Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday Stories 2017--A Real Haircut

I had another story planned in my head, but this memory came flooding back to me as I left the salon after my haircut today.

My Grandma Olsen was a beautician. Not a stylist, not a colorist, not a cosmetologist--a country girl who grew up on the lip of Bryce Canyon in southern Utah who escaped to the big city (Salt Lake City) to become a beautician in the 1930s. Think pincurls and short hair and helmet hair dryers. She was a true beauty expert.

We lived over 200 miles north of my grandparents, and when we would visit (either us down there or them up to us in Idaho), Mom would perm Grandma's hair or Grandma would perm Mom. Sometimes, we girls got in the lineup as well for stinky Lilt home treatments and pink perm rods. I never had professional haircuts as a kid, because my mom learned how to cut bangs and trim ends and give frizzy perms from her mom, and that was enough for me for the first thirteen years of my life.

Then I hit junior high.

It was the era of Levis 501s, Sperry Topsiders, Izod Lacoste polos, popped collars--and the mullet. I wanted that bi-level haircut almost as much as I obsessed over an unattainable pair of topsiders, but Mom didn't have the experience to do it. When my grandma came to visit, I asked her if she could cut my hair like that, having that perfect childlike faith that she could do anything. She was a beautician. If I remember right, she was a bit hesitant, but she pulled out her old hair scissors, wrapped a towel around my neck, and started cutting. I trusted her completely, never looking in a mirror as the long shocks of hair hit the floor. I knew this cut would be the cut of my dreams--the one I saw on all the cool girls at school who could feather it just right and who had tons of friends.

I knew she must be almost done when the snips became more precise and the hairs leaving my head got shorter and less frequent. I got excited to see it, but something was wrong. Grandma had doubt on her face and in her voice. "Jenny girl, I don't know if this is what you wanted or not." Her tone worried me, and as I shook out the hairy towel before walking to the bathroom for my first look at 80s feathered perfection, I worried if this cut would be "it."

It wasn't "it."

I looked in the mirror, and the sob started before the tears fell. I was heartbroken. Not only was my hair gone, but it was awful. "I look like a BOY!" I shouted, with no filter to shelter my precious grandma's feelings.

I walked out of the bathroom to the kitchen where Mom and Grandma were standing in shocked silence. I was too young to soften my words, but it was too late for that anyway, since they'd heard my outburst in the bathroom just down the hall. My grandma looked first at me, then at my mom, and then she uttered words I'd never heard spoken in my house.

"Let's take her down to a shop and get it fixed." I never knew if I hurt my grandma's feelings that day, but looking back on it now, I know how much she loved me and how sad she must have been that she couldn't cut my hair the way I wanted.

I don't remember if we walked into the hair salon in Blue Lakes Shopping Mall with or without an appointment, but I do remember the unfamiliar chair that could go up or down and the strange plastic cape around my neck. Minutes later, I looked in the mirror.

It was fixed.

It was almost what I'd envisioned.

It was my first real haircut.

It was a mullet.

It was 1983.

I was fourteen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why I Assign Essay Tests

It's getting easier, but it still takes forever.

Grading almost 130 essay tests--it's not for the weak.

My students are getting quite good at taking 40-minute timed essay tests, much to their annoyance. I've had a few teachers, a few parents, and more than a few students ask me why I give so many essay tests. What good do they do? Why give essay tests instead of standard fact-check tests?

I'll tell you why.

1. Standard tests do very little to reveal a student's understanding of material. Regular tests (multiple choice, T/F, matching, etc.) measure a student's ability to memorize facts for a short time, or they demonstrate their ability to deduce an answer from context, that's true. Short-term recollection of facts brings short-term results, and I want so much more than that for them.

2. Essay tests measure what they understand. While an essay can be manipulated somewhat to reflect a student's strengths, essay responses cannot mask a student's lack of understanding. Either you can answer the question, or you can't. If you try to fake it, I can tell. And they know it.

3. Essay tests develop cross-curricular skills. Although I teach American History, essay tests reinforce English skills like writing thesis statements, structuring writing logically from introduction to conclusion, grammar, punctuation, voice, and appropriate writing style. A few of my students complained about "learning English in History" early in the year, but the English teacher is behind me all the way!

4. Essay tests improve critical thinking skills. Linking information from original documents, class discussions, video presentations, textbooks, and other classes is an overlooked skill in today's "teach to the standardized test" environment. My students take quotes from George Washington, information about Andrew Jackson, and text from the Progressive era, and they synthesize all of these sources to answer a prompt about the modern rise of Populism and how it applies to President Trump's election. To me, that is much more valuable in the real world than merely knowing Teddy Roosevelt was president from 1901-09. Not only can they write about it, they can also discuss it intelligently, listening to others' opinions while gradually shaping their own thinking.

