Saturday, December 27, 2008

On the road, again...

As a family, we don’t make that many car trips. But the holiday season requires that we make the trek to see both Steve’s family and mine. Both trips this year were uneventful, but I was reminded of all the little things that my husband does that drive me insane. Before I go any further, let me say that I dearly love my husband, our marriage is not in trouble and as of this moment I am no longer fighting the urge to harm him. All of that is a direct result of the fact that I am no longer trapped in a car with him.

First of all, he won’t let me drive. He says it has something to do with being forced to contemplate his mortality for a prolonged period of time, whatever that means. Then, while most people can gently clear their throats to rid themselves of seasonal post nasal drip that skill has eluded my guy. His throat clearing is ear splitting and sounds like Uzi fire when done in the confines of my Volvo. I cringe as if I’ve been shot every time he does it, which is often. I usually walk away from a car trip with a Tourette’s Syndrome style twitch for several hours. In addition, you would think that someone who turns on the radio intends to listen to music, but not my hubby. He turns on the radio so he can start a conversation at an exponentially higher decibel level. These egregious offenses are bad, but I can generally overcome them by deep yoga breathing through my nose and meditating on the phrase, “If you kill him you’ll go to jail and the kids will need tons of therapy.”

But there are two driving behaviors he continues that in my mind are dangerous and have the potential to maim others, most notably me and my children. The first is his method of seat belt buckling. Most normal human beings do this before they put the car in drive or reverse, but he finds it necessary to begin driving and THEN try to put on his seat belt. This is usually done while backing out of a parking space or heading into the flow of traffic. Multi-tasking is great, but let’s face it, anyone who has a husband or a dad knows that guys stink at it. Why can’t he just put on his seat belt before the car is rolling? One of these days, he’s going to hit a small woodland creature, a stray house pet or a burly biker and then he’ll wish he’d listened to me.

The second thing that makes my skin crawl is the cell phone struggle. For a guy who gets upwards of 25 calls a day for business, you might think he’d like to keep his BlackBerry handy, but he finds shoving it as far down into his front pocket as possible then strapping himself into a seat belt over said pocket provides him a much better opportunity for car calisthenics. So, we’re driving down the road and the phone rings. If it were on the console or in a more accessible pocket this would be a non-event, but for us this is where the fun begins. He gets a look of panic on his face. He tries to reach the phone with one finger. No go. I guess God gave us opposable thumbs for a reason, eh? He then tries two fingers. Denied. He then goes in with the whole hand, but the device is wedged between two layers of denim and a seat belt. What to do? Since the car is on cruise control, he plants both feet firmly on the floor board, braces head and neck against the driver’s seat and lifts everything from knee to neck off of the seat. This is a great exercise for toning quads, hamstrings and gluts, but not so good when driving. This generally causes our car to drift into one or more lanes and my life to flash before my eyes. With much moaning and groaning the phone is finally retrieved and we stop weaving drunkenly through traffic. The good news is that he only has to do this highway dance of death once per trip because my eyes and my outside voice both say, “Put that thing back in your pocket and I’ll kill you with my bare hands.”

Again, let me be clear, I do love my husband, but I think today is going to require significant time alone and little or no time in the car.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Coming soon...

So, for the two people that follow my blog, I sincerely apologize. I have not updated this thing in OVER a month. One of you is probably relieved, the other has asked if I ever to plan to post again. Lest you think I've been resting on my laurels and not even concocting mental blog posts, I will briefly share the list of posts I will whip up when I finally have my two week break from teaching Mark Twain and Harper Lee to 8th graders. Talk about casting pearls before swine...

The Twilight Movie Midnight Showing - highlights include freezing temperatures and a sleeping bag malfunction.

Adults at Disneyworld - being a kid again is just a metaphor and does not mean you should wear the Mickey ears.

Christmas shopping for kids - is it getting harder or is it just me? I had no idea I would need a private investigator or riot gear just to get a copy of Mario Kart for Wii.

Christmas Cards - our card this year turned out to be a study in irony. But we do love getting people's cards every year, if only for the entertainment value of those LONG letters. Kind of like a year long blog delivered to your home.

That's all for now, but extended time with my husband, kids and family will no doubt provide more ammunition for blogging in the not too distant future.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Just Talkin' Politics

What is it exactly about election time that makes perfectly normal human beings act like neanderthal buffoons? Some people, teens and adults alike, think that just because they are "talkin' politics" it gives them a free pass to say things that are rude, mean, disrespectful and racially insensitive. Things are said and sent that would never be uttered or passed along under normal circumstances.

