Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I've Seen the USA...Almost

Here is a nifty blog thing: a map to show all the states where you've traveled. I see a definite deficit in my travel patterns. I've skipped the South. But...they have flying cockroaches, and humidity...whine. Just to complete my map, I will have to go there. And my failure to see many of the states that border Canada---we'll fix that by going back east on I-90 sometime. I've used I-10, I-40, I-70 and I-80 already. It's weird how Vermont is an outlier, too. It's because the route I used to go to Bird Camp in Maine didn't include a corner of Vermont, like it included a corner of New Hampshire. The next time I am in Maryland, I intend to drive up to Rhode Island, and circumnavigate the state one afternoon. It is 37 miles wide and 48 long. Ha ha ha!!! That cracks me up! The valley where I grew up in Wyoming is about that size. It is so amusing that Rhode Island is an entire state. Of course, population-wise, there are only around 500,000 in Wyoming and there are over a million in Rhode Island. I plan to see Alaska from a cruise ship deck one of these years, and my daughter is going to be our tour guide to Hawaii someday, too.

Anyway, here's the map: make one of your own!

Visited States

Visited US States Map from TravelBlog

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thank You, Again, Meredith

We just returned from our family vacation in San Diego, courtesy of Serendipity Inc. It was a good time. Apparently, our 2 year old grandson expressed his desire to stay longer when he realized his family was headed home. They'd been in the car for about an hour, when he said, "We go back to the hotel?" and his mom said that, no, they were going home now (a day's drive away) and he cried unhappily, "No, not go home! Go to hotel!" My sentiments exactly! If one criteria for a successful good time is to end it when you're still having fun, then we had a Good Time. We stood on the balcony of our hotel room this morning, looking out at our view of the bay, and the bridge, and the sky, and the boats, and the mountains to the east and agreed that we ought to just stay another week.

We could see the peninsula of Point Loma so clearly, and it was the view we'd had from our house (just nine miles inland) for so many years when we lived in San Diego, so we felt like we were home again. As we drove around everywhere, our brains were just patterned to take those streets, and see those familiar sights. It felt so normal. Even our children who hadn't been back there in more than fifteen years kept saying "Wow, I just knew that as we drove around that bend, I'd seen that building, or those trees." It's interesting how a place can get into your cells.

I'll never grow tired of smelling the ocean, or seeing the surf, or listening to the birds. The air feels soft, the light is unique and the feel of sand gritting beneath my shoes are all things I love about Southern California. I've just got to figure out a way to move back there to live. Right now, the plan is--Christmas 2010--house rental in Ocean Beach. Mom and Dad will rent the house for the week. It's up to you children to start saving now for your trip to San Diego to do it again.

We went to the zoo. We bought the two day passes, and one day we took the bus tour, and rode the sky ride. The next day we went back for some close-up views of our favorites. Plus, we got there early the second day and had things to ourselves for the first hour (well...there were other people there, but not thousands of other people until later--then we left.) Plus, when you go early, the animals are all up and moving around. We saw a koala practically sprinting around their habitat--compared to the others who were entirely motionless.

We went to the tide pools. These are the tide pools we went to when we lived there. It is a huge area, and you can poke your finger into the anemones and they'll close around it. You can see lots of little crabs, and hermit crabs, and sea cucumbers and all kinds of sea life. The only requirement is that you leave everything there. Not even one seashell or rock should you haul away from this place--it is part of a national monument area, but more importantly, if everyone took just one little thing, it would be denuded in a single month.

We went to Sea World. It was crammed, but because I'd bought the two day passes at my teacher's union office, our daughter and her family returned the next day early, on their way back home. They spent several more hours and saw the rest of the things we didn't have time to see the first day because of extensive waiting in line. My best time at Sea World was watching her having such a fun time. This is really her realm. She's the one who joined the National Cetacean Society at age eight with her birthday money. I hadn't know what a cetacean was until then. (marine mammal) So, seeing her enjoy the whole place again after so many years was great! I'm sure Shamu felt a frisson in the Force when she walked back through the gates after being gone for so long.

We also just hung out a lot. We played board games, we ate together. We swam in the pool. We hung out in the hot tub and talked. Since each of our children came, they had the chance to talk to one another, and to spend a little time with us, individually and collectively. It was good. This summer I intend to reserve space at a state campground in the other part of California we lived, and people can come and hang with us or not. But I hope that some of them can make it down to enjoy some more casual recreation. It's good to get together for something other than funerals, births, and weddings.

We'll do this again. I went back to college so I could get a decent job. I simply wanted the money. (It's a bonus that I like teaching.) But this is why I wanted the extra money--so I could help my children occasionally and for fun vacations like this. It was definitely worth it to spend the time in school so I could have this week. We'll have more of them in future.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

We have three of our five children here visiting, then this afternoon we are driving to San Diego to meet up with a fourth child and her family, and number five will fly down on Friday morning with his family. We are rendezvousing in the original home-land of the Family (birthplace of the CoolGuy/ESM relationship and all the off-spring). It is always a nice day in San Diego, so we'll lounge around and go to the zoo and the tide pools and have a luxurious vacation, courtesy of the Millionaire Bonus. I'm excited. One of the plans is to go to various iconic photo spots and recreate the shots using grandchildren instead of the kid who was snapped there twenty+ years ago. But, mostly, we just wanted to spend some time as a group. It is challenge to be an extended family. Everyone is sacrificing to be there--whether it is time or money. And, no, we are not anticipating a smooth, everyone-is-so-happy-to-be-together time. But, as adults, we're all planning to Put on Our Happy Faces, and be a family. It'll be worth it. And, like our grandson, "We are so 'cited for Christmas!"
So, Merry Christmas to you and yours and put on your Happy Faces and have a nice day. There's plenty of time to gripe about your relationships some other day.

Monday, December 22, 2008


The Chex mix is ready. The pumpkin bread is in the freezer. I'll make cranberry bread tomorrow and buy the ingredients for Harira. Then, I'll make the cookie dough.

Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming! Yum...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Taking A Deep Breath

I, and all the teachers I know, are taking a deep breath tonight. The Winter Vacation has begun. And not a moment too soon. I realize that this sounds like whining. But, seriously, it isn't. Teaching is an unusually intense occupation. I really didn't understand that while being the mom at school. Even being a substitute I didn't experience it.

Here are some of the reasons:
1) the students are not there by their own choice
2) every single second the students are in school, you are responsible for them
3) this means that from the first bell till the last bell that's where your entire attention goes
4) even during your lunch (what time is it? how many minutes are left? is there anything else I need to get, do, copy, look up?)
5) you can never, ever "phone it in"

There is some type of childhood radar that lets those edgy students be instantly aware if your attention wanders. Immediately, they are standing on their chair, hitting someone, stealing something. It's always been impressive to me how completely without boundaries some children are unless an adult is continuously monitoring them for compliance.

It's exhausting. So, when the Winter Vacation comes along--two weeks of just thinking about yourself and that's all--(unless, like so many of my co-workers, you have little kids at home still) it is really such a relief. I sometimes feel like a total sissy. After all, I had five kids! And I did daycare in my home for many years. But it is completely different somehow. For instance: no one was following me around with a clipboard checking off catagories of Required Motherhood Skills. Plus, my own children weren't as naughty as many of my students. That was a shock to me when I first started teaching school at age 43: they didn't obey! I was accustomed to my own kids who obeyed. But then, we'd been teaching them to do that since they were tiny. Clearly no one at all is teaching it to several of my students.

But for two weeks and three weekends, I don't have to even think about them. And I don't plan to, either. I will bake, cook, read the newspaper, and vacation in sunny (note to weather gods: please, please be sunny) Southern California and enjoy my children and grandchildren. Breathing slowly and calmly. And NOT checking the time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow Day

When I moved to Maryland fifteen years ago, I encountered a new event--the Snow Day. As a child, growing up where it was normal for snow to be constant from October to May, we did not have weather-related school holidays. Everyone had snowtires, snowchains, snowplows, boots, coats, gloves, etc. Snow did not prevent events from proceeding; it did sometimes make it more difficult to travel, but I don't remember things being cancelled due to weather.

In Maryland, snow was infrequent, but every winter it would snow at least once. And so school would be cancelled. I understand why--all those tiny little curvy roads lined by large trees from which snow-covered branches would crash down. Plus, few people had snowplows, snowtires, boots, gloves, etc.

