Category Archives: Off The Cuff

Some Things Just Don’t Really Matter

Last Friday I decided to take a vacation from trying to be noble.  I was fed up with objectively studying myself as a sub, taking feedback from regular teachers, and adjusting my technique only to have a student ask me on Thursday afternoon “Are you going to be here tomorrow?”



I sent him to the office, then sent myself to the Star on Friday to practice my drinking skills.  Usually, I’m a one-glass-giggly kind of girl, but Friday I was in a foul mood unimproved by booze.  I kept up with my drinking buddy, only he was drinking beer and I was downing gin.

By 11:30, when the ranch rodeo at Spring Creek got over and that crowd joined us at Stockmen’s, I had a pounding headache.  I was the angry-looking person sitting along the back wall, glaring at the band.  Everyone else was tuned up and feeling good, and I was slightly hungover.

I just can’t handle my liquor.  My dad says it’s genetic; he used to always throw up after a night of drinking.  I’m rarely the drunkest one at the party, but I’m almost always the most hungover.  I mean, throwing up water, violently shaking hungover.  Not attractive.

I knew going into my five o’clock Friday that no good would come of overserving myself.  Since I drank two Mexican coffees and one Irish coffee (it was like multicultural night in Elko) I laid in bed an hour after I hit the sheets, further exhausting myself for Bible study the next morning.  Good decision, only not so much you’d notice.

One thing jumped out and grabbed me by the jugular at Bible study: Ronda quoted Dan Romans (I think) and said “Some things just don’t really matter.”  Meaning, we put too much thought into and emphasis on some decisions, happenings, etc. that are kind of a wash in the grander scheme of things.

What a relief!  I DON’T have to be Supewoman, Best Sub Ever, Most Likely To Brighten Everyone’s Day Simply By Appearing In It, or Writer Of The Year No Make That Century.

It’s ok to have a bad day, week, whatever.  I can obsess over making sure God specifically told me to work there, date him, don’t date him, never ever have a sip of alcohol, write that story, buy that pickup, move to that state, go to that rodeo, order my steak medium rare, or wear jeans instead of khakis.

It doesn’t really matter!

Since God’s in control anyway, it’s impossible for me to mess up my life.  He knew what I was going to do before I did it.

This raises the question of what, then, is the point of life?  What does it mean to be human?

I will definitely give this some thought.  But, in the short run, it sure is nice to not be inordinately angry at the world anymore.  Whew!  No more binge drinking.  No girl looks pretty with a pickled liver.

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This One’s For The Girls

  Freakin’ Eve.

If that one damned (literally) woman hadn’t eaten that one little apple, women today would not be plagued with our array of female-only problems, including but not limited to incredibly painful childbirth, PMS and never being able to find our size on the 80%-off rack at JCPenney. 

I can’t really blame Eve.  She probably had an irrepressible hormonal craving.

What is it about hormones that makes women throw spatulas across the kitchen, kick holes in the bottom of bedroom doors, sigh all day long at work, pry ourselves out of bed and collapse into a nap as soon as we get home from work, hate the sight of every single item of clothing in our closet and our roommate’s, eat Oreo’s, ice cream and sea salt and vinegar potato chips, and cry?

Oh, I hate the tears most of all.  In California, I used to sit in the tack room and bawl my eyes out.  I couldn’t catch an outside horse to ride; I’d just throw a curry comb at him within five minutes and then he’d snort and run off and I’d cry. 

I told my horseshoer neighbor once that some days all I can do is sit in the saddle house and cry.

“Oh, hell, I wish I’d have known that – I’d go over there and cry with you,” she replied.

I tell myself some days I just can’t make major decisions or new friends.  I hate every article I’ve ever written and I know in my heart I will never amount to anything.  I have to remind myself to look at people when they speak to me and brushing my teeth feels like a major accomplishment and therefore I deserve a cookie. 

I can’t muster the energy to ask new acquaintances, “So, where ya from?” or cheerfully introduce myself to the other teachers at a new school when I’m subbing.  I’ve survived 24 years without knowing these people, and I’m okay with that.

