Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Lights

I like Christmas lights. I like those dripping ice-cycle garlands around the perimeter of the roof. I like the zillions of twinkly lights wrapped all the way around the palm tree trunk with the fronds highlighted with streamers of lights. I like the twinkling colored lights that go off and on at random intervals so the effect is star-like. I like huge Nativity Scenes in the yard, with wooden camels and a real hay bale for Mary to sit on. I like the whole fence festooned with ropes and ropes of lights. I like the colonial style houses in Maryland with a wreath and a candle in every window. I like them all---on other people's houses.

On our house, we usually just hang one strand of colored lights all along the edges of the roof, put a lighted wreath on the door and call it Merry Christmas. On my own house, I like understated and simple.

But, seriously--everyone else--knock yourselves out. I'll drive around and look at it and admire it and get the Christmas spirit from you. I just don't go to all that work at my house.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Music Season

It isn't just food season in December--it is music season. In my current ward I'm the organist, by default. No one else is confident enough to play the hymns. The only other person who is willing (and she subs for me when I'm out of town) is also in the stake RS, and isn't available half the time.'s me, again. I've been the organist by default in three of my four last wards (going back 20 years.) But, this time of year is my favorite time to play.

I love Christmas music. Today we were practicing for our program with the choir. The music director asked me what we should close with. I chose "Angels We Have Heard on High." She decided to have a little fun with me. Each verse she upped the tempo until we were really rocking. I felt like shouting "Huzzah!" at the end because it was just so exhilarating. I love that song--both playing it and singing it.

So, start thinking Christmas thoughts and sing or play on your instrument of choice some holiday music. It's all so terrific. (except for "Grandma Got Runned Over by a Reindeer.")

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bibli-Biography: Chapter Four

Tonight we will discuss Roald Dahl because some of his books became very significant in our lives. Everyone thinks of Willie Wonka when they hear Dahl's name. But that book is not our family favorite. We would have a toss-up between Fantastic Mr. Fox and Danny, the Champion of the World. Both of these were read-aloud favorites at our house. Dahl had a successful career in writing adult fiction, but he began to write for children in the 1960's and 70's. Even though some of his books were published when I was a child, I didn't read any of them until I became a mother.

I don't know what attracted me to Danny, the Champion of the World, but I remember reading it aloud to my four oldest children (#5 was a baby.) We'd read a chapter each night, but when we got to the climax of the story--the drugged pheasants--(you must read this book!!) we stayed up to finish a couple of chapters. We were laughing so hard that we could barely read. I'd read a sentence or two, then we'd laugh until we were gasping for air. Then, I'd go on for a couple more, then more gales of laughter. I have read conflicting information as to whether this book was based on Dahl's own life, so I don't know. But it is a completely charming story. It isn't necessarily intended as a comedy, but that one part will leave you breathless.

Fantastic Mr. Fox isn't just a book enjoyed by my children. I've read it aloud at least 12 times to my classrooms. When I became a teacher, one of my goals was to be that teacher who read aloud to her class. I'd always experienced that in my elementary years and, even though I was a good reader, it was always a pleasure to listen to a story read by our teacher. I had rules for this time in my own classroom:

  1. You were to simply listen.
  2. There was no drawing or anything else while I read.
  3. We didn't have tests on these books.
  4. It was just for enjoyment.
  5. I usually chose authors who had written other books so students could read more if they liked the style.

I often read a book that coordinated with something else in our curriculum, such as Social Studies or Science. Or sometimes I'd read a seasonal book because of a holiday or event during the time I was reading. So, I guess I often used read-aloud time to build background knowledge or give them an extension. But the first book I'd read every year was Fantastic Mr. Fox. This book could be easily read in five days so as to not try their patience with my process. Also, we'd often have a three-day weekend following our first week of school (Labor Day) and it was good to finish before that big break and start fresh when we returned.

Fox was so awesome to read aloud because the characters say "Shut-up!" to each other, and one of them picks his nose and another one belches, and there is a drunken rat that shouts other horrid remarks. My students were always scandalized by this type of real-life rudeness being in a book! And their teacher read it aloud! It was so terrific! It opened their eyes to possibilities of reading. It wasn't all just stuff that someone made you do so you could learn. It could be thrilling and titillating and a little bit naughty. It is a pleasure to read stories to kids and have them be audibly disappointed that you've come to the end. When we'd visit the library next, the Roald Dahl books were snatched off the shelf eagerly.

Tonight we went to the movie that Wes Anderson has made from the book. It is clever and unusual because he used stop-action puppets, instead of animation. He tended to use the book as a suggestion, mostly. The characters and plot are quite altered from the book. It was entertaining and pleasant and we laughed several times.

However, I'm going to need to start reading it again to students, because if all they know of the story is the movie, they will not appreciate the story nearly as much. There's nothing like making the pictures in your own head and hearing a grown-up say, "Just shut up you little pot-bellied dwarf!"

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Eating Season

This time of year is reknown for food. I think there must be more eating traditions between the two holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas than any other time of the year. So today we're having our left-overs. They are always almost better than the original meal. Don't know why.

While we're eating tonight, we've been watching a marathon of a show called "Drive-ins, Diners, and Dives" on the Food Network. We're both still recovering from a two week illness. Actually CoolGuy is still fully on the second week. He's got energy for the morning, but by 2:00, he's losing steam, and by 5:00, it's back on the couch.

The question for tonight is: how can we sit there with our bellies paunched from eating yummy Thanksgiving Dinner, The Sequel, and yet have our mouths water as this nutty guy takes us from town to town, all over the country, to show off viewer's recommendations for local eating establishments? We're watching things like a meatloaf sandwich with cheese and bacon in Minneapolis, or shrimp po'boy sandwiches in New Orleans or macaroni and cheese you wouldn't believe in Salt Lake City and looking at each other and groaning in delight, planning our trip to these destinations.

