by Beth Bartlett

We live in an old home, so gaps and breezes are par for the course. But when our cats came and went even though we don’t have a pet door installed, I became suspicious. In the back storage room I found a space where a board had fallen away, revealing a large hole. In my mind, it became a cavernous entryway into our home, big enough for an armadillo pride parade, badger badminton team, or two ninjas and a trained monkey.  I realized home repair was in order, but the hubby had a packed schedule. This left it up to me. That thought alone wakes Bob Vila up with night terrors, mumbling “Oh my God, the duct tape…DUCT TAPE!”
Since hammers and nails were banned substances for me after Jimmy Carter negotiated the Great Home Improvement Accord of 1998 between me and the hubby (he can’t complain about that flat thumb—if he put a chip in it he could use it as a USB drive,) I turned to alternate means of getting the job done. Duct tape didn’t seem like the answer this time so I settled on the seemingly innocent can of expanding foam. I’ve seen the hubby use it on numerous occasions and the foam always behaves itself, rising nicely and turning rock-hard in minutes, just like my home-baked bread.

I read the instructions. Blah, blah, blah, eye protection, shake can, hold can upside down for best results (kinky, I thought, but hey, whatever makes it stiff) and always use gloves. Gloves? Ha! Gloves are for wussies. I am a tough redneck hippie chick. I didn’t scream when a wolf spider ran across my foot last week, and he even tipped his hat and said ‘Excuse me’ afterward.
My strategy was to approach the hole from the outside, and fill it top to bottom. I shook the can, slapped it a couple of times to keep it happy, and hit the trigger. It belched, spit and squirted like it had eaten a week-old burrito from a truck stop. The second layer flopped out of the hole and started a slow reach for solid ground, leaving behind a gloopy trail and looking for all the world like the house had sneezed. I scooped up the falling goo with the end of the straw nozzle and shoved it back into the hole, but it was like trying to knit with melted circus peanuts.

As I fought the ooze back into the opening, I accidentally hit the trigger again just as I saw two eyes peeking out from the inside. At the exact same moment the nozzle sprayed, the cat hissed and I screamed “Aaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiigh!” which is slang for “Crap, now I have to shave the cat.”  The can also was startled, because the foam started spurting from the seal below the nozzle in a vain attempt to crawl up my arm and stop me. I dropped the can and ran back into the house to find the cat, intact, un-foamed and under the couch.
On the bright side, I didn’t have to go out and check the foam to see when it stopped being tacky; I knew the exact time it was no longer icky, because that’s the same moment my fingers quit sticking together. When that happened, I was able to hold the scissors and cut the rest out of my hair.

Tomorrow I’m baking some bread and shoving that into the hole.

Beth Bartlett is a freelance writer by day, a humorist by night, and a caffeinated procrastinator by mid-afternoon. Since writing this column, she has been placed on the Home Depot ‘Do Not Foam’ list and can only enter a home improvement store at 2 a.m. while disguised as Princess Vespa, which garners fewer questions than you would think. She is also a serial blogger, so drop by and visit www.plaidearthworm.com, find out if the stars are laughing behind your back at www.wisecrackzodiac.com, or get your geek on at www.geekbookofdays.com.


On the Radio

by Janna Qualman

I love music in the car, like most people.  But when my daughters are with me, it’s not always easy listening.

Me: Ooh! Love this song.

[Turns it up to hear over backseat bickering]

Biggest Daughter: Mommy, I’m taking my lunch to school tomorrow. Today was yucky.

[Turns radio down.]

Me: Oh, yeah? What’d you eat?

I only half-listen. The other half sings along with Gwen Stefani.

Biggest: Blah blah gross blah blah blah…

Me: Mmm… Mm-hmm. Sounds delicious.

[Turns back up as song changes to John Mayer, a favorite. Turns up louder.]

Littlest Daughter: Mommy! Look at those cows. They’re running! Why are they running?

[Turns down radio. So sorry, John.]

Me: It’s feeding time. See the truck? The cows know the farmer’s just arrived with food.

Littlest: I’m gonna be a cowgirl when I grow up. Mommy, do you know where my cowgirl hat is?

Me: Basement. Find later. Listen now. Pretty.

[Turns it up again. Say What You Need to Say, John. Go ahead, buddy. But he’s done, darnit; it’s someone different, fluffy.]

Biggest: Mommy, what’s this song about? Did she say “crazy voices”?

[Turns it down. Again. With a little bit of huff.]

