Saturday, April 30, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: U,V,W,X,Y,and Z are for ...

Yeah, so I'm a little late on this A-Z challenge.  I promise you I had the best of excuses. Do you want to hear them?  As a teacher, I know some that will amaze you. The rules of this challenge say that you may post pictures for your daily entry so I am going for it.

U is for Utah (naturally.)
Arched red rocks are a common view in Utah. This was taken in Bryce Canyon.

V is for Violets
One thing I missed about Iowa was the abundance of little purple violets springing up at the first sign of spring. This is the first year since I moved to Utah fourteen years ago that I have seen violets in my backyard. Reminds me of home.

W is for Warmth
I visited a friend today and snuggled up in her flower pot were four cats trying to stay warm. I couldn't resist whipping out the camera.

X is for Xylitol
So you all know about xylitol, right?  It's an amazing sweetener that doesn't raise blood sugar levels and can actually remineralize tooth enamel. The dictionary says it's an artificial sweetener, but since it comes from plants, I'm thinking it's natural. I use Tom's toothpaste because it has xylitol in it. [ Annoying disclaimer: Tom's did not pay me or give me any product for expressing my opinion. The government says I have to say that.]

Y is for Yuba
Yuba is a local lake that passes for entertainment on hot days. Not the most pristine of environments, but we take what we can get.


Z is for Zebulon

Zebulon Eugene Francis Guertin, bottom row third from right, is my great-great-grandfather. He was born in 1840 and died in 1923. He is my mother's mother's father's father. Third from the right on the top is his son Edgar, my great grandfather.

Whew! I completed the April A-Z challenge with 58 minutes to spare. I haven't taught students for the last four years without learning something.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: T is for ...

I usually don’t mix politics and religion with my blog, because both are deeply personal issues for most people.  I don’t like seeing people bash it out regarding who is right and who is wrong. For today’s “T” topic though, I am going to break my own rules.  The topic I have chosen is not only a spiritual belief, but a financial belief as well.

T is for Tithing.

Many years ago I became familiar with the principle of tithing, or of giving away 10% of what you make. In college, I minored in Business Administration, and after graduating I had a series of jobs involving managing, or helping to manage, businesses. I loved to read business “how to” books, and was stunned to find that many of them advocated this principle—this belief that in order to be successful, you must give away 10% of what you earn.

I later also heard it from a spiritual point of view. In the Old Testament, in Malachi 3:10-11, we read:

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.  And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.”

As we see, we are promised both temporal and spiritual blessings by tithing. We are promised blessings enough that we won’t have room to receive them all. Even our gardens and the fruits of our labor shall be blessed. The commandment to tithe, therefore, is not just a financial suggestion, but a spiritual one as well.

I decided that I needed as many blessings as I could get, and that for me, tithing would be a part of my life. Some people tithe to charities or to people in need or to the church they attend. Regardless of to whom you tithe, tithing is the act of being grateful for what you have, and knowing that there is enough to go around in this world, even when it seems impossible for us to give.  I made a commitment that no matter what, 10% is always shaved off from what I receive, and given back to someone else.

Has it been hard to tithe even when I could barely feed my family as a single mother years ago?  Oh yes. But I believe that tithing blessings only come when faith is involved. In other words, if next week I say, “I’m not going to pay my tithing this week because Weston needs a new pair of shoes,” am I going to be blessed? Probably not. Call it blessings of faith, call it the universe paying you back, call it karma, call it obeying God’s word—whatever you call it, tithing is a principle by which I live my life.

If you think that tithing is too hard, or that God can’t make money out of nothing (an argument I have heard people use as to why they don’t believe they will be blessed by paying tithing,) or that you just don’t have the money this paycheck, let me give you a few examples from my own life.

