Sunday, January 30, 2011

Surviving a Stalker Part II: Seeking Justice

The whispery voice was back in my life, and he was making it hell.

The calls went from just coming on weekends, to nearly every night around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. Both my young daughter and I were beginning to lose sleep, only finding relief by occasionally staying over at the homes of friends and family. At the time, caller id, (or many other commonly used harrassment detourants, like "star 69" or call blocking) was not available in my area. A life long diary keeper, I bought a notebook specifically for journalling the incidents. I logged the date, time (or times), duration, and content of each and every call.

The whispery voice would share sexual fantasies, tell me what he wanted to do to me, telling me that he liked my "long, sexy legs," and my strawberry blonde hair. At times, he would start begging me not to hang up. I could hear a t.v. or radio in the back ground and before long, there were other sounds as well. The thought of what he was doing while he was talking to me, turned my stomach. In an attempt to turn off, whatever I had turned on, I began reading passages from the Bible, to no avail.

Simply hanging up and leaving the phone off the hook did not work. Most times, the call would not disconnect, and he'd still be there. I tried leaving it off the hook under a pillow, but he would just call my name, over and over again. If the call did disconnect, he would just call right back before I could get it off the hook. It was like being in a movie about a hostage situation, where the police have a one way line, and whenever anyone inside picks up the phone, they find themselves on the phone with the cops. Only my line was linked to the devil.

I had been promoted to supervisor and the CSR team or the answering service would need to be able to reach me, so leaving my phone disconnected was no longer an option. And I know what you are thinking..."Why didn't you just change your phone number?" I had considered the fact that I had four phone numbers since the harrasment began roughly ten years earlier and the behaviour had continued. This person was obviously resourceful and I realized it would only buy me a few months peace before it started again. I had tried to solicit the help of our two-cans-and a-string telephone company, but they dragged their feet about helping me bring an end to the situation. The fact of the matter was, that harrassing communications is a CRIME and I refused to allow this CRIMINAL to further inconvienence MY LIFE by changing my phone number again.

NO! It was time to face this demon head on, not take "no" for an answer from the authorities sworn to protect me, and get my life back.

My husband, then new boyfriend, was protective and supportive, every bit my knight in shining armor. He recorded a new message for my answering machine, so it would be a male voice. He would stay late, often resorting to sleeping on our couch, all to answer the phone when the calls would begin. This temporarily discouraged the whispery voice. When the calls began again, they coincided with nights my boyfriend was not at the house.

But the call that was the straw breaking the camel's back, came mere moments after my boyfriend left for home. In a rush for work that morning, I had swept my hair back into a ponytail. Rather than making myself late styling my hair in its usual coiffure, I had taken this shortcut for the first time in a month. The whispery voice informed me that he "did not like" when I wore my hair "that way." I knew instantly that I was being watched.

I threw clothes for my daughter and me into a bag, scooped up my sleeping daughter, and dashed off to my boyfriend's home. I hysterically explained what had happened. We decided that I must contact the authorities and implore the county sherrif to help me.

I took a vacation day and went to the sherrif's department the very next day. I showed my journal, and explained that I was certain that I was being watched. It was very hard to remain composed while I spoke with the deputy, but as I described the telephone company's reluctance to act, I broke down. The compassionate deputy brought me a soda and assured me that he could help me.

I gave him the name and number of the representative I had spoken with at the telephone company. In a twenty minute telephone conversation, he arranged for a phone trap to be put on my number that would be effective at 5pm that afternoon. Relieved that I was finally getting help, I went to work to finish out my day. It took two nights before I got the call I was waiting for.

I contacted the sherrif's department from work and was told that I would have to come in and sign the warrant, so I asked to leave early. In the meantime the sheriff's department contacted the telephone company with the date, time and duration of the call from the infomation I provided and had pinpointed the source. There was just one problem: it was a cell phone, and there, the trail went cold again. I suddenly felt faint and I immediatly collapsed in a sobbing heap on the conference room table.

