When ostriches, ducks, and deer attack… ME!

In theory, I agree that we should be working as a society to keep animals from becoming extinct. That commercial with the polar bear on the little tiny piece of ice makes me incredibly sad and makes me want to give all my money to save them. And those Sarah McLaughlin Humane Society ads literally make me cry.

Until they show the cats.

Because I REALLY hate cats.

I can see where, on paper, cats look like great pets. You don’t have to take them out like you do with dogs, and if you’re going away for a few days, as long as you leave out extra food and water, the cat will be fine.

On paper, they’re the perfect pets.

But that doesn’t take into account the fact that they are completely and utterly evil and disgusting. And even though I love pictures of the cats that look like Hitler, I feel like in real life, I would still hate them. 

In fact, I have to admit that except for schnauzers (which are the cutest dogs on the planet. I don’t care how cute you think your pet dog/cat/iguana/dung beetle is, Rosie is cuter and you’re just in denial), I’m not an animal person.

I don’t HATE animals. (Except for cats and bugs, which I do believe should be forced to go the way of the dinosaurs.) I’m just very wary of them. Because they hate me.

Need proof?

Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty.

Contrary to popular belief, my first sentence was not, “I want to go shoe shopping,” or “I love you, Bruce Springsteen.” Although I do think those were my second and third complete sentences.) It was, “Duck bite hand.”  (Clearly, I wasn’t yet the grammar Nazi as I hadn’t mastered past tense, but in the subject-verb-object sense, it was a complete sentence.)

And it was true. When I was about a year and a half, my parents took me to “Old McDonald’s Farm” in Wheaton Regional Park. Which I think means I got off lucky that the duck only bit me. Because apparently even the ducks go hard in Wheaton. The ducks there today are armed.  I’m telling you, watch out for those Wheaton ducks. They may LOOK sweet and innocent, but they’re vicious.

But despite being the victim of a duck attack, I still liked animals. Until a year later. When I developed my lifelong fear of ostriches.

And I know I explained earlier this week that some things in my blog are exaggerated, this one isn’t. It actually happened. And is one of my earliest memories (although my very earliest was of going to see Snow White in the theater and freaking out when the dwarves came on. In all fairness, singing dwarves with pickaxes ARE pretty creepy. I think more people SHOULD have worried about a Snow White being all alone with seven creepy little men).

When I was two and a half, an ostrich STOLE MY LUNCH.

We were at the gated lunch area at a petting zoo, but apparently someone left the gate open. I was sitting next to my mom and across the picnic table from my dad. My mom pulled out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich—here’s how vividly I remember this: it was crunchy peanut butter with strawberry jelly on that awesome Pepperidge Farm cinnamon-raisin swirl bread, cut into four squares. She put three of the squares on top of the ziplock baggie for me to eat. I was about to pick up the first of the squares when this massive, eight-foot tall, evil, THING comes over to our table and, inches in front of me, swoops down and in three quick pecks, eats my sandwich!

Ostriches are serious jerks. I mean, you don’t take someone’s peanut butter and jelly on cinnamon-raisin swirl bread sandwich. You just don’t. But you also don’t mess with a bird that’s five feet taller than you. Even if they’re not from Wheaton.

Birds aren’t the only creatures that come after me (although one did give me a not-so-nice new-car present the day I bought my car. When I had the top down. Most birds crap ON a new car. This bird crapped IN mine).

I’m pretty sure I’m the only one on the planet who has had a deer run into them, not while driving, but while jogging.

(Although apparently I’m not alone because I DID find this picture.)

Normally, deer avoid people like I now avoid ostriches. They see one and take off running in the opposite direction. But no. A deer sees me out running with headphones on and thinks I’m an easy target. Then again, that happened in College Park, so I’m pretty sure the deer was actually trying to rob me. And it barely clipped me, because I used my cat-like reflexes to trip and flail wildly while falling into the ditch next to the path when I noticed the deer coming at me.

My run-ins with the animal world have made me super cautious. For example, I’m terrified of sharks and alligators. Which might sound odd, because I’m NOT particularly scared of lions, tigers, or bears (oh my).

But there’s a good reason for that. I stay out of the woods at all costs, and the odds of me being on an African savannah where a lion or tiger would find and eat me are pretty slim. The odds of me being in the ocean (where sharks live), however, are pretty high. And the odds of me being Florida (where alligators live), are even higher. Why? Because I love Disney World AND beaches.

And if anyone is going to die in a freak alligator or shark attack, it’s probably going to be me.

At least I now know that there are no alligators in my toilet, thanks to Snopes.com. However, the website doesn’t say anything about ostriches hiding in my closet, man-eating ducks under my bed, or alligators ringing my doorbell.

And according to old school Saturday Night Live, sharks are crafty and will impersonate delivery men.

So just to be safe, I always look for ostriches before eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You can’t be too cautious. Because an ostrich will fight you for peanut butter and jelly. And trust me, you do NOT want to fight an ostrich.

Does the flu shot make you sick? Was Mr. Ed a zebra? Snopes knows the answers!

Yesterday, I ventured into the CVS Minute Clinic to get a flu shot. While I won’t bore you with the specifics (like how it never actually takes a minute and I always feel like the other people sitting there waiting are riddled with diseases that they’re just dying to spread to me), it was overall a relatively painless procedure.

What wasn’t painless, however, was TELLING people that I was going to get a flu shot after school.

Because it seems that 99.9999 percent of the population still thinks that you get the flu when you get a flu shot. And trying to tell the flu shot disparagers that that’s an urban legend is pointless. Because they all either think it happened to them or they think it happened to someone they know.

It didn’t.

That theory doesn’t even make sense. By that logic, when you get the smallpox vaccine, you’d get smallpox. And smallpox has been eradicated. (For the vocabulary-challenged people out there, that means smallpox has gone bye-bye. Forever.)

But telling people that the flu shot doesn’t give you the flu is an utterly lost cause. So instead, I direct them to one of my two favorite websites in the world: http://www.snopes.com/.

