Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How to be the Perfect Teacher...

(The following is a letter written to my school from a woman who worked with us for three years in our Severely Learning Disabled class. She moved to a different building this year in order to be closer to home and their baby, avoiding the 45 minute commute. This letter was printed off and placed in our First Day Back packets from the principal. Our co-worker named names in this letter.)

Title:  How to be the Perfect Teacher

The first thing you need to be a wonderful teacher is tough love. You follow up student decisions (both good and bad) with consequences that were laid out in the beginning of the year. Your class will highly effective and efficient. For this, look to Ms. [5th reading grade teacher.]

You will need to know how to do 5 billion tasks at the same time while being organized. For this, see Ms. [4th grade math teacher.]

Teachers must always work with less than they need and still make student gains. To know how to do this, go talk with Ms. [4th grade reading teacher.]

A teacher must be kind to others and non-judgmental. Observe Ms. [3rd grade] and Ms. [2nd grade] to figure out how to be this person.

If you want to know what is going on with your students and be someone they trust, follow Mr. [3rd grade]'s example.

As a teacher, we must be knowledgeable in several different types of programs and strategies. Talk with Ms. [1st grade]. She is a wealth of knowledge.

On days that are bad and make you want to get even with your students, go see Ms. [2nd grade] and Ms. [2nd grade]. They will start practicing for the Students vs Teacher softball game early and tell you how hard the fifth graders cried last year when they lost.

To see how a teacher treats special education students the same as everyone else, observe Ms. [Librarian].

A teacher always wants to look his or her best. Give up on this now. Ms. [Counselor], Ms. [Learning Specialist], Ms. [Intervention leader] and Ms. [Principal] will always out-dress you. Always. This is a fact.

If you want to know how to be the kindest and most caring teacher, follow Ms. Kindergarten]'s lead.

If you want to secretly be one of the nicest teachers in the building, watch Mr. [Special Ed]. He doesn't like people knowing all the nice things he does, but he is pretty amazing when he thinks no one is looking.

For days you need a good laugh, and someone to joke with, go see Mr. [Special Ed].

If you want to be the most fun teacher in school, watch any of our specialists.

And last, but certainly not least, is Ms. [EarthSignMama]. She is not a teacher from 8:30 -3:30. She is a teacher every hour of the day. I will never forget her kindness to others. Especially the time she went and cleaned a student's lice infested house so they would stop missing school. This, my friends, is true love of a teacher; uncompromising love and loyalty for all others. You know, one of my favorite quotes says, "Students who are loved at home, come to school to learn, and students who are not, come to be loved." If this is who you want to be, see Ms.[EarthSignMama].

 So, then she ended her letter with an additional shout out to our principal for hiring a first year teacher and giving her a chance at a career that she loves. She loves us all, will miss us,--swears that we will miss her!!--and we will...

 I cried when I read it. I blushed and I cried. I've never had anyone lavish such unexpected praise on me, ever. She and I got along great! I'm sure she is young enough that I could have given birth to her, but she treated me like a peer and taught me many great skills, also. 

So, in the future, when I might be having a bad day at school, I'll pull out my letter and read again about how wonderful I am, and I'll stand up straight, and throw back my shoulders, and march right back into the storm. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Right Traveling Companions

I wanted to write one more thing about my journey to Yellowstone Park. This trip was accomplished due to the efforts of my dear friend. She is the one who looked up the accommodations, and she is the one who got me to commit to the trip. We have known one another since 1976. I moved into her neighborhood and we met at church. We just "clicked." I'm not sure why we have been able to maintain this friendship through this many years, especially since I have not lived in her neighborhood, nor even the same city with her for more than 27 years! I guess that is a sign of true friendship---it lasts. I tell her she's like another sister to me.

So, anyway, she and I made these preparations, and as I was packing the truck for the trip, CoolGuy remarked, "Those kids [the two grandchildren who accompanied us] have no idea what they're in for." He shook his head. I laughed! I knew exactly what he was referencing--my friend and I have awesome conversations. I wasn't even a little kid, one of my favorite things to do was sit quietly and listen to my mom and other grownup ladies talk. It was illuminating, entertaining, and a great way to figure out how to be a friend when you're an adult.

That morning, we pulled up to--[I'll call her New Sis] New Sis's house and, after we got all of our supplies carefully tarped and tied into the back of the truck, we said a prayer for safety in our travels and set off on the 300 miles north to West Yellowstone, MT. Now, New Sis raised seven children to my five. She has a group of grandchildren, too, so we're old pros at traveling with kids. Plus, my grandchildren are excellent travelers. It's good, too, because we spent a huge amount of time in the truck over the next four days. We tend to think alike--we brought lots of snacks; we both like to stop for random things; we are interested in just about everything. We had a blast!