In the beginning, cell phones were not as popular as they are now. Very few people had them, so one would think they'd be easy to trace. But early on, when a call was made from a cell phone to a land line, the trail ended at the cell phone company. They had access to the records beyond that, thus leading early owners to believe their calls were untraceable. This was somewhat, but not entirely true. Though we had the number, their first loyalty was to their clients, and they were reluctant to share who he was. It could be obtained, but it took a little leg work. There were only three cell phone carriers at that time. Lucky for me, I knew someone who worked for two of them. I gave their business cards to the deputy and he called. Both friends proved very knowledgable about the new technology and knew enough to know that the number was not the prefix assigned to either of their companies. It belonged to the third. Both suggested that the deputy contact the security department of that carrier and explain the situation and he would be given the information we needed. We were nearing 5:00 p.m. so the answer would have to wait until the next day. I would have to come back to sign the warrant after the deputy got the name, because I couldn't sign a blank warrant.

I hardly slept, but when the whispering voice called that night, I just laughed at him, cackling uncontrollably until he hung up. He did not call back.

I had long suspected a former co-worker from my high school job, a boy named Joe Jones,* from the neighboring town. He had the same low, whispery voice. Not only would have have known my schedule then, he would have had the means and opportunity to leave the gifts, as well as access to the rolodex where the store manager kept everyone's telephone number. The icing on the cake was that he was a friend of my ex-husband, and would have had our home number, even after we both resigned from the store.

Around lunch the next day, the deputy called me to ask me if I knew Dan Smith* I did actually know several Smith's, our town was full of Smith's but that name was not familiar to me. I hung up the phone and called my boyfriend. When I told him the name, he instantly knew who I was talking about, as did my little brother. Both had made it their mission to see that I was protected, and both had offered to go and "have a word" with this person. I assured them both that the sherrif's department could handle it. I left early to sign the warrant and wait for Dan Smith to be picked up by the sherrif.

Dan Smith was arrested at his parent's home on a Friday. If the deputies had waited a mere 15 minutes later, would have spent that entire weekend as a guest of the county. But his parents immediately went to bond him out, and caught the magistrate 15 minutes before close of business. I don't know if he tried to call me that weekend. I chose not to be home.

Pardon this rabbit trail, but you must know a little bit history to understand this next information. My small hometown of Leeds sits on the South side of I-20, while our closest neighboring school of Moody is just a short bridge hop North. For many years I-20 served as the boundary, an unofficial school zone divider. Students on the South side of I=20 went to Leeds, students on the North side went to Moody. If you look at Leeds on a map, you will see that it's city limits actually cover three counties, Jefferson, Shelby, and St. Clair counties. The school is in Jefferson, but the St. Clair County line runs a mere two blocks behind the school property and well over a mile from the unwritten boundary. Sometime during my time in high school, St. Clair County had begun to rally the state board of education to force students living within the Leeds city limits but over the St. Clair County line to begin attending Moody. Many held out as long as they could, several paid tuition to stay, and some finally relented and crossed the bridge every day to go to Moody. Dan Smith was among those students.

I was determined to find out who this person was. I wanted to see what he looked like so I could watch out for him. Right now, I had no idea who he was. He could walk up to me and shoot me and I'd never see it coming. I had learned from my boyfriend and my brother that Dan had left to complete his Junior and Senior years at Moody. Having spent his Freshman and Sophomore years at Leeds meant he would be in my Junior and Senior yearbooks. Unfortunately, his photo was "not available" in either. My only other recourse was to see if any of my friends who had "jumped the bridge" might have a photo in theirs. One such friend, coincidentally in the same class with Dan, lived across the street from my grandparents. I knew she would have the yearbooks I needed.

Because I didn't know who might be related to him, I did not tell her who I was looking for when I asked to see her yearbooks. I was extremely disappointed when he was not pictured in either of those yearbooks either. Not even a graduation photo. Apparently part of being a lurker is avoiding being photographed.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" she asked. I fought back tears as I handed her the two books. "No, he's not in here." She sat down next to me on the couch. "What's going on?" her face concerned. I said, "Oh, there's this guy who's been calling me. It's been going on for months. They told me his name, but I don't know him. I'm told he got transferred to Moody during all that county line crap. I just want to see who he is." She sat straight up and said "Is his name Dan Smith?!" Right in that moment, you could have knocked me over with a feather. "You don't even have to answer. I can tell by your face that it is. There is someone I want you to meet."

Next Surviving a Stalker Part III: My Day in Court

*names have been changed to protect the innocent, namely me

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Surviving a Stalker Part I : A Little History

A friend recently posted on Facebook that she is being following by a woman from her husband's past. She mentioned several incidents that had occured, which all sounded like scenes from "Single White Female."