I teach 8th grade, so I hear a lot of comments from kids about the presidential race this year. Comments that are gross over generalizations of the issues at best and fantasy turned fact at worst - from both sides. Truthfully though, the verbiage they are spouting is little more than repetition of what parents are saying or outright parroting of political ads.

Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but when are we going to learn to critically evaluate what we see, hear and read? Just because something is in print or we see it on TV doesn't make it true or unbiased or from a reliable source.

In To Kill a Mockingbird Miss Maudie tells Scout, "Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than whiskey in the hand of another." Sometimes a little political information is no better than rat poison. Opinions seep out that poison relationships, damage perceptions and ruin any chance of sharing what is right and good.

Mean-spirited comments are mean-spirited comments whether they are cloaked behind the guise of "talkin' politics" or not. The election is over and we will have a new president. Bush is out. Obama is in. It's Hoover & FDR all over again. Hoover took the fall for a lot of things outside his control and FDR got to be the good guy and clean it all up. We have checks and balances in our government for a reason. Historically speaking, these things have a way of evening themselves out and cycling back around. Sure, the pendulum may swing a little further to one side than we're comfortable with, but the backlash will likely swing back as far.

I'm no expert, so I will now dismount my soap box...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Aging (not so gracefully)

My age has never really bothered me all that much. I've heard talk of friends crying all day on their 30th birthday or pulling the covers over their heads and reluctantly emerging days later in honor of their 35th or 40th, but I've always thought this was absurd. My 35th birthday passed less than 6 months ago without incident, but this week I have felt the sting of aging in a series of not so subtle moments.

Incident #1 - After sitting indian-style watching an episode of The Office with Steve on the couch, I hopped up to get a fudge pop out of the freezer. I was seized by shooting pain from the sole of my right foot through the crown of my head and was forced to hobble the rest of the way grabbing my aching back all the way. It occurred to me in that moment that I was the spitting image of my grandma.

Incident #2 - The middle school where I teach was put into lock down by the local police this week because a student threatened to harm himself and could not be located. This involved locking teachers and students in classrooms. I did not have students when the lock down started, so I took care of locking my empty classroom and headed across the hall to hunker down with my work best friend (WBF) and another teacher (Science Daddy - don't ask). Maybe it's my gender, maybe my age, or maybe just the stress of the situation, but by the time we realized that this was not just a drill I realized how badly I had to pee. About 45 minutes in I was seriously considering taking care of business by hanging my bum over one of the science lab sinks. Good thing I didn't because about 20 seconds later a police officer unlocked the door and escorted us, gun drawn, to the gym to wait out the search with the rest of the student body. I had to hold a lock down drill of my own until I was released to go to the restroom.

Incident #3 - I've had reading glasses for over a year, but lately I've found myself wearing them more and more each day, especially given my job as a reading teacher. Walking down the hall wearing my glasses the other day I found myself thinking, "Man, I wish these were bifocals." Nursing home, here I come.

Incident #4 - While chatting in the copy room with a 23-year-old punk kid teacher (I hope you're reading this!) the conversation somehow meandered around to a single friend of mine. He says, "How old is she?" I say, "My age." He replies, face all crinkled up in a grimace of distaste, "Ewwww..." He then tries to backpedal, but it's no use. I recall the days when I was the youngest teacher at school, those days are long gone.

As old as I feel, the good news is that my hubby is aging just as gracefully. He pulled a hamstring fielding grounders at our 4-year-old's baseball practice this week. We're quite a pair.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I try to remain well behaved. I try to keep my composure in all situations. I try to keep a straight face at times when laughter is out of place, but I am physically incapable of holding back a giggle, a guffaw, or a belly laugh - no matter how inappropriate the timing.

I got a little emotional in the middle of my wedding. Most people would shed a ear or two, I found a snort laugh fighting to escape and in an effort to hold it back, I shot snot out of my nose. The pastor felt sorry for me and gave me his hanky. Ewww.

Most teachers can keep it together when an 8th grade boy cuts the cheese in class. Last week I could not maintain my decorum when a human fog horn sounded in the middle of class and I went into a full body laugh reminiscent of a seizure, complete with a river of tears before the smell hit. When the cloud descended it wasn't quite as funny.

