Friday, December 30, 2011

Expiration Dates

I poured a quart of orange juice down the drain today. I'd bought this juice a couple of months ago. It sat in my fridge unopened, sealed tightly, until two weeks ago when I was baking something that needed a half cup of orange juice. I looked at that bottle, realized that it had never been opened. Even though it said right on it: use by November 11, I opened it and smelled it and tasted it, and it was just fine. I drank a glass and used it in my baking and used it again the next day. However, today, when I was going through the fridge again, I just didn't dare test it. I figured that it would really be pushing it to assume that six weeks after its expiration date, it would still be edible. So, down the drain it went.

 I'm musing about expiration dates, because, apparently there was an invisible one stamped on my feet when I was born: 2011. Done. Kaput. Over and Out. Finished. I've got another foot surgery scheduled in a month, because my other stupid, stupid foot has collapsed. I've been wearing the ortho boot again since Thanksgiving. I went to the doctor and he looked at the MRI report and it said, "complete tear, posterior tibial tendon." Complete this time, not just partially torn. It's unbelievable to me that my feet, although they've always been flat, would just both completely give up the ghost within such a short time!

Go read the link about this tendon....(Jeopardy! music plays till you come back....) Did you notice that it says there really isn't a "cause" or anything. Just that "it happens" usually to women over forty with flat feet. Actually, I guess it says "degeneration caused by long-term wear and tear." But why haven't I ever known anyone to whom this has happened? I don't have a single relative or friend who has had to have this surgery. Weird to me.

Plus, on my so-called "good foot" I now have a new bandage. I was moseying around my house on Wednesday night in bare feet because I get so tired of wearing this boot, and as I went outside to put some vegetable debris in my composter, I stubbed my pinkie toe on the leg of a large overstuffed chair. I've only walked past this chair nine billion times in the past as I've gone out this door, without stubbing my toe. But that hurt so bad, it took my breath away.

The next morning, my pinkie had become a purplie. It was terrifically sore; I could barely put on my sock. So, after I left the mammogram place (I'm on vacation...I'm going to lots of annual appointments.) I went to a walk-in clinic (ha ha!! I guess for me it would be a stump-in clinic, huh?) Anyway, they didn't have an X-ray tech that day. The clinic down the street didn't take my insurance. So, I called my foot doctor's office and they told me to come on over. Yes, an X-ray later: I fractured the bone just below the toe part that sticks off your foot. GOOD GRIEF. Here's the poor thing:

Under that bandage it is purple and black and blue. So, I'm to keep it bandaged for a month and try to wear just my hiking boot because it has a stiff sole and won't let it bend much. DOH. I'm having a bad foot year, huh? Well, I'll keep you posted on the upcoming foot surgery. It's scheduled for Feb. 3. I have lots of paper work to do for the school system. Then, lesson plans to write for the first two weeks, and some type of outline for the next four weeks, so my sub will have a clue what to do. 

Oh, oh!! And I got a jury summons in the mail this week, too!! But, I'm pretty sure that my doctor will sign off on my not having to go there, because the jury duty is scheduled for two days before the surgery, and I think if he tells them that I'm not going to be available for a jury because of that, they'll waive it for me. But, seriously?? Jury summons?? Right now?? Amazing... 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Transformational Literature

For Christmas, we visited with our children in Utah. When ever I go to my daughter's house, I never pack reading material because I know I will always find something in her bookshelves to pique my interest. Actually, she has an extensive collection of classics, and I try to read one of them each time I visit. This visit, I read Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather.

I remember reading some book by Willa Cather in high school. I regret to tell you that I cannot recall the was probably O Pioneers! or possibly My Antonia.  But the problem was that it didn't really stick in my head as so terrific that I've never forgotten it, making me a life-long Willa Cather fan. Some books did that to me: I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and it transformed me. I read Wuthering Heights and it was all I could do to write the stupid paper about it because it struck me as a ridiculous soap opera and I could hardly believe it was considered "great literature." (I'm going to give it another chance soon.) I was also moved by Swiftwater, and A Separate Peace, and Tess of the D'Ubervilles, and A Tale of Two Cities. So, high school English wasn't a complete wash.

But, this time, Willa Cather got me. I started it one night for bedtime reading. The first couple of chapters were a bit slow, but then the next night, it captured me and I read until I dropped the book and fell asleep. I didn't have time to finish it before our departure, so I borrowed it and finished it as we drove south through the Great Basin into the Mohave Desert. Perhaps some books need to be read in their environment.

The book tells the story of a Catholic priest (two of them, actually) who are sent to the southwest after the United States annexes the territory of New Mexico/Arizona/Nevada. They are to reorganize the Church there under American diocesan authority. I was completely fascinated by their story. I kept re-reading the blurb on the back cover to see if this was actually fiction, and the description there emphasized that "from the riches of her imagination and sympathy Miss Cather had distilled a very rare piece of literature..." and "This sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather...."  But it is astonishing in its detail, historical references, and the voice with which she delivers this tale. It seems like a history book.

But, the environment...the descriptions of the desert southwest are so vivid and told with such obvious affection that if you hadn't been there, you'd want to go just to see with your own eyes the colors and the textures and the amazing sky. We were driving south on an exquisite winter day: blue sky, snow dusted on cedars and red rocks, air so clear you could practically count the needles on the trees. I read this passage, then I read it again, then I paused the music so I could read it to CoolGuy:

            The ride back to Santa Fe [from the eastern border area with Arizona, where they'd been visiting a Navajo community]  was something under four hundred miles. The weather alternated between blinding sand-storms and brilliant sunlight. The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still,--there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!

When I lived on the East Coast for ten years, I missed the sky in the West. Where we lived, the sky was seldom more than just a small patch accessible through an opening in the trees. If you went down to the bay side or one of the broad rivers, you could see more of it; but, it was seen through the shimmering layers of humidity and seemed so foreign. When we'd drive out to visit family members each summer, I'd get to western Nebraska and realize that, in addition to the scent of the sagebrush, the thing that made me feel like I was nearing "home" was the vast bowl of blue overhead.

Willa Cather's words about the look of the southwest were captivating, but I eventually was most moved by her description of the bishop's spiritual inner life. The viewpoint alternates between vignettes of the two priests' interaction with various inhabitants of their vast congregation, and the inner lives of the two men, but mainly it told of Jean Latour, the archbishop referenced in the title. As the story advances, many years progress, and the priest ages from a robust prime-of-life man to an aging, introspective man who revisits his regrets and triumphs. At one point of the story, he bids adieu to his life-long friend and fellow priest, who is leaving with fresh supplies to a new out-post of civilization. The bishop realizes that, likely, these two will never meet in life again. He is stricken by the loneliness of his life in this wilderness so far from his French family, and now his dearest friend was also departing.

But, as he enters his study he is overcome by the spirit of love from the One he serves. In the book, the Presence is defined as Mary, the Mother of God, the mother of the Master he serves. It is a Catholic doctrine that we approach the Christ through an intermediary--His earthly mother. But the feelings of love and comfort are articulated by this: "A life need not be cold, or devoid of grace in the worldly sense, if it were filled by Her who was all the graces;"  I do not worship the saints of that church, but I was filled with the same power he described as I read this page.

His sense of loss was replaced by a sense of restoration because he realized that his own relationships were not the source of joy and love in this world, but the true source of all love and joy is our Savior, Jesus Christ. The character in the book developed his relationship with Christ through his worship of Mary and through service to his fellow man. But I was impressed that I need not be weighed down by my sorrows and losses because Christ is waiting to lift them off my bowed shoulders. His whole purpose is to uplift and empower. Our role is to believe and accept. Our job is go out and help others through deed and through spirituality. Each of us needs to internalize this belief and understanding. We cannot fix it on our own--we need Christ.

Maybe Willa Cather wasn't striving for this effect when she wrote this book. I don't know. I didn't "get" her in high school. In fact, I was often annoyed that we were required to postulate on the "author's purpose." Why couldn't we just enjoy without all the examination?  As a teacher, I often feel the same: can't we just enjoy the book without picking at it? I think that perhaps I lacked experience to appreciate some of the literature that was presented to me. But, at this stage of my life, revisiting a piece of writing that didn't do it when I was young, is a life-changing event. I'm going to read more books. I need the transformations.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Apostrophe, Apostrophe...

Apostrophe abuse is problem we deal with daily in elementary school. For several reasons, this punctuation mark is a difficult one for students. I mean, first of all, how does one pronounce it?? It takes English speaking children some time to figure out the whole ph makes the f sound, and then, a final e  is usually silent--so come on! a-pos-tro-fee?? Seriously? My ELL students often just gesture, making a little hook in the air to show they know what it is and where it goes, but rarely attempt to pronounce it yet.