I have a unique perspective on the subject: I am a stalking survivor.

Though I suspect it started while I was in high school, I can not say for certain. The voice and the circumstances surrounding the incidents that began way back then are too similar for it not to be the same person. Many stalkers pick their victims early and maintain a sick obsession for many years. While most victims know their harrasser, I only learned the identity of my stalker when he was finally caught.

I know now that his name is Dan.* He was two years behind me in school. I would later learn that we were often at the same events, parties, outings etc... He was no one of consequence: not the sports hero, or the cute guy, class clown, or award winning brainiac. What he was, however, was a lurker.

A lurker is one of those people who kind of lurks around in the background. Someone who wasn't identified with any particular group (the jocks, the band, the geeks, or the stoners), but yet found a way to be included in everyone's goings on. They weren't really friends with anyone, but are always at the parties. Usually they didn't come with anyone,and likewise left alone. They are in the background of all the pictures, being quiet,lurking in the half-light, and observing. They want to be part of the action, but lack the personality to pull it off. You might not know their name, but occasional when faced with them somewhere like the mall , you might recognize their face from school. I bet you remember one from your own high school as I describe this. Having once been a wall flower myself, I did not allow people at parties to languish on the sidelines. Ironically, Dan slipped through, completely unnoticed, while I, on the other hand, apparently captured his attention.

I had been plagued on and off throughout high school by a series of obscene phone calls,beginning aroud my Junior or Senior year. A late bloomer, I had begun to blossom and was being noticed. I was also a majorette, which had elevated me into a status hovering just between "band geek" and "jock/cheerleader." And I had just ended my first, steady relationship.

The calls would come at all hours, the same whispery voice, saying the most vile, unspeakable things. And he knew things, like what I had worn that day, or where I had been. There had also been a series of unexplained gifts, that no one ever admitted to sending. Flowers, candy, stuffed animals, all left for me on my car at work. I had attributed them to an exboyfriend, trying to win back my attention, but he never claimed credit.

Before long, the calls escalated, as I recieved my own phone line as a gift. Canned air horns, rape whistles, and the threat of prosecution did little to deter this pervert, who would call every night for a month, then suddenly stop calling for two. It was not long before the obscenities were joined by threats on my life. That I should be dead, that the world would be a better place without me. He had a knack for calling the moment I would get home, regardless of the time. Only then did it dawn on me that I could be being watched.

Terrified, my mother and I sought the help of the police. I signed an affidavit that I would proceed with prosecution. While the phone trap proved successful in theory, our mom-and-pop local telephone company could not obtain permission from the larger carrier to proceed toward prosecution, and the matter was dropped. Despite my desperate pleas, the local athorities dismissed my concerns. One misguided individual went as far to say "You are a pretty girl. You should be flattered." I do not know if the possibility of being caught was too close for comfort, but it was enough to stop the calls for about a year.

After marrying my first husband, and moving into a local apartment complex, the whispery voice started calling again. Apparently changing not only my phone number but also my last name was no match for this person. The calls increased in frequency and came at all hours of the day during my six weeks maternity leave,when I was at home all day by myself. My husband's position at a local country club, led to overtime opportunities when the club would host night time events. This left me alone at home with our newborn at night. Disturbingly, the calls would come on nights when I was alone, sometimes hours on end, stopping only as my husband came in. I was certain our home was being watched.

A few months after our daughter was born, my grandparents offered to let us move into a house they owned in a neighboring town. It was also closer to my inlaws, so we happily picked up and moved. Several years went by before the calls started again, the same whispery voice, taunting me.

By this time, our marriage was disenigrating. When I told my husband about these disturbing calls, he accused me of infidelity. The fact that the calls only came at times when he was not at home, and his daughter could also be in danger, did not seem to concern him at all. One night, in a fit of panic and rage, I told the whispery voice that I would soon be meeting them in court. The calls stopped, but so did my marriage. My daughter and I lived with my grandparents as I tried to piece some sort of normal life back together. It was the better part of a year before I felt safe enough to move back into the house, alone.