Someone once told me I was possessed by the demon of laughter. It's true. Not even I could make that up. We were at church camp the summer after 7th grade and my friend K was in my cabin. Now let's be honest, the middle school girls cabin is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it is not to be entrusted to novices either. But on this occasion, out of sheer desperation - I'm sure, the job was given to a rookie. Big mistake. Big mistake...

Rookie counselor decided that on the third night of camp, instead of hanging out, singing Bon Jovi at the top of our lungs, and dancing around to Little Sally Walker, walking down the street... that we should have a serious time of prayer before bed. We'd all been going to camp together since the 3rd grade and this was a new one on us. From the top bunk, K and I observed the looks of shock on the faces all around us. We all reluctantly bowed our heads and the rookie started praying. Every time we thought she was done, she would take a breath, pause, and keep going. We were fueled only by sugar, bad camp food, humid Texas air and adrenaline from lack of sleep, so as I caught K's eye, she caught mine and we started to giggle. Try as we might to hold it back it just got louder. We tried to stop. Truly we did. But only one thing could put a stop to our untimely fit of the giggles.

The rookie stood up and at the top of her quavery voice said, "You have the demon of laughter. The demon of laughter is in you." I was shocked into silence. She was serious and she was mad. That memory is burned into my mind, but not because I was embarrassed. Not because I thought she was right. Not because I couldn't wait to tell my mom what she said. But because I could never reconcile the idea of laughter and demonic possession being even remotely related.

So, last night - over 20 years since the camp incident - I was browsing K's art gallery web site to see her newest paintings. I can't think of her without thinking about our shared moment of laughter, so when I happened upon her painting titled "You Make Me Happy", I snatched it up because I want my home filled with memories, happiness and laughter. Even the kind that sneaks out at inopportune moments.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Workplace Bathroom Etiquette

I’ve decided that there are just two groups of people in the world. There are those that are bold and brazen enough to poop at work and those who would rather die first. Anyone who knows me knows I among the latter group.

As an outside observer, I have a few suggestions for those who decide to “download” during work hours.

To say something or not to say something: When walking out of the restroom it is not necessary to look at the person waiting for the one -seater stall you have just evacuated and say, “Oooh, sorry…” in Ace Ventura Pet Detective style. That waiting person crossing her legs and doing the tinkle dance will figure it out soon enough and if you haven’t said anything it’s possible they might assume those noxious fumes are the work of the person before you. Unlikely, but possible.

To spray or not to spray: This is a toughie. While nobody wants to smell the full strength of your workplace transgression, I spend way too much money on Dolce and Gabanna “Light Blue” to leave the communal can smelling like your great granny’s cloud of White Shoulders perfume. And truthfully the spray is not so much eliminating the olfactory assault as it is adding an extra layer of sensory torture. Scientifically speaking, this just forges a link in the brain that tells us that when we smell air freshener the next smell we’ll encounter is eau de co-worker and whatever they ate most recently. Ewww

To call the custodian or not to call the custodian: We’ve all had the gut-wrenching, gag-inducing experience of walking into the restroom for a just in case trip and being greeted with a swirling mass of disgustingness that just won’t flush and the smell of funk so thick in the air that a loss of consciousness is eminent. My work best friend (WBF) and I experienced this last week. After offending her with a look that said, “Was it you?” She and I happened upon our principal with his walkie-talkie and said in unison, “We didn’t do it, but the bathroom’s plugged up.” He graciously called the custodian after a brief bout of laughter. In the unlikely event that you plug up the toilet, bite the bullet and fess up. You did it. Admit it and call the custodian.

Finally, I know from years of research and experience that these things can be controlled. The key is: drink more coffee and drink it earlier – AT HOME!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


It recently came to my attention that I misnamed my youngest child. We painstakingly chose John Bryant because it fit our exacting specifications. John is a family name (my grandfather's) and Bryant caught Steve's fancy because it is Irish, or so he claims. It turns out we should have gone with Billy Graham or Chuck Swindoll or even Martin Luther.

The Sunday before school started I was frazzled from wrestling with the technology in my classroom and commandeered Steve to come work out the bugs in my Power Point crammed with riveting slides of the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, war protests, political uprisings and natural disasters set to Switchfoot singing "we were meant to live for so much more". A quick trip to WalMart for batteries was required, so Steve took off and left me to tinker with my last minute to do list and wrangle the boys.
Brendan and Bryant begged to run laps around the upper floor of our building and in desperate need of quiet I agreed. Brendan took off and left his brother in the dust. Bryant spotted a stranger and decided to forgo the run after all. You should know that no matter how many times I say, "Don't talk to strangers", he still does. He's already one of those schmoozy guys who can and does talk to a lamp post. To him, if they smile at you they are no longer a stranger, they are your new best friend. Evening news, here we come...

