Thursday, December 13, 2012

jesus is just alright

My brother Mark died when I was 23. He was eight years older than me and most of my memories of him are not fond. I remember him picking on me a lot, teasing me until I cried and, once, picking me up and hanging me over the balcony, telling me he was going to drop me.

He was the master of pestering; the kind of brother who, when you shouted, 'stop bugging me,' would pin you down on the ground and poke your chest with his fingers while saying, 'bug, bug, bug...' 

Being the overly-sensitive type, my response was to yell at him, tattle on him, or burst into tears and run to my room, slamming the door. But I loved him.

When I was little, he ran away from home. In my memory, he was gone a long time before we knew where he was. I remember crying myself to sleep at night, praying a simple prayer, over and over, asking God to please just bring him home.

Eventually he did come back, but he continued to struggle with life, at least in my eyes. He didn't go to church like the rest of the family and lived by a set of standards all his own. Growing up in an LDS home, I had a hard time with the choices he made. I judged him, distrusted him; I kept my distance from him.

I wish I hadn't. I wish I had known then what I know now about people who are different from me: that they are almost always amazing in a way I can't see. I wish I had spent more time listening to the stories he told me, actually hearing the things he said. I wish I could have appreciated him for who he was and loved him unconditionally.

When I came home after spending a year and a half on a mission in Montreal, I happened to take a trip with my parents and Mark and my brother Paul. It was probably the first time I had a real conversation with Mark. He was working on a little island in Alaska at the time and was home on a mandatory break. He had several more weeks off and we tentatively planned for him to visit me at school, where maybe we would go camping together. I was looking forward to it, but we never had the chance.

The last time I saw Mark, he picked me up at the airport on a layover in Seattle and took me to Pike Street Market. He waited patiently while I looked at almost every silver ring at every jewelry stand, trying to find one that was just right. I don't remember what we talked about, I just remember we had a good time.

I don't often think about Mark anymore. It has been almost 20 years since he died. Today, as I was driving alone in the car, Jesus is Just Alright came on the radio. It is the song he suggested I use as a musical number for my missionary farewell. :)

I sang along, by myself, to every word as tears streamed down my face. I so wish I could know Mark now, as an older and wiser me. I think we would be great friends...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

zucchini apocalypse

Forget about a Zombie Apocalypse. I think we are in more danger of zucchini taking over the world. So if you are one of those gardeners who habitually plants too much zucchini: STOP!

While zucchini is good for you and astonishingly easy to grow, and while there are thousands of recipes to help you use up your overzealous crop, even the most health-conscious, zucchini-eating, faux-apple-pie-baking folk around get sick of zucchini. So here are my simple steps to avoid a Zucchini Apocalypse:

Step 1: Plant less. It's simple math: one zucchini seed + sunshine + soil + water = a bazillion zucchini. Or at least enough to feed a family of four, freeze some for winter and share a few with your friends. So just plant one plant. Or, if you are a pessimist like me, plant two, three, or even four seeds (just in case) but thin them as they come up and start to thrive.

I know it's hard, but you can do it; I did. Here is my garden. There is only one zucchini plant growing in this mess and we have had plenty of zucchini for several weeks in a row.

Step 2: Harvest them young. The longer you let them grow, the bigger they get, but bigger zucchini is not better zucchini; it's just more zucchini. I like to pick mine when they are about 8-10 inches long, or about the length of a butter-knife. They are perfect for roasting, grilling, sauteing or baking. If you miss picking one for a day or two, the big ones (below-left) are great for shredding and freezing. I freeze mine in regular, sandwich-sized zip-lock bags and use them to make zucchini bread in the winter. Here is my favorite zucchini bread recipe, although I usually omit the orange zest (because I never have it) and add a little coconut.

Step 3: Compost the excess. There is no need to push unwanted zucchini on family, friends or neighbors; no need to break into a person's car, as the legend goes, or bring baskets full of zucchini to give away at church. Chances are, if you have a spectacular zucchini crop, so does everyone else. So toss your extra, unwanted zucchini straight into the compost pile. Think of it as super cheap fertilizer for next year. :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

jack the bear

This morning I asked Max to feed the cat. For emphasis I added, "fast, like Jack the Bear." Which made me wonder (again) where it came from and what it means.