Me: No! She sang “many choices.” If you listen, you’ll hear. Listen! She’s telling a story.

[Turns up, just one more time. I am determined.]

Littest: Mommy, what are we having for dinner tonight?

[Turns radio OFF. Because why bother? I mean, really.]

Me: Food. We’re having food.

Biggest: Will you turn the radio back on, Mommy?


More Candy for Me...

by Carole Lee

Halloween decorating is the bane of my existence, the mold on my cottage cheese, the hair coloring experiment gone astonishingly wrong:  It happens at least once a year, but I remain optimistic until it’s too late.

I never finish decorating for Halloween, no matter how much planning I undertake.  I sometimes never even start, and October 29th finds me making promises to myself that the following year, our house will be the best haunted house ever.  Unfortunately, “the best ever” isn’t really a hard feat to accomplish, once you consider how I always manage to ruin it.

Several years ago, Mr. Vagabond and I stopped at a Halloween store to buy decorations.  We pretended that they would find their way out of the bag once we got home instead of being lost and then unearthed the next time I staged a full-on cleaning party.  Ever hopeful, I secretly nabbed a pack of party invitations while at the store.  If Martha Stewart can transform her house from New England Coastal Classic to Halloween Spooky with a few little hints (passed along on glossy pages for the low-low price of $7.99), then surely I could pull something together.  All of our friends would be impressed.   They would talk about our spectacular Halloween party for years to come.  We would be the hit of our circle.  Friends of friends would begin calling in August to make sure they were included on our Halloween invitation list.  We would be, in short, Mr. and Mrs. Halloween.

Mr. Vagabond reminded me that our circle of friends consisted of three of his corn-fed co-workers and that one really weird guy who passes by on the way to the curb on trash day.  Not dissuaded, I pleaded with him until he agreed to have a party.  Immediately upon returning home, I hung our new blood drip banner across the windows and set out a few black candles.  I stuck the invitations in a drawer and eventually forgot they were there.  By the time Christmas arrived, I threw what was left of the black candles in the trash and took the banner down.  Dripping, plastic blood isn’t nearly as festive as it sounds, especially alongside a twinkling Christmas tree that I affectionately named Epiphany.

Jack O’ Lanterns also confound me.  Filled with premature Halloween spirit, I always buy and carve them too early. I think there is a secret society of pumpkin carvers, and only they know the precise date to carve a pumpkin for optimum freshness. My first Jack is the stuff of legend in my family.  He sat on my front porch until he fully deflated, save for the protruding candle in his belly that no one was brave enough to perform an autopsy to remove.  There are some things that even a big brother won’t touch with his bare hands, although he did poke Jack with a stick each time he came to visit. Jack #1 eventually flew over the fence into the the neighbor’s yard in retaliation for their all-night, front porch banjo and jug parties.  I guess I showed them.  Even their 100 year old bloodhound wouldn’t touch it.

I can’t take all the credit for Halloweens gone wrong;  sometimes, the neighbors get in on spoiling our fun.  One year, candles flickering in our living room window sent a neighbor scrambling through our yard in his boxers while dousing our front porch with a water hose.  He thought our house was on fire.  The fire department was not amused when they arrived.  Maybe I should offer them something besides stale Circus Peanuts if they ever stop by again.

The only time I successfully decorated for Halloween, I ruined all hope for future trick or treaters.  I knocked down all the real cobwebs to make room for the fake, stretchy kind.   I dressed as a witch with a cauldron full of Kit Kats and Reese’s Cups. Spooky sounds radiated through my front door, across the porch and into the yard.  Dancing sheet-ghosts circled the oak tree out front. It was perfect.  Unfortunately, the neighborhood kids were a little younger than I expected.  They were so frightened that to this day, they hide in the bushes and take bets to see who is brave enough to go touch my front steps and run away with life and limb still intact. Rumor has it, a scary old lady lives inside with 100 cats--cats that used to be neighborhood children until she threw a mighty hex on them for touching her porch.  In fairness to the kids, my house vaguely resembles the Psycho house on the hill, even in the full bloom of mid-summer.

This year, I have still not decorated.  I bought more Kit Kats and Reese’s cups and filled a cute pumpkin-shaped wicker basket with them, but the dogs found and ate every last one (wrappers and all).  I do have an orange and black Halloween jingle bell wreath hanging in my foyer, but that doesn’t count.  It’s been there since last Halloween when I brought it home, hung it on a coat peg and hoped for the best.  Maybe I should consider a calendar entry for next year.  I could add a couple of lines for avoiding outdated cottage cheese and DIY hair color.  Then again, I guess I have my own tradition, such as it is. Some folks are known for spectacular shows of holiday decorative talent.  I’ve decided to embrace being the mythical, crazy old lady who turns neighborhood children into cats.  At least once a year, I can be held blameless for keeping all the candy for myself.


