

The trail had a lower trail-head and an upper trail-head. The whole thing was a loop. At the deepest point in, I was only four miles from a blacktop road. I could choose to go either way at either end. Four different courses. The distance was painted on the blacktop every mile, if you looked close enough. My route varied, and depended on whether I wanted to start out level, or uphill, or downhill, or with the best panorama. Wildlife abounded. My biggest animal fear was skunk. I smelled them on occasion, but never was the reason for the spraying. Next came dogs. Best not to look them in the eye. Keep walking at a steady pace. I was ready to shout NO and BAD DOG if one came at me. Because any dog in there was most likely an escaped pet from the campground, and would have had people experience.

The scariest incident related to my trail-walking was the time I disregarded the seasons. It was fall, and school had started up again. I had agreed to keep the scorebook for boys' basketball games. We had a Friday off school, and I figured I had time to squeeze in a trail walk and get cleaned up in time to show up at the gym. The weather was perfect, just a little chill in the air. I had not been walking in the park for a while, but instead had walked in town. At my two-mile turnaround point, darkness began to creep into the woods. Sunset comes at a different time when you are in the middle of the forest. It was stressful. I knew I was on the trail. But light was leaving me. Every crunched leaf was a hillbilly ax murderer following me, biding his time. My breathing grew labored. My muscles tensed. I felt like I was striding two steps forward and three steps back. With a half-mile left, the woods faded farther from the trail. It was a little clearing of sorts. With just a short stretch of trees left at the edge of the road. I was never so glad to end a walk in my life.

I can't imagine walking hundreds of miles along the Pacific Coast Trail. Alone. But I can imagine writing about it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Be Careful Not to Bite Off More

Pardon me. I am almost too pooped to post. Worn out. Weak. Limp as a noodle. Shaky as Jello.

The reason for my malaise is my supper. Last night I cooked up a delicious roast. Full of onions, baby carrots, and Klondike Rose potatoes. Mmm...steeped in a tasty pot liquor of meat juices, Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, and powdered Hidden Valley ranch mix. The boys eat it up. Because I live in a house full of carnivorous menfolk, running out of meat is not an option. So I always cook two roasts. We eat on it for several meals.

Save A Lot is my store of choice for meat. They have their own butcher. They don't add water to their products in order to charge you for nothing. The taste is fantastic. And there is not a Product of Canada sticker on the package. Not that there's anything wrong with Canada. I don't go in for fancy high-end cuts. A rump roast or an arm roast is okay with my live-in beef-eaters. All were pleased as punch with their sumptuous repast.

Tonight, I warmed the remains slowly in the oven. I carved off a hunk for The Pony. Sliced it into bite-sized pieces for him, because I baby him. Filled his plate with carrots and potatoes, no onions. He added ketchup and two biscuits. And pronounced it good. Genius was away at a friend's house, having snuck out without taking the trash dumpster to the end of the driveway for tomorrow morning's pickup. Hick was called back to work by the security company within thirty minutes of his home arrival. So I hacked off a hunk of roast, dredged up some tasty onions, carrots, and potatoes, and settled down to sup.

Au contraire. I can barely type, what with the cramp in my right elbow from sawing at that fibrous flesh like a madwoman. I now have a forearm like Popeye. My jaws are too weak to chew warm butter. I need to chew it, you know, because according to many, it won't melt in my mouth. My roast could serve as a training table item for competitive eaters. I'm surprised I have not come down with TMJ.

I declare! That roast could not have come from a run-of-the-mill, everyday steer. No way, Jose! That's a fact, Jack! The way those muscle fibers wove and twisted, I'm suspecting my roast beast was actually a cut from the abdominal muscles of a Tasmanian Devil. Not the actual bad-natured but cute-looking real animal. The cartoon, spinning, twisting, tornado-shaped Tasmanian Devil.

Food Network chef Robert Irvine, with his phenomenal biceps and knowledge of tenderizing techniques, could not have made my cut palatable. It could have been wedged under the saddle of Attila the Hun, and ridden, at a trot, across eastern AND western Europe, and still not been made chewable by any human, even one in possession of the entire Osmond family's teeth and Jay Leno's jaw.

The more I chewed, the bigger each bite of meat grew. I could have marketed it as beef-flavored gum. Like a Willie Wonka product. Not because it was three courses. But because it was never-ending. Like an Everlasting Gobstopper. Only gum.

Because hope springs eternal in the Val Thevictorian breast, I kept trying. Again. And again. Don't think I was swallowing that chunk whole. I'm a lady, dagnabbit! I spit it out. Nobody was there to see me. No need to be polite and hawk it into a cloth napkin. I had a little bowl that I'd put my biscuit in to protect it from the pot liquor. So it served as a rejected meat receptacle.

Funny how when I finished eating, I had a bowl full of meat. And a pronounced case of exhaustion.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

To Sleep, Perchance to Scream

Our recent brief deluge seems to have driven the arachnids inside. I intercepted a tick on my thigh, on the way to no-man's-land. And another on my knee. And a spider hanging out on the base of the shower stall. Of course, I suspect they hitched a ride on Hick's about-the-grounds clothing, rather than scurrying about in black-and-white striped shirts and black bandit masks, seeking entry under the front door in the dead of night.

Both ticks were given a free pass on our subterranean water slide. The same fate was planned for Mr. Spider. He had other ideas.

Mr. Spider was tiny by Backroads standards. Nothing like the Diomedes fishing spider that Hick has twice hauled into the house, to show me. He was half the size of a dime. But you never can be quite sure when Mr. Spider is Mrs. Spider, full of tiny babies that will jump off her back when she is jostled.