Now I live in the desert--in a city reknown for hot temperatures. In the summer. Winter is frequently chilly; it's the high desert. But this week we're experiencing a record-breaking, once in a lifetime weather event:
So, today I'm home-last night they announced that school was cancelled Thursday--Snow Day. First one since 1979. Some parts of the Las Vegas valley got 8 inches. I scraped 2 inches off my car to come home from school. The roads were thick with slush. Many highways are still closed. Weird.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas Gift...Part 2

BUT--First this breaking news from Weather Central: for the past seven hours it has been snowing vigorously in Las Vegas!!! Yes--seven hours!! All of my ornamental grass is lying flat, the palm tree branches are drooping from the heavy wet snow lying on them. After our music program tonight at the school, I had to scrape off a couple of inches of freezing cold slush from my car. THIS IS SO WRONG. Apparently we are involved in a record breaking storm system, a not-seen-for-thirty-years snowfall. Bah humbug!! That's my opinion. However, I keep thinking of all the ways it could be worse. I could be here visiting from back East (where they just had an ice-storm) out here for a little respite in the sunny southwest for which I've saved all year. Or, I could be one of the poor people now stranded because every highway and freeway in southern Nevada and southern California has been closed, as well as the Las Vegas airport and LAX. The only bonus is that, pending a further dropping of the temperature, we could get a snow day on Thursday (!!) Now, that would be worth it. Most of my students were completely delirious as we dismissed into a world of fluffy falling flakes because they have never seen it snow before, and many of their parents have not either. It was fun to watch them scoop up a snowball from the grass (yes, there was that much accumulation by 3:30) and throw it at someone. All up and down my street there are snowmen in people's yards. This is very bizarre. Pictures tomorrow!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog: Part 2 of "The Year of My Amazing Discovery"

I realize now that the cost of the coat probably represented a substantial proportion of the entire Christmas budget, and so was out of the question. But, the Saturday before Christmas, my aunt and uncle came for a visit. While she distracted my mother on a pretext in the bedroom, we were instructed to take a large wrapped box from the back seat of their car and hide it under the Christmas tree, way in the back. The tag said, “To the Welch Family”, but my uncle confided in us older ones that it was The Coat.

When we’d returned home from shopping that night, my mother had told my dad about it. She wasn’t hinting, she just told him all kinds of things like that. We all agreed with her that it was a fantastic coat, and she really did look nice in it. But, as she pointed out, dismissing the subject with the finality of the one who made Christmas happen at our house, and balanced the checkbook, it was much too expensive. She hadn’t reckoned on true love.

She was a hard person to give to. She seemed not to need anything, but could always choose the right thing for someone else. Every holiday season, our house was filled with amazing culinary feats: hand-dipped chocolates, peanut brittle, cinnamon rolls, donuts, fruit cake. This bounty was started in early November so the giving could begin on time.

First, a box was filled for her little brother, the Air Force pilot, often stationed overseas. The next box went south to her parents who wintered in Arizona to ease grandma’s health. We had hoards of visitors who were always treated. Then, the culminating event on Christmas Eve, when she prepared plates with a sampling of everything, covered them with plastic wrap, handed them over to us to carry carefully to the car.

We stopped at the homes of widows, and at least one never-married man whose tiny house I’d passed on the school bus for years without realizing it was inhabited until I was big enough to help with the Christmas gifts. We always gave a plate to a family whose mother was so crippled with arthritis that I never saw her except on Christmas Eve when I slipped into her living room behind my mom, and listened as my mother carried on a cheerful conversation with a woman so bent and twisted I couldn’t look at her. We celebrated Christmas by doing Christ-like things for people who couldn’t do for themselves.

By the time we got home on Christmas Eve, the chores were done, my dad was in the house and we could act out the Nativity before having some fruitcake and milk and going to bed. But the glow in our home was magnified by my memory of the brightness she took into those other houses.

Well, Christmas morning finally came. We had opened nearly every present but the big box. She’d seen it, but assumed it was a game from some other aunts. We urged her to open it, but she passed it over to my sister, “Oh, one of you kids open it. I’ve opened my presents.”

She had; but they were so insignificant that now I cannot recall a single one. Probably a new slip, some cherry chocolates, a plaster hand-print from a first-grader—these were the typical things we ended up giving to the person who “didn’t need anything but kids to stop quarreling.” We handed the big box right back to her with a chorus of insistence that should have been a tip-off.

She tore the paper from the box; it was apparent now that it was NOT a board game. The edges of the box were taped shut, but the name of the store was printed on the outside. Suddenly, she looked confused, her fingers began to fumble with the cardboard. She stood up and dropped the box onto the couch as the lid came free, and I could hardly believe the look on her face as she drew the coat out of the tissue wrappings.

She squealed, “Oh Lynn! It’s my coat!” She turned to him, her eyes shining with incredible delight. Her hands were trembling as she pushed her arms into the sleeves, drawing it up around her shoulders.

“Here, feel this—isn’t it fantastic?” She stepped over to my dad and held out her arm. “Oh, thank you, I love it, love it, love it!”

Or something like that---I don’t remember her exact words except for her initial outburst to my dad. But more significantly, I remember what she did not say. There was no mention of “Oh, you shouldn’t have” or “It’s too much money” or “I don’t need a new coat”. She simply accepted this gesture of love from my father. He had found something she truly wanted, and he generously gave it to her. And she graciously received it.

I’m sure that many times, my father had given my mother gifts, but this was the first time I had been conscious of it. It was the first time I’d been aware of them interacting as two sweethearts. I suddenly saw them as individuals, and not merely the support system for my life.

Except for cooking dinner, she wore her glorious coat the rest of that day. And each time she wore it anywhere, she radiated, not just because it was a good color on her, but because every time she put it on, the pure joy of that Christmas moment seemed to me to be repeated, and I knew my mom was a real person, and that my dad loved her.
The End

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Birthday to You

Today is my mother's birthday. I don't say "was" her birthday because, even though she died over two years ago, December 16 remains the day she was born on this Earth. She was named Carol in honor of the Christmas season, and she used to say that she was lucky that her birthday was the 16th and not the 17th, or she may have been named after an aunt who had a much less melodious name.

Fourteen years ago, I wrote her a story for a birthday gift that actually recounted a Christmas memory. Tonight, as I arrived at the Relief Society party/dinner/entertainment, the president asked me if I had anything I could contribute to the program--quick--because someone else had cancelled on her. I went home and printed off that story, and as I introduced it, I suddenly realized it was Mother's birthday this very day. So, in honor of her, I will post that story. But it is longish, so I'll divide it into two posts--today is part one and tomorrow will be part two.

The title is "The Year of My Amazing Discovery"--autobiographical, as usual.

That was the Christmas when I learned that my mother was a person, too. This was only a unique concept because I was in my early teens, just fresh from junior high, with the point of view common to the age group. The world began and ended with me. The important questions of the day were:

“Did my hair look okay?”
“Were my clothes cool enough?”
“Could I get through the day without saying or doing something so stupid the whole school would notice?”

I usually thought of Christmas in those terms as well. I was focused on my wants and desires. It was hard to be a teen at Christmas. There wouldn’t be any surprises from Santa. I was too old for that. But I knew my parents weren’t prosperous enough to give me the kind of gifts I’d seen at a friend's house: skis, a stereo, go-go boots.

That is why the whole event was so amazing to me, and significant enough to catch my attention and cause a shift in my view of the world.

We’d gone shopping in the “city”. It was a two hour drive, but it was the closest community to ours with stores where you could buy the items we usually got only through mail order. Plus, my aunt lived there. She and my mother were close in age, and we visited them, or they visited us, at least once a month.

We were in a department store looking for Christmas dresses for my sisters and I, when I heard my mother exclaim to my aunt, “Oh, Lila, feel this coat!” We all came over to inspect it. It was a truly wonderful thing. It was deep navy pile, but unlike most of the late Sixties fake fur, this felt like the real thing. It had a subtle, lustrous glow, and the plush-ness of the nap was unlike any other garment on the rack.

Mama pulled it off the hanger and slipped into it, letting her aging plaid car coat slip to the floor. She snuggled the collar up around her cheeks, pushed her hands deep into the pockets folding it around her like a fashion model. Stepping up to the mirror, she did several half-turns, admiring the way the color complemented her complexion, and practically cooing about the sensuous feel of the fabric.

Without a doubt, it was one terrific coat. She looked good in it, it was different than anything else in the store, and she really did need a new coat. It was Christmas, after all; why not get it?

One hundred dollars, that’s why. The price tag, usually the first thing consulted when we were shopping, had been overlooked in the excitement of the beauty and luxury of the coat. She gasped, took it off, and replaced it on the hanger. As she returned it to its place among the less worthy wraps, I saw her hands linger on the pile for a final caress.

But, my real mother quickly emerged from the reverie, as she briskly gathered her things from the floor, with a laughing comment on how impractical it would be to own such a coat, and how the current jacket was certainly good for at least one more season, probably two. And hadn’t we better get a move on so we’d get home before it was too late?

However when she dressed again in that woven green plaid coat, with the three-quarter sleeves, knit cuffs, and shawl collar, it seemed so bland, so outdated, and, so, so practical that I was conscious for the first time at how adept she was at accepting her circumstances, and making the best of the inevitable. Her uncomplaining way of going about the business of being the mother of eight children on a family dairy-farm budget had never seemed remarkable until now. I wanted her to buy the coat. I wanted her to own it. Whenever any of us had needed something, glasses, orthopedic shoes, dental work, even just a bicycle, my parents always made it happen. I hadn’t been aware of how they did it. They just always somehow figured out the way. Surely they could figure out some way to buy this coat.