Gluttony is a sin, right?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving & Birthday

Every year I read magazine articles or something in the food section of the newspaper around Thanksgiving to the effect of changing up the menu. Either they have recipes for new ways to make the sweet potatoes, or altering the menu even more by excluding some old standards altogether because of the calorie content or too much salt or fat. I'm always amused because when I think of Thanksgiving, it is in the context of the old familiar foods that we eat every year.

In fact, some menu items are eaten only on Thanksgiving and I do not even think of making them at any other time of year. Dressing falls into that category for me. So do candied yams. I would never make or serve them at any other event. I happen to love dressing---my mom's recipe is my favorite. Toasted white bread, sage, sauteed celery and onion, moistened with chicken broth and melted butter, then baked in a dish. It is not put into the bird. A couple of times in Maryland I put oysters into my stuffing, and while I liked it, no one else did especially, so when I wanted oyster stuffing, I always made the plain alternative as well. I didn't even make candied yams this year. I could go the rest of my life and never eat them again and be fine.

This year, CoolGuy and I stayed home alone. We've both been really sick and decided not to carry our germs over the river and through the woods. So I cooked a turkey breast, baked rolls and a pecan pie, then steamed a couple of yams in the microwave. I also made stuffing, and, after the disappointment on CoolGuy's face (which he tried to quickly conceal) I rinsed all the drippings from the turkey pan and whipped up some yummy gravy to pour on his dressing and turkey. Tomorrow I'll make mashed potatoes to go with our leftovers.

We ate, then played dominoes, and watched a video. It was classic Thanksgiving afternoon.

Another big holiday was commemorated today: our first grandchild's birthday. He is the coolest kid! I love visiting him, and it was disappointing that we were too sick to travel. He is seven, perfectly fluent in English and Spanish, and just a charming fellow. He plays several sports, and today they went bowling. I just enjoy hanging out with him. We talked on the phone and at Christmas we'd better be good and healthy because we definitely want to go and see him.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Biblio-biography--Chapter Three

Another book that I've loved throughout my life is The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. My parents owned a copy of it, which is where I got the idea to read it my first time the summer after sixth grade. Pearl Buck published The Good Earth in 1931 and it was a best seller for two years. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for it and several other awards, and it was made into a stage play and a movie.

Mrs. Buck had been raised in China by her missionary parents, and then continued to live there as a young married woman teaching at a university. She knew China at the beginning of the 20th century, during the time of the last dynasty. This book is so poignant and tragic and realistic. It is the story of Wang Lung, a poor farmer, whose marriage day is the opening chapter of the book. If you haven't read this book in your life, you should.

I loved it because it was about a farmer. I was 12 when I first read it. I could completely identify with Wang Lung throughout the story because his focus is always on the land. There is nothing he won't do to keep his farm. At one point in the book, the whole family is forced into the city because of a famine. For Wang Lung, this is temporary. He doesn't know how he will do it, but knows that he will return to his land, and eventually a series of events give him the resources he needs to go back. His wife is an heroic farmer's wife, like my mom. (My dad was more thoughtful to my mom than Wang Lung was to O-lan.) And, my mom actually took off a few days when she gave birth...

An interesting stylistic aspect of the book is that it is written as though it has been translated from Chinese without really adjusting the syntax to accommodate English. It has a sense of being told in another tongue. It is, in fact, written in quite lovely English, but her style of writing and her use of language give it a distinctly foreign voice. I was transported to China while reading it.

Buck went on to write a series of novels about Chinese life. My grandmother gave my parents a copy of Pavilion of Women for Christmas once. I have it now; it is signed with love. Grandma was a school teacher, so she appreciated literature. I read that book, too, as a girl. I couldn't seem to get enough of Buck's writing.

While living in San Diego as a young Navy wife, I used to shop at thrift stores regularly where I'd often discover excellent treasures. My favorite find, though, was six Buck books, including The Good Earth. They were a beautiful set, bound alike, and in decent condition. I don't remember if they were expensive or cheap. I just knew I really had to own them. I read them all. Some of them, I wouldn't re-read. But a couple of them were just terrific, almost as good as my farmer's book.

I'm not sure I read The Good Earth aloud to my kids. Probably not, because reading aloud tended to be done with younger people and it isn't really a little kid book. One aspect I especially loved about it as a 12-going-on-13 girl was the frank (yet tastefully chaste) sexuality in the story. The book was full of real life: concubines, childbirth, adultery, drug abuse. Wow---I was enthralled. But, mostly I related so strongly to the protagonist who loved his farm and knew that it was essential to real life. I knew just what he meant; I felt that way, too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Parent Conferences

I spent all day (until 6:45) having parent conferences and I'm all "niced" out. I always dress up a little for this event, so I look professional. I want to be in charge, but I try to make it comfortable for the family, too. I was taken aback the first year I was on the "teacher" side of the table at how stressed some of my parents looked and acted. I realized that I was The Teacher, and it was a little startling. I felt like me still, but when it is school, and people are talking about their children, there is a lot more involved than just grades. People can be very upset when they hear unpleasant news about their child. They can personalize it and be very resentful of the power that you (the teacher) hold over their lives. If they didn't have a good experience in elementary school, then just walking into the building is a stressful event.

Our school has a wonderful tool we use for parent/student conferences: the data binder. Each student has one, and we store all their work in it for the first trimester. It also has little charts or graphs or tables (each grade level has one that we create for our students to use) that tracks their progress through the standards that we cover. So, when we have the conferences, the students get their data binder from the shelf to present their work to their parents, and what their status is with the standards. If they are only approaching a standard, then they will have the work right there to show why that is so. They also explain what it takes to meet the standards, too. The theory is that the students will be aware of where they stand so the report card isn't a surprise.

