Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Missing It

I keep meaning to get to my blog, but life and kids and home and school keep getting the best of me. So many things have happened around here that I'm afraid I will miss recording on our family blog.

Someone posted a video a week ago that forced me back into my archives to find a link of my own . . . and I remembered why I blog.

It's to remember.

I miss it.

And life causes me to forget.

I don't want to forget.

My circle necklace broke a few weeks ago, and I haven't taken the time to get it fixed.

I've worn a necklace every day for the last few years, and my neck feels bare without it. Without it in the mirror every morning, I've lost focus on my goals for the year.

I miss it.

I don't even have recent photos downloaded from my phone or camera. I know there are at least a dozen posts lurking in there, but my phone is upstairs and I threw my back out for the third time since school started and I'm not doing yoga to keep my back strong and I've gained 15 pounds because school distracts me from eating healthy and I have 1023 excuses every day.

I miss it.

Life should be calming down a bit this next week, and I hope to catch up on some blogging and photos and memories.

For now, and for today, here are pictures I took LAST CHRISTMAS that I don't want to forget.

Moments I captured.

Moments with my grandkids.

Moments I didn't miss.

There's still hope for me.
Having Tucker and Karli live with us has been incredible. I get to be part of Annie's and Eli's every day. One thing Annie loved was the Nativity, and one day, she brought her little Joseph over to join in.
I didn't take many pictures over Christmas, but these are a few of my favorites.

One morning we all walked down the street to our neighbor's house to play on the swings and teeter totter for a little while. The weather is heating up again, and I already miss the gorgeous AZ winter.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Stories 2017--Old-School Fast Food

I took the little girls to McDonald's for dinner last night. As I looked at that little french fries box from their Happy Meals, it took me back forty years to McDonald's trips with my own family.
I grew up in tiny Twin Falls, Idaho--a community that didn't reach 20,000 residents until I was in junior high. It was a great small town to grow up in. It was big enough not to know every single person in town, but small enough that driving ten minutes was "clear across town."

And we drove clear across town to McDonald's. 

It didn't happen very often. 

I have one memory of a McDonald's trip. My youngest sister still needed to be held at mealtime, and the restaurant didn't have a high chair. Dad ordered us three big kids each a cheeseburger (not a hamburger, which was a big deal because they cost more). Mom got a cheeseburger plain, as always--she would explain at the counter that meant "bun, meat, cheese, bun that's it"--and Dad got a Big Mac because he was "the dad." We got two small orders of fries to share and small drinks (which in that day was probably 12 oz.).

There was no play place. No video games. And no Happy Meals with junk toys from China.

And guess what?

We were happy, and we went home full.

And we didn't go back for months, I'm sure, because eating out was a luxury we couldn't afford very often.

Wow have times changed.

Friday, March 10, 2017

No Good, Very Bad Day

It was the worst of the worst Wednesday

Teaching is hard when Spring hits. Kids get distracted, kids want to be outside, kids make bad choices.

Teachers pay for it.

For all of the years I was in school (or that my kids have been in school) and I didn't appreciate how hard Spring is in a classroom, I apologize to you teachers.

I put in many extra hours over the weekend grading a big assignment and had a long meeting after school yesterday that I wasn't expecting. I walked in the door after 4 to the smell of dinner cooking--I'd forgotten my unusual foresight earlier that morning in putting a roast in the crockpot.

Thirty minutes later the smell wasn't quite so appetizing.

Who burns a roast in the CROCKPOT?

That would be me. I know you can't really tell because my crockpot is black, but trust me when I say that broth was not a base for a perfect au jus.

Alexander and I had much in common on that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I wanted to crawl in bed and not get up again.

Instead, I called in a quick pizza order. And when the back door opened, I could hear my classically trained daughter-in-law singing some beautiful aria from her house.

That was enough to turn the day around enough so I could make it till bedtime.

That must be the solution--good pizza, beautiful music, and a forgiving family.

Not a day I will revisit often in my memory.