*One time, back in Iowa, when I had no money for food. I was very tempted not to pay my $15 in tithing because I only had $18 for food that week. If I paid my tithing, then I would have $3 for groceries.  I finally decided I would just stick my tithing in an envelope and mail it to my church leader so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep it. I mailed the envelope and went through my kitchen, evaluating how to best spend my $3. I decided on milk and sugar because at least then I could bake food for the rest of the week. I went to the store, got my milk and sugar. When I got back from the store, there were 5 boxes crammed full of food on my doorstep. Inside a carton of eggs was a $10 bill. All my friends denied doing it. It was enough food to last me for almost two months. I scarcely had room to store all the food. “…there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

*Another time I was struggling with this principle and wondered if God would understand if, as a single mom, I could just buy food instead of paying tithing. My tithing amount that week was $20. I decided there was no good reason not to pay it, so I paid. That very night I went to work as a tutor in a group home. The director called me into the kitchen and said, “We have been so happy with what you have been doing, that we made your check for $20 extra tonight.” Coincidence?  Nope.  Simply God making money out of nothing.

*One of my jobs involved selling Avon. I was getting ready to pay my $15 tithing when I wondered if perhaps I should just wait until next week to pay it. Again, I was determined to pay it, so I did. The very next day, a woman at work said, “Oh, here’s that $15 I owe you.” I was confused because I didn’t remember that she owed me money for anything. She said, “Yeah, remember a couple months ago when I said I would pay you for Avon on my next check? Well I totally spaced it off until now.”


I believe I was given the exact amount of my tithing so that I would see a relationship between the two. I would know without a doubt that the promise was being fulfilled. This was not merely a coincidence.

Over the years, I have been blessed financially many times, and in many different ways. I have had money appear, seemingly out of nowhere. I have never “gone without” because I gave away part of my earnings. Instead, I have been given more than what I gave away.
Here are a few more examples:

·        I was surprised about 10 years ago when I got a letter in the mail saying that I was involved in a class action lawsuit against a former employer for pension fraud. A couple months later I received my portion of the settlement—about $2500!

·        Once I went into work and my boss informed me he was giving me a $2 an hour raise, just because.
·        I broke a contact lens and needed to make an appointment to get new ones so I asked my boss if I could take a long lunch for my eye doctor appointment. He said, “Ok. I’ll give you $200 to buy new ones.” 
·        I had to go the emergency room one night and stay overnight at the hospital. It cost $1500 for that one night. I made arrangements with the hospital to work there on weekends to pay for my bill. When my boss heard that, he paid my bill for me.
·        Once when I was really struggling, a lady I know came into where I work. She handed me $50 and said that their family was impressed that I needed that money. I was so grateful because that week I had no money for food because I had just paid my tithing.
·        I saw someone who owed my former employer some money. I reminded the person that he still owed $160. He apologized and gave me the $160. When my former employer came to get the money I had collected for him, he gave me $40. Total chance encounter.
·        When my former employer sold his company to a new person a few years ago, he gave me the company car. Yup—just gave it to me. Free car.

I could go on and on and on but I think you get the idea. When you give away part of what you earn, it comes back to you, many times over.

Many of the business books that I have read proposed that tithing is a financial investment, and that getting something back is the only reason you should tithe. I don’t feel that way. I would still tithe whether or not I received anything back from it, just because it’s the right thing to do, and there are always people in need. Yet, I am living testimony that Malachi wasn’t just making this up. No, I may not win the lottery because of tithing, and someone probably won’t pick me off the street and hand me a million bucks, but my needs have always been met. I have never gone without food, clothing or shelter. I know tithing is a part of who I am.

Happy Easter to all of you who celebrate this glorious day.






Saturday, April 23, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: S is for ...

S is for Scrapbooking!
    I have loved putting mementos in scrapbooks ever since I was a young girl. Matchbooks, napkins, movie notices and tickets, concert announcements, notes from friends...they all went into my scrapbook. Back in high school and college though, I kept photos in photo albums and scraps in scrapbooks. Later, I learned the fine art of mixing the two, and haven't looked back since.

    Back when I had a real J-O-B and lots more money to spend, I would set aside some of my paycheck for scrapbooking supplies--glue sticks, binders, page protectors, stickers, photo processing, and decorative elements. I never lost that desire to take scraps of my life and paste them in a book.