It actually works really well, and today and this evening, students sat with their parents and showed them their work and chatted away knowledgably about what they'd been doing in math, writing, reading, science and social studies. It was pretty cool to watch. We all discussed ways that the student could do better, or offered compliments on their fine work so far and every conference was a team effort. It was nice.

But, I am exhausted. Weird how all that instensity just drains your energy away. Unlike a normal school day, I sat in a chair most of the day, and I'm dead. Time for the hot tub.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Copy Cat Meme-ing

I borrowed it from her.

1.What time did you get up this morning?

Well, Kitty Cat woke me up at 4:15 to go out. I wanted to get up at 5:00 because I needed to wash my hair for Parent Conference day, and I needed to get to school early to get some more things ready for Parent Conference I got up 4:55. Sick.

2. Diamonds or pearls?

I really like pearls. My only diamond is in my engagement ring.

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? think Australia. It's been so long ago.

4. What is your favorite TV show?

We watch Jeopardy every night because we can DVR it and watch it at our leisure. But my favorite T.V. show is WKRP in Cincinnati. Or Major Dad. Or The Flintstones. Or Hawaii 5-0 (It didn't say current TV show.)

5. What do you usually have for breakfast?

Oatmeal or Frosted Mini-wheats and cinnamon raisin bread toast and a banana.

6. What is your middle name?

Don't have a middle name: my mom squeezed both of the names I go by onto the "first name" section of the birth certificate.

7. What food do you dislike?

Vietnamese fish sauce; also, feta cheese

8. What is your favorite CD at moment?

I like Los Lonely Boys or Chris Hillman

9. Favorite Color?

I like purple things, but I prefer to wear dark green or red.

10. Favorite sandwich?

Stuffed ham; or open faced PB with honey and a glass of cold milk

11. What characteristic do you despise?


12. Favorite item of clothing?

My jeans: Levi's 529, boot cut

13. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?

I'd like to go to the Serengeti and see all the animals.

14 . Favorite brand of clothing?

I've discovered that Cold Water Creek clothes fit me very well, as a woman of a certain age.

15. Where would you retire to?

I'd love a beach house on the California coast.

16.What was your most recent memorable birthday?

My birthdays have all blurred together into one event. I can't distinguish one from the other except for my 7th birthday when my sisters gave me a party.

17. What is your favorite sport to watch?

Little League Baseball when one of my children is playing.

18. When is your birthday?

February 23

19. Are you a morning person or a night person?

I'm kind of a 10 o'clock in the morning person. I don't like really early, and I can't stay awake late.

20.What Shoe Size do you wear?

10 medium

21. Pets?

one cat--we'd love a dog, but someone needs to be home during the day to be nice to a dog.

22. Any new and exciting news you' d like to share with us?

Only two more classes of my miserable statistics class!!! I am optimistic that I will actually pass.

23. What did you want to be when you were little?

a scientist or a secretary or a cowboy or mom or ...

24. How are you today?

Sick of being sick--all coughed out.

25. What is your favorite candy?

Chocolate, preferably dark and soft caramel popcorn.

26. What is your favorite flower?


27. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to?

March 22--Spring Equinox

28. What's your full name?

Mrs. BuzzKill--elementary teacher (according to CoolGuy)

29. What are you listening to right now?

a movie that CoolGuy is watching

30. What was the last thing you ate?

Dinner: homemade chicken soup

31. Do you wish on stars?

I wish on birthday candles.

32. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

burnt Sienna

33. How is the weather right now?

Chilly for the desert: 53 degrees

34. The first person you spoke to on the phone today?

My sister

35. Favorite soft drink?

regular, plain Coke

36. Favorite restaurant?

Um...I like quite a few...Aranda's Taqueria, Lotus of Siam, Clark's Landing, anything Indian,

37.. Real hair color?

dark blonde with many silver highlights (I've never colored it.)

38. What was your favorite toy as a child?

My Annie Oakley skirt, vest and six-shooters.

39. Summer or winter?

Absolutely: summer

40. Hugs or kisses?

Hugs from grandchildren, kisses from CoolGuy

41. Chocolate or Vanilla?

Chocolate, preferably dark

42. Coffee or tea?

herb tea or hot cocoa

43. Siblings?

5 sisters, 2 brothers

44.When was the last time you cried?

a couple of weeks ago--I was discouraged.

45. What is under your bed?

a sleeping kitty cat

46. What did you do last night?

visitng teaching, cooked dinner, watched t.v. and soaked in the hot tub

47. What are you afraid of ?

Getting sick or hurt with something that I can't fix

48. Sweet or Savory?

Depends...I love salty, but I crave sweet, too.

49. How many keys on your key ring?

50. How many years at your current job?

I've been teaching for 15--in this district-- five

51. Favorite day of the week?

Saturday is a special day--it's the day we don't set the alarm...

52. How many towns have you lived in?


53. Are you an Introvert or Extrovert?

extrovert -- to the never-ending annoyance of some in my family because I'm always talking to strangers

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A few Points

First...I have a correction. On November 17 I published the news that my "baby" was 24 years old. Today, for some reason, I was thinking of him, and it suddenly occured to me that --DOH-- he is 25 years old. (2009-1984=25...) Wow. I've had everyone's age wrong for a couple of years, including my own. Two years ago my good friend pointed out that, no, I couldn't be 53, because he was 53 and I'm one year older than him. I was turning 55 on that birthday. Just like that I aged two years in two days. One day, I was 53, but I realized I was actually 54, and because it was my birthday the next day, I was, in fact, 55. So, I guess I haven't recovered from that brain-spasm because I've done it again with my son. Wow. It was a milestone birthday and I blew it.