Snopes is the urban legend website, and it is truly one of the best things that the internet has brought us (primarily because I firmly believe that Facebook and Twitter are ruining the world, but I’ll talk about that another day).

I could literally spend days on Snopes. It has everything under the sun on there and is WAY more reliable than Wikipedia (because I can’t edit it to say that I’m married to Bruce Springsteen like I can on Wikipedia… which I do once a year to show my journalism kids that you can’t trust Wikipedia. Sorry, Patti. I DO always change it back immediately though. And I only vandalize Wikipedia for educational purposes!)

Get a sappy email about a kid with cancer who needs your help? Look it up on Snopes. It’s fake. Get one warning you about gang members killing people who flash their brights on the highway? Fake. Snopes says so. Alligators in the sewers? Nope. Never happened. Find a picture of a ridiculously giant catfish that you KNOW is photoshopped?

Guess what? It’s REAL! It just wasn’t found where the email says it was. But literally. That fish IS that big. Scary stuff! (Although after seeing that picture, no one is ever going to doubt that guy’s penis size. Just saying…)

I use Snopes constantly to prove people wrong. Mostly because I have a horrible habit of not letting something go when I know I’m right. (What can I say? I hate ignorance. It’s probably why I’m a teacher.) It’s how I tried to prove to my brother that Walt Disney is NOT actually cryogenically frozen (although he still doesn’t believe me. Apparently there’s no amount of proof on the planet that will convince him that Walt Disney’s head isn’t in a freezer somewhere).

But I think my favorite thing about Snopes isn’t the fact that it lets me show off my superior knowledge and research skills every time my grandma sends me an email warning me about something that happened to a friend of a friend of a friend of hers that I desperately NEED to watch out for.

My favorite thing is the “Lost Legends” section. If you haven’t played on this site, go check that part out before you read further. I’ll wait.

Seriously. Go look at the Mr. Ed one. Did you know he was actually a zebra?

I know, it sounds nuts. But Snopes has the inside scoop.  It had something to do with the early black and white filming process.

Don’t read further until you’ve looked at that.

Spoilers are coming.

You’ve been warned.

No, Mr. Ed wasn’t a zebra! How dumb do you feel if you believed that? I mean, come on, a zebra? REALLY?

But Sara, Snopes said it and you said they know everything! That’s not fair.

That’s the whole reason I love Snopes. All of the “Lost Legends” are fake. There’s a full explanation here, but the basic gist of it is that the creators of Snopes are trying to make the point that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. Did you learn your lesson? I mean, Snopes is legit, but did you REALLY, even for a MINUTE, think that Mr. Ed was a zebra? Gullible much?

There is, however, one website that is better than Snopes. There are some that are ALMOST as good (like www.venganza.org/, which is the official website for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Love it!), but only ONE website is actually better.

Yes.

I’m talking about http://www.catsthatlooklikehitler.com/.

BEST. WEBSITE. EVER. EVER! (Yes, that one had to go in a bigger font. Just to make sure you understand the awesomeness of Cats That Look Like Hitler.)

First of all, the fact that anyone even came up with this site is genius. Second, look at the cats! They actually LOOK LIKE HITLER! Which helps to prove my theory that cats are evil, anti-Semitic, and out to destroy the world. But really, I could look at this site over and over and over again.

But this site actually proves something that even Snopes couldn’t disprove (because it turns out to be true). Cats are wrong. Hitler is wrong. But when you combine those two particular wrongs, they create something SO right.

Because no matter how much I hate cats, I just can’t hate them when they look like Hitler. And they do. A lot.

Catsthatlooklikehitler.com = genius. Pure and simple. If you’re the person who created it, call me. I think we should be friends. Partially because I have a dog that looks like Einstein. But mostly because your site is my favorite thing on the internet.

Well, okay, that’s not ENTIRELY true. It’s my favorite website.

My favorite thing on the internet is this video.

Cats That Look Like Hitler come in a close second though. And Snopes is third.

If I made you laugh, I was serious. If I offended you, I was just kidding!

Blogging is still a fairly new experience for me, and I’m learning a lot about it as I go.

When I started, I assumed I’d basically be writing humorous columns, like the ones that I teach my journalism kids to write. Ten years ago, I really couldn’t have done that, because I sucked at writing columns when I was in high school. News? I was your girl. Features? Not my favorite, but I was good at it. Sports? Oh, you’re funny. Columns? No way.

It’s not that I wasn’t funny. It’s just that I hadn’t grown into my writing voice yet. News was easy because it was more like a puzzle. You had to squeeze as much information into as few words as possible and keep it in order of importance. Compared to the New York Times crossword, that puzzle is a piece of cake.

Columns involved writing in first person and being able to make fun of myself, and I hadn’t quite gotten there yet. When I started teaching them and helping OTHER people write THEIRS, that’s when I grew into my writing voice. And while I do look forward to the day when I can stop teaching and write full time, I’m not sure I would have been able to write as well if I hadn’t had the experience of teaching other people to write.

Students learning to write columns in my class have several style elements that must be included in their work. I give them a long list of methods of development and they’re required to use at least ten of them in each column they write. The list includes things like hyperbole (extreme exaggeration), self-deprecation, made-up facts and statistics, personification (giving a non-human human characteristics), etc. The basic point being that a column is NOT supposed to be 100 percent true.

Which brings me to the main point of this particular column. Apparently a lot of my nearest and dearest who read my work think that every word of it is true.

To those of you who believe this: you’re idiots.

No offense.

Just stating a fact.

(A non-made-up fact.)

But the biggest thing that I’ve learned about blogging is that if I’m going to be funny, I’m going to piss someone I know off with every blog post. That means that three times a week, I get at least one angry phone call/email/text message/person coming up to me and telling me how mad they are. And the other four days of the week, I get angry people asking me why I’m not blogging that day.

I can’t win.

