Saturday, October 22, 2016

Whirl-Wind World

I really intended to post another blog during the week, but, I've just now come down from the tornado. Sort of. Each and every day, as a teacher, I feel like I'm caught up in the twister, twirling around trying to get my feet under me so I can move in a determined direction. Yet, I'm continuously running into another deadline I've missed to turn in some newly created paperwork with a cryptic acronym. My co-worker laughing called this newest onslaught the LMNOP/XYZ things. There are PGPs and SLGs and NEPFs and PLGs...seriously, I'm not making it up.

So, Saturday came. Whew--right? Not really. I got up at 6:30 so I'd be first in line to the radiology clinic when they opened at 8:00 to get a chest X-ray for my doctor. However, the information on the website is a little sketchy because the clinic I went to doesn't do X-rays on Saturdays. So, I drove across town to the clinic that DOES do X-rays on Saturday. No problem, got right in--zip zap. All done. Drove home. Changed clothes.

Next, I went to church where we were having our Saturday rehearsal for the the children's program tomorrow. We practiced and practiced, and stood up and sat down, and adjusted the microphone, and helped little people pronounce words like "Corinthians" and "immortality" and fed them all pizza and juice boxes and sent them home with an admonition to come fifteen minutes early to church tomorrow. We swept, and emptied the trash, and shut off all the lights. Then I drove home and changed clothes again.

My next destination was the DMV. I had an appointment to get a new driver's license. Because my old one is somewhere in the Wetlands Park where I apparently lost it from my pocket on our field trip last Tuesday. Sigh. I always take my ID in my pocket, in case...of...I don't know. But this time, I apparently stuck my phone in that pocket and, when pulling out the phone once, I must have dislodged the driver's license. Sigh. And since I'm flying next weekend, and renting a car, I really, really, really need that piece of official ID. But, on the bright side (!) when you make an appointment with the DMV in Nevada, you are the winnah!! I was in and out of there in 17 minutes--fee paid, photo taken, official piece of paper in my wallet!

Then, I drove to the market and bought this week's groceries, took them home, put them away, and changed my clothes again!  This time, I went to a baptism for the dad of some of my Primary boys! What a special event that was! I was the organist, and I'm so glad I was there. It was just a wonderful occasion, and lots of family members were there to enjoy it with them.

Yes! Changed my clothes again, and rushed over to the pool supplies store before they closed to cash in my 20% off coupon for some pool cleaning chemicals, and stopped into another store to get a little gift for one of my very troubled Primary girls who I think will really be excited when I sit down tomorrow after church and show her how to embroider this pattern! She likes to sew, and so I decided I'd get her a little kit, and show her how to do it. She has family troubles, and her life is hard, right now.

So, now, I'm going to go in and make peach cobbler for supper, and then go to bed and think calm thoughts.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Another Story

I hope I didn't publish this one already....I realize that I wrote the elk one last year. But, here is one of the stories I wrote in my Writer's Notebooks while helping 4th graders learn to write:

It had rained all day. This was unfortunate, because Easter Sunday is a time for many to spend outside on egg hunts, or picnics in the park with family. We had been to church and now it was late afternoon, and the deluge was stopping. The solid gray sky ceiling was breaking up into big purple clouds. We knew a spectacular sunset awaited anyone who stood along the beach in San Diego that day.

We pulled up in the parking lot just as the golden orb pierced through the remains of the shredded storm clouds. Golden light poured over the ocean, and as the sun touched the horizon, a single shaft of light shot from the far edge of the ocean, sliding across the darkening water, through the tall pilings that held up the pier.The shimmering light traveled across the wet sand until it stopped at our feet.

We were stunned into silence at this display of nature's glory. All day, we had been surrounded by a curtain of dark rain, and dim light. But, now, as the last moments of Easter Sunday ebbed away, this glorious revelation of light seemed to encapsulate the entire message of the Holy Day--from darkness to light--for eternity.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

October 15th--Wyoming on My Mind

“Oh, deer! In the fall, bulls of this species – aka the wapiti – fight for harems that can number up to 60.”
This was a clue on Jeopardy last month. It was the $1000 clue, so I assume it was expected to be difficult. But, I was surprised when no contestant could give the answer. None of the three were from the west, so maybe that figured into it, too. Of course, this Wyoming girl knew immediately the correct response was “What is an elk?” 