Second...what do you suggest we do with a cluster of ladies in our Relief Society who sit and chat during the opening announcements? And it isn't just an occasional whisper...they're usually talking to each other, quite audibly, with laughter, and very distractingly. Our RS room is oddly shaped. It is a shallow U and these women sit on the far left side of the room, along the back wall, and--frankly--never shut up until we're into the opening song a verse or two. I play the piano, I'm sitting right in front of their section over there and it is extremely distracting and completely rude. The announcements in RS are usually quite elaborate and pretty strategic: lots of important scheduling occurs and there is usually a series of clipboards going around that need a word of explanation. Having been in a RS presidency, I know that these announcements must be made, so there isn't an alternative. But, I'm truly tired of these interrupters.

Oh, and incidently, two of them are: the stake RS president and one of her counselors. Yes. That is why we do not know what to do about it. Today, I went over to the "club" after I'd played a little music following the prayer, and I spoke like an annoyed mom: "Now you girls just cannot sit together anymore, I'm telling you. Am I going to have to come over here and sit between you?" Then we all laughed. But I actually meant it. I know our ward RS president is peeved. But she doesn't know what to do either. Any suggestions out there?

Saturday, November 21, 2009


A couple of months ago, I checked out three science videos from the county library so I could show them to our students as part of an astronomy unit. Then, I took them back to the library.

However, the library has been remodeling and part of their new "up-grade" was an automated check-in system. You place your items on a belt and it scans them as they travel through the opening in the wall.

Except that one of the videos didn't make the machine beep. I grabbed it back and tried it on a different barcode on the box, and then on the DVD itself. Nope. I looked around for a human. Nope. So, I thought, I'll just let it run through here and they'll figure it out.

Nope. A couple of weeks later I received an e-mail telling me that the video was overdue. So, realizing that the DVD had just been replaced on the shelf without ever checking in, I went to the library. There I told a person behind a desk about my problem, I wrote down my name and the name of the video and she said she'd investigate. I figured it was all solved.

Nope. Today I received a collections letter from the library system to pay them $50 and a $10 fee because of my lost or overdue item. So this time, I went down to the library, looked on the shelf, where--yes, the DVD was parked--and went and got a human. After I told her the whole story, she came with me and looked at the DVD, picked it up and took it back to her desk where she took my name off the Bad List.

She promised me that they had corrected their earlier problems with the new self-return scanners and that they'd had some trouble with them at first. Good. Next time I don't hear the "beep" I won't leave until someone helps me right then.

Technology good: sometimes. Real librarians: best most of the time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Everyday after school I am stationed at the street corner, wearing my fluorescent yellow vest, raising my stop sign aloft so students can cross safely on their way home. Today at the end of my 12 minute shift, a fellow came walking up the sidewalk with a rope in his hand. Curious...

He was looking for his dog. I told him that I'd been out there since 3:30, but we hadn't seen a black dog. We'd have noticed because all the kids would have been trying to pet him. The guy was distressed because he'd been working in his yard and the dog was just there. How could he have gotten away so quickly?

Then he said, "Well, thanks, young lady, for your help. I'll keep looking."

Well, there's his problem: he called me "young lady"--clearly, the dude needs glasses. Of course he can't find the dog. Probably can't see him.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In the Nick of Time

I'm posting this with just moments left of November 18 because there hasn't been time earlier. I got up at 6:00, left for school at 7:15. At 8:00 there was an IEP meeting on one of my students. We finished in time for me to pick up my class and start school. I did some homework for my statistics class during my planning. Then I checked some quizes as I ate lunch. At 3:30 I sent my students out the door and hurried to the car to drive to the college for the 4:00 P.M. class.

I left class three hours later and stopped at the grocery store for milk and bread. I got home, checked my e-mail and saw the unwrapped birthday present sitting on my desk. It's for our grandson who is turning seven next week. I realized I forgot to pick up a padded envelope to mail it in, so I went back out to the store and bought one. While I was there, I remembered that I have to bring some pasta salad tomorrow to school because it is my group's turn to sponsor the once-a-month potluck. I decided on ancini-de-pepe, so I wandered around picking up the parts for it.

I got home, made quesdillas for supper, ate them with some tomato soup while watching DVR Jeopardy! Then I put the ancini on to cook, and we watched a DVR of The Good Wife. Then I made the pudding, put the pasta in it and put it in the fridge.

Now I'm going to wrap the gift, and get it ready to mail. Then, I'll get in the hot tub and after that go to bed. In six hours I'll get up and start over. Whew. Just made it. NaBloPoMo.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celebrate With a Tuba

Today is the anniversary of the end of my very last pregnancy. Which is an awkward way to say Happy Birthday to the Music Man--our youngest child. Only he isn't exactly young anymore. It's been 24 years! Ack! How could so many years go by so quickly? It's especially ironic that I feel that way, because he was actually about three weeks late in being born.

All the rest of them were born on or very, very near the due dates. But, this guy just seemed to like it up there in Heaven, and stuck around for a couple of extra weeks. We were attending our oldest son's soccer games from August through November, and the other parents had started asking me early in the season when I was due. You could see their barely concealed eyerolling when it turned out I had nearly three more months to go. I looked ready to pop in September. To think that I wasn't going to be giving birth for 8 more weeks was just amazing to them. That's because they'd never seen me pregnant before. However, September came and went. Then October came and went, but I continued to stagger onto the sidelines and sit heavily in my lawn chair and then lurch back out of it and waddle back to the truck. Each game in November, you could just tell the other mothers were feeling so sorry for me. Finally, one Saturday--we missed the game!! Our little brother was born!! At last!! When our oldest son called his coach to say why we weren't there, his coach replied, "We were all hoping that's what had happened."