Here’s the thing to remember though, if everything that I said was true, wouldn’t I be in jail by now? I’m pretty sure I outlined a plan to launch what basically equates to a terrorist plot on the states of Delaware and Texas, confessed to breaking several laws (including telling people how to commit assault at a concert), and have threatened murder numerous times. If you believe that all of that was completely serious, then I’d also like to warn you that if you don’t give me a million dollars RIGHT NOW, the world is going to end.

Although the plans for Texas and Delaware WERE actually serious. I DO plan to get rid of both states when I take over the world. And I DO think my dog is an evil super genius. And my grandmother DOES suck with technology.

Okay, maybe there IS some truth in what I write. Let’s try this again.

If I say something that pisses you off and it’s NOT about Delaware or Texas, I was kidding.

But the complete truth isn’t usually as funny as the embellished truth. With the exception of the story about when the girl threw up in my class. That, unfortunately, was the God’s honest truth. Every word. It sucked. A lot.

And there are some totally true stories that I feel like I can’t tell because I KNOW the people involved will hate me. I was a bridesmaid in a wedding that had some hilarious (now that it’s over) aspects to it. But if I write it as it happened, the bride will come after me with a vengeance that would rival a biblical plague. Literally. I think she’d start bringing frogs and locusts and cattle disease on me. (And if she’s reading this, I LOVE YOU! Please don’t smite my first born!)

So if you’re offended, please remember that that wasn’t my goal. I’m just trying to entertain. And if you can’t handle that, there’s no one holding a gun to your head to read my blog. You can stop reading any time. (Although that WOULD be pretty cool if someone was holding a gun to people’s heads and making them read MY blog. I’d LOVE to have such dedicated fans!)

And if you’re so offended by my work that you feel the need to have someone else call me to tell me how mad you are at me (yeah, it happened), then fine, I’ll try to not mention you in my blog.

But when I eventually get to write full time and am living in a Unabomber-style shack in the woods to write without people harassing me all the time, all bets are off.

Consider yourself warned.

Confessions of a self-published drama queen

Self-publishing a book has been an interesting experience for me all around.

And by interesting, I mean a nerve-wracking, panic-attack inducing, keeping-me-up-at-night-in-fear-of-it-failing ordeal.

To be fair, I’m not exactly a person whom anyone who knows me would call calm. I’ve been known to be a drama queen and I’ve never needed an excuse to freak out about things.

But the book situation is scarier than I expected it to be.

I decided to self-publish Beyond the Palace because nothing was happening with it and friends and family were nagging me to do it. I’d written literally hundreds of query letters to agents and never even got an agent to read it. I’d heard that for every twelve letters you send out, you’ll usually get one hit. By that logic, I should have dozens of agents beating down my door. Maybe I suck at query letters. Or maybe the publishing industry is a front for a massive drug ring and I’m the only one who didn’t get the memo that agents don’t actually read books. I’m not sure which it is.

So after a couple years of nothing happening, I did my research and decided on amazon.com’s self-publishing options.

And call me naïve if you will, but I secretly thought it would be an overnight sensation.

Not because I believe in myself, but because I actually thought people I knew would rush to buy the book.

Hah.

I learned the hard way that that just wasn’t going to happen.

That’s right. If you’re reading this and haven’t bought my book yet, you’re a terrible friend/coworker/student/total stranger, etc. In fact, if you’re a frequent reader and you’re not supporting me by getting my book, you’re practically stealing from me.

I thought that my coworkers would want to read it. Well, okay, not all of them, but I figured that English teachers at least must LOVE to read.

Apparently that’s not the case.

Or else they all secretly hate me. I’m not sure which it is.

And I was positive that every student I’d ever taught would buy it.

Not because I instilled them all with a deep love of reading, but because I figured they would all want to see if I wrote a sex scene.

Nope.

Several of them flipped through it LOOKING for a sex scene. But when they realized that there were no pictures and that my writing style wouldn’t double for a letter to Penthouse (are those actually real?), they lost interest quickly. Although if I drew a pair of boobs in the margin, I’d probably have had a much wider teenage audience.

And I figured that my friends who had read it in a rough draft in a binder would all buy it, because that was the deal I made with them when I let them read it in a binder.

Didn’t happen.

The first day, I sold eight copies. I have over four hundred Facebook friends, not even counting family, school friends, etc. who AREN’T on my Facebook page. Eight copies.

To say I was devastated would be like saying I’m a LITTLE excited when I’m at a Bruce show. Or that Lady Gaga is slightly odd.

MASSIVE understatement.

My parents tried to comfort me by saying that if I sold eight copies a day for the rest of my life, I’d be a millionaire.

Good thing they’re not math teachers. Eight copies sold gives me about $25.  At that rate, they’re right.  I WOULD be a millionaire.  It would just take approximately 110 years.  Of course, I’d still only be in my late twenties in 110 years, because I will NEVER be turning 30.  But that’s an awful long time to wait.

So I began nagging everyone to buy it. Which annoyed the crap out of everyone who knows me, but helped sales somewhat. And I ventured into the world of Facebook advertising.

Sales are better now, but I’m still spending more money on ads than I’m making off the book. But I’ve started to pick up fans on Facebook who I don’t know, meaning that people other than the people who I’m forcing to buy the book are reading it.

The problem is that because I self-published it, I can check my sales in real time online. Which means that I no longer have a life, I just sit in front of my computer waiting for the next copy to sell. And when I absolutely HAVE to leave the house, like to walk Rosie or go to work, I check the sales from my phone. I’m driving myself, and everyone else I know, completely insane.

I figured out why it’s so scary though: before I self-published it, I wasn’t succeeding because the book wasn’t out there yet. Now, if I fail, it’s because I’m just not good enough. And when I might not be good enough at the one thing that I want to spend the rest of my life doing, that’s a REALLY scary concept.

Luckily, people seem to be loving the book. My lowest review on amazon.com is three stars, and all of the others are four and five star reviews (at least half of which were written by people I don’t know and didn’t force to write reviews, which is encouraging).

