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Southern Humorists Present ...


Copyright © 2004 Frank G. Van Atta. All rights reserved.

A farmer in Montana has discovered an infallible method of predicting election results: he lets the farm animals tell him.

Ellwood Carpenter has been predicting the outcome of local, state, and national elections for three decades with 100 percent accuracy.

"Actually, I don't predict anything," Ellwood says. "I give the animals all of the information and let them decide. So far they have never been wrong."

What Ellwood does is get pictures of the candidates and put one in the stall of each of his cows. Within three weeks some of the cows will begin to give sour milk, and you can be assured that the candidates whose pictures adorn those cow's stalls will lose.

"The animals have an uncanny ability to sense losers," Ellwood explains, "and if you make them stay around a loser long enough they get sick and start to act funny. That's all there is to it."

In addition to his bovine tests, Ellwood also subjects chickens to recordings of the candidate's speeches. He has a dozen separate chicken coops, and plays one candidate's speech over and over in each of the coops.

"If the chickens don't like a person, the continual sound of that person's voice will eventually make them quit laying eggs," Ellwood said. "Of course, as soon as one coop full of chickens quits laying, I change the speech that's playing there. Eventually I end up with only one candidate's speech playing for all of my chickens. Then they not only continue laying eggs, but their production goes up 25 per cent. When that happens, I know who to vote for."

He does much the same thing with his milk cows. He keeps changing the pictures in the stalls until all of the cows have the same picture and they start giving 30 to 50 per cent more milk.

"The uncanny part is that the cows and chickens always agree," Ellwood said. "I have never run into a single case where they didn't."

Professional pollsters have tried for years to get Ellwood to sell them the results of his animal polls, but he has refused all offers so far.

"I could probably make a lot of money if I let those folks know what my chickens and cows thought of the candidates," Ellwood said. "But it wouldn't be fair to the animals."

But, even though Mr. Carpenter isn't making any money off of this, a lot of other folks are. There are now more than a dozen companies selling pictures and tapes of winning candidates to farmers all over the country (after the elections, of course) as a way of increasing their production of milk and eggs.

Unfortunately, this hasn't accomplished anything so far except to make the entrepreneurs wealthy and a lot of cows and chickens around the country very sick.

It seems that before the election these people are perceived as winners, and the animals react favorably. But after the election they're all nothing but a bunch of politicians--and according to the animals, they're all losers.

Frank G. Van Atta, Only In America


USA Today ... err ... maybe Tomorrow?
By: Mike Bay Copyright © 2004 All rights reserved.

The subject of entomology -- the study of insects -- is a hot subject around here nowadays, what with the West Nile Virus being at a national peak in Colorado. Yet, in the Peoples' Republic of Boulder (CO), a few squeaky environmentalist wheels are trying to prevent spraying to attack the particular breed of mosquito responsible for the spread of the disease.

Apparently, diseased mosquitoes are alleged to have more rights in Boulder than the humans they're trying to infect. Eh...that's Boulder. At any rate, and before I digress too much, if you're an insect rights advocate, don't read the rest of this column. You won't like it.

I'm not much of a bug person. Not that they bother me: I was mildly fascinated by insects in my youth. Especially if they splattered on impact. Nowadays, I'm more of a stick in the antennae: if my swatter isn't handy, my big feet are usually adequate to terminate unwanted visitors to my abode. Bugs in Colorado, in my experience, ain't what they are elsewhere, West Nile-bearing mosquitoes aside. One memorable example down South in my travelling days stands out in particular.

An occasion triggered by the morning paper and a tray with leftovers on it.

On an early summer's day in 1990, I was in West Monroe, Louisiana, on company business. Staying at a local motel, I emerged from my domicile one morning to retrieve my complimentary copy of USA Today, which was supposed to be laying on the sidewalk immediately outside my door.

When I emerged, I noticed three things: (1) my next-door neighbor had apparently had delivery food of some kind the night before, and left a tray outside the room, (2) my paper was laying right next to it and (3) both the tray and the paper were trying to walk away.

It was, to say the least, ominous.

When I tried to snatch my paper from whatever was trying to take it elsewhere, I expected some huge arachnid, or perhaps a literate rodent seeking stock tips or sports scores to go skittering off into the parking lot. That's when I was confronted by IT: the biggest cockroach I have ever seen, up to then and since (I've been told that down yonder they're called palmetto bugs). Not that I haven't seen a roach or two in my time in the northern climes; but never one to momentarily make me think someone had modified a Volkswagen Bug with legs in place of tires.

And IT wasn't into giving up either the tray remnants or the morning paper easily. An unexpected bug-o-war ensued. Yeah, I know I probably looked silly; but that was my complimentary paper, and I wasn't giving it up to no bug, VW or otherwise.

Being somewhat larger and with undivided attention (I could care less about the tray and contents thereon), I was able to wrest the paper from the grip of the roach, which let out a miniscule but unanticipated shriek of anguish. Not wanting to render my paper unreadable by using it in a secondary role, I decided to dispense with this entomological snatch-and-skitterer by the long-perfected use of my right foot, which I casually applied.

Too casually, as it turned out: I was astounded, as my foot met with unexpected resistance. Then came the totally surreal sensation of being a couple inches taller. I was being military pressed by a bug? I had heard stories of how seemingly indestructible the roach family is, but whoa. This was so wrong.

Having had enough of this schtick, I removed my foot, and took a different tact, kicking the Charles Atlas of palmetto bugdom toward the nearest parked vehicle, football/field goal style. That's when I learned that palmetto bugs can fly.

And this one was noticeably irate.

Taking a wide turn, it bore down on me like an Exocet missile looking for a ship to sink. Probably muttering all sorts of imprecations about my ancestral heritage and such, I surmised that IT wanted my paper and the leftovers on that tray. The tray I didn't care about, since some of the leftovers appeared to be grits, but that's for another time. But it was MY paper!

At this point, somewhat nonplussed by the whole experience and not amused to be under air attack by an entomological equivalent of Tom Daschle, I concluded to screw the physical integrity of the paper: I reared back and used it like a bat to hit a Barry Bonds-ish line drive shot to left. A louder-than-expected *THWONK* resonated from the nearby parked car that -- I sorta kid you not -- actually rocked from the impact of the palmetto projectile.

Where it wound up, and in what condition, I'll never know. The car itself wasn't apparently totalled. Happy to have what was left of the paper in hand, I didn't linger to savor my victory. I merely withdrew to the sanctity of my room, trying to ignore a maid three doors down, who was shaking her head and muttering something about 'danged fool tourists'.

I've often wondered down the years, when the maid got to that tray, who won the subsequent bug-o-war over it? Oh thing's sure: if that palmetto bug relocated to Boulder, IT would have the run of any tray it set it's antennae on. The bug-rights folks would see to that. Even a tray with grits.

But that's for another time.


Living Along the Appomattox - The Great Emu Experiment
By: Pamela Matlack Klein

I mentioned emus briefly in an earlier column and promised to return to the subject at a later time. Well, it's been a slow week at the Weyr, so this seems as good a time as any!

For those of you unfamiliar with the emu, I will try and bring you up to speed. Emus are Australian ratites, closely related to the African ostrich and the South American rhea. All three of these large flightless birds favor the same habitat, open grasslands or savannah and are know for their ability to run really fast. One would think that this would make them ideal pasture animals but one would be wrong.

Until the last quarter of the 20th Century, emus, ostriches, and rheas were seen mainly in zoos or in the wild but were certainly not considered domestic livestock anywhere but in South Africa. The South Africans have been raising ostriches for their plumes for centuries and all of the ostrich plumes sold came from there. Because of this feather trade, the South African ostriches became domesticated from hundreds of years of being raised in captivity. Their wild cousins, on the other hand, were still as mean and cantankerous as ever with justly-earned reputations as killers.

Politics intervened in this idyllic set-up and the United States decided that boycotts were the most efficacious way to force the South Africans to abandon their positions on human rights and fall into line with the rest of the world. Suddenly the supply of ostrich plumes available for sale in the US dwindled to stocks on hand and then vanished altogether.

In an effort to fill this market void, some wily Texans decided to import wild ostriches from parts of Africa not under the boycott and become feather merchants in their own right. Being Texans, they also thought it might be a good idea to offer ostrich steaks to trendy foodies as well. And, while they were at it, they took a good look at the other ratites for their feather and meat potential; thus enter the emu and rhea to my story.

The wild-caught ostriches soon proved to be more of a handful than your average steer. They are huge birds and remarkably fast and agile. With a single, well-aimed kick they can shatter a 2" x 6" oak plank or the leg of a hapless wrangler. They required higher fences than cattle and don't take kindly to herding. However, the Texans and others who joined in this latest "get rich overnight" scheme persevered, succeeding in solving most of the problems attendant on keeping ostriches.

Emus and rheas, on the other hand, proved to be far more docile in comparison. Additionally there was already an established market in Australia for emu meat and oil. The next step was to create a demand for emu steak in the United States.

The marketing machine went into overtime, cranking out colorful brochures and videos extolling the virtues of emu oil and the heart-safe quality of emu (and ostrich) meat. Cosmetic companies sprang up overnight with emu oil as their primary beneficial ingredient. It was even touted as a "cure" for arthritis and other ills of the joints.

About this time, in the early 90s, breeding pairs of emus were selling for upwards of $40,000 and ostriches started at $50,000. Many people thought nothing of investing their life-savings in this new agricultural pot of gold, and happily mortgaged their homes and farms to buy more breeding stock, incubators, and brooders. Emu/ostrich chow became the newest feed to be added to Purina's line of animal foods and many independent feed dealers began making and selling their own formulations.

At this point, the only people actually making money on ratites were those who had been raising them all along for the zoo and exotic pet trade. A good friend sold enough pairs and chicks over an 18-month period to pay off his mortgage and purchase an additional property he had long coveted. Of course the people engaged in building barns and installing fencing also did well along with the feed dealers. (Did I mention that ratites eat a lot? One emu can consume $300.00 worth of pellets and all the pasture available per year. They will also eat chicks, kittens, and puppies.)

The bubble burst rather suddenly when everyone who had bought expensive breeding pairs of emus found that there was no demand for their chicks. Not only could they not sell chicks for even close to what they had paid for the parents but they could not send them to slaughter either and sell the meat. Locally, a few privately-owned slaughter houses did a few emus and ostriches, just to see what it was like. They soon discovered that the returns did not justify the danger or the expense of building a special plucking room.

A regional ratite breeding co-operative tried to get the members to fund a slaughterhouse dedicated to ratites. This venture soon ran aground on the shoals of various USDA regulations and a sudden disinclination of the part of members to throw more good money after bad.

It was right around this time that I acquired four pairs of emus. A friend and I drove down to Salisbury, North Carolina, for the sole purpose of buying and bringing home a flock of young adult birds. The price was very attractive, ranging from $50 to $100 each. As we sat in our truck deciding how to apportion the birds out to the folks at home the seller, anxious of losing the sale, further reduced the price! We should have seen that big red flag on the play and left before a single bird was loaded. Alas, we were blinded by the image of finally getting some emus at an affordable price, loaded the birds and wrote the check.

I should mention here that I had always wanted a pet emu. They are engaging birds, reminiscent of dinosaurs in their way of going. They are curious, friendly, and have the most wonderful huge brown eyes and long lashes. They even make interesting noises, especially the females, who "drum" to the males.

I never expected to make much money on them, just wanted them around for their exotic appeal and for the occasional chicks that could be put in the freezer. I never expected that they would eat my pastures down to a nubbin, drive the wild Canada geese away, gobble up all the guinea keets, chase the cats, and harasses the sheep, lambs, and horses to the point that they would not approach if an emu were in the vicinity. And they were always in the vicinity!

I gave those birds every chance to breed and produce eggs and chicks. Thinking that there were 4 cocks and four hens, I felt this was not an unreasonable expectation. Then I discovered that there were six hens and two hen-pecked cocks. This was not looking good. After three years of feeding these progressively more aggressive birds and tolerating their treatment of my other stock and pets I finally came to the conclusion that it was time to cut my losses.

Accordingly, the next fine day, Kathy Dillon and I proceeded to shoot each one of them and butcher out the prime slabs of meat. As soon as the sheep realized what was going on, they and the horses retreated to a safe distance and watched; applauding as each emu bit the dust.

Kathy and I both experimented with eating the emu meat, as steaks or stir-fry, in stew, and made into jerky. The steaks and stir-fry were tough and uninteresting and the stew smelled like cooking lizards. Only the jerky was considered a success; but if you put enough garlic, barbecue sauce, and spices on cardboard it will taste good too! Nearly all of the meat eventually found its way into pet food concoctions for her dogs and my cats.

I still like emus, singly, as pets only. Will I ever let another one on the property? I doubt it, unless Bill thinks he want one. My emu experiment did not cost me much money, just a lot of aggravation. I wish I could say the same for others who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. My final words on the subject? Beware the Alpaca craze; it has "emu" painted all over it!

© 2004, Pamela Matlack Klein


Combatting Global Warming, One Cow at a Time
by Mark Berryman, reprinted from: Franklin County Citizen

The threat of global warming is a serious matter for some people. But then again so is prickly heat, which could be a serious side effect of global warming.

For those who may have been living in an igloo for the last few years, scientists and eco-fanatics alike, mostly the eco-fanatics, say the reason your igloo may be melting is because the earth is getting warmer.

I think it could be because the igloo was built in Sandy Cross, Georgia, which to my surprise didn't beat El Paso, Texas out for the title of sweatiest city in America. Nothing against Sandy Cross, but it is in Georgia. Georgia was in an area once known as the bible belt, but since has changed it s identity to the humidity sweatband.

Explaining global warming is very technical and full of scientific terms like atmospheric greenhouse gases and significant regional variations, but to put it in layman's terms, it means that Earth may be turning into an Easy-Bake Oven. Now I realize that we have had huge blizzards and record snowfalls in the last couple of years, but scientists at the Institute for Proving Ridiculous Theories can't be wrong. If the scientific world says it's getting warmer, then by golly, it's getting warmer. Let's not forget those eco-fanatics. They would never protest over something senseless like the extinction of chiggers, would they?

In a movie about global warming titled Day After Tomorrow, the United States pretty much turns into a frozen TV dinner. Hold the Ozone Phone you say. I thought global warming made things warmer. Well, that is only partially true.

According to the eggheads at the institute, after it gets warmer, the arctic climate begins creeping southward for the sole purpose of terrorizing Minnesotans attempting to escape the frozen tundra of their homeland. After moving to the south, the Minnesotans have now decided it's their job to tell Southerners all of the things they are doing wrong. I don't really think we need the advice, eh.

OK, we all agree that global warming is a bad thing, especially if it brings Minnesotans to Georgia. The question is, what can we do about it?

Until now, big ol' gas guzzling, smog creating, fossil fuel depleting SUVs were given the primary blame. As it turns out, scientists have uncovered a cause which is 20 times more harmful to the ozone layer than autos. The chief culprit, it turns out, is burping. Not human burping, but cattle and sheep burping, which contains methane gas. Now imagine entire herds of burping livestock sending clouds of noxious methane gas into the atmosphere. The result could be catastrophic.

Scientist have even measured the amount of methane gas released by a cow or sheep when it burps. While the average sheep produces 7kg of methane gas a year, a cow produces 114kg. I am not sure how much methane that is exactly, but it can be summed up in one term. A lot.

Have no fear. Andre-Denis Wright, a molecular biologist at Australia's CSIRO Institute is waging the war on global warming. Wright has developed a serum which will offer some relief to the problem. The serum which Wright invented reduces methane gas by alleviating excessive burping in sheep and cows. Yes, soon there may be Bovine Bean-O.

I don't know about you, but I am not ready to have my world burst into a blazing ball of flame because Bessie didn't take a Tums. I salute Wright for stepping to the plate and working to end this horrible nightmare, one cow at a time.

We will not stop until the final Brahma belch has wafted into the atmosphere and Mother Earth has returned to the ice age.

Mark Berryman is a reporter/humor columnist for the Franklin County Citizen, a once weekly newspaper in northeast Georgia. His inspiration comes from current events, odd news stories and life in general. When greeted by readers of his column, the most common greeting is, "Aren't you the guy who writes all that crazy stuff?"


What is a Redneck? - A question posed to Willy Eugene (Bubba's brother), Bubba, and Preacher on the Front Porch
© 2004 Gary L. Benton

Mule was on the front porch of Willy's house, comfortable in an old rocking chair when an idea hit him. He was there with Willy, Bubba, and Preacher. Mule often did what he called "stimulatin' a conversation." He would keep a conversation going by saying things that he knew would lead to arguments. It was all done in fun as far as he was concerned.

He leaned forward and picked up his glass of ice tea. He looked over at Willy. Willy was an honest man, though not very well educated he did have some very strong beliefs. Now, most of his thoughts were about as original as a fence post. He based his views on his feelings and not sound logic. He always had very strong opinions, even about things he knew absolutely nothing about. Mule had had a lot of fun with Willy, just by asking him simple questions.

Mule turned and looked at Bubba. Bubba, well, he was Bubba. He was well educated, but he did not show it. He had graduated from college after the Vietnam War. He had spent his time in the service and used the G.I. Bill to pay for his learning. He even owned a successful auto repair shop and over all was doing pretty well. Nonetheless, he still talked like, acted like, and lived like, a real redneck. That may have been because he was a redneck. His opinions were written in concrete and no amount of fact would ever change them. He once had said, "I know my mind. Don't corn-fuse me with the facts."

As Mule leaned way back in the chair and sipped a drink from his ice tea, he looked over at Preacher. Everyone called him Preacher, but he did not have any formal religious training. He knew the "Good Book" very well, but only from self-study. While well versed, he didn't even have an official position in the local church. He attended each church each Sunday and was always involved with church activities, but that was as far as it went. Mule waited until Willy took a mouthful of chewing tobacco before he asked his question. A question he had been playing with the last hour or so.

"Fellers? What is a redneck? I mean, we don't see ourselves as such do we? Or, are we too dumb to see ourselves as we really are?"

"A redneck is a man born with many emotions. A man filled with desire to be all he can be in life. A man who runs a fishin' line all night and sips a little shine on Sat'night with his huntin' buddies." Bubba said with a very serious look on his face.

"Bubba, didn't you borrow that 'all you can be' line from the Army?" Mule asked without a grin.

"Of course I did. I was in the Army fer a spell. Did I ever tell you about the time in Vee-it-Nam when I was wounded by a piece of shrap'nails?"

"Oh for goodness sake Bubba! Don't y'all start with the war stories. We was all in the service and your stories are best saved to share with all them fellers at the VFW." Preacher said with an angry tone to his voice. Mule was surprised because Preacher was usually a very mild man.

"Well, I hain't got no war stories. I spent the war in Spain. In the Navy actually. Sippin' red wine and eating good food. Enjoyed all three years there." Willy stated with a big grin on his face. He leaned over the railing a let loose a long stream of brown tobacco juice, just missing the old hound sitting in the dirt.

"Well, Mule shore has some. And, they are gooden's too. He spent near twenty-seven years in the mil'tary. Didn't ya Mule?" Bubba turned to look at Mule with look of awe and not just a little respect on his face.

"Yep, I seen some thangs. But, them days is behind me too. I feel like it was a different life then than it is now. Anyhoo, I got us a serious question that y'all didn't answer."

"You mean that 'what is a redneck?' question?" Willy asked, as a little tobacco juice ran down his chin. He used the back of his whole right arm to wipe it off.

"Shore. Them city folks thank we're dumb. Others thank we are animals. Some even thank we eat little kids, or some such nonsense." Mule made the statement knowing he would get a lot of feedback in a short amount of time.

"Blaaaaaa!...What to them city people know? They eat canned food, buy plastic wrapped meats, and if they pass gas everybody for a city block knows it." Bubba was off and running.

"Heck," Said Willy, "Them Yankees that even eats grits eats 'em with a spoon!"

Leaning forward, Bubba said, "Way I sees it, God made rednecks his special people. We gots us a feel for nature ya see. We hunt, grow our own foods, butcher our own meat, live free, and most im'po'ant, we are a culture all unto our own. We are southerners by the grace of God. I just happen to be a redneck by choice."

"Nope. I disagree with ya on that one Bubba. We hain't a whole lot different than other folks. We are born, we live, then we die. All that matters is how we live." It was the Preacher that spoke as he lighted his old brown briar pipe. He took a couple puffs to get it started well before he continued. We were all waiting for him to speak when he exhaled and said, "See it is all in God's plans. We hain't got no right to question who or what we are. We uns is just us uns. We be us. And, what will be, will be."

"Well now Preacher. I hain't getting into no foo-los-o-fee discussion with you, cause you'd just win. You know, with you being the man you are. I am just makin' a statement 'bout how lucky we are." Willy spoke with the utmost respect to Preacher.

"Way I sees it," started Bubba, "is we are born rednecks. Just like some is born Asians or Europeans. We have a language, culture and life style that is unique to us alone. You is either born a redneck or ya ain't. You cain't learn to be one of us and even if you did, you would never be fully accepted with total trust."

"Well said, Bubba." Willy was warming up. "And, once a redneck, always a redneck. Way I sees it is, you cain't join us like we was a club or somethin'. You can learn our ways, but that don't mean you will ever be accepted as one of us. Not total like anyways. And on the other hand, ya can be born one of us, leave for sixty years, come back and still be one of us."

"Yep. Remember that schoolteacher back in the sixties that lived here for 'bout five years? What was his name?" Mule asked, knowing the man's name very well. He asked the question just to stir the pot a little.

"Snodgrass. He was a egg suckin' dawg if there ever was one." Willy interjected quickly.

"Now, why do you say that Willy Eugene?" The Preacher asked, like Mule he knew the answer already.

"Comes down heah, talkin' like a Yankee, a-wearing them three piece suits and actin' the Lord and Master with us-uns. Oh, he learned to speak a passel full of redneckese, but he never did learn how to be one. That man couldn't even dip snuff."

"You're just hot 'cause he tried to marry up with Thelma Jo before you got hold of her." Preacher said with a faint smile.

"Now that hain't so! I wasn't never worried about him and Thelma Jo. She married me anyways, now didn't she?"

"Well, the man did try to learn our language. Well, didn't he?" Mule asked, adding more fuel to the already hot fire of the discussion.

"You call how he butchered the southern tongue learning our language? Whaaa, he was a humdinger that polecat was. More interested in polishing his belt buckle slow dancin' with the ladies, he was." Bubba added his two cents to the already hot conversation.

"He didn't unnerstand half as much as he acted like he did. He asked me once if I wanted to go to the bar and have a beer with him. Y'all know I don't drink none, so I told him, this dawg don't hunt. The fool just looked at me and walked off mumbling something about not wanting to hunt, but to have a beer. He didn't speak reg'lar English, I guess." Preacher seemed awed by his statement. Mule felt the man was surprised that the teacher had no idea what he had meant. Preacher had actually been dumbfounded.

"I was there that night too." Willy interjected with a grin. "When he looked at me, I just zipped up my coat and said, 'whatever makes your frog hop.' Then, the fool just walked off. I never did get my free beer from him."

"Guess our language is just too compleecated fer some folks. See, Yankees is always in a hurry. They don't take time to smell the manure pile or nothin. I seed one of them yes'day at the gas station a-drivin' one of them fancy STD's or whatever. He pulls up and first words outta his mouth was, 'where's the road to Vida.' No, howdy, how are ya, or nothin'. No manners, that one. I wonner if his momma knows he growed up like that?"

"When I was in the Army, I heard one Yankee say it takes a southerner all mornin' to say good mornin' to someone."

"Well, we may talk slow and have our own language, but like I said, you are one of us or you cain't never be. Just cause some folks don't thank we talk right, it don't make us less caring or stupid. It just don't make no never mind at all." Willy said with a low voice.

Mule leaned back in his rocker once more and asked, "What about our culture when we date? Are we gentlemen with the ladies, or what?" His mind slowly drifted off to the coming nights coon hunt and he hardly heard the fresh conversation going on around him. He knew the conversation that was going on now would last for many more hours. It was a conversation that he had started.


Fear no Seafood
By Locke Milholland

I have eaten some strange foods in my lifetime. A lot of them at the fair, emu burgers, deep fried Twinkies, salsa flavored drink. Not even the ride that resembles a giant paint mixer caused me to throw them up.

I have eaten strange foods because I had no other options. Absolutely no other options. Casseroles that require advanced math to calculate the bean ratios, a quiche, even a vegetarian pizza. Not even sticking my finger down my throat could cause me to throw them up.

Feats of eating are something I have been practicing all my life, sometimes with less success than others. My mom still tells stories about holding me upside down to shake out of my throat the handfuls of potato chips I had crammed in my mouth. Twenty eight years later and I have never heard of shaking a kid upside down as a first aid remedy, but I digress.

My purpose is to conquer my fears. My purpose is to prove to myself that I am higher up on the food chain than the emu, that no matter how many beans are placed into a casserole I can mentally block out the horrible taste for the sake of nourishment, that potatoes are no match for the likes of me.

In the eating arena, I have conquered man vs. nature, man vs. self, and man vs. Mr. Potato Head. While the potato chips were a bit on the metaphorical side of conquering the battle with Mr. Potato head. It was the best that could be done under the circumstances, for my mom had shaken enough plastic ears and mustaches out of my throat.

As an adult, I have learned that Mr. Potato head is not as scary as I thought he was when I was two years old. I have moved on to conquering other fears. On the menu of the Chinese restaurant I found my opportunity to face one.

It is that animal at the beach that scares us all. It makes us overly cautious in the water. It makes us wary from the sand. This is a creature to which Steven Spielberg has yet to adequately portray in film the voracity of its kind.

The Jellyfish!

Not even the seemingly mandatory fat man in the Speedo can cause an avoidance of towel placement like the jellyfish does. They turn a nighttime stroll along the beach into a training exercise in mine field navigation. If it weren't for the array of 4year olds I always send ahead, my injuries would be horrifying.

Here they are, the menace of the beach, appearing on the Dim Sum menu. My day had come. I had the chance to look my enemy in the eye, or globular mass, and show to the world, that I am more powerful than the jellyfish.

The waiter brought it out. I picked up the chopsticks. After several attempts of getting the jellyfish to my mouth, put down the chopsticks. I asked the waiter to bring a fork and then in one successful swoop, shoved a mass of jellyfish in my mouth.

Every new food is described as chicken. Jellyfish is no chicken, Unless that chicken has been raised off of sautéed rubber bands, for that is what the jellyfish tastes like. None-the-less, the aenenome was mine.

I can now visit the beach in peace. Nay for the fat man in the Speedo, I can place my towel anywhere I choose. When I come across the jellyfish. I am able to do as I always wished. Stick on that jellyfish, a plastic moustache, a couple of plastic eyes, the big plastic nose, or at least direct the four year olds to do so.


The Critters Coexist
By: Bev Sobkowich

I live three miles west of town and about two miles east of a beautiful wilderness area. We have our annual return of our red headed woodpecker. We would miss that tap- tap if he did not return every year. Our yard is part of the annual bird count which just has me busting my buttons.

The critter I could gladly have move away are those hole digging moles. When you live in the country moles are determined to mess the lawn up with humps of soil all over our lovely lawns. Our big dog, Major, has brought a few of the baby moles in as presents for us. I have watched my husband look at a mound, see movement and jump on the mound with all his might. Bye bye rubber footed mole.

The other visitors are mice and they can really make house cleaning a never ending job until you get rid of them. I will never know how this happened but please, never again! I went to put a nightie in my lingerie drawer and saw a mouse laying on my nighties. I screamed all the way down to the living room. My husband and son were laughing their heads off. Then my dear hubby, Frank, disposed of it. Well, I must pull everything out of that drawer for sure.

I went back and headed back to the living room screaming again, this time at the top of my lungs. The men were beside themselves by now and took great joy in the moment. Powerful Bev beside herself over a tiny critter. When I went back to pull the lingerie out of the drawer so I could wash it, little pink wiggly things were falling off my nighties. That mouse had the audacity to give birth in my dresser!

Now, if you want to enjoy our critters and varmints, just pull up a chair and watch rabbits hopping around the plants and robins pulling those long earthworms out of the lawn. I had to buy a bird book so that I will be able to identify the various birds beyond the scope of my knowledge of them. One day, we had to stop the truck as mama duck and her babies crossed our road. They were adorable.

One of our neighbours is a retired architect. He built a pool with a waterfall and a fountain. Then he stocked the pool with coy and goldfish. In no time at all blue herons were on our roof and across the road in huge maples as they had discovered a place to feed. Now his lovely pool is covered with netting.

Raccoons abound in our neck of the woods and an occasional possum goes for a walk down our road. I love living in the country and except for a couple of critters we co-exist very well. No mice around right now and the moles have done their digging so now it is time to enjoy our home and yard. I enjoy being a country girl. I wake up to the sound of birds singing and go to sleep to the croaking of frogs. Coyotes howl from across the river or sometimes closer and we can hear the sound of the river splashing over the sand and rocks. This is the way to live surrounded by the joy of nature.


What's Buggin' You?
By Julie Watson Smith

As I sit on my back porch sipping lemonade, I realize that summer in Southern California is in full swing. Yes, I realize many of you may think we have perpetual summer weather, but there are a few trademark occurrences that mark this change in season. The hillside is covered with the brilliantly-colored yellow and orange poppies, the neighborhoods are buzzing with kids playing outside after dinner and, last but not least, there's the arrival of the rolie polie bug. You know the one. Looks like a miniature armadillo. Lots of legs. Creepy. Crawly. And downright annoying.

Each year, these bugs arrive in droves to the popular vacation spot of (drum roll, please) my backyard. I counted 88 of these little boogers in the past five minutes alone. The bugs are in my house, on my couch and spinning in my dryer. Normally, I would sweep them into grass or stomp them with my new tennies, but this year is different. Why? I have a three-year-old son. And, yes, boys are truly made of snips, snails and puppy dog tails. No longer does my son want to play with trucks, cars and other things that go bump, boom and crash. He would much rather talk or play hide and seek with his new "friends". And, wouldn't you know it; he found them the best hiding place besides his pant's pockets. Where? Well, let's just say that next Easter, we'll be making sure there are no more little plastic eggs from the previous year.

His little entomological fascination has now affected my two-year-old daughter, who also appears to have a high dosage of snail and puppy dog tail in her blood. She has completely eschewed her loyal dolls, Lucy and Gigi, to spend the afternoon kissing a rolie polie she affectionately has named Bob. I must say that I am completely buggin' out. What's a mom to do?

I reached my breaking point the other night as I was cleaning up the back yard. I could no longer resist the urge to stomp on these little pests. And stomp I did. Oh Lord, it felt good. At least until the next morning, when my son looked as crushed as all those little bugs. "Mommy, why did you hurt my friends? You know that kicking and hitting is wrong. You need to go into a time out!" he firmly ordered. Damn! He chose that particular moment to show me that he really has been paying attention during all those teachable moments. So into my time out I went to think about my actions.

After my brief time out where I counted yet another 37 rolie polies, I had a heart-to-heart with the "Boss Bug" at my son's urging. I must say this is difficult to do when you don't know which end is which. Plus bugs don't exactly stay still. But I forged ahead; I told "The Boss" that I would quit stomping on his family if they would stay out of my house, off my couch and away from dryer. Strangely, I felt a sense of peace restored after my conversation. Yep, vacation season for the bugs is almost over. But wait; what is that in the distance? Oh no, is that a caravan of ants traveling toward my side yard?

Copyright reserved by Julie Watson Smith.

Julie Watson Smith, full-time mommy and writer, lives with her three very young, very loud children and husband. She has been featured on several parenting and humor websites as well as The Parent Connection and The Fountain newspaper. She is the founder of Mommy Mentors, a mama-to-mama discussion and support group in Southern California. She has spoken with and shared her unique blend of experience to hundreds of mothers. You can find out more about Julie at


Do kids a favor: Ditch SUV DVDs
By Curt Brandao

Childless Digital Slobs rarely dispense parenting advice (since our ability to nurture living things peaks with shower curtain fungus). But when we do force real parents to endure our blather, we often compare our pets to their kids, unblinkingly thinking it will pump up our credentials. Sure, we'd laugh at us, too, if we could see ourselves. That said, let's see if I can get through this without blinking:

DVD players in the backs of SUVs are bad for kids. You should resist this road trip Ritalin for your offspring unless you want them to have the same impulse control as my first dog.

As Veruca "I want it now, Daddy" Salt demonstrated to Willy Wonka, immediacy is a drug, and kiddie detox involves getting all those "Are we there yets" out of our system until our spirit is broken like a horse.

Assuming we sweat it out, we grow up to help our kids push through that same wall. We shouldn't let them mainline "Beauty and the Beast" in progressive scan at 65 mph as we look away. Children who sigh early and often in the back seat watching telephone poles blur into each other will be better prepared for the tedium of life.

Now for my dog story, and no, I haven't blinked yet.

Sausage, a dachshund of course (c'mon, I was 10, give me a break), didn't have a DVD player, so he punched his family's buttons instead. He was as much trouble on the road as any toddler who ever toddled.

On our first family road trip with Sausage, we stopped at Burger King and left him in the car (note to Humane Society: It was night and 60 degrees and 1980, a simpler time).

Alone and bored and upset about missing "Knots Landing," Sausage found the car horn and made our Pontiac Grand Prix scream like an opera singer. As diners held their ears in disbelief, he leaned his wiener-dog torso on the wheel with the posture of a conquering Caesar, confidently still, with only his head slowly turning to watch my brother gallop back to answer his clarion call.

Thus for two days of driving and dining, Sausage's new road rule was, "If you honk it, they will come." The bipeds in our family took to eating in shifts, with one of us always baby-sitting Sausage for the good of society, to protect the fragile peace we've all come to expect from any exit-ramp Shoneys.

Like many other mammals that stretch out on couches, Sausage had no ability to delay gratification, and as a nation we're not faring much better than him. Far from delaying it, in the Digital Age we multitask it. We play Game Boys on the beach, expand holes in beer cans to make them guzzle-friendly, and spread peanut butter and jelly with a single stroke thanks to Smuckers' combo jars.

In the 1960s, Walter Mischel did a groundbreaking study, called the "marshmallow test." He left 4-year-olds in a room with a marshmallow and told them they could either eat it, or wait 20 minutes and get one more. Those who held out for two averaged 210 points higher on their SATs a decade or so later. And, one would think, those who made it into Harvard Law School got yet a third marshmallow; graduated with honors, a fourth marshmallow; and so on.

So, in my expert opinion, the best way to raise your kids is to forget the highway DVD player and strap them in for a cross-country trip with only a marshmallow on a stick, just out of reach, to amuse them. Oh, and disconnect your SUV's car horn.

OK, now I blinked.

Advance in the 21st century with as little effort as possible.


"V" Day
By: S. D. Youngren Copyright © 2004

I have committed a terrible act of betrayal.

At least that's what my cat told me, though, being a cat, she can get, shall we say, just a touch melodramatic. I mean, it was just a checkup and flea treatment. But it got me pitiful looks and "I am trying so hard to forgive you" rubs for two days.

She is such a wimp at the vet's. Every time I go I see other cats sitting calmly on their owner's laps. But our cat?

My husband and I were planning to take her there together, as we did the other two times. Each of the three of us had a special task: My husband drove, I sat in the back next to the pet carrier and tried to be comforting, and the cat yowled the whole way. The whole way. Oh, yes, my husband also said, "Cat, I'm trying to drive," and "Stop that, you ridiculous animal," and things of that nature. But on this occasion my husband was informed, as we were getting dressed, that his boss urgently wanted to see him about something. In the morning. During the appointment.

"I'll take her myself," I said.

He was not enthusiastic, to say the least, at the idea of our little '87 subcompact yowling down the famously busy Santa Monica Boulevard with his wife at the wheel. But he didn't have much choice. He wished me luck and left.

I had a strategy. Our apartment is on the second floor, but it's a straight shot down to the driveway. I got the car ready and pulled it up to the bottom of the stairs, thinking to stuff the cat into her carrier and take her straight out. I closed off the doors to the office and the bedroom so as to seal off her best hiding places. She didn't suspect a thing--until she saw me messing with the carrier, which she'd been in twice before in her life. I saw a calico streak go by, and turned to see her standing numbly in front of the bedroom door. She tried to open it with her paw, but to no avail. Her best hidey-hole--the space in the back corner of the top shelf of the closet, behind the stack of blankets--gone. Before I could get to my feet, she'd turned and fled. I won't say much about the ensuing chase, except that it's a good thing I had decided to try to leave early. I got her in the carrier, she tried unsuccessfully to turn and squeeze right back out again under my arm, I closed the door, and the yowling began.

The most unloved, broken-hearted cat in the world.

Also about the loudest.

I got her down the stairs, still yowling, wrestled her into the back seat of the car and closed the door. As I walked around the car to the driver's side I thought, "That's funny--I wouldn't think this car was so soundproofed as all that." But when I opened the door, no yowls came out. She was quiet. She was huddled unhappily in the corner of her carrier, but she was quiet. In fact, as we got underway, I supplied all the vocalizations myself. Whenever I'm taking a pet anywhere, I always talk the whole time. This is partly meant to be soothing in a general way, and partly meant as reassurance to the animal that I'm right there and haven't forgotten her. So I told her what a good cat she was, and how the vet wasn't going to do anything too awful to her, and what does that guy in the next lane think he's doing? One bit of dialogue I remember especially well. "He's honking at us!" I complained, as soothingly as I could. "Just because I managed not to rear-end somebody! Since when is that a crime?" I don't know why this still surprises me; in Los Angeles, you can get honked at for sitting at an intersection waiting for a red light to turn green. I am not making that up.

But the traffic was excellent, considering, and we arrived two minutes before our appointment. We didn't have to wait long, either, and the only actual Event was an act of extreme bravery and heroism on my part, when a huge, vicious, slavering, and well-fanged cat-eating monster tried to get into the pet carrier and I, at great risk to myself, interposed my body. Okay, the dog in question stood about 12-14 inches at the shoulders and clearly intended to be friendly, but try for just a moment to see this from my cat's point of view. And it's possible that, had his owner not pulled him away, he might have slobbered on my shins.

After which the exam itself was almost anticlimactic, with the exception of course of that nasty little episode involving the thermometer. But the cat was very very good, cooperating about as much as one can when one is cowering the whole time, and did not make any serious attempts to run away. I do not know whether she objected to the vet's squeezing flea poison onto the back of her head; it looked rather gooey and cold to me. But we were free to go, and after another in-car soliloquy from me ("If you're ever reincarnated, and you come back as a human, and you learn to drive, don't do what that guy just did"), we were home.

And so there was nothing left but the reestablishment of trust, the dying of fleas, and the drying of fur. Within a few hours she'd traded in that old Wet Look (which I described in an email as "SO this morning!") for a cute little spiky 'do. By now, of course, we're friends again and she's returned to her original Natural Look. And she's scratching herself less, which of course is good. But even better, from her point of view: The pet carrier is back in storage.

S. D. Youngren is the author of the fiction Web site "Rowena's Page,", and of the paperback Rowena Gets a Life, which is comprised of stories from the site. She was born and raised in San Jose, California, back when there were more orchards than computers, and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Mark, and their oddly-named cat, Donna.


Bringing home the bunny, raising a little hare
By: Lori E. Switaj Copyright © 2004

Anyone who has small children will understand that parents do not just raise their children - parents also raise the many small animals that accompany their children on their journey toward adulthood.

The list of potential pets is endless. Dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, snakes, snails, fish and ferrets are all viable little-people companions.

There is a general rule of thumb when dealing with pets and children: A pet's life expectancy is in direct proportion to its ability to withstand the pressure of two little hands being smacked down upon it.

This explains the brief life spans of "pocket pets" such as gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs. Sometimes they are on the losing end of a favorite household game frequently played out in homes all across the country: Catch the Animal that Got Out of Its Cage Again.

We played that game many times in our house when the children were small. Sometimes it was the almost impossible-to-catch skittish gerbils. Sometimes it was hamsters, which seemed to multiply at a frightening rate.

They'd dash across the living room floor followed by 60 pounds of Boy closing in on them, hands splayed, yelling "I've got it!" (Yeah, they'd get it alright.)

The guinea pig, being a bit heartier, lasted a couple of licks longer, meeting its demise when we erroneously fed it broccoli and it experienced a bad reaction (gas). Despite a trip to the vet and a couple of doses of Gas-X, the pig rolled over and turned hard.

In our home, we liked to upgrade the pets with the children's age progressions. As we ascended the Pet Ladder of Purposefulness from Pointless (fish, gerbils) to Semi-Pointless (rabbit, guinea pig) to Interactive (cat, dog) we found we could get the higher-runged animals to act in a way that was more desirable for everyone in the household.

Which is why I was greatly relieved when we finally got past the semi-pointless stage of rabbit and moved on to dog. Dog is good. Dog sits, plays and is generally obedient in an I'm-acting-like-I-was-going-to-get-off-the-couch-anyway manner.

I was seriously entertaining the thought of getting a back-up dog to keep the main one company, but the plan was thwarted when the husband, in a pre-emptive strike, authorized the acquisition of another darn rabbit instead.

So we took a step back down the ladder.

Getting the bunny was tougher than I thought it would be. There were two sweet rabbits at the pet store, a brother and his sister. We kept going back and forth trying to decide which animal was the better choice. We finally decided on the male, which looked a little calmer. In the end I knew it really didn't matter which one we chose, we were just splitting hares.

The Girl named the bunny "Joey" and placed it in the outdoor cage where Rabbit 1999-2000 once lived. I don't recall if the former bunny had a name. I don't even recall where it came from, just that it did a fine job of sitting in its cage when it wasn't chewing up our wires. Then one day - poof - the bunny was gone. We don't know if it was stolen from the cage or was simply winning the outdoor version of Catch the Animal that Got Loose Again.

I just know that one day it was hare and the next day it was gone.

I wish Rabbit 2003 the best of luck. The Girl just loves it. Even The Boy, who is probably getting to old for such cuddly critters, seems to like it. However, when this one moves on the Great Hutch in the sky, we'll be done with rabbits forever, because cute and cuddly aside, I have it up to hare with small pets.

The kids will beg and plead for one more shot at a bunny. I'll turn a deaf ear and ignore every plea they utter. I'll look them in the eye while dismantling the hutch and tell them, "Sorry, kids, I can't understand a word you're saying - I've finally become hard of haring."


The Good Wife's Horse Tale
By: Beth Boswell Jacks Copyright © 2004

Recently, while mounted on a gentle horse named Eli, in the company of hubby G-Man and two others, I journeyed through the silk of new fallen snow in the Smoky Mountains. Granted, I not so much rode the horse as was conveyed, but the fact remains: I did it.

We were at Blackberry Farm in the Smokies for a short winter vacation, and my horseman hubby G-Man was determined we were going on a trail ride. His motto is akin to that of Daniel Boone: “All you need for happiness is a good horse and a good wife.”

He’s got both, by darn.

Shivering in 30 degree temperature, this good wife waddled to the stables wrapped in swaddling clothes--long johns, turtleneck, wool sweater, thick socks, jeans, boots and gloves, G-Man’s extra poofy jacket, and hat with black fur all around my face.

Our guide, a cute cowboy named Jim who once trained elephants (How appropriate, I thought, as I adjusted a couple of my layers) met us at the door. The horses, already saddled, waited in an orderly line, nose to rump, inside the barn.

Truly, I’m one who can differentiate the front end of a horse from the rear, but that’s about it. Tough John Wayne once said that “courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyways.” Unfortunately, scared to death didn’t near ‘bout describe my equestrian misgivings.

“Come on in,” said Jim. “Get out of the cold.”

Good idea, I thought. Maybe we can heat up some cocoa and tell stories. No sense subjecting the horses to this snowy ordeal. No sense at all.

But who’s got sense? Especially not Jim and G-Man and the other guy who showed up to ride with us. (He was trying to conquer his fear, he said, since he’d recently been bucked by a steed in San Antonio. He proudly showed me the 48 stitches in his right jaw.) Say what?

“Beth,” said Jim, “Eli there is your horse.”

Eli turned to look at my black furred head. He snorted.

“Don’t mind him,” Jim said, “he’s looking at your hat. He thinks you’re a bear.”

I just said OH. But my mind was racing faster than my conversational skills. How could I abort this folly? I could feign a headache--that usually worked. Or I could claim I was nauseated, which I was truly close to being. Or I could stand my ground and say to G-Man, “Look, sweets. Over there’s your good horse. You don’t need a good wife at the moment. I’m outta here.”

But I didn’t. And the snow continued to fall--a heavenly, paradisal vision.

We mounted (OK, OK, I had to use steps) and headed out. We had just lost sight of the barn when we came to a roaring creek. No exaggeration. Icy cold and roaring.

“Follow me,” Jim hollered. Shutting my eyes, I grabbed the horn thingy on the saddle. Into the creek we went, into the turbulent waters. Eli slipped and slid on the rocks, but we made it across, and I felt exhilaration only a survivor, or perhaps a conqueror, could feel.

Our ride continued into the mountains, some trails slanting at a precarious 50 degrees or worse. We slogged upward and then down again through muddy clay and slippery leaves. Fallen tree branches, drifts of snow, stones and roots hindered our progress. The horses stumbled but never fell.

“Hey,” Jim called to me as Eli paused to nibble tender green fir shoots, “look waaay down there at those rhododendron bushes, wouldja? They’ll bloom like crazy long ‘bout July.”

I peeped. The drop-off was dizzying.

“Man,” sighed G-Man, astride his feistier horse, Dancer, “the mountains are gorgeous, aren’t they?”

I looked at him through my fogged glasses, wiped my nose, and murmured, “Yeah, gorgeous.” And I meant it.

Two hours later, with aching boo-tay and frozen toes, I slid off Eli in the shelter of the barn. Silently I thanked God for delivering me safe and sound, for helping me make a dent in my paralyzing, cautious nature, and for giving me an opportunity to ride this patient horse, viewing spectacular mountain vistas cloaked in lacy blankets of snow.

It’s been said one can get in a car and see what man has made
. . . or one can get on a horse and see what God has made.

This good wife can vouch for that.


Beth Boswell Jacks, editor of and author of two books, is a weekly columnist for a number of Southern newspapers. Her verse is published frequently in children's magazines and her thank you note writing is especially exceptional. (Three paragraphs, nine sentences, black ink and no excuses.)


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