Well, he was a darling baby, a darling little kid, a killer baseball player, a math whiz and a kind and good friend to all. But who knew what lay in store during teen-agerhood? Music...

He started in band in 8th grade. He taught himself the entire 1st clarinet lesson book over a weekend. The band director was excited! Music Man had learned to read music during piano lessons. (Everyone in our family was treated to piano lessons.) But, somehow, in the gene pool, he and our oldest have been blessed with another skill in music of being able to hear it as no one else does. Both of them sit down with an instrument (piano, guitar) and just play whatever they'd like, in whatever key and whatever arrangement they feel impressed to use. Whew.

Then, Music Man was recruited to join choir in high school and another amazing musical talent was revealed. He can sing bass and with a perfect pitch. And in a couple of languages. And in multiple genres.

Luckily, he attended a high school where all this talent was appreciated and nurtured, and he availed himself of several opportunities in the community to be in musical ensembles. If you've never attended a Tuba Christmas concert---go! go!

So, over the years of high school, community college and up through the present, whenever there was a need for another person to play a particular instrument, he stepped up. Here's a partial list I've seen him play: clarinet, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, tuba, euphonium, kettle drums, piano, organ, snare drums, both stacked drums in marching band, electric bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, marimba, banjo. He was given the John Phillip Sousa award by his senior band director.

Then, after high school, he found opportunities in community musical theater, and college choral, and bar bands with his other brother! So, the performing just went on and on. I am their Biggest Fan.

So, I guess I'll quit now. But one problem of living with great musicians...they grow up and leave home and there you are living in a quiet house. Blah. So today, if you have a chance to raise a toast to a kind friend, a good brother, a terrific son, a valuable employee, and the best musician I know---you should drink it to the sounds of a Sousa March, played on a tuba.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Point

Well, I KNOW you've seen it. If you have watched a car commercial in the past ten years, you've seen it! We used to see it as often as possible. Last summer I introduced some newer members of my family to it. What am I talking about, you ask? I'm talking about one of the most filmed lumps of rock in Western America--Point Mugu.

Here's a cool shot of CoolGuy and the motorcycle on the cliff by the rock. Just continue north on the highway that threads between the point and the mountain and you'll be at the base where he worked for six years. He drove south past this icon many days for lunch at Neptune's Net. (Featured in "Point Break") The Net is a little diner where you can get clam chowder and shrimp and then sit and eat it while watching the surfers at County Line Beach (of the Beach Boys' song: Surfin' USA).

So, anyway, we are quite fans of Mugu Rock and have driven by it countless times. It is a marvelously picturesque piece of real estate with the Pacific Ocean stretching off into the background. Now that you're looking at the photo, I know you've seen it in so many car commercials, huh?

We found another occasion when it was filmed. CoolGuy was vegging recently and as he channel-surfed he found the beginning of an old favorite movie, "North to Alaska" featuring John Wayne, Stewart Granger and even Fabian (!). We remembered seeing it at our home town theater when we were 9 or 10. Plus, the theme song is by Johnny Horton of "Battle of New Orleans" fame. (Well, fame to us in 1960...)

In the plot, Sam is heading south, after he and partner George hit it big in the Klondike. Sam is the only person that George can trust to go fetch his girl and bring her North, now that George has enough money to propose marriage. So there are Sam and George, on the pier in Nome, waiting for the ship to finish unloading, so Sam can board. All around them are men building the boomtown, hauling barrels off the ship, carrying another load of something onto the ship. Sam is dressed in his warm jacket and hat and it is portrayed as a busy Alaskan port.

Except as the camera pulls back to show Sam walking up onto the ship and the hills in the background....we see....Mugu rock. Hmmm...I'm sure I've seen that movie about five times, but none of those times were after I'd lived in Ventura county. So, I'll bet I assumed it was Alaska when I saw it as a kid. But, that beach along the Pacific Coast Highway is about as far from the frozen north as you can get. I still like the movie.

Here's a gorgeous day in September on the PCH between Malibu and Port Hueneme.
Neptune's Net is often crazy busy on the weekends. It is a perfect motorcycle ride from L.A. and sometimes you'll see "bikers" that you normally see in their other life starring in a t.v. show or a movie. If you're really lucky, you'll see the Sexiest Man Alive 2008*...

*and every other year since I first laid eyes on him*

Sunday, November 15, 2009


It snowed this week. As the clouds lifted from the big mountain west of the city on Thursday morning I saw a shining crown of snow on its peak. It was beautiful and breathtaking, and right where it belongs: waaaay up there, far from me. Yes, it is weather-sissy whine-time again!

Truly, I've grown to love moderate weather. Even hot, desert weather. I didn't care for the humidity of the east coast. (A massive understatement: "didn't care for...") and I really don't feel the need, ever again, to experience forty or twenty below zero temperatures. That is just so "previous-life" for me.

When I left the house today for church, which starts at 11:00 A.M. (for 6 more weeks anyway), I shivered, and went back in for a jacket. Then I stepped over to the window to check the temperature from the patio thermometer. It was 58 degrees. I rolled my eyes. If I were living in Wyoming on November 15th, and it were 58 degrees, we'd all be going to church in our shirt sleeves, excited that we were having a summery day this late in the fall. Yeah, I know. I'm a weather sissy, and this has been today's Whine-Time.

Here's a flash from the past. I'm third tallest, it's probably Christmas and I think I'm in fifth grade. And it wasn't all that cold--just really snow-covered on a bright, blue, Sunday morning in our drive-way. It is picturesque there at Christmas, all white and pine-tree green. But there is usually snow on the ground from October through the end of April. I'm just ruined from living in Southern California.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Veteran's Day Follow-up

When I was listing the members of my family who are veterans, I didn't list some significant ones:

CoolGuy's father, and all three of his brothers. Army, Army, Air Force, Army. Our thanks to all of them and his various cousins and uncles who served too. And did I mention my mother-in-law? She too was in the National Guard for ten years. Her profession was registered nurse, but as an Army girl she drove a truck.