I thought I would quickly squeeze Mr. Spider between a couple of squares of toilet paper, and send him on his watery thrill ride. But no. He had other ideas. Namely, charging me like a madman when I reached down to the baseboard where he had scurried. CHARGED ME! Came running straight at my sock foot. Like John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn charging Lucky Ned Pepper, guns ablazin', in True Grit.

Of course I stepped aside. No spider is going to run up my leg slick as a whistle. No sirree, Bob! Mr. Spider was so speedy, he was a blur moving across the shower mat, onto the tile. I watched in horror as he disappeared into the air conditioning vent.

Please, please, please...don't let a shower of spider babies shoot out onto my face as I sleep.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Sasquatch Warning Label

Do not mess with Sasquatch today, people. Just don't.

Maybe Sasquatch has had a headache from the crack of dawn. A sinus headache that resulted in a pain between the shoulder blades due to muscle tension over the headache.

Maybe Sasquatch was without his right-hand helper all day.

Maybe Sasquatch has tired of telling other Sasquatches in his band not to eat the piece of Devil's Playground chicken that had been lolling about in a baggie since last Sunday, only to have one of them declare it suitable for consumption, and ingest it anyway.

Maybe Sasquatch had to use up a coupon for a free pizza that expires on July 31, and the clerk, after peeping out of the back room for five minutes, waddled to the second cash register, and rudely engaged in a stare-down with Sasquatch, who was lined up at the only open cash register behind one other customer, and in front of five other customers, until Sasquatch had to initiate the announcement of Clerk's grand register opening by asking, "Are you open now?"

Maybe Sasquatch took offense to the sneer and the huff of Clerk, because it is not Sasquatch's fault that the state of the economy requires people to work until the day after death, and Sasquatch pays enough in taxes to support Clerk on disability for a year, if Clerk would only file for it and lay about her home, rather than gimp her way from register to kitchen and back on two braced knees, forgetting that the Sasquatch is always right.

Maybe Sasquatch was irritated that the free pizza he had paid for with self respect was not of the single topping ordered.

Maybe Sasquatch had to endure a lecture from his mate, pertaining to the alleged fact that Mate cannot see Sasquatch while talking on the phone, so it is not really Mate's fault that Mate talks over Sasquatch every single time they converse by cellular microwaves, since everybody knows that a proper conversation is not possible without looking at your fellow conversationalist, those things on the side of your head called ears being of no use whatsoever.

Maybe Sasquatch had to balance a tray of pizza on a paper plate, a plastic cup of ice, a plastic cup of ice water, a 44 oz. Diet Coke, and a pair of bifocals while descending thirteen rail-less stairs into his dark basement lair where he could consume his free pizza unmolested.

Maybe Sasquatch reached the bottom step, step number twelve out of thirteen, when his load shifted, sending the entire paper plate over the edge of the tray like so many idiots in barrels over Niagara Falls, at which point every single slice of the wrong kind of pizza flipped cheese side down on the tile floor trod by barefoot Sasquatches on the way to and from the pool and hot tub.

Maybe Sasquatch just really needs a break today.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Bookarrhea?

I have an embarrassing problem. Loose books. They appear with abnormal frequency, and flow all over the house. I can't contain them. It's a chronic condition, which causes undue stress. I've had this affliction since childhood. In fact, I think it's hereditary. My paternal grandmother suffered from the same ailment. Of the immediate family, only The Pony has inherited the disorder.

I have piles. Caused by my bookarrhea. Hick tried to cure me, or at least relieve some symptoms. When he started finishing the full basement, he built shelves into my office. One whole wall. Ten feet. Four tall bookcases, floor to ceiling. Seven shelves per case. He added two more shelves on two other walls. I have four more tall bookcases scattered throughout the basement. And another one that is chest high. All full.

Some favorites have a home forever. I will not part with them. Others are unread. So they have a reprieve. The books I have read and am ready to release are filling up the house. Oh, I try. I packed up many boxes, and told Hick that he was welcome to take them to the auction. Set up a flea market booth. Do what was necessary. His action? He put them ALL on a tall bookcase in his workshop. Really? REALLY? I sorted and packed and set them on the counter by the door...and he unpacked them.

I donated several boxes of paperbacks to the local library. They put donations on a shelf up front. Sometimes more in a side room. And sell them for twenty-five cents. A dollar for hardbacks. Of course, on the day we dropped off my overflow, the library was having a sale. Ten cents. Genius picked up ten books. And I picked up ten books. How could we not? TWO DOLLARS FOR TWENTY BOOKS!

One of my work friends always donates her books to her church charity organization as soon as she finishes reading them. Except for John Grisham. Her husband allows her to keep a collection of Grishams. But everything else must go.

I've tried offering my books to Genius. He could set up an eBay account. Or Amazon Sellers. Make a good piece of change. But he says it's too much of a hassle. Hick says the auction is a waste of time. People might bid to get one book out of a box. Or the whole box will go for one dollar. No doubt for the buyer to make a killing selling those books online. I've even thought of asking if I can take a box to school, to the teacher workroom, and sell them for a couple bucks apiece. These are hardbacks. Like new. I know I could give them away at work. But selling might be frowned upon. I've thought of giving them away through my blog, but that is entirely too much work, what with garnering addresses, and hauling them to the dead-mouse-smelling post office, and paying to ship them.

My last resort is to look up that Amazon buy-back program. You can ship them a whole box, and get a paltry sum in return.

My bookarrhea is becoming advanced. I need a cure. STAT!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Well-Hidden Persona

Imagine my surprise today to learn that the The Writer magazine is going on hiatus. Thanks, Donna, for keeping us informed.

