Thursday, May 28, 2009

Don't Take Your Ego to Fourth Grade

About a year ago, in anticipation of my pending appearance on television, I changed my hair slightly. I have worn my hair long for years. I occasionally catch a glimpse of myself in a reflection and will be dismayed to see a haggy looking old person looking back. But...I've cut my hair short several times in my life and I've always disliked it intensely. So, I continue to wear it long, now it is long and mostly gray. But, the style I got last summer was a bit of a change--a few layers, just to give it some body, and I really like it that way. It is still possible to French braid it or wear it up in a clip or a bun, so it wasn't too radical. This picture is from 1974...

This morning, I washed my hair, dried it, used the curling iron and the hair spray and I was pleased with the result.

I went to school, and about 1:00 P.M. a boy said, "Is this crazy hair day today?"

I replied, "Not that I know about, why?"

"Oh, you just looked like you fixed your hair for crazy hair day, that's all."

Hmmm...that's all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I just returned from a weekend surrounded by my people. I went to a family wedding, then spent the next two days with a variety of sisters, visiting cemeteries in the communities that dot the valley of my childhood home. We placed an abundance of flowers on the graves of loved ones because I've reached that age where I know about as many people underground as I do above-ground. As we visited the cemeteries I encountered a few old friends and several relatives. We chatted, and I realized that, whereas I've moved a long way from the world of my youth, they live right there, still surrounded by people who mostly earn their living through physical labor of some type.

When I was growing up, everyone I knew--including most of my teachers--lived on farms and milked cows or raised cattle or sheep. This involved the related activity of growing feed that could be stored and used to keep these animals alive throughout the long winter. Everywhere I looked there were vast acres filled with grain or hay, carefully cultivated, and then cut and stored, always through the hard work of us people. Again, I repeat, even many of my school teachers had farms and animals and were engaged in this pursuit, despite having graduated from college and being employed in professional, white-collar jobs.

The fact that they farmed as well as taught school, or ran a ranch (a local doctor) or had a herd of sheep (a store owner) seemed normal to me--in fact--it seemed correct. After all, in my mind, farming was the premier job. It was the job that resulted in all the other jobs. It was like this: if there weren't farmers, then there wouldn't have been a tractor dealership, nor a grain mill, nor a creamery/cheese factory, nor the hardware store. Then, there wouldn't be people who needed to shop at the grocery store, or the drugstore, or go to a movie theater, restaurant or bar. There wouldn't be children for teachers to teach, or patients for the hospital. It all started with the farmers; the others just came along to serve his needs.

It may be a faulty concept, but it illustrates my teeny-tiny world at age 10. But I have always been proud of my farm girl roots. I remember once meeting the father of a college roommate. He had a prominent, highly regarded job in a very large city, and had grown up there, been educated there, and was reknown in his world. He asked what my father's profession was, and I proudly told of his dairy farm in Wyoming. The tone of the reply and the expression on this man's face made it clear to me that this pride was wholly unrequited and, in fact, dismissed. At that moment, I lost my respect for that person, and didn't consider him my father's equal. My dad would have shown much more regard for someone's work, regardless of its stature in the world's eye.

This brings me to a pet peeve. I am a teacher, yes. But I think we in America have made a big mistake in educating every student as though they are all going to grow up to be English professors. It doesn't suit everyone. We still need plumbers and mechanics. By insisting that a school's success is only measurable by the number of students who are accepted to a university following their high school graduation, we cheat those kids who would be happier and much more suited to work in the trades. I think that a "degree" has become devalued. There are many students who are completely unsuited for the standard college-prep curriculum. They'd be so much better off in a program that truly taught them a marketable skill. A few high schools here in Las Vegas have been retooled, or built from scratch, to do just that.

But there are far more students who would benefit from that type of education more than they do from the usual "push everyone into the round hole of college-prep" that schools are attempting now. The drop out rate will never go down as long as boys see no point in their literature class when they can already earn money repairing cars. Why not offer a comprehensive course for these natural mechanics that includes reading skills and math but in a context that will be useful for them and help them to become capable of operating a business, or at least managing someone else's shop? Then there would seem like there was a point to the torture that school is for many. Such a torture that they readily drop out and turn to gansterhood for a buck, when they have a talent for so many other jobs that don't require one to write about the motivation of the characters in a book written by a lonely English woman two hundred years ago.