So if you haven’t bought my book yet, check it out. You’ll probably like it and it’ll keep my future therapy bills lower. And if you HAVE already bought it, you’re awesome. Thank you. Now go tell all your friends to buy it too.

And whatever you do, don’t leave me a negative review. Because I plan to take a cue from Jay and Silent Bob and go after anyone who does that.
(NSFW)

Literally. I have the song that played during that part on my iPod, ready to go. It’s called “Kick Some Ass” by Stroke 9. I’m not kidding.

Ooh, someone just bought a copy! Yay! Thank you, whoever you are.

The word gullible isn’t in the dictionary. Don’t believe me? Look it up!

I think the best part of being a teacher is that I get to take kids who were never that into writing as an art form and show them how exciting language can be.

Yes, I’m a nerd.

But as a writer, it’s really cool when I get to show kids the power that their words can have. Unfortunately, running the school newspaper, more often than not, they see that their words are powerful when we get in trouble over something asinine that someone has complained to the administration about. And while I hate that part of my job with a passion that rivals my hatred for the Cowboys, it’s still an opportunity for the kids to learn about the importance of writing.

One of my favorite moments every year is when the students who are new to the newspaper staff get to see their first byline in print. I still remember my first byline (an article in the December 1995 issue of the Rockville High School Rampage about the school band taking a trip to Florida), and I truly enjoy getting to share that moment with my students when they first see their work in the newspaper.

This year, I’ve had new opportunities to share writing with my students through the publication of my novel (Beyond the Palace, if you’ve been living under a rock and therefore STILL haven’t checked it out yet). I’ve talked about my writing for years, but getting to actually show them a hard copy of the book has had a significantly more impressive effect. And I’ve actually had several students tell me they have started writing books because they were inspired by the fact that I did it.

The other new opportunity has been in the form of this blog, which, if I’m being completely honest, is really just written in the same format of the columns that I teach my journalism students how to write. Of course, they whine about writing six or seven a year. I’m doing at least three a WEEK. Amateurs. But one of my students started his own blog this year too. But he gets like a couple of blog hits a day, and I’m getting around a hundred a day.  So he asked me to give him a shout-out in my blog to get him some more hits. And here it is. Go check out his blog.

And while we’re on the subject of Taylor, I should admit that I lied. Instilling students with a love of writing is the SECOND best part of my job. The best part is actually messing with the kids’ heads.

Which I do on a daily basis.

Don’t judge. I need SOMETHING to keep me sane until summer vacation.

And sometimes it’s just SO easy to mess with their heads. Because they’re gullible enough to believe everything I tell them.

In fact, they’re even gullible about the WORD gullible. One of my favorite tricks is to tell a kid (with a completely straight face, of course), that gullible isn’t in the dictionary. If they don’t believe me, I tell them to look it up. Which they do. Because they’re that gullible. And the worst part is that after they’ve fallen for that, I can STILL get them by telling them that someone wrote gullible on the ceiling—they ALL look up. Every time.

 By then, they no longer believe me, which means I have to get them again. I tell them that gullible is spelled with three l’s. They argue that they’re not that stupid and they’re not falling for my tricks again. And then I explain to them that it actually IS spelled with three l’s.

I have other favorite tricks too. For example, whenever anyone asks me if we have a test that day, I ALWAYS say yes. Unless we DO have a test, in which case I say no. And when they freak out about the unexpected test, I act irritated and ask why they hadn’t spent all week studying for it. Anything they ask me for, the answer is always no. Which I usually say before they even finish asking the question, just to see how hard they’ll argue.

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

“No.”

“Do you have a bandaid?”

“No.”

“Can I get a drink of water?”

“No.”

“I accidentally cut my arm off, can I go to the nurse?”

“No.”

 “A lion is attacking me! Help!”

“No.”

And so on.

My favorite thing to do, however, has to be personalized on an individual basis, depending on what the individual kids will get riled up about. Which is where Taylor comes in.

I was working on the newspaper at lunch with my editors one day, when another student made a comment saying that golf shouldn’t be in the sports section because it wasn’t a real sport. Now I normally defend everything in the sports section fairly emphatically (because I don’t want cheerleaders or poms having a grudge against me, and if it’s athletic, I think it belongs in the sports section), but Taylor started arguing that golf was, in fact, a sport. And he got kind of heated about it.

Which meant that I had to disagree with him. Not because I have a strong stance on golf (which I don’t. As one of the least athletic people on the planet, I don’t have any room to judge), but just because it amused me to see him try to argue that golf is a sport.

So for the last month, every time ANYONE has mentioned golf OR sports with Taylor in the room, I’ve turned to him and told him that if my 85-year-old grandfather plays it, it’s a game, not a sport.

But even though I know I’m driving him nuts, and even though golf isn’t a sport, TAYLOR is a good sport. So check out his blog. It’s about football, and it’s actually very well written. But do me a favor when you DO look at it: leave him a comment about how football may be a sport, but golf isn’t. The look on his face when he sees comments about that will be a great way to pay me back for all the entertainment I’ve given you with my blog.

It shouldn’t be hard to do. It’s not like leaving a comment is a sport or anything. Just like golf.

And right now, Taylor is reading this and saying, “Oh my God, golf IS a sport! Why is she doing this to me?”

The answer? Because I’m easily amused and you react. But if you don’t believe me, I hear they put your picture in the dictionary. Right next to the word gullible. Go ahead. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Sometimes I DO love my job.

I’m blogging as fast as I can! If you want more, stop complaining and read my book already

In the couple of weeks since I decided to slow my blog to three days a week from five days a week, I’ve gotten an inordinate amount of complaints. I could take that as a compliment, because it means that people are enjoying the blog. And I AM kind of flattered. For example, my mother said that a day without my blog is “like a day without sunshine.”

Aww.

Then there were the other complaints. I’m not going to name names, but there were the people who told me it’s my JOB to entertain them. And the people who told me that I will never be a serious writer if I don’t blog every day.

To those soul-sucking vultures who think it is my primary duty in life to provide lengthy and amusing posts for you on a daily basis, I would like to invite you, at your earliest possible convenience, to jump off a cliff.