Elk were a common feature of my childhood. Every year, October 15th was a school holiday. Why? It was the opening day of Elk Hunting Season. Seriously?? A school holiday for that?? Well, let me explain.

First, most people were going to go hunting for an elk, and the best day to go is opening day, because after that, the elk figure out that people are out in the woods looking for them, and they move up to the high ground.  

Second, going hunting wasn’t merely a hobby–it put food on the table. A grown bull elk can weigh over 700 pounds. When it was cut up, and put in the freezer, it constituted half of our family’s meat for the year. Elk meat is lower in fat than beef, and, as a child, I could tell no difference. I’m sure, as an adult, I’d know which was beef, and which was elk, but in my mother’s kitchen, an elk roast served with potatoes and gravy, or elk stew with potatoes and carrots and her homemade bread, were gobbled up as quickly as any beef entree.

I say it wasn’t just a hobby, but it was a way of life. People came from all over the country to our mountain valley just to hunt elk. In Wyoming, it was required that hunters from any other state had to be accompanied by a licensed Wyoming hunter as a guide. If you were lucky enough to have your name drawn in the annual lottery for an out-of-state hunting license, then you also needed to hire someone to take you out in the mountains (especially the designated wilderness) to go on that hunt. Many people in my home town earned significant money each fall by working with a licensed outfitter (such as Cool Guy''s brothers) and guiding hunters. 

And, even if you weren’t wishing to trudge around in the snow and cold with an enthusiastic out-of-stater, many people lived in our valley because hunting and fishing was excellent there, and they enjoyed hunting. It was their hobby…their passion…something they anticipated all year. 

Elk are one of those big challenge animals, too. Imagine you’re out in the mountains, pursuing it in the snow, up and down steep canyons, using your bugling skills to call a frisky bull over your direction, so it will be within range. Sure, you could shoot it across the canyon, but then you’ve got to trudge all the way down and then up the other side to collect your prize. And once you’ve got it cut up and ready to pack out, you’ll be exhausted. So, you need to be reasonable about where you plan to drop your trophy.

Or so I’ve heard…you see, in my entire life, I’ve never gone elk hunting. I’ve listened to the stories. I’ve seen my dad, my sisters, brothers, uncles, and brothers-in-law, get all the gear ready, and pack their saddles, and their lunches, and adjust the sights on their rifles, and pack all their bullets, knives, etc. etc. But, I was always the one who’d stay home and milk the cows, while they set off in the predawn chill with the horses loaded in the back of the truck. I was thrilled for them when they returned late at night with their treasures of antlers and hides, and quarters of meat. But, no way did I have any desire—EVER—to go out there and join the hunt. 

A) I don’t like to kill anything but bugs.
B) It’s freezing cold on October 15 at 7000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.
C) There’s usually snow on the ground–lots of it. This isn’t a pleasant ride up the hill with the wildflowers blooming.

So, I appreciated October 15th as a school vacation. Actually, we usually had two days off. I mean, even our teachers went hunting. No one would have come to school, so they just scheduled a holiday. And I appreciated eating the delicious food my mother cooked from the elk my dad harvested every year. I came to understand, as I grew older, that my dad was probably born in the wrong century. He didn’t go hunting out of obligation to provide for his family. After all, we raised cattle and chickens and pigs. But he went hunting from some primal need, deep in his soul, to go out and challenge the wilderness just like his father, and grandfather, had done. 

My great-grandfather was an actual mountain-man guy. He spent his time up in the mountains trapping furs and hunting. He was born in the late 1800’s and, although he could farm, he preferred hunting and trapping. He actually had a homestead once, and my dad used to tell us how his “Bomp” had sold it for a $20 gold piece so he could get a “stake” to go back out in the mountains. Whenever we’d drive past that particular farm, along the river, my dad would sigh, and remind us of that story. 