So he corners this sweet new math teacher in the copy room. New math teacher (NMT) is making copies and punching holes in them when my pint sized used car salesman says, "Hi. My mom's been telling me about how you can ask Jesus into your heart. And then you can pray to him and he'll help you all the time."

NMT says, "Oh, that's nice."

Now we did have this conversation, about two weeks prior, but as I recall he changed the subject to puppy dogs or Power Rangers, so I assumed he wasn't interested or listening. Wrong!!! But he doesn't stop there. "Do you want to ask Jesus into your heart right now?" he says to NMT. With an awkwardness I can literally hear through the wall, she says, "I'll have to talk to your mommy about that."

At that point the little evangelist comes running back into my classroom, but turns right back around and disappears again. I can hardly contain my laughter when he says to NMT, "Um actually, when you get Jesus into your heart I don't think you can get him out again. He's just stuck there."

NMT has never brought up that conversation, but has resumed making eye contact with me. I know there are lots of believers in our building, but who knew the first to share Christ with her would be my baby Billy Graham?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Not Just Another Day at the Pool

Regrettably, Sunday was the last day our neighborhood pool would be open for the summer. We eat, sleep and breathe the pool in the summer. I can't help it. It's how I was raised. Growing up, my mom would pack snacks and a lunch and haul all four of us and our garb up to the neighborhood swimming pool from the time it opened until we saw my dad's car pull back into the subdivision that evening. We napped there, read there, ate there and of course swam there. We were tan like nobody's business. In fact, I'm not even sure tan begins to cover it. Oh, and those were the days before moms chased down squealing piglets to grease them up in SPF 249 like they do today, so if I seem fanatical about my yearly mole check at the dermatologist, it is not without cause.

So with a wistful grin, I shimmy into my swimsuit one last time. I grab the beach bag and throw in only the essentials - towels, a few bottles of water and the digital camera since I have put off taking the yearly pool pictures of the boys and can no longer procrastinate or I'll be left with a glaring hole in the scrapbook where they should fall.

We troop up to the pool, drag some beach furniture around to "our spot", and giggle as the boys nearly pull off their ears in their haste to get shirts removed. I spotted my friend Becky's car in the parking lot, so I braved the water to get over to where she was calmly enjoying a novel. Unfortunately for her, I was accompanied by Bryant clinging for dear life to my neck like a spider monkey and squealing like only a four year old boy can. We chatted for a while about work and family and then she decided to pack up and head back home.

Bryant and I joined Steve and Brendan in the deep end where they were perfecting the breast stroke. Watch out Michael Phelps! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a life guard jump into the water. I have only once EVER seen a life guard go into the water and that was when my friend Diane's brother broke his neck diving into the Harvest Bend pool, so I froze where I stood.

The teenage lifeguard went under the water once and came back up empty handed. He quickly went down again and came up with a woman who was limp and unresponsive. How long she had been down, I had no idea. The lilac tinge to her skin was frightening, but the part that chilled me to the bone was that she looked to be about my age and she might be dead. There were shouts of "Do CPR!" and "Call 911." As a mom, I was torn between the fact that I was holding my breath willing her to find hers and the decision of whether or not to shield my two kids from what was going on. After an eternal minute she came around, but her first sounds of consciousness were her daughter wailing "mommy, I want my mommy, what happened to my mommy". The little girls sobs were then joined by the sobs of her mother and nearly of mine.

She looked awake and alert as EMTs took her away, but I cannot get the video reel out of my head, nor the audio of sobs. I find the anxiety and panic with which I struggled in my early twenties threatening to choke my breath once again. I rationalize - this did not happen to you, it happened to her. But that doesn't help. This morning at work I had to say out loud,"Snap out of it!" I tried the only thing I knew to erase the thoughts and images from my mind, the word of God. I pulled a devotional book off of my classroom desk and read through every verse like a teenage girl frantically clawing through her closet. Romans 12:2 stopped me, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is..." I could go for a renewing of my mind.

We ended that day with sno-cones and another dip before giving the pool the last backward glance of summer, but I think I held the boys a little tighter in their night time hugs and I think they held on just a little longer too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Developing What?