    Scrapbooking has become quite an industry with "scrapbook professionals" showing us how to do it correctly---where to place the photos for maximum punch, how to arrange elements so that colors "pop," and how to effectively journal the events being commemorated. I am no professional, and don't have an artistic eye like many scrappers. Ever since I got a digital camera, and because I no longer have the financial resources to spend money on the art, I have taken to creating video scrapbooks, complete with music. Hence, I am about seven years behind on scrapbooking my photos. Here are a few of my favorites that mean a lot to me.

Here's a two page 12x12 layout that I did, documenting the fact that I was constantly making Weston pose for pictures. I used labels from his new blue jeans for tags in the upper left and bottom right corner. On the upper left tag, I placed some denim-themed stickers spelling out the word "pose." I took actual belt loops from his outgrown jeans to use as accents in several places. Finally I typed out a poem that I had written as my journaling for the page. Here's what the poem says since it's hard to read here:

"Woe is me, I've got a scrapbooking mother,
Always being asked to pose in someplace or another.
Posin' with my lunchbox,
Posin' in the chair,
Posin' on the back wall--
Hey, there are wasps in there!
I'll probably be posin' until the day I die,
And then I'll still be posin'
For the great scrapbook in the sky."


     Another of my favorites involves children and bright yellow dandelions. I've always loved the vivid yellow of dandelions and regret that they have to be such lawn-wreckers. Every year, I'm drawn to take photos, hoping that somehow I can capture the beauty. 

I used my decorative scissors to cut out the grass and adhered some paper and vellum flowers. I found a poem online:

"Many times a dandelion is a weed in the green grassy sod.
But a dandelion is a flower divine in the hands of a child of God."
[no author listed, but was found on Provocraft.com]


 The next one is special to me because it's a picture of my late mother. She and my sister were models in a turn-of-the-century fashion show at a local museum. I was lucky to find some dimensional stickers that went along with the theme perfectly. I typed the title on vellum, which added a romantic flair.
    I enjoy keeping albums of photos, hoping that descendants will some day find them of value. The rare photos that I have of my ancestors are a treasure, and I am grateful to those people who have preserved them and made them available to me over the years.

Happy Birthday on April 23, to my late grandfather, born in 1896!

My mother is on the front right. [Eleven more children were still to come!]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: R is for ...

    Back when I was in my late twenties and early thirties, I worked as a bookkeeper at a local unit of a restaurant chain. Part of my job entailed keeping employee records--payroll, absences, vacations, etc.

    One afternoon, one of our high school employees, a young lady--oh, let's call her Paris-- didn't show up for work. Paris's direct supervisor, thinking that Paris may have just forgotten, called her house.  Paris's mother answered the phone and said that Paris couldn't come in to work because she wanted to go to the football game. When the supervisor said that it was company policy to find a replacement if a day off was wanted, Paris's mother replied, "What's the big deal? It's only a part-time job."  One of the biggest disservices a parent can do to a child, is to fail to teach them today's "R" word--responsibility.

    Unfortunately, many children make it to the teen years without having learned this concept. Over the years, I have worked with many adults who also missed that important lesson. They expect employers to cater to them. I have dealt with many people who talk to their employers something like this: "I'm going to be two hours late on Thursday because it's my husband's niece's daughter's first birthday, and I need to have off all day Friday because my friend is in town. I can't work on Tuesday because that's the day my sister decided that we're going shopping."  They would much rather tell a boss "no" than someone, anyone, else. What happened to, "Sorry, I can't go shopping because I have to work that day"?

     Although I hated it at the time, my father stressed the importance of being responsible. Many times he would get to the phone before I did and would tell my employer, on my behalf, "Sure! She'll be right there."  He would get off the phone and say, "Grab your work uniform. You just got called in." No matter what I had planned, my dad always insisted that my job took precedence. Yet for many people, a job is just a luxury.

