Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday Thoughts of a Twitterless Thinker Mar. 31, 2011 edition

     Long-time Quangsters know that I am not a Tweeter, but I am a thinker. Why don’t I tweet?  It’s because I refuse to believe that my friends want instant updates of what I am doing all day. Instead, I compile all my thoughts into a blog post for convenient viewing. :)

     My son started gymnastics yesterday, along with a few of his friends. He’s been begging me for over three years to let him take a class, but I was always hesitant, thinking that perhaps gymnastics was a little “girly.”  I changed my mind for a few reasons:
  1. Weston’s gymnastics idol is Damien Walters, who is no girly man. [see video below]
  2. This isn’t a passing whim.
  3. There are male teachers.
  4. His father agreed to pay for it.
     He spent 75 minutes yesterday flipping around on a trampoline, doing cartwheels, hanging upside down from bars, learning how to do flips with a harness, climbing a rope to the ceiling, and doing backward dives into a pit filled with foam cubes. I have never seen him happier. He only lost his shorts once.
     I was reminded today that men are from Mars. It is true. Men and women communicate in vastly different manners. Sample conversation between Computer Geek and me in the car after dropping Weston off at his Boy Scout meeting:
Me: Crunch and Munch sounds good.
CG: [silence]
Me: Yeah, I’ve been craving Crunch and Munch since yesterday. It was over $3.50 at the grocery store. It’s only $1.00 at Walmart.
CG: Do we have anything else we need at Walmart?
Me: Just tomato juice, so I don’t know if it’s worth the drive.
CG: [silence]
Me: I guess with gas it would end up being the same.
CG: [silence]
     As CG turned toward home, I felt such a sense of disappointment that he hadn’t driven to the store to get my Crunch and Munch. After some discussion during which he said, “Well why didn’t you say you wanted to go? I thought you were just saying you were craving it,” I realized that I had spoken in Womanish, but he was hearing it in Manish. I learned that the next time I need to say, “Turn left and go to the grocery store and give me some money because I am going in to buy some Crunch and Munch.”
     Only twenty school days left before summer vacation!
     Tomorrow (today by the time you read this) will be April Fool’s Day.  I am torn between playing some cool tricks on my students and ignoring the day, lest they retaliate in kind. What about you? Do you know any good April Fool’s Day stunts?  Did anyone play a trick on you today?
     Speaking of mean tricks, I got pranked a little early this year. Yesterday one of my students gave me a cute sticker of a seal, which I promptly adhered to my tote box. Later, a sweet little girl in my 7th grade class also handed me a sticker. She passed it to me upside down and when I turned it over I saw it was a snake sticker!  I screamed and threw the sticker down, which caused much raucous laughter on her part. 
     My Auntie M. gave her family members a priceless gift this week—a compilation of family updates from the last ten years. She has blessed us many times with previous family history work. The information she provides is invaluable; she is the main reason any of us extended family members even know each other. She and my mom were from a family of fifteen children so my oldest cousin is a great-grandma and my youngest cousin just started college this year.  If you haven’t kept in touch with family, this might just be the time to start. Such connections are priceless.
     Daughter Em allowed me to tend her two boys today while she went out job-hunting. Seven-year-old Avatar fell off his scooter the other day and ended up with stitches in a mangled ear. The next day little Chunk, who will be two in a few days, was doing a happy dance and fell against a piece of furniture and gave himself a black eye.  No wonder my daughter is 5’9” and weighs about 87 pounds! (April Fool’s!--she doesn’t really weigh only 87.  She’s at least 93 lbs., I am sure of it.)
     CG’s daughter, Gnome, and son, Neo, are headed for Europe in a couple of months. They will be landing in Dublin, bicycling around Ireland, then heading toward England and the rest of Europe. They are so excited for the challenge. During the month of May, they are going to practice camping by living in a tent in our backyard. Their days will be spent bicycling throughout our area, getting those leg muscles ready for extended European travel. Gnome is hoping to get into school in England after their summer adventure. Bon Voyage!
     My bed is calling my name and in 25 minutes it will be Friday so I am going to hurry and post my Thursday Thoughts. Goodnight everyone and this April Fool’s Day remember the wisdom of the great Jack Handey:
     One thing kids like is to be tricked.  For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse.  "Oh, no," I said.  "Disneyland burned down."  He cried and cried, but I think that deep down, he thought it was a pretty good joke.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Big Brother is Watching You. And Your Eyebrows.