It doesn’t matter where I live, or how old I get, October 15 always gives my brain a jog.  
 The two people on the right are my father’s parents. They were at an elk hunting camp. I don’t know why there isn’t snow on the ground. Maybe winter started late that year. This is one of only three photos I’ve seen of them. Another photo has him straddling dead elk, while she stands next to him admiringly. They had both died by the time my dad was eight years old.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Here's Another Story

One of the genres that I teach 4th graders to write is the narrative. It is just a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Doesn't seem that hard, huh? But, it actually is a little challenging. One big problem for my students is that they have trouble with making those very landmarks: the beginning, the middle, the end. They tend to ramble, and backtrack, and get off topic. Or they'll try to tell every single thing that happened all day, or for their entire trip to Disneyland. This tends to turn the story into a list. It loses the "narrative" aspect. Here's a story I wrote one time when we were all writing a story.

The Car Ride

It wasn't that we didn't know how to be gone from home. My younger sister and I stayed overnight with our aunt lots of times. We had driven the one hundred mile trip from our farm to her house in the city, many times each summer, actually. That summer, we were around 8 and 9 years old, probably. We enjoyed staying with her, and playing with our cousins, who were very near our ages.

We knew that we'd have to drive along the scary edge of the Palisades Lake. The water was was so beautiful, but the road was narrow, and winding, and, if you looked out the window just right, it would seem like only a few inches of a driving mistake would drop our car off the cliff into the deep reservoir.

It wasn't even the long stretch of road on Antelope Flat that was so boring. When you live in a narrow valley, with mountain ranges entirely surrounding you, that wide open prairie was a little forbidding. In the winter, the wind blew snow across the highway, obscuring the lines. And in the summer, the heat shimmered off the asphalt, and it seemed like you were lost in the desert.

No, our big problem today was the driver. We were traveling with our uncle, and we hardly knew him. He was the big brother to our mother and our aunt. But, we'd not spent nearly as much time in his company, as we had with our aunt. So we sat there, in his front seat, feeling very shy, as he drove that familiar highway from the city back to the farms.

Plus, that was another problem--the front seat. We couldn't see up over the dashboard. So, as we cruised along in his big old Buick, we started to feel the effects of the swooping, and dipping of his very nice shock absorbers. It was not a good effect.

About an hour into the drive, my sister leaned over and whispered that she didn't feel good. I told her to just take deep breaths. I'd already been concentrating really hard to stifle the queasiness I'd been experiencing, too. Actually, we were getting rather close to the section of the highway that my big sisters had named "Barf Bend." It seemed that, about half-way through many trips to our aunt's house, someone would feel carsick. My dad or mom would quickly pull off the pavement, and we'd all jump out, shoving the heaving child ahead of us, to avoid being splattered.

I looked again at my sister. She leaned over to say something else, but instead, hurled her breakfast into my lap! Which, naturally, caused all of my careful concentration to vanish, and up came my cereal, too. My poor uncle slammed on his brakes as he pulled the car off onto the shoulder, spitting gravel from under the tires. He leaped out of the driver's door, as I shoved open the passenger's door and we girls stumbled into the weeds along the highway.

"Oh," he said, in a very distressed, but attempting to be kind voice, "I wish you girls would have said something sooner!" Yes, we did, too. He did his best to clean up the mess. We heaved a little more into the weeds. We cried a little, and then just felt really embarrassed. We know he meant well, but his youngest child was 14 or 15 by then, so I know that he was quite uncomfortable trying to figure out what to do with us little girls.

We drank some water, and then climbed back in the car. We knew we didn't have to worry about a repeat. There wasn't anything left to barf out anymore. We were quite stressed about vomiting in his nice car. Somehow, we all made it back to our home. I can't remember what he and my mom said to each other. I'll just never forget how embarrassing it was to throw up in front of a virtual stranger.