Today is the Aviation Nation Air Show at Nellis AFB here in Las Vegas. They've been practicing all week. Since our school is located just south of the air base, we've had lots of previews of the Thunderbirds howling through the air. Tomorrow, we'll ride the bike over to the edge of the air field and watch them do their thing. Very impressive.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stop, Please

Okay, I am officially tired of people using the phrase "a ton" instead of "many, a lot, various" etc. I am struck by how often some of my co-workers are willing to use it when they are put in an official position, such as when giving a lesson at an in service meeting. Tonight, I heard it in a testimonial-type ad on the radio. Please...

Okay, I know that I am the Grammar Police, and and International Grammar Enforcement Person, as well, but aren't there certain words or phrases that irritate you?

Here's what I don't like about the use of "a ton" lately. Most of the time the speaker is referencing a large number of items, as opposed to a weight. Such as, "There are a ton of reasons why you'll love ------ products." OR "I have a ton of strategies for teaching these concepts to your students." It is just so colloquial and weak and inaccurate: a ton is a unit of weight not a long list.

That is all. Just try not to use "a ton" when you mean "a lot"--please.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Life Coach

CoolGuy recently noted that he understands Kitty Cat's life, and occasionally feels that he is living it:

Food magically appears when he needs some more. He likes to eat a frozen fruit bar as we soak in the hot tub each evening. Last night, he was impressed that when he opened the freezer door, instead of the lone lime bar awaiting him that he expected, there was a brand new box.

The door will open as if by magic. Or won't open. It's random. When I'm home, and I hear him coming down the street and slow down to pull into our driveway, I'll step into the garage and push the button that opens the door. Then, just as he enters the driveway, the automatic opener kicks in and he can just drive right into the garage. But, if I happen to leave while he is out--no magic--he has to put the kickstand down, enter the code himself, and then after the door opens, drive in and park.

Too bad he can't also just sleep 14 hours a day, get his ears scratched, and be adored by every kid who comes to the house.

However, I do love him. and he can cuddle up in bed by me every night, too.

As long as it doesn't disturb KittyCat.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

Today is a day that I'm glad gets the recognition that it does. When I was in high school there seemed to be a sense in our nation that the military wasn't well respected. Popular culture was enmeshed in the political conflict over our involvement in Viet Nam and it spilled onto the people doing the actual serving.

There are many veterans in our family. Of course, CoolGuy is my favorite one. But my dad was also a Navy veteran, as was his brother, my uncle Dan. Many adults where I grew up had served in WWII. My dad's father was also a WWI veteran. And one of my brothers has done family history research on our father's line and discovered we had ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. Really awesome! Knowing that CoolGuy's family came from New York and arrived from England to the "colonies" in the 1600's, I'm confident that some of his family were undoubtedly soldiers then too.

I respect veterans because it isn't an easy career. Even if you just sign up for one enlistment, it is a deep commitment. You are Uncle Sam's 24/7. It isn't just a job like others, when you have your own time. Oh, of course you aren't at work every minute. But you are obligated every minute. Your "free time" is only free as long as your commander doesn't need you. I know that when troops are deployed, or sailors at sea, there actually isn't any free time. Oh, you get to sleep and eat, and there are video games and movies and books to read. But you are "on" really.

An interesting aspect of the military is the pride. Ask a veteran--they're proud of it. They might tell jokes and complain and make fun of aspects of it. But, deep inside they know that they are part of a long, honorable tradition and they are a member of a great "club". It lasts your whole life. Your status as one who has served our fantastic country never expires. America never forgets.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Jarheads

Today the USMC is 234 years old. The Marine Corps predates the Declaration of Independence for goodness sake. The Continental Congress passed a resolution to create the Corps on November 10, 1775 to fight for independence.

We have a long affiliation with the Marines in our family, even though CoolGuy is a Navy veteran. (Don't tell this to a Marine, but they are really a division of the Navy.) Rivalry is rampant between these two parts of the military. Here's a good bumper sticker you'll find in the parking lot of a Naval Hospital: The Marines have found their good men: Navy Corpsmen

Here's a good joke: (and you can adjust it depending on who is telling it...)
A sailor is standing at a urinal next to a Marine. They finish at the same time and the sailor starts to walk out the door, while the Marine steps up to the sink. The Marine says, "In the Corps, they taught us to wash our hands after we use the bathroom." The sailor replies, "In the Navy, they showed you how to pee without getting it on your hands."

And on and on...that is a joke I can actually post on this blog. There are some I can't. But...the Marines are not a joke. In fact, I'm very, very glad they are the United States Marines, as opposed to some other country's Marines. They are the best. They are the top of the heap. Anything you hear about them is true. They have a lot of tradition, valor, honor, and skill. Semper Fi is not just a motto.

When CoolGuy went to the Big Sandbox about twenty years ago as a civilian supporting a company of Marines, who were up at the front doing surveillence, I fretted that he would be unarmed. He assured me by saying he had something better than a weapon: he had a Marine whose job it was to protect him. If anything were to have happened to CoolGuy, this dude would have hoisted him over a brawny shoulder, along with the pack he was obligated to haul around, and would have brought CoolGuy out with him. Yes, it sounds corny. But it's true. They do that.

So, raise a fist and shout "Oooh-rah!" and then sing Happy Birthday. And someday, go to Washington DC and see the Marine Corps Memorial. You can read all the years and campaigns around the base. It is very sobering and inspiring.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Teacher Teacher

I just read a post by a good friend who is also a teacher. She pointed out that in her fifteen years of teaching, this is the only time she has been in the same school, the same grade level and same classroom for a couple of years in a row.