Then, its usage is another dilemma. Do you put one in your? Sometimes...but really it's only when you mean you're. And then there's it's and its and of course there's. It is a punctuation mark that is annoying to many. One of the main solutions for children is to just fling it here and there. I often see the apostrophe any time a word ends in s---The boy's went over to play at the park with their friend's. I work really hard to explain (over and over) (it's a concept that you must encounter repeatedly) that the apostrophe has two jobs: to show that a contraction has been made and to show that something belongs to someone or something.

             He can't see where he left his brother's jacket.

Great rule. Then we encounter its and it's. One is a contraction, true, but the other is the possessive BUT IT DOESN'T USE THE APOSTROPHE BEFORE S. Sigh. I assure them that many grown people get it wrong over and over. I tell them the best way to remember the correct way is to think, "It's means it is" and then they'll recall that the apostrophe is helping to make the contraction. Sometimes it works. Some children leave fourth grade with this cleared up in their minds and go on to a successful scholarly career of using apostrophes correctly.

Some don't; and evidently those students must work at the sign factory where these signs were made. We stopped at a gas station/convenience store in central Utah on Wednesday night as we drove up from the desert to spend Christmas with our children and grandchildren. We dashed in to the bathrooms and I stopped abruptly and sighed. CoolGuy pointed out, "Hey, no problem: this door is where the mens go and that door is where the womens go."

Apostrophe abuse---a societal problem that maybe we need a little colored ribbon for to create awareness. Or maybe we Grammar Police-persons should just get over it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Celebrate The Light

You know what today is, don't you? It's the last day of The Dark. It's also known as The Shortest Day of the Year. Starting tomorrow there will be a little more daylight each day, till we get to the glorious Longest Day of the Year in June.

I love the sun. I think I whine on Winter Solstice every year. It makes complete sense to me that my ancestors who dwelled in those far northern latitudes of Scandinavia developed a series of superstitions and celebrations that involved candles and lighting big fires this time of year. If we didn't celebrate Christmas this time of year we'd have to invent they did.

Some purists complain that many of the traditions we use each year for the celebration of Christ's birth are really based on pagan ritual. Duh. When Christian missionaries made their way north and found all those societies that held a big party during the winter, the missionaries were no dummies. They just introduced a new meaning to the celebrations. Gentle persuasion is often more effective than force. After all, they were representing The Prince of Peace. They just took all those traditions that celebrated the return of the light and created a new celebration for The Light of the World.

Anyway, I'm pleased to be at this point of the year-- both for the end of the physical darkness and for the opportunity to rejoice with the angels that Eternal Light has come to earth to banish the metaphysical darkness forever.

Unpacking the Box

We received a box last week from our son who has joined the Navy. He arrived at boot camp, and the first thing they do is have you remove all of your clothes and change into their clothes. Then, you place all of your belongings into a box--shoes, socks, underwear, jeans, phone, change from your pocket---all of it into the box and then you seal it up and address it to your home. That's it. You send away everything but your naked self, and then that person is marched off to be transformed from a civilian to a Sailor.

This week,  I decided I'd open it up and get his phone out and put it on his charger, and launder his clothes so I could put all of his belongings into a couple of new boxes. By February, he should be moved on to his first command, probably submarine school, and he'll be allowed to have his possessions again. I wanted to have everything ready so it would be handy to send on to him.

I opened the box, I withdrew his big blue hoodie with the bold NAVY printed in gold across the front. It smelled like him---Axe and Old Spice deodorant. I flashed back to the last time I'd touched this: hugging him good-bye in the doorway as his dad and he set off to the airport on the morning he left for the recruit training center. He's a tall, big person and he has to crouch a little to hug me back. I wanted to hang on, or go with him to make sure no one treated him badly---of course I couldn't. He was ready, so ready! He'd bought this beautiful pull-over to proudly wear on the journey to his new life.

But, I also imagined (just for a minute, then I had to shove that idea away) how it would be to open a box like that when you knew you wouldn't be seeing your son again. There were two missionaries killed last month when a car hit their bicycles. There are military men and women who die far from home every week. Their families get a box and experience that feeling in completely different way than I did. I don't know how they can bear it! When you unpack a box like that, the smells are what you notice.

I remember when CoolGuy went away the first time with the Marines to Saudi Arabia. He was a civilian, but he wore a uniform and lived in their conditions and was subject to the same dangers. It was scary. It was also hard because it didn't take long to forget tangible things about him. I remember burying my face in his motorcycle jacket as it hung on the coat rack in our room. It smelled like him and like the road. But after a couple of months, it just smelled like my room. He wrote that he'd like me to send him a big towel, and so I bought one, and then slept with it for a couple of nights. He noticed. When he came home and we were unpacking his boxes of clothes, sand sifted out of every nook and pocket and seam. It was different sand than our beach there in SoCal. There was a smell in the boxes, too. He said it was the smell of the desert and diesel and sweat.

How could you stand to unpack a box that held the belongings of your loved one who'd been gone for months and months, living in a foreign place you'd never been. How could you bear to smell them on the clothes and see their fingerprints smudging the letters you'd sent with the "love you" and the "be safe" you'd carefully written hoping that it would be true. How could you bear finding the dirty socks and the sweaty t-shirts knowing that you'll wash them, but they won't be needed again.

I hope to never find out.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Day Without

Today, I got up early and met with some other ladies at the church to rehearse a song we're performing tomorrow. Then, I went to the temple and enjoyed myself for a couple of hours doing service. They were busy there: six brides were scheduled! Then, CoolGuy and I sorted stuff to take to Deseret Industries thrift store, and loaded the truck with cardboard for the recycling center. We drove over to the part of town with our two destinations and afterward stopped for a delicious lunch of tamales for him and chile rellenos for me. We got home and I did a bunch of laundry. Then, he went out for a bit of motorcycle ride and I laid on the couch and watched three TIVOed shows in row. When he got home, I went out to the grocery store and then I wrote our Christmas letter.

Guess what I didn't do today? I didn't teach any classes. I didn't do any homework. I didn't go over to my classroom and check papers. YEAH!!!!  I mean---I laid on the couch and watch TV for two hours--come on. How's that for acting you're really on vacation? 

I've got seventeen days. I need to write a proposal for my final project for my master's degree. I need to run a lot of errands and start the paper work for my next stupid foot surgery. I need to correct several piles of papers. I need to write lesson plans and lay out my vision for the rest of the trimester for my sub. So,  I won't spend much more time on the couch. But today felt really good.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What She Taught

Today is the 84th anniversary of our mother's birth. She always said she was named "Carol" because of the proximity of her birthday to Christmas. She did Christmas well, as I've described. But it was not only Christmas when she outdid herself.  I often recall how much work she did, and how she was always hustling and bustling about. But, I realized tonight, as I cleaned the sink and wiped down my counter tops, that she actually taught us how to live without her.

There were always chores to do. No one in our family would have ever sighed, "I'm bored..." to our mother. All that would get you is dustmop, or a can of bathroom cleaner, or a dishcloth, or a dustcloth. Time existed to attack dirt, dust, clutter and kitchen messes. Every single morning before school, it was someone's job to dust mop the living room linoleum. Another child's job was to dust all the surfaces in the living room. This, of course, was after you'd made your bed. Not making your bed would have been some type of felony.

It sounds harsh, huh? No, it was the only recourse to having ten people living in one house. If you didn't clean regularly, then it ...I don't know. We always cleaned regularly. It was a nice place to live, too. Oh, wait, I do know what happens. I know, because when I got married, I was smart! I wasn't going to spend all that time cleaning house. That was just for chumps. Except that really soon, even though there were only two of us, I realized that cleaning regularly was necessary or, very quickly, you were no longer living in a nice place.

Apparently I passed on this notion to my own children. I remember reading letters about the mission companions my son had who didn't know how to clean or cook. I remember one daughter telling me how annoying it was to have to go into her apartment kitchen and wipe off the counters and clean off the stove tops because no one taught her roommates that those jobs were all part of "doing the dishes."  Of course, I learned all this at my mother's side, and I'm pleased that they all learned it at their mother's side.