(to be continued)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jet Setting

I haven't blogged for a while because I've been partying.

On Thursday, I flew to Baltimore, where CoolGuy picked me up and we attended his last company party---a dinner cruise on the Potomac in Washington D.C. (His old company, that was dissolved because their technology was rendered obsolete after 20 years. He works for someone else now on the second generation.)

...on Friday, we ate at a terrific tapas restaurant with our son, and then we all went to see "A Christmas Carol" performed by the Ford's Theater productions--just not in Ford's Theater this year--it's being renovated. We stayed at a motel in Baltimore so I could... off to Salt Lake City on Saturday to attend my sister's family Christmas party, hosted by my brother because his house was large enough to accommodated the huge group. I stayed with my sister that night who'd kindly acquired from her friend...

...two tickets for the Sunday morning performance of "Music and the Spoken Word" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Immediately following their live broadcast, we stayed seated for an encore presentation of their Christmas performance that had been taped the night before for PBS. I invited my dear best friend of 30+ years. Following that we ate brunch, she took me to the airport and...

...I jetted off for home in Las Vegas. Whew.

Today, just a mild-manned, exhausted, school teacher again. But, I really had a great four days!

Monday, December 08, 2008

O, Come Let Us Adore Him--Part 2

Now, for the best: when I bought the little wooden panel scene at the mission, I began to look around at Nativity scenes everywhere. I bought one or two, but here is one I received as a gift from the 9/10 year old Foxyj:

Please note all the fabulous details: crowns on the heads of the Three Kings, sheep! The shepherds have crooks, the wise men are bearing gifts. The angel is piously holding her hands together in an attitude of worship. Here's a closeup of the Holy Couple:

Clearly, they are delighted with their baby and the joy of the momentous occasion. This obviously took a lot of work, time and thought, and it has a special place of honor, and will always be proudly displayed each Christmas.
Next to it, will be the other Best Nativity Scene Ever:

We put the pencil into the photo so you would have a sense of scale. When Auntie Sky-a was a girl, she had a gift with the needle-nose pliers and tweezers. She really loved making miniatures. This stunning Nativity Scene is one of her crowning achievements. See the camel standing in the back? The crowns on the the wise men? The iconic blue robe of the Holy Mother? The spit-wad sheep in the foreground? It's a masterpiece of detail, all surrounded by a teensy leather stable. Again, priceless, I'm telling you.

Here is one more masterpiece from a daughter: the all pine-cone depiction of the Greatest Story:

See the donkey there in the front, with his long ears? The wise man on the left, painted gold, bearing his gift from afar? There is a sheep, an angel, a shepherd, Mary and Joseph. It isn't a very good shot, but they're all there. Very post-modern, impressionist Nature/religion. I think it was the Druids that worshipped trees? And many of their customs were folded into the Christian holiday of Christmas just for convenience? Well, we don't care--we just love the pine cone creche.

As Foxyj got older, her creativity was refined by art teachers and she contributed the origami Nativity you see here. It's lovely, too.

Then, Foxyj traveled to Madrid, Spain, and when faced with the choice of buying her mom a Lladro Nativity or the Folk Art one, she wisely chose the one she knew her mom would be most delighted with: folk art. It features the Three Kings, appropriately, being Spanish. Its colorful designs and cylindrical forms make it irresistible to children. But it is also tough enough to take it because it is made from clay.

Then, we had a son travel to Russia, land of icons and matruska dolls. He found this set. The biggest doll is painted with the Nativity, but as you take them apart and form the descending sizes, you are presented with a tiny depiction of the life of Christ. Cool. On the reverse of each is written an explanation in Russian:
Our many years of living in Southern Maryland were made complete when I found this little item at a craft fair:

Yes, the Oyster Shell Nativity. We had to have it. We lived for 10 years on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. We attended the National Oyster Shucking Championships several times. We ate oysters, we studied them in school, we painted their shells with Santa faces for ornaments. This mollusk Christmas memory was a must.

My most recent acquisition was obtained by Cool Guy on one of his regular trips to Israel for business. I could never get my schedule to mesh with his journeys, so I had to entrust him with the task. He brought me a Nativity made of olive wood from the Holy Land. He got it from an Arab seller about 25 meters from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. I still wrap it in the Hebrew newspapers it came packed in. It came from the "holiest Christian site in the world" according a website. But, I just like it because it's from Israel. Someday I'll get there with CoolGuy. He was very impressed with the country and knows that I'd love it too. It's sobering to actually walk where Jesus walked. I'll just have to settle for pieces of trees that grew where Jesus grew.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

O, Come Let Us Adore Him

Many, many years ago, I decided to focus my Christmas decorations on Jesus and the Nativity, since I didn't want to have Santa be the whole point of our holiday. I realize it is not an original idea, but that wasn't the point. I've been to a few displays of creches, and there are so many versions from so many countries, and they are all really terrific. My collection is not nearly so inclusive, nor particularly artistic, but it is, nevertheless, a priceless set of Nativity scenes. I would like to share some of them and the stories that make them heirlooms to us.

If you are a Mormon woman of "a certain age" you owned one of these in your life. It is printed on paper and you slip the two first panels into the edges of the larger third panel--voila--Nativity! We all got this when we were 9 or 10 in Primary. If you have one, cherish it because they have not made it since. After I was married and I'd make trips to visit my mom, I would rummage through the closets and drawers in my old room (then occupied by other sisters) and find little treasures from my childhood and teenage years that no one else wanted. This was one of them. It was our first Nativity scene and sat on a shelf flanked by a poinsettia. It was our only one for quite a while. Most of our decorating energy was put into the tree and our cookies.

We moved to Idaho for a couple of years and our youngest son brought home this wonderful item from nursery one Sunday in December. It has been proudly displayed for 21 years. Look closely and you'll see the shepherds, the sheep, the wise men and the manger with a teeny, naked plastic baby lying under his tiny blanket on a bed of straw. You will also see evidence of the sainthood of this nursery leader. She cut out, glued on the scenes, and covered the little shoeboxes with wrapping paper. I don't remember doing any of it. The contribution of the three year old is the coloring on the edge of the manger and around Mary and Joseph.

Then, we moved to another part of California and I was shopping in the gift store of the Mission Santa Barbara, looking for something to send to CoolGuy who would be spending Christmas in a sandy environment much nearer the Holy Land than any of us had ever been before. I couldn't send fragile items, nor large items. But I found a little wooden panel that had been carved and painted in El Salvador that depicted the Holy Family so I sent that. I also purchased a slightly more elaborate one for our home. That's when I was smitten by the Nativity Scene bug, and I started to seek them out.

There is no particular order in which I acquired these next ones. But they are all just my favorites.

This is a gift from a great friend. She is very ambitious, and had sewn several of these sets to give to her daughters-in-law. But when she showed them, their lack of enthusiasm was so obvious that she gave me one instead. My enthusiasm was very enthusiastic! This is the set I'd take to church to use to teach children's songs because it can be handled and cuddled and not be harmed. It is a favorite of grandchildren. One year it was rearranged many times each day complete with an explanation from S-Boogie.

This is a mobile. The artist is Tomie De Paola, one of my favorite author/illustrators. I have many of his Christmas storybooks. The Night of Las Posadas and The Legend of the Poinsettia are two favorites. His drawings are very distinct and, ever since we fell in love with Strega Nona, I seek out his books. An exciting day for me was when I met him at a book signing in Ventura and got my autographed copy of ...something. I'll have to look inside my books!

Stay tuned tomorrow for the One of a Kind, Original Masterpiece Nativity Sets--priceless, I'm telling you. They can never be duplicated nor replaced, in our home or in our hearts.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Walked a Mile in My Shoes

Actually, I think the entire round trip was almost two miles on our field trip to the Wetlands Park. We had a wonderful time, but about 1.7 miles into it, my legs just said, "Done--we're finished." My feet hurt so much tonight I can hardly describe it. I even wore my really thick soled, extra support-ful best shoes, too. But I think if I can recover by morning, (and even if I limp all day) it will have been worth it. It was a great place!!

It rained last week for almost two days, a soft slow rain that didn't flash flood anywhere, but just soaked the desert and revived everything. It still smelled fabulously this morning--all the resinous plants and the moist ground. Plus, it left the ground soft so that all the little creatures that inhabit that area left their imprints everywhere. We saw coyote tracks, quail, rabbit, raccoon and other bird's tracks we couldn't name. We saw herons, snowy egrets, osprey, coots, ducks, and numerous other little birds flitting all over the trees. We saw the stump of a tree that was the result of a beaver's industry--conical and covered with tooth marks. We found the feathers and blood stains of bird killed and eaten by ? ?--coyote? hawk? fox? We examined all kinds of "scat"--the scientist term for poop. We identified plants and bugs and looked at seed pods and holes in the ground. It was pure discovery and the joy of real stuff--every kid loves it!

