Wednesday, July 23, 2008

State by State

Well, here I am on the other side of my personal hell, and let me tell you, it didn't get as hot as I thought it would, although I wasn't lifted into heaven, either.

Some things I noticed:

Texas should rename itself The Slow State. This is because of all the states I drove through Texas only has a speed limit of 70. Talk about slowing down my journey. Also, Texas, I think, has the corner on Dairy Queens. Those little towns all have one, and since I love DQs, I'm not complaining. But throw me a bone, Texas, on the speed limit.

New Mexico should rename itself The Safety State. Wow, did I ever feel safe. There were all kinds of "safety corridors" (which as far as I can tell, means that if you get caught speeding there, you pay a double fine) and I happened to visit during the 100 Days of Safety extravaganza. There were signs everywhere touting the fact that their highway patrol was out in force, day and night, policing the streets to keep them safe. Just as a side note, and in no way to make fun of the New Mexico HP, I only saw one cruiser during my drive across New Mexico. But that one trooper did look vigilant.

Also, I think New Mexico should get some kind of award for advertising. Because, I kid not, I would see signs every twenty feet for like twenty miles touting an awesome place to stop. And I would get all excited, because the billboards made it seem like if I stopped my kids could practically join a Navajo Indian tribe. "Tour an authentic Navajo Lodge!" the signs would scream, "Indian Village, eight miles ahead!" "Worth the wait! Largest jackrabbit sculpture in the world!"

I would get caught up and almost think about pulling off. As we passed, I would notice that the Indian Village was actually just a 7-11 gas station. I have no idea where they were hiding the authentic Navajo lodge.

I saw a lot of beautiful country, while my kids mostly saw Dora, the Backyardigans, and Mulan. But it was quiet and peaceful and that counts for something.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And We're Off . . .

Tomorrow morning I'm shoving (probably literally, there's no way of knowing) my kids in my minivan and driving for twenty hours to go to Vegas. It will be so fun--the driving part, of course.

Once we get to the family part, it really will be fun, and look ma! no sarcasm!

But oh, please remember me tomorrow when your kids act a little annoying (or even a lot annoying). Remember that someone else is enduring a personal hell, made bearable only by in-car DVDs, string cheese, M&Ms and lacing cards. And then remember me again the next day, because yep, we'll still be driving.

And I've mentioned that my husband isn't able to come? Yes?

And I've also mentioned that I've contacted the Vatican to see if I can qualify for sainthood based on this trip, alone, cross-country? Even though I'm Mormon and haven't been martyred or anything? (Because I think I'm doing a pretty good martyr act over here, don't you?)

I think I should qualify if only because of the holy toenail. I'm just saying.

So if you don't hear from me for the next few days, know that I'm just driving, driving, driving. Either that, or God has taken pity on me and lifted my minivan into the heavens. It will be just like that scene in The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. Except, probably with a lot more screaming (my kids!).

I can't ever watch any movie with Charlton Heston unless it's a religious movie. Can you? In high school we watched him in "Leningen Vs. the Ants" (which was nothing like the short story) and I just kept expecting him to part the sea of ants and lead his people to safety.

And now I will stop rambling. Goodbye!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In the Same Vein

Wow, all this talk about teaching high school has really made me miss it. Except for the grading part, of course, which only fools would miss.

I used to know a teacher who would grade every piece of paper that hit her grading box the same day she received it. Except of course, she made exceptions for the big essays. Those took her a whole weekend. And I was lucky just to get everything graded by the end of the term. Whatever. I think one time she asked if she could help me and I gave her some papers to grade, which is, of course, totally lame, but she was like "Grading Girl", the superhero (and yes, now I have reached a new low in ultra-geekiness, but again, whatever.)

My point here, buried somewhere beneath the random musings on how much I hated grading papers, was to tell you one of my favorite stories from high school teaching.

I taught English 10 Honors, and oh, did I love it. Those kids wanted As, and they would work to get them. And man, did they want those As. It's one of the few times when students would come up to me and be all, "Hey, um, I have a A-, it's a 92%, and I'm just wondering if I can do some extra credit to boost my grade to over 100%?"

And I would say no, because that's what I do. I say no. It kept me drug-free and came in real handy during the teaching years. It's not working so badly during the parenting years either.

Anyway, one day we had finished writing personal narratives and some of the students were reading them out loud to the class.

Mike, a loud, funny class clown kind of kid, had volunteered, because hello? Spotlight? Sign him up! (Don't worry, Mike, I'm the same way.) Mike wasn't the typical Honors student, in that he was pulling a B- and feeling fine about it. We all listened attentively (because it was Honors! people! We were respectful like that!) until I heard this:

"Then my brother turned his snowmobile and headed for the jump. When he got to the top of the jump, he totally did a promiscuous jump."

A little surprised, I said, "Hey, Mike, back it up. What did you just say?"