I mean, I’m thrilled that you find me amusing.  But am I here to amuse you?
(NSFW)

However, for those of you who either politely inquired about the frequency of my posts or else have decided to suffer in silence because you know that true art cannot be rushed, I would like to explain why I cut it down to three days a week.

Stephen King, who is one of my all-time favorite authors (despite my firmly-held belief that all of his books have the same plot: someone or something goes crazy and kills people), described the problem perfectly in his book On Writing. King worked as an English teacher before he got a six-digit contract for Carrie. And he explained that the problem with teaching was that for the first time in his life, writing was hard. He said that while he loved his kids, by Friday afternoons, he felt like he “had jumper cables clamped to [his] brain.”

While there are a lot of really rewarding parts to teaching, it’s also the most mentally draining activity that I have ever experienced. I spend seven hours of my day with thirty pairs of eyes on me.

Now I AM narcissistic enough to enjoy being the center of attention, but being the center of attention for that long is exhausting. I know that I’ve said this before on this blog, but as my mother always says, as a teacher, you’re the subject of someone’s dinner table conversation every night of your life. And the problem is, they’re much more likely to discuss what you screwed up than what you did right. So if you get lipstick on your teeth, spill coffee on your shirt, or have a wedgie that needs picking, THAT is what your kids will be telling their parents over dinner that night.

But for those of you who still think I owe you five blog posts a week, let’s walk through my typical day. I get up at 5:30am every day for school. And still usually arrive just minutes before my first class starts. I teach from 7:25 until 8:12, then I get my two planning periods together. Which SOUNDS good, in theory. Unfortunately, that early in the morning, I’m not as good at focusing as I would like to be (due largely to my chronic insomnia). But I spend as much of that time as I can grading papers, inputing grades, Xeroxing, and planning for the rest of the week.

From 10:01 until 2:10, I’m in class straight through. Lunch is in there, but I ALWAYS have newspaper kids working with me and English kids coming in for help during those periods. There’s no break at all in there, and because I’m in four different classrooms for the last four periods of the day, I don’t even have time for a bathroom break between classes. If I have to go, I have to hold it or find someone to cover my class.

I know what you’re thinking: at 2:10, she gets to go home.

You’re funny. Really. Hilarious.

Most days, I don’t get out of there until after 3, and that’s an EARLY day for me. Often I’m there far later for meetings, group planning sessions, or to work on the newspaper. Then, when I finally DO get to go home, I have grading to do.

After all that, when I finally have time to sit down and start my blog for your amusement, my brain feels like jello that was made with pineapple chunks and therefore won’t gel.

But three nights a week, I still try to come up with something witty and funny to say. Which means I am left with no time to work on any other writing (like my next book, which fans of Beyond the Palace are already asking for). And if I don’t pay attention to Rosie somewhere in there before I collapse into bed (which almost never happens before midnight), she shows me how sympathetic she is to my busy schedule by leaving me little presents on the dining room rug.

So to sum up, I do love that people are enjoying the blog. And when I’m off for the summer, I’ll probably go back to five posts a week. But if you nag me about it during the school year, I’m going to use one of those nights off from blogging to retaliate in an immature show of annoyance (most likely by wrapping your house. I’ve been around high school kids for WAY too long).

But if you just can’t get enough of my writing and are DYING to read more, pick up my book. And if you’ve already read it, tell everyone you know to read it. Because if I get a real publishing contract and make enough money to write full time, you’ll get more blogs.

And if that STILL doesn’t make you feel better, I’m trying to use the extra nights off to polish up my next book to self-publish. So more writing IS coming your way, you just might have to wait a little while.

If I am a monster, these books are my Dr. Frankenstein (which is pronounced Fronkensteen)

Anyone who knew me as a child is probably not remotely surprised that I turned out to be a writer because books have always played a huge role in my life. There are a handful of books, however, that have been more influential than others in making me into the person I am today. So if I am a monster, the following books are my Dr. Frankenstein (which happens to be nowhere near my list).  Except for the first one, they’re in no particular order.

Any list of books that have helped shaped me has to start with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

I first read it at ten years old, and have read it over twenty times since then. It was even the theme of my bat mitzvah (which worked pretty well, as we had the party at an antebellum mansion). When I first read the book, I wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara.

She was so determined, some unabashedly unstoppable. And to a young girl whose mother once described her as possessing the “evil, going-to-take-over-the-world-someday gene” (yes, she meant me), Scarlett was the female role model who didn’t exist anywhere else.

As I’ve aged, I’ve gotten deeper shades of meaning out of the book. I get frustrated with anyone who spouts off the BS from James Loewen’s book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, because his argument against Gone With the Wind ignores the fact that a novel can be historically accurate in showing the racism of a time period without being a book that promotes racism. But the main thing that struck me as I got closer to the age that Scarlett is at the end of the book is that by the time I was old enough to understand that I did NOT want to be like her, it was too late for me in many ways.

Perhaps the most significant effect that Gone With the Wind has had on my life however, has nothing to do with Scarlett O’Hara. Because from the moment I started reading my mother’s old tattered copy from the 1960s (which didn’t even survive that first reading, let alone the subsequent readings), I knew that I had to be a writer. And one of the best compliments I have ever received came from the website IWriteLike.com, which compares samples of your writing to that of famous authors and tells you who your style is most similar to. And when I put the entire text of Beyond the Palace into the program, I was told my writing style was most like Margaret Mitchell’s.

My novel is less than a third of the length of hers, but despite its heft, Gone With the Wind is worth every single page.

The next book on my list is Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

I know, I know, Pride and Prejudice is every Austen lover’s favorite book. But Sense and Sensibility is darker, which I think lends so much more realism to the story. So many of the problems in Pride and Prejudice center around the class divide, which doesn’t really exist in the world I live in. But the problems in Sense and Sensibility can still keep people apart today. The characters, written over two hundred years ago, are multi-dimensional enough to ring true even now. We have all been Marianne Dashwood at times and followed our hearts, only to be emotionally ravaged when we learn that love isn’t always enough to make a relationship work when two people have different priorities.