Ol' Rustbucket

by Anne Skalitza

I'm good at waiting. I have to be, with two cars in the family that, as far I can trace, are from the dawn of the Industrial Age. Once again I am at the car service center, sitting in my coveted seat by the drooping plastic plant, praying that I don't have to take a second loan out on the house to pay to keep Rustbucket sputtering for a few more months. Rustbucket is the van-that-seats-a-thousand and can haul a fleet of fishing boats. I always say I'm going to keep this vehicle until I run it into the ground. It'll be like a Flintstone mobile or Little Tykes Cozy Coupe--feet to the street instead of pedal to the metal.

But there's no way I'm going to plunk down money for a new van, only to have gum, soda, and McDonald's wrappers decorate the interior within minutes of its arrival. One time there was a horrible smell coming from somewhere in the van. I opened all the windows. I sprayed Eau de New Auto.  Finally I remembered a little-used compartment in the third row. When I opened it, I choked and gagged. Sure there was a McDonald's wrapper but it still contained its contents. When I gingerly lifted it out while not breathing, it felt like a brick. Petrified MickyDs. I realize now that my lungs must be excellent; I didn't release my breath until the rotting food was safely in the outside trash can. I was sorely tempted to go in the house and drop it at my sons' feet, but couldn't hold my breath that long. Let's just say they heard a lengthy tirade from Mom.

Back to the waiting room. Today it's quiet. No self-important person loudly talking into his cell about his excellent job and international travel. Or tired toddlers bored out of their diapers, throwing their binkys. It's just a few of us, scattered about, making sure there's at least five chairs between us. We need our privacy while pondering how to finance our car repairs or bracing ourselves when the employee with the clipboard comes out, calls our name, and shakes his head. Like a family member waiting for the surgeon's news on our loved one, our heart's race, our stomach's knot, and there's always someone who slips a flask out of his pocket.

My turn should be soon. I've been here the requisite hour for a diagnosis. Maybe Rustbucket will survive.  If I still have money left over, I'll treat it. I'll pile my sons in the van and we'll go to MickyDs drive-thru. I think some soda on the floor should make it happy.

Anne Skalitza is a freelance writer with MGD (Multiple Genre Disorder). Her many short stories, essays, and poems are published in various magazines such as the Birmingham Arts Journal, The Dollar Stretcher, True Romance, and the now-defunct Alienskin magazine. (Anne swears she has nothing to do with its demise.)

For more on Anne's writings, click here: http://www.anneskal.wordpress.com


It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

 by Jennifer Caddell

It’s the most wonderful time of the year,
When school bells are ringing
And kiddos are dreaming
Of summer next yeeeaar.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s the hap-happiest season of all.
When homework’s forgotten
And socks made of cotton
Turn brown, in no time at all
It’s the hap- happiest season of all.

There’ll be children out whining
Over friends who are trying
To show off their ‘Twinkle Toes”.

There’ll be scary school stories
Of TP wad glories
And a school toilet that overflows.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
When those ‘fun’ teacher meetings
And principal greetings
Lead to report cards hidden in fear.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

There’ll be much nose blowing
And cold germs corroding
Every surface you know.

The sneezing will ring
And noses will sing,
With booger mustaches aglow.

It’s the most wonderful time,
The most wonderful time,
It’s the most wonderful time of the yeaaarr!


Extreme Halloween

by Amy Mullis

I read in the paper that a man tried to filch a ferret by carrying the creature out of the store concealed in his pants.  From what I know about ferrets, that’s going out of the safety zone for a Halloween costume.  Without too much bother, it could give a whole new meaning to the term “rip off.”

Personally, I’ll go all out in a race for the last macadamia nut cookie, especially if it’s generously decorated with white chocolate chips, but there are some forms of art I‘d rather not suffer for.  And while I’m a fan of creative Halloween costuming, I haven’t reached (or passed) the point in my life when I’m willing to take one in the naughty bits for the top prize at the party.

Forget your Freddie Krugers and your numerical Saw catalogue of characters (This outfit was brought to you by the numbers 1-6, your local hardware store, and Roger Ebert with a big thumbs down.). What could be scarier that a man dancing up to your doorstep with a frightened ferret fighting for a breath of fresh air stuffed down one leg of his Halloween zombie pants?