     Five years ago, I went to our local driver’s license bureau to renew my license. It didn’t take long; I handed in my old license, got a new picture taken, read a line of letters, let them know my new address and signed away. Within minutes, I was back out the door, renewed license tucked in my purse. My previous license served as documentation since I had shown my birth certificate and social security card the first time I got my license. 
     A few months ago, in December, I realized that things had changed drastically. It was time to renew so I walked in to the office armed with nothing more than my previous license, just as I had done every other time. Before I left the office, I became aware that my driver’s license had nothing to do with my being capable of driving. My driver’s license had become a way for my government to track my every move.
     The first requirement in the renewal process was signing a document stating that in the event of a national draft, I agree to be subject to that draft. If I don’t agree, no license.  Now I know the chance of a 51-year old woman getting drafted is slim. But why did I have to agree to that in order to drive? 
     Signed document in hand, I waited for my turn at the counter. When I was called, I stepped up and handed the clerk my old driver’s license. I was then asked for my birth certificate and social security card. I explained to the clerk that I had been in there several times before and they had that information on record.
    Silly me. The laws had been changed and now I was required to provide those documents again. In addition, I was told that I could no longer just tell them my new address, but I had to prove where I lived by providing two bills that were addressed to me at my address. Trying to think on the spot, I told the clerk I didn’t know if I had two bills under my name. She asked me if I was married. I told her yes, and she said that if the bills were under my husband’s name, I had to bring in a copy of my marriage license!  
     I was more than a little infuriated since the bureau is in another town from where I live and they are only open six days a month.  Nevertheless, I went back home, licenseless. It seemed to me that a driver’s license was no longer proof of ability to drive, but was rather a way of making sure that I lived where I said I lived and was married to whom I said I was married. 
     In the meantime, before I was able to get back to the DL office, daughter Gnome had to renew her license as well. They gave her the same runaround, telling her that she had to bring proof of where she lived. She tried to explain that all her mail goes to her P.O. box, since she gets packages of varying sizes that don’t often fit in her mailbox.  Not acceptable, they said. She had to bring in something that had come to her in the mail with her name and address on it.  Remembering that maybe some Amazon packages had come to her at her home, rather than her P.O. box, she finally found some mail with her name and address and returned to the license office.
     Not acceptable again. Apparently things coming from Amazon don’t count as mail. (Should we have to pay shipping costs then?) By this time I was even more furious, now on her behalf. How does having a statement from Amazon mean that my daughter is any less of a driver?  Oh, that’s right. The new driver’s license has nothing to do with your ability to drive.
     The next time I went to the license office, I was well armed. I didn’t want to make another trip, or have to try to get there on one of the six days that they were open. I remembered that my cell phone bill is in my name, even though I do all transactions online. I simply printed out a paper copy of the bill that clearly had my name and address on it. I also subscribe to a church video club for kids and that bill had my name on it.  On a whim, before I left the house, I decided to bring a third item with my name on it—my bank statement. It wasn’t a bill and I was sure they wouldn’t accept it, so I brought it only as a backup.  I grabbed my birth certificate and social security card and headed out.
     The male clerk looked at my cell phone bill and my video bill. He accepted the video bill without question. I had my folder open and he saw its contents. “Is that your bank statement?” he asked.
     “Yes, it is.”
     “Can I see that please?”
     “Don’t you only need two proofs of address?”
     “Yes, but I’d rather see your bank statement.”
     “I am sure you would, but I already gave you two proofs of address.”
     “I need your bank statement because I can’t accept your cell phone bill as a bill.”
     “I get a bill every month and it has my name and address on it.”
     “I can’t accept cell phone bills as a bill. I want your bank statement. I promise I won’t scan vital information.”
     Reluctantly, I handed over my bank information to my government. They needed that as proof that I can drive. I was seething, but there was more to come.
     “I hate to say this, but I can’t accept your birth certificate.”
     Incredulous, I protested. “It’s got my name on it, date of birth, parental information, my footprints, and it’s notarized. What can possibly be wrong with my birth certificate?”
     “It was issued by a private hospital that is not accepted by the government. I need one that was approved by the State of Utah.” The government. Of course. Only the state can prove that I am who I say I am.  He gave me a list of numbers where I can call to have my Utah-approved birth certificate sent to me. 
     Icing on the cake, I tell ya. I came home, found a very small, very tattered, very faint government issued birth certificate from my home state. I haven’t taken it back there yet. I want to wait until I am much calmer, and have scenarios planned as to how I will calmly react if this one gets denied too.
     I vented to my family about the lack of driving ability needed to renew one’s driver’s license. It’s all about having your papers. But the insanity isn’t restricted to our driver’s license bureau.
     Our local UPS will no longer mail a package for you without seeing your “driver’s license.”  Only people who can drive, can mail, right?
     Our local college library requires a driver’s license and proof of address (here we go again) in order to get a library card. Only good drivers should be allowed to read. (Hey wait, shouldn’t the driver’s license be proof of address since you have to submit two forms of address in order to get your license? Oh, there I go, using logic again.)
     After listening to me repeatedly vent about the situation, daughter Em called me over the weekend. “Do you want to hear another driver’s license horror story?” she asked.
     Of course I did.
     One of Em’s friends from our home state recently went to go get her driver’s license renewed. She was told by the clerk that her photo was unacceptable. Why?
     “Because we can’t see your eyebrows. Your eyebrows have to be clearly visible in the photo.”
     Seriously?  She was told that she would have to hold her bangs back away from her forehead while her photo was being taken so that her eyebrows would show. How she kept from laughing hysterically at the clerk, I don’t know.
     I can see it now. “Police were able to apprehend the suspect by comparing his eyebrows to the photo of his eyebrows on file at the driver’s license bureau.”
     Don’t think Big Brother is watching you?
     Ask the people of Ogden, Utah.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