And we’ve all been her sister, Elinor, in love with someone we can never have and kept forever from that person by the hateful Lucy Steeles of the world.

Before there was Regina George of Mean Girls, there was Lucy Steele, befriending Elinor with the sole intention of crushing her rival. If you’ve never read this gem, pick up a copy now. You’ll have to be able to get past the Victorian language, but if you do, you’ll find a surprisingly raw love story that resonates incredibly strongly despite being written by a long-dead British spinster.

Stephen King’s The Stand makes the cut next.

I know, that’s a huge jump from Jane Austen. But Stephen King creates a whole world in this novel (granted, he kills 99 percent of that world off within the first hundred pages, but that’s the basic plot of all Stephen King books–someone or something goes crazy and kills people), and the ability to do that, to breathe actual life into a set of characters is something that mortals are seldom able to accomplish. I also know that a lot of people label Stephen King as a hack because of the practically superhuman speed at which her churns out novels. But every time I pick this book up, I’m still amazed by the ease with which he can juggle so many people’s lives and make ALL of them three dimensional.

My books are far from the horror genre so far (although I probably WILL venture into Stephen King’s territory at some point in my career. I’m just waiting for the right story to hit me), but one element of his work has inspired everything that I’ve written, and that is that all of his characters who wrong others have a chance for redemption in the end. They all make a choice to do good or do evil, and the lesson I have taken from that for my writing is that there’s no such thing as a purely good or purely evil character. Everyone is the star of his or her own plotline, and they are all able to make redemptive choices. They don’t all choose to redeem themselves, in fact most of them don’t. But they have a reason for their behavior and the free will to choose their own path, and I have tried to give that same ability to my villains as well.

While there are a dozen books that people call “The Great American Novel,” I think that title belongs unarguably to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

This is the book I turn to when I lose faith in humanity. When I feel that everyone is ONLY ever looking out for him or herself, I read this book to humanize myself again. With the POSSIBLE exception of Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better character in all of literature than Atticus Finch.

He manages to be caring and strong at the same time, but most of all, he’s REAL. Most characters who care more for others than themselves are no more than weak foils to the protagonists. Amelia in William Makepeace Thackery’s Vanity Fair or Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice are shining examples of these morally righteous characters who are too weak to be that likeable. But Atticus, even as he cries over the injustice of Tom Robinson’s death, reminds me that there IS true, genuine goodness and strength in the world.

The end of the novel, no matter how many times I read it, leaves me surprised, touched, and less jaded with the world. If you haven’t read this one since you were in school, read it again. The first eight pages will bore you if you don’t remember enough of the story for it to make sense, but when you get past those eight pages, you’ll thank me. I promise.

And last, but by no means least, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

I’m ashamed to admit that when I read this in high school, I hated it. And to be honest, I still think that all of the female characters in it are horrible. But Fitzgerald was so far ahead of his time in so many ways. Nick’s one-third life crisis resonates so strongly with what my generation currently faces that I wonder how earlier generations could have identified with it as strongly as we do. I feel like the baby boom generation WANTED to get married and start having kids in their twenties, like Daisy and Tom do. But Nick flees to the east to escape from that world, and finally, after everything that he sees that summer finds that at 30 years old, he is “five years too old to lie to [himself] and call it honor.” And in the gap that I’m now seeing between myself now and the person I was merely a few years ago, I’ve come to realize just how talented Fitzgerald was at capturing the human condition as it is now, some eighty-five years after he wrote his greatest novel.

One of my college professors used to tell us that everyone should read The Great Gatsby every five years because as your situation in life changes, so will your take on the book. Bruce Springsteen described “Born to Run” as a song that has kept him company on his journey through life, and that it has grown with him as he has aged, and I think The Great Gatsby has that same quality to it. Which, coming from me, is some of the highest praise possible to give.

I’ll get into the books that shaped me the most as a writer another day, but if you like what you’ve seen on my blog or in my first novel, take another look at these five books while you’re waiting for my next book. Which is coming. Soon. I promise. All I need is a title. I was thinking along the lines of “No TV and no beer make Homer… something something.”

Dirty mouth? Sorry, Orbit lady, but gum isn’t strong enough to clean up MY language…

You’d never know it to look at me, but I have a ridiculously dirty mouth.

Did you hear that?

It was the sound of everyone who knows me collectively saying, “Duh!”

I know, I know, it’s bad.  In fact, I realized I might have a problem when I started watching Dexter and instead of being shocked by how filthy Deb’s mouth is, I thought, “Hey!  She talks like me!”

While I take full responsibility for the profanity that I use on a daily basis now, I started extremely young and THAT was my father’s fault. When I was two, I was playing a game and, when I lost, I let out a massive string of profane language.

My mother immediately turned on my father because she knew EXACTLY where I had learned the particular phrase that I used: it was his favorite expression to shout in traffic. And as an impressionable two year old, I thought that was what you were SUPPOSED to say when you were upset.

For a while, at my mother’s urging I’m sure, my dad switched to Yiddish curses when he was upset in traffic so that my brother and I wouldn’t know what he was saying. But that didn’t work either, because when he wouldn’t tell us what words meant, we would turn to his mother, Grandma Selma. Dad always described Grandma Selma as speaking three languages (English, Yiddish, and Romanian), but none of them well. We would ask her what the word meant and she would immediately yell at us for saying whatever the particular word was, then ask where we had heard it. Then she would tell us what it meant.

To this day, ninety-five percent of the Yiddish that I know is the profanity. So if you need to know how to tell an old Jew to go defecate in the ocean or to stick their head someplace where it doesn’t belong, I’m your girl.

My parents never got on the same page about whether profanity was okay in the house. And I don’t think they ever discussed it with each other either. When my brother and I were kids, our dad told us that he didn’t care what kind of language we used, as long as we understood that some people wouldn’t approve of what we said. His example? Don’t tell the principal to go do something that isn’t anatomically possible to himself. (Although when dad gives an example, he skips the euphemisms.)