Idaho State Highway 26

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Athletic Inability

Tonight, we had a "Getting to Know You" activity for Relief Society. Our stake recently realigned the ward boundaries, eliminating one ward entirely, and changing around a number of families to different wards. So, mine didn't lose any people, but we gained a group of families from a couple of different wards. Very confusing to all, especially since we now meet in a different building, too. Weird...

Well, they helped us make acquaintance with one another by asking a series of questions, and we had to move to a certain section in response. Then, with our new seatmates, we discussed what our answers to the questions were. Example: if you're a dog person more than a cat person, move. Then discuss with  your new neighbors your pets' names.

One of the questions was: Are you athletic?  So, I totally didn't even budge. Not only do I no longer have the feet for anything physical, I've never, ever been "athletic." I'm so NOT a sports player. In my teenage years, our church girls had a softball team. I was the catcher. But only because I had the legs for squatting for indefinite periods of time, and I could usually make a throw to at least first base. That cow milking helped me with the squats. But no one could help me with the throwing. Also, during basketball season...I never did learn how to dribble the ball, and walk or run down the court simultaneously.

Well, then, I went to BYU. My sister, four years older than me, was just finishing her student teaching, as a P.E. major there. She convinced me to take the officiating class from the P.E. department so I could be her partner. Back then, church ball for Young Women was a big deal. There was basketball season and then volleyball season. She and I could get hired to work their games and get paid, if I recall, $10 a night. It was a fantastic deal! That was a lot of money for a couple hours work. Beat the heck out of waitressing. So, I took the class.

I was very good on the written tests. However, we had to play games, like basketball, and volleyball, so our classmates could practice their officiating. The two teachers cut me slack as a freshman, and let me enroll in their class, which was actually for P.E. majors, because they knew and liked my sister. But after watching me for a few weeks, I think they were astonished that we were even related. I'm so bad at sports.

She, on the other hand, recently retired after teaching high school P.E. for at least 39 years. She was also once on a professional women's basketball team. She never met a sport she wasn't instantly good at. She went skiing the first time, and just did fine. I fell as I got off the chair lift, couldn't get up, and they had to stop the lift so I didn't get whacked in the head by the next chairs coming along, and they could drag me out of the way.

I got a mercy C in the officiating class, because I showed up every time, and I did really well on the written parts, and I had a commanding voice when I made my calls. My sister and I went on to have a fine season officiating stake ball games. She urged me to just act as confidently as possible, and make my calls without hesitation, and to blow my whistle with authority, then stop the sound sharply with my tongue. We had a lot of fun, and I really know all the rules for volleyball, and basketball. I still can't dribble and walk at the same time. But I'm pretty good at serving the volleyball. My best sports are still bicycling, and swimming. All hail the hot weather soon to heat up my pool.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Visiting the Chickens

We've had a hard group of students this year. Sigh....biggest understatement of the decade. I won't even begin to recount the adventures of the most challenging one. But, another fellow has been catching my affection, despite his on-going need to bump chests against a couple of other students. I'll call him "Manuel"...

So, "Manuel" has finally been identified as needing some extra services. It isn't a language issue, although he speaks a lot of Spanish at home. It really is a reading issue. He just doesn't get it. So, he struggles academically. He is well groomed, usually polite to adults, dressed in decent clothes every day. He does his homework, sort of. My point is that his family takes good care of him. (Unlike another student whose life you wouldn't want to have.) However, "Manuel" also has a heightened sense of machismo, partly because "I'm Mexican, and we hit people if we need to" [he told me that one day, quite seriously] and partly because he has a lot of personal pride and, realizing that he simply doesn't "get" so much of what is going on in the classroom, he resorts to bluster and misbehavior to deflect attention away from his inability.

We're working to get "Manuel" the help he needs, and I always include him in my groups so that I can give him a lot of support. In the course of a week, he can get many assignments done. They are often well below grade level in their content, but he gets the satisfaction of actually doing something.

In the course of our relationship this year, he told me about his chickens. I can't remember how it came up; maybe we were talking about pets. But his dad bought him a black chicken and then, in February, he got another chicken. So, one day, I said, "I'd like to come by and see your chickens some time, okay?"  He said that would be great. We had a little conversation about the chickens my mom had when I was a child, and how I used to have chickens when my children were little, too, for a short time.