Now I must find something else to stack to great heights on my lamp table, piled askew like a wayward column in a less-than-sober game of Jenga, a leaning literary tower of Pisa-like engineering.

I don't mean to put on airs. Get all highfalutin. But I sometimes think of myself as TheWriter. You know. Like Christopher Walken is The Continenal on SNL. Except that I don't have a pencil-thin mustache, wear a smoking jacket, or offer guests champagne as I try to lure them behind closed doors.

No, I am no Continental. I am TheWriter. Which is not to say that I am all thin and glossy and uniformly shaped, full of helpful information on writing. Nor do I slap a label near my bottom, curl up around Victoria's Secret and the cable bill, and wait for you to squeeze me out of your mailbox, stash me in your armpit, then spread me across your lap.

I try to put entertainment on a page. Like caviar on a toast point. An hors d'oeuvre for the mind. I've tried to steep my gray matter in the work of TheWriters who preceded me. "What fresh not-heaven is this?" I ask, upon hearing someone tap tap tapping at my chamber door. "Shall I invite him in, risking a slow, wasting death from blood loss after two odd punctures on my neck? Perhaps it is only my buddy Huck, eager to swing a dead cat in a graveyard to make my warts disappear. Or maybe Hester, here with my sewing."

So I sit. TheWriter. Not writing, but daydreaming about writing. I can always write tomorrow. After all...tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Road to Submission is Paved With...

What? You expect me to work in this heat? For a salary of zero dollars and zero cents? That's not enough to keep me in sweat-stained trucker caps. I could topple off my paving machine, delirious from the sizzle of my broiled brain.

The road to submission if fraught with obstacles. You might as well try to taxi your yellow Alaskan bush plane with the bouncy fat rubber inner-tube tires down an interstate highway laid with police criminal-stopping spiky nail strips. Don't expect to get from Point A to Point B in the time listed on Google Maps. Even though, in your misspent youth, you could dash off an 'A' paper in fifty minutes, after two hours of sleep, and of questionable sobriety, that approach now will be about as successful as your yellow Alaskan bush plane take-off.

Time must be budgeted for obstacles. Side trips. You don't want to miss a stop by the Russell Stover candy outlet. CANDY, people! Cheap! And samples! Or you might want to ride a ferry across the Mississippi river and back, just to say you did. Or hike down a trail to see where a mastodon fossil was excavated. Or eat a delicious homestyle meal while dodging thrown rolls. Stop and smell the azaleas.

Good intentions are not good enough to pave this pig trail. I have a deadline to meet. And I need to find a flea market where I can purchase one of those Olivia Newton-John Let's Get Physical headbands.

The sweat of my brow is hindering my progress.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

To WIPey, in His Second Year

Inside me is a book, whining to get out.

Like most whiners, he tries to make me feel guilty. "You love reading about other people's books more than you love writing ME!" Deal with it, WIPey. It's not all about you. Stop pouting. Or I'll give you something to pout about.

I can't live my life for you, WIPey. I have bigger fish to fry. And...well...first I have to research where to find the type of fish I want to catch. Then plan an expedition to that area. Buy all of my fishing gear. Seek out some professional fish-catchers to show me the ropes. Practice the proper techniques until I feel confident enough to make my first cast. Refine my methods. Take care not to overturn my boat or fall off the dock with excitement when I get a nibble. Re-bait when my worm has been chewed to bits. Try crickets, or a spinner bait. Yank my line to set the hook. Allow my little fishie to run until he wears himself out, until he's good and ready to be caught. Reel like the dickens to land him. Gut him. Fillet him into edible sections. Announce to the family that I have caught a fish. Allow my catch to marinate. Consult several cookbooks for proper frying fundamentals. Heat the oil to just the right temperature. Dredge the fillets in a salty, crunchy coating. Name my new dish. Try not to get burned while immersing my fish in boiling oil. Serve it up fresh, making sure not to set a plate in front of people who don't eat fish. Try not to be disappointed by diners who declare my meal to be too hot, too cold, too spicy, too bland, too inventive, too routine, overdone, undercooked, ambrosia, or poison. And above all, be prepared to perform the Heimlich maneuver on anybody who chokes, and make sure to have a lawyer on retainer in case somebody plants a bone in my perfect entree.

That, WIPey, is why I cannot devote myself to you 24/7.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Disembodied Voice

Last week, I shared a few extraordinary happenings around my isolated country home. There are many others, but none so dramatic as the Headless Basementman. Most involve sounds and smells and shadows and one physical contact that someone like Hick would write off with, "You're crazy."

Sunday morning started like all the others. I threw in a load of laundry. Paid some bills. Made a shopping list. Called my mom. Woke Genius for church and told him that his grandma was bringing me some fresh tomatoes, so make sure to bring them in the house when he got home. Woke The Pony, who was happy to accompany me instead of letting the goats out to graze on charred grass for an hour. Listened to Hick's litany of Things I Would Like To Throw Away Money On This Week. Forked over gas money to Genius. And got in the shower.

Twenty minutes later, post shower, I was standing at the bathroom sink, parting my lovely tresses, which, regardless of the beliefs of Hick, do NOT fall into place after years of proper training, when I was startled by a loud, booming voice. I will admit that I am a naturally jumpy person. Don't sneak up on me and tap me on the shoulder. Don't glide silently across the room like a movie Dracula until you're standing right beside me. For cryin' out loud, put a box of Tic Tacs in your pocket so I can hear you coming. I am constantly chastising Genius and Hick for sidling into my dark basement lair and speaking from the office doorway behind me when my attention is on my computer monitor. I have been trying for years to break my boys of their habit of leaning their cherubic faces within inches of mine, and then shouting, "MOM!" to wake me from a recliner nap. I'm a bit high-strung. I admit it.