I was proud, too, because we'd done enough prep that the students had a lot of background knowledge for the techniques of observation and an understanding of the desert ecosystem. It was really gratifying to watch them see something they'd read about, and exclaim and identify it for the docent. Or when she'd ask them why or what and they knew the answer and could see the real event or concept right there in front of them--live. I love that kind of field trip, where we can feel things, and step in mud, and put some salt grass in our mouths and taste why it is named that! We'd been watching the osprey wheeling above us and they were admiring it, when suddenly it dropped into a straight down dive. The water was obscure by the tree line, but they all saw it fall into the dive and shouted like they'd seen the quarterback run into the end zone. It would have been awesome if they could watch it pounce on a fish. But, now they know what it looks like to see a powerful hunter in action. It was a great day.

My crippled feet and legs are totally worth it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Did You See the Sky?

Last night you could see Jupiter and Venus close together, just under the crescent moon. It was very beautiful. The big event was December 1, but tonight the two planets were still showing up bright and clear, and they were really obvious on Thanksgiving evening. Lil' Dude and I were out on the swings at their apartment playground and, even though it wasn't dark yet, the two stars were clear enough in the sky that he looked up, pointed and said in his sweet little two-year old voice, "I see two stars." Yup--there they were. Planetary conjunction for most of the world to enjoy.

Celestial events are always such a thrill. My friend's sister wrote to her from Zambia to tell her to look for the planets. Wherever you were on the globe, you got a unique perspective with them lined up near the moon. It would be cool to fly around the world for different sky views. I remember when my oldest son returned from living in Argentina for two years how he looked up one night and said, "Ah, Orion--my old friend! Haven't seen you for so long." When I was growing up I always looked at Orion from the darkened barnyard as I moved groups of cows in and out of the barn in the winter during the night milking. It is very soothing to see stars; they're almost like old friends. Weirdly, we can see many stars from our home here in the Bright Lights, Big City because we live so near to the big eastern mountain. Our sky to the east is very dark and it allows us to see parts of the Milky Way, even though over to the west it is so illuminated by the Strip. We can see constellations and The Luxor's Tower 'O Light. Strange.

Go out--enjoy the sky. One thing about the desert vs. the East Coast. Here, the sky is infrequently obscured by clouds, never by trees and rarely by the liquid haze of humidity.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ta Da...

Okay, supposedly it was National Blog Posting Month, so I dutifully posted every day since I found out about it. And it was kinda fun being compelled, sort of, to write everyday. Some days, I was really stretching to find something to write about. And some days, I could have written two or three.

This weekend, we discovered one joy of our current status as adults with paychecks. We spent money instead of time. We flew to Sacramento on Thanksgiving morning because CoolGuy found cheap tickets. Apparently most people want to wake up on Thanksgiving morning in the location where they plan to eat. So if you don't care so much about that, (and it was a short flight) you can get a good deal on plane tickets. We rented a car, fully intending to drive back to Las Vegas--all eight hours. Then, wandering around the internet on Friday, CoolGuy found reasonable return tickets for noon on Sunday. Originally the return tickets all looked much too expensive. So, we flew. That is a benefit of this period of our lives. Occasionally, we can afford to spend money instead of time and effort.

We've done the marathon car trips. We usually lived so far away from relatives we wished to visit regularly. For many years, the marathon was the alternative to having enough money to buy accomodations for a large family on the road. We just packed up the kids and the food and hit the road until we got to a relative's house. It usually involved about 12 hours of driving, minimum. We've slept in many rest stops. Once or twice we actually spent money on a motel room, but usually we crammed everyone into one room, with several using sleeping bags on the floor. [Our oldest son started on the trip to Buenos Aires for his church mission, when the group traveling together was forced to make a layover in Miami, courtesy of the airlines because of equipment problems. He informed me that it was the first time he'd ever slept in a motel room in a bed.]

But, our enthusiasm has shriveled for driving hours and hours at a time, without the option to stop halfway for a good night's sleep. I need to to go to school tomorrow and teach, so we were going to have to drive the length of California all in one day. We were not looking forward to it. So, thanks again to CoolGuy for the upgrade to Ruling Class. I enjoyed my visit to the grandchildren for this four day weekend even more than I anticipated because none of it involved the excruciating endurance contest between me and my Restless Legs. Whoo--hoo!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bigger Boys and Their Toys

Today, we drove over to Sacramento and went to the old town area. Among the many attractions listed on their website was the California Train Museum. There is actually a large and festive area in Old Town Sacramento and it would be fun to come here and spend several days just checking it all out. We didn't get to Sutter's Fort State Park, or the capital building or the waterfront park on the river. And because we'd gone to the amazing Farmer's Market at Davis for lunch, we were too paunched to eat at any of the enticing restuarants we walked past. You could ride around the area in a horse-drawn buggy, too. Oh, and the Indian museum, the California State Historical Museum...

But we made it to the Train Museum. We expected something interesting and an area with exhibits the kids could climb in and keep them interested. It was much larger than we expected, and was extremely entertaining to the kids. We could walk inside various train cars: sleeper, diner, mailcar, a caboose. We could climb up and look inside a big steam engine's cabin where the fireman and engineer worked. There was a whole second floor with interactive areas and a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine fun stuff.

The really cool part was the special exhibits on the main floor of all the men and their toy trains. Thanksgiving Weekend is a special event. I guess traditionally, there are huge crowds in town, so they invite the model train people to come and set up their gear. There's some mighty fine gear out there, boxed up in people's garages all year, waiting for a chance to come on down to the big restored roundhouse and set it all up and play with it. And you can meet all your friends there, too. A lot of them are wearing special badges or hats with their number and name as part of the model train associations. There are groups who use two rails, and groups who use three. There are the really old ones, there was an all-Lego train--yes, driving around choo-chooing. There was a circus train and a Christmas train. The set-ups were very elaborate: a whole little town, with scenes by the stores of people going about their lives, animals in the fields, trees, streams, covered bridges, train stations and loading docks. It was incredibly detailed and well-kept. You could tell just by looking at the tableaus that every one was a cherished creation of love. Then, if you talked to a guy (and there were only about three women train owners) he could wax on about the glories and joys of his hobby. It was awesome.

We didn't make an effort to stay together, especially. Our pair-ups were random and for just a single exhibit. So when CoolGuy and I met up as I came down out of the dining car exhibit, I hadn't been with him for the latest thing that caught his eye. But his face was shining and he talked to me as eagerly as a boy with a new video game: steam powered locomotives! Model trains that used tiny butane burners to boil the water into vapor that actually powered their little locomotives around the tracks! The minature engineering! The marvel of that technology, done small! He'd been standing there talking to the guys and checking out the trains. Wow, he was thrilled. It was so fun to see him so animated. He was like a 10 year old. It was great!

We need to go back to Sacramento. We didn't see nearly enough of it. Plus, we're going to need to go back to the train museum when we are unencumbered by small children and their limited stamina. There are so many people to talk to and cool sights to see, and we're going to need plenty of time to do it. Choo... Choo... Choo... Choo

Friday, November 28, 2008

California Dreaming

There's just something about California. I know that many people whine about its political atmosphere, and its population density, and its exporting of wacky people who bring their annoying California attitudes to their new place ...

But you can't beat the feel of the air, or the nature of the light, or the vast acreage of gorgeous black dirt where anything can grow, all year round. And this is northern California, near Sacramento. I know I've waxed on about Southern Cal, over and over, ad nauseum. I've only visited up here twice, and for brief weekend trips. But it grabs me the way the rest of coastal California always does.

This part is actually in the center of the state, but because of all the big rivers and the proximity of the wetlands that are adjacent to the huge estuarial area of the San Francisco Bay, it seems coastal. The air is misty, moisty and everything is green and growing. The diversity of trees, bushes, flowers, and birds, makes me long to live here again.

I do love the desert, really. But I also miss the ease with which plants grow here in California. You can just push geraniums cuttings in the ground and they grow all over the yard, trailing along the paths. You can harvest something from your garden nearly year round. Then there's the ferns, the poppies, the fruit trees, the ivy, night blooming jasmine. I love it and I miss it.

For now, we must stay in Las Vegas. But every time I visit California, as I cross the state line going east, in my head I quote the Governator: "I'll Be Baauuck."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Three Hundred...

I was just going to write "Happy Thanksgiving" and sign off. But then I noticed that this is the 300th post. Wow. I can't believe that I've typed that many of them. But this is a very cathartic activity. I've written many letters to the editor to vent about various topics. I've kept many journals. I used to write chatty letters to my mom and tell her amusing stories about our life. The blog just fills all that need. It functions as a letter, of sorts, to my children so they know what's up with their parents. My sisters read it, too, so they can keep up. Sometimes it inspires them to write me an e-mail or call me on the phone. So, blogging is a multi-function activity.

We're spending the weekend with our daughter's family, reading to grandchildren, playing with legos. Tomorrow we'll find some outdoor activity--Christmas tree farm, state park, farmer's market. We've got two days to mess around and then back home to the desert. We're thankful for modern transportation so we can go visit our family members with relative ease. We're also thankful that we're welcome to come and visit them. Happy Eating Day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Does This Grandchild Make Me look Old?