For instance: along the freeway in Idaho, we all spied a sign announcing the upcoming Idaho Potato Museum. Of course we stopped! I mean, how could you resist? You're in Idaho! It's a potato museum!

It was an wonderful experience, too. We learned stuff, and we read lots of signs, and I found yet another group of horrible chores I'm so grateful I didn't have to do as a child.

When we got to our destination, we checked into our campsite, and then went into town to a performance at  the community theater that is staffed by talented and energetic college students. For the cast members, this a summer job. As they were introducing everyone, the grandchildren recognized a girl from their church, who had been in local theater performances with them at home! Again, a great experience we wouldn't have done without New Sis planning our agenda!

As we waited in the line with the other vehicles at the Park entrance that first morning, we realized that visitors to the Park had come from all over the country, according the cars we were seeing. New Sis casually asked the kids if they were interested in playing the license plate game. She had no idea what she was starting! These children are highly motivated to finish what they start and they are very observant. So, by the  third day, we'd found all but four of the 50 states, as well as six Canadian provinces and two states in Mexico. We were so close!!

We arrived at our main destination for that day, where we'd eat lunch and then start on the final loop of the park, and----there were two of last states, parked next to each other as we drove through the parking lot!! Excitement!! As we parked, there sat the third state we were missing!! ONE TO GO!! Despite the complete distraction of mostly looking at license plates, and the effort of walking up and down the parking lots at every place we visited the rest of that day, Rhode Island remained elusive...I guess no one from there decided to drive to Wyoming this summer. It was a big disappointment. But, we had a blast looking for it.

One day, when we women had been chattering away on one of the many wide-ranging topics on which we'd converse, I paused and turned to my granddaughter. "Grandpa said that he worried that you children would have no idea what you were in for, traveling with us two. Are you getting tired of us?"  She laughed, too, and explained that she loved listening to us! She knew exactly what her grandpa was referencing. But, she and her brother would often join in. They have opinions, too, about the school system, where ones gets the best ice cream, and why cats are such great pets. Once, they started the conversation by asking us to recall a memory from second grade, or fifth grade or to describe a fun birthday we remembered. We had a lovely time.

We were silly sometimes. There were moments of the normal sibling quarreling. Everyone got waaaay too tired everyday, and we had to remember to be kind and gentle with one another. We taught each other great facts about the nature we were viewing---I have extremely well-read grandchildren. We learned interesting and, sometimes sad, stories about our own childhoods. A trip to an amazing location was made even more enjoyable by going with agreeable companions. I guess you can't ask for more than that.

 Taking photos of taking photos.

 She decided to run away with the wolves. 

 We bought some souvenirs, but the cutest purchase was when they were looking everywhere to find something for their little sister, who didn't go on the trip. 

 It's one thing to go on a trip with one grandmother, but when two grandmothers are with you...! Except that she is as awesome as me, so we all had a lot of fun. 

 Just a little joke, Grandma! But...someday!

Here is a view of the whole campsite. This is located along the Madison River and so the view from the door of the tipi was river, backed up with forest, and behind that were mountains. Pretty awesome! Plus, another building housed real bathrooms--shower, toilet, sink, mirror. My kind of camping!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Weird Weather

Okay. It's August. It's the Mojave Desert. is only 82 degrees outside. And last night it was the same....80 degrees at sunset. If you've never traveled through Nevada in the summer, you might now be wondering what is the fuss? Well, let me explain: it's August, it's Southern Nevada, it's 82 degrees.

Normally, the only thing that would be 82 degrees in August, in Las Vegas, is my bedroom in the late afternoon. The air conditioner, try as it might, can only cool that west facing room just so much as the blazing sun bakes the house, even with the shade of the chubby palm tree growing just outside the window. Plus, the power company would have forced my system into a 20 minute shut down because of Peak Hour Usage blah, blah, blah.

Yes, we're having weird weather here. Most of July and, so far, August, has been unusually cool. Well, perhaps "cool" is not the correct word. Maybe just unseasonably not-so-hot-as-normal. Many days we have not even broke 100. It's been cloudy and humid (for Nevada) and we've had so many thunderstorms. Very strange summer here.

My first August in Las Vegas was a test, I know. I actually had a lady at church say to me, "I always feel so sorry for people during their first August." I understand what she was talking about, having lived here now for nine years. Yes, it starts doing the 100's by the end of May most years. In June, it is regularly gets into the 101, 102, 103 category during the day at some point. Nights are not yet the oven that they become in July, however. By July, everyday is over 100 by 10:00 A.M., and frequently it will soar to 110, 112, 113. By midnight, it'll go back to 90.