I now know that “This, too, shall pass.”  Within a week I will be bounding out of bed at 5:30 AM, sticking my hand out and saying “Hi, I’m Jolyn,” with a big smile, and walking down the chip aisle without grabbing a family size bag of Fritos.  In the meantime, I will refrain from signing a lease, applying for a new job, quitting my current job, telling a man we were meant to be together but fate cruelly intervened, telling my sister I hate her, or getting a haircut. 

I will also permit myself one loud, heartfelt utterance of the f-word.  I’ve found that if I say any more than that, my anger escalates, but just one can be very therapeutic.  Never underestimate the soothing power of a curse word and a bag of Reese’s.


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Can Openers, Buttons, And Cherries

I have decided to take up cooking for sport and sustenance, mainly because if I eat another bagged salad with chopped lunchmeat and call it supper I am going to scream. 

Right now, I have three staple recipes.  The first one can be adapted for a variety of meals.  It involes two simple ingredients: a jar of                        (peanut butter/dill pickles/peach jelly/marshmallow creme/applesauce/cocktail onions/etc.) and a spoon.  I won’t insult my readers’ intelligence by writing instructions, but remember to remove the lid first. 

If you find you cannot remove the lid due to no fault of your own except lack of physical strength, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Meet the neighbors.  Phone a friend.  Don’t suffer alone.

Recipe #2 involves the rare times when I am feeling mechanical and decide to whip out the ol’ can opener.  I never use the electric kind, because they frighten me.  Old-fashioned hand-crank can openers are good enough for me (in this case, “good enough” means “simple enough”).  The how-to-eat steps are basically the same as Recipe #1, except you generally wind up eating stewed tomatoes, canned green beans, chili, enchilada sauce or pickled beets. 

All right, Recipe #3!  Are you ready?  I can feel the excitement emanating through the computer screen.  This one involves spices, so you know it’s good.

Step #1: (See how I’m not telling you what it is you’re actually making?  This adds a level of suspense usually not seen in cooking.) 

Okay, Step #1:  Fill coffee maker water holder with water.  Step #2:  Fill coffee maker filter with ground coffee.  Step #3:  Add a liberal (don’t tell the Republicans) dash or six of ground cinnamon.  Step #4:  Push the button.

Don’t forget Step #4, or you will take your morning shower, revive the fire in the wood stove, turn on the news, and go “Arrrrgggghhhh!” when you realize you forgot to push the button. 

Step #5:  Double check to make sure you pushed the button. 

In an effort to advance my culinary skills past can-opening and button-pushing, I sat down with some cookbooks I found buried in the back of a cupboard today.  One was published in the 1950s, and I learned all kinds of cool stuff!  Mainly, people used a lot of gelatine back then.  It was in everything!  Fruit salads, vegetable salads, desserts, wallpaper glue. 

I discovered you can make baked “fried” chicken in the oven with potato chips and butter.  Sweet!  I love potato chips.  I want to try corn salad, which I’ve never even heard of.  This could be fun.

I just hope there aren’t any brand-new jars to open.  It’s one thing to be defeated by a too-tight wire gate, but inability to open a jar of marshiano cherries is just embarrassing.  And likely to happen 🙂

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Bad Drivers

Reportedly, many people have fond memories of being 16 years old, receiving their driver’s license, and driving a car independently for their very first time.  No parents, windows down, they get to listen to whatever radio station they want at full blast; pure freedom and open road. 

I distinctly remember driving out of Yreka High School’s junior parking lot for the first time.  My dominant emotion was fear.  California has a law prohibiting new drivers from transporting passengers for six months.  I clutched the steering wheel, blinker on, too scared to make a left turn.  Should I go now?  Or maybe….now.  Now?  I asked myself in anguish.  I definitely would’ve voted for the buddy system.

How, you may wonder, did I get a driver’s license in the first place if  I was such a nervous driver?  The answer: I test extremely well.  I never studied, yet I’d walk into a classroom and set the curve for a final exam.  I wouldn’t realize  until after I’d left that I wasn’t enrolled in the class and that the entire test had been written in Italian, which is not one of the one languages I speak.