You might be amused to see me jump higher than a springbok when you scare me. Perhaps you wish for me to topple to the ground like a fainting goat. Maybe that's why people laugh after one of my spooking episodes, when I implore them, "Will somebody please restart my heart?"

Yes, I have a nervous nature. And odd things happen around here. The Pony was in the basement on his computer. Genius had left for church. Hick was off in town, most likely eating breakfast at the tavern buffet that, by his logic, he only went to once but had been there twice. So I was peacefully running a pick through my hair, parting it carefully, precisely, Olympic-gold-medal-straight, concentrating with such might that, perhaps, my tongue protruded out the side of my mouth, when that disembodied voice boomed in my right ear, from two feet away, causing my arms to fling out like a startled newborn, sending my pick sailing through the shattered silence:


Well. The voice indeed had a body. The body of Genius, shouting his addition to the grocery list through the bathroom door, heedless of my need for gradual intrusion on my moment of solitude. Not only did he scare a year's worth of sandwich-making out of me, he forgot to bring in the tomatoes after church, and they blanched themselves in the sun for five hours inside his truck inside the ZipLoc back my mother had so thoughtfully packed them in. I was kind of upset about his actions. Until 1:30 a.m. when a realization hit me.

I forgot the french toast sticks.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Val Heartily Recommends...

I'm gettin' myself a new book!

That's right. This ol' valedictorian can read! It's on the way to me right now. Hear the hoofbeats of the Pony Express? Or the crunch of the tires on the little white pickup truck that my mailman drives from the wrong side of the seat? I'm sure he will drop everything else and rush it right to my door. Or maybe not, since our road is marked PRIVATE, and the post office makes up put our mailboxes on the county road, a mile away from home, out where any Tom, Dick, or Harry can whack it with a baseball bat, or rifle through the whole row of mailboxes for tasty checks being sent out to various utilities, and change the TO part of the check to Tom, Dick, or Harry, and some fool teller will still cash it for them. Yeah. let that be a lesson to you. Always take your bills and mail them in an approved post office orifice. So only the federal employee thieves have a crack at them.

Now where was I...oh, yes. The best thing about my new book is that it was written by my blog buddy, Kathy. Isn't that a pretty name? One you don't hear much these days. Have you ever seen Leap of Faith, that movie where Steve Martin is a rascal of a preacher who travels the country with Debra Winger, pretending to be a faith healer? At the beginning, when Meat Loaf, who is driving their tour bus, gets stopped for driving like a bat out of not-heaven, Steve Martin gets in the police car with that guy who used to play Frank the desk clerk on ER, and acts all clairvoyant and crap and guesses the name of Frank's daughter: Kathy. Which he does by guessing Frank's age, and the most popular names for girls during his child-siring early-marriage years.

But let's get back to Kathy's book. Or maybe I should say Wall-E's book. He's Kathy's dog, who actually wrote it. But he's giving Kathy all the credit. Because that's how Wall-E rolls. So the best thing about this book right now, seeing as how I haven't read it yet, is that it was written by one of my bloggy friends. She's right there in my sidebar. Kathy's Kampground Kapers. She has the patience of Not-Val. Those camping people are like big ol' overgrown students. They will keep you hoppin'. Check her out. She's krafty, too.

If you'd like to support a fellow blogger and her dog's book (She's a dog-lover, see? What's not to like?), you can contact Kathy at the email in her Blogger profile, or find Letters to Gavin on Amazon. You never know, she might give a little discount if you buy directly from her. Doesn't hurt to ask.

To top off my endorsement, I declare that when Letters to Gavin arrives, I will put it ON THE TOP of my To Be Read stack. See? I mean business.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stop Him, Before He Builds Again

Hick is on a quest to raise a new roof.

He gets these ideas that must be conceived, plotted, purchased, and constructed in the span of forty-eight hours. Just like that time he was ready to butcher a couple of pigs he found while I was in town doing the weekly grocery shopping. That one was even quicker. Within two hours, he had it all figured out. He'd enlisted the help of a neighbor with butchering equipment, packaged up his pork chops, cured his sausage, and built a pen for the spare pig out of materials he had hoarded away. Was already smacking his lips over a plate of his yard-bird eggs and sausage. But then I got home, and made him go door to door to find out who the pigs belonged to. And made him release them from the BARn, and give them back.

This morning he declared he was going to buy a prefabricated barn building, and park his 1980 Olds Toronado under one lean-to, and the four-wheelers and hay bales under the other. Or maybe he'd just build a carport onto the side of our existing garage. Or extend his BARn lean-to area on each side. Or have some matching trusses made, and come out thirty feet from the front of the BARn. Or buy a portable carport roof thingy. Or build a 30' x 50' shed.

I am exhausted.

Hick says the real reason is because his Toronado does not need to be sitting out in the elements. I pointed out that he has an entire BARn in which to park that baby. But no. The BARn is full of truck. His collector truck. Which has been without its bed for nigh on thirteen years, what with him "fixing it up" to enter in car shows. Which has never quite seemed to happen. He says it's because I won't release the purse strings so he can buy parts. I say it's because he has jumped from one to another of about thirty different projects in that time. Most of which have eaten away at his allowance bite by bite.

I'll give it a week. I DID talk him out of building that indoor gym with regulation basketball court that he was dead set on five years ago. It's not that I begrudge him his animals and outbuildings and riding toys.

I need something more concrete than the skeletal plans he has proposed.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Series of Unsettling Events

...continued from "Introducing...Chester"

When we last convened, I was mid-tale in my account of Chester Drawers, a second-hand piece of furniture that I blame for some odd occurrences in my home. Because he's so photogenic, I'm posting another pic of our dear Chester.