I love you, dad. Really. You’re awesome.

My mom, on the other hand, pretends to be shocked when I say anything vulgar, especially in public, but to a lesser degree when it’s just the two of us. For example when I referred to someone I don’t like as a feminine hygiene product in front of her one day, she lectured me for about twenty minutes on using appropriate language. Yet two days later, she called the same person the very same feminine hygiene product. I called her out on this hypocrisy and she said that the difference was that I said it in public and she said it over the phone to me.  I’m firmly of the belief that there is no one on the planet who hasn’t heard any of the words that I use, but that excuse doesn’t get me anywhere with my mother.

As I’ve gotten older though, my dad has encouraged my cursing more and more, which I find hilarious. I was on the phone with him while driving on 495 one day, when someone cut me off. I let out a resulting string of profanity that would have changed an R-rating to NC-17, telling the driver in great detail what he could go to do himself AND his mother. My mom would have yelled at me. My dad, however, cheered me on. He proudly yelled, “That’s my girl! Give him the finger! Give him the finger!”

Again, dad, I totally love you.

What I don’t understand though is why profanity is such a big deal to some people. Especially because the people who argue against it the most are usually the ones who like to repeat the cliché about sticks and stones breaking bones, but words not having the power to hurt (which is SUCH crap and everyone with half a brain knows it–words can leave far more long-lasting damage than sticks or stones).

Words, in and of themselves, aren’t dirty. I mean, honestly, no one is going to argue that the word “poop” is an inappropriate term for defecation, yet substitute a different four-letter word that means the same thing, and people will go nuts. But I hate to break it to you, a LOT more adults would buy the book Everyone Poops if you changed the word choice. I’m just saying.

At school, I run into problems because, as a teacher, I DEFINITELY cannot curse in class. I would wind up in my principal’s office immediately if I did, and I already get in so much trouble over running the school newspaper that the sofa in his office has a permanent imprint of my butt.

So I HAVE to keep my language under control at school.

In general, I do a really good job of this.  I’ve had a few accidental slipups over the years, which tend to make the kids laugh hysterically. But because I just correct them when THEY slip up, (with gems like, “I must have heard you wrong, you said, ‘shoot,’ right?”) instead of turning it into a battle, they usually don’t go running home and say, “Mommy, mommy, guess what Miss Goodman said in class today!” (Thank God I teach high school!)

The biggest problem that I’ve found though has come with my car. With my old car, if I screamed obscenities at someone in traffic, unless they could read lips, what happened in the car stayed in the car. Now that I drive a convertible, when I tell someone to go do something that isn’t anatomically possible to themselves (special thanks to my high school journalism teacher for that particular clean way to express that sentiment), they can hear me.

Which is something I REALLY need to remember when I’m running late on my way to school in the morning and someone causes me to miss a light.

But I suppose I should be grateful that I don’t live in ancient times.  I clearly would have suffered the fate of the men who said “Jehovah” in Life of Brian.

"Who the hell am I gonna pretend to be today?"

Because I am a giant kid, I love Halloween. Of course, I love any excuse to put on a costume and fun makeup, which means that I get extra Jewish around Purim every year. But this year, my cousin’s bat mitzvah is the Saturday of Halloween weekend, and I’m too old to go trick or treating on Sunday night, so I don’t get to dress up this year.

Which is tragic.

Especially because I was sick last year and missed Halloween then. And I had a REALLY awesome costume planned for last year. I was going to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, which isn’t that surprising considering that’s always been one of my favorite movies. But I was going to bring Rosie with me. Not as Toto. I was going to put her in her OWN Dorothy costume, then tell people we had a little miscommunication about who was supposed to be Dorothy and who was supposed to be Toto.

And before you say that’s awful, look at how cute the dog ruby slippers are!

But no. My newspaper kids had to get me sick right before Halloween. (That’s right, Ben. I’m calling you out. That’s when you got the plague and gave it to me.)

Luckily, teaching high school has one MAJOR perk to it. No, I don’t mean getting the summer off. Or even being done with school at 2:30 every day (which really ISN’T a perk when you consider that I have to BE there at 7am every freaking day… I’d gladly get out a little later if school would start later). I’m talking about Homecoming Week.

No, I never cared about the game or the dance or who won King and Queen, even when I was in high school.  I loved it because it was a week of playing dress up. Of course, my least favorite day was spirit day at the end of the week. Mostly because our school colors were orange and black. And as my best friend reminds me every time I tell her I’m planning to kill someone, orange is NOT my color.

Now everyone who’s been a student in one of my classes knows that I’m not exactly Miss School Spirit. I hate wearing big, baggy t-shirts, and I REALLY hate wearing the exact same thing everyone else is wearing. (Which I proved the first time we had to wear our newspaper staff shirts on a distribution day when I was in high school. I had requested a smaller size, which Keegan refused to order, so instead of wearing the shirt with jeans, like every other staff member did, I wore mine with leopard-print leggings and knee-high boots. Keegan started ordering smaller shirts after that.) But when it’s an excuse to dress up in a creative way, I’m happy to show off my spirit.

It’s a little more difficult to do this in a high school setting than it is for Halloween, however, because all outfits have to stay school-appropriate. But it’s still do-able in most cases.

In previous years, I’ve pulled out some fun outfits. My personal favorite was on music genres day, when I decided to rock the disco look, complete with a one-piece denim, bell-bottomed jumpsuit, platform heels, and Farrah Fawcett waves. And my kids are always SHOCKED when I wear sneakers to go with a theme day. (They have no idea that I’m NOT actually 5’10 when I take off my heels.)

This year though, I’m struggling a little with what to do. I’ve already got my outfits picked out for Pajama Day and ‘80s Day (hello Madonna lace-gloves and leggings!), and as always, I’m skipping Wacky Tacky Day (because I don’t do tacky. Ever. Under any circumstances. No way. No how. And I know my mom is reading this and agreeing with me 100 percent), but this year they’ve added “Celebrity Day” and I don’t know what to do with that.