5. Timed essay tests teach students to function under pressure. ACT, SAT, and other standardized tests require completion within set time parameters. Without practice, the stress of timed tests can negatively impact student test scores. Unfortunately, the stress of a timed test environment can't be simulated; it must be practiced. My students initially complained and fought against the constraints of a 40-minute time limit, not knowing how to gauge the clock. They would either finish too early and not complete their thinking, or they would be begging for just a few more minutes at the end to wrap things up. Now, with nearly a dozen timed tests under their belts, they've become much more focused, calm, and capable of expressing their ideas before the timer sounds.

6. Essay tests allow me to look inside each student. This is the (not-so-secret) reason I truly love essay tests--I get to know each of my kids on a very personal level. I tell them that all the time, and I mean it. I see what subjects are important to them through their writing. The minutes I spend with their essays are minutes spent with each of them on an individual level. Sometimes they leave me footnotes to their work or funny drawings in the margins or quote me as a source. I always leave personal comments back to them, making sure they know I appreciate the work they put in this time or that I noticed how much better their writing has gotten or that I can tell they're trying to improve a skill they struggle with. I'm a hard grader, but I'm fair, and they know that I will work with them as often as they ask. Grading 128 essays takes about 8 hours of my time, but I find that time well spent as I come to know each of them better through their writing.

The complaining has lessened over the school year, and the best moment of all came as I announced the second essay test of this semester. Many of the kids started complaining and begging for no test, but one student's response shocked me. One of the biggest complainers from last semester, this student struggled to make the leap between regurgitating facts and thinking, rarely trusting that she could get a good grade. Instead of complaining, she turned to the class and casually said, "Guys. They're not that bad. Really."

That's when I knew that I had made a small difference.

This weekend, I will be ankle deep in yellow scoring sheets and prompt pages, but I know all the time I invest in them is so worth it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Early Morning Eve Wisdom

Eve and I were getting ready for school in my bathroom this morning. She went to bed last night with her hair slightly damp, and it was crazy town this morning.

Not as crazy as her "starfish head" used to be, but still pretty bad.
Oh. Where did my baby go?

"Mom! Water is a miracle! Just a little bit and your hair is completely straight and smooth!"

You're right, Eve.

"Plus, water is a miracle, because without it . . . we die."

Yes, Eve.

"And, we need to stay hydrated. Water is a miracle!"

On so many levels, my darling. Why is your hair so messy today?

"Maybe because I woke up at 2:15."

Why would you wake up so early?

"Because today I get to sit at the teacher's desk, remember? Somebody else did it yesterday, but she promised me today that I could sit there and that nobody else could steal it from me."

Her teacher rewards her students with behavior points, and if they save up enough of them, they can buy time sitting at her desk for the day. It's going to be a great day for my girl!

And then she skipped off to get her lunch made.

My baby is growing up.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Saturday Stories 2017--Chocolate Cake and Popcorn

I'm not a very good cook. I know that, and my family unnecessarily suffers from my lack of patience in the kitchen. I don't remember ever making dinner with my mom, and I'm sure that's because my disinterest manifested early in my life. There are a few things that I make well.

One of them is chocolate frosting.

Every Sunday night for as far back as my memory of Sunday night exists, my family ate the same thing. We had Sunday dinner earlier in the afternoon, but by the time 6 pm rolled around, we would all be hungry for snacks and treats. We took turns making a 9x13 chocolate cake from Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, but I always wanted to make the frosting.

A cube of butter. Some milk. One pound of powdered sugar. Cocoa powder. A splash of vanilla (and if Mom made it, she added a drop of almond extract as well). That's it. I would whip the butter into soft peaks, and as I added ingredients, the mixture quickly became chocolatey and irresistible. To this day, I could still eat half a batch of frosting without breaking my insulin limit.

One kid would make popcorn with our broken hot air popper, carefully covering the hole on the top meant to easily melt butter as the kernels made their way into the big silver bowl. We always used too much butter (and Karen would use too much salt), and even now, that's the only way I want to eat popcorn. Each of us would have a square slice of cake around the kitchen table, and then we would munch popcorn and play games or watch Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom.

I tried to introduce a Sunday night dessert tradition around here, but I have yet to hit the combination that will stick. But even as an adult, when I eat chocolate cake with tons of frosting, I think of Sunday nights in my childhood home.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January Photo Challenge: Grey

I took a photo of the sunset every night last year (minus a few). I loved the challenge and I loved how it helped me notice details of the evening. I knew I wanted to do a new challenge this year but change it up a little.

I chose color as my challenge this year, and I've assigned each month its own color. January was grey--my favorite color from high school. Each photo tells a little about that day in my life, a snapshot diary, and this year I placed them in chronological order.