     A young girl who worked for me at a store I managed exemplified this. I explained that her job duties entailed working in front of the sales counter, so her job would be greeting customers, providing them with our product, stocking inventory and keeping the area clean. When she heard that part of her job would involve vacuuming, and watering the outdoor plants, she rebelled. " I'm not watering plants. Do you think I'm so stupid that it's all I know how to do? And what about vacuuming? I do enough of that at home. I'm not coming to work and vacuuming too!" Needless to say, we didn't keep her around long. I wanted her to be able to work in a place where she would only have to do what she wanted to do. I heard she got fired from her next job too.

    Too often, people would "inform" me instead of "ask" me. I was taught to ask my employer if I needed a (rare) day off. Yet many times I would have employees who would say, "I won't be here next week because my family is going on vacation."  Oh. Thanks for letting me know.

    Gradually, I learned to be very specific when explaining "rules" to new hires.  Believe it or not, because of experience I had to actually put the following in writing : 
    "Visible hickeys are not acceptable."
    "Clothing must be free of holes and stains."
    "Belly shirts are not to be worn and the midriff must not be exposed."
    "Customers must not be able to see your underwear, including when you bend over."
    "Employee is expected to be honest when filling in timesheets."  [I had to include that because during a termination dispute a judge asked me why I never told the employee that she was not allowed to lie on her time card.]
    "Employees are expected to be on time for their shifts."   ("I don't see what the big deal is if I am late. It's not like we live in a big town.")
  
    I have had acquaintances who have managed employees and many of them have the same issues. They are dumbfounded that people seem to have no clue how to be responsible at  their jobs.  People want to be paid for surfing the internet (" I don't have time to shop online at home so the only time I get to do my shopping is when I'm at work.") People want to be paid for their cigarette breaks. ( "I can't go more than an hour without a cig.")  People want to be able to set their own hours without regard for what is best for the business. ("I can only work from 8:00 until noon, and then I have a 12:30 class, so I can come back at 2:00 and work for a bit but then I have another class at 4:00, and I need at least 20 hours per week. You can't meet the hours I want? Fine, then I'll go work for someone who wants good workers.") Good luck with that.

    I have been very lucky in that most of the people I have worked with have been the responsible sort. They work hard. They understand that if someone pays you to do a job, you don't get to come to work and play Farmville. They sometimes (*gasp*) do things without pay, just because it's the right thing to do. They're always on time. They don't complain incessantly that the boss won't let them make personal calls at work. And guess what? They're the ones that the irresponsible people complain about. "That brown-noser! She got promoted again! I'm going to file a complaint."


  

April A to Z Challenge: Q is for ...

Q is for Quack!

    Computer Geek and son Neo were driving home in July, 2008, and saw two bewildered-looking friends of ours standing by the side of the road. CG and Neo stopped to see what was going on and found the friends looking at a stray baby duck. After a little discussion, Computer Geek decided to bring the baby home. (He's a softie with animals.)

    The duckling was sheltered in an old pet cage we had in the back yard. The neighborhood was rife with cats and we wanted to ensure the safety of the little guy. Weston had fun filling up an old tub and letting the duck swim around. As summer progressed, the duck was great for grasshopper control.
Neo with Ducky

    As early fall approached, we realized the duck could not stay with us. He would not be able to withstand the cold weather and he needed the companionship of some ducky friends to guide him southward. We discussed a few duck-friendly locales and finally decided on a lake a few miles from our house. Ducks were often paddling across the surface, so we thought it was a good place to "make the drop."

    Although the lake is duck-friendly, it is not very people friendly. It's pretty marshy and we had a tough time getting the duck to the duck-section of the lake.  Ducky seemed to be unaware that he was indeed a duck, and had no interest in being left behind.  We tried to move faster than the duck, but we were old and fat so it wasn't working too well.