So, whenever I wipe off the counter tops and clean the stove top, as I conclude my dish washing (even if I am only loading the dishwasher) I remember being taught by my mother to do that or the job wasn't finished. Now, if only I'd internalized sweeping the kitchen floor in that same way...HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAMA!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


It's the appreciation season again. My students have started bringing me Christmas gifts. It was the most amazing thing, the first year I taught school. My desk was laden and overflowing with presents from my class. I don't know why I was surprised. Every year I made gifts for my own children's teachers. I suppose the shock was in seeing the result of the other parents' efforts all in one place. I really, really appreciated their sentiments, too.

Today in Miss Manners' column in the Washington Post, was this letter:
I am a teacher among many in a small, affluent private school. Many of the parents of our students freely, by their own choice, give gifts to teachers at Christmas and/or the end of the school year. The thoughts behind these gifts are appreciated by us all.

However, the gifts vary. Some are touching and personal, and others end up in the “re-gifting” cycle. To further complicate the issue, the needs on the part of the faculty differ, and some of us truly want and need the gifts, while others would rather see the gifts go to charity, so among ourselves we do not all look at the question the same way.

Taking all of this into account, the question of our “suggesting” the nature of these gifts or putting a policy in our school handbook has been discussed among ourselves. Is there a polite or appropriate way to put forward the idea of these gifts being discontinued, or going, for example, to the local soup kitchen instead of to us? Or should we just appreciate things as they are?

Miss Manners pointed out that the obvious solution---refuse all gifts--was not proposed by the writer...Ahem.

See, it doesn't matter what the gift is. I know that it was given with utmost love and sincerity. So I accept them with extreme gratitude and sincere thanks. I may recycle many of them straight to my favorite thrift store, but I am thrilled (genuinely) by the fact that they have brought me a gift. That is the important thing.

However, my favorite gift today was not wrapped nor purchased from a store. Today, as we were coming back in from lunch to our classroom, one of my fellows, who was trailing at the very end of the line, slid over close to me and said, "Mrs. [EarthSignMama], do you know what I like about you? You're always cheerful. Even when you're mad at us, you do it in a cheerful way. How do  you do it?"  I laughed and he said, "See?" Well, I work hard at being cheerful, and apparently, someone noticed.

Appreciation: the best gift of all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

More Gratitude

So, I'm finishing the list of things I'm grateful for that I started yesterday. The goal is to end up with 100 things on the list, by creating 10 categories with 10 items in each list.

Ten Things I'm Thankful for Today
1. the left-over Indian food that I get to warm up for dinner
2. KittyCat
3. Fourth grade went very smoothly today. :)
4. I found little foam ornament crafts at Target to make with my students on Friday.
5. I got 80% on my final paper in my graduate class!!!!! I wasn't sure it would even pass...
6.  my new coat (I had playground duty this morning, and crossing guard duty this afternoon, and it was cold!)
7. cold leftover salmon for lunch that was delicious
8. a warm morning shower
10. got a letter from the Boot Camp Sailor! He's good!

Ten Places on Earth for Which I'm Thankful
1. the beach in Southern California/Pacific Ocean
2. Star Valley, Wyoming
3. The Chesapeake Bay
4. the spring that provided our drinking water for my childhood home
5. Mt. Rainier (it is just stunning to see---all of those Cascade's volcanoes are awesome)
6. Zion National Park
7. The Grand Tetons
8. The monuments on the main mall in Washington D.C.
9. cropland
10. the amazing vastness of the Western USA

Ten Modern Inventions for Which I'm Thankful
1. Running water in my house
2. the computer
3. the Internet
4. telephones
5. cameras
6. penicillin (and all those other antibiotics and vaccines against diseases that people just died from when my mom was a child)
7. foot surgery
8. washing machines
9. refrigerators
10. internal combustion engines (and all the vehicles for which they are used)

Ten Foods for Which I Am Thankful
1. dark chocolate
2. cheese
3. tom yum soup
4. eggs
5. milk
6. chili dogs
7. dutch oven potatoes
8. caprese salad
9. french toast and breakfast sausage
10. fresh fruit

Ten Things About The Gospel for Which I'm Thankful
1. the Mercy of God
2. being able to pray
3. getting answers to prayer
4. going to the temple
5. teaching at church
6. the Resurrection
7. eternal family ties
8. knowing that God loves me
9. reading the Scriptures
10. General Conference

Well, I'm at the end of the game, but I'm definitely not at the end of things I feel thankful for, by any means. When I  heard this proposed yesterday, my first thought was, "That would take so much time; how could anyone come up with a list that long?"  I was surprise how quickly I could cite ten things. And for every list, I discovered that ten items weren't nearly enough. Each thing I thought of just made me think of more that could go on the list, well past the limit of ten.

Try it---do it as a family, or as an individual. You'll be astonished. Then, don't forget to kneel tonight and thank God for helping you to have so many things to be thankful for. You know where all these blessings in your life come from, right??

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Someone gave a talk today in church and his theme was being grateful. He explained that he had learned to be grateful for the health problems he'd had as a child and young man because he realized that struggling to overcome these obstacles had made him more compassionate toward others who may have struggles like this in their own lives. He got the idea for listing things that he was grateful for in his life from reading about a game where the people were required to list 100 things they were thankful for. He said that to make the game more manageable, there were categories of ten.

I was quite intrigued by the concept, so I wrote down the list of categories and decided I'd blog about it. You could copy me, if you wish. It'll take a couple of days to list the 100 things, so today I'll do the first half.

Ten Physical Things About Myself for Which I Am Grateful
1.  being tall
2. no allergies or asthma.
3. strong hands
4. ability to carry a tune
5. I can hear.
6. I can see.
7. I can walk.
8. I can smell and taste.
9. I was able to have children.
10. relative good health

10 Talents I'm Grateful to Have
1. playing the piano
2. writing
3. being kind
4. growing things
5. teaching
6. rapport with children
7. giving talks
8. being cheerful
9. sewing
10. making friends

10 Living People for Which I Am Grateful
1. Son #1
2. Daughter #1
3. Daughter #2
4. Son #2
5. Son #3
6. CoolGuy
7. My sisters (I'm cheating a little here...)
8. My brothers   (...and here.)
9. Grandchildren (...yea, yea...)
10. a couple of really dear friends (you know who you are..)

10 People No Longer Living For Which I Am Grateful
1. Grandma Reeves
2. My parents
3. All the rest of my grandparents
4. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, et. al
5. My sister
6. Joseph Smith
7. Johanns Gutenberg
8. Louis Pasteur
9. Moroni
10. Susan B.Anthony

10 Things in Nature for Which I Am Grateful
1. the ocean
2. the mountains
3. cardinals (and most every other bird, too)
4. the smell of sagebrush
5. bougainvillea
6. poinsettias
7. basil
8. rain
9. pets
10. freshly tilled soil

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the list. You should make your own list. It's a thought-provoking concept. At first, you think, 100?? Seriously?? But then, when you start listing them, you realize that you don't have room for everyone or everything. It's a great lesson...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lunar Las Vegas

It's a full moon tonight and I was out running errands as it peaked over the looming chunk of rock that forms the east side mountain here in the desert valley. The western sky was still glowing from the setting sun. It was "dark" but only in contrast to the Strip lights. The sky was actually indigo--not yet black. So the Big Rock was slightly illuminated because it reflects the sunset so well.

The moon had just cleared the tip of the Big Rock and looked so enormous as it was suspended there next to the jagged summit. It was pale yellow and the air was so clear that every crater and shadow on the lunar surface was visible. It took my breath away. There is nothing so arresting as the full moon low in the sky--either in the east or the west.

We're heading out on a little date to savor some samosas, and when we return, the hot tub will be steaming gently in the chilly night air. We will lay in the warm water and gaze up at the shimmering orb of La Luna. Relaxing, in the moonlight, mighty nice...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Two Worlds Meet

Today I took an anachronistic object to school and puzzled my students. (No, not my old, rickety Self--knock it off.)  It was the beaver skin/hide that I bought from my nephew, the trapper and taxidermist in Wyoming. When I first started teaching school here in Nevada, and we got to the section of our state history book about the early explorers, the students were stumped. What was a beaver and why were these guys coming to Nevada to trap them?

First, the girls were all aghast: those cute little furry creatures? They killed animals? Oh my! Then, we discussed that there weren't fake furs back then, and people had to wear something to keep warm. Plus, people earned their living doing lots of things the students had never heard of before. And, I pointed out, people still wear furs and use them for other things, and there are still trappers who go out and get those furs from animals in the wild. Like my nephew, for instance.

It was that clash of farm-girl/Wyoming person and the city kids/modern life people all over again. It has happened to me lots of time since I left the land of wild animals and hunting and fishing. So, to help my students understand the history of the West and their own state, I bought a beaver hide from my nephew. I bring it to school each year for this unit. Every year we have the same conversations.