I don't mean to disparage literature--I love it. But we need to find a solution to the thousands of students in our cities that drop out of our traditional schools because they see no point to the education we are forcing on them. There must be another way to help these students gain a skill with which they can support themselves. There is a lot of effort put into building self-esteem, but true self-esteem comes directly from being competent and knowing you can do things for yourself. Here's a link to an article my daughter sent me that articulates this much better than I do. I hope that we can retool our education system and really help our students to gain more from their public education than a sense of frustration and failure.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Techno Mama

Wow, I achieved a level of technological independence last night that is unprecedented. I needed to take the photos off my camera. I can do that. But...I wanted them onto my i-Pod--the Christmas gift from Cool Guy so my gramma-cam photos could be carried around conveniently. Well, when he gave it to me in December, he'd put several groups of photos on it already. But these were recent pictures of both sets of grandchildren from Spring Break. Since I'm headed up to a family wedding this weekend, I wanted to take the pictures on the i-Pod to show off.

Cool Guy is out of town. I was reduced to managing my own technology. Uh-oh. But, guess what? I DID IT! He'd shown me what to do, and I remember it seemed really easy and intuitive. Just, click, click, select, load, sync, wait. Except that when I went to actually do it last night, several days after he'd shown me how...rot-roh. I googled directions. They seemed relatively easy. I followed them. It worked. I could load up a particular folder of photos. But--it removed all the other folders already there. I could put another folder on, but every time it removed the current folders.

So, I tried again, and again. I read some more directions. Then, finally I found a folder labeled "i-Pod" in my pictures folder and YES--this time I realized it was the folder that Cool Guy had directed me to initially. I clicked, clicked, selected, loaded, synced and waited and...and...and...

I have cute pictures to carry with me and show off to my sisters! Yeah! I didn't get upset, I didn't give up, I just kept clicking here and there and looking at folders and voila! Success!

(This whole post is for Cool Guy--he'll be excited that I've done something successful while clicking all over and looking for blue bars.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Music Day

A couple of weeks ago, our bishop held an unusual Sacrament meeting program. He'd asked me the day before at a Scout function if I'd be okay with the format he wanted to use, and I assured him I could do it. He borrowed this idea from a previous bishop, and it was wildly successful.

Instead of speakers, we held a version of testimony meeting, only--the testimony had to be about a hymn that was meaningful to you for some reason. Then, after your introduction, the congregation would sing the hymn. It was actually really fun! We had an interesting variety of people, from old to young, a mix of men and women, and their choices were just as random.

We sang some old familiar standards. We sang a couple of the Primary songs that are now in the hymnbook. When someone announced a song I knew I could not manage on the organ, I just walked over to the piano to accompany everyone. One person chose a song that neither I nor the conductor knew, so she asked him to stand at the microphone, please, and help us. It was a lovely song, and since it was in classic hymn format, not that hard to play after all. It was arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams whose arrangements are highly loved by choral groups.

I recommend this activity to any of you as an interesting way to really wake up your ward and have a great, spiritual meeting. It's good to do no more often than once a year. We had so many who wanted to tell about a song, that ultimately we were forced to sing just one verse of their hymn. Sometimes, they requested a particular verse, not just the first.

My choice for the meeting was "Though Deepening Trials" which you can listen to if you click the play button at the link. However, I prefer to play and sing it at a faster tempo that this version. It is an optimistic song. The words are written by one of my favorites, Eliza R. Snow, and it tells us to be cheerful and happy because Christ is Lord and He watches over us all. My favorite thing is to sit and play and sing it when no one is listening. It is a terrific hymn. Here is verse 3:
Lift up your hearts in praise to God;
Let your rejoicings never cease.
Though tribulations rage abroad,
Christ says "In me, ye shall have peace."
Christ says, "In me, ye shall have peace."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thirty Five Years

To keep your marriage brimming,
with love in the wedding cup,
whenever you're wrong, admit it;
whenever you're right, shut up."
Ogden Nash
Today is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the grand experiment of the CoolGuy/Earthsignmama connection. According to the data, the partnership should have been easy. We grew up in homes seven miles apart, in the same cultural, religious, and educational institutions.
However, we could hardly be more different in temperament. We have managed to work with these differences and raise five excellent children. We have worked hard to stay married, and forgive and forget when necessary. We've come to realize that each of us have been greatly improved by the need to grow and accommodate the other. We are better friends now than we have ever been. We know that we really need each other, and that this need isn't a failing, but is essential to a happy marriage. When you recognize that need, then you can relax and be in love. Love is why we've stayed married through all the exciting adventures and misadventures.
So, Happy Anniversary! Here's to many, many more.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Carpenter Cool Guy

I have a new closet. It was formerly the hall coat closet, but now it is a very useful pantry. Our house has many fine qualities. But storage space in the kitchen is not really one of them. The kitchen area is small and open to the dining room/family room area, and therefore entirely lacking one wall on which to put more cupboards. So we got the idea to transform the coat closet, just around the corner, into a pantry closet. It turned out great!