    We enlisted the help of Weston, who is much faster than we are. He took Ducky to the fowl side of the lake and left him there.  But not for long. Little Ducky was quite speedy and almost caught up to Weston. He had no interest in the flirty little females that were splashing around. He wanted to go home, and pronto! How do you explain to a duck that he belonged with creatures that looked like him?



    As we all ran toward the car, it broke our hearts to see little Ducky running after us, quacking "Wait for me!" We were in tears as we piled in the car and pulled away, watching his little body waddling after us. I hoped, deep inside, that he would be one of those animals who magically found his way back home again, and that I would wake up one morning to hear him quacking in the back yard. It was not to be so. We all hoped that somehow, Ducky made some friends that day and discovered that the lake,  teeming with grasshoppers and fellow quackers, was a nice place to be.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: P is for ...

It seems that I get this challenge posted later and later each day. I guess P could be for "procrastination," but that's kind of boring. Besides, do any of us really know anyone who procrastinates? I didn't think so.

I wanted something a little more exciting, so P is for Python. [No snakes were involved in the writing of this post, Auntie M.]

I first saw Monty Python's Flying Circus on television when I was in college in the early 80's. My brother and I, on event-less Saturday nights would turn on the local PBS station to watch Python at 10:30 P.M.  The bizarre humorous sketches stuck with us over the years. To this day, I cannot see the email term "spam" without hearing Terry Jones in my head.

* Once my brother and his friend did silly walks all the way up the hill to our house. Yes, in front of people.

* Whenever I see a man in a red plaid shirt, my mind plays The Lumberjack Song.

* My own mother was famous (well, within our family,) for saying, "Nudge, nudge--say no more, know what I mean?"

* When I worked at Gateway, I was walking through the technical support area, and saw a huge banner that said, "The Techs Who Say Ni!"  I, a professed Python fan, asked one of my friends, "What does "ni" [short i sound] mean?"  My friend, patiently explained that it was a Monty Python reference and that it was pronounced "nee." I have since repented.

* Can a true Monty Python fan hear the word "lupine" without thinking of Dennis Moore?

And finally, is there a Pythonite alive who doesn't picture clacking coconuts when seeing a horse gallop?

Monday, April 18, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: O is for ...

    My bloggy friend, Kelly, and I seem to think a lot alike. Every day since the beginning of our April A-Z challenge I check out her site to see if we have chosen the same word. Today, for the first time, we were on "mind meld."

    O is for Onions.

     At lunch time today I came home to find all the living room windows open and a cold rain-blessed breeze blowing through the house. Computer Geek was amazed to find that despite all his machinations, I could still smell onion. He shouldn't be surprised. I can smell the dastardly things a block away. "But I aired out the house so you wouldn't smell it."  Doesn't matter. The stench seeps into walls and curtains, and hangs on like a pouched baby kangaroo.

     I didn't always hate onions. From birth to my introduction to solid foods, I was blissfully unaware. It wasn't until I became cognizant of my senses of smell and taste that I learned to despise them.

    My mother, a lover of all things oniony, used to try to convince me that the entree we were having for dinner on any particular night contained no onions at all. "I swear to you I did not put any onions in that goulash."  When I would take one bite and accuse, "There are onions in here!" she would defend her innocence by saying. "I didn't put any onions in there. They must have been in the canned sauce I used." Once she dared me to find an onion in the homemade bean soup she made  When I triumphantly showed her one on my spoon, she said, " I chopped them so fine I didn't think you would find them."  How is one supposed to grow up with trust?

    I was convinced that she added onions to my favorite foods, hoping that I would someday say, "Oh wow, Mom. I have been so wrong. Onions taste so good after all!" Never happened. I greedily cut into a pan of fresh-baked brownies one day, only to spit out a mouthful when I encountered an onion skin. She said, "I have no idea how that got in there." Oh, I know. The onion sprites put it in there, knowing exactly which square I would choose as my brownie. They are the same imps who caused me to spew a mouthful of iced tea into the sink when an onion skin adhered to my tongue. "Maybe it was just stuck to the inside of the glass you used," Mom said.