I know I got it from my dad. He used it often in sentences like this: 'I told old so-and-so I'd stop by and look at that truck, but I'll be fast like Jack the Bear.' Ironically, this usually meant we were about to spend a lot of time waiting in the car while he picked up a part, dropped something off, or helped someone out.

Until I left home, I never thought to ask what it meant. The meaning was clear enough and I thought it was just another one of his colloquialisms, like The Dairy Kink (Dairy Queen), pass the moke, Joke (please pass the milk), back when I was a little girl (a long time ago) or, this is better than hammered horse-pucky (this tastes really good).

It wasn't until I started using it with my kids, who would stare at me and ask "Who's Jack the Bear?" that I realized I didn't know. And then, this morning, I finally thought to google it. I wasn't really expecting to find anything, but it turns out that Jack the Bear is a racing term, meaning the car is moving at optimum efficiency or running flat-out.

Huh. Maybe I'll google hammered horse-pucky...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

begin, the rest is easy

I am usually a believer in the phrase, 'Begin, the rest is easy.' I tend to whisper it to myself as a kind of mantra and with almost everything I have done, it has been true. But this summer I started painting the outrageously neglected trim on my old brick home, and I have learned a thing or two.

Or five:

1. When painting the trim on an old home, beginning does not make the rest easy. Rather, beginning means you have to finish, which is the worst possible thing you can imagine once you begin.

2. Painting the trim is not so bad. It's the scraping and caulking that takes so blasted long.

3. Although painting the trim on the exterior of your home will require a lot of paint, do not be tempted to buy the five gallon bucket. Five gallon buckets are surprisingly heavy and the lid is a total pain; unless you are a weight-lifter, you are likely to end up with a great deal of paint pouring down the side of the bucket while struggling to get it back on the ground.

4. Unlike paint buckets, when it comes to ladders, bigger is best. But even the largest, heaviest ladder you own may not be tall enough to reach the highest points of the house, meaning your husband will offer to climb up on the roof to paint them and, while he's up there, put himself in great danger of breaking his neck, or worse - getting white paint where it does not belong.

5. Hauling and maneuvering such a beast of a ladder is likely to make your arms and shoulders ache, although those sore muscles will go nicely with the kink in your neck from tilting your head back, the cramp in your hand from holding a brush for long periods of time, and the raging headache caused by all of the above and, possibly, the fumes from a paint/primer combination powerful enough to make the old wood look good. 

I wish I were writing this in retrospect, but in fact I have only just begun. I hope the rest will be easy.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

he may not seem like a superstar

Abby is amazing and everyone notices. She is pretty, talented, smart, outgoing, friendly. We recently timed her to see how long she could go without smiling: not long. Dave's mom has always said she has a star hanging over her head.

Max is more reserved; he won't speak unless he has something to say. He is sensitive and caring but doesn't like people to notice him. He is funny (in the comedic way) with excellent timing and clever wit, but for a long time he got upset when he made people laugh. He avoids shirts and hats with slogans or logos that might spark a conversation with a stranger, or require him to explain his interests and tastes.

Max is talented and smart, just as much as Abby is, but in a different way; a way that is easy to overlook. But every once in awhile, we catch a glimpse of his star, not hanging over his head, like Abby's, but shining out from inside of him.

Like the first time we convinced him to practice his cello in our presence - many weeks after he started orchestra. None of us were prepared for how beautiful he would sound and it wasn't until the last concert of the year that we realized he was playing first chair; he never mentioned it.

When applying for an English class next year, which required a writing sample, I had him pull up a story he's been working on for at least a year or two. It was long - chapters and chapters and chapters long - but I found myself wanting to read the whole thing. As I am not a youth fiction fan, that's impressive!

Today he is supposed to teach a lesson in his church class. When he woke up I offered to read through the lesson, so I could give him some help if he needs it. His reply was something like, 'No, I already know what I need to do,' and then he opened the manual and asked me to type up some word strips to put on the board.

Outwardly, he may not seem like a superstar. But to those who know him best, Max is amazing too.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

for better or worse

For a variety of reasons, Dave and I didn't dance at our wedding, and, neither of us being very romantic, we didn't have one song that we considered "ours." This wasn't really a problem of any kind, but we had a surprising number of people ask us what "our song" was, so we chose one at random: Silly Love Song  by Paul McCartney & Wings.

Admittedly cheesy, it's fun to sing and has the words "love song" and "I love you" right in it. No beating around the bush, nothing implied; it just tells it how it is. We started singing it to each other often enough that it actually became our song.