I would forget the contents of the test in their entirety the instant I was finished, including my first name and the date, but by then it was too late.  I was a legal driver.

When the gas gauge hit E on that first tank, I pulled into a gas station, then realized I didn’t know how to pump gas.  Luckily, a male classmate stopped by to assist. 

The other day, I drove to work over a Northern Nevada summit before dawn.  A skiff of snow had fallen during the night, and the blacktop was slick.  I was doing 50 mph, and still my Ford Ranger fishtailed all over the highway.  This is its favorite activity, second only to breaking down. 

Several people passed me.  I have Arizona plates on my pickup, and I know the locals were thinking Stupid Arizona idiots who can’t even drive in the snow!  I wanted to roll down my window and yell into the early-morning darkness, “I’m not an Arizona idiot!  I’m just a really  bad driver!” but I was too scared to uncurl a single finger from my steering wheel.

This essay doesn’t really have a point, except I am a bad driver.  It’s not because I’m a woman, nearsighted, farsighted, or brunette.  It’s just me 🙂

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My preferred way of learning twentieth-century American history is by reading Dave Barry and Erma Bombeck’s collections of hysterically funny newspaper columns. 

From Bombeck, I realized that disposable diapers haven’t always existed.  I guess I just figured pioneer women beat the family’s clothing on river rocks and cooked jack rabbits over an open flame, but of course they swaddled their infants in Pampers.  Bombeck wrote about the labor- and stench-saving invention of disposable diapers, and I realized plastics haven’t always made it possible.

From Dave Barry I learned that interstate freeways haven’t always graced America’s landscape.  He wrote that people stopped at something called “roadside attractions” without first using exit ramps.  I wish the transporation department would revert back to this system, mainly because I am constantly missing exits and end up driving anywhere from 8 to 30 miles out of my way to take the next exit ramp.  It’s very restricting, the exit ramp system.

I wonder, what will my generation’s contribution to humanity’s list of “back in my day….” be?  My guess is, among other things, the lint trap.  When you extract the lint trapfrom your clothes dryer, it’s full of pet hair/jeans/sweater/sock lint that combines into a piece of brightly colored felt that smells like Downy and falls apart in your hands. 

Therefore, you have to roll the felt, scraping at all sides of the trap, until you are inhaling floating particles that smell good but you know are full of dog dandruff. 

I’m not sure what technological advances will occur during my lifetime, but I sure hope one of them replaces the lint trap.  Once they’re gone, my generation will have one more element to unite ourselves and insulate us from the next generation’s complexities.

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Yesterday I chatted for two hours (thanks, free Verizon mobile-to-mobile!) with my dear friend Theodora, aka “Theodorable,” “Theohorrible” (her brother’s creation), “Theo,” or “The O.”  As we burned up the cell phones waves (do they have waves?  or are they signals?  telebeams?  magic?) from Washington, DC to Elko, NV, our conversation naturally turned philosophical.  I mean, you can’t talk about the weather for that long 🙂

I mentioned my friend Mark has repeatedly told me I am one of the quirkiest people he knows, and he knows a lot of people.  I pondered to Theo, “But, isn’t everyone just a bundle of quirks anyway?”

“Yes, but most people hide theirs.” 

True friends always hold up the looking-glass of reality!  In this case, it seems I was the last to notice what everyone else was already seeing.  I feel like I’ve had spinach stuck between my front teeth for 24 years.

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Poverty – Haha

I keep thinking to myself, “One day, I won’t have to eat oatmeal twice a day, I will be able to afford to drive to town AND get a haircut, and if my tooth hurts I can afford a visit to the dentist’s, instead of my current cure of chewing with the opposite of my mouth and avoiding blackberry jam.” 

I keep proving myself wrong.  It seems every year, at least one month uncovers a new and exciting layer of poverty previously unexplored.  Every time I think I can’t possibly get any poorer, my pickup breaks down and the job leads are all cul-de-sacs.  I used to really freak out, balancing my checkbook twice a day and biting my nails over how it didn’t look possible to survive.