    Being an onion-hater can be a pain. At restaurants, I always have to ask if there are any onions in the food I'm ordering. Usually the waiters lie. I almost cried once when I went to an Italian restaurant chain and the salad came with huge, pungent, red onions all over the top. Couldn't eat it. Onion vapors had seeped in.  It's also annoying when you realize that the cook has cut the tomato with the same knife that he used to cut an onion. I hate it when I go to someone's house and they serve me a drink with ice cubes that have shared the same refrigerator space as an onion. Yes people, the fumes from the crisper drawer migrate to the confines of the freezer and taint the ice cubes. And what about onion-lovers who cut off a slab of butter with the same knife they used to cut an onion? Ruins my toast if I am the next unfortunate soul to use the butter.  Only a fellow onion hater knows of what I speak.

    Is it just the smell, or is it the taste? people will ask me. It's the whole onion experience--the smell, the crunch of it between my teeth, the burning eyes, the sore throat that follows.

    Don't get me started on garlic and chives. On the bright side, I never have onion breath.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: N is for ...

Having trouble with Blogger today...Will try to get out the "N" topic as soon as I can figure out what is wrong.Apparently it doesn't like that I have italicized titles of books.  If you see major typos today it's because I'm trying to work out the font issues.

I was Naughty yesterday and did Not post anything for “N” day.  Yes, I Negelected to Nominate any worthy “N” words. Never one to think that Quangsters are Naïve enough to Not Notice that I skipped that Noble letter, I decided to use the A-Z Challenge’s free day (Sunday) to make up for my Negligence. I will Now Name today’s “N” word.
    N is for Novel.
    Reading is as essential to my well-being as oxygen or beaches or Dancing with the Stars.  When I am alone, I never eat a meal without a book in my hands. My mother used to call the bathroom the “library” for good reason. If late at night I find myself bookless before trying to wind-down for the evening—Hallelujah! There’s the internet!  Many a midnight hour has seen me neglecting sleep in favor of “just one more chapter.” (Darn those good writers who have mastered the technique of putting cliff-hangers right at the end of the chapter.)
  Although not all of these are novels, here are some of the books I have read, or finished reading since the beginning of 2011.
    The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It is required reading for my ninth graders so this year I finished it for the third time. Goldman is a master storyteller and captivated me from the first page. Rarely does a writer fool me, but with The Princess Bride, I have to say, I didn’t see it coming. For those of you who have not read it, that’s all I’ll say, except to nominate it as the Most Quotable Book Ever.
    Worldshaker by Richard Harland. This book was my initiation into the steampunk genre, which basically poses the question, What if “X” (19th century historical event) happened this way instead? In Worldshaker, teen heir Col Porpentine, deals with life on a juggernaut after it has been announced that he, and not his father, will take over as Supreme Commander of the ship. Col has been sheltered from the truth all his life—the truth being that his elite family has not always been as upstanding as he was led to believe. The massive ship he lives on was created in the 1800’s and the story takes place 150 years later. Col has to decide whether to expose his family’s dark secrets, thereby ruining his chances for inheritance, or continue living a lie.
    Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas. Typical light-hearted romance (I’m a sucker,) in which a young widow and a young man who has adopted his orphaned niece, fall in love. The story takes place in the Pacific Northwest, so Computer Geek was able to enlighten me on all the locations.
    Lemon Tart by Josi S. Kilpack.  Heroine Sadie Hoffmiller is a fifty-something widow whose nosiness gets her into trouble while she “investigates” a murder. Included throughout the book are Sadie’s recipes.
    Key Lime Pie by Josi S. Kilpack. The further adventures of Sadie and her ability to inject herself into everyone else’s business. Also chock-full of recipes.
  Finding Nouf  by Zoe Ferraris. Nouf is a young Muslim girl who has disappeared in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. A family friend is called upon to investigate and uncover a family secret.
    Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. Teen Alex Rider is forced to deal with the reality of his life when his uncle, and legal guardian, is killed. He ends up becoming a spy for his uncle’s former employers.