Column Writing

It’s Monday morning and I’m on a mission to deodorize my reputation. Whenever there’s a pukey smell in the school where I teach, people check out my room first.

Thus begins a column from A Slice of Life. My collection includes thoughtful and often humorous reminiscences of the first fifty years of one woman's life and the insights, wonderment, joy and uncertainties that color them. These columns offer universal truths about motherhood, family, and aging, as well as confessions and attempts to interpret life's mysteries. Whether its a tender moment I shared with my mother before she died or an unusual show and tell with my fourth graders, the ultimate strength of these columns lies in their honesty.


My Smelly Reputation

It’s Monday morning and I’m on a mission to deodorize my reputation. Whenever there’s a pukey smell in the school where I teach, people check out my room first. I believe it began a few years ago when I entered the school and the janitor, spray can in hand, was outside my classroom. “P-U!” one teacher groaned. “Did the sewer back up?”

The nauseous smell intensified as I unlocked my door. I checked the fish tank, the guinea pig cage, and the worm terrarium which we kept to feed Froglegs, our aquatic frog, Nothing unusual.

“Did a student’s snake escape and die in the woodwork?” the janitor asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said, but quickly ducked my face under the sink’s cupboard to look. I thought I’d better not tell him that a girl recently brought in a grass snake in an uncovered container. As the reptile slithered its way up the side of the bowl, I told her she’d have to bring it out to the school garden. I was called to the office, but I’m pretty sure the snake made it outside. Ninety percent sure, anyway.

Two more teachers stood outside my door shaking their heads. I thought I heard, “It’s coming from her room again,” and I realized my reputation had been sealed.

“I’m probably known as Mrs. Yuk,” I muttered, still trying to find the offensive smell. Speaking of yuk, where is that “present” the art teacher gave me? I searched a cupboard for the bright red box. She’d brought it in one morning and said, “Now, don’t take this wrong. But you’re the only person I know who will appreciate this.” I’d opened the cover, gently pulled back red tissue paper to find the perfectly preserved skeleton of a mouse that had been caught in a trap. It showed the skull, the vertebrae, and most fascinating of all, the delicate tail bone. I was delighted and used it as a reward after students finished their reading homework.

           Still sniffing, I opened another cupboard and found the gruesome, but fascinating nest a student had brought in. It contained the perfectly preserved bodies of four baby birds. The class and I had turned it into a reading lesson, making predictions as to what had happened. Then I’d told a few stories about the classroom finches I’d had years ago. They’d hatched only one egg, but I’ll always remember that tiny, perfectly formed baby. I took a whiff. Nope, not coming from the birds’ nest.                                                                                                          Students had begun filing in and now the P.U.’s and Ooo-eee’s started in chorus. “What’s that smell?” several students asked.

“I’m not sure,” I began, “but would everyone please check their desks?”

I noticed a girl in the last row open and then quickly close her desk. I walked closer. The smell was nauseating. “It’s okay, Sweety, tell me.”

“Remember yesterday when I asked you if we could have show-and-tell and you said yes but then we never had it?”

I did vaguely remember an unexpected visitor during show-and-tell time. “Go ahead and open your desk.” I drew in a deep breath and held it. Lying on top of her science book was a plastic bag filled with mush. “What is that?”

“A blue gill. At least it was a blue gill. Remember how you said if someone brought one in we’d dissect it and find its swim bladder?”

“Yes, but I wish you would have told me you’d brought in a fish for show-and-tell.”

The little girl nodded then said, “I’ll catch you another one.”

Yes, I think as the bell rings and students pour in, it’s definitely time to clean up my act. I’d begun the Science lesson when I hear a teacher’s voice in the hall. “You must be looking for Mrs. Laundrie, room 149.”