"Oooooh!!! What IS that???"

"It is a the skin and fur from a beaver. Remember what we read about the early explorers of Nevada? They were here to trap beaver, or they were traveling through the state trying to find a way to get to California without dying?"

"Is it real?"  "Does it stink?"  "Where did you get it?"  "It's dead!! OOOOH!" 

So, I show them, I tell them about my nephew (and my great-grandfather, the trapper) and how people would do this to earn money. Then, I lay it in the middle of their table where everyone can reach it, and I stand back. At first, many of them recoil slightly, then they cautiously reach out to give it a little touch. Then, they rub their whole hand over it, then they squeeze the plush layers of fur between their fingers and start saying, "Oooh, ahh--it's so soft!" 

Occasionally there will be a student or two who are completely repulsed by it. After all, there are the hard spots where its eyes, ears and nose were. In fact, a couple of whiskers are still present on the edge by where its face once was. But most of the students are so amazed at how plush and smooth and inviting the fur is as they touch it. They imagine having a whole blanket of them sewed together, and how warm it would be, and how soft and pleasant it would be to sleep wrapped up in it.

We meet for a small moment: the girl from Wyoming where animals were a resource for humans and used to support our lives-- and the kids from the Big City where clothes are bought at Target, and food is shaped like nuggets and comes with a toy. There is no consciousness of the animals who may have been deeply involved in that meal or those shoes.

I knew where my leather gloves came from that I wore to protect my hands as I hauled bales: I helped my dad haul the deer skins to the glove maker after we'd eaten the deer. I knew that those delicious pork chops were once the cute little piggies that raced around the barnyard in the spring. Before putting it in the fridge to cool, I had to strain the errant piece or two of cow hair out of the milk I brought in from the barn.

I know I risk sounding like a cranky old lady, waving my cane. Really, I'm not upset at all. I'm just always amazed at how different my life is, as an adult, from how it was as a child. And how vividly different my childhood was from that of my students. A couple of them told me stories of deer hunting with their families as we admired (or not) the beaver hide today. Some of them tell about helping on a farm in Mexico, while visiting their grandparents. But mostly, this whole "natural world" thing is a mystery to them. So, each year I'm pleased to further their education with a relic from the past: an animal hide.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Today is our youngest son's birthday. Except that he isn't young. He's not "old" but he is definitely a grown-up.  He's staying with us for a couple more days and then on Tuesday, he will check into Navy bootcamp at Great Lakes Training Center.  He's an accomplished musician, and he's decided to go for a sound career through the acoustics of sonar in the submarine force. Whew. Wasn't he just in marching band in high school? Well, no.

We were reminiscing with him tonight about his birth. He was a born a couple of weeks past his due date and I said how each day of the last couple of weeks before the baby is born seems to last for such a long time. The hours drag with the anticipation of the birth. That phrase---"heavy with child"---is not figurative, it references those last few days. But, then, the baby is born! And, seemingly a few hours look up and realize that it's been a week! How does that happen? Zooooom....he's a month old.  Zooommm....a year.

Now, it hasn't zoomed exactly, to be at this point in his life. But it is weird to realize that four of my children are now older that I was when I gave birth to them! Parts of me feel that old, but not my brain. It's interesting to be at this point in my life.

So, Happy Birthday; Anchors A'Weigh ; and here's to the next phase of your life!! 

Here he is in his very first sailor suit:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Music Man

My house is filled with the sound of guitars. Yeah! Our youngest son has been living with us for a couple of weeks. In one more week he leaves again to go to Navy bootcamp. He has decided to participate in the family tradition of being a sailor. His grandfather and his father were also Navy men. I'm so proud. And while he's here, he is making music.

I miss music made by my children. There was so much of it when they were growing up . We had years of piano lessons. Then the first one started in band in sixth grade and it just went on and on. No one took guitar lessons, but each of the three boys became so good at playing them. Several times, I'd come home from being, college, the grocery store...and find that an impromptu band had been set up in our living room or on our patio. High school boys who'd borrowed a drum set from the school, and then brought over their guitars to go along with the ones we owned, had a rowdy jam session going on. Or, there would be someone seated at the piano, laboring over the new book of the latest hit movie score, or maybe they'd been learning the music from an Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster.

I remember one of my children discovering that when they took a break in band practice, if he went over to the piano and started playing the pieces he'd memorized from "Aladdin" or "Phantom" that girls would flock to the piano and ask for requests. Popular men know how to charm the ladies through music...

Anyway, it's just nice that for this short couple of weeks, while he anticipates this new chapter in his life, I get to relive an old chapter of my life: the one when the talented people we made,  made music in our house.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I'll Take "Cool Children" for $800, Alex

This week, our daughter is a contestant on Jeopardy! !  The game show! Yes, someone in our family besides me likes to be on television game shows.

Actually, she has been a quiz contestant many times. In high school she was on the championship Geography Bowl team. They won the county contest after a tie-breaker question. It was quite a coup, because our high school was well-known for having the most parents who picked strawberries for a living, and their big competitor was the private, all-boy high school. It was a very satisfying win, believe me.

Then, in college, she was on the Brigham Young University academic competition team. They traveled to contests all over. Once they came out to the University of Maryland when we were still living there, so we got to watch. Then, the school cut their minuscule budget to nothing. Blah. They were great! Really, I believe they were in the top ten.  She was the only girl on the squad, and she held her own. One of her team members was the guy who won all those games on Jeopardy! a few years ago. They are still great friends, so I'm sure he'll be excited to watch her, too. She qualified as a contestant several years ago, and finally this summer, she got the call. The taping was the second day of my new school year, so I didn't even dare ask for the day off to go watch. CoolGuy went, however, and he said they had a fun time. Alex Trebek is a very pleasant fellow.

So, anyway, this Thursday, Oct. 20th, sit and watch her. She's the one from Orem, Utah---the beautiful, intelligent, witty, clever one. Not that her parents have a bias, or anything...

*Go to the Jeopardy! website and look up what time of day the show comes on wherever you live.*

Jessie Christensen

Saturday, October 15, 2011


I've started teaching the Saturday class again. It is good. Again. Instructional aides from elementary and middle schools come two Saturdays a month and my partner and I teach them all about the writing curriculum and how to be more effective with their students. I enjoyed it so much last year, and it looks like this year will be just as pleasant. It is hard work, but at least I have last year's lesson plans to revise and reuse parts of so that we're not just re-inventing the wheel.

But...there is a new person at the top of the food chain in the department that sponsors this class and so our requests for supplies were not automatically filled (small stuff: copy paper, single subject notebooks) and so today when we started the class, we didn't have the notebooks. I didn't find out until we arrived at the building. The supervisor was so apologetic. She thought she'd be able to approve our supply lists at her level, but was stopped, and she explained it most tactfully. New supervisor, new rules. It is obvious that the new person is just attempting to assert the "who is in charge" vibe. So, while my partner teacher taught a section he'd planned, I zipped down the street to the store and picked up the 29 notebooks we needed to pass out.  The writer's notebooks are an essential part of our curriculum. That's why I asked for them...duh. But, problem solved. They'll reimburse me. She thinks. I don't actually care if they don't; I needed them.

Then, at school, we've got a wonderful field trip planned. We go to this local nature park every year. I call and get our date on the first day of school, because it is a popular destination and they have limited times. If you don't get your appointment within the first two or three days of school, you won't get one. We sent out our two permission slips, stapled together: one copy we take with us (it explains the field trip, collects phone numbers of parents and offers them a chance to come with us) and the official school district form that allows us to take their children from the school site on a bus to this area. This form stays in the office. On Friday, our secretary came to my room with a THIRD form required by our newly reconfigured "area" (the division of the gigantic school district to which we are now assigned after our new superintendent started making his changes.)  I read it and flipped out. Then, I apologized to the secretary.

This form requests from the parents the information about their medical insurance coverage---on the level that you would give to a doctor's office so that they can bill your insurance company! What company; who is covered; who is the person that the insurance is assigned to; what or if the secondary insurance is; what your child's medical conditions are, etc. etc. Then, in the legal fine print at the end of the form, it attempts to have the parents sign off that they will not sue the district over any medical care we give their kid on the field trip, if it is needed. The principal was out of town on Friday. But on Monday, I'm going in to discuss this intrusive form. I know it isn't her fault. It is some anal person in our new "area"--but there is no way I'm sending this form to my parents. If I were asked to sign that type of form just to let my child go on a three hour field trip, I'd write across the front of it ---"NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS"---and return the paper to school.