Today is the 6th anniversary of my becoming a grandma--abuela--babushka---all of the above. Our grandson was born in 2002 and he is six years old. And I hear, suffering from tonsilitis, so the much-anticipated birthday party was put off until next week. But it is really, really fun to be Grandma.

I really enjoyed being a mom of little kids. A newborn baby is just a delight. No, really. I had incredibly easy childbirths that were only a few hours long, so my post-partum wasn't all that tough. Plus, CoolGuy always took leave from work for at least three days, my friends brought in meals, I was home (!), so there we all were: it was like Christmas morning and we had the best present ever.

My grandchildren weren't ushered into the world with that much ease---poor moms. But seeing the tiny new little people was such a thrill for me and Grandpa. And it just keeps getting more and more fun. I joke that I work to support my Grandma shopping habits. I really try to control myself. I try to not buy every book and puzzle and themed holiday shirt I see. But I do buy my fair share.

Plus, I've figured out why it is so exciting and thrilling to be grandparents. Here I am, probably 2/3 through with my earth life. (Not a good thought--but realistic.) I see my grown children, most of them older than I was when I gave birth to them, and I cannot believe how fast the time went by. I remember sweet old ladies in church watching me struggle with three, then four tiny kids...then five...and say "Oh, honey, just enjoy every minute because it goes by so fast, you won't even believe it." And I remember thinking that I'd like a few of the phases to flash past, oh yeah. Like the screaming in church phase, the peeing the pants phase, the endless head colds phase. But they were right. It flashed by.

In my brain I am still in my 30's. In my knees and feet---72. But my driver's license says it's somewhere in the middle of those two. So, when I think of my kids, I recall--vividly--scenes from their childhoods, schooling, even their little-kidhood as though it was only a couple of years ago. But two of them are now parents, and all of them are older than we were when we first became parents. So, grandchildren allow you to live it all over again.

You have both the children you love as adults, and you get to "see" them again as babies and toddlers. You can laugh with their grown-up selves over their baby selves reborn again as grandchildren. It doesn't slow down time, but you get a do-over that you are concious of as a precious gift. I didn't long for my children to "hurry up" and grow up--I lived in the now while they were children. I really enjoyed them--we both did. We loved being parents. But, it did fly by and, since we couldn't slow it down, we're just happy we get to hit the DVR button and do it again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Weather Shock

You know you've lived too long in the desert when:

Tonight, we were out in the yard. CoolGuy was stirring up the compost, and I was picking some tomatoes for dinner. [Yes, envy see, when it was 110 in August, and the tomato plants sighed and gave up setting fruit from their blossoms, I didn't go out and pull up my plants. I didn't get around to it in September either. Well, in October I decided to tidy up my garden box and pull out all the used up tangle of gone-to-seed basil and exhausted tomatoes. I ripped out a couple of the plants, and down there nearer to the cool soil, was a little stash of ripening tomatoes. So I cleared away all the dying plant material, and found that one of the tomato plants was sending out new growth with little yellow flowers all over it and tomatoes were setting and growing big and ripening! Yahoo! I love homegrown tomatoes. So, I've got a second crop. We'll see how long the plant thrives and gives me ingredients for caprese salad. I cut the seed pods off the basil and it is putting out new leaves, too.]

So, anyway, I was picking a couple of tomatoes and I felt water dripping on my arm. CoolGuy was spraying a little water into the composter to moisten it and I thought maybe the hose had developed a leak. I couldn't figure out where the water was coming from. Then I saw that the sidewalk was all splotched with water too.

Oh. Rain. Yeah, remember that stuff? Barely.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I dressed up today in a nice suit and heels so I'd look professional for my parent conferences. As a result, tonight my feet hurt, and I'm tired from "making nice". No, really, I had a fairly pleasant day. But it is exhausting to do parent conferences. You never know how parents are going to react. (See: Friday...) But I had nice experiences with my students. It is good to have the students come and you all sit down and look over all their work (which I save) and the student actually tells his/her parents how the school year is going. And none of the students is surprised by their grades. We've been keeping track of how they're doing in our Data Notebooks--an accumulation of their checked work, with rubrics, and a main page where they chart their growth, or lack thereof. Yes, it is a lot of work. But I'm a convert to this concept because the students really do know how they're doing and what they need to work on.

But, just now, I'm fresh from the hot tub and I'm soaked and warmed and ready for bed, and I'm headed there! Ta Ta...another day of heels and friendly (hopefully) conversations await me. And tomorrow is our "late" day--we have conferences scheduled from 7:50 A.M. till 6:30 P.M. Oh my aching feet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What I Learned

We sounded good in stake conference today. I sang in the choir and we performed the prelude music, then a song just before the first speaker. One song was "I'm Trying to be Like Jesus" which is one of my very favorite songs from the "new" children's song book. I refer to it as new, but I'm sure it's more than 20 years old by now. And the hymn during the meeting was "Because I Have Been Given Much"--another favorite of mine. They are both doctrines I really love. The first is the whole gospel simplified: trying to be kind, serving others, honesty, love. The hymn is also on the theme of one of my favorite scriptures, when King Benjamin admonishes people that they must give of their means to the poor without judging and condemning because, actually, nothing we have is ours anyway--even our very breath is a gift from God from one moment to the next. He even points out that if you don't have anything to share, just wishing that you did so you could share, gives you blessings. I don't know why this scripture always gets me, but it does.

So anyway here's a thought that stuck with me from this morning:

We can't do everything for everyone, everywhere, but we can do something for someone, somewhere.

It reminded me of something I'd read once. It pointed out that some people see poverty, despair and other negative things, and get angry at government policies or societal attitudes or whatever, but they don't do anything but be upset because these obstacles are there and people are suffering. But some people just roll up their sleeves and try and help by donating money, time, energy and helping people. It doesn't change everything--government policies are still there, societal attitudes are still negative but someone got fed, or taught to read, or helped with the money to rent an apartment.

I think this is the real way to facilitate change. Don't wait for the big engines of government, society or whatever--just help someone, somewhere, with something. You never know when a small good thing will be the tipping point for a life. Even just smiling and being patient while you're in a checkout line is a good deed. It helps everyone. It also helps you to maintain a positive attitude.

It brings me to the second thing I learned: we can either be a noble servant or a self-serving noble. I've learned that the first one is the key to happiness. One thing I've noticed about myself is that when I'm impatient in traffic, or in a store, or with my students (or my own little children in days gone by) it is always because I consider what I want much more important than what anyone else wants or needs. It was setting myself up as the Noble. When I look at life as a servant--meaning seeing others' needs as equally important as mine--then I don't have to be impatient or upset when someone is slow or confused or oblivious to the problems they are causing others around them. Most of the time, people aren't trying to be jerks. And even when they are being obviously rude, I don't have to join them there. Every time I do join them, I leave feeling worse. It's never a win for me. Either I say something stupid, or I do something rude I regret. Overlooking rudeness in others is often the very way to disarm them. So many times, people are ready for you to be rude back, because they know what they're doing: bullying. So when you don't take the bait, but you respond in a nice way--it deflates them. And if they just keep on going with the bully stuff, oh well. It's on them. There aren't that many things so important that in a brief encounter with a stranger, you can't let the bully win---go through the intersection first, get ahead of you in line, take that parking space.

Okay, enough of that for today. I really loved looking for important messages today in church. I've decided I need to do this every week. Take paper and deliberately write down phrases and concepts that strike me. Seriously, I know you've done this: left church feeling like you didn't get anything from it. So, I've decided that I don't want to feel that way ever again. It's not up to the speakers to entertain me, it's up to me to be a learner. I'm confident that there'll always be something to learn.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Speed Cleaning

In the four years that we have lived in this house (well, I'm jumping the gun by 10 days...) Cool Guy has only lived in it with me for about half the time. The other half of the time he travels. Sometimes it has been to exotic locales, sometimes just to the East Coast where his job actually exists. But when he isn't in residence, I've developed a weird habit of not keeping house.

I tend to stay really late at school, so I'm tired and famished when I get home. So, I throw down a bizarro meal of oatmeal or graham crackers & milk, or I'll stop off and pick up tortilla soup or two orders from the Thai restaurant and then eat them for the next four days. I rarely cook, and even more rarely clean up the kitchen every night. Dishes pile up in the sink and on the counter, and finally, after three or four days, I'll load the dishwasher. It would be just as easy to put them into the dishwasher every day, which I do when we're home together. So, I don't know why I've developed this habit of slovenliness when I'm home alone.

It's not just the dishes. I leave newspapers, mail and school papers all over. I don't put my clothes away. I'll have every pair of shoes I've worn for a week sitting in the living room. I'll start projects (like gluing pictures into an album) and leave it scattered across the rug for a week till I get back to it.