I couldn't have picked a better color for the greyest, rainiest January I've experienced since living in Arizona.
1. Driving to the cabin on New Year's Day. 2. Probably my favorite grey thing in the world at one of my favorite places on earth. Do you see the eyes in the snow? 3. Micah's grey shirt on top of Hole in the Rock. 4. The scarf Ben brought me from Peru that I wore every day in Utah while I helped him set up his apartment. 5. Janie's backyard bird feeder. 6. The water bottle that froze in the car every day I was in Provo. 7. Reflection in the window at the hotel's gym. The words read, "Don't wish for it, work for it." 8. The envelope I used all of last year to keep my diary and pens each day. I'm using it again this year.
1. Grey oxfords on the rain-spattered sidewalk. 2. Grey stripes with my new grandson snuggled close.  3. Grey sweater hanging on the wall in my office--it gets COLD in there. 4. Best book I've read in a long time. 5. Grey Mesa skies on the way home from piano lessons. 6. An infrequent break in the clouds this month. 7. Grey boots with my reflection in a grey puddle. 8. Grey clouds from the top of A mountain.
1. My favorite beverage. 2. The broken top to my water bottle--Hyrum accidentally dropped it. 3. Brad was out of town and I forgot about the irrigation. Oops. 4. My wallet--my third Hobo wallet from Last Chance. I love these! 5. More grey skies. 6. Another trip to my favorite place and the snow. 7. January showers bring January flowers. 8. More grey shoes to work--these remind me of my grandma, Thaola Tucker.
1. Grey buttons on my wool sweater--I know it won't be long till it's retired for the season. 2. Silver necklace. 3. Grey skies at 6 am as the kids and I clean Brad's office. 4. The San Francisco Peaks covered in snow. 5. Another trip up north--the sky was finally blue that day. 6. My favorite brush. 7. The coffee table. 8. The only mechanical pencils I use--I love these things.

And as for my word/symbol of the year--I'm feel more whole. A few pieces of my soul are getting closer together each day. I'm being generous with myself, not judging too harshly while still progressing most days. My skin feels like it fits better, and my mind is adjusting to these new ideas.

It's been a good month.

If you're not reading the news or following politics . . .


Monday, January 30, 2017

Rugby 2.0

Micah made a big decision this fall.
He's playing rugby.
You know your team is little when Micah's 95-lb. body is needed in a ruck.
He's starting much earlier than Ben did, and I hope he loves it as much as his brother.
Not only is he a big body, but he's a little body with long arms. That's him on the left getting the ball.
Rugby is rough, much rougher than football in my opinion. On our way home from this game, he had to document his manly injury for a few friends of his (who may or may not be girls, just sayin').
He's growing like a weed right now--two inches since school started. Soon he'll be looking me in the eye instead of the chin.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday Stories 2017--Stone Fireplaces

I took Micah and a couple friends up north yesterday to play in the snow. More on that trip later, but sitting by the stone fireplace at the cabin brought back a favorite memory of time spent in front of another stone fireplace--this one in Idaho.

I wish I had a picture of the two story fireplace in the living room of my childhood home.

Constructed of purplish-grey Southern Idaho lava rock, it was the focal point of the 70s-era house, to be sure, and looked like something out of a ski lodge. The stones on the hearth were smooth, but those on the face were rough. It was outdated by the time we bought the house, and I know it was never my mom's favorite, but I bet it's on point in today's retro/midcentury modern style revival. That fireplace held our oversize decorative stockings at Christmas and warmed our house all winter. Dad had a converter installed that circulated water beneath the fire, and as it heated up, it would somehow turn on the furnace and warm our house. I was a kid and didn't fully understand how it worked, but I knew the fire operated all winter to keep our whole house warm. When my sisters were little girls, they would spread out their underwear and nightgowns in front of the fireplace, and after their baths, they would run downstairs wrapped only in towels before putting on their toasty pajamas.

I remember the time my brother, Gary, and I discovered that water placed on the metal dividers of the fireplace screen would sizzle. We took turns flicking droplets of water and watching it quickly disappear. Kids' minds reach incorrect conclusions due to their lack of experience with the world. I concluded that if a droplet of water on the metal created a small reaction, then a cup full of water thrown at the glass panels would certainly be even more exciting. I took the small cup and tossed it at the fireplace before my mom could stop me.

What happened next was more than exciting. On contact with the water, the glass quickly cracked in all directions. My jaw dropped and I held my breath, waiting for the shards to fall and the precious heat from the fire to start escaping through the hole. Much to my parents' surprise (and my relief), those broken pieces never fell. And when I say never, I mean it. When my parents moved out of that house over 25 years later, that shattered pane of glass, second from the left, still held together.