I’ve since learned that survival and paying one’s bills are two different propositions.  I will survive regardless how much money I make or don’t make.  I have plenty of clothes, a place to stay, a running vehicle, a wood stove, a Bible, quality makeup, a computer on indefinite loan from Dad, and the ability to choose to be happy.

Since running and sit-ups are free, I’ve also decided to choose to get a six-pack stomach.  I can’t afford to eat out and recreational shopping is not an option, so I might as well get ripped.  I may suffer through another month of poverty, but I shall do so on firmly toned calf muscles. 

I used to panic and think, “I can’t afford food!  I’m going to die!” then eat a bunch of salty pretzels and drink water to make myself feel full.  Now, I’m like, “Oh, this again?” and buy my healthy food, then eat normal-person portions, and get by just fine.  Americans eat too much anyway, so my poverty rations are probably just healthy to most folks.  Running out of money is one heck of a weight -loss plan.

I’ve come up with several activities to pass the time and improve myself, all free to the general public.  Operating a computer mouse with your non-dominant hand is a good one, as is brushing your teeth.  Pretty much doing anything with your non-dominant hand is difficult and rumored to make you smarter.  It’s also frustrating, so maybe don’t try it if you’re having a low self-esteem day.

Push-ups and crunches are a healthy way to kill half an hour, or five minutes if you’re on my kind of workout schedule.  I’m still in the “psyching up” phase of “getting ripped.”  You can’t rush greatness. 

I think a reality show called “Extreme Poverty” would be a big hit.  The producers could give contestants an obscenely low amount of money, say minimum wage, and check in once a week to see who was saving sandwhich baggies, using spaghetti water to starch their shirts, or drinking vodka because it was hopeless anyway. 

Just kidding about that last part!  I would never sit around drinking vodka in utter despair.  I’m more of a gin person.  I’m reminded of the hysterically funny Pat McManus, who wrote about being so poor as a child that when the Great Depression hit, his mother yelled, “Let the good times roll!”  When we’re too broke to pay attention, at least we can laugh about it 🙂

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Marathon Visiting

I’ve been in Siskiyou County, California, the place I was raised, for a full week.  I’ll be relieved to go back to work in Elko so I can get some rest!  I have the most wonderful non-problem: tons of people to visit.

In high school, I was rather nomadic, acquiring several “second families” around the county.  Now, I walk through front doors without knocking, raid the fridge, load the dishwasher, and plop down on the couch to watch whatever’s on with whomever’s holding the remote.  At Susan’s we drink wine; at Mary Ann’s we play cards and feed the bummer calf; at Bill’s I study his Las Cruces bit designs; at the Dowlings’ we listen to Smokey play the guitar and we all sing along to “Smoke Rings In The Dark.”

My cousins and I got together for hamburgers and fruit salad last night, and the five of us grown-ups solved all our family problems.  The five little kids ran around with walkie-talkies and princess tiaras, and I learned there’s another one due in April.  The girls are in 4-H, where they’re learning how to sew, make jewelry, and shoot firearms.  Good girls 🙂

We managed to assemble five of us who’ve gone to school together since fourth grade at a pizza parlor one night.  It was fun to catch up and see who grew up.  Most of us seem to have escaped that fate so far.

I visited Don Brown, seventy-five-year-old cowboy/cowboss-turned-braider slash coolest person I know, a couple times.  I made him peanut butter pies and German chocolate cake, and he taught me a few knots last winter.  When I called in despair with difficulties over the one-strand long button, he asked me “Now, how much of all this trouble you’re having do you think is because you’re a girl?”  Don’s always good for stories about riding bareback horses in the ’60s and cowboying at various outfits.  He helped me with my horsemanship, warned me about men (they’re all terrible and I shouldn’t associate with them), and encouraged me to ride colts in Idaho and cowboy in Nevada because “you never know until you go.”  This visit, he told me he was proud of me.

My far-flung adventures are wonderful, but it’s so nice to get all filled up with a big dose of hometown-ness.  Comforting to be around folks who knew me when I wasn’t yet born, who encouraged me to go to college, to write, to ride, to go to church.  Now I’m prepared for another year of out-there-ness, taking the best of my hometown with me.