Hick unceremoniously carted Chester off to the basement to free up some space in the room of Toddler Genius. The basement is not some dark hidey hole for spiders and boxes of Christmas decorations and an occasional game of cat-and-mouse between Jame Gumb and Clarice Starling. It's a functioning part of our abode, running the length and breadth of the House That Hick Built, containing a TV/game room with a pool table, pinball machine, air hockey table, piano, electric fireplace, bookshelves, and of course, my recliner. Other rooms in this subterranean paradise include my dark lair office space, the NASCAR bathroom, a giant workshop, and Hick's treasure room. The basement is accessed by walking through the floor of our living room. That means that it is not sealed off with a door, but has stairs descending through a large rectangle surrounded by sturdy wooden railing.

I stuffed Chester full of off-season clothing, and he sat unmolested on his squatty legs until a snowfall, or the harbingers of spring appeared. Basements are known for their cool temperature. So I can't speak as to whether Chester dropped the digits upon his relocation. I had not even made a connection yet between Chester and the odd happenings in the room of Toddler Genius.

Shortly after Chester's move, we began to have issues with a specific light bulb in the basement. Hick is not one to thoroughly finish all projects. To this day, we have a bulb that is simply screwed into the socket on the ceiling. No fancy fixture on that one. Even though other lights have them, and the pool table has a Tiffany style stained-glass-looking rectangle enclosing its overhanging bulbs. This problem bulb hangs over my big-screen TV and recliner part of the room.

One evening, the light bulb went out. I told Hick he needed to replace it, that we had blown a bulb. Two days later, I was still waiting, using my plier-lamp (another story entirely) for illumination. And that bulb came back on! I told Hick to forget the replacement that he had already forgotten. "How can it be blown and come back on?" He thought I was crazy. A few days later, the bulb went out again. Hick put in a new one. "Must be a bad bulb." The new one lasted about a day, then started the same tricks. On for a while. Off a few hours. On. Off a few days. On. Hick put in a third bulb. It shined for a week. And then...

Around 11:30 p.m., I finished watching TV and started for the steps, to ascend to the upper level and my boudoir. You know how you get a creepy feeling that something isn't right? I had one. I thought, "Don't you dare go out now, you stupid light." AND IT DID! It went right out the moment I finished that thought. The hair on the nape of my neck stood up. I ran up those thirteen steps and turned off the basement light switch. The next morning, the bulb came on as normal. And stayed on. I suppose I had been shown who was boss.

Hick installed an electric fireplace in the corner of the basement TV room to guard against the chill. Normal basement chill, I presumed. He could never enforce his Socks or Slippers Policy on the boys, who enjoyed barefootin' all over the house. And I refused to let him drill through the concrete foundation and put in a flue for a wood or gas fireplace. So electric it was. A pretty little corner fixture with a mantle and glass doors and fake light flames and a blower. Genius, the budding photographer, took a picture of it a few days after installation. The fireplace was turned off at the time. He showed me the photo on his digital camera.

"What's that?" There was a purple sphere of light in the fireplace, floating between the fake logs and the glass.

"I don't know. It wasn't there in the preview."

"It must be a reflection."

"Mom. I had the flash turned off."

Surely it was a spec of dust. A purple spec of dust. Yeah. That had to be the explanation. Genius lost that picture when his computer crashed, or I would post it.

And now, for the grand finale...wait a minute. This is getting very long. Perhaps we should wait another day. What's that? You'd rather just get it over with, like ripping off the BandAid, chugging down the medicine, yanking out a baby tooth with a string tied to a doorknob? Okay. If you insist.

I saw a man in the basement. Not an intruder. Not flesh-and-blood. Not with all his body parts. What some might term an apparition, I suppose.

Chester had been moved, from the wall nearest that recalcitrant light bulb and the fake fireplace, to his position in that picture, which is at the bottom of the stairs. On the other side of the stairs is the big-screen TV and the end table which holds the satellite receiver. I like to watch TV without the overhead lights. I have a lamp. It's cozy. The only problem back then was that the main light switch was at the top of the stairs. So once I turned off my lamp, I had to cross the room in the dark, with only the glow of the TV upstairs to guide me. It was enough light to see the outlines of the furniture, and where the steps started.

On this particular night, I turned off the TV. Turned off my lamp. And started the eight strides to the bottom of the stairs. At about stride four, just before the end table, A MAN APPEARED IN FRONT OF ME! Not directly, but in the two o'clock position. I was startled. I sidestepped to the left in order to avoid running into him. He was shorter than me, and had no head. He was wearing an old-time kind of black suit, with a white shirt with an old-time kind of collar that stuck up and didn't flap over. There were black buttons down the white shirt. No tie. He looked solid, not see-through. He didn't move or say anything. After about three seconds, he faded away.

I ran up those stairs faster than an Olympic stair-running gold medalist. I turned off the upstairs TV and hopped in bed next to Hick. I knew his snores would protect me. I woke him and explained my close encounter. He thought I was crazy. The next morning, I harped for him to put a light switch in the basement. He humored me. To this day, I have never turned off the lamp and TV without first turning on the overhead lights. I have flashlights stashed near all my sitting places, just in case of a power outage.

Chester has been relocated once again, to the outer wall, under The Pony's room. Have I mentioned that I hear walking upstairs in The Pony's room? The last being on Tuesday night. When The Pony spent the night at his grandma's house.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Blog buddy Stephen had an interesting encounter with an armoire. Which of course reminded me of a curious piece of furniture of my own. Because everything is all about me, remember?