A boy presents me with a bag of owl pellets. I try to control my excitement. “Thank you.” I pull one out. “Wow! Gather around class. This is awesome!” I broke one apart. “A mouse skull! How cool is that? This was probably spit up by a great horned owl. Owls’ digestive systems can’t handle fur and bones, so they regurgitate these pellets. Let’s break open another. We might find a bit of skunk fur or even a snake skin.”

Ah, I decide rolling up my sleeves, cleaning up my reputation can wait until next year.


My Secret to Weight Loss

Want to increase your exercising and maybe lose a few pounds?  Forget joining the gym. I have the solution. Get a puppy!

Six week old Josie, a silky black Cockapoo, came to live with me and my husband at the end of August. Since she loves adventures, I have been more active than ever. She’s an ideal personal trainer.

Before the snow fell, her jumping on my bike tire was all the motivation I needed to don my helmet. She contentedly sat in her special basket and took in the scenery. Some days I was tempted to do less than our usual six miles, but I kept moving knowing Josie would miss sniffing the pig farm, barking at the guinea hens, and listening to the chorus at the frog pond.

During the warm fall days, I encouraged her to play in the lake water. Of course that meant I had to splash around, too. By next summer she may have me swimming.

I love to walk along the river or in the woods on bright days, but dreary weather can make me lazy. No longer. All my personal trainer needs to do is bring me her parka and look up at me pleadingly with her brown eyes. I hurry for my coat.

When Josie’s on her long leash and we’re in the woods she sometimes wants to run. I join her. The aerobic exercise not only strengthens my lungs and heart, but lowers cholesterol, increases muscle strength, and is just plain fun.

When it’s too cold to be be outdoors, we have a favorite chase game, Hide and Seek. I hide behind a chair or door and she sniffs me out, wagging her tail and wiggling when she finds me. She also likes to show off one of her best tricks. She pulls a stuffed toy named Big Mean Kitty around in a little red wagon. I ask you, who needs to raid the fridge and eat mindlessly when instead you can watch a puppy at play?

Besides getting so much exercise, I’m saving calories. With an active puppy I don’t take time to bake holiday cookies and I figure Josie is helping me avoid my usual holiday weight gain.

So how much weight have I lost, you ask? Only one pound, but hey, it’s a start. My personal trainer will tell you that a pet is not only good for exercising the body, it’s good for warming the heart.

P.S. My mum doesn’t know I’m adding a P.S. (actually she doesn’t even know I can write), but I just wanted to add that if you happen to see her around town, please put in a good word for me. It seems only fair that Mum ought to increase my daily allowance of doggie treats. After all, personal trainers don’t come cheap. And don’t let her fool you. She wouldn’t have baked Christmas cookies even if I weren’t around.

Wag, Wag,



A Simpler Time In My Plymouth Valiant

While waiting for the light to change, I pulled up alongside an older woman driving an antique blue Plymouth Valiant. My first car was a turquoise Valiant. I wondered if this one, too, had the cool push buttons for neutral, reverse, and drives 1, 2, and 3.

The light changed, and I let the Valiant pull ahead. Years faded away like paint. When I drove my old Valiant through the neighborhood with the windows down, (it didn’t have air or a radio), the world was a quieter place. Many women were stay-at-home-moms. No car alarms blared, no ATV’s roared, and no cell phones interrupted. I was free to drive in silence, to think, imagine, and plan.

My big worries then were how to wrap angora around my boyfriend’s class ring, who would be at Friday night’s football game, and which station had gas for less than $.25 a gallon. My hair was swept up in a ponytail instead of permed, dyed, gelled and/or scrunched. I drove my girlfriends to the root beer or ice cream stand and ordered a frosted mug or chocolate shake, not worrying about carbs or calories. When I said, “My aching back,” I didn’t mean it literally and “necking” had nothing to do with keyboard strain.

Ah, yes. Back then a person could just turn the TV dial rather than sort through the three remotes trying to figure out which one will do what I want. My favorite show was Marlo Thomas’ “That Girl”. I attended slumber parties where we watched TV for hours, drinking cherry Kool-Aid, giggling, and picking at our split ends. When the clock struck midnight, the station played “The Star Spangled Banner” and the screen grew fuzzy. The world was better at shutting down in those days.

