Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus Don't Go Round and Round

"So," Jack asked me as I walked back in the door this morning, "do the wheels on the bus go round and round?"

He asks me that all the time. I don't always frown at him and sourly reply, "No."

Tina had just called. Her tone dripped with smarm as she called to ask me, "Did your bus break down?" "I don't know what you're talking about," I replied haughtily. She laughed, not fooled a bit. She knows very well that the other two routes are nowhere near mine.

Almost back into town, the bus suddenly quit as I was driving down the road. No punkity punkity, Just....gone. Things started beeping and flashing. Come on! This is only my second day!!!

The superintendent was only a few seconds away by radio, and he had already arrived with another bus by the time I had my reflective triangles deployed. (In case you don't know, that's really, really fast.) And poof, the kids were to school in plenty of time, despite the unforeseen circumstance.

It turned out to be out of gas. Now, let me be very clear. I checked everything. I double and triple checked some things, most especially including the fuel gauge. And my gauge read all the way full. I would testify to it in court, except...

When the superintendent returned the bus to me, filled and topped off, he pointed out that the "E" and "F" are in the opposite position from what most vehicles have. Once I looked at it, I suddenly wasn't quite as sure. With the needle right across the "E", it could very well have looked like an "F". The Malfunctioning Gauge Theory, tempting as it is, was probably incorrect. Ok, more than probably.

I now have my school-issued gas card. As Jack says, "Mr. H says don't be afraid to use it."


Noni Beth

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Me and My Little Bus

Friday I got my bus, my very own bus.

The day before, the school superintendent had shown me the bus that would be mine, and arranged with me to pick it up the next morning after football practice. Even though I worked most of last week, emotionally it just didn't count since that was a regular vehicle, not a BUS!

Excitement caught me up as I walked out to the parking lot and climbed inside. The sights and smells of all the bus-ness wrapped me in their warmth. It was time to make it mine.

The previous driver was much taller than me; I could barely reach the pedals. So I scooted the seat way forward, and checked the mirrors. No surprise - many of them were off kilter. No problemo. I knew exactly what to do.

It took several hops in and out of the bus before I had everything readjusted to my satisfaction. There! Time to go. I picked up the key out of the cupholder, stuck it in the ignition, and started the bus. Its gentle humming made me smile.

Just before putting it in gear, I glanced down to the console, where the previous driver had left antibacterial wipes. Wipes? That didn't make any sense; MY bus didn't have any wipes. Mouth agape, I looked out the right-hand window to where my bus sat, cold and still.

Um, sorry, John.

I re-readjusted all the mirrors the best I could, and scooted the seat back. Way back. I turned off the bus and put the key back in the cupholder. As quietly as possible, hoping no one was watching from any of the office windows, I crept humbly around to the spot where my bus, my actual bus, waited for me.

Then my bus and I skulked home.

Ready for tomorrow,
Noni Beth

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hi Ho, Hi Ho! Eventually to Work We Go

Can you hear me now?

August 14   

Jack woke me up right after I dozed off. “Do you think we’re slanted?” No, of course I didn’t. I yawned and went back to sleep.

The view from our tent
By morning I had changed my opinion. I don’t care how flat that ground looked when we put the tent there, it tipped at some point. Undoubtedly a supervolcano lurks down there somewhere. I saw all about them on a documentary; how they make bulges, lumps, and slants in the earth below the unsuspecting humans.

Jack woke up in pretty good shape, not creaking and groaning like before. For Some Odd Reason. He quickly got ready and took our guests back to start working, while I was still trying to stand upright. Our kids stayed to help me break camp.

Step 1: Eat Breakfast
How to break camp: 1) Eat breakfast. Take your time, after all one member of your household is already serving the community on behalf of the entire family.

Step 2: Take a Hike
2) Go for a hike. Not a long one, but you can’t leave Makoshika without at least looking over the edge into the canyon. And maybe dipping over the edge. Just a little.

 3) Pack and load everything. 4) Police the camp for trash. Some of it is yours, but not the cigarette butts. You can feel very good about yourself, since in a way that’s community outreach, too.

Step 3B: Balance on the Edge of the Fire Pit and Watch Everyone Work

Step 5: Go for Another Hike

5) Go for another hike. You’ve earned it.

Step 5B: Locate Makoshika Cap Rock

No More Pictures - Please!