Then, the day before he's coming back, I'll have a frenzy of housekeeping. Everything is washed and folded and dusted and swept and wiped off and scrubbed out and vacuum up. The house looks fabulous! The plants are watered, the shelves are straightened. The little nooks in the new dining room table are dusted. I wash the rugs and all the towels. Then, regardless of whether I pick him up from the airport, or he gets a cab because the flight arrives during my workday, he'll open the door to a spic and span, clean smelling home.

I keep house while he's here; he cleans up the kitchen at least half the time. I like it tidy. I kept our house relatively clean all the years we had children at home--or rather I delegated it clean. It just made life easier to have things tidy. I'm certainly not a neat freak! But it feels better to have everything picked up at day's end, and there's no feeling of satisfaction that quite equals having a freshly cleaned up kitchen. But, I guess at this point in life, if I can't goof off a little, then what's the point, huh?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mother of the Year

Yes, that title is sarcastic. Today, as every Friday, the students left at 2:00 P.M. (The teachers then have planning for the remaining 90 minutes.) As my partner and I were standing on the street stopping traffic for pedestrians, wearing our ugly safety vests and holding aloft our stop signs, a large group of parents approached coming from the school. However they weren't quite at the corner, and we'd had the cars stopped for some students who were now out of the street. So my co-worker asked the first mom, "Are you crossing this way?" and he gestured toward the street. He meant, "Shall we continue to stand here in the street, or are you turning the corner?"

She said, in a very loud voice, "I don't have to hurry up for you. You can't tell me what to do!" Then she stepped into the street and walked toward me.

Silly me...I thought I'd clear it up and said, "We were just wondering if you were turning the corner, so we could let the cars go on."

Then I got blasted, "You can't tell me what to do. Just shut up B*&@# and get out of my way." I looked at her, and said, "Who do you work for?" I don't know why I said that, or anything at all! She shouted at me again pointing out that she didn't have to do anything I said and I should just shut the H*&& up...Ooookaay. So I did.

All the other parents around us just stared in amazement. I felt really sorry for her child. She is in Kindergarten. I know this little girl because she is in my fun Friday class. Whew. I was hoping that maybe by the time this little kid is in fourth grade, her mom will have insulted some really big guy and he'll have punched her lights out.

We went back in and the principal was out in the foyer, so we started to describe the woman, and the principal laughed. She knew exactly who we'd met. It seems that we're just the next two in a long line of people who have been shouted at and cursed out. Just that very day, the principal had mailed the letter that was the first step in getting a restraining order against this parent being allowed to put foot on the school grounds. This was the warning letter that if any more complaints were filed against her by employees--she was done.

So, that solves my fourth grade problem. She'll never make four more years without yelling at anyone, I'm sure of it. Probably not even four more days. Or even four hours.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Good Times with Dirt

We're going on a field trip in two weeks to a wetlands area to look at birds and animals, and learn about the ecosystem there. It'll be background info for the upcoming bird research reports and help with our science and social studies curriculums. This is actually a natural area that has existed in Las Vegas forever. Originally there was a natural spring here in this valley that quit running after the population grew enough in the early 20th century that well pumping lowered the water table. But the wash that traverses the valley is still there, and it is where all the run-off water goes on its way to Lake Mead. Smart people have rescued it from the dump it had become and returned it to a natural waterway that filters out the run-off before it gets to the lake. It also serves as a home to migratory birds and lots of little desert critters.

One of the pre-visit activities suggested was to talk about the concepts of erosion, and water filtering by plant roots and soil. Also, another science standard is to investigate how desert plants survive and what the soil is like in the Great Basin. So today and tomorrow, it is all-dirt, all the time. I've got buckets with my compost in one, sandy soil a nursery happily donated to me, and some desert "soil" I went out to the edge of town and dug up. It's mostly just finely powdered clay, we discovered today with one of our experiments. So today it was looking at it with magnifying lenses, and seeing how the soil acts with the addition of a little water. Does it hold water so the plants roots can absorb it? It is porous enough to allow the water to flow through it to the roots?

Tomorrow, we're having class on the playground where we can set up little stream beds in dishpans and "rain" on it with a cup poked full of holes, or have a "downpour" from our other cups and see what damage erosion does when there aren't plants along a stream bed. Also, we're going to pour water through dirt to see how much water is stored in each type of soil. I've collected soda bottles from every addict in the building, sawed off the bottoms, fastened fine mesh screen over the small ends with rubber bands, and tomorrow we will put dirt in them and measure the time it takes the water to drip through. Whew. But, everyone is so EXCITED to do science things. Also they get to actually learn cool stuff. And I admit, I love teaching cool stuff.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just Be Nice

I'll probably be setting myself up for someone to be able to say, "You hypocrite!!" with this post. But I think I'll write it anyway. My lesson today, boys and girls, is "Just Be Nice." In every workplace there are strange people. (I may very well be the strange one in my hallway.) But, we have a consensus in our building for a certain person who is only at our site part-time because of the nature of her assignment. Today, she wanted to meet with me and my fellow teammates to discuss an upcoming academic competition in which her students will be participating. It is often uncomfortable to talk with her because she has odd personal space issues (she stands really close to you when you talk to her) and she rambles. (Geez...sounding more and more like me...) But anyway---so we had our meeting. And one of my people was her usual "I don't suffer fools" self. Man, it bugs me. We can afford to nice to this teacher. She impacts our lives minimally. If I had to work closely with her day after day, I would figure out a way to deal with her tics. But for a few minutes of a meeting, I can look at her, and respond to her politely, and help her. I wouldn't read the newspaper!

It is easy to be nice. It is easy to smile. It is easy to speak kindly and stop for a second and really listen to someone. Also, it is really important to do it when it isn't so easy. I spend my whole day trying to be polite. My students are children, but they have feelings and they deserve a little respect. So, I try really hard to speak politely to them. I don't put up with crap, but I don't abuse my position. And if I snap at someone, I apologize. There are many, many kind ways to say, "EVERYONE BETTER SHUT UP OR I'M GOING TO SCREAM!" and I know lots of them. Humor goes a looooong way when you're a teacher. They want to please me, they don't want me to be upset. And speaking nicely to your co-workers is just smart. These adults can help you or be an obstacle to you--and most people won't confront you, they'll just quietly not help you.

In conclusion, class, let me remind you: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. And don't be openly rude with your silent actions, either.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still Trying

So far this week, I've walked 3 miles. On the treadmill. While reading the newspaper. Hey, since I find the treadmill such a snore, I figured reading the paper was an excellent way to distract my brain. And it is. Thirty minutes fly by and I can read the entire paper while briskly pacing away. When I went to a movie on Saturday, I parked far away from the entrance, then used the stairs instead of the escalators. I really hate exercising. Except for swimming. But I cannot let the cholesterol win! So, I'm still eating oatmeal, I'm still trying to keep active. I actually joined Weight Watchers tonight--but mostly to help my fellow teachers who needed 12 participants so they could have meetings in the school once a week. It seems counter-intutitive to start "watching" just as we swing into the holidays, but, on the other hand, perhaps this is the best time ever. Did you know that you can eat a Snickers bar OR two eggs, one piece of bacon and an English muffin for the equivalent calories?? Astonishing, huh? mmmm--bacon. I like an eating plan that still includes bacon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's Been Twenty-Four Years

It's been twenty-four years since I was last post-partum! Today is our youngest child's birthday. Something about childbirth is so unforgettable that most of the little details of the day are still vivid in my mind. One reason for this particular birth's strong memories is that it was three weeks past my anticipated due-date. Yes. And since the previous four births were either on their due dates, or only a day or two post, that was a really, really, really long three weeks. There was a group of other people who were also quite aware of the delay, too. It was the first year we had a child in organized sports. In August we attended our first soccer practice, the other mothers tried, unsuccessfully, to disguise their astonishment, given the size of my belly right then, that I still had three more months to go. I was planning for a Halloween baby. So, week after week, I staggered to the games, and lowered myself into my lawn chair. Then Cool Guy helped me heave myself up out of the chair to waddle back to the truck after each game concluded. From their expressions, I could see that most of the people there were amazed that anyone could stretch their skin that far. Then, of course, there was the matter of the other four children. OMG...

Well, we finally were able to transfer the big belly into the adorable new-born brother on a Saturday, interestingly the birth was two minutes before the start of a game---that we did NOT attend. Later in the afternoon, our player called his coach and told him why we weren't at the field that day, and our son reported that the coach told him, "We were all hoping that was why you weren't there today!"

So, now two and a half (almost) decades later, this new person has become a very talented singer, who has no enemies, who can play at least a dozen musical instruments I know of, speaks Russian, is sweet and kind and tall, and has a wicked sense of humor. He is beloved by his siblings and parents and cousins. We honor him on his natal day---huzzah! Huzzah!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Song of Joy

This is actually the Sunday posting. That one below that says "Sunday" was intended for Saturday...

I just got home from choir practice. We are a stake choir preparing for our prelude performance for next Sunday's stake conference. I love singing in choirs. It's because I'm not a very good singer. I can sing certain notes very well, but they are a limited group of notes. I am definitely not good enough to sing solo except to small children so they can fall asleep. But I really love to sing, so a choir at church is just the perfect venue.