But even better than the song itself is the tradition it inspired. Over the past (almost) 18 years we have been married, we have collected more cheesy love songs; the cheesier the better. With the invention of facebook, youtube and rdio, it's become easier to find them and listen to them, and now Dave has a play list full of cheesy love songs.

There is no rhyme or reason to how we gather them. Sometimes they just pop into our heads, other times we hear them somewhere. Yesterday I woke up thinking of this one: Loving You is Easy 'Cause You're Beautiful by Minnie Riperton. And, last summer, Dave called me "Lady" for some reason, which added both Lady by Styx and Lady by Little River Band to the list.

These may not be the most romantic love songs, and some of them are just down right annoying. But they are "ours" and we love them, for better or worse. Just like we love each other.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

liar, liar, pants on fire

I tried some clothes on this afternoon at T.J.Maxx, a task I loathe. Not only do I hate realizing I'm still fat, despite the hours I spend running each week, but I hate how the floor is nasty and the doors only cover the mid-section of my body, so that a really tall person could walk down the aisle and see me in my underwear.

The only really good part about entering a dressing room, for me, is the fact that most people seem to forget that only their mid-sections are covered by those stingy little doors, so everything they say is clearly heard by everyone around them. Since eavesdropping on strangers is a favorite pastime of mine, this scenario has high entertainment value and in a dressing room they can't see me, so I don't have to avert my eyes or pretend I'm not listening.

This was the conversation I overheard today. It is one-sided because the woman was talking on her cell phone...

"Yes, I'm on my way. The traffic is AWFUL! Oh, I know. I'm on my way. There is just SO much traffic and DETOURS everywhere! Well, I'm trying... I'll be there soon... I'm on my way..."

Liar, liar, pants on fire. The college students are gone now; there were hardly any cars on the road. And she was in there another ten minutes. :)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

hope in his eyes

My schedule is all messed up at work right now, due to all the end of year stuff, so I haven't been reading with my students as much. The other day, one of the first-graders I read with saw me walk into the room and a big smile spread across his face. He pulled off his headphones and with hope in his eyes he asked, "Is it my turn today?"

Oh, that sweet little boy! There is nothing like a small child to remind you how important you are in life.

Monday, April 23, 2012

is this my favorite actor?

If you ask my kids what my favorite color is, they will tell you I don't have one, because I like all the colors. And I don't have a favorite food, because I don't want the other foods to feel bad. The same goes for movies, books, songs, bands, and the like. I told them this when they were little because the question, "What is your favorite...blah, blah, blah" often came up.

In truth, I don't really like all the colors in the world, and I know foods don't have feelings, so I don't lose sleep over that. In truth, I don't have favorites because I just can't decide. How can I choose only one book to love? Or only one dessert? There are so many variables at any given time, I can't commit.

For me, this has never been a problem. Aside from taking a bit longer to choose from a menu, I think I have managed to live a rich life. For my husband however, my not having favorites must have been a bit of a bane; at some point in the last 18 years, he started assigning me favorite things.

I'm not really sure how he decides, but it is fun to guess what my "favorites" are. For example, when he buys ice cream and I say, "What kind did you get?" and he says, "Your favorite," it's like a game to guess which flavor it is. And, since my memory is bad, it's a game every time. Right now my "favorite" is Orange Cream, which I do really like, unlike a former "favorite," Butter Pecan, which I don't like at all.

I also have "favorite" actors and actresses, which can either be people I do enjoy, like Johnny Depp, or people I don't, like Helen Hunt, who annoys me almost to death. For awhile my "favorite" actor was Greg Kinear (?) but most recently it is Hugh...Jackman. (I just had to check with Max.)  And once, at the beginning of a show, I leaned over to Abby and said, "Is this my favorite actor?" to which she replied, "Yes."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

the great funeral potato famine

Tomorrow is Easter, so I am planning a dinner full of feast-y foods, including some standard Mormon-Mom dishes, like "Raspberry Delight" and "Funeral Potatoes." This is a treat around here since, although I am both Mormon and a mom, I am socially deviant and only make jello once or twice a year. I also typically avoid making dishes that have all my allotted daily calories in one serving, except on special occasions.

For those of you who have never heard of "Funeral Potatoes," take heart; they are not as morbid as they sound. They are simply some version of sliced, diced, grated or cubed potatoes mixed with a bit of onion, butter, cream of chicken soup, sour cream and grated cheese. If a person is extra fancy, they might add some crushed cornflakes on top.