Yesterday was the last day of school before Spring Break. It, too, was a hard day, but luckily not as bad as its predecessor. I've never looked forward to a break more in my life, even as a student. Just as I was packing up my bag to leave, the secretary knocked on my office door with the most beautiful bouquet I've ever received in her arms.
All the anonymous note said was, "Thanks for all you do."

To whoever sent the flowers, thanks for making me smile and turning the bad days around.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Saturday Stories 2017--The Greatest Ever

I've felt a little guilty about my blog lately. I have a few posts I need to write from February, including my February goal update. Maybe I'll get to them tomorrow. I hope so. I miss the memories I record here.

The writing muse abandoned me over the last few weeks. Strange thing about the writing muse--she appears at random moments, then disappears just as quickly. Now that I'm working, she appears even less frequently. Today she appeared as I was deep cleaning the fridge.

I know. Why in the middle of a really important, really nasty job?

It was the music I chose, that's why. Music triggers my memories almost as quickly as smell.

Brad subscribed to Apple music almost a year ago, and I haven't found time to investigate it until this afternoon. I knew what I wanted to listen to as I cleaned. I watched this video a few days ago, and I'd forgotten how much I love Simon and Garfunkel.
As I cleaned months of stickiness and foulness from the glass shelves, I listened to an album I used to own on cassette tape in college--listened to all of it twice before Micah demanded silence from the kitchen as he practiced. Modern folk and indie artists owe much to these men and the groundwork they laid in the 60s and 70s. Who today can belt "Bridge over Troubled Water" the way Art Garfunkel did back then? And who today has the gift of incredible lyrics like Paul Simon? They are truly two of the greatest ever. The words came back to me quickly, and the time passed even faster.

And then the final song of the album came on (no shuffling for me).

I remembered my freshman year at BYU. My roommates--Melinda, Lisa, Paige, Anne, and of course Robin. I remembered listening to this album as we cleaned our apartment, but I will never forget listening to this song, rewinding it over and over as we drove from Provo to Salt Lake for a weekend away from school. Four of my roommates were from Salt Lake (very close to where my grandparents lived), and they let me tag along when there was room in the car. I stayed in my grandma's guest room on the squeaky bed, I slept as late as I wanted, ate homemade chocolates, played cards, and watched TV, and they both spoiled me rotten for two nights before it was time to get back to the grind of school and studies. 

Instead of roommates as my companions today, I danced with Annie to "Sound of Silence," watching her spin in her too big hand-me-down-from-Eve ballet slippers. I belted out "I Am a Rock" with my head deep in the belly of the fridge, remembering when I listened to these songs with my mom when I was growing up, placing the needle of the record player carefully on the spinning black disc. Simon and Garfunkel is part of the soundtrack of my childhood. Crazy to think these songs that were written the year I was born are almost fifty years old now, and my own little granddaughter is now sharing them with me.

Thanks to Simon and Garfunkel, my fridge sparkles and my rekindled memories shine.

And my writing muse returned, even if it's only temporary--I'm grateful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Silence is something I get little of these days.

Between school, church, kids, family, vacation, and the occasional trip to Costco, my life is a constant whir of activity.

This morning I had thirty minutes alone on the couch in the family room.

Just me.

Strange how much I've missed this quiet thinking time.

Facebook brought up a memory today--one year ago today I started my part-time job tutoring. I can't believe how different my life is in one short year. School brings me a joy I never knew I was missing. I've found more of me. I feel more me.

And yet, I miss these quiet mornings alone, sitting in an empty house listening to . . . nothing.

My camera sits silent in its bag. I rarely touch it these days. I don't miss it until I read through someone else's stories or see the light land "just so" and think I should dust it off and capture the fleeting moments.

My blog has been silent for more than a week as well--family vacation, parenting duties, and school responsibilities were heavy. Part of me mourns the missed entries that lose my memories.

Life is different for me now--a completely different world of bell schedules and essay tests and lesson plans stirred into the crazy mix that is Denton Sanatorium. I love it all.

And yet . . .

The silence feeds my soul.

Is there ever a perfect balance in life?

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.