World Down Syndrome Awareness Day

Today's post is by guest author, Madonna Dries Christensen. March 21 is a special day. The date ( 3-21) was chosen to represent "the 3 copies of chromosome 21, which is unique to people with Down Syndrome," according to the author. As you look at these beautiful happy faces, let's all remember to stop using the "R" word as a form of insulting others. As you will see, knowing a person with this syndrome is an honor, rather than an insult.

The Many Faces Of Down Syndrome
By Madonna Dries Christensen

        When Dean was born in 1952, the doctor didn’t tell his parents that he had Down syndrome. When they were told, at three months, the doctor used the term Mongoloid. He said that Dean wouldn’t live beyond the age of five, and advised an institution. Dean's mother reasoned that if he were going to die young, she would hold him close for whatever time he had. By age eight he was difficult to discipline, and his parents made the heart-wrenching decision to place him in Columbus Developmental Center in Columbus, Ohio. 
        Dean’s sister, then 11, recalls feeling responsible for him, and that it was stressful having him at home. With the exception of her best friends, kids made fun of Dean. She admits to being relieved when he left, quickly adding that as an adult she realized he gave her something valuable: the gift of empathy, and the calling to pursue a Masters in Special Education.   
        As an adult, Dean’s IQ was about 35, akin to a two-year-old. He held simple jobs at the Center. He loved being outdoors; he followed sports on television, competed in Special Olympics softball and running, and enjoyed music. His family regularly visited him, and his friends at the Center loved him, too.  
         Dean died at age 58, in 2010. I’d never met my husband’s nephew. He was, to me, a cute child in grainy black and white photos. 
        In 2004, my second grandchild was born with DS. Unlike 50 years earlier, my daughter and her husband were flooded with support and information from doctors, family, friends, and even strangers via online networks. We quickly learned about the importance of early intervention in physical and speech therapy. My eyes, mind, and heart were opened to new experiences and challenges.     
        At three months, Sarah underwent open heart surgery. Post-surgery, her lungs collapsed and she contracted sepsis. She rallied and her heart now functions normally. Fortunately, she has none of the medical problems common to DS, nor is she physically handicapped. She rides a bike with training wheels, swims, dives, hikes, jumps on the trampoline, ice skates, the full gamut of activity. In public, people have approached my daughter and said that watching Sarah gives them hope for the child with DS who has joined their family.
        That’s the rosy face of DS. Cognitively, Sarah is not on par with typical peers. Her First Grade schooling is divided between the regular classroom and Special Ed. However, she’s learning to read, does beginning math, attends Sunday school, and participates in Brownie Scouts. She dotes on her younger brother, William, and has friends who have DS and friends who do not. Conner, the boy she loves and who loves her, has DS. 