He repeats, "He totally did a promiscuous jump." He's nonchalant.

"So, what does 'promiscuous' mean?" I ask, choking back laughter. Seriously choking.

"Oh, I don't know. I just put it in there because it was a big word." Mike shrugs his shoulders, like I'm so lame for asking such a weird question.

And then I lost it and started laughing hysterically for a good three minutes--shoulders shaking, tears streaming, belly heaving.

"Oh, Mike," I finally say between chortles, "I'm not laughing at you," and then I stop and laugh some more and just decide to be honest with the poor thing. "No actually, I am laughing at you. Did you know that 'promiscuous' means sexually loose or immoral?"

Mike was embarrassed, but we all laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed the entire rest of the year. Almost every time Mike made a comment, another person in the class would say, "So would you say that was 'promiscuous', Mike?" and poor Mike would blush all over again. He was such a great sport.

Just to make him feel better, I told him this story about me. It's nice to know you're not alone in dropping sexual innuendo in the classroom, after all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Every So Often

Every so often, at church, or in random conversation, I hear a variation of this: "Teenagers these days are awful. They are rude, they don't know how to work, and they don't care about anyone but themselves."

And sometimes, when I go out where teenagers are (the mall, the movie theater) I sort of agree. They are self-absorbed and sometimes loud and obnoxious. I do have to fight the urge to throw down some serious English-teacher-dirty-looks that were honed years ago. Trust me, they work.

However, having said that, most of the time, I can't help thinking that those kind of teenagers did not define my high school teaching experience. Instead, my high school teaching experience was defined by thoughtful, smart, funny young people, who had goals, dreams, and ambitions that they were proud of. And okay, yeah, they were probably obnoxious in movie theaters, but in person, they were amazing.

I always counter the variations of "Teenagers suck!" that I hear with the following anecdote, taken directly from Room 233 (the one with the orange carpet), my first year of teaching.

There was a kid in my class, and I quite honestly can't remember his name, although I wish I could. He was possibly one of the most annoying students I've ever had. For the sake of this blog, let's call him Justin. He blurted things out that were completely random and often rude or crass, he talked about himself constantly, he pretended he was a gangster (it was in Pleasant Grove, Utah, people--we had no gangsters), and there was something in his demeanor that suggested repressed violence. Later in the year, Justin would be removed from the school for writing journals explaining exactly who he would kill in the school and how much he hated everyone. He was a walking time bomb.

Of course, every time we had partner work or group work, Justin was usually hard pressed to find a partner, and I usually ended up assigning him to a group, or quietly negotiating with someone who didn't already have a partner to go ask him to be their partner.

I wish I could say that I saw Justin's potential, nurtured his spirit, and helped him to deal with his anger. But quite frankly, I found him annoying, too. I'm sure I tried harder than his peers to mask my annoyance, but I'm sure he still felt it.

One day I assigned a partner-work assignment, and allowed my students to choose their own partner. I was fully prepared to assign Justin, whom I knew wouldn't be asked to join a group, to another partnership.

I watched the usual melee of partnering, when to my suprise, Lisa Lopez (not the TLC singer, although I did call her Left-Eye all year long, which I'm sure she'd never heard before and thought it was hilarious), a darling, non-obnoxious, perfectly sweet girl approached Justin. She had friends in the class, and I could see that some of them were ready to be her partner.

"Hey," she said, "Do you want to be my partner?" Just like that. She just did it. She didn't make a big deal out of it, she didn't act condescending, she just reached out to a student who was so much easier to ignore. She didn't look around to make sure that I or anyone saw her kindness. She just did it to be kind.

So when I hear about how selfish this next generation is, I always think of Lisa Lopez. I'm glad to be reminded that teenagers can still be gentle with each other.

Every so often.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The One Day Sale

Macy's had their one day sale on Saturday, and man, did we have to be there.

Whilst there, I had to use a makeshift changing room with no mirror because all of the changing rooms were being renovated. This meant that I had to come out and model all of my outfits for Rhett and the kids (who all wanted to come into the tiny dressing room with me) in the middle of the madness, and then take a quick look in the pillar/column mirror. And then as often as not, I would flee back in to the little makeshift changing room because seriously why does my butt look so big in those pants?

Rhett promised the kids that if they were good they could have a treat, which actually did very little to improve their behavior, but we still got treats. Because we're teaching accountability over here.

Also, we broke the "NO STROLLER" rule on the escalators, as Wristy is some kind of crazy scared of little rooms that go up and down between levels. Rhett and I are secretly anarchists, ignoring all kinds of rules and regulations. We're bringing down the institution one little rule at a time. Next up: jaywalking.

