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.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Foxyj tells me that it is National Blog Post Month and the idea is to post a blog every day of November. Whew. I posted on the 3rd and 4th. So I'll try to finish the month out.

Today, of course, we talked about the election in fourth grade. We have a mixed crew of supporters and while there were many O-guys, a few students expressed disappointment that their Military Hero guy lost. So we wrote in our journals Why or Why not: I would like to be elected president.

Here's the sad part: I had at least 5 students give as their reason for not wanting to be elected president of the United States that they didn't want to be assassinated. Wow. So, I pointed out on my Presidents of the United States poster (of course I have one hanging up in my room) that really, only three of them were killed in office, and one wounded. Out of 43 that's pretty good odds.

It was also fun to listen to some of their reasons why they'd like to be elected:
  • bowling alley in the house
  • personal airplane
  • lots of money
  • everybody will do what I tell them (...umm...not)

But the sweet ones were: I can help my parents buy gas. I can help my family pay their bills. I'll make sure everyone can get a job. (It's personal when you're nine.)

We all agreed it was an exciting election, and on January 20th they should watch t.v. and see how a country should do it: orderly change of leadership, ceremonies, balls, moving vans and handshakes. Nobody had to get killed.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Truth

Fourth graders tell the truth. At least when they are making observations about my appearance. Sigh. A week ago, we were talking about modifying a paragraph -- the difference between editing and revising. Anyway, the word "modified" in my lexicon always refers first to motorcycles. We once belonged to a group called the MMA: Modified Motorcycle Association. It was a political group trying to keep helmet laws off the books, and make life as a chopper owner more compatible with the highway patrol, the motor vehicle's department, and other entities with whom one had to interact regularly who generally didn't like that you had taken your motorcycle and changed it from the original version.

So, anyway, I showed by drawing two bikes, that it was a motorcycle still, but it could be modified so that it had a different sense of style; and that was what revising entailed: it's still your paragraph, but you've enhanced it. Since all of them have seen the show "Orange County Choppers" the whole motorcycle analogy worked for them. Only, I used Mr. Cool Guy as my example. This led to a clamor for photos to show them what I was talking about.

So today I remembered to bring in the photos. The first photo up on my screen (using the ever-awesome Elmo mini-cam) elicited loud ooohs and aaahs: the 1938 Knucklehead chopper. It was painted pearl blue and was raked and extended (18 inches). It was quite awesome looking--not so awesome to drive on the hills of San Diego. But the students were very impressed. I put up another shot of it with Cool Guy and me on it, taken by a friend in 1974...

"Who's that?"

"That's Mr.[Cool Guy] and me."


"Yes, really. It was a long time ago."

"Wow--you were really pretty then! You're old now."

Let's just say that I've been "modified" by Mother Nature.