 It is completely obnoxious. And redundant. One of the forms they've already signed has the legal language that allows us to take their children on the bus away from school. The nurse already has all the health information about each child, from a form the parents completed as part of our First Day of School paperwork. It is none of our business what insurance they have, if they even have any. If their child needs medical care at a hospital, the EMTs are going to transport that kid and the hospital is going to treat that kid and no stupid invasive paper is going to facilitate or allow that. Okay, I'll take a breath. I just hope that I'll have calmed down enough when I go in and talk to our principal. I'm pretty sure she'll see it my way. She may be able to get the bureaucrats in the central office to be reasonable and see how obnoxious this THIRD field trip permission form is for us to give to parents. I've been going on field trips in this district for six years without this new form. Where did it come from now??

As I ranted to CoolGuy last night, "I sent my teenage clarinet playing son to NYC from Maryland on a three day band trip and I didn't have to tell the school who my insurance policy was with or who the adult in our family was who paid for it."  CoolGuy patiently listened to me stomp around and wave my arms and vent and then started to laugh. "Next time, I'll let the secretary know that she should just call me first before asking you to do ridiculous assignments like this. I could save her a lot of trouble by vetting these things for her. Don't ask Mrs.[ESM] to offend her parents or jump through these kind of hoops. She'll come at you with logic and reason and passion. You don't have a chance."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling...

There are just not enough minutes in a day when school is on. Then, we added stake roadshows to that and the usual extra time for the graduate class. Oh, and I got to blow off two hours at the dentist on Saturday, too, having another tooth extracted. Life is just buzzing along at the usual frantic pace.

Last spring I was asked to help figure out what our roadshow was going to be, then I was tasked with writing the script. Really, that was not a problem---if someone gives me an idea, I can write stuff. Then, when summer ended and everyone was finished with camp and vacations, etc. etc., we started in on the rehearsals. And finally, Thursday (dress rehearsal) Friday, and Saturday (performances) we threw our whole selves into it and it was lovely. Although, watching the others, I realized that the next roadshow I write needs some big, flashy dance numbers, or at least more running around on the stage. The roadshows that had those elements were extremely entertaining. But ours was pretty good, too. CoolGuy came on Saturday and watched and he said, "They were very entertaining and lame--just like the roadshows I remember from my youth!"  So, you see:  success!

But, Saturday, I spent the morning reclined at my dentist's office while he and his assistant went through the lengthy torture of extracting another of my stupid teeth. It, like the others, had an aging root canal that developed an infection around the roots. But teeth that have had endodontic treatments grow brittle with age. So, naturally, it could not just be pulled. Noooooo....Instead there was a great deal of drilling (to get the old crown off) then tugging and loosening, then more drilling to divide it into pieces. Then more tugging and more drilling and this and that and this and that. He'd leave me alone for 10 minutes or so, while he went in to do examines on other patients who were in just for their bi-annual cleaning and check-ups. (He had to change his smock twice to do that because we were generating a lot of debris and ...blood...yuck.) Then he'd come back and (trying to hide his dismay) start up again. He's a great dentist, and I give him many props for his cheerful attitude and kind manner. I know he felt quite gloomy when he read the report from the endodontist I'd visited, in the slim chance that I could re-do the root canal and save the tooth. He extracted a molar last year, too. And it was the same type of ordeal. But, eventually, every last little bit of cracked and infected root was removed. We were all delighted to be done with it.

Now, it is even more fortuitous that I've been hired again to teach the instructional aide writing class two Saturdays a month from  now through February. I'm devoting all that pay to my new implants. Hurray for modern dentistry!  Right now, I'm eating soft foods--stitches and soreness, but also: no bottom molars! Geez, I'm really a certified geezer now.

But, the weather is nice! On Sunday afternoon, we opened all the doors and windows and let the pleasant 75 degree breeze waft through the house. Tonight, I'm going to soak in the hot tub under the full moon, and then after a nice sleep with KittyCat by my side, I'll start the whole marathon over again on Tuesday.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

And that's what I like about living here. This morning, the sun is coming up over the towering stark rock mountain outside my east windows. The sky is (mostly) blue. The entire outside has been washed clean and every desert plant is refreshed and glistening. The back door is open and freshness is flowing into the house (and no money is flowing out to keep the air conditioner cranking.) It's going to be a beautiful day.

We have new tomatoes growing on the plants that we cut back when they melted in the August blast. The basil has turned into an enormous bush that has overtaken half of the garden bed. We'll be back in the caprese salad business, soon. I should plant beets. And sugar snap peas. MMMM...vegetables.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Enough Already

It has now rained for three days. Yesterday, we missed recess because it was pouring. Today after school, I directed traffic in a drizzle. Right now, it is pouring again. I'm done with it.

Bring back the sun!!

Monday, October 03, 2011

It's Raining, It's Pouring

It really is nice when it rains in the desert. The scent of all those resinous plants is intoxicating. It doesn't rain like in Maryland or California, where the entire sky is just grey and rain comes dumping out. Instead, we get big towering thunderheads that grow up over the mountains. The blue sky is gradually overtaken or just a portion of it sometimes. You can be driving along the road on one side of the valley with sunshine all around, but across the city you can see the lightening jagging out of the black mass and the rain blurring the horizons. Then, the clouds and the wind spread the storms to a new sector. Finally, tonight, the entire sky is involved and it has been pouring rain for about 20 minutes. I was going to hot tub, but I just washed my hair this morning, and I don't want to get all of me soaked, just the skin parts--plus, the rain is chilly.

The bad part about rain in the desert is that it doesn't happen too often, so when a really big storm comes blasting through, no one knows how to drive in it. This afternoon, I had to get across town to my graduate class by 4:15. It's bad enough that every school in the city is dismissing right then, but it was also raining. We crept through all the cross-walks just fine, but in the areas where people could go the normal speed--they did. Big Mistake... When one steps on the brakes during the first hour of a rainstorm on a street that hasn't been wet for weeks or months, one just slithers and slides. Right into the back of the car in front of you that may have slowed for the light. It wasn't me....But I drove past four of these events on my way to class. One scene was almost comical---four cars all smushed  together, like a cartoon accident. Everyone standing around in the median with their cell phones up to their ears, the police officer picking his way around the fallen headlights, and pieces of bumpers. And the rain just kept washing over everything, creating havoc in our normally dry habitat.

I'm driving carefully, Pooh.  (go to 3:30 to start the scene for the money quote)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Viva Las Vegas

I've driven past this house on a street near me over and over and, especially on Fridays, there is a crowd of people on chairs, seated on the patio of the side yard. There are fiesta banners hung overhead, and sometimes I see people standing there with guitars playing music. There is a little shed with opened doors too, but I can't see inside. It doesn't really look like a wedding, a quincinera or a birthday party. So, I've been baffled. On Saturday morning I drove past it around 10:30 A.M. and people were in the yard, powerwashing the patio and there was a new banner announcing....something. Since I wasn't in a big hurry, I turned around and went back to investigate.

The banner said, "L'Aniversario de Virgin de Talpa"--I've heard of the Virgin of Guadalupe; I have a great book by Tomi de Paola telling the story. I parked and walked up the sidewalk. I chatted a bit to the fellow who was manning the broom and the power washer man stopped spraying for a minute so we could chat. It turns out the the Virgin de Talpa is the special Lady of Jalisco and inside the shed is shrine to her. There are prayers every Friday night, so people come from the neighborhood to worship.

Why build a shrine in a little wooden garden shed in your side yard and invite people to come and worship your icon?  Because there was a miracle. The miracle was the little daughter; he pointed to his sister. She was born with Down's syndrome, and was supposed to die. She'd suffered a series of strokes when she was three, and wasn't expected to live. At the very least, she should be paralyzed and crippled and unable to function. But his mother and aunt prayed to the Virgin and---look---a miracle! I could see. There was a little girl, about 5 or 6, playing, skipping, jumping all around. She clearly had Down's syndrome, but she certainly wasn't paralyzed.  We talked a bit more about Jalisco and this Virgin and then I thanked him, and agreed it was a miracle, and told him they were obviously blessed. Then I went on my way.

What a lovely concept! Their little corner of the block is a beautiful sanctuary, and every Friday night they open the shrine, plug in the twinkling over head lights and set up the chairs. Devout women and men come from the surrounding blocks and listen to the gentle music and pray. So different from the ganster inspired cacaphony just a few blocks away.