I am in my third consecutive week of what educators like to call “Staff Development”. Well I’m developing all right, but possibly not what they had in mind. I’m developing “flat butt syndrome” from the wooden chairs in our school library. Okay, so I come by some of that odd compaction of my derriere honestly – thanks a lot mom! But the quandary always remains in these eternal meetings, do I get up and roll a comfy padded computer chair to my table or do I just wait it out on my two by four for hours on end?

For most of us the idea of switching chairs is truly a no-brainer, but in staff development this automatically shines light from heaven on you and starts the angel singing soundtrack because then, you are different. Just by the simple act of getting a different chair you are dubbed a “leader” or an “out of the box thinker.” This might be fine in the business world where that kind of thing is rewarded with raises and respect, but education works a little differently. Those who display this kind of ingenuity are asked to do more work. They never call it more work. It comes with glamorous titles like point person or liaison or team leader, but that’s all just code for more work.

Let’s face it, more work makes you tired. I am so excited about this school year that I can hardly contain myself. I even purchased a model of the brain to use for demonstration. I have downloaded countless tunes onto my iPod for lessons. I have written killer lesson plans that will engage and enchant students. But alas, at the end of the day I am tired. Truthfully, at the beginning of the day I am tired. Today, I ate the stem off of a blueberry in my morning yogurt because I was simply too exhausted to pick it off.

So today, when my hiney begins to ache and I develop bedsores, I will not switch out my block of petrified wood for the cushy comfort of a computer chair. I will not need to because I will be sleeping upright with my eyes open.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

MacGyver Cooking

Over the past 18 months I have developed a love of cooking, fueled mostly by countless hours of watching Food Network. When I hear Rachael Ray's monologue about one of her 30 Minute Meals in which she encourages measuring with your hands and "eyeballing" amounts, I have flashes of my mom in the kitchen while we were growing up. The kitchens changed over the years, but the methods remain the same. She never measures, never follows a recipe exactly as it is written, and she substitutes often - a result of never having all the "right" ingredients.

As kids we dubbed this improvisational cooking "MacGyver Meals", referring to the TV series where Richard Dean Anderson uses science and problem solving to get out of even the most impossible scrapes as a secret agent. Nothing MacGyver faced could have prepared him for the task my mom had every night - making dinner for 6.

My mom made barbecue sauce out of ketchup and a cabinet of spices. She fried chicken like no other. Her mashed potatoes were legendary, as were the quantities of food she put on the table. A tendency that led to "Must-go" nights. The night when everything in the refrigerator must go before it spoiled and developed all the necessary toxins to kill us all or at the very least give a fierce case of food poisoning.

I don't think I realized until recently how much of this improvisational cooking had seeped into my being. As I pondered what I needed at the grocery store yesterday, I began to poke around refrigerator, freezer and pantry shelves only to discover that if I did go to the store, I would be hard pressed to find anywhere to put the things I might buy. I resolved then and there to use what I had before I went back to the store.

I found a rice mix in the pantry, a flank steak in the freezer and some veggies and decided to see what I could do with them. I set the rock solid steak out and said a little prayer that it would thaw before dinner and it did (mostly). Steve grilled some corn to mix with the rice, while I made a quick pico de gallo and green chile sauce for the steak, seasoned up the steak and eventually set out the meal for my family.

As we sat down to eat, I was awaiting the usual chatter and food avoidance techniques my boys usually try, but all I heard was chewing and forks hitting plates. Nobody dissected food and speculated on whether dinosaurs would have eaten it. Nobody called it "interesting" or "a change of pace". Nobody assured me that his stuffed puppy said he didn't have to eat it. They loved it! Every once in a while you hit the jackpot with a MacGyver meal. Now, I wonder if they'll be so excited when I try to use up all that broccoli, cauliflower and butternut squash puree I have in the freezer next week?


Spice Rubbed Flank Steak
Sprinkle a flank steak with salt, pepper, garlic powder, coriander, cumin, crushed red pepper flakes and grill seasoning.
Grill 6-8 minutes on each side. Allow to rest 10 minutes and slice thinly against the grain. You can also put this under the broiler for 10 minutes on each side.

Quick Mild Pico de Gallo
Grape tomatoes (quartered)
Handful of cilantro (chopped)
Purple onion (finely diced)
Juice of 2 limes
Mix all ingredients and chill.