I’ve been asking my kids for suggestions, but so far, most of them aren’t appropriate for a teacher to do—aka J-Woww, Kim Kardashian, and Marilyn Monroe. (Side note, who the hell is Kim Kardashian? Like I don’t watch reality tv other than Jersey Shore, and as far as I can figure out, she’s famous for having a pretty face, a big ass, and no discernable talent. Is that really all it takes to be famous these days?) One student was sweet and offered to go as Bruce Springsteen so I could go as his wife, but no one except me would know who I was if I did that.

Another student said he plans to wear a latex glove with a bloody glove half over it and be OJ Simpson, and he said I could be Nicole Brown Simpson, but I think that one would get me in trouble pretty quickly. (Even though I think it’s hilarious.)

I could reuse a Halloween costume from a few years ago when I went as Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but only girls knew who I was. Guys had NO idea. (And I find it ironic that my “classic” and appropriate-for-school choice would be dressing as an actress who played a high-class prostitute in the role that I was copying her style from. But it was IMPLIED whoring instead of overtly stated whoring, so I guess that’s okay.) And while I like that choice, one of my newspaper kids is also going as Audrey Hepburn, and while she said she doesn’t mind if I do the same thing, I feel bad doing the same thing she’s doing.

So I’m opening this up to the fans of my blog. (Some of whom are in Europe apparently… who are you guys? I’m seriously curious who my Denmark, Germany, and United Kingdom fans are…) Who should I be for Celebrity Day? It has to be at least MOSTLY school appropriate (aka not TOO much cleavage), and something I can do relatively easily (I’m not getting plastic surgery, dying or cutting my hair, or creating a Lady Gaga outfit—and yes, I know I could just drape myself in sandwich meats for that, but I feel like that would smell pretty bad by sixth period, and I’m not sure I’d make it out the door past Rosie in that getup). And no, I’m NOT going as a Republican! So don’t even THINK about any Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell suggestions! It’s CELEBRITY Day, not dress like an outspoken idiot day.

PS, if anyone OTHER than Lynnlee gets what the title of this post is referencing, I’m impressed!

Hands-free laws are like communism. In theory, they work. In theory.

A week ago today, a new Maryland law went into effect making it illegal to use a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device.

In theory, this is a great law. In theory. But as Homer Simpson would say, “In theory communism works. In theory.”

In reality, however, this is usually still a good law. Driving with a cell phone SHOULDN’T be legal. Just like how radar detectors probably shouldn’t be legal in any state. But I’m really glad they are in most of them.

Unfortunately, in the last week, I’ve proven that I personally am the exception to the rule, because somehow I’m a MUCH more dangerous driver when I have to worry about my Bluetooth headset.

For a normal person, this doesn’t make any sense. A normal person was probably already using his or her Bluetooth before the law was in place because it’s easier and safer. But I got my first cell phone right when I was learning to drive. So I can literally count on one hand the number of times that I’ve driven a car without having a cell phone with me. (And every single one of those times was a panic-driven mad dash home to get my phone when I’ve realized that I forgot to bring it. I’d honestly rather show up naked somewhere than show up without my phone. It’s like Linus with his blanket. I just can’t be without it.)

With that said, I don’t talk on my phone all that often, either in the car or otherwise. And the few people who I actually do call on a regular basis are on speed-dial, so when I DO use my phone in the car, I do it safely.

I will admit that I’ve been known to text from the car. I know, I know, I’m a monster. But everyone who texts has done this before. If you’re going to come after me with pitchforks and torches, you’d better go after everyone else too. I HAVE, however, limited myself to doing it at lights or in non-moving traffic because my school had an assembly on texting while driving that was so emotionally scarring that it’s probably going to wind up costing me a sum that could bankrupt Bill Gates in therapy bills down the line.

I made it through the first two days of the new hands-free law with no problem. Last Thursday night, in preparation for the law’s first day, I found my Bluetooth headset (which during the blizzards last winter, I decorated with pink rhinestones—I glued rhinestones on almost everything I owned during the blizzards. Rosie should be grateful she has fur, because if she didn’t, I probably would have bedazzled her too), charged it, and put it in my car.

As soon as I got in the car on Friday and Saturday, I put it on and promptly forgot about it because it’s pretty comfortable.

Which meant that I forgot to take it off and LEAVE it in the car for future use.

So by Sunday, when my dad called me as I was running some errands, I had no clue where it was. And in the ten minutes between when he first called me and when I finally located the headset (which was somehow under the floormat on the passenger side of the car. I still no clue how THAT happened), I almost died approximately 17,986 times. Had I just answered my phone (or figured out how to answer it on speakerphone on the Palm Pixi—if anyone can help me out there, please let me know!), thousands of innocent lives could have been saved from the potential danger that I put them in while trying to find my headset.

And unfortunately, I went through the same process several times before figuring out that it’s a SECONDARY offense to be talking without a hands-free device. So as long as I’m not speeding or running a light or drinking a beer while driving, cops can’t pull me over FOR talking on my phone.

Now they tell me.

But I AM trying to follow the rules. I found a clip to hold my headset in place in the center console when I’m not using it so that I’ll always know where it is, and I’m making a concerted effort to leave it in the car when I am done driving.

However, when they stop letting me hold my ipod to change the playlist that I’m listening to, I’m moving to a state with less stringent driving laws.

Which won’t be Virginia; I love my radar detector too much.

Or Delaware or Texas. Because I freaking hate those states.

Which probably leaves one of my favorite states, New Jersey*. Get ready for a new neighbor, Bruce! I think you should invite me over to welcome me to the neighborhood. Because I love you.

*(Yes, I know New Jersey has hands-free cell phone laws too.  But it’s just a better state anyway.)

But until I move, if you call me and I don’t answer, it doesn’t mean that I’m ignoring you; it’s far more likely that I died in a fiery crash while trying to find my Bluetooth headset to answer your call.