Later that day, CoolGuy and went over to the recycling center to off-load a collection of cardboard. Our favorite place to lunch was....gasp! CLOSED. FOREVER. The owner was a proud lady from Guadalajara, and her tortas were to die for. CoolGuy always got a torta and a Jarritos Mandarin soda--Hecho en Mexico. I always got two carne asada tacos and one fried jalapeno. (By dipping it in the hot oil briefly, it roasts it and kills some of the fire, so you can just pop that yummy thing in your mouth and slurp it down, leaving the seeds behind.)  Closed?? Now what?  We were so hungry, and just salivating for some authentico Mexican food. Not Taco Bell, Del Taco or Taco Time, each of which had a building along that street.

Ah, there was a little establishment a couple of blocks away:  Don Tortacos. That looked promising. (get it: torta and taco spelled together?) It was delicioso, muy, muy delicioso. It was a different type of torta, but stunningly yummy. My carne asada tacos were to die for, too. We had a flan for dessert. While we waited for our food, a young man was dishing up some salsa for himself, and as he stood there filling little cups, a classic Mexican folklorico song was playing. He looked mischieviously over to the table where his teenage brother sat, and the guy at the salsa stand started to do the dance that I've seen over and over. music. His feet were going, he leaned over and really got into for a moment. Then he burst out laughing and sat down. A few minutes later he walked by our table and our eyes met briefly, so I spoke, "Looks like you've done that folklorico dance a few times."  He smiled, "Yes, since I was a little kid. You should see my little daughter now! She's great!"  I replied, "I could just picture you with the sombrero and the boots."  We laughed and he walked away.

His clothing and tattoos and the shaved head and goatee were those of a fellow that I would normally feel somewhat wary of if I were walking along the street, and he and his guys were walking toward me. But, there in the restaurant, grooving on the music, and licking the salsa from our fingers, we were just two friends having a conversation. All because I knew exactly what he was doing when he was showing off for his brother. I didn't feel at all self-concious stopping and talking to the people at the little home-shrine because I knew all about the Virgin of Guadalupe and so could relate to the Virgin of Talpa. I like having my life enriched by knowing about other people's cultures. Yeah for books! Yeah for learning! Yeah for living in parts of town with people from other cultures! It's fun!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mmm, mmm, good

And may I just say that the peach I ate for supper tonight was like a teeny piece of heaven? I stopped at one of my favorite markets on Monday evening and bought some vegetables and fruit and fresh mozzarella. Outside the store was a sign advertising "Utah peaches" because everyone knows that they are the most delicious peaches this side of the Mississippi. So, I bought four of them. They've been ripening on my counter for a couple of days and tonight, I sliced one and ate it for dessert after I gobbled down my caprese salad.

Oh. My. It was perfection. Perfection. Thank you, Utah, for the peaches.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teacher Needs A Time-Out

Well, today was one of those lessons that I wish I had video-taped. Not because it went so fabulously, but because it was so bizarre. It could be a winner on America's Funniest Home Videos, or (since there is no one falling down, or getting smacked, perhaps not....)

I've started this new system this week, after weeks of planning and training. The students are divided into sections. One group is practicing typing on the computers. Really---fingers on the home keys---real typing. Another group is practicing spelling through word sorts, another group is revising and writing a final draft (because we've met together). A fourth group is writing the next first draft, and the fifth group of five students meets with me at a table and we discuss and practice a writer's technique. So, today--it was all about a strong lead (beginning) to captivate your reader and make him want to keep reading.

I showed them a list of strategies, and we practiced a couple of them, by changing a story they knew. We started with a quote from a character; next we tried a vivid description of the scene; then it was a question; after that we used a sound effect. Same story---different beginnings. Then, I went around the table and suggested a couple of concepts to students based on their own writing. But when I got to the only boy in this group, he didn't seem to get it. Here's a little sample:

T:  So, you could say, "As my dad finished parking the car, I looked around. "At last, " I thought excitedly, "We're here at Universal Studios!" [His beginning was: I went to California and we went to Universal Studios and had fun.]

S: My dad wasn't driving.

T: Well, then, say "my mom parked the car."

S: My mom wasn't driving either.

T: Who was driving?

S: My aunt.

T: So, "My aunt parked the car and I thought, "At last, we are at Universal Studios!"

S: Well, we went to the beach first.

T: Okay, but then you went to Universal Studios, right? And you were excited?

S: I thought we were going home.

T: So you were surprised it was Universal Studios?

S: No. I thought we were home.

T: When did you notice you weren't home? Didn't you have to buy tickets to go in?

S: My aunt had already bought the tickets.

T: Well, did you notice you were going through the gates, and that there were a lot of other people?

S: No, I didn't see them.

T: (Teacher is starting to feel a little dizzy by now.) When did you figure out you weren't home?

S: When I saw the giant robot shark.

T: I think I'm just going to put my head down here for a minute and rest. You write whatever you want.

At this point, the four girls who made up the rest of the group just burst out laughing and blurted out: "[boy's name] Good Grief!! She is trying to show you how to fix your boring first sentence. Don't you get it?? It doesn't matter who was driving!! You just write down something more interesting. Sheesh..." They really jumped him, and told him exactly what they'd learned, and what he was supposed to do. I just watched and smiled and shook my head. Those girls got it!

Well, it turns out that this trip to California happened when he was five years old, and he can barely remember anything except his astonishment at seeing a giant robot shark trying to eat a scuba diver, when he truly thought he was going to his house. So, no harm, no foul.

Next time, I told him, try to write about something that happened more recently so that the details are clear in your mind and you can tell a vivid story.  But, I'm not too sure that much is clear in his mind, ever, so that could be a challenge, too. Sigh.

Ha! Ha! Ha!

"Dyslexic devil worshippers sell their souls to Santa."   (bumper sticker my friend recently saw)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Multiple Intelligences

The concept of multiple intelligences is popular in education circles. The point is made that different people have different ways of being skilled. "...our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence." There are other ways of learning and having innate ability. I've attended workshops and classes that explain and promote this theory of learning and teaching, and I have antecdotal experience that there is something to it.

But, I'm not talking about Dr. Gardner's work today. I've had my own theory of "multipile intelligences" for many years. Actually, it may be more of a "multiple beings" theory.  I posit that we all have our intellectual/logical being, and our emotional/impulse being, and...our spiritual being. Yes, there are more than two sides to the coin. Now, as you read this, you may being thinking--duh--who doesn't know this. And that is because you may have been accessing all three of them throughout your life. Many people do.

But, as I've read and listened to various works,  I've begun to realize that there are people who are unaware that there is a spiritual being. They have learned to rely on their intellectual/logic being only. I recognize that our emotional/impulse being is the one we spend our lives trying to control and dominate if we hope to stay out of jail, save money, keep our jobs, maintain good personal relationships, etc. But, sometimes that effort prevents one from recognizing, or trusting, the spiritual being.

I heard some terrific talks recently from people who became participants in religious congregations as adults and I learned a powerful idea from them. Several of the people were, at first, frightened or put-off by the "feelings" they experienced when first coming to church, or participating in a funeral or some other religion-related affair. The feelings were powerful, real and intimidating, and the speakers explained that they'd never felt this way before. It was confusing and difficult to deal with because of their lack of context or understanding. Later, they came to know that it was the Holy Spirit giving them knowledge. But, when one only has experienced emotional/impulsive or intellectual/logic reactions, a powerful spiritual experience cannot be immediately understood or processed.

I've been working on this concept for some time. And today I read another writer's explanation. I will quote him here, but you should definitely go to the source and read his entire article.

Christ spoke in parables to both friends and enemies in Jerusalem.  His followers grasped what He was teaching because they were tracking on a deeper level.  But his enemies were baffled; they were the blind ones with eyes to see but see not, and ears to hear and hear not.  They were strangers to spiritual intellect. 
So what appears to the world to be stupid may instead be deep and profound. What appears to be blind following may turn out to be well-informed discipleship.  All because of spiritual intellect and its attendant personal revelation.

See: spiritual intellect! That's what I've been trying to articulate. Everything in this world cannot be understood through logic. We also need to access our spiritual intellect. It isn't emotion, impulse or superstition. We have a third way to process our experiences. Just like our logical intellect, the spiritual intellect needs to be cultivated or it will weaken and lose acuity. Use or lose it--brains, muscles or spirituality--it makes sense to me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Happy, Happy Birthday to Her

It's late, but we just finished talking to her, so I need to wish our daughter a Happy Birthday! It is getting too weird though, that the people with whom I work at school will say things like, "Oh, we're the same age! My birthday is next month." It is making me feel old...that and the Frankenfeet.