A new relationship kept me either out of the house, or on the phone for the next year. I used a pager so that those who needed me could still reach me and I carried several dollars in quarters for returning calls. The whispery voice drifted back into my past and I gave it very little thought. As all rebound relationships eventually do, my new relationship ended and I was devastated. Aside from caring for my little girl, I did little more than eat, sleep, and go to work. Because my job was to answer the phone, the last thing I wanted was to talk on the phone when I got home. I unplugged it most times, relying on my pager for making contact.

The week before Christmas, the late night calls started again. They were nothing at first. Almost like someone had knocked the phone off the hook and I had been the last number dialed. No one said anything, but I could hear a radio or tv somewhere in the back ground. On average there was one or two a week, just enough to be coincidence, not enough for concern.

I met the man who is now my husband the following January. We had much in common, including a shared childhood, and would talk until the wee hours of the morning. Then we'd race to see who would be the first to call and wake the other for the day, sometimes picking up the phone to dial and finding the other already on the line. We had laughed about how surprisingly well we functioned on so little sleep. We took great delight in being the last voice either heard as they drifted off to sleep and the first when we woke in the morning. Anyone who called either house would definately get a busy signal.

Then one night, after a spirited game of "no, you hang up first," the phone rang the moment I set it back on the base. I quickly picked it up and cooed "I have to go to sleep, so you can wake me up again." The voice that responded was not that of my sweet, new boyfriend.

The whispery voice was back again.

(Next: Surviving a Stalker Part II: Seeking Justice)

*names have been changed to protect the innocent, namely me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"There she is..."

Last night was the anual Miss America Pageant.

This is probably the first Miss America I've gotten to watch for quite a while. Up until a few years ago, Miss America was held in September and always seemed to be the same weekend as our anual sales meeting. Then, for whatever reason, (probably the move to Las Vegas) the pageant was moved to January. It has hopped from network to network, but was finally back on ABC.

I was bummed that Miss Alabama, Ashely Davis, did not make the finals, despite being a fitness and quality of life winner. But the thing that blew me away was Miss Arkansas's talent routine. Ventriloquist Alyse Eady and her two "friends" Rosa and Rocky sang "I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." It didn't blow me away because it was good, or even unique. What blew me away was that I'd seen something similar before...only better.

I've always loved the Miss America pageant, but never more than September 198o. That was the year that Paige Phillips of my tiny hometown of Leeds, Alabama, rocked the stage. It did not matter to me that she was eventually named first runner up to Susan Powell. She was and always will be, Miss America in my eyes.

In tiny Leeds, Alabama, nearly everyone knows (or is related) to everyone else. Paige's parents owned a mom-and-pop shoe store called Phillips' Shoes. The carried the best shoes, all the latest styles and if they didn't have what you were looking for, they could get it. And the Phillips' knew my biggest secret; at the tender age of ten years old, I wore a ladies size ten shoe.

My feet have always been a big problem (pun intended), nearly from day one. Because I began walking, exclusively on my toes, my first shoes were weighted in the heels to keep my heels on the floor. I owe a kickin' set of calf muscles and ability to wear heels for hours on end to this misguided attempt to make me stay flat footed. This was followed by several years when my right foot was a full shoe size larger than my left. I spent a lot of time stuffing tissue in the toes of shoes and if I wanted something like a sandal, it just had to flop around. I was somewhat relieved when my left foot started catching up, until we realized that my right foot, not to be outdone, started growing uncontrollably too. It was then that I moved from Buster Browns to the ladies department.

These days, it is easier to find larger ladies sizes, but once upon a time, they were much harder to find. Unlike most women, I really, really hate shoes. For me, they represent the unattainable.

I have never been able to swap shoes with my friends or borrow shoes from my mother (or lend shoes to my girls) or buy the cutest, latest style. I am limited to wearing either very cheap shoes or very expensive shoes, and sometimes, men's shoes. I spent all of my youth in mens sneakers (I learned early that a ladies' size 10 is a men's size 8) and would have happily done so forever.

Now it is important to know that someone with feet as large as mine face a few obstacles that people with normal feet do not. My feet don't fit well on pedals or stair steps or many other things meant for feet. It can cause one to be rather clumsy. A particularly embarassing memory from sixth grade was tripping up the stairs (yes, I said up) and loosing one of my bargain store tennis shoes with the big "10" stamped in the heel. It rolled to the feet of one of the popular girls, a junior high cheerleader, who promptly picked it up and loudly announced to everyone that I was wearing a size 10 shoe. She called me "Sasquatch" the rest of the year.