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Post-Christmas Recovery

I haven’t written in a few days, as I have been staying at Copco Lake, CA, a remote locale with no electricity, running water, cell phone service, or high speed Internet connection.  Ok, we have lights and water, but I haven’t been around a computer in a while.

I love not having cell phone service, because it’s a great excuse to fully immerse myself in the present company and enjoy the people I am conversing with face-to-face.  For Christmas Eve dinner, we ate crab with newspaper spread over the table and just made a big ol’ mess.  On Christmas Day, we drank a thirty-year-old bottle of wine and I laughed way too loudly.  It was fun 🙂

We (Dad, his girlfriend Susan, her son Matt and I) visited the neighbors’ ranch, where more neighbors stopped by and we had a two-deck card game underway.  The only way you could be heard is if you yelled at least three times, because someone always missed what you said the first time or two.  We played a Fitzgerald specialty called “Oh, Hell” and decided everyone should put in $2 to play, winner take all.  We ended up with $21 in the pot.  Most of us graduated Chico State.

We finished the night with a game of pool in the basement, eating Jelly Bellies while Casey and I schooled the boys in eight ball.  They claimed they were being gentlemen, but didn’t take us up on our offer for a re-match.

 At church on Sunday I saw my friend’s new baby, then visited high school and college friends I haven’t seen in a year.  Coming home is fun, but I’m exhausted!  So many people to visit in such a short amount of time!  I’m going to do some braiding with an old cowboy friend, so that will be an enjoyable afternoon of stories largely untainted by facts.  I’ll bring my tape recorder and call it a start on my book.

I received plenty of neat presents for Christmas, but the best one was being with the home folks.  Corny, I know, but the older I get, the more true it seems.  I’m able to go running about the country on my wild crazy adventures because I have so many people who love and support me.  I’m a lucky girl.

Mushy stuff aside, now we’re preparing for New Year’s Eve.  Around these parts, that means sweeping off the dance floor, tuning Smokey’s guitar, and gathering enough wood for a sweet bonfire.  If you’re not otherwise engaged, head on over to Eastside Road for the best (if not only) party in Scott Valley! 

Happy 2011!

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Gift Wrapping 101

As I have worked several Christmas seasons in the retail industry, I feel qualified to dispense professional advice to my fellow gift-wrappers.  What follows are key points I’ve picked through the years, some tips and tricks of the trade. 

1) Always make sure the wrapping paper covers the entire gift.  This is a biggie and should not be overlooked by beginners. 

2) Be sure to remove the price tags before wrapping.  As a safeguard, my boss will appear at your elbow and ask “Did you remove the price?” approximately 67 times per day. 

3) Keep track of which wrapped gifts belong to which customers.  For some reason, people do not find it amusing when a woman meant to unwrap a pair of Ugg boots opens a box containing a man’s vest and a pair of work gloves. 

4) Just in case something slips through the cracks in #3, try to avoid working on December 26th.  Returns can get ugly.

5) Tell yourself the customer is always right, and when that doesn’t cool your temper, put a bow over the huge rip in the paper and smile a little inside.

Here are some insider tips for customers to consider.

1) It helps to stand six inches in front of the sales clerk as they wrap your gift.  They work best under close supervision and could not cut paper and curl ribbons without your eyeballs monitoring their every move. 

2) As you perform #1, suggest which color bows look best with which paper.  Change your mind frequently.

3) After the sales clerk disappears to wrap your purchase, give her approximately 17 seconds to complete the job before you voice your impatience to her co-worker.  You have to be firm with these people!

4) Buy $600 worth of kitchen ware and ask to have each item wrapped.

5) Upon hearing that gift wrapping is complimentary, jokingly say you will bring in all your presents.  This cheers them up.

I hope my gift wrapping advice is useful to folks on both sides of the counter!  Remember: don’t stress the small stuff, and always keep your sense of humor.  A vest and pair of gloves is way better than Uggs any day!

Merry Christmas and happy wrapping 🙂

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