Rhett manned the two-kid stroller on the escalator and I had Veevs in the umbrella stroller. As we went up to the top level to look at children's clothing, a ten-year old boy fell in behind our parade. As we exited he said with some amount of annoyance, "You know, you should just use the elevator. It would be a lot easier." And Rhett and I laughed because in twenty years, that ten-year old boy will be wishing he would have kept his mouth shut. There will be retribution in the form of his own children, and I hope he has quadruplets and then fourteen months later, a set of claustrophobic triplets so that he can truly experience the joy of shopping at the one-day sale with children.

But on the bright side, I really did get some deals. Like a new dress (regularly priced at $100.00!) for $20.00, and new pants (regularly priced at $60.00!) for $7.00, and a shirt for only $4.50. Even the mouthy ten-year old boy couldn't put a damper on the high I experience when I get a really good deal.

Plus, he'll get his own back one of these days.

A Few Ways in Which Pamela Anderson Lee and I are Soulmates

You know, at first glance, you wouldn't think I have anything in common with Pamela Anderson Lee. (Actually, she dropped the Lee and is now going by Pamela Anderson again. So confusing!) Like I don't have breast implants, and I'll bet the world she's never made bread. (Yes, I make bread, but I'm kind of crap at it, so it's a tender subject.) But if you read up on Pammy, it's like finding my soul sister. Sort of.

First, Pammy and I both share Scandinavian ancestry! She's Finnish! I'm Danish! I bet we'd have a lot to talk about.

Second, Pammy and I both are naturally brunettes. For some reason, Pammy hasn't embraced her inner dark side, but I think there's still a bond there.

Third, Pammy teaches at her sons' Sunday school (HONEST! I'm thinking maybe she has a loose interpretation of "teaching" like maybe dropping them off counts as teaching, I don't know!), and I teach the singing for the kids in my church. We know what it's like to bring religion to the masses.

Fourth, Pammy has had an up and down relationship with her breasts, choosing to get breast implants, then getting them removed, then getting bigger ones, and so on and so forth. I kind of think nursing has been like a breast reduction for me. At the very least, it's given me an up and down relationship with my breasts, emphasis on down, directionally speaking.

Fifth, Pammy contracted Hepatitis C by sharing a tattoo needle with her then-husband, Tommy Lee. Um . . . yeah. I'm not going to lie. I don't have a tattoo. And I don't have Hepatitis C. And I've never been married to Tommy Lee. And I've never posed for Playboy, and I've never starred in Baywatch. And maybe Pammy and I aren't really soul sisters.

And maybe I should stop calling her Pammy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Worth Giving Up Freedom For

When you serve a Mormon mission, there are a few things that you can pretty much count on:

1) It will suck. It will also be awesome. I do not know how this is possible, but it is also true.

2) You will have companions whom you will find it difficult to love. (See how I didn't say hate? It took all of my self-control.) You will spend 24 hours a day with them ad nauseum, and it will begin to feel like Groundhog Day except with no cute love interest to spice things up.

3) You will meet the craziest people this world has to offer. There will be people who can no longer brush their teeth because they never have, and if they start now, their teeth will fall out. There will be pathological liars who will tell you that they are country gentlemen, when in fact, they are hobos. There will be old women who yell "Block of Cheese!" as you try to talk about religious matters.

So, imagine my surprise, when, fully knowing these three laws of Mormon mission life, I showed up in England to discover that my first companion was, well, delightful. I'm talking the kind of delightful who remembers WWF (before they changed it, people) wrestlers like Rowdy Roddy Piper and Jake the Snake. I'm talking the kind of delightful that loves chocolate passionately. We were, quite frankly, fast friends from the very start.

We stayed up late laughing about the crazy people we'd met that day, she would laugh so hard that tears would roll down her face, and I would laugh so hard that I would wet myself. Quiet dignity, I always say.

On Carol's blog (which is just as delightful and funny as she is in person, really), she recently posted about her great desire to move to the United States, primarily so that she can have basic freedoms like the freedoms of speech, movement, and religion. I kid, but only because England isn't taking its communism as seriously as it used to.

So in response to her post, which actually had nothing to do with freedom but everything to do with food, Rhett and I came up with the enticing food that England has to offer that would be worth giving up our liberty for.

Rhett would leave the land of the free and the home of the brave for these items:

Cadbury's Dairy Milk Bar--I know that you probably think that you can get this here, but trust me, it's oh-so-different, and quite frankly, JUST PLAIN WRONG. Because it's not Cadbury's unless it has "a glass and a half of full-cream milk in every bar". I used to eat this stuff by the POUND, and it wasn't even my favorite. I'm a Galaxy girl myself. ("Why have cotton when you can have silk?") Do you like how I've managed to make Rhett's part of this all about me? It's a skill, really.


Hobnobs--I'm not entirely sure that moving to England would be the maximum effort Rhett would put in for these babies. I think he might happily sell his soul for a package of them. I will agree though, they are lovely.