Shopping for dress shoes was the most humiliating process ever. I'd pick out cute shoes, like the ones my friends were wearing, only to be told that either the store didn't have them in my size or [gulp], they weren't made in my size. Or worse, I'd get "the look."

Because of my aforementioned dual shoe size dilema,my mother would always insist that my feet be measured. The clerk would put my foot in the Brannock device ( which always tickled) make all the adjustments (sometimes pushing on my foot several times to insure it was all the way to the back of the plate) and then I'd get "the look." The look of shock and disbelief that someone so thin and gangly would have such a great,big, foot. Imagine, if you will, someone is measuring your foot, and your big toe raises up to them and says "Wazzzup?!" and then they look up at you. Yeah, that's "the look." Needless to say I'd rather eat dirt than shop for shoes.

This all changed when we met the Phillips.

The store smelled like new leather, a scent really high on my list of favorites. Eddie Phillips never blinked an eye when he measured my feet. He never gasped or said anything, except "well, let's see what we have." This greatly improved my shoe shopping experience. The best part of this new shoe shopping experience was, if the Phillips didn't have it in my size, they could almost always order it.

Paige was in high school when I first met her. She was a cheerleader, which to me was the ultimate height of beauty and popularity. Unlike many of the beautiful, popular girls I'd encountered, she was not snotty or condescending to me. Despite knowing my "big secret" she never belittled me. She was always bubbly and sweet and always spoke kindly to me. I was painfully shy then (if you can believe it), but the fact that this cheerleader chose to speak to me did more for my confidence than all the self-help books in the world.

Another very interesting fact about Paige was that she was a ventriloquist, a skill developed from a very young age. She is amazing and much like popular comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, gives each of her "friends" their own, distinctive voice. She also has a beautiful singing voice all her own.

I remember the Sunday after she won Miss Alabama like it was yesterday. My brother had gone out to get the paper and there she was. It was amazing. Nothing ever happened to anyone from Leeds. The article said she had recieved a standing ovation for her talent routine, a medley of Southern standards, sung with not one, but two "friends," Dinkle and Darlene.

I don't know if other little towns celebrate quite like Leeds does, but we pull out all the stops. I saved every article and picture I saw in both the Birmingham News and Leeds News. August 15th was declared "Paige Phillips Day, " complete with luncheons, meet and greets, a parade and a variety show. I had begged my parents to take me to the variety show, which included the talents of her fellow Alabama top five finalists, a sneak peek at her wardrobe, a proclamation from city hall and a drawing for a trip to Atlantic City. This was all followed by an autograph signing and photo op, that my parents would not let me stay for. I remember being very, very upset about that.

A few weeks later, with the beginning of school looming near, it was time again to shop for shoes. While waiting for her dad to find my shoe selections in the back, Paige swept in to drop something off to her parents. I was awestruck. I told her that my parents had made me leave the show before I could get a picture with her or an autograph. "Well, we can fix that" she had said, opening a folder she was carrying. Off the top of a stack of 8x10 black and white glossies, she plucked the photo (above) , quickly signing and handing it to me. I told her that I knew she would win, she thanked me and hugged me and then she was off. This prized possesion spent many years in a frame in my room, before being permently preserved in it's own scrapbook.

The night of Miss America, my dad had grilled steaks, my mother had made her bacon horsdevors and we had little shrimp cocktails while we watched. It was so exciting to see someone that I knew, on t.v. Back in those days, you saw the top ten in all phases of competition. There was none of this reality show schtick that has become so popular. Paige, once again, recieved an unprecedented standing ovation for her talent routine. How a girl singing opera on a telephone beat that, I'll never know.

This event became a turning point in my own life. I started fixing my hair, rather than just letting it do what it did. I started wearing make up, more girly clothes and I became interested in pageants. Five years later, my senior year, I competed in the Miss Leeds pageant. Not seriously, just for some practice. Paige was the emcee.

Flash forward another 15 years. I marry my darling hubby. Paige, after years away, moves back home to Leeds. I learn that Darling Hubby's grandpa is the older brother of none other than my shoe man, thus making me a cousin by marriage. (and in Alabama, that counts!)