Call me crazy, but a costume that could result in a row of itching stitches across your butterfly tattoo is going beyond the call of duty for Halloween.   Some things aren’t worth going through for a fun size Snicker bar.

And while chances are good for winning a prize in the local costume contest, you have to consider the possibly that your pants could explode at an inconvenient time and attack the judges on a crazed candy rampage.  Seems like any loot this guy gets, he’d have to stuff down his right leg to appease the beast within.

I think I’ll stick with the costume I have.  I’m fifty years old and sport a body designed by Ben & Jerry.  Shovel me into a pair of hot pants and I’ll send ferret boy running back to the pet store for reinforcements.     

And Michael Jackson thought he had a Thriller night!

This exciting tail, um, tale, first appeared on my humor blog  Mind over Mullis in October, 2009. Join me there for more "I hope this never happens to me" moments, where real life is scarier than anything that happens on Halloween!

Photo credit: whereIamwearing.com


How Do I Annoy Thee?

by Jeanette Levellie

Photo credit: Collegecandy.com
When I’ve accused my husband of laying awake nights concocting new ways to annoy me, he disagrees. “I don’t have to lay awake—I irritate you without trying.”
I recently discovered how he invents all these bothersome habits of his that seem to multiply daily as he ages. He is the founder and lifetime president of the Annoyance of the Hour Club for Men.
                He never upset me when we were dating and engaged. Well, maybe once a week or so, but it was easy to overlook the wee little quirks that everyone must have. Love and passion trump those prickly frustrations hardly worth mentioning.
                Until the honeymoon. While I was sleeping, washing my hair, or glancing at the moon, he called the first meeting of the AOHC, with only himself in attendance. And he’s been devising new ways to bug me ever since.
How can a person make noise getting underwear out of a drawer? He’s invented a way.
                How can he always need to be in the same spot at the same moment as I, in my extra large kitchen?  He’s figured that out, too.
                Can he listen to high-pitched snippets of irritating music as he transfers cassettes to cd’s on the computer when I’m gone to work all day, and he has the house to himself? Oh, no. He must do this never-ending job when I’m home, trying to concentrate on my writing in the next room. 
                When I’m at Bible study on Friday nights, I’m sure he holds meetings of the other men who belong to his Club—all married men—and they share their secrets and new discoveries.
                “I found out that when I trim my toenails during her favorite TV show, it drives her nutso.”
                “Dude, that’s nothing. You need to trim them when her mother is visiting. Or better yet, don’t trim them at all, and then stab her with them just as she’s dropping off to sleep.”
                I can imagine the back slaps and high fives when one of them comes up with an original annoyance.
                “Hey, you guys know how we decided to start mumbling to ourselves all over the house? I discovered this week that humming the same tune hundreds of times in one day works much better. They can ignore the mumbling after awhile, but the humming makes them crazy. Especially if there’s no definable rhythm or melody. Just make something up with the same six notes over and over.” They then practice for each other, perfecting their hums until they reach the perfect pinnacle of irksomeness.
                Next on the agenda comes smacking, slurping and spilling of the noisiest snacks and drinks they could find, and closing their eyes to the leftover mess.
                They end the meeting with a secret oath to work harder at grating on their wives’ nerves, proselytize every new husband they meet, and teach their sons from infancy how to develop exasperating habits.
                I thought of starting my own club for women, so we could retaliate. But after two minutes of consideration, I realized none of us would live long enough to catch up, let alone even the score. I’m forced to concede: as creative as we are, we women cannot hold a—drippy—candle to the ways men find to annoy.   