Some people call them other things, like "Nauvoo Potatoes" or "Potato Casserole," but I call them "Funeral Potatoes" because in our church, when someone dies, it is tradition for the local church members to provide a meal for the family following the funeral. Most often, the church provides the meat and local members are asked to bring salads, desserts, rolls, and potatoes. And when someone you care about has lost someone they love, plain old potatoes just don't seem right.

But Funeral Potatoes are obviously very rich, so I only make them for funerals and feasts. Unfortunately, so does everyone else; late last night I sent Dave to the store to buy some frozen diced potatoes (by far the best way to go!) but they were out of stock. A store employee confirmed the potato supply was completely wiped out. None in the freezer case, none in the back.

Dave promised he will check some other stores this morning, but I am worried we will have no luck. We might be experiencing the great funeral potato famine of 2012...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

i am at the cinema

Last weekend we went to see the Hunger Games. Since Dave had already suffered through it once with Max, I took the kids by myself. This rarely happens. I am a strong, independent, resourceful woman, but there are certain things I prefer to avoid. Like movie crowds. And mice. And drains clogged with hair. So when I go to a movie, I go with Dave. He buys the tickets, and the overpriced drinks and I find a seat with the kids.

This time, without my brave knight, Abby offered to buy the drinks. Unfortunately, they were out of the flavors she ordered, and she ended up with two Pepsi Slurpees instead. But Max doesn't drink caffeine and as I'm diabetic, a giant sugary Slurpee is not my friend, so there we sat with an extra $4 Slurpee when Dave texted me to see how I was holding up.

The cheapskate in me hatched a brilliant plan: Dave could come get the Slurpee and drink it at home; Abby would walk it out to him when he arrived. They both agreed, and when the time came, Abby decided to take the popcorn out for a butter refill. When she left, I pictured her traipsing around the parking lot with a giant Slurpee in one hand and a bucket of popcorn in the other, and I laughed out loud; loud enough to catch Max's attention.

Right after that, my sister called. Since I didn't want to start a conversation just minutes before the show, I used an automated message option that comes up on my phone. Trying to act quickly, I saw one that said, "I am at the cinema." Not quite the words I would normally use, but close enough. I selected that option and sent the text. Laughing again, I showed Max what I sent. He laughed but said nothing more.

Until Abby came back. Then Max described to Abby what had occurred while she was gone:

"Abby, Mom laughed like this, 'Ah, hahahaha' (putting a hand to his chest) and then sent a text saying 'I am at the cinema.'" Apparently this was an extremely funny thing, because they both took it up and have been at it all week; every time I laugh out loud, they put their hands to their chests and say, "Ah, hahahaha, I am at the cinema."

And, when I texted Abby "good night" the other night, this was her reply:

I am at the cinema.

Which made me laugh out loud, of course, "Ah, hahahaha..."

Friday, March 30, 2012

far too little love

Tonight we went to a drum line competition. If you've never been to one, you should go. It's sort of like watching interpretive dance, except the dancers are lugging around drums. And it's pretty cool that even the kids who don't look exactly right, or dress exactly right, or don't (in some cases) shower regularly can be included. Or so I thought.

After watching five or six other drum lines, some acting like marionettes, others wearing capes, a tiny little drum line took it's place for the final act. There were five of them, including at least one adult and one small child, each dressed as a character from the Wizard of Oz. The two teenagers were siblings, and judging from their similar bear-like body type, I'm pretty sure one of the adults was their mom.

As I watched them set up, my heart broke a little; they looked so small and forlorn. After looking up their tiny little town, and realizing they came from a reservation five hours away, my heart broke a little more.

And then they played. Quietly. Carefully. Stiffly. The arrangement wasn't hard. But it was obvious they had worked on this show. Probably just as hard as the rest of the bands, possibly even more.

But no one seemed to care.

I don't think more than a couple people cheered them on during the show, not even when the bear-like girl, in ruby-red slippers and a Dorothy dress, did a two measure solo on the snares. They had cheered for everyone else who soloed, but not for her. A few people laughed while they put on their show. Most people talked - really loud. So loud, you could hardly hear them play.

And that's when I wanted to cry.