Shortly after moving into the House That Hick Built, we saw a need for a chest of drawers for Genius. He was about to turn three, and we decided that he was due for an upgrade of sorts from his baby furniture to something more mature. Besides, The Pony would make his grand entrance in three months, and would take over the baby furniture. Rather than invest in a matching bedroom set from a reputable furniture store, Hick decided that the toddler bed was fine for a while, and Genius merely needed some drawers for his clothing.

Hick never met a thrift store he didn't like. He had a string of establishments from Backroads to St. Louis that he frequented when he was in the neighborhood. He told me of a chest of drawers that he had spotted in Festus, down the street from the post office. One Saturday, we packed up our Ford Aerostar with toddler Genius, and headed north.

The store was filled with items that you might imagine in the attic of your elderly aunt. A dressmaker's dummy. Odd lamps. Musty chairs that may or may not have been upholstered in horsehide (hide your eyes, in utero Pony). Assorted ottomans. Busts of curly-haired men. Oval mirrors in wooden stands. Sideboards. A roll-top desk. Ornate magazine racks. I'll stop short of comparing it to an antique shop that might have been run by Barlow and Straker in 'Salem's Lot. But it definitely had an atmosphere.

Hick led me to the chest of drawers. It wasn't exactly children's furniture. But I could see a use for it. Hick bartered his way to an acceptable price and agreed to pick it up one day after work the next week.

The photo does not do justice to the wavy curvature of the drawers, but this is the actual chest. Not in the bedroom of toddler Genius, but in a later resting place, the basement of The House That Hick Built, which also acts as a sort of game room. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Because this piece of furniture seemed to have a personality of its own, I am going to call him Chester. Chester Drawers. He is composed of real wood. Not fiberboard. Not a veneer glued over plywood. The drawers are solid. Dovetailed, not nailed. If you pull out a drawer and look down on that curvy front edge, you can see three distinct layers that have been bent and pressed together. The front piece is about a half-inch thick, and the other two a quarter-inch each. I have no idea what kind of wood it is. Farmer H is gone to an auction at the moment, so I am lacking a consultant.

Toddler Genius paid no mind to Chester. What kid would? It's furniture. I heard him talking in his room one day. I hollered from the kitchen, "Who you talking to?"

"Oh, just Tony. That little boy I play with sometimes." I tried to act like that was perfectly normal. But the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Genius went back to his room and resumed playing.

I thought that maybe he just had an imaginary friend. At supper that night, I said, "How about some for Tony?"

Toddler Genius fixed me with a withering stare. "He's not HERE!" Like I was the crazy one. Seeing people who were not there. He never talked about Tony. Only to him. And only in his room. A few weeks later, he came out talking about George Henson.

"Who do you mean, George Henson? I don't know anybody with that name."

"You know, Mom. That bad guy that burned up all those people in that hotel."

"No, honey. I don't know about that." But you can bet I was going to find out. I asked around. Old people, the internet of the day. And since then, I've Googled and Googled. But I never found anything in the town history about George Henson, or a tragic hotel fire. At least with Tony, I had assumed he picked a familiar name, from the carpenter who framed our house, and had done work on the old house as well.

Toddler Genius refused to sleep in his room. I didn't put much stock in this. He had done the same thing at the old house, before Chester joined the family. I had hoped that he would like to sleep in his new room. Which was always cold. We moved in November. I asked Hick to adjust the vents, to get more heat to the bedroom of Genius, and less to some that didn't matter. Hick did. But that bedroom stayed cold. Even in summer, facing west, a double window letting in the heat. It was like the furnace couldn't heat it, but the air conditioner cooled it better. Again, Hick adjusted vents. But that room stayed at least five degrees colder than the rest of the house. Year round. Until we got Genius a little boy bed, and Hick rearranged the room, and decided that Chester Drawers did not fit.

We moved Chester to the basement, and the bedroom temperature became the same as the rest of the house. However...some funny things started to happen in the basement.

To be continued on Friday...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All I Really Need to Know About Blogging I Learned From Stuart Smalley

The summer is winding down, and Genius is in full annoyance mode. He lay abed until midday, then slithered from his room with mayhem in mind. He's a tricky one. At first, he tried to wheedle me into make him french toast, even though we have frozen french toast sticks that merely require deposition into a toaster two feet from the freezer. Next on the agenda, a political debate for which he was sadly unarmed, not even grasping the bare bones basics of Bill Clinton's infamous non-inhalation. After burying his head under a couch pillow, Genius re-emerged to swat my hand away from my own laptop, and forced me to read a site of his choosing.

Hyperbole and a Half -Texas

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's a perfectly good website, with this perfectly good post about a calamity involving Texas and a championship race. A laugh and a half. My cup of tea, if I was a tea drinker. Which I'm not. But I got some snickers out of it. My objection was to the pictures, which took an inordinate amount of time to load on my fibromyalgic-hamster-operated internet connection. So I had to question his choice. 

This takes too long to load. Why so many pictures? It's fine without them. And you'd think they would be better pictures.

Mom! That's what Allie does. She draws all the pictures in Paint. 

How come her people look like fish?

I don't know. That's just how she draws them. It's in Paint, Mom. 

Well, how come that dog looks like a real dog. but her people look like fish?

They just do. Somebody asked what's that on her head, and she said you could think of it like a shark fin. 

I'M funny. And I don't have pictures. Hers would be fine with a line of empty space between paragraphs. Like mine. I'm being published, you know.

So is she, but in her OWN BOOK. 

Maybe SHE doesn't have a husband and two kids who expect her to make sandwiches three times a day, so she has TIME to get her book published.

She has an annoying boyfriend. 

Don't you think I'm funny?

You're funny. The ones about me. 

I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people laugh at me!

Allie has millions of readers.