Sometimes you vote, sometimes you don't

by Rhonda Schrock

Election Day is a big day.  That's when we get to exercise that great right of American citizenship – the right to vote.  It’s also a day of liberation as we will finally be delivered from the relentless political ads and the countless talking heads on every major network.  I figure we’ve got about two weeks of silence before the next election cycle starts up again. 
Reflecting on the amazing privilege we as Americans have of choosing our own leaders has made me grateful again for this country.  In many countries, governments are run by dictators who rule with an iron fist and shotguns.  Contrary to what a couple of boys I know seem to think, these are all located overseas. 
For some reason, the political process got me thinking this week about all the things in life that we don’t get a vote on.  Take, for instance, your family of origin.  There is, to my knowledge, no in utero voting.  When you exit that birth canal, you have already been assigned to the breathless, eager family that is assembled, most of them in the waiting room with a few that everyone wishes were on the Outer Banks. 
Through no choice of your own, you become a branch on your particular family tree.  As you grow older and become more aware, you realize that some family trees have more nuts than others.  You didn’t choose, for example, to have an Uncle Joe that spits when he talks or an Aunt Susie who snorts when she laughs or a Cousin Felix who is a professional forger. 
Other people’s family gatherings are quiet and decorous with polite conversation by polite, well-dressed people around a spotless tablecloth that somehow always stays that way.  Your family gatherings are loud.  They talk loud and laugh louder.  There is gravy on the tablecloth in the first five minutes and gravy on your shirt.  There is at least one high-volume political debate before everyone leaves.  That’s your family tree. 
You also get no vote on your DNA.  Whether you are tall, short, chunky, or skinny is largely determined by your genes.  Sure, you were hoping that Aunt Fannie’s posterior would skip a generation or that somehow the physique of an NFL linebacker would have been spliced into your genes somewhere.  That’s natural. 
If you, like me, are vertically challenged, you will understand how all-important the half-inch is.  Mr. Schrock laughs when I declare myself to be 4 feet 11-1/2 inches.  That’s okay.  People have told me that dynamite comes in small packages.  I’m operating on the theory that the Good Lord puts a little more kaboom in short people to help us compensate. 
On the opposite end of the birth canal, we as parents have no say on just who is making their debut.  They come with preset temperaments, these little sprouts on our tree, and it’s anyone’s guess on what you’ll find.  It could be a trick.  It could be a treat. 
We should all with one voice thank the Lord above that there are a couple of things we do get to choose.  Let’s start with your spouse.  Depending on where you lived, your parents would do your choosing for you.  Just imagine!  You could wake up as a 13 year old one morning and find that you’ve been bequeathed to a 53-year-old mule trainer, and all because he offered more camels than that 67-year-old carpet weaver with 2 double chins that was also vying for your hand. 
The other thing that should have every American citizen falling to their knees in gratitude is the freedom to choose their own vocation.  The opportunities are limitless here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  We value innovation and initiative, we Americans, and we place a premium on good, old-fashioned gumption. 
Here, you can be anything you want.  If you have superior talents, you can reap great rewards.  Where else can you earn millions of dollars for throwing around a leather object and wallowing around in the mud with other huge, testosterone-charged men who have muscles in their eyelids, hmm?   
If football’s not your thing (wrong genes, perhaps), you can be a chemist, a painter, or a welder.  You can run a laundromat or be a baker.  You could even, believe it or not, be a pet massage therapist.  Yes, you can!  I believe in you. 
On this election eve, we have a lot to be thankful for.  Regardless of who wins, regardless of the nuts on your family tree, and regardless of the anomalies in your physique, there will still be overpaid, overgrown men wallowing in the mud on Thanksgiving.  There will still be coffee in the pot.  The sun will come up again, and – hey, at least you’re not married to a mule trainer.  
While this column was published just in time for the election of Oh-Eight, it's all still true.  There is still much to be grateful for, we should all give thanks, and there's plenty more where this came from on Rhonda's blog, The Natives are Getting Restless.


I'm a bit of a worrywart.

by Stacey Graham

Photo credit: piddix.blogspot.com
I was an active yet clumsy child so spent a majority of my time in arm casts, recovering from knee surgery or in full leg braces. Thus, my spidey-sense is on high alert whenever my children attempt anything remotely dangerous, say... opening an olive jar without proper eye protection.

"Careful! The olive juice is highly caustic and can cause blindness!" I would yell out.

"Mom, it's olives floating in water. Relax, would you?" My four-year-old is a mouthy little thing.

"Yes but one drop and... I got nothing. Give Mama an olive and stop smirking."

I've read the warning insert in boxes of tampons about Toxic Shock Syndrome every month since I was sixteen, positive that one day I'd be the topic of an after school special on the dangers of absorbency. I'd picture my mother looking distraught while I gasped out my last breath in the hospital room.

"Mom, I know you told me not to use the Super Plus..." I'd start.

"Shhh, darling. That's not important now, but since you mentioned it, didn't you read the inserts?"

I see where my daughter gets it.