Don’t worry. We worked very hard, once we got there. We helped paint a house purple, the lower sections, anyway, then moved on. For some reason no one wanted to take Devon up on his fervent offer to paint from the tops of the ladders. Clancy stayed in the car and rested, since following Devon around for two hours in the forest gave him nearly as much exercise as he’s had in his whole life.

From there we visited Jack for just a minute, where he was helping sheetrock someone’s kitchen wall. After that, we went to the bridge project.

When we heard they were painting the footpath railing of a bridge, we pictured this dainty little thing spanning some miniscule creek in the city. Instead, it was the bridge across the Yellowstone River. They had less than 200 feet to go, and were about to run out of paint when Jack got done and came to take us home.
Part of the bridge - even with a wide-angle lens I couldn't get it all at once.

After a trip to the Triceratops Park (aka Hollecker Lake) to let our hot, stinky little workers go swimming, we made the trip home. Right now we’re parked at the post office to get the mail, less than half a mile from electricity, running water, and our very own bed. And with a mattress, Jack and I each have the same amount of padding. No sharing possible.

No more camping, at last.

Can you hear me NOW?

A Happy Reunion

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Getting Farther Away from It All

August 11

Jack and I awoke first. When Devon awoke a few minutes later, he began talking in all caps, even though he was whispering. “HEY MOM, DAD, GUESS WHAT??? WHEN I WAS ASLEEP I THOUGHT I WAS IN MY OWN BED, AND THEN I WOKE UP AND THERE WERE TREES OVER MY HEAD AND WE WERE CAMPING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” That boy needs to get out more.

One of the main reasons we had chosen a campground so close to the freeway was my special music for church. I didn’t want to show up to sing for the out-of-town guest speaker without being clean and sparkly.

After showering, ahhhhhh, I put on my beautiful flowered dress Tina had just gotten me, and the little blue jacket with the embroidered flowers. Something seemed a little different than the other time I wore it, but I didn’t give it much thought till walking back to the campsite. It just seemed………..drafty.

Maybe I hadn’t pulled it all the way down. I tugged and wiggled to make sure it was on right, but it didn’t help. Finally I asked Tina, “Do you think this shrank when I washed it?”

The shrill cackling was less than reassuring. As she saw the elegant knee-high slits, now all the way up to… well, never mind…her mirth increased. “You looked like a Flowered Jungle Woman, hahahahahaha!”

It’s very unkind to laugh at someone and mock them without offering any solution, so as soon as she could catch her breath, Tina offered to let me use her extra outfit. She is the soul of consideration. The only price I had to pay was graciously overlooking the snickers, chortles, and guffaws that flowed my way. For hours.

On the bright side, I got to be clean, sparkly, AND clothed when I sang.

In the afternoon, everyone else went to Makoshika to hike. I just drove back and forth between the hiking trail and Glendive. Not that I am bitter.

Upon arriving back at our campsite, something so bizarre happened that I can hardly still believe it. Part of our group, and several friends, a total of 8 people, were standing in our campsite, quietly talking. We had just gotten back, and were chatting for a few minutes before going our separate ways.

The proprietress rode up on her ATV and started yelling at us, literally yelling. We had parked our car in the wrong place, and our friends’ car wasn’t back in their spot yet. There were too many people in our campsite, and they needed to leave. We had spilled out of the confines of our allotted space.

When I apologized for inadvertently breaking the rules, asked what our allotted space was, and pointed out that, since there were no lines or boundary markers anywhere, that it was hard to tell, she became even more irate. At one point, our friend, a sweet, soft-spoken lady who is prayerfully considering a move to Glendive, asked her, “There are only 8 of us here, talking quietly. Are we not allowed to do that?”

The lady yelled at her, too. “You get out of here! Go back to your tent and STAY THERE!!!!!!”

I finally asked if she would just return our money so we could go somewhere else. She furiously refused. When Jack got back, we packed up and left, $22 poorer and with nothing to show for it but hurt feelings and ringing ears.

Tina, Laura, and our friends, all came with us to set up our new camp at Makoshika. We got to borrow Damon’s and Tiggy’s friends for the night, too, and they each set up their own tent in our remote, gargantuan space. Boundary lines were no question there. We couldn’t have taken up all the space to the next camping space if we had tried. And really, we did try.