I have readers! But I lost all my followers when I switched to a new template. Is there any way to get them back?


Have you even seen it? Look.

That's ugly. 

No it isn't!

Let's read about me. 

Here, you'll have to go to the old one.

Hey! How'd you get that many pageviews? That's twenty thousand. Okay. It's really only nineteen thousand thee hundred thirty-three. 

That's for a whole year. How many did you think I had?

I don't know. A couple hundred, maybe. But let's see. If you only had one, that would be almost four hundred in a year. So that really isn't very many. 

Thanks. It's not millions. But I don't know how to draw bad pictures in Paint. Besides, I loaded that page and read that whole Texas story, and then there wasn't an ending.

There was an ending. 

I only have nineteen thousand three hundred thirty-three pageviews, but I know that story needs a better ending.

Ahhh! I can't take this anymore! 

Sure. Cover your head with a couch pillow. That reminds me of this really good movie I saw a couple days ago. Okay, not a good movie, but I read the book, and it was good. It's called Native Son. By Richard Wright. I had a class and it was one of our assigned books. It's better than the movie with fat Oprah. Not thin Oprah. Here's what happens...

I told Genius the basic plot of the story, part of which involves a pillow over a head. He even removed his couch pillow. And looked at me. Intensely. Hanging onto every word. Because I CAN tell a story. Even if it's not my own. Even if it's acted by fat Oprah. I glossed over some of the final parts, just for brevity's sake. Because we all know that in the dictionary, beside the word brevity, is a picture of me. Then I jumped to the end. Genius frowned.

That's IT? 

Yeah. What do you mean? You were hanging onto every word.

I was just trying to be polite. 

Uh huh. Because you're always polite to me.

That's a terrible ending! 

Exactly. That's my payback for spending so much time reading that Texas story. Without a real end.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reply With a Little Help From My Friends

Here's a question for those of you who are published writers. And those who are not, please weigh in with your opinion. Oops! Didn't mean to scare you off with that WEIGH IN part.

As you recall, due to me harping on it for two days, I was notified by e-mail on July 4 that Unsent Letters wants to publish one of my sent letters. After a day or two, I replied to the e-mail that, indeed, I would accept their offer.

Here's the question: Was that the right way to respond?

Should I have sent a separate e-mail, perhaps? One with publication offer and the name of my letter in the subject line? Or was the reply to the offer good enough?

The reason I'm asking is twofold. First of all, I'm not a patient person. I'm the Cup-O-Soup, not the slowly-simmered clam chowder. The Easy Mac, not the twice-baked macaroni and cheese. The Buddig turkey lunch meat on Wonder, not the thawed and roasted Thanksgiving bird baked to a delicate brown, sliced and layered on a made-from-scratch croissant.

Even though I know that the business of publication moves slower that a septuagenarian snail across a sea of molasses, I kind of sort of expected I might have heard something back. Even though it took eleven months from my submission to their offer. I don't want my reply to languish in a backlog of e-mail compost, fermenting, until it digests itself.

Secondly, I don't want to violate any unwritten protocols. Like engaging in sexual intercourse with the cleaning woman on the desk in my office, then gifting her with a cashmere sweater with a red dot. Or dropping off muffin stumps to the homeless shelter, thus drawing the ire of Rebecca DeMornay. Or mentioning that I did not get bread with my soup.

Sooo...is that frowned upon? To simply reply to the e-mail offer? Or is that the way it's done?

My inquiring mind wants to know.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Crafty Son of a Gun, the Series

By popular, or at least duo demand, I present...the BARn that Hick Built. Along with his two older boys, when they were 11 and 13, too young to be very afraid when he put them up top, screwing sheet metal to the roof trusses.

Here's the exterior, from a while back, now missing the basketball goal and the disembodied truck bed, but retaining the burn pile out front. Also, there is now a garage-type door without flea market license plates.

Of course, every BARn worth its name has a bar. This is on the second level, which has also been revamped. But around these parts, we live in the past, and seldom update our picture library. If you look closely, you will see what Jeff Foxworthy refers to as the working TV on top of the nonworking TV. It's for tapes and DVDs only. No reception in the BARn.

Some of Hick's collector memorabilia is housed in his BARn loft. The John Deere family, for instance. If I could hire the esteemed Ms. Dolly Parton to operate a theme park called Hick's BARnland Adventures, I'm sure she would wow the crowd with her homespun wisdom. Such as, "It takes a lot of money to make a fan look this filthy."

The latest addition is the Coca Cola booth. Handcrafted by Hick. Mind your butts and wear brand-new overalls or Levis 501 jeans before they've been washed. Or else you might be spendin' a night splinter-pickin' your nether regions.

That's all I've got for now. Like I said, the Ol' Red BARn, she ain't what she used to be. Some so-called improvements have been made. But this will give you a general idea of how things operate here at Hick's BARnland Adventures.

The lower level is off limits, due to possible scouts from Hoarding: Buried Alive, trolling Blogland for a new season. Don't think Hick stacks hay in there. It's like a discarded tool wonderland. Hick never met a tool he didn't like.

He's a crafty son-of-a-gun. Maybe he can pitch that as a TV series. Crafty Son-of-a-Gun: One Man Making Treasures Out of Another Man's Trash.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Backroads Pickers

From the One Hick's Junk is Another Pony's Treasure files...