I, too, have been teaching for fifteen years. But, I have worked to stay in the same grade level that whole time. Even when I moved across the country to come back home to the West, I managed to get a job as a fourth grade teacher. And you know, I hope to remain in this grade level until I'm done with the job.

Teaching is hard work. It takes many hours off-the-clock. I like my job, I enjoy working with kids. I like the little dumb things, like putting up my calendar every month with the themed dates (like this month every card for the dates is a little handprint that mimics the shape of a turkey--so we're multicultural with the variety of skin tones of the handprints, and seasonal.) Also, I still have the patience to help nine-year olds remember to put their name on their papers, and keep their desks organized and wash their hands after recess.

But, I don't want to change grade levels, or be the literacy facilitator, or (heaven forbid!) an administrator. I'd like to keep teaching fourth grade because I know that there will be enough changes each year with the curriculum, the grading system, the principal's latest whim or fad. So I don't feel the need to change grade levels to get variety. I'm not tired of fourth grade yet. I do get tired of new stuff for the sake of new stuff. But that is inevitable.

So, I'll just stay here in fourth grade and keep doing what I'm good at and keep getting better at it. I change things up all the time--you have to--the kids are different each year. Current events are different--curriculums require different things from the children. I get enough change.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rubbed the Right Way

Is this just a Las Vegas perk? Or can you go to a mall in other cities and find professional massage therapists who provide a variety of massages right there in a chair in the mall? There is a big mall right on the Strip with all the stores you would imagine for people who can afford to stay across the street at The Wynn: Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor, Lacosta, etc. etc. Well, there is also an area on the main floor where you can book time with a massage therapist, right there and then. You sit on a special chair that leans you forward onto a support cushion, your face resting on a horseshoe shaped pad, arms resting on another support cushion, and get massaged. Depending on how much time you wish to pay for, you can get just a little comfort or quite a bit.

Now, I know when I mention "massage" and "Las Vegas" in the same paragraph, there are going to be some eyebrows raised. Undoubtedly, when this blog pops up, there will be disappointment for any number of people who google that phrase in anticipation of a Hot Time in Sin City. But, seriously, this is completely legit. You are right out there in the open, all of your clothes remain on your body, and it is very professional.

I paid for the neck, back, arms and shoulders version. A couple of days ago, I was talking on my cell phone while multitasking and I tucked the phone onto my shoulder and held it in place with my head while reaching for something with both hands. I was instantly smitten with a vicious muscle cramp directly below my right shoulder blade, that caused me to gasp and drop the phone. It caused me to gasp all day whenever I moved a certain way. So, I decided I'd go and get a rubdown on Saturday.

It was awesome. I wanted to just pay for another 20 minutes on the spot and sit back down. I felt ever so much better, and he pointed out that my shoulders were very hard and tense when he started. They were definitely relaxed when my time was up. I'd like to hire their crew to come over to our school and give these massages at the end of the day. (There are male and female and you can choose -- he was available and I'm not fussy.) So, if you have this little perk at an upscale mall in your area, go, go--it's better than a new pair of shoes, and less expensive too.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Take Out Treat

After school, I had two uninterrupted hours at my desk. I finished my lesson plans, cleaned off my desk (!!), organized my parent conference forms and made a tentative schedule for those visits, and then I went home and fed Kitty Cat. After that I drove down to my physical therapy appointment. My arm goes numb less often, thank you for asking. The work out there is helping, I think.

Then, I stopped off at K-Mart to get a heavy-duty extension cord for my classroom. I also ended up with a cute little sweater and a new purse. So then I stopped off at a Thai restaurant I've never eaten at and ordered some pad thai and tom yum soup, to go. The lady/owner was so kind and sweet. She gave me a drink, asked me to sit and rest and said she'd bring me the food when it was ready. Then, she also pointed out that she would treat me to some eggrolls since it was my first visit. She has a lot of repeat customers, I'm guessing. They return for the royal treatment.

I got home, dished it all up and watched Jeopardy. What a pleasant evening. YUM, YUM YUM. I'll go back for another dinner some night when I'm just too tired to cook.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Book Two: Biblio-Biography

These two books have only been part of my adult life, and, ironically, they are children's books. William Steig was a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine for years before he published any children's books. I enjoyed his wit and style of drawing. But I was unaware of his venture into children's literature in 1970.

After I became a mom, an opportunity came my way in the junk mail one day to join The Children's Choice Book Club. The selections in the catalog were so great, that I couldn't resist. It was all literature, nothing to do with popular culture like t.v. or movies. I received hardback books about every two months, and the price was very reasonable. I eeked it out of my "extra" money. There was virtually no extra money in those days, but, we agreed that books were not a luxury but a necessity. Of course we went to the library regularly, too, but I couldn't resist owning these books I got through the mail. Many of them turned out to be our bedtime favorites which we have read, re-read, and re-re-read to the point of memorization. Several of our family-phrases have come from these books.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

This is the story of a little donkey who finds an interesting pebble one day. By chance, he discovers that it is magic pebble. When he is holding it, anything he wishes comes true. He changes the weather, he changes a couple of other silly things, but suddenly a lion comes out of the woods and in a state of fright, Sylvester wishes he was a rock so that the lion won't be able to hurt him. Poof! He's a rock. But the magic pebble is lying on the ground beside him and, because he is not touching it, he cannot make the magic work, no matter how much he wishes. He sits there as a rock, with his own thinking ability intact, and despairs over what to do now. In the meantime, his family is bereft by his disappearance. It is such a touching story, almost too intense for children, actually. As we read it, we almost felt as heartbroken as Sylvester's parents and hopeless as Sylvester. When an astonishing coincidence solves all of their troubles, we fully understand the final line of the book: They have all they've ever wanted: each other. I dare you to read this book without crying. I can't. Even now.