Then, on Monday, "Manuel" had a really dreadful day. He was sassy, and rude, and wouldn't follow directions. It was a vivid change from the previous weeks, so I said that he and I would go out in the hall and call mom. Now, earlier in the year, say November, there had been some enormous brawl with several 4th graders, and we'd all met with mother over this. So I knew her, and she is very concerned that her son be respectful, and take advantage of school. She speaks English very well, and was unhappy that he was getting into trouble. Without a doubt, if we had fewer people in our classes this year that leaned toward rebellion, "Manuel" wouldn't have so many opportunities to be in conflicts. But...something about this particular combination of students...they were a handful in third grade, second grade, and all the way back to Kinder. Sigh.

So, I talked to mom; she talked to him. He told her something in Spanish, and didn't come away from the conversation with her in any way mollified or chastened. I got back on the phone and asked her what he'd said. Well, mom was coming over to the school, and she would meet with all the teachers after school, and we'd get this sorted out. Apparently, he'd blamed everything on one of our teacher's aides!! What a crock! I pointed out to mom that we wouldn't be able to talk until after 3:30. She showed up, with her two tiny ones at 3:00! They sat in the office, waiting for us.

It wasn't a very happy meeting. Mainly because second grade sister refuted his contention that this particular aide was extra mean to people. Also, because when asked to recount what, exactly, had happened, and what he'd told mom, "Manuel" just burst into tears....cause he couldn't remember the story...exactly...umm...

So, we soothed everything over. I think he reacts badly to my aide because she is Hispanic, and he doesn't like her telling him what to do. I'm a woman, and I tell him what to do, too, and he's not mad at me all the time...who knows?  But, after today, I'm golden. Why? Well, because I went to his house to visit the chickens.

I told him yesterday, that if it was okay, I'd like to come by on Thursday, and see his birds. He said he guessed it would be okay. So, apparently, it was meant to be. At the end of school, I tried to open my grade book to look up his address. It wasn't working!! Rats! But, I sort of knew the street he lived on, and since it was such a nice day, I thought maybe he'd be outside playing. I drove down toward his street. I turned this way, then that way, and as I turned onto a particular street that I knew would be nearby, lo and behold, who is standing on the sidewalk, baby in the stroller, talking to a neighbor?  "Manuel's" mother!  (Angels had been giving me directions I think...)

So, I pulled over, and parked, and as I got out of my truck, his little sister, the second grader, dashed over and threw her arms around me, shouting, "It's the teacher!!" She wouldn't let go! "Manuel" was looking at me, completely astonished, and I greeted mom, and said, "Well, I really wanted to come over and see his chickens that he's been telling me about." She was so delighted I was there. They were just getting ready to go for a walk she said, but she had him go to the house and bring out polloito, the little one, hatched in February. It had white feathers, and just starting to grow his comb and his wattles. They think it is a he. We laughed at how in the world can you tell if a baby chick is a male or female?? We talked about my mom's chickens, and how my sisters and I helped gather the eggs, and wash them, and sort them in to cartons to sell to ladies in town. We talked about how her husband grew up on a farm in Mexico, and so he wanted to have chickens here. After a few minutes of chatting, and the neighbors staring, I thanked him for letting me see his bird, and mom thanked me for coming by. She said, "We should invite you to our next party." I said that I'd be delighted to come. They went off on their walk, and I went off to the grocery store. I'm pretty sure that we'll have many more calm days at school from now on. I love my job.

 Here is a photo of the inside of my mother's chicken coop. 
All of these photos are probably in about 1973.

 This is my sister Trish, helping a chicken to stand on our nephew Cody's head.
I'm not sure why this is happening. They are in the chicken yard, outside the coop.
Here is little Cody with his stick, herding the chickens in their yard.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spring Break Rocks!

While it really does feel nice to take a break from the drama of 4th grade, I am talking about ACTUAL rocks. The kind that Nevada specializes in! It's Mineral World here in the great empty.