Blessed fellowship, campfire, a mellow guitar, roasted marshmallows and smores, scorched veggie dogs,

one veggie dog all but incinerated

before its triumphant recovery

…the evening passed all too quickly.

The night before, most of the padding hadn’t been enough for the Princess and the Pea, so this time he got it all. After all, he’s much more delicate. And this time, we found ourselves lulled to sleep by the wind in the pines.

Camping, at last.

Getting Away from It All

August 12

For the last several weeks, the children have been eagerly counting down the minutes until The Great Camping Trip of 2011. The brilliance of the plan was that Friday and Sunday were to be devoted to community service in the town of Glendive, MT, and thus the children were actually looking forward to….work. It doesn’t happen often, so I reveled in their anticipation.

I rose early, with several hours of work still to do. We hoped to leave shortly before lunch, arriving down there in plenty of time to put in several hours of hard labor for the community outreach weekend. It really shouldn’t be a surprise by now. Things did not exactly go according to plan.

First Jack had to go to Grenora, ½ hour away. That was great—I wasn’t quite ready anyhow, and that would give me some cleaning time as a bonus. And sure enough, by the time he came back, I was pretty much ready. And Plan #2 was already shot down in flames.

Jack had just received a phone call from John John, and had to go do community outreach by himself. John John had gotten stuck in the mud over an hour from home, and needed to be pulled out. Even more cleaning time. I was perfectly content, but Tiggy—who had wanted to leave at 6 am—was in danger of rupturing something.

At long, long, long last, we drove away at 6 pm, loaded and ready. Well, except for one thing. We still had to retrieve Damon (Jack forgot him and had to turn around) from his friend’s house, about a 30-minute round trip off our route. When I got out of the car to photograph a barn, Jack decided to play one of his usual little stunts, and drove off just as I reached the car.

Most days I’m game for a little fun, so I ran extra dramatically to keep up. Since my camera still hung around my neck, there was even a photographic record for posterity. Eventually he let me back in the car, but not without several more false stops and starts.

Then we left. No, then we went to the grocery store. THEN we left. Yes, we really did.

So our first day of camping consisted of setting up our tent in the dark and collapsing, exhausted, into our sleeping bags. Jack, or the Princess and the Pea, as Tiggy and I called him, towered above me, since I gave him most of the padding. He’s much more delicate, after all. And as we drifted off, stars twinkled through the netting above our heads, and the sounds of heavy traffic filled our ears.

Camping, at last.

Compass in one shoe, magnets in the other. Why???

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

There's a Nupboard in My Cupboard

Even the most genteel lady has to, once in a great while, visit the small room with the porcelain shrine. She just won't admit it, and will scarcely believe that others might make similar visits, too. And once said genteel lady has had several children, she may even have to dash for said room with unseemly haste. Once you young ladies have children of your own, you will understand the full gravity of the situation.

Yesterday I was dashing, for no particular reason, you understand, when I happened to find myself in the bathroom. "Oh look," I noted as I flung myself toward the object of my fervent attention. "Devon left his little toy snake from Vacation Bible School in the tub. Someone might get scared, ha ha."

Just then, the toy snake made a dive for the drain of the tub, and I was the one who was scared, ha ha. Not scared enough to scream - growing up with my brother David had ground most screams out of me already.

There was Irving, the Mexican Red-legged Tarantula, so tame we let him walk all over us. He developed a strange psychological problem toward the end of his days, and started throwing his abdominal hairs all around with his hind legs. This normal defense mechanism was carried to excess, till he more closely resembled Telly Savalas than Liberace. 

There was The Dead Box, infamous home of scads of dermestid beetles. Located in the back 5, it was easy enough to avoid. An occasional whiff of decomposition and decay might occasionally waft by, but nothing worth screaming about.

The Dead Pit might not have been worth screaming over, but it was always good for a gag or two. A local farmer threw all his dead things down into a deep, waterlogged pit, from which David would joyously harvest them, chortling over all the money he would make selling their skulls to the science store. The twin lambs he once collected were so ripe I made him ride home standing in the open side door of the van, holding the plastic bag on top of the car so there would still be oxygen left in the passenger compartment.

Then there was the Tokay Gecko, one of the most aggressive reptiles that isn't a monitor lizard. One time it attacked me, sinking its teeth so firmly into my sweater that I finally had to clear the room and take the sweater off. Back went the lizard, sweater and all into its cage, where it eventually let go. Not even one scream.