Paige is just as beautiful and amazing today as she was when I first met her. She is a wife, mother, woman of God: every bit the role model as she was as Miss Alabama.

Now she is more than just MY Miss America. Now she is my friend.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

Welcome to Day Five of my first vacation of 2011.

So far I've done nothing. Read that? N O T H I N G

Oh I had grand ideas when I first asked for this week; clean out the garage, weed thru my wardrobe and donate the unflattering clothes, read a book, get a little rest and just relax.

But instead, I got a snowtastrophy.

My children, both teenagers, were snowed in with me, and with only one computer and only one DVD player, entertainment was limited.

I know what you are thinking. Everything on the list could have been accomplished while snowed in. Not really. Let's look at these items one by one.

Cleaning out the garage
The garage (still) contains boxes of things we moved from our old house (eleven years ago) as well as things we've thrown in there (for the past eleven years.) In order to effectively clean out the garage, I must be able to move them out into the driveway, which until today, was a sheet of ice. It would also be helpful if I could take the extra trash away and donate the unused items, neither of which I could do because of the road conditions.

Weed Thru My Wardrobe
Okay, I've been putting this off for a really long time. I really try not to worry about fashion or name brands or trends. I stick to classics so I won't have to buy new clothes all the time. I go through cycles where I don't buy anything new for myself followed by short spurts when I am suddenly compelled to buy something new. I try to look on them as an investment. There are a variety of sizes, kind of my like a security blanket, so that I have them should I need them. I KNOW there are things in my wardrobe that need to go for one reason or another, but I just can't part with them, for one reason or another. From the size 8 jeans I was wearing when I met Darling Hubby, to the size 18 pants suit that I got so many compliments in, they all represent a significant investment I had made in myself. I haven't moved one thread of clothing. Not even to do laundry.

Read a Book
This should have been fairly easy to do, but my early morning trip to Books-A-Million on Saturday was unfruitful. And that I am indecisive. I carried several books around the store and thumbed through them, but never quite hit on one that I'd want to be snowed in with. I eventually had to abandon that mission, because our monthly classmate dinner was that evening. I settled on a bag full of magazines instead, but today, day five, I've read them all.

Get a little Rest and Relax
Well, I guess if anything was accomplished I did rest. I've slept late everyday. Okay, I've slept late for me everyday. Considering I have to get up at 4:30 to shower every day for work, anything past that is oversleeping for me. And I've napped every day after lunch (except today when I watched "Marley and Me," big mistake). My sleep schedule is so messed up at this point that it will take me a week to get back to normal.

I understand that it's been a little rough at the office during our snowtastrophy. Thankfully, I didn't have to be there for that. The thought of just trying to drive over to the office made my heart race. I was at the end of my rope, coming off a holiday month where customer demand was increased and staffing was low due to vacation and illness. Coupled with fighting off some illnesses myself, I was pulled in several directions and wasn't really high on anyone's list of favorite people. I was so mentally exhausted every day, that I'd come home each evening and collapse in a heap. What's odd is, in the nearly twenty years I've worked there, every vacation I've taken, I've worried about work, but not this time. Part of this vacation was to get away from work. I did that.

But I traded in one set of stresses for another. The stress of plans and schedules and expectaions. Every day someone has asked me what I had planned to do for the day and every day I've answered that I haven't really thought about it. But I had thought about it, sorta like I'm thinking about it now. I had so many good plans, but never really executed any of them, and for that I feel kinda guilty.

I guess I need to look at the bright side, I haven't failed to do anything, I've succeeded at doing nothing!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snowed In and Stir Crazy

Welcome to the 13th day of the new year, 2011, and the 4th day of our latest snowtastrophy.

I apologize (I know, I'm not supposed to do that) for not having written since Christmas Eve, but things have been a little tense for me. Thankfully, I asked for this week, January 10-14 , as my first week of vacation for the new year. Little did I know that when I asked, a heinous snow and ice storm was brewing somewhere in the cosmos, waiting to dump several inches of snow all over my vacation.

I did know last Friday when I left work, that there was a possibility we would have severe winter weather on Monday. I was relieved that I would be off because the prospect of driving on ice terrifies me to the point of paralysis. I was also grateful that my teens would be home, because I never really get to spend time with them any more.