We live atop a mountain in the wilds of northern Virginia, fraught with danger as the girls bring
home various forms of flora and fauna. Poisonous fungi fill bags in the kitchen next to benign white-capped mushrooms. The eight-year-old studies them intensely but I'm not sure for what purpose. I quietly deposit them into the large kitchen garbage can while she sleeps and tells her the woodland creatures carried them off at night the next morning. She bought that for a while but now I get the "Mom is insane" look and she wanders off for more specimens. The others climb trees, scale woodpiles where I'm sure snakes hide, they're always on the lookout for the fox kits that live on the lane (though they are quite aware of the risks of rabies and stay far away) and sneak toads into the house in small baskets. The little voice that tells them to be cautious? The one ever-present in my head but not theirs? It's at Disney World without protective headgear.

I'm sure they get this from their father.

Visit Stacey at her blog where she would like nothing more than to wrap each and every one of you in cotton wool and feed you chocolate. On her off days, Stacey enjoys zombies, ghosts and telling dirty jokes. 


The Most Interesting Third Graders in the World

By Sarah Garb

My third graders have recently had all kinds of amazing adventures and experiences.  Sky diving!  Meeting President Obama!  In fact, I've even heard that sharks have a week dedicated to them. Yes, just like those Dos Equis commercials, my kids have lately been the most interesting third graders in the world.

If you believe them.

The week started out with Demarcus’ share.  I had tuned out for a minute to mark someone tardy and to make myself a note about some teacher-y thing I had to remember to do.  When I tuned back in, Demarcus was describing in great detail the skydiving adventure he had with his mom the previous weekend.  “Hmmm.  Does anyone else think this sounds ridiculously implausible?” I thought, scanning the crowd of third graders.  But no, they were impressed and completely believing.  Demarcus went on to describe the oxygen masks you need to wear when you jump out of the plane, how his mom dove first and then he followed, and how the whole skydiving experience was--in a word--amazing.  Just before he opened up the floor for comments and questions, Demarcus and I had the following telepathic exchange, accompanied by my most skeptical facial expression:

Me, telepathically: “Demarcus, you know you did NOT go sky diving last weekend or any other weekend.”

Demarcus, telepathically: “Let’s just keep this between you and me.  The other kids don’t suspect a thing.  I will now take questions and continue to blatantly make things up, but with specific details for maximum believability.”

One student asked how old one has to be to go skydiving, likely already planning a similar weekend adventure of her own.  “You have to be seven years old to go” answered Demarcus.  Coincidentally, that is the exact age that Demarcus is.  “Six and lower—they can’t do it.”  

Later in the week, I was eating lunch with Max and the other kids at his table.  “Guess what!” Max said.  “I got to shake the president’s hand!”  “What?” I asked.  “Really?”  Max went on to tell how the president had attended a play at the theater where his mom worked.  “And you were there?” I asked.  Max nodded.  “And you got to shake his hand?”  Max nodded.  And then embellished.  “Yeah.  I asked him some stuff, too.”  Up until this point, I was willing to believe Max’s story.  His mom does, in fact, work at a theater.  We live in Washington, DC, after all, so it’s possible that the president had attended an event at the theater.  And it’s true that presidents do a lot of hand-shaking, so it could happen.  Chatting up the prez, however, not so sure about that.  True.  True.  True.   LIE

When I saw Max’s mom later that day, the presidential handshake (and extended conversation) was news to her.  It became clear that Max’s bits of true events had blended together into an infinitely better story whose only flaw was that it never even came close to happening.

As far as ripe conditions for successful fibs, third grade is the perfect storm.  The kids are becoming more skilled at making things up so that they sound at least moderately believable, but they also haven’t yet become so discerning that they will bother to evaluate the likelihood of someone else’s claims.  If you can deliver the story with a straight face and can include enough realistic-sounding details, you’re golden.  To take another tip from some of my most effective third grade fabricators, it helps to purposely plant some blemishes in the story so that it doesn’t sound too good to be true.

During a whole-class share on, “Can you speak any other languages?” Immanuel informed us that he knows  “all of them except Chinese.”  A solid strategy, really.  If he had told us he knows all the languages in the world, we would clearly never have believed him.

Another morning, a student shared a cooking magazine article about his chef father and backed up this legitimate claim by bringing in the actual magazine.  We were all duly impressed.  During the Q&A portion, Alyssa tried to ride the wave of my-relative-is-famous with a connection to her uncle.  “I think he’s been on TV for plumbing.”

Really, Alyssa? Was that the coolest made-up accomplishment you could think of?  I mean--if you’re going to take the time and energy to fake a share, at least go all out.  Jump out of a plane!  Why not meet the president?  Be a linguistic prodigy!  You’d better make it quick, though—this bubble of gullibility won’t last forever.  While it does, though, I’m sure we’ll continue to be regaled with even more amazing tales from the lives of the most interesting third graders in the world.