I am usually surrounded by people who really are good singers, so I can follow them to keep on key. If I'm singing with someone who is off-key, I just follow them right down that trail. I can only hear the melody of any song. I am always impressed at people who can sing the harmony parts. I can hear them singing those lovely notes, but I cannot find them and sing them myself.

One of the most impressive choirs I've heard was at a friend's funeral. She was relatively young, but died from complications of asthma, leaving behind a young family. She came from a large Samoan family, many of whom were professionally involved with music, and all who had great musical talent. They sang at her funeral, brothers, sisters, cousins. A style that Samoans often use is to break every song into thirds. So there is a distinctive sound to their harmony. It is really spectacular. I want them to sing at my funeral.

Anyway, choir practice is usually very pleasant and I really enjoy going. Plus, next week for stake conference, I get a reserved seat!


('s after midnight...I failed in the "post everyday" plan.)

Well, anyway, I'll write this little post about trash. Here's my new trash can:

She's a beauty, huh? Cool Guy is laughing because he has been there through the whole saga of Me vs. Trash. When you live in a city and trash pick-up is once a week, and you miss that day, then it is traumatic. At least it is to me. You can't know the times I've forgotten that it was trash day, and was lying in bed only to hear the whine and clang as the truck moved closer and closer to my house, while my overflowing trashcan sat back in the yard. So I'd leap out of bed and dash around half-dressed, trying to beat them to our curb. And some places we've lived, they were so arbitrary about where the can had to be sitting, or if it was supposed to be up on the sidewalk or down on the street. It stressed me out.

Here in Vegas, Baby, they pick up twice a week, which is fabulous. Ironically, I rarely have enough trash to put out my can twice a week. But this reduces my stress tremendously knowing that I can set it out in just a few more days, if I should miss the first day.

When we lived in San Diego, we had a couple of notable trash events. I will share. One was at the little house that was downhill from the street. This required my lugging the trash cans uphill on steps that weren't too well made. One day, the trash men declined to empty my can. I called indignantly to inquire why, and was informed that "It was over-weight." I'd never heard of this. I replied that I had carried it up(hill) to the curb and I was seven months pregnant. Couldn't those big men manage to empty it??? Apparently they had a radio in the truck and so someone came by later that day and took the trash.

The next incident was more dreadful, actually, and only related to trash because of my zealotry in trying to get everything into the truck on the specified day. That year, I worked as a teacher's aide in our elementary school, three hours a day, for a first grade teacher. Then, I'd pick up my kindergarten daughter and a couple of her classmates as my day care kids, go get my two little boys from my friend who sat for me in the mornings, and we'd go home till the "big" kids (1st and 3rd grade) were done in the afternoon. One day, my first grade was going on a field trip but I wasn't attending because they'd be back after my 3 hours were up and it wouldn't work out with my kindergartners, etc. Knowing that often parents forgot about field trips, I packed an extra lunch just in case, intending to give it to the teacher.

We were all about to head out the door for school, when I realized that the baby needed his diaper changed very badly. We got that accomplished (and by now I was using disposables--luxury!) and I could hear the trash truck coming up the street to empty our cans sitting curbside. I gathered everything up, hustled everyone to the car, and just as the truck started to pull away from our house, tossed the paper bag with the dirty diaper into its gaping maw and we headed off to school.

Sure enough, someone forgot their lunch, I came to the rescue with my sack lunch which I tucked into the box and sent them all off to enjoy Balboa Park or wherever they were going. That afternoon as I came to pick up my two children, I ran in to see how the field trip had gone. It had gone well right up to lunch. The little girl who'd forgotten her lunch picked up the sack I left, sat under the tree, opened the bag and said to the teacher, calmly, "I don't think Miss [Earthsignmama] wants me to eat this."

"Sure she does, she packed it especially for someone who needed a lunch."

"No, really, I'm pretty sure she doesn't want me to eat it," she said again, just as deadpan as can be.

By now the teacher was a teensy bit irked, she wanted to eat her lunch. "Here, let me see--" and she plucked it from the little girl's hand and peered down inside the bag.

Yes, I'm sure by now you've guessed that I tossed the lunch into the trashtruck and tucked the dirty diaper paper bag into the lunch box for the field trippers. ARRRRGGHHH! And that little girl was just as calm as can be. Not a squeal or a flinch. She was older than her years. The teacher, however, tossed it halfway across the park as she yelped. At least that solved the mystery for me of why the "diaper" had made a thump as it landed in the truck--it was the apple. I felt terrible for the hungry little girl, I was embarrassed for myself, my teacher died laughing as she told me the story and heard my explanation, but worst of all---a perfectly excellent lunch got dumped!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Never Ending Day

So, I just got home from work. It's 9:30. P.M. Oh my. I left my building right after school ended to go pay a bill, and then returned to finish up getting ready for Monday. I finished the lesson plans, then I wrote the new names on the job chart. I updated the calendar and the written date on the white board. I found some papers that I'd graded as I went down through the layers on my desk and so I entered those grades into the computer. Then, I typed up a new rubric to attach to the science papers I'm going to grade this weekend. I decided I could quickly grade a social studies assignment and then found another one that I also graded quickly and entered. When I say "quickly" remember that there are 75 of whatever I'm doing.

But I was on a I kept it up. Finally, I had printed out the rubrics to grade the science thing, I'd found the top of my desk. Lesson plans were written and punched and snapped into the binder. New pencils were sharpened and put into the tool baskets on the tables. Ah...everything looks serene and ready. And there is nothing so invigorating first thing in the morning than a cleaned off desk. It looks great!

Next week, it is another five days of madness. I get no planning at all on Tuesday--if I want a moment to myself then I need to arrive before I'm on the clock because there is a meeting at 7:50 sharp, which I will be called out from to have a parent conference. Then, after I drop off my students at P.E., I must go to the conference room for some interview with some research group who is documenting our little "empowerment" experiment. I'll pick up the kids right after that and go, go, go the rest of the day. I'll even have students in the room during lunch, because I've found the same five people who've failed to hand in their completed assignments (no doubt because they are not completed!) The grading period ends on Friday and so I have to get every loose end tied up. Not to mention writing comments for 75 report cards, and preparing for Parent Conferences all three days before the Thanksgiving break. Whew...I feel breathless just typing it. Tuesday after school: I have a meeting at another school. Wed: stake temple night. Thurs: choir practice (for school--I'm the pianist.) Friday: Cool Guy comes home. Sat: stake conference.

Taking a deep breath, I will now stand up, serve me some delicious cold cereal (no, really, I like it) and watch my daily "Jeopardy!" fix from the DVR. Then kitty cat and I will snuggle up and go to sleep so I can get up in time to put out the trash.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nevada Fact

Did you know that the #1 industry in Nevada is mining? (hard rock, getting ore out of the earth--not just emptying out tourist pockets.) This is a fact we learned today in Social Studies/Writing by reading an article about gold mining while learning to write an outline.

This double-duty teaching challenges me to be very clever. But, I like it. We're reading substantive material while learning language arts skills. The students love Social Studies and they don't even know that they're learning to write at the same time. Well, I mean they DO know, but it is more interesting because it is writing about real stuff.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

You Are What You Wear

Last week we had a day without students on Tuesday because of the election--schools here are used as polling places and it is just easier done without students. The week felt very strange, so I decided, as an experiment in mild rebellion, to wear jeans everyday.

You see, in orientation for new teachers, they point out that there is no "dress code" exactly--you should just dress in a professional way. They offer "guidelines"---no tank tops, no flip flops-- things you wouldn't have to say except that so many first year teachers are just a summer away from being college students where casual is the norm. Also, some people haven't really got a professional wardrobe. Also, some people don't realize that if they are going to be the new Biology teacher in high school with students who are just a few years younger than themselves, it is imperative to dress up a little to give themselves a teensy aura of authority. Well, the controversy is the jeans things. The teacher's union points out that jeans are not forbidden. Many principals put out the word that jeans are unacceptable. So, there is a little conflict there. Most teachers I know wear jeans and the school shirt on Fridays. I always do.

But, every day...I did dress them up with really nice sweaters, blouses, jewelry and spiffy shoes. But I wore jeans every day M-F.

Over the weekend I shopped a little and found a couple pairs of dressier pants. Very modern, up to date--tiny little stripes, wide waist band, cool brand name. They were on sale even. Today I wore one pair, with leather shoes with a heel, a blouse, a jacket, co-ordinating jewelry (hip--big colored stones).

As I walked out onto the playground to pick up my class, one student looked me up and down and said, "Why are you dressed like that?"

"Like what?" I replied.

"Like, um, you're all in fashion---like your clothes are really cool and tite..." he was at a loss for words.

Yes, I understood his dilemma: here was his old granny teacher dressed like the young hip, twenty-somethings in the other classrooms. What gives??