Cool Guy, as you know, is very clever with tools. He is a master mechanic, can fix computers, plumbing, electrical stuff, the pool equipment...lots of things. But I just didn't realize he was such a carpenter, too! I'd looked at different closet systems in home improvement stores and on-line, but I wasn't satisfied with any of them. Well, he got some heavy-duty plywood and his electronic leveler and his measuring tape and you can see the fabulous results! He put in deep shelves on the diagonal so that the narrow door didn't prevent him from using all the interior space. I still have room for my winter coats (which I use occasionally, but usually just for visiting up north) and the ironing board. But I have loads of room for food storage, all my big bottles of various liquids and spices, my vast cookie cutter selection, and waaaaay up high--out of reach--some ant spray. I'm just delighted. I told him that my carpenter Grandpa would be pleased as anyone at this delightful and professional transformation. Now he's inspired to start in the bedrooms! Neato! See the diagonal shelves? I will be able to get more storage items now that I have an adequate place. One cannot have too many cans of olives for the coming Apocalypse.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Remembering Mother Day

It will soon be three years since my mother died. She was anxious to leave, by the end. My dad had died 21 years before, and she never stopped missing him. I understand. She'd been doing okay, not great, but then she suddenly went into decline, and less than three months later was gone. We honored her well at her funeral, we all rejoiced that she was finally free from the decades of pain she'd hid so well from the world, and we know that she and our dad had a wonderful reunion.

But, it doesn't matter how old you are when you become an orphan, it still feels bad. I haven't erased her phone number from my cell phone. Her address is still in my contacts. Every year I make Mother's Day cards with my students in which we write a cinquain poem about their mother. I show them the sample card I made about my mom (it is about 8 years old) and they always ask if I'm going to mail it to her. They get very quiet when I tell them she isn't alive anymore, but then I say that she was really old, and she is in heaven with my dad, and it breaks the tension. I would love to mail her a card. I compulsively call my sisters in a rotation because I used to call my mom just to chat about the latest trivia concerning my children, and even after three years I still miss having her to tell it to.

I remember when her mother died. I was 19. Grandma had been extremely ill for a couple of years. She'd lived with my aunt and was bedridden, and mostly out of it for a year. She was quite old, too. So, I blithely came home from college for the funeral thinking it was routine. My aunts and mom were up half the night in the kitchen talking, laughing, crying. My grandpa looked lost. He sorted photos at the table. It dawned on me that more than just a little old sick lady had gone. She was the Mother. It was only four years after the tragic death of their youngest brother, an Air Force test pilot, so the sisters were still heart-bruised from that. So, even though their mother was relieved of her burdens, I now know how they felt. Mother is Mother. It's never a good time for her to go.

But, she left me a good legacy of working hard, being cheerful, being kind and generous, and of always keeping family ties strong and active. So, this Mother's Day I will think of her fondly and hope that some far off day* my own children will miss me as much as I miss her.

*(from my lips to God's ear..."far-off day")

Saturday, May 09, 2009


It was Teacher Appreciation Week. I was appreciated in many, lovely ways. My personal cocinera (I hope that's how you spell "cook" in Spanish) brought lunch 3 times!! Our PTA gave each of us two movie tickets. Plus, many of my students came bearing gifts.

  • brownies
  • cookies
  • notepads
  • potted plant
  • flower
  • cards
  • an adorable framed drawing

This year for the first time, we elected a student council from the 4th and 5th grades. It was partly done to capitalize on the election hyper-awareness in the fall, and partly because the counselor thought the students would benefit from the leadership experience. It has been very successful. There are a number of officers and they have executed their duties well. As an example, the environmental officer is in charge of emptying our recycling bins every Friday. He recruited a group of students who go to each classroom during their recess and get the bins and return them. It's marvelous, because the custodians don't do recycling. Formerly, each teacher had to get that bin emptied somehow.

Well, one of our council members lives next door to a fellow who owns a franchise of coffee/smoothie trucks. So on Friday morning we each received a coupon to go out to our parking lot for a free specialty coffee or fruit Then, we returned to the teacher's lounge where our night custodian was cooking omlets made to order. His day job is breakfast chef at a large casino. Every year our administration hires him to serve us for Teacher Appreciation week. There were also outrageously delicious biscuits to accompany the omlets.