Also worth transplanting your entire family thousands of miles for:

Lamb with Mint Sauce--This is how you know I really asked Rhett these questions, because EW! I hate this combination. I can't even tell you why he likes it, because it kind of grosses me out to even hear about it.

Now, on the other hand, let's talk about the really good stuff that the UK has to offer. Here are my big three:

Fresh cream donuts--I actually believe that I could find these in New England, but where I grew up, we had NOTHING like this. I believe that I ate one of these every single day that I lived in England. It was like heaven. Even seeing them now, makes me a bit Pavlovian. Slurp.

Gravy--Oh, kill me now. Seriously, I am ready to jump on a plane, order the blandest meat with two vegetable meal at the first pub I see, and drench it in gravy. It's the British way, people. And yes, I know we have gravy here, too, but it is not the same. In England, it's perfectly acceptable to cover every item on your plate in heavy gravy. And, good heavens, I love gravy. You know that saying, "Everything else is just gravy?" Whatever. The gravy makes the meal, I say.

Gateaux with Cream--I couldn't find the right picture, but basically imagine this without all that pesky fruit getting in the way, and a huge amount of fresh cream poured over the top. And then imagine how moist and delicious the cake is, and then eat the whole thing all by yourself. And then you know what my mission was like.

Perhaps it's better that we live here. I'm pretty sure I would develop type-2 diabetes within six months of moving back. Because I can't say no to gateaux, gravy, or donuts.

But then again, I also can't say no to chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, and fudge. So maybe it's more of a problem with me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wireless from the . . .

Thanks to a friend, who gave us his old wireless router, we have joined the wireless internet universe. And let me tell you, people, it has changed my world.

My house only has two phone connections--one upstairs in my bedroom, one downstairs in the kitchen--so even though I have a laptop, all of my previous blogging has taken place with me tucked away while my children ran wild throughout the house, screaming, fighting, and drawing on walls. But now, I can blog in the middle of all that chaos. Now I watch them do all of those things and ignore it while sitting right there. Awesome.

I know I shouldn't get all rash and crazy, but I almost feel like promising more frequent posts. Because now I can see how I can fit them in: little posts conceived of and written about in the middle of every day activities!

Now I'm coming to you wireless . . . from the toy room! Wireless . . . from Veev's room! Wireless . . . from the toilet! (Would you read a post if you thought I had written it while in the bathroom? Just wondering. Not that I would really do that. And just for the record? This post was written at the kitchen counter.)

Wireless. It's opened up a whole new world of blogging fun.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Every Last Copy

On Saturday, we were on our way home from our church's Fourth of July breakfast, which was actually held on the fifth of July, but I guess as long as we have it sometime in July, no one should complain. This is the kind of flexible thinking on my part that makes my marriage work.

"Oh," I said to Rhett as we passed through the Old Town part of our city, "I want to stop at the Friends of the Library Used Bookstore." (Yes, that's what it's really called, and it's only open two days a week, so you have to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak. But only if it's hot between 10:00 a.m and 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday or Saturday.)

So we stopped. Rhett, with the good, common sense that makes our marriage work, stayed in the car with the kids so that I could browse uninterrupted. I believe he made the most of his time by readjusting everyone's car seats. (Wristy--up a shoulder slot! Veevs--readjusted shoulder panel! Spe--tightened straps!) That's the strong Mormon work ethic that also makes our marriage work. His work ethic, of course, not mine.

I went in and started browsing and did what I always seem to do when I go to any bookstore--try to talk myself down from buying books that I already own.

I'm not sure why I feel so compelled to own every copy of Peace Like a River. Or why I want to fill an entire shelf with These Is My Words. And don't get me started on how many copies of The Good Earth I almost buy. It's one of those personality quirks I just have learned to live with.

I think my obsession with owning multiple copies of a book might go back to when I had a vast and beautiful young adult library in my classroom, only to discover that my books were slowly, slowly disappearing, shoved, I'm sure, into lockers and under beds and probably in garbage bins. The point is, I learned really quickly to grab two or three of every good title, because, quite honestly, they would all disappear at some point.

Is it wrong to want to own the entire global supply of The Great Gatsby? What book would you buy every copy of (assuming you were a crazy book hoarding freak, like me)?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cat Fight!

Don't be fooled into thinking these two are cuddling:

It's actually a fight to the death. The little girl on top is a cheetah, while the little boy is a lion. I put my money on the lion, but you can choose how you will. I'll just tell you that the lion has an incredibly high pain tolerance, due to a lifetime of mishaps and injuries.

See what I mean? That lion has some sweet moves.

Oh, there goes that cheetah. She presses her weight advantage and sends the lion sprawling.

I wish you could hear the sound effects they are making. They sound like feral animals. Notice that the lion has the upper hand again. He's aggressive and has lots of experience in jumping on top of people, especially when they least expect it.

This will end in disaster. You know that, right?