But, I've whined about that before. So today I'll say that it is a pleasure to be the mother of grown children who have dynamic lives and are busy living them and being of service to the world. I look at her career and realize she is energetic, caring, powerful and intelligent. You go girl!! 

Here are a few views down through the years. (CoolGuy has such a great collection of photos that he's made over the decades.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Listening to Interesting People

I was listening to a podcast recently of an interview with an author named David Berlinski. He writes about math, and has a great deal of experience in the field, but he is clearly a philosopher. Anyway, the interviews were meaty and interesting and as I listened to them (each segment was published one day at a time) I sometimes had to start it over to hear it again for more comprehension. It was fascinating.

But here is a quote from it that I loved and wanted to share because it was insightful. The discussion was about a statement from another gentleman that both the interviewer and the author knew. It was something like "Well, I say to those who ask what I'll say to God when I meet Him upon my death, [on the reason for the speaker's atheism here on earth] You just didn't leave enough evidence of your existence for intelligent people to know you..."  The author laughed at the quote and replied to the interviewer that he'd heard their mutual acquaintance say that often, but here was the author's response to this witty remark:

"There a point of presumption in that particular argument --that Bertrand Russel also used--[the argument about not enough evidence]. The point of presumption is that human beings, constructed as humans are constructed, could so interact with God as to be persuaded by the countenance of Diety when they were left unpersuaded by the evidence of His handiwork. That's a remarkable presumption. Much more reasonable to me is that those who cannot see the handiwork could not see the countenance."

Awesome, huh?

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Semester

Tonight, I started my last required class for the master's degree. (!!) I still need more credits, but they will be earned by doing some type of project. I have already put out my feelers to the research division of our school district and a guy is going to get back to me after he's spoken with my faculty advisor at the university. They've worked together often. So, I have to finish this semester, do the internship/project and write a paper about it all and VOILA---I'll be done. Cool. I'd love to have a summer vacation again. It may not be next summer...but soon.

This class is about testing and test validity. Tests like the IQ test, and other sorts of human measurement. The teacher is an experienced researcher and has created and published tests and a whole plethora of research projects. He's a classic brainy professor. He's changed the syllabus twice on-line and then changed it again tonight. He's awesome when it comes to explaining his craft; and his knowledge of, and ability to explain, this very math-y and scientific subject is superb. He just has a l-i-t-t-l-e problem with some paper work details in the class. So, if I stay on top of it, I'll learn a lot and be fine---but I'm going to have to pay close attention to the on-line messages to keep abreast of the "Oh, and I forgot that I needed to change....." stuff.

Another great detail about this class is that half of it is being held on-line, so I will only have to drive across town at the same time that every elementary school in the city is dismissing just five more times this semester. Life is good.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years

Of course I've been thinking about it all week. We've been talking about it in school, too. Half of my students this year weren't born yet when the terror attacks happened. The others were just babies. But they know what we're talking about. Actually, I've spent this week talking about war and an attack on the U.S. every year since I started teaching sixteen years ago. 

This is also the week of the anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore in 1814, when a man named Francis Scott Key was on a prisoner exchange trip out in the Chesapeake Bay aboard a British war ship. He'd gone to get his friend Dr. Beane, who was being released after having been wrongly arrested. But the men had to stay on board the British ship until the bombardment of Fort McHenry had been completed. Fortunately, the British lost that battle, as Mr. Key learned in the smoky dawn as he peered from the deck of the ship looking to see which nation's flag was flying over the fort after the two day fight.  "T'was the star-spangled banner..."  So now, since 2001, I've taught a history lesson where we compare the two battles that happen 180 years apart--how frightened everyone was that our country was under attack, who was attacking, what was the outcome, how did we fare as a nation. It's a good way to teach and discuss and show them that history just keeps happening, whether it was long, long ago, or just long ago (in the life of a 9 year old.)

I was teaching fourth grade in 2001, too. I kept seeing people go in and out of the library and huddle around the television that was on in there. Finally, around 10:00, I took my students to gym or art or something and I went into the library. It was appalling. I knew that CoolGuy would probably stay late at work and I knew that nothing would ever be the same. By noon, parents had taken away most of my students. They were just frightened. Our school was located 30 miles south of Andrew's AFB, and one mile across the river from Patuxent NAS. We were accustomed to jets flying overhead, but we didn't know yet how many jets were still waiting to crash into something.

My students wanted to know what was going on, since there were only about 8 of them left in our classroom. They guessed a plane crash; I told them, yes, a couple of them in New York and one in Washington D.C. One of the students left in my classroom looked stricken and said, "My mom works in Washington."  No one had come to pick him up. He left on the bus, and until the next morning when he returned to school with a smile, I didn't know if his mom had come home or not.  A girl in our son's high school lost her father at the Pentagon. One family in our school lost an uncle in NYC.

The worst part of our day was waiting for our PTA president's husband. He worked in DC for the FAA and was scheduled to be in the Pentagon that morning for a meeting. You couldn't get a cell signal for hours. She was in the building helping with her children's classes. We were really good friends. My first year there, her daughter had been in my room. She just quietly worked on copying and cutting and pasting in the office, and we all just prayed silently as we went on with our lessons.

At 12:30 he came striding through the front door of the school. Our building at that time had open pods, so it was possible to see the length of the school and into the foyer by the office from just about anywhere. As we saw him come into the building, we all just fled to the front and he was engulfed in a group hug of teachers, office workers, and his wife as we all (including him) cried with relief.

He'd been driving to his meeting when someone called and said that the plane had hit the Pentagon and that he should just get out of town. Everyone was leaving and the roads were a mess. Every government building was being evacuated because there was still a plane up there that was known to be hijacked. The last we all heard was that jets had been scrambled from Andrews to intercept it.

I got home that afternoon and hugged my sons. CoolGuy came in later and we knelt and had family prayer. It was so surreal and way too close to home. I can't even imagine what it was like for people in Manhattan. It simply made us want to hug our families and friends and thank God for our own safety.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Working My Way Back Down the Ladder

Hmmm...tonight, my checking account indicates that I have received my first automatically deposited paycheck for the 2011-2012 school year. It is $93.23 smaller than my last automatically deposited paycheck for the 2010-2011 school year. This is not a good career plan. The reason, I know, is because our school's budget can no longer allow us to have our extended day, for which I was paid for an extra 40 minutes of work everyday. Our students were in class for half of that time, and we used the rest for team planning. Hmmm...bummer.

On the other hand---I still have a job. Many of my students' parents are not that blessed here in Sin City.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Who Knew It Would Be This Much Work?

As I have mentioned, I'm working on a master's degree at the local state university. I enrolled two and half years ago, and I've been plugging away at my classes one at a time each semester. I'd take more, but each of them is quite a bit of work and, as I've also mentioned, I teach fourth grade full-time. During this last summer term, I took two classes to make up for the one I had to drop in the Spring semester due to the Frankenfoot Saga.

Well, when I wrote the title above, I wasn't actually referring to the courses I take. Yes, yes, they are a lot of work. But I expected graduate level work to be challenging. I want to learn something after all. The reference in the title is all the attendant folderol that keeps occurring due to being part of big bureaucracy--a state university system.

Last Thursday, I had a hard time sleeping. So I decided as long as I was awake, I'd go on-line and order my yearly parking pass for campus. I needed to add a vehicle--CoolGuy's truck---because my car's air conditioner has experienced a fatal failure, so for the next month I need to drive something that will provide a cool interior. By October, I can go back to my own car. But, the parking sticker can be moved from one vehicle to another by one owner.

As I was typing in the information, I inadvertently made a typo and so the truck's license plate was wrong. But I didn't know that till the next morning when I opened my e-mail to find a notice from the university that I owed them $30 for a parking ticket I received four years ago on my Range Rover, license plate XXXX--the typo plate. !!!  I figured, "Oh, I'll just call someone and get this straightened out."  I tried to go on-line and fix the typo, but I couldn't make that happen. 

I called right as I got to school at 8:00 A.M. and got someone on the line. She was able to fix the typo and insert my actual license plate number, and generate my parking sticker (to be mailed...I got it the next day.) BUT---the ticket. No can do. Sister, you said that was your license plate, that is now your ticket.

Seriously. That was her best advice. Oh, no, actually she had other advice: contact the DMV and see if they would tell me who the real owner of the Range Rover with that plate was, and then tell the university and then they could contact those people and tell them to pay the ticket. I asked her if I just ignored it, would they keep me from graduating? Yes.  She recommended I could just pay it, or try DMV---

I asked her for her name, I said thank you. I hung up. GOOD GRIEF. So, since it was Friday, and we were going out of town for the weekend, I just decided that Tuesday, when the parking office would be open again, I'd drive down there straight after school and try and sort this thing out. Actually, what I was really thinking was "I'm going down there and not leaving until someone removes my name from that bogus ticket and if they won't do there then I'll hire a lawyer." 