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Copy Cat # 5

What is your salad dressing of choice? Honey mustard or rice vinegar/oil/

What is your favorite sit-down restaurant? Either India Oven or Captain Leonard's Seafood or The Charn House

What food could you eat every day for two weeks and not get sick of? Popcorn--done it

What are your pizza toppings of choice? Olives, mushrooms and onions (and cheese of course)

What do you like to put on your toast? butter and honey


What is your wallpaper on your computer? a picture of Lil Dude on Cool Guy's shoulders

How many televisions are in your house? one--and that's all we'll ever have

What color cell phone do you have? silver and black


Are you right-handed or left-handed? right

Have you ever had anything removed from your body? my tonsils, four wisdom teeth and one other molar that died, a tiny sliver of a bullet, and the inflamed bursa of my right hip

What is the last heavy item you lifted? my suitcase

Have you ever been knocked unconscious? no


If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die? no

If you could change your name, what would you change it to? Angelina Jolie---just long enough to cash one of her paychecks...

Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1,000? No, you'd have to pay me a LOT more.


How many pairs of flip flops do you own? I think four

Last time you had a run-in with the cops? I try really hard to not have anything to do with them and have managed to keep out of trouble for years. My last encounter was when our house was broken into.

What do you want to be when you grow up? retired

Last person you talked to? Cool Guy

Last person you hugged? My good friend who is a new teacher (but not a new person--I admire her determination--she started teaching when many people have just finished 25 years.)


Season? summer

Holiday? I love Fourth of July

Day of the week? Thursday

Month? February


Missing someone? my sister who died

Mood? discouraged

Listening to? Kitty Cat complaining, because she wants me to go to bed so she can lay on me and push her paws into my doughy belly

Watching? Kitty Cat, walking back and forth on the desk, stepping over my hands as I type

Worrying about? getting along with people


First place you went this morning? the airport to drop off Cool Guy

What can you not wait to do? open up the boxes with the new Christmas dishes I ordered (a little indulgence with the game show money)

What's the last movie you saw? Forever Strong

Do you smile often? Not lately

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why I Teach Fourth Grade

Because I could NEVER teach Kindergarten.

Today, I went to my grandson's school and got a visitor's pass so I could go up and see his classroom. So I did, and his teacher--no fool--said, "Say, as long as you're here, would you mind helping?" So while she did "reading groups" (it was Kindergarten) I monitored table work. The students came in and sat down and completed their "14" worksheet. They had to trace them, then write them, then make 14 tally marks and complete a pattern with two different colors in a series of squares. She has the class very organized. Everyone knows right where they sit, and how to get the supplies, and how to cut and glue. It was impressive. A couple of students I hope to never meet in 4th grade: a boy spent the entire two hours I was there and g o t n o t h i n g done. Nada. It was impressive! Then there was the girl who managed everyone's life, constantly, and as a result made enemies of them all.

But, my decision to stay far away form Kindergarten was definitely confirmed. It takes an incredible amount of work and organization and patience. Not that fourth grade is a nap, but I feel much more suited to the bigger kids. I had a great time being the Grandma Volunteer, and I wish I lived close enough to do that frequently.

So, the next time you talk to a Kindergarten teacher, you just genuflect a little and offer them your kindest regards because they are very, very special.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Random Thoughts While Traveling

I wonder why the red rocks in Southern Utah shed off in arches? There's a cliff along the freeway that will be the new Arch Rock in a few hundred more years.

The desert smells so fabulously when it rains. All of the brush is resinous and the rain falling must move it all around releasing the aroma.

I think I'd like to try skydiving once. It looks relatively safe, and I'd love to experience earth from above with all that silence.

I always marvel at the fortitude of those people who just packed up when asked to by Brigham Young and moved away from the relatively settled area around Salt Lake City and traveled south to the hot, red wasteland of southern Utah.

On Saturday, Click and Clack from Car Talk (on PBS radio) were marveling over a caller who said she lived in the Alleghenies in Pennsylvania where it was 4000 feet above sea level. When she first said that it was 4000 feet, I remember thinking "Hmmm...not that high." And then the Tapit Brothers went into conniptions over her living waaaay up there!!! I realized that coming from the West, I have a different outlook on altitude. Most of the U.S. lives below 4000 feet, so I guess that seems high. However, as all we Rocky Mountain natives know...4000 feet is the foothills.

The Wasatch Mountains are really spectacular. Really. They impress me every time I see them. Awesome, truly lovely to behold.

When I'm the driver, I don't have trouble keeping awake. But as the passenger....zzzzzzzz.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

False Start

We started off a bit late today, we indulged by sleeping in a little. Then when we'd gotten everything packed into the truck, we got a phone call from the relative we were driving to Wyoming to visit. She promised she'd feel better if we didn't drive all the way up there. It's winter already. Six new inches 0f snow on the ground and it's still falling. Bah. So, we thought, well, we'll just stop when we get to Salt Lake City and be there a day earlier than we'd planned.

As we drove out toward the freeway, we passed the air base, where this weekend is Aviation Nation -- the air show featuring the Thunderbirds precision flying team. It was a glorious Nevada fall day. There were two acrobatic smaller planes swooping through the air above us. And...we decided to stay here for Saturday, and drive up to visit our grandson on Sunday. Plus, Cool Guy is leaving from SLC to go back east on Tuesday morning, so this was his last day home.

This afternoon we drove over to the edge of the airbase, just down the street, actually, and parked the bike. Then we walked up a rocky incline to join many others who came to this vantage point to watch the jet show. While we waited for the start, we saw some boys playing in the desert near us. Cool Guy pointed them out. They caught his eye because they were throwing rocks at a can. Then, they were digging, then they found some other cool piece of junk and were messing with it. They were probably 7 or 8 years old. They were doing what few kids in my world get to do: play in the dirt with dangerous stuff. No one yelled at them, either. It was wonderful.

Our children grew up playing in the dirt. I realize from their stories now, that they also occasionally played with dangerous stuff. Cool Guy related how he and his friend went to the town dump at least twice a week and dug around and found fabulous treasures. He'd bring home a wagon full, now and then, to the great chagrin of his father. Who kept busy hauling it back out to the trash. But the point was, digging around in the dump was not forbidden, by law or parents. Well, maybe his dad told him not to do it, but Cool Guy wasn't reknown for compliance.

We agreed that there would have been many fewer toxic products in our small town's dump than would be found in a similar place today. But the point was that many of the generation we raised are tremendously risk adverse and sometimes to such an extreme that their children are really stifled from the creative play that occurs when kids get to go outside and throw rocks, play in the dirt and just explore in the real, sometimes harsh and filthy, world.

So, we will consider our duty to find opportunities for our grandchildren to get dirty and play with odd things and have unstructured time to mess around. We hope to do this without creating too much angst in our children and their spouses. Or getting anyone's fingers cut off.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Double Weekend

For some reason, the school district is giving us all a day off on Monday as well as the scheduled federal holiday of Veteran's Day on Tuesday. So, it's a double weekend. We're going to drive north and visit family members.

Hope it doesn't snow the entire time we're driving.

I've become extremely spoiled about weather living here. I know, I know--115 degrees in August. But, the rest of the year is very pleasant. It got up to 82 again today. It's going to drop to 48 tonight. It is a good weather pattern.

This whole week we read and wrote about Veteran's Day. We learned about the history of the holiday, we learned about the hope that they'd fought the war to end all wars. Not quite, it turned out. Every year I've done this lesson, varying it with my students' abilities to read. I've gone on a tour of websites to show them Flanders Fields, what poppies look like (we read the poem), the trenches of WWI, the Tomb of the Unknowns. Finally, I got smart and this year I made a powerpoint of the whole thing. It is a very effective way to create some visuals and background knowledge for them. My goal is to have them write poetry from the point of view of one of the soldiers, or a tomb guard, or one of the unknowns. Some girls today wrote from the point of view of the poppies. I plan to type them up into a little booklet and send it to my nephew and his wife who are in Iraq right now. It'll be a good way for them to know that we're still thinking of them over here as they serve over there.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Copy Cat, The Fourth

Okay, I'm just too tired tonight to be orginal, so I'll copy Foxy again...she's such a dear to not go running off to her mother shouting, "She's copying me again!!"
Here's the fourth photo in my fourth folder:This is the view from the edge of Hog Island, Maine. I went there on a scholarship from the Southern Maryland Audubon Society to attend Bird Camp. Actually, it's the Audubon Camp, but it has become Bird Camp in the family lexicon. Totally outrageously awesome place. I'm going to return someday. This is a lobster boat whose crew was out checking the traps. They sounded like tractors, appropriately, because their owners were out there "farming" the ocean. This is July, 2000.
I just had to add another image from Bird Camp. This is with the tide out. The tide changed twice a day, ten feet at least, each time. We were quite close to the Bay of Fundy there, and those tides are reknown for their extremes. I was more accustomed to the less dramatic tides of Southern California, so these big changes were interesting to me. The building is the lab where we looked at water organisms and also made our algae prints. Yup, gotta go back. Maine is a place you must return to over and over.