Green Chile Sauce
Fresh or canned tomatillos
Canned green chiles
Lime Juice
Buzz together in blender until smooth.

Quick Yellow Rice
Grilled corn on the cob
1 pkg. Saffron Rice
Add grilled corn cut off the cob to prepared rice and stir.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Books, Books, Books...

As a kid, I always had my nose in a book. One of my earliest memories is as a five year old waiting up until my sisters and brother went to sleep so I could sneak out of my room and get the Cinderella book I checked out of the library earlier that day. My mom graciously indulged me a quick reading before sending me off to bed with a loving swat followed by, "...and stay in bed this time."

This slowly melted into my elementary summers with Nancy Drew and the gang in River Heights. I was sucked in by catchy titles like The Spider Sapphire Mystery and The Sign of the Twisted Candles. I struggled my way through unfamiliar vocabulary and along the way developed a knack for decoding word meaning that I still use today.

In Junior High, I begged to be allowed to read Gone with the Wind. Never mind that it weighed more than an anvil, was just about as thick and that I would miss much of the innuendo and implication hidden within. My mom never told me to put it back or that it was too difficult or deep or inappropriate for me. She just shooed my brother and sisters outside and let me read and then got the movie from the library for me when I was done. While I never openly employed the word "damn", after reading this book I had a good understanding of how it should be used to achieve maximum effect if I were ever to be so bold.

I still felt growing up that my desire to read was about on par with being a nose-picker. If you did it, you did it in private and you sure as heck never talked about it. It took awhile before I realized that I didn't care, books were then and always will be my drug of choice.

Now, being a reader is very much en vogue. There are book clubs for stay at home moms, third graders and anyone else who wants to be part of one. My neighbor and I have been known to knock on one another's door in a panic because one of us has nothing to read. A book launch is a celebrated occurrence. Last year at the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the seventh and final book in the series), people stood in line for hours to get their hands on the book at midnight. Hotels offered special packages that included costume parties, Hogwarts-like buffets and copies of the book. Too much hoopla over a book? Heck no. In my way of thinking, it's about time books were cool.

I am thrilled that my son is growing up in an era where he can drag his very battered copies of Harry Potter to and from school and actually be given time during the school to feast on them. I get a little teary eyed when he slows down while we pass the book section at Wal Mart and he looks at me pleadingly to see if we will stop so he can pick up The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan's latest addition to the Percy Jackson series. High school girls at my church have deep conversations on the virtues of Edward Cullen versus those of Jacob Black in Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse - even citing chapter and page and line to back them up. Personally, I'll take the vampire over the werewolf any day - no offense, Jacob. Facebook is littered with bumper stickers, buttons, and quizzes brimming with literary characters and references. I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice when I take the "Which Jane Austen heroine are you most like?" quiz. Who doesn't love a girl that can tell a man, "From the first moment I met you, your arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others made me realize that you were the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry. "

So tonight, it is with great pleasure that I take Brendan along with me to the launch of the fourth installment in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn. When I wake him up at 11 p.m. and watch him groggily rub his eyes, I know that we will soon be among people just like us who unashamedly love books. Nurturing a reader is a gift my mother gave me and one I hope to pass on to my son.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Back in 7th Grade

Does anybody miss french braids, big bangs and braces?

It never really goes away does it? I mean the "feeling" of Junior High School. It was as if I was constantly questioning. Does anybody like me? Will they like me tomorrow? Will I still have a seat at the lunch table or have they voted me off the island because they traded up for a Student Council officer? (Does that give you any sense of how low I was on the social food chain?)
So, my little sister, Jill, is dragging me into the 21st Century by pestering me to set up a profile on Facebook. After dinner last night, I got on and started the process. It's relatively painless with the hardest part being wrenching a photo of Steve and I in Israel out of the scrapbook to scan and upload.
I began to be overwhelmed by this pervasive feeling of uneasiness. Trying to diagnose the source of this, I ran through my mental checklist. Stove turned off - check. Kids in bed, nobody vomiting yet - check. Steve on the couch and not halfway across the world as usual - check. Nothing I could think of would cause that amount of rising panic, until it hit me. Facebook is all about having friends, adding friends and communicating with friends. And at this point in my Facebook life I had NONE. Never mind that I just saved my profile 3 minutes ago. I really truly felt like I was back at Campbell Junior High School, the first one in my desk in math class because I had nobody to talk to in the halls. For a minute, I considered making my husband create a profile just so I could have one friend.
Lest you think I'm pathetic and more mentally unstable than usual, I did snap out of it pretty quickly. As a middle school teacher, I think it was a reminder of what my students go through every day. People ask me all the time why I teach Middle School and my stock answer is, "My sense of humor got stuck somewhere around the 7th grade, so I still think they're funny." While this is undeniably true (tell a fart joke if you'd like to test this theory), I think there's more to it than that. I think remembering middle school with more loathing than fondness gives me a fair amount of empathy for what goes on in the halls of Scott Johnson Middle School in McKinney, TX.
By the way, I woke up and found I already had ten friends on Facebook this morning. Never mind that Jill had sent them all messages suggesting they add me as a friend. At my age, a friend is a friend and you're lucky to have one, but blessed beyond words to have more.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hold on tight...