But August...every single day in August is a blast furnace. It can be 110 by 11:00 A.M.  It is always over 110, every single afternoon. When darkness falls, you imagine that it will be cooler, just because you can no longer see the sun. Nope, not really. Okay, it doesn't feel quite as bad when there is no sun, but it is still incredibly hot. By dawn, it might be down to 96, maybe. But the moment Old Sol peaks up over the horizon, zoom----up goes the temperature and by 8:30 it's 100 again. August is a very impressive month. Swimming pool and air conditioning are your only hope.

Or renting a beach house in SoCal. Which is what many, many Las Vegans do. Or they go up north to visit relatives, or stay in the mountains in Southern Utah. It's just simply like living in Satan's back yard here in the Mojave.When the second week of September comes, you can tell a real difference.The angle of the sun is obviously slipped a little to the south. Autumn equinox is on the way, and everything is different. We can still see a few over-100 days, but night is cooler in the fall. Usually by October, the pool has gotten uncomfortably cool, and we no longer use it. It stays so warm all summer because the masonry and ground all around it never get a break from the heat.

So, this fall, I think my swimming season is going to come to a close even sooner. The pool water has only been "warm" a few days all summer. It doesn't take many days of 85 degrees to cool it right down. Weird...I'm lamenting cool weather! Just another way that Nevada warps your thinking.

Swimming pool weather is a good thing!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Shameless Cheerleading

As a Wyoming girl, I have always been inordinately proud that Yellowstone Park was largely situated within the borders of my home state. ...Even though I never managed to see it in person until I was an old lady. Nevertheless, I always actually thought of it as a Wyoming place, not specifically a national park. I'm not sure why...maybe it is because the parts of Wyoming with which I was familiar at that time were also stunningly beautiful.

Greys River, just to the east of Star Valley

 Or perhaps because geysers and hot springs are not confined to just the Park in Wyoming. My childhood swimming lessons were in a pool that was filled from a hot sulfur spring that bubbled up from underground in the owner's pasture. Sure, we smelled like rotten eggs all summer, but after an hour in that pool, the usual cuts and scrapes acquired during outdoor play would be healed up from the healing quality of the sulfur in the water. My dad especially liked to relax right where the water came into the pool to soothe his aching back with its heat. There were also hot springs sprinkled throughout the forest in random places. So, geologic wonders weren't all that unusual in my experience.

So, my affection and personal connection to Yellowstone Park were born of being very protective of what I considered to be a very special place in the world, my home of Wyoming. Now that I've actually been to Yellowstone, and watched other people as they also viewed its many wonders, I realize that this Park is waaaay more significant than I could have realized as a naive little native-born Western cheerleader.

First, it was recognized to be absolutely unique and magnificent so early in its discovery by the white people who came out West from the rest of the United States. The early explorers who'd traveled there were thought to be exaggerating when they described it. The native people, Shoshone-Bannock, knew all about it and treated it as a special place too. So deciding to set it aside as a national park, a brand new idea in 1872, was pretty spectacular, and I feel grateful for those who made that decision.

As we traveled through the Park last week, it was immediately apparent that this was a "destination" visit for many, many people. We heard many different languages being spoken. We saw license plates from (almost) all 50 states, [we never saw Rhode Island to make our list complete...arggghhh.] and 6 provinces of Canada, and two states of Mexico! And buses filled with people who didn't want to drive themselves. Go to Yellowstone! "Thank you, we will," replies the entire world. And it is worth their time and trouble, believe me.

There isn't a single photo that we took that can do justice to any of the scenery we saw. Again, I've seen beautiful nature---but I continually found myself exclaiming, over and over, about what met my eyes around every turn, or at the crest of each hill. Wildflowers bloomed everywhere. There were huge meadows with meandering rivers that twisted and turned, creating oxbows and marshes. The mountains went on and on, craggy peaks fading off into the distance. Birds of all kinds were everywhere; fish jumped in the streams; brave little chipmunks sneaked around the parking lots hoping to find some treat.

Then---we finally managed to see a bear! A group of cars were stopped along the road, so we did, too. Just inside the trees we saw a young grizzly, shuffling along, turning over logs, stopping to sniff for bugs or berries. We also saw elk, which I've seen many times in my life, but seeing them lolling around on the grassy median and grazing on the lawn of the visitor's center at Mammoth Hot Springs was a new experience. The biggest thrill was driving through the Hayden Valley on our last day. It's Bison-Land there! We saw hundreds. At first, we were pretty excited to see one walking along the roadside while were approaching the valley, still in the forest. But, as we drove down into the open spaces, we were treated to groups of them speckling the meadows that stretched to the horizon. We got to park (in a parking space...) and stand on the side of a hill and observe a small herd as they lay chewing their cuds, rolling in a dusty wallow, and just looking back at us humans. It was a classic scene---fumerols were spewing steam, the river was flowing along, the meadows were green and speckled with flowers, and bison were lounging. It was classic Yellowstone!