         Sarah’s older sister (by 16 months) tends to look after her, but not because of DS; she doesn’t yet comprehend that aspect. It’s her nature to mother children younger and smaller. But my daughter feels that the experience will help Grace understand fairness and compassion. As it did for Dean's sister.
        DS is the most common genetic condition. World-wide, about five million people have DS. Unlike earlier eras, we see their distinctive faces on magazine covers and in television and movies. In school, children with DS participate in music, drama, sports, and cheerleading. They are elected Prom King and Queen; they graduate from high school. Some attend college or hold jobs in the community and live independently. A few marry. Some serve as ambassadors for Special Olympics or advocates for awareness. DS is no longer clear-cut black and white; it’s full color, and bursting with life.
        An organization called People First encourages us to say “A person with Down syndrome,” not “A Down syndrome person.” Another group is dedicated to erasing the r-word (retarded/retard) from our vocabulary and replacing it with “Respect.” Congress passed a bill to strike the word retarded from federal legislation. We are reminded that DS is not an illness or an affliction, and that people with DS are more like others than different.
        Despite the available support, my daughter says, “Having children with special needs can be isolating. People make assumptions about what it’s like—either that it’s horrible or that it’s simply giving a little extra help with homework. It’s neither. With that extra chromosome comes a host of little extras. Imagine any typical parent’s hectic schedule, and then add annual visits to the cardiologist, ophthalmologist, geneticist, and ENT; weekly speech, physical and/or occupational therapy; annual IEP meetings at school; frequent insurance and educational paperwork; extra time looking for clothes that fit (or altering them); and plenty of extra time reminding or assisting with ordinary activities like getting dressed or brushing teeth.
        “And there are positive extras: extra bonds with parents in the same situation, extra happiness when your child reaches a long-strived for milestone, extra excitement when your child is invited to a classmate’s party simply because “she’s my friend,” and extra pride when your typical children advocate for their sibling.”
        For this grandmother, there is extra love from a little girl who greets me with her big smile and an enthusiastic “Hi, Granny.” 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Wisdom of Seven Year Olds

Last week CG and I were driving home from Walmart with twelve year old son, Weston, and seven year old granddaughter, Hoolie, in the back seat. 

A few years ago, Hoolie and her mom lived with us. She and Weston detested the sight of each other back then. Daily, they found unique ways to torment each other.  He would accuse her of stealing whatever Lego man he was currently missing. She would sneak upstairs to his room and stand there, dangling a toe inside his doorway, hoping to elicit a reaction.  He would tattle that she was getting dangerously close to looking at his bicycle. She would slyly reach her fingers toward his gummy worms, never quite touching them, smiling sweetly as he screeched, “Mom! She’s trying to touch my candy!”  We adults threw up our hands in despair on many occasions.

Lately, the air has been much sweeter, largely due to the fact that they live eleven blocks apart.  I reveled in the conversation coming from the back seat last week:

Weston: “Would you like a cheese stick?”
Hoolie: “Thank you for offering one to me.”
Weston: “You’re welcome.”

Who were these aliens?

Hoolie: “Remember back when we used to live together?”
Weston, fondly: “Yeah…”
Hoolie: “We had some good times back then, didn’t we?”  [Good for whom? I have gray hair now.]
Weston: “Yeah…”
Hoolie:  “Do you remember when we used to be mean to each other and Grandma [me]
used to make us say ten nice things about each other every time we said something mean?”
Weston, laughing: “Yeah.”
Hoolie: “Man. That was crazy.”

Crazy. Yeah.

As we carried the groceries from the car, Hoolie said, “Let’s go inside and talk about the old days some more.”  I am glad that she has pleasant memories of her imprisonment with Weston.

Do you notice just a hint of irritation in Weston's' smile?

Another seven year old, grandson Avatar, came to visit last Saturday. He was sitting next to me as I logged onto my blog.