We just returned alive and only a little traumatized from our family vacation to San Antonio having taken in all the sights (Sea World, the Alamo, El Mercado & the Riverwalk). Lest you think this was a run of the mill, late summer jaunt to entertain the boys, you should know that when I say “family” vacation, that does not mean just the four members of my immediate family, it encompasses 17 members of my extended family. To truly appreciate the gravity of that statement, allow me to introduce the key players:
Meme and Grandpa McHenry (a.k.a. Susan and Jay).

The Corcoran Family (that’s us!) – Melanie, Steve, Brendan (8) and John Bryant (4).

The Hallmark Family – Meredith, Brad, Kayla (almost 5) and Will (3).

The Haywood Family – Jill, Andrew, Molly (3), and Ben (born in June ’08). Only Molly made the trip, because – let’s face it – a 1 month old at Sea World is just a disaster in the making.

The McHenry/Garcia Family – Neal, Leah, Zoe (8), Caleb Anthony (6), Caleb Taylor (4), and Callie (2).

Thursday we traveled to SA and crashed at our hotel (pretty low key). Friday we head to Sea World in plenty of time to get there right as it is opening. Everyone has a to-do list – shows, roller coasters, gift shop purchases. Steve (a.k.a. Turbo-Tourist) attempts to organize the clan. He keeps whispering the phrase “herding cats”. Well put. We stare danger in the face as we proceed: kids outnumber adults, it is 100+ degrees, we have 4 strollers packed with kids and theme park paraphernalia, and there are record crowds at Sea World.

We blunder our way through the day catching: shows (Shamu, of course), roller coasters (Steel Eel, not a fan!), and who knows what from the public restrooms. Around 4:30, everyone is near comatose, so Brad and Mer suggest a trip to the water park to lounge in the Lazy River. Bryant starts chanting “la-zy river” and in my heat exhaustion I join him for a moment. Brendan and Zoe strip down to their suits and plunge into the river. Steve wades in cautiously as I peel Bryant (thrashing and squeaking) off the hand rail and begin to drag him along. Maybe it was the mass of humanity swirling around us, or the swift man-made current that spooked him, but I drag him along until we score a donut shaped tube with handles for him to ride on. In trying to get him onto the tube he manages to climb up the edge of the river, park himself beside a lifeguard, cross his arms over his life jacket, stick out his lips in a world class pout and refuse to come back into the water. Fun times!

Brendan and Zoe, both great swimmers, are nowhere to be found, so I leave Bryant and his histrionics to Steve and take off after the two big kids. If lazy river navigation was an Olympic sport I would win no medals for grace, but maybe a certificate of completion because I eventually found them. I played cat and mouse with them for a while before finally bumping into Brad, Meredith, Kayla and Will. We pal around a bit before I start wondering what has become of Steve and the drama king.

Another loop around and I see Bryant reaching out his arms for me. He was finally tired of missing out and willing to go for another spin. I turn to face him and grab him under his arms, squatting under the water and walking backwards. He holds on for dear life, gripping the back of my arms and saying, ”Don’t let go mommy.” We proceed like this until we reach a calm stretch of water. He relaxes enough that his feet touch the ground and he realizes he can bounce on the bottom. His face lights up and he visibly relaxes, but his grip on me never lessens. Never one to leave a question unasked, I say, “Why are you holding on so tight if you know you can touch?” His response brought tears to my eyes, “Because I always need you mommy, even when I can touch.”

God wants the very same kind of dependence and trust from us through every season of our walk. The same devoted, whole-hearted clinging to him in times when we are only ankle deep and in times when the water has reached your chin and you are sinking like a rock. Thank you, Jesus. I always need you, even when I can touch.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bikini Bloopers

(Who doesn't love Sally Field as Gidget?)