What would it cost us to cheer that band on? To stand up and really cheer them on. What would it give them to hear a crowd roar, in response to their own great efforts? What could we give them to take back to their town, to encourage them all to carry on?

Unfortunately, we gave them nothing. They won no award. Their names were not called. No paper, or plaque went home with that band. Whatever they got, they got from themselves, and I am ashamed. Those kids didn't choose to be born where they are. They didn't choose to be awkwardly large. They have spirits and hearts and hopes just like ours, but so many more limitations.

By the time I got home, I was actually in tears. I'm in tears as I write this now. There is too much selfishness and greed in our hearts, and far too little love. I point my finger at no one alone, except for maybe myself. Because I know how often I put myself first; I know I could give so much more. I could. I can. I must. I must give more.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

winnie the pooh energies

The other day I noticed a link on facebook for a free "beauty profiling" course. Since I always need to be a little more beautiful, I decided to check it out. True to it's word, it is free, and it's fairly interesting. The lady teaching the course is an MRET, which, according to my Google search, either means she is some kind of molecular water activator, a "mandatory renewable energy target," or she is a Master Energy Therapist, with an additional special, but unspecified, skill beginning with an "R."

Whatever she is, her beauty profiling system is based on the concept of four energies: air, water, earth and fire. Her theory is that everyone has each of these elements inherent in them, but we all lead with one dominant energy. This energy expresses itself in our body language, facial features, speech patterns, personality and behavior. It affects our likes and dislikes and determines how we approach the world, as well as our relationships with others.

Her course really is interesting and I do hope it will make me more beautiful! But as I have soaked in everything she has to say, I think her energy profiling system is simpatico with the one Dave and I have been using for years, based on Winnie the Pooh. You can see here how well they mesh:

Air = Tigger: bubbly, light, full of life, likes to have loads of fun. (Abby, Dave)
Water = Pooh: relaxed, smooth, steady, flowing, wants everything and everyone at peace. (Dave, Max)
Earth = Kanga: solid, calm, wise, independently knows what to do and how to do it best. (Me)
Fire = Rabbit: pushy, bossy, gets in and gets things done, always working on something. (Abby, Max, Me)

Maybe our system isn't quite as advanced, and I can't say it will improve your beauty in any way, but try it; it's fun and doesn't involve any lengthy videos...unless you've never seen Winnie the Pooh.

Monday, March 5, 2012

a recess lady

I have a great job. I work with kids who need a little extra help reading, at a fantastic school, just a couple miles from my home. I work three hours a day, from nine to noon, which is a perfect shift for my current life.

Most days I have no complaints, except for a few about recess duty. It gets especially bad in the winter...

Last week we got hit with a big snow storm, leaving at least four inches of snow on the ground, which translates to snowbanks about 4 feet high on the playground.  I hate these snow banks.  They take forever to melt, and cause a myriad of problems: cold hands, wet pants, bloody noses, missing teeth, fights, and long recesses spent reminding the kids to "be careful" (yeah, right).   

I could elaborate here on how annoying it is that the snow removal people pile the snow up into these banks right on the edge of the blacktop so as to create a hard, gravelly landing pad at the end of a solid mound of ice, but they have obviously never had to spend an entire recess trying to keep hundreds of kids between the ages 6 and 12 "safe" while sliding down an ice-mound before, so it's probably a moot point. 

So I will skip ahead to how bothersome it is to watch kids wearing shorts and t-shirts sliding on the ice. I know sometimes it isn't worth a fight, but honestly, when the weather app says "27, feels like 12" it might be a good day for a coat, or at least pants.

Throwing snow is strictly prohibited on the playground, but the prohibition of snowballs reminds me a lot of The Prohibition of alcohol; it's only really off-limits when someone is watching. Also like alcohol, irresponsible use of snow tends to lead to a lot of problems. Several weeks ago, someone came and told me another kid had thrown snow at him. In an attempt to talk to the guilty party and remind him of the rule, he started screaming at me that he hates school and smacked me upside the head. Of course I felt this was somehow all my fault. 

My final woe is this: although it is super amazing and fun to build a giant snowball, or -man, or -fort, not all the recess ladies in the world can keep other kids from tearing it apart.  Even if I am asked by a hundred different kids who I really, really like, I cannot guarantee it will be there when you come back out. It's a sad truth in life: "If you build it, [they] will come [to knock that sucker down]."

So chin up, and carry on. Your life could always be worse. You could be a recess lady. ;)