So, I'll stop now...but, if like me, you've procrastinated going to see the original national park, then you must start planning now for your inaugural visit. It's SO worth it! I'll be back next summer, with CoolGuy, on the motorcycle. That is also a popular way to see it, believe me; there were biker tourists everywhere.

The affection I felt for "our" national park, when I was a child, had only been enhanced by finally seeing it in person. And now I realize that it doesn't just belong to us Wyomingites, or even us Americans. It's a world treasure. I'm proud to share it with you all. Now, go plan! Get up there! Don't be like me and wait 50 years.

 Bison near the Firehole River

 Yes, elk, just hanging out like cattle. Ignoring all the people who were taking their photos.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Blessings, Large and Small

(Gosh, I've been having so much fun this summer, that I haven't taken time to discuss any of it here. But, I plan to write several posts in the next few days to describe some of the good times. Stay tuned.)

In the Book of Mormon, there is a passage where a trouble maker is preaching to the people that there is no God and they are foolish to think He exists. Ultimately, he and the local religious leader have a discussion about God, and the teachings this man is attempting to discredit. The man declares again that there is no way  the leader can prove that there is a God. The chief priest replies to the unbeliever that, in fact, his own statements are unprovable, and points out that, "... all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it..."

I spent last week surrounded by this evidence of our Creator. My long-time friend invited me, and two of my grandchildren, to go to Yellowstone National Park with her.  I've never been, and she really wanted to be my guide for the first visit. She's a veteran Park visitor, and was delighted to accompany me on my initial trip.

 Wow. Just WOW. As you may know, from previous posts, that I am a native of a most beautiful environment, in Wyoming. So, I'm completely familiar with the wonders of nature in the Rocky Mountains. I appreciated that beauty when I lived there; I still appreciate it now. And I've visited many other spectacular natural environments in the world. I'm just partial to the Rocky Mountains because they are part of my DNA, sort of. However, Yellowstone completely blows "beautiful" "stunning nature" and "gorgeous scenery" totally out of the water. (Often with a loud, exploding geyser, if you know what I mean.)

Seriously, I was in complete awe the entire time. Every curve you drive around, every vista, every bubbling mud pot, every wild animal, every river, mountain, wildflower, and cloud was over the top of my experience with the beauty of the natural world. If  "all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it," then probably His vacation home is Yellowstone Park.

I'll go into more detail about the large blessing of that world in another post, but to conclude this post, I need to explain one of the small blessings I experienced while on my trip. I left home and drove the 365 miles north to my daughter's house and slept over night. Then, two of her children and I packed up and drove north about 50 miles to pick up my friend. After carefully securing all of our belongings in a large tarp, and fastening it with a variety of tie-downs in the back of CoolGuy's truck, we set off for another 300 + miles to the north. While in the park, we drove probably 50-100 miles each day, for three days. Then, we loaded up the gear, drove the 300 miles back south. After a couple of days to recover, I got in the truck and started on the final leg of the long journey.

Now, before I set out on this extravaganza, I'd taken the truck in for a tire rotation, air check, etc. etc. I felt confident that everything would be fine--the truck runs well. As I drove back toward our desert home, I was strongly impressed to stop at particular highway off-ramp that I don't normally use. Then, I just decided that I needed to back the truck into the parking space to avoid facing the sun. After I returned from the restroom break, and stretched my legs a little, I approached the truck from the passenger side, which I would not normally do, as the driver. The rear tire caught my eye. It really didn't look right--too low. I thought I'd drive under the freeway, and find a garage in the town, but as I rounded the corner of the gas station, there was a tire place right there. If this had been the next town on I-15, I'd have really hesitated. But, these guys were just sitting in their work bay, chatting with one another, not out there hustling gas customers and trying to drum up bogus business.

I pulled up and asked one fellow if he'd please check the inflation because I didn't like the looks of my back tire. It had all of 8 lbs of pressure (out of the needed 40). EEK! It was flat. He jacked up the truck, took it off, sprayed it down with soapy water and found the leak. A nail was extracted, a plug pushed into place, and the tire remounted. He checked all my other tires--everything was fine. I paid him the pittance he charged for essentially saving me a ruined tire, a possible wreck, and being stranded in the middle of nowhere. All done in less than 20 minutes, and I was treated respectfully.

So, as I continued my drive south toward home, I spent a great deal of that time praying silently, and sometimes aloud, thanking Heavenly Father for hearing my prayers that I offered each leg of my trip. I always petitioned for a safe journey, no accidents, no car trouble. Wow, I certainly got a loud and clear answer. "Stop here. Park like this. Look at that tire."

Blessings:  large as Yellowstone Park, and small as an urge to stop and do a tire check.

The falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Pictures are SO inadequate.