Finally free of all obligations to my family (the boys are spending the week at their grandparents and my geezer of a husband just wants a nap), I quickly select a swimsuit in which to rush to the pool for a few uninterrupted hours of sun and Southern Living magazine.

My bikini line is less than pristine, so I go with a suit that has a skirt. Now at 35, I can still pull off a bikini moderately well, meaning I seldom leave a trail of vomiting onlookers in my wake. I am, in fact, quite fond of this particular suit with its aqua, navy, and white polka-dotted bandeau top with optional tie around the neck – which I use because let’s face it, I’ve had two kids and my husband has yet to agree to my extreme makeover plan.

After a short drive, I sign in at the neighborhood pool with the teenage kid at the front desk, and begin to write my husband’s emergency contact info for unlikely event that I should need medical attention for a cannonball gone wrong. At this point any support I had from the top half of my bikini gave way. I immediately clench my upper arms to my sides like I was crushing a can between my shoulder blades and briskly walk to the bathroom to refasten my swimsuit. As I reach up into the back of my cover up, a large chunk of plastic falls into my hand. This confirms the worst of all possible scenarios, my Wal-Mart suit has given up on me after only two summers and there will be no pool day today.

I walk like a penguin out to the car, muttering something about leaving my towel at home to the kid who just signed me in two minutes ago. On the way to the car, I get a flash of brilliance and realize that all may not be lost after all. I’m in a swimsuit with a skirt for a reason, why not rectify that situation with a quick bikini wax?

In suburban McKinney, Texas there are strip malls as far as the eye can see in every direction. I think the zoning rules must say that in such shopping centers there MUST be a donut store, a dry cleaners and a nail salon. I decide to gamble just once on the flashing neon sign at my favorite pedi place that claims they also do massages, waxing, and microdermabrasion. Upon arrival I am ushered back to the room that I have always thought was the bathroom. There is a small treatment table covered with a fitted sheet. Quite frankly, it looks like an old dentist’s chair in the fully reclined position. The young girl asks me to take off my pants. If you’ll recall I’m in a swimsuit. Awkward.

I offer to come back on Monday, but she thinks we should give it a go anyway. Truthfully at this point, coming back on Monday was just code for “this may be my favorite pedicure salon, but I am never, I repeat never, coming back here again since you’ve seen me nearly naked.” Hot wax. Linen strips rubbed on. Ripping. Stinging. All the bad words I ever heard on the back of the junior high bus rushing to mind. I think the ordeal is over, but then she goes after me with tweezers that feel like they are electrified on my freshly abraded skin. When I hear the words, “Ok, you done,” I nearly hurt myself trying to get my swimsuit back on.

I pay and leave, walking like a cowboy that just got off a week long trail ride, all the while still clinching my swimsuit top on with the sheer force of my will. Next time I think I’ll opt for the nap after all.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Let It Be

What is it about some people that makes them feel like they must be part of every situation, no matter how far removed they are from it? They carry on conversations and the glaring subtext always remains, "I'll get to the bottom of this because I have a vast network of sources that trust me and tell me things in confidence which I will reveal to a select few, if and only if I deem them worthy or they know the secret handshake."

What drives someone to take information revealed in conversation (aka - gossip, if we're being honest) and call that person to confirm if said information was true or not? Really? Seriously?? You had to call that person? Is it any of your business? What exactly were you hoping to accomplish? Did this person benefit from your "expertise" on the subject? OR did you just stir up additional controversy?

Growing up, I was taught, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." I think my generation interpreted that as, "If you can't say something nice, make sure to say it to someone who knows enough not to repeat it to the person being talked about and who will likely not use your name as the source of that comment." A pretty sketchy premise to operate under. A rule of thumb that more often than not ends in broken trust, severed friendships, and disappointment that "the rules" backfired.

I didn't think I would have to continue learning these lessons as an adult, but as luck would have it, here I am again learning the value and scarcity of trustworthy friends. In a world where most people are busy living, parenting, working, striving, there are still some who take a mere mention and ignite a firestorm of controversy just to satisfy their unquenchable desire to be right in the big middle of things - whether they belong or not.

It is taking everything within me not to lash back at this person, or to go to others involved and explain how what I said was taken completely out of context and then added to utter fabrication, but I feel led to stay out of it and just let it be. Lesson learned.