Category Archives: Off The Cuff

Sub Jobs And Boiled Cabbage

Sub jobs are like dates: your phone is either ringing incessantly or you are tempted to buy a new battery “just in case this one isn’t working anymore.”  It seems like there is never a steady, manageable current.

I was truly disappointed that I didn’t have a job today.  My hair looks really good, which is unusual and I kind of wanted to take advantage of the occasion by making a public appearance. 

Yesterday, in lieu of a job, I emailed editors, lined up interview subjects, finished stories, copied down some parables from the book of Matthew, went to the bank, and read a 244-page book.  That Ann Leary can write!  I spent the afternoon in London in 1990, and now I know more about premature babies, the socialist British medical system, amateur comedians, and Mrs. Leary’s mother than the average Elko County resident. 

I also spent a fair amount of time contemplating the crock pot.  For you uneducated cooks, a crock pot is a wonderful device that, when food of any kind and any amount is placed inside its cavernous bowl in the morning, will produce a delightfully aromatic and tasty feast by suppertime.  You could pretty much insert an old tennis shoe into a CP, add a cup of beef broth, chop up some celery, sprinkle the whole thing with Lowry’s seasoned salt, and half the neighborhood will crowd into your house at six o’clock with their eyes closed and noses uplifted because “I smelled something delicious from down the street!”

When I first moved in with Allie, she would make a big CP full of something yummy and encourage me to help myself.  I barely knew her, so I politely ate one bowl the first night and then politely refrained from eating the leftovers.  I didn’t want to be a mooch.  After a couple rounds of this, which always ended with a mostly-full CP full of savory beef stew, pork roast, or chicken noodle soup being tossed into the garbage, I changed my tactic.

Now, I view the crock pot as a personal challenge.  Can I singlehandedly eat an entire CP full of food before it goes bad?  Allie seems to enjoy making large amounts of delicious food, but I have no idea what she eats, because it isn’t that.  It is up to me and me alone to defeat the crock pot. 

I ate roast for one week straight, then planned to roast a chicken.  Allie beat me to it: she put another beef roast into the CP.  Another week of roast.  I only left a ladleful of shredded muscle fibers (really, that’s what beef is), green beans and carrots in the bottom of the bowl.  Now I will get my chicken!

Saint Patrick’s Day got me first.  I have been eating boiled cabbage (I’ve given up on the corned beef) every day since last Thursday.  Today is the last day.  I can taste victory.  It tastes like brine.

While you are working today, think of me and my great hair sitting at home.  I’ll be eating boiled cabbage.

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I Was Hoping You’d Ask!

In college, I worked part-time at a western store.  For various reasons, I really hated working there.  So, to lighten up the atmosphere, one day I started over-enthusiastically agreeing to anything my manager asked me to do.  When she asked me to clean the break room, I smiled so big my eyebrows shot up and said, “Yes!  I would absolutely love to!”  She laughed at me and I smiled genuinely as I walked up the staircase to the break room.

When my manager (whom I really liked and respected, along with my co-workers) asked me to take out the trash, I responded with a hearty “I was hoping you’d ask!”  My obviously contrived joy opened the door for authentic joy (or at least tolerance/amusement) in the workplace.

You can adapt this strategy to everyday chores.  I don’t go to the grocery store; I embark on a Food Procurement Mission.  I don’t sack out a colt; I teach a young equine the refined art and maneuvers of the straight-up bridle horse, only on a more elementary and basic level.  I don’t halter my horse; I capture the beast.  After a training session, I thank him for his participation in the day’s activities and tell him I look forward to resuming our innovative work in the upcoming morn.  That last part is especially fun if you say it with a British accent.

Why do we saddle and unsaddle  our horses, yet we catch and turn them loose?  Shouldn’t we catch and uncatch them?  It’d be a much simpler semantics system, plus eliminate several wasted words.  One of my favorite ways to waste words is by saying I have to “unsaddle my horse’s face,” meaning I have to take off his bridle. 

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually said that one out loud.  I’ve just thought it and derived considerable personal amusement from the phrase.

I also amuse myself by yelling at the car radio.  You know that Reba McIntire hit, “Why Haven’t I Heard From You?”?  Next time she belts out that line, holler at the speakers, “Because you’re a terrible cook!” and change the station.  It’s a great release for pent-up anger you didn’t even know you had. 

It’s easy to lift the mood of a routine day of drudgery.  You just can’t be afraid to smile like a rodeo queen or yell at a famous redhead 🙂

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Proud To Wear A Bra

Every once in a while, I try to be a feminist, but I just don’t get it.  What’s with the whole burning -(or at least taking off) the-bra-thing in the name of women’s liberation?  How does running down stairs with both hands clapped to your chest and gritting your teeth while long trotting advance the modern female?  We finally have a garment that stylishly supports, and we rip it off in protest?  What are we protesting – comfort?

Once in a while I go braless, and I can’t decide if I feel like a hippie or an Indian.  I settled on Pocahantas Goes To Woodstock.  It’s not a bad style, but I just try to stay on one level of the house.  It certainly hasn’t inspired me to rush out and run for political office or demand a pay raise.  It has inspired me to put on a heavier sweater and close a few windows, though.

I heard some girls are offended that guys check out a girl as she walks through a door he’s holding open.  I figured that was the whole reason he opened the door; I just stand up straight and try not to run into the doorjam.  Girls buy cute shirts, guys buy dinner.  Pretty simple.

Guys always roll their eyes and complain about girls getting out of traffic tickets.  As a person who has been pulled over 5 times and not a ticket to my name, I say “If women have been oppressed by men for several thousand years, and this is the one break we catch, let’s take it!”  150 years ago in the wonderful USA, women couldn’t vote or own property.  My gender was considered property of their fathers or husbands.  After all these years, we deserve to bat our eyes out of a moving violation.

My dad taught me to use my knees for leverage when stacking hay bales, but I’ll always be beat by a man of similar height and build in a hay stacking contest.  I realize my strength limitation, so I don’t mind fixing lunch and watching the toddler, since it’s legitimate work and my physical situation makes me better suited to it.  I could go all feminist and demand equal labor, but then I’d just get my butt kicked by a three-strand bale of alfalfa and look dumb.

I like working on a cowboy crew and riding with men all day, expected to gather my country, rope what needs roping and work the ground when I miss.  I’ll bail off my horse and reach for a wire gate, but I smile and say “Thank you” when a cowboy gets off his horse and helps me close the ones that are stretched too tightly.  I’m not afraid to admit I wear a bra the whole time.

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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?”

“No.”

“Yessssss!”

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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