When I drove the Valiant, no one had wireless communication devices in their pocket. A mouse was something that made a nest under the car hood unless my dad sprinkled mothballs inside, blackberries were edible, and viruses didn’t send people to the technology department but to bed.

The woman driving the Valiant put on her turn signal. No! I wanted to shout. Don’t go! When I was driving my Valiant, the only terrorist in my life was my adolescent brother. When bombing was mentioned, it meant my dog had brought fleas onto the living room carpet again, and we needed to fumigate. What shocked the world was the gyrations of Elvis’s hips and the length of the Beatles’ hair. Ah, let me put on my pedal pushers and once again get behind that wheel.


My Purse: Mirror To the Soul Or Where the Heck Are My Car Keys?

If the purse is the mirror to a woman’s soul, I’m afraid mine needs polishing. I dump the contents out on a tray and begin sorting. Ah, here’s my granddaughter’s missing barrette. Hmpphh! So that’s where I put the Map-quest directions. I could have saved myself five dollars worth of gas and a lot of frustration last week if I’d remembered I put them in here.

As I look at the pile, I marvel at how some women manage to carry those cute, tiny purses. Aren’t they afraid they’ll be caught without two Chapsticks, or their choice of three lipsticks? I place them back inside my purse, including the freebie I got which is an awful orange color but heck, it’s brand new and I certainly can’t throw it away.

It’s not that I want to suffer from “droopy purse shoulder”. But how can I leave the house without my supplies of aspirin, dental floss, nail files, allergy capsules (I don’t have allergies, but someone I’m with may need them), and anti-diarrhea capsules? Don’t laugh. I’ve helped out many dear friends in the past, and you may be running to me next.

The shopping pouch gets cleaned out next. Stuffed inside are coupons or scrawled notes such as “pick up photos.” This pouch also includes a magazine picture of a swimsuit that supposedly will hide my figure flaws (yeah, right), a pen cartridge which I need to replace, and a red earring to remind me to ask the department store if they found the mate which I remember laying on the dressing room bench after it fell off a month or so ago.

I couldn’t leave the house without Band-Aids, address labels, paper in case I get an awesome idea for a column, gum, chocolate, prescription sunglasses, an extra pair of reading glasses, cell phone, car and house keys, lotion, comb, a $50 traveler’s check that’s 6 years old and gives me a feeling of security, a calendar, tissues, moist wipes, artificial sugar packets, and a coffee packet in case I’m somewhere where I can’t get my caffeine fix.

Although it doesn’t seem logical to carry seven ear plugs since I only have two ears, they do come in handy for noisy motel rooms or places where the music is cranked up to ear-aching decibels, and what if I lost one or two or, um, five.

The last item on the tray is my messy wallet. I take a peek inside at the rumpled cards, some of which I know have expired, and decide I’ll save cleaning the wallet out for another day.

I look at the discard pile: an old cough drop, a linty mint, and three expired coupons. There, I think, hefting my purse high. Much lighter.

My husband comes in and I show him my organized purse. “Yeah, that’s great. So I need your keys to move your car.”

I set it down and look inside. I dig and dig and dig. He shakes his head. “I know they’re in here somewhere,” I mumble. Finally, I dump everything out. “Ah, yes, right here next to my contact case.”

“Contact case? You haven’t worn contacts for a year.”

I shrug. “Yeah, but if I start again, I’ll know where to find them.”

A Simpler Time In My Plymouth Valiant

If the purse is the mirror to a woman’s soul, I’m afraid mine needs polishing. I dump the contents out on a tray and begin sorting. Ah, here’s my granddaughter’s missing barrette. Hmpphh! So that’s where I put the Map-quest directions. I could have saved myself five dollars worth of gas and a lot of frustration last week if I’d remembered I put them in here.