Sarah lives and teaches in Washington, DC, home of our theater-going and hand-shaking president, where she humors her incredibly adventurous third graders.  More about their real and imagined escapades can be found at her blog, Dead Class Pets.


One little spark...

Photo credit: Giantbomb.com
 by Angie Mansfield

“We’re out of gasoline for the mower. Can you run to town and get some?”

It seemed like a simple request, and I needed to borrow Mom’s mower, so I cheerfully agreed. Especially, and this was the important point, since she was paying. I trotted out to the garage, grabbed the first gas can I saw, stuck it in the trunk of the car, and headed to town. The trip was uneventful, and not the point of this story, so I hope you just skimmed it really quick to get to the good part.

I pulled up to the gas pump, grabbed the can out of the trunk, and filled it up. Then I went to put the cap back on and noticed something disturbing: it was missing a crucial little plastic doohickey. You see, when you fill a gas can and want to transport it without dumping flammable liquid all over the trunk of your car, you put the nozzle upside-down, put the included little plastic doohickey over the resulting hole, and cover it with the cap to keep it tightly closed.

My gas can was missing that all-important little plastic doohickey.

I considered the problem for approximately three seconds, which is about how long my patience for any problem runs on a normal day, and decided that since I hadn’t filled the gas can all the way to the top, it would probably be fine. I hefted it into the trunk and shoved it over against the left wall, wedged in between the front wall of the trunk and a pile of lawn chairs. I figured this arrangement would ensure that the can remained upright, and as long as I didn’t take any left-hand turns on two wheels or anything, I should be fine. I slammed the trunk, hopped in the car, and took off, going around the corner oh-so-slow-and-careful.

I was singing, loudly and off-key, along with “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” by the Georgia Satellites when I reached the left-hand turn that marked the halfway point between the gas station and home. I remembered to slow down carefully, and flipped the turn signal on.

This was when the treacherous, treacherous subconscious part of my brain decided, “Hey! She’s having way too much fun out there, and leaving me to run the damn show again. I swear, she wouldn’t even remember to breathe if I didn’t do it for her. Hmph. I’ll show her.” And it projected an image into the conscious part of my brain: An open can full of gas, belching gasoline fumes into a small, enclosed space. An open can that was wedged right up against the area where the left turn signal would be. Where all the little wires go. Where an ELECTRIC SPARK might be generated each time the light flashed because of my conscientious act of telling people I was turning.

Now, despite all online evidence to the contrary, I am a fairly rational person as a rule. The intellectual part of my brain said, “Haha, good one, Subconscious. How silly of me to think I could turn the car into a gigantic, cinema-worthy fireball just by the simple act of turning on a turn signal. You got me! Hahaha.”

The primitive, irrational, self-preserving part of my brain said, “Shut up, you twit! It’s GASOLINE. It’s flammable. We’re gonna die! Assume disaster positions!”

This part of my brain would not let go of the image of all those gas fumes (strangely, imaginary gas fumes turn green in the trunk of a car) and the shower of sparks I was unleashing every time that blasted signal flashed. 

All of this went through my mind before I’d even finished the turn, and I breathed a little sigh of relief as the signal switched off without lighting off a bomb in the trunk. “Haha,” I even managed to say, though it was a weak “haha” at best.

“Oh, think you’re gonna get off that easy, eh?” said my subconscious. “Have you forgotten that the brake lights come on every time you step on the pedal, Genius, and you can’t just not use the brakes? Hm? Take that!”

Of course, once the thought was in my head, it would not go away. Not until I pulled up in front of my mother’s house, threw the door open as dramatically as I could, and leapt out of the car to land three feet away. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I may have even done a little “Get it off me!” dance, my primitive brain having got its wires temporarily crossed with the distaste-for-bugs part of my brain.

My mother, blissfully oblivious once again to the depths of her eldest daughter’s dementia, strolled out of the house. “You took the bad gas can. You didn’t spill any, did you?”

Did you catch that? Yes. My mother knew I had the “bad” gas can, and said nothing until I had already risked my life bringing the gas home.

Just wait until it’s time to choose her nursing home.

Angie Mansfield, confirmed insane by friends and family, is on a mission to live in a tent for six months, hitting all of the lower 48 states. She is undertaking this journey with her dog, her jade plant named Fred, and her twelve-pack soda box collection, which she hopes to someday fashion into a hang glider. Because hang gliding is, like, totally cool. Follow her insane adventures (heavily embellished, of course) at her blog, The Wandering Zebra: http://wanderingzebra.blogspot.com


The Most Awesomest Sandwich

By Lisa Dovichi

“Can I make my own sandwich, today?”