Sometimes, Hick scores a keeper. Take, for instance, his thoughtful purchase at last night's auction. Not for himself, of course. He bought himself a duck. A ceramic, bowl-shaped, lidded, jewelry-holder type of duck. Made in Italy! Or so Picker Hick proclaimed. I have no photo, because after traipsing into the house this morning to show it to me, in a manner that would have done Carol Merrill proud, she of the Monty Hall Let's Make a Deal spokesmodel era, even though she did not speak, Picker Hick hopped into his Gator (excuse me for calling it a Mule in previous posts--The Pony has now set me straight on the John Deere brand), much to the delight of the muttly trio, (who roused themselves to yip and yap and run circles around Picker Hick while waiting for him to put it in gear), and whisked it off to his cabin or BARn for suitable display amongst his other treasures.

Yeah. I'm practicing to enter the Guinness Book of Longest Run-On Sentences contest.

Picker Hick often buys items for The Pony. Not because he's a loving father who enjoys showering his youngest son with other people's cast-offs as gifts. But because he's got the fever. The buying fever. And he knows that he can get that rush from bidding and purchasing, and then get reimbursed from the First National Bank of The Pony. Insured by the VTIC (Val Thevictorian Insurance Corporation). Most often, these gifts fall into the category of random collector swords that single men had to give up when the new wife put her foot down. But Saturday night's Pony purchase was a book. That's right! You heard it here first. No need to catch it on the 11:00 news.

Picker Hick bought The Pony a book!

Not just any book. Something The Pony is actually interested in. Which is a double miracle, what with Picker Hick being the man who, upon moving my belongings into the House That Hick Built, arranged random tomes on the living room bookshelf based on LOOKS. He put the prettiest books on display. No matter whether it was Stephen King's unabridged The Stand, or a freshman year textbook for Composition and Rhetoric. Which appeared in my possession mysteriously, since I tested out of that class and obtained three hours of college credit on my transcript for free.

Not only did Picker Hick buy The Pony a book pertinent to his tastes...he got it for a song! No, Picker Hick did not actually have to warble a tune, most likely The Oak Ridge Boys' classic, Elvira, to obtain this book. He paid the low down rock bottom price of FOUR DOLLARS. And look at it:

The Pony's photo from my phone does not do it justice. That's his phone on top of it, to show the scale. This is a grand hardback coffee table book of archaeology. With glossy color photos inside. Just the ticket for a lad who has a love for ancient Greek and Roman history. And owns his very own Indiana Jones fedora and whip.

Kudos to Picker Hick. If I could only get him to do my Christmas shopping at the auction.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Anybody Up for a Contest?

Those of you who know me through my little bloggy venture here realize what a gentle, giving soul I am. Always one to see the best in every situation. To make sweet, sweet lemonade out of the lemons life bombards me with. The person who would hand you the Crocs right off her feet after first pressure-washing, sun-drying, and gift-wrapping them in gold-plated parchment. The Pied Piper of Backroads, leading gamboling puppies, big-eyed kittens, and fuzzy greeting-card mice to rainbow-ceilinged, unicorn-sanctuary meadows in an effort to inspire sweet stories of success from her writing readership.

Or not.

But I DO have a contest to offer you! Don't sweat the deadline. It's August 30. Plenty of time. No entry fee. And a chance for fabulous prizes. In many categories. This contest is hosted by the host of the blog Author! Author! That's Anne Mini. Mind your Ps and Qs, folks. Ms. Mini is a stickler for proper formatting. But the good news is, she explains her formatting requirements. In detail.

Allow me to paste a bit of information from Author! Author! concerning the contest.

Here are the categories:
Category I: Literary fiction, women’s fiction, and mainstream fiction
Category II: Science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal
Category III: All other genre fiction, including romance and mystery
Category IV: Humor (either fiction or nonfiction, but please do tell the judges which)
Category V: Memoir
Category VI: Narrative nonfiction, cookbooks, and academic books

Here are the prizes:
The grand prize winner in each category will receive a half-hour Mini Consult on a query, synopsis, and first 10 pages of the manuscript from which the winning scene was excerpted, as well as having the winning entry, bio, and an author photo posted on Author! Author!
First and second place winners will have their entries posted and critiqued on this blog.
Third place winners will receive copies of Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery.

I won an Anne Mini contest myself in 2011. Note that there are two winners on that page. I am one of them. And I don't write serious stuff. This was the first contest I ever entered. Had my picture posted. Even got a video critique of my entry from Ms. Mini and her guest judge, author Heidi W. Durrow. And yes, it was worth the hoops I jumped through to whip my entry into proper Mini shape. Ms. Mini does not suffer scoffrules gladly. I believe at least fifty percent of the entries in that contest were disqualified from the get-go, for not submitting properly.

Here's the link for this contest. The detailed rules are at the bottom of the page, so read on, or scroll down. Good luck and all. I might just be entering myself. Don't cost nothin'.

The Sensual Surfeit Literary Competition of 2012

Just a note here...my post was supposed to be up and running Saturday night at 6:30. Thanks, BLOGGER, for messing with Sasquatch.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Val Selflessly Assists Common Sense

Today, I turn my outrage at improper word usage to the phrase, "Coming down the pipe."

Seriously? You are looking to see what's coming down the pipe next? Where are you? Floating on a brown trout in the septic tank, eagerly awaiting the next item to be flushed? Mounted astride a cast-off alligator in a New York sewer, hoping to snag some illicit drugs flushed in a flurry of apartment-raid activity? Comfortably ensconced in a glob of grease at the bottom of a sink trap, anxiously anticipating a lost engagement ring? Leaning your head over a highway culvert after seasonal monsoons, seeking a subcompact vehicle to add to your fleet?

Wouldn't it be more sensible to stand in the side yard, scattering grain from your apron folds to your poultry flock, and glance up at the sound of hoofbeats to see what's coming down the road? The PIKE?

Don't make me frown and stamp my little foot until you see the error of your ways, people. It's "Coming down the pike."

Not pipe.