So, it was a very appreciation-filled week. I appreciate being a teacher. You get to see students grow and learn. It sounds like such a cliche, but it's true! When you see a child really internalize some difficult concept and then use it correctly in another area it is really exciting! We got our standardized test scores back last week--the BIG test, the one the district and the world judges us with--and our fourth graders did fantastically. There was huge growth and we were very excited for them.

It's nice to have a special week, and it's fun to get treats, but seriously, I appreciate my job everyday and I feel appreciated everyday, too, because children are pretty basic and they don't hold back. They don't fake it. So, I am aware daily, hourly, and sometimes minute-to-minute if I'm appreciated or not.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

It's BACK!!

Swimming season, I mean. I sit here typing with water dripping down my back from the ponytail that just came out of the pool. Ahhhhh. Swimming is good. The water is 78 degrees because each day for almost a week the air temp has been creeping up and holding around 90 and (equally importantly) at night it has only dipped back down into the 60's. So...the masonry around the pool is absorbing heat and not releasing it back into the black void of space every night. That means...I can swim again! Yeah!! It's just the best thing ever to dive into the pool after a long day and float around a bit. Then, laps back and forth, the knees don't mind a bit and there's no sweating. I know I've extolled this form of activity every year (probably several times a year) but I can't praise it enough. I just love swimming.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Birthday of Faye

I don't remember why I nicknamed my first daughter "Faye". I've tried and tried to remember how it came about, but I am unable to recall the origins of this. But it is a name I've called her for years and years. It'd be a good blog if I could remember how it came to be.

But, since I can't remember, I'll just tell some stories about her. Today she is 31. Wow, that's amazing since I'm just 39. (No, really, I feel that way in my head, but my knees...79) Anyway, she was an experiment. Not her conception--that was by design. But we realized about halfway into the pregnancy that we would not be going back to the Boot-Camp atmosphere of the Naval Hospital to deliver her. Cool Guy had read an article about homebirth, and the more I read about the options available, the more I wanted to exercise those options. (NO options were offered at the NRMC--unofficial motto: You Do As We Say, Lady). Today, of course, most of the reasons we opted for the living room over the delivery room are moot because labor and delivery in a hospital are much more pleasant.

So, she was born and we were started on an adventure with Will Power. First, I have to declare that this personality trait enabled her stick it out through three years of beginning swimming lessons so that she could learn, finally, how to swim. She is today a highly educated woman with no student loan debt because she worked diligently (using an above-average intellect) to be good at all her schoolwork from the first day of Kindergarten to the last day of her master's degree, and colleges reward that kind of single-minded devotion to a goal with lavish scholarships. We have many souvenirs of her illustrious education career, including piles of honor roll certificates, academic award plaques, and a very lovely plaster of Paris naked mole rat from a first grade diorama project on mammals.

She is an excellent pianist. I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out, however, the day she came to me explaining that she didn't want to take piano lessons anymore. I was stricken. She'd only been taking them for about two years, and she was pretty good. I, the mother, loved playing the piano. I wanted to pass on this opportunity for music appreciation to my offspring. Oh, keep listening Mom...she just wanted to quit lessons, not the piano--she didn't like having someone tell her what to do; she wanted to learn it on her own. If she got stuck, she could go back and ask the teacher or me. She really liked playing and wanted to get better--but on her own terms. And she did, and she taught herself through more advanced lesson books than I'd made it through. Good thing I didn't get all tyrannical on her, insisting on My Way or The Highway on piano lessons.

I'd already tried tyranny. It didn't work. It didn't work when she was TWO YEARS OLD. The only reason I won some of those wars was because I was bigger and could force her to go places, or whatever, through physical might. I did not EVER win the battle of minds. I did finally learn, however, to readjust my thinking. "Is this really that big of a deal?" "Is this necessary or just what I prefer?" "Who cares, really?" Such as, give away the clothing I couldn't bear to see walk out of the house where anyone else could see her wearing it. Cut her hair really short so it didn't matter if I wasn't being permitted to comb it and she wasn't capable of it yet. Little bitty things---no you don't have to go to sleep, but you do have to stay in bed quietly with a book. It took me a few years to learn that very few things needed me to be the ultimate boss, but they were important things, so I'd better save my cooperation capital for them.

As I said, will power is fabulous, finally. She started baking cookies in elementary school because "Sometimes I wanted cookies, but you didn't have time to bake them. I didn't want to always have to wait for you." She read cookbooks and followed directions and is now an accomplished cook. A self-directed child is a thing of beauty. Faye has always been very self-directed. I didn't always appreciate this, but ultimately it has worked out. Parenting is a school, some of us are slow learners.

Happy Birthday!! Feliz Cumpleanos!! Bake yourself a really awesome cake!!