Dr. DeSoto

This charming book is a favorite for two reasons. One, Dr. DeSoto is a mouse and our own rodent pets created warm feelings toward all rodent book characters. Two: I once worked for a children's dentist and developed an understanding of how to prevent tooth decay in my own children that I did not have when I was a child. I was determined to keep them from the dental tortures that I'd had, and I went to some rather extreme measures to insure that. So, a book about a clever dentist who looked like a ratty was a cinch to be popular at our house. If you haven't read it, you must hurry to the library and get a copy. It is fantastic! He and his wife--the assistant--are popular with all the animals, but they wisely refuse to treat cats or other rodent-eating types. One day, they take pity on a fox with a terrible toothache, but realize that they must figure out a way to protect themselves anyway. It is one of our favorite books to read aloud. And...anyone in the family who needs to indicate their reluctant, not-necessarily-sincere gratitude still says, "Fank-you bery mush." Read it--you'll get it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Kitty Cat is Fine

Just in case you'd heard something different...I don't know if she was successful in holding the press conference to protest her appalling treatment of today.

CoolGuy went back east last night, so this morning when I left for school at 7:30 A.M., she was left alone with her crunchy food dish filled, her automatic water bowl, and the freshly filled litter box. She was deep in slumber on the bed.

However, I couldn't return until 7:45 P.M. because of my college class, so I wasn't sure if I'd be met at the door by her attorney, or the ASPCA, or what. So, I'm just saying, she is fine. The kitty chicken was served. She has been outdoors, and is now back on the bed.

Exhausted, I'm sure by the traumatic afternoon with no one here to serve her at 5:00.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

My Blood Pressure Feels Lower Already

I got an e-mail from my statistics professor (finally) to tell me my grade from the test two weeks ago.

17/20 correct on the take-home portion. 18/20 correct on the in-class test.

YES! I may pass this course yet...


Well, I already missed a day and it was only the 2nd of the month. I plead busy, frazzled, exhausted. I had a staff development day yesterday and then there were so many things to do after it finished that I didn't leave the building until 8:30 P.M. That is sick.

But I also don't feel well. I've been monitoring my blood pressure for a couple of weeks because it was too high at a recent doctor visit and it remains high. As a result, I have a teeny, nagging headache and I feel that I don't think well. So, everything is taking longer to do. I'll figure out this stupid blood pressure elevation---not extreme, but mine has been very low all my life, so I don't like it. My fingers are puffy, too, so what's going on? Hmm...medical mysteries to solve.

Anyway, I got home so late and so frazzled that I totally forgot I was intending to blog every day. I'll try to do better the rest of the month. Well, back to school--eleven short hours later.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

NaBloPoMo--Writing, Writing, Writing

Hey, just what I need: a reason to spend more time at the computer! If I actually wrote something each day for National Blog Posting Month instead of just surfing through political websites it might be a useful thing. I think of stuff to write now and then, but often I get home from school and I am just too tired to do something intellectual. So, surfing through a variety of rantings from different sides of the political spectrum is about all the "thinking" I have energy to do.

So, this month, I'll see if I can write a post that someone would care enough to read. Here's today's attempt:

We had a lesson on visiting teaching today. I've given this lesson many times. The one where we try to get the sisters to decide that VT is important enough to prioritize, to plan for it. Statisically, this ward is at about 70%. That is better than some wards I've been in, but when you put it in terms of, say, bringing back 70% of the students you took out on the field trip (as our RS president did recently) then you see that it's not a good number.

I know all the reasons why it is difficult to do VT. We're all busy. We're don't know the people very well. They're not exactly excited to see us. They're inactive in church and wonder why we keep bugging them each month.'re busy, you know the sisters you're assigned are also busy. You see them in church every week anyway. You know they're fine. And, here's another one I've never personally experienced in my adult life: you're not in need of one more person to "check up on you" because you have a busy and full life with your [fill in the blank] children, siblings, grandchildren, lifelong friends.

Since I've been a married woman, I've lived "temporarily" wherever we've lived. I've always known we were going to move. Someday. We've lived as long as ten years in some places, but it was usually year to year--I didn't know it was going to be 10 years--the job could have moved us at any time. Many of our ward members were also affiliated with the military, so they were temporary, too. So, it is a new thing for me to live here in Las Vegas in an established neighborhood where it is the norm for people to have been born, raised, married, had children, and now their grandchildren, all while living in the same neighborhood, or at least in town.

My incentive for being a concientious visiting teacher is that I have been befriended by women tasked with being my VTs and it was a life-saver on a number of occasions. It gave me someone trustworthy when I had a crisis--large or small. I was grateful to pass forward that blessing. But, when you have sisters, childhood friends, children or grandchildren just around the corner, maybe it isn't as compelling.

My current visiting teacher (a very busy woman about my age, who works, sings in a professional choral group, is in the stake RS, and has grandchildren living locally) came to my house last month. We sat and talked and laughed about our similar childhoods (she grew up in Idaho about 100 from where I grew up in Wyoming). It was so nice to sit and talk to someone for fun. She stayed almost an hour. We could have talked for another hour, but she needed to get home after a long day. Yes, she sees me every week at church. Yes, I'm well, so is she. But it is nice to sit and enjoy a calm chat with another woman. It filled a need I didn't realize I had.

I could tell you a whole book full of inspiring stories about people who helped me, or people whom I've helped (I found one such lady a couple of years ago here in Las Vegas--it was very random--our paths had crossed 27 years ago in San Diego when I was her VT briefly). But the reason I wrote this is to tell you that no one but you can compell you to be a consistent visiting teacher. If you are willing to put in the effort, you will be blessed. So will someone else, and she may really be needing it, whether she knows it or not.