Well, it only took a face-to-face with a very pleasant young student worker. I told her the problem, I showed her the e-mail "ticket notice," I pointed out that there had been a typo. She noted that on the computer screen she could see where the typo had been fixed. She said to wait a sec and she'd be right back. And in about four minutes, she was right back. "Everything is straightened out. Your name is off the ticket. No problem." She said that they'd been having quite a few complaints about one of their new workers and her information on the phone. I mentioned the name, the girl nodded, I leaned in and said, "Well, put one more mark by her name from me, okay? And thanks ever so much for helping me!" 

So I stopped off at a delicious pizza place and picked up a half-mushroom and half-pepp to celebrate.  Wow, college is hard, sometimes.

Monday, September 05, 2011

This Post Was Meant For Friday

There should be some type of law, or rule, or something....
It stinks all over the school. It is very unpleasant for those of us not eating fish. I mean, seriously, why do we have to say this? But, then again, none of us dare say periodically (except that it happened THREE TIMES THIS WEEK) someone will heat up fish and, even though it may taste good to the eater, the rest of us seriously need to retch when we catch a whiff of it as we walk down the hall.  BLEH....

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

FrankenFoot Gazette: Another Milestone

This evening after school, I got a pedicure. The first one since February. (I've been clipping my own toenails, just in case you might be thinking "EEEWWW....February??")  My toes look elegant and well-groomed and have a shiny mocha polish.

Now if only the rest of each foot looked as nice as the toes...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cool... house, that is! All hail air conditioning!  I just came home from the first day of school: footsore, sweaty and hoarse. And I opened the door and cool air flowed all around me. Yay!!!

The workers arrived at 11:00 and finished at 2:00, and even though the interior of our house is still at 90 degrees, the exterior is 112 this afternoon. (yes--112!!!) I got to stand outside the school and direct traffic for ten minutes at 3:30, and 112 on the pavement feels even hotter than 112 should feel.'s a good day for air conditioning. I love modern life. These guys are my heroes.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Au Natural

And by that I mean our house...the air conditioner's compressor died sometime on Friday afternoon. CoolGuy was working in the garage and so when I got home about 6:40 from school and walked into the house, it seemed a bit warm. But to him, it was more comfortable than the garage, and it was. But as I started to prepare dinner, I thought, "No, this isn't just the usual "energy-saving" thermostat shut-down that the power company will do for 15 minutes during peak demand periods.

So, I mentioned it to CoolGuy who'd just come in to wash up for the cheese enchiladas. He went down the hall and checked the thermostat. It was blank. I mean dark, blank, nada. Hmmm...not a good sign. I put the cookies in the oven and watched him prop the ladder up to the roof. A few minutes later, I could feel air blowing down on me from the vent in the kitchen ceiling---ah, good sign. Then, it abruptly stopped--bad sign.

I took the cookies out of the oven and shut it off, but by then, of course, the kitchen was super hot from that. About 20 minutes later, after more air blowing followed by abrupt stopping-- blowing --off, blowing---off---he came in with the diagnosis: the compressor is dead. The air blowing was the fan, but without the compressor, the default position was to shut down the system by tripping the breaker.

We ate the enchiladas and the cookies and sweated, and then we just went out and got in the pool. Yes, dead compressor means no air conditioning. We slept on top of the covers.

The next morning, Saturday, I went to my classroom to work. CoolGuy texted me later that a technician would be over between 2 and 4. At 10:30 CoolGuy came over to join me in my classroom at my invitation and he set up, plugged in, and tested my student computers. We went to lunch (eating there of course) and then we went home to meet up with the guy. Yes...dead compressor. We can get another over here Monday morning. (!!)

So, we ate out on Saturday night, soaked in the pool again, slept on top of the covers again. Church was great!! Cool air...Sat in the pool all afternoon and read the newspaper. We'll sleep on top of the covers again tonight and tomorrow the new compressor arrives.Yeah!

Actually, most of the rooms aren't bad. We have ceiling fans, we've opened the doors so the air is moving. We have a well-insulated attic and tile floors, so really, because of the "dry heat" thing, it isn't so bad today. Yesterday, we had thunderstorms in the area, so it wasn't "dry heat". Today is better. I definitely wouldn't like to live like this all the time, but a few days...okay, we're not going to die.

Kitty Cats melt however: 

And the best place for lunch is in the pool---mangoes and ice cream:

Yes, it is hot here, by the way. The truck thermometer says 108, but it was in the sun, and this one is shaded by a large tree.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Forty Years

So, if you want to realize how old you really are, then go to your 40th high school reunion. Eeek! I keep saying that I still feel about 35 in my brain. (My feet, of course, are 102.) But, going to your high school reunion is a serious reality check. Yep...we're getting old.

One of the reality checks is my realization that when my parents were my age, I had decided that they were sooooo old that they didn't even have any way to relate to me. I was just so different from them. Now, I realize that they, too, were astonished at how quickly they'd turned into "old" people, and that they, too, felt about 35 in their brains, even though I'd always looked at them as "old" people. My dad died when he was 63 from leukemia and he'd gotten diagnosed finally at age 56, after feeling symptoms (but not knowing why he felt bad) for two years before that. So, I reflect on these things at age 58 and wish we had some way of knowing that no one is ever actually "old" in their own head, ever!

At the reunion, the mood was pleasant and festive. We were seriously happy to see one another. Ten of us have died since we left high school---a couple of those were within two or three years after graduation, tragically, but none of the others were less tragic. No one wants to lose young friends. Many of us married a classmate or someone who'd attended our small high school a year or two ahead or behind us.

 Quite a few in our group have always lived in the little valley where we grew up, but most moved somewhere else. Some of those moves were to earn a different living than our parents (many were farmers or ranchers) and some of those moves were to get away from the small-town scene. Some people married a person who preferred a different location. For me--weather is the big thing. When I discovered the joys of year-round summer, I never looked back.

I was amused to discover a new thing about myself when a guy I'd dated my senior year walked through the door with his just-married (2nd) wife. I was nervous to go greet him. I knew I'd been the mean one. Our relationship was one of convenience for me. I was in charge of a couple of clubs my senior year in high school, and we sponsored dances and other events, so I had to be there. I definitely didn't want to go alone. I knew this guy through mutual acquaintences and he was okay: he was taller than me, he had a car, and he'd said "Yes" when I asked him to the girl's choice dance in October. Excellent--I had myself an escort to all the significant senior year events: Homecoming, New Year's Eve dance, Prom, weekly after-basketball dances, etc. etc.

I know that he felt stronger about me than I felt for him. And yes, I used that to my advantage. He continued to pursue me after high school when I worked in a nearby resort town. He called me up and dated me during Christmas break when I was home from college. He wrote me letters while he served his mission. And I wrote back--I actually wrote letters to several high school friends while they served missions. However, his communication started to be more serious as he approached his release date, so I obliquely said that I'd be at home when he returned and I needed to talk to him in person. Of course by then, CoolGuy and I were planning our May wedding. This guy was due home at Easter.

Then he extended his mission by a few weeks. Oh. So, he got home the day before I got married, and came to our wedding reception still wearing his missionary name tag, accompanied by a mutual friend. Oh. That was uncomfortable. There was never an opportunity to tell him what it was I wanted to talk to him about (getting married--not to him). I just didn't want to be the "Dear John" of his mission. But, seriously, he was not, and never was, The One for me. I realized then that I was his (hopefully) One. Oh, well...

So, now, forty years later, we meet again. He's been married, divorced and remarried. I was so uncomfortable. He smiled and greeted me, introduced me to his wife. I stood there and smiled and greeted her. Then I said, "He took me to the prom when we were seniors." And he said, "Yes, I did, didn't I?" And then we both laughed, "Ha ha long ago." And quickly moved on to other topics and soon, other conversations with folks.

Later we had the chance to chat again, and I asked him where he lived and what he did, and we had a more comfortable conversation about current life. Isn't is bizarre that after forty years, I could feel embarrassed and nervous to talk about something that happened so long ago, was never resolved and now will not be discussed together ever again? 

So, when you look at "old" people, remember---it's just their bodies that are old. In their brains, they may feel like they felt when they were 18 or 19 or 35. Only our bodies age---nothing else.