I was invited by a co-worker to attend the Nevada Mineral Association's teacher classes this week. On Tuesday we attended classes that were oriented to our grade levels, and on Wednesday we WENT ON A FIELD TRIP!!

The classes I went to included learning all about the impact, economically, on the state of Nevada of the mining industry. As we listened to the variety of jobs, and what some of the earnings were, many of us looked at each other, and decided maybe we were in the wrong career! Maybe we ought to move to Elko and drive an ore truck. It pays a lot more than we get as teachers, and the aggravation level looked much lower.

I also learned about identifying minerals. This was something I taught years ago in Maryland, and we had little boxes of rocks with which we learned about the streak, and the hardness, and the ph composition. This was similar, and we all received two boxes of rocks to take back to our classrooms. One is minerals, and we practiced identifying them. Another box contains rocks...yes they are different. The rocks are composites of different kinds of minerals (some) and other rocks are examples of the three types of rocks: igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. We also have lesson ideas of how to use them in our classrooms. So much fun!

But the real fun was Wednesday when we picked up our box lunches, and our backpack of PPE (personal protective equipment) and boarded a tour bus for our field trips. I chose option #1 because it took me to the mountains near our home. We first went to the gypsum mine that is out in the desert behind the mountain to the east of our house. When we got there, we got out of the bus, dressed in our reflective vests, hard hats, and safety glasses, and walked over to the edge of the parking lot/factory yard.

We were now overlooking a dug out piece of desert, that looks just like all the land around here. But as you look carefully at the "dirt" around you, you realize that it is glittering. We were on the edge of the gypsum mine. It is essentially an open-pit (but not deep like you might have seen at Bingham Copper Mine in Utah.) There is a long, long conveyor belt that is in the middle of it, and that leads to the factory about 200 yards behind where we were standing. As we all lined up near the edge of the pit, the guide from the factory pointed out a section of the desert we were observing, and asked us to watch closely while they prepared the explosion. Then, the "master-blaster" was introduced, and he communicated with someone else, and right in front of us, explosions went off, a two second delay later we heard the noise. We watched as a vast section of ground was puffed into a huge dust ball, and then settled back down into rubble. It was COOL!! (and now many of us want to do that job, just for name...)

After the explosion and dust settled, scooper tractors got started loading the rock debris onto the conveyor belt, where it rolled on into the building where it would get washed and cooked until all that was left was pure gypsum ready to be mixed into batches with the other stuff that they put in the middle of wall board.

We walked for almost a mile as we followed our guide through the sheet rock/wall board factory. They have the longest conveyor belts I've ever seen! It was like being inside one of those old black and white movies I used to see in Jr. High, with the narrator explaining the factory workers' jobs as the camera took us through the manufacturing plant. It was really, really interesting! 

The most hilarious part of our tour was right at the beginning. There are huge rolls of brown paper that are fed into a conveyor that end up being one side of the sheet rock. We were watching a roll as it was gradually going up a slope into the apparatus, as our guide was pointing out the process, when we all noticed that one edge of the paper was torn (about six inches) with a fold-over in a right angle. Then, another section came up the slope that way, too, and as he turned to see what we were looking at, our tour guide suddenly shouted, "OH, S#!$!!" and took off running. He was yelling a guy's name, and then we saw another fellow running up some stairs and rushing to do something to that paper. We teachers all turned to each other and burst out laughing! After our guide returned, he apologized for his rushing off and blurting out, but we assured him that it was one of the best parts of our tour!

After we walked our legs off at the sheet rock factory/gypsum mine, we ate our lunches in the bus as we drove to a near-by geologic formation where lots of people went hill-climbing and rock hunting. I pretty much sat at the bottom of the mountain and looked at rocks there. My feet might have made it up the mountain, but then I'd have just had to stay there. Going back down wouldn't have been possible.

Let me just say that it was two days well-spent, and next Spring Break, I plan to sign up again! The Nevada Mining Association has my vote for best Spring Break outing ever---it totally rocked!!