Truly, the scariest words of impending doom to ever be uttered by a child -- especially my “creative” child. Bread slices all over the world cringe in terror and I shudder inside, knowing I’m going to have to watch him eat it.

To watch him make his creations is beyond fascinating. He’s very serious and thoughtful as he rifles through the pantry cupboards and roots around the refrigerator. He considers items, then begins pulling out the random foods and condiments that strike his fancy. He piles up his choices on the counter next to the plate provided and drags his stool over so he’s tall enough to actually reach everything.

Sometimes his masterpieces require something cooked like an egg or something sliced like a banana or a tomato. That’s when I get pulled in to be the lovely assistant and the only time I’m permitted to touch anything. Let me repeat: that is the ONLY time I’m allowed to touch the sacred ingredients or the butter knife with which he applies them.

He starts by putting two slices of bread on his plate. They stare at me in horror, pleading with me to not let the atrocities about to happen, happen. I ignore their silent cries and ask 3ft if he needs anything cooked or cut up today.

“No, thank you,” he says angelically, but there’s no mistaking the mad scientist gleam in his eyes.

I step back, thankful not to be a part of the obscenities about to begin. He glops a thick layer of mayonnaise in the center of one of the slices of bread. It kills me to watch it sit there, clumped in the middle -- I’m a perfectionist spreader and my condiments have to be an even layer from crust to crust on all sides of the bread. I refrain from saying anything. This is, after all, his creation, his masterpiece, and perhaps it’s done that way on purpose.

Like a surgeon, he meticulously unwraps a slice of American cheese -- careful not to rip it as he removes the plastic lining. He places it squarely on top of the mayonnaise and adjusts it until it’s perfectly centered on the bread. What makes the cheese so special that it’s placed just so but the mayonnaise is sloppily globbed on?

Okay, okay but so far it sounds like a reasonable sandwich, does it not?

I’m not done. That’s just the beginning.

For this particular work of art, on the other slice of bread he applies a heavy dose of Nutella. Then onto the mayonnaise and cheese side of the sandwich he piles on a mountain of miniature marshmallows and a smiley face made out of pepperoni slices. Then he slaps the Nutella slice on top and squishes it down. I wonder if he can hear the Jaws theme playing in the background because I sure can.

He finishes off this ensemble with a Crunchy-Cheetos-and-banana-slices garnish then carries it over to the table. He sits down and sniffs the sandwich like it’s a fine wine (I don’t know where he gets that from).

“Mmm-mmm-mmm,” he says, his eyes alight with anticipation.

As he picks it up, the mayonnaise squishes out the side (I don’t know how since it was clumped in the middle) and marshmallows tumble down to the plate. I watch in amazement as he takes a humongous bite and chews it -- Nutella and mayonnaise coat the sides of his mouth and make a trail up his cheeks.

“How is it?” I ask hiding my disgust.

“It could’ve used some Marshmallow Crème, but it’s pretty good. Want a bite?”

I shake my head vigorously and watch him hork down the entire sandwich in a matter of moments. I swear the Cheetos and bananas ended up inside the sandwich at some point. This is the same child that will turn up his nose and make gross faces at Stroganoff, Baked Chicken, or Meatloaf, refusing to eat any of them.

Luckily for me, I have a high gross out factor so I was able to eat my lunch alongside him with little trouble. I would starve to death otherwise -- it’s become a regular thing for him to make his own lunch.

“The Most Awesomest Sandwiches” have included:

1.) bread, fried egg, banana slices, tomato slices, and mayonnaise.
2.) bread, cheese, mayonnaise, fruit gummies, sour cream and cheddar chips, and key lime yogurt.
3.) bread, ketchup, mayonnaise, cheese, strawberry yogurt, and Cheetos

These are just his repeat offenders, he comes up with new ones all the time.

Horrifying, right? But we have a deal. I promise not to say anything and let him do it (a real act of willpower), and he can put whatever he wants into his sandwiches (who am I to stifle creativity?) as long as he does two things: 1) eats the entire creation, and 2) doesn’t force me to share.

Totally grossed out? Come back to where it's safe. Follow Lisa's crazy journey down the healthy living path at Melting Before Your Eyes. 3ft gets mentioned often but not his sandwich creations!