Avatar: “Wow!  You go to For-a-gen Quang?”
Me: “Yup—I sure do.”
Avatar: “My mom goes to For-a-gen Quang too!”
Me: “She does? Did she ever tell you why she goes to For-a-gen Quang?”
Avatar: “No.”
Me: “It’s because the cutest kids in the world are on For-a-gen Quang.”
Avatar: “They are?”
Me: “Sure—I’ll show you.”

He stared in amazement as I scrolled down and he saw pictures of himself and family.

Me: “Do you know why you’re on For-a-gen Quang?”
Avatar: “No. Why?”
Me: “Because For-a-gen Quang is my site. I’m the one who puts all those pictures on there.”

You would have thought I had said I was Justin Bieber’s mom or something.

Avatar: “Really? You own For-a-gen Quang?” 

He sat and smiled while it all soaked in. You could almost see the little thought bubble around his blond head that said, “My Grandma is famous.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that only about thirty people actually read Foreign Quang—mostly relatives and a few extremely kind blog friends. I did have to break it to him though that it’s actually pronounced “Foreign.”

Daughter Em told me of another situation with Avatar last week. He, like many boys, loves to go to the Lego website. His dad told him he didn’t want him going there and playing video games.  Avatar replied, “Dad. I’m not going there to play games. I’m going there to look at product.”  Yes, this is the same child who forced his friends to watch a documentary on how the prophecies of Nostradamus compared to the prophecies of the Hopi Indians.

I am definitely not wiser than a seven year old.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Las Vegas Hates People Like Us

Daughter Kay and friend booked a trip to Las Vegas last weekend and asked if we would be able to drive down to see her. We agreed. It had been two years since our last visit with Kay and after all, it’s “only” a five hour drive for us, one-way.  Besides, you all remember how much I love Las Vegas, right?

Last Friday, daughter Em and her son Avatar, Computer Geek, Weston, and I all piled into our little car at 7:15 A.M.  We arrived at about 11:30, LV time, and met Kay and her friend at Caesar’s Palace.

Kay’s goal was to have a good time with her friend and to see us. Our goal was to see Kay and to avoid spending as much money as possible. We ate lunch at Subway, saw some free attractions, and spent 99 cents on a magnet.  Woo-hoo! Hey, big spenders…

They hate us.

Some observations:
*Caesar’s Palace was designed by a childless person. Why else would there be a marble-topped diaper-changing table in the women’s bathroom?  Beautiful, yes. Practical? Not so much.

*In Las Vegas, purses are not just for women. I’m not talking about fanny packs or messenger bags—I’m talking about full blown Coach handbags. In yellow and pink.

*Even though you are outside and can’t see anyone smoking, you can still walk through a wall of stifling cigarette smoke.  It’s omnipresent.

*One of the reasons we refuse to be sucked into the Vegas spending machine---Kay and her friend each had one drink and the bill was $20.

*Dear Las Vegas porn peddlers: I am so happy that you look the other way when my twelve-year old son walks past you. I am not so happy that you push your material on my husband when I am right there with him.

*Dear M&M store: $13 a pound for M&M’s? Seriously?

Yet, there is beauty to be found in Vegas and when we see it, we marvel.

 Stunning Art

Em and Avatar

Avatar, Weston, Em, Kay, and Friend

A Spiral Escalator at Caesar's

Em and Kay ran into some old friends

No trip is complete without a visit to the Bellagio fountains

Seven-year old Avatar walked around the fountain proclaiming, "There's Ares! That's Artemis! There's Poseidon!"       Thank you, Rick Riordan.

A final Las Vegas note: When you feel like walking, for what seems like hours, to get to the Mirage so you can go to the aquarium, don't bother. It's just a fish tank on a wall.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Redecorating Advice Needed

Okay, Quangsters, I have a question that I am hoping you can answer for me.  We moved into The Toothpaste House about ten months ago. Previous tenants thoughtfully installed a wood-burning stove. It's been a lifesaver this year since Computer Geek has been out of a job and we have used the stove as our sole source of heat.


...this is the problem we have. Beautiful, eh?  Not so much.

We are not sure how to make this area look a little more civilized. As you can see, the paneling has been removed in order to make room for this pipe. We are cautious about applying anything because we are not sure what cover materials and adhesive to use to make it fire-resistant. Explosions during the night mess with my sleep.

Does anyone have any experience dealing with this type of problem?

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