Sunday night we all watched with anticipation as the light sleet turned to fluffy snow and blanketed our yard and street. Monday morning we all woke to a scene worthy of a Currier and Ives print. About 10:00 a.m, the first of many four wheel drive vehicles started down our street, and before long there was a well worn path. I could also see cars inching down the highway. We tromped around in the yard and took some pictures. We threw a snow ball or two.

I have often complained of my husband's poor driving skills. In our eleven year marriage he has totalled two of my cars and is dangerously close to having the state maximum for speeding tickets. Our insurance agent loves him. When I die, I know that my husband will driving.

But one positive thing that I CAN say about darling hubby's driving skills is that he knows how to drive on snow and ice. And he does that very well. THANK YOU UNITED STATES ARMY! He says the very first thing he did when he arrived on his post at Fort Greely, Alaska, was to be escorted to the ice pad for driving instruction. That instruction has paid off in spades here in Alabama, where it rarely snows or ices, but when it does, no one seems to know how to drive.

So I was not worried at all when he announced that he was driving Monday afternoon to a friends to watch the National Championship game. Knowing I would not be able to watch my beloved Auburn Tigers due to my "jinx," I agreed to let him make the 30 minute drive, which only took him 45 minutes to make safely. The kids and I enjoyed chili I had labored over all day, in the crockpot.

After we proved that you don't bring a Duck to a Tiger fight ( Auburn 22, Oregon 19..War Eagle!) Tigger and I ran out onto the front porch and yelled into the night sky, where it was attempting to snow again. I was too excited to sleep and stayed up way, way past my bedtime.

Tuesday, after all that had melted Monday refroze overnight, I was relieved again when school was cancelled. I was also glad that darling hubby had vacation along with me, because we both slept until 11:00 a.m. We watched movies all day. We ate the left over chili. The roads were starting to get dry that afternoon, and I was certain I would spend my Wednesday in peace and quiet.

Unfortunately, the local board of education had other plans.

Wednesday was spent listening to Kit-Kat chatter away with friends, while listening to music, a movie and playing on the internet. Tigger stayed in his room, coming out only long enough to argue with his sister. I was able to make it, slowly, to the grocery store to buy rice. I made red beans and rice in the crock pot. I texted my best friend who had it worse than me, she was stuck atop a hill that was still covered in a nice sheet of ice. She texted that she was so bored she was cleaning her house. Thankfully, I am not that bored yet, but it does give me an option, should I go completely over the edge and decide to tackle and sew someone's mouth shut. ; )

Because the temperature never got above 25 degrees, about 5:00 to 5:30-ish, the local board decided to completely ruin my vacation by canceling school for today as well. Rumor has it they may close tomorrow also. Well why the hell not?

I spent the rest of the evening, practically enraged. The local city school systems had reopened yesterday. I wrote and rewrote a strongly worded email to the powers that be, berating them for this decision that will surely push the end of school back into June. I plotted ways to get Moody out of the county school system. I considered moving back to Leeds. I knew I had gone stir crazy when the thought of home schooling the kids crossed my mind. I had to let it go, take a deep breath, and relax. Luckily, I had still not reached the point I felt I needed to clean.

Today, I woke to find I had just as much snow in my yard as I did on Tuesday, now under a shiny crust of ice. I vowed to make the best of the day, despite nothing, but the National Championship game, going my way on my very first week of vacation. I saw "Julie and Julia" on the t.v. guide. I really love that movie! Can you believe that there was a time that Julia Childs could not cook? She took it up as a hobby and then became one of the most well reknowned cooks in the world! Julie Powell started with just a little blog about cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and later became a very successful author. She has now written two books.

But the part that I love the most is that whenever I watch it, I get the itch to write again.

So here I am,writing the first blog of my fifth year of blogging, ignoring my son who pops his head out of his room from his video game, to ask if I am done with the computer. Kit-Kat was invited to stay with a friend, so today it is relatively quiet. I may even venture out to wander around Walmart.

I am reminded that my mantra this year is "good to great." It worked for Auburn, so why can't it work for me too?

I need to focus on the positives of this situation. I was spared the horrific chore of trying to drive to work every day this week. I was able to spend time with my children and my husband. I was able to lay back and relax, or more truthfully, lay around and do nothing.

Maybe this wasn't such a bad vacation after all.