The dead things in the freezer occasionally got me. Unwrapping some tasty-looking foil package to find a fish or snake might wring a squeak from me, or maybe even a small screech. What made it worse was, having been absolutely forbidden by Dad to keep dead things in the freezer, he had to camouflage his little disobediences to keep them safe. I paid the price.

The grand prize winner, the one that left every window in the house quivering, was the dead turtle. For whatever unknown reason, David had shoved it in the top compartment of the little half-size fridge, without any covering at all. When I opened the door a short time later, the reptile corpse leaped out of the fridge and hurled itself at my toes, or so it seemed at the time. In case you can't tell, yes, I am still bitter.

So it would take something more stupendous than a tiny snake in the tub to truly frighten me, though having it thrash around trying desperately to escape was a distraction from the job at hand. I yelled, hollered, and banged on the wall, but it was still a while before anyone answered.

Finally Tiggy opened the door to see what I wanted.

"Here," I said, already holding the frantic green animal out to her. "Let it go outside."

Tiggy froze. Her eyes bulged. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHGHHH!!!!!!!!!!" Apparently Tiggy was the one who was scared, ha ha.

After a moment she recovered herself. "Mom!" she protested calmly. "Don't do that!" And she took Greenracer out to freedom.

Later, she tried to tell Jack that she hadn't really screamed, but had only said chidingly, "Mom." Too bad for her there were witnesses. Everyone in the house was deaf, plus 78% of the residents of Westby reported hearing the tornado siren at 4:27 pm. 

The radio station may not have had any idea why the alarm went off, but Greenracer sure did. His long journey through the town's sewer system was over. 

Now checking all plumbing fixtures before use,
Noni Beth

PS Of COURSE there are no pictures. Don't be silly.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

It would be hard to say how my bus test could have gone any better. Maybe by remembering that the funny little part is the "steering box" rather than the "steering doohickey", but that's about it. Oh, and I don't think "brake thingamabob" is part of the manual, either.

The maneuvering was an unqualified triumph. Each of the three exercises  I did, backing the bus up in different patterns, was done perfectly and in one shot. The last one, called an alley dock, I had to back the bus up at a 90 degree angle to my starting position, and stop with the rear end within an 18" margin. I got it to where I thought I was pretty close, and hopped out for one of my allowed peeks. Just to make sure.

I met the instructor walking toward the front of the bus, already carrying most of the cones. "You got it," she beamed.

Then we were down to the drive test. The kind superintendent had already shown me where the main track ran through town, so I was ready. Determined not to crash or run over anything, I followed each of her directions. "Have you already been driving school bus for a while?" she finally asked. "You seem so comfortable."

"No, just a truck," I blushed modestly, grateful beyond words she hadn't seen me less than an hour before.

Back in May, I got to go for a short test drive in one of the short buses. At the end of 20 or 30 minutes, I was getting pretty comfortable with it, if I took my test right away. It didn't work like that, and to make matters more interesting, the bus they rented in Glasgow for my test, was a large school bus. With scads of bells and whistles the other bus didn't have, and almost all the gauges and switches mixed up. I had about an hour before the test to memorize the new placements and procedures.

Finally, the superintendent suggested, "Why don't you take the bus for a spin around the parking lot?" Then  he went back inside. 

On my own! I checked the gauges and switches, checked them again, put the bus in gear, carefully released the parking brake, and took off. It was great! The wind ruffled through my hair as I pulled forward. The wind ruffled my hair. Something was wrong.

GAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH the door!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Woops, just lost my passengers.

With a hasty glance around to make sure no one was watching, I snatched the door shut. 

Note to self: When taking test, make sure door is closed.

Since I passed the test in the big bus, painstakingly shutting the door even sometimes when I didn't have to, I now have my passenger bus endorsement, as well as school bus. That means I could even drive a Greyhound bus if I wanted. (Which I don't. Even though the blogs would be to die for.)

If there was a slight shrill edge to my laughter as I thanked the instructor for the compliment, I'm sure no one noticed but me. And just when I thought life couldn't get any better than passing the exam, the kind lady in the office took a new picture of me to replace the one from a few months ago where I resembled a golden retriever just sighting a duck. 

Two weeks from today I will be on duty, whether as a route driver or an alternate. Stay tuned for an update next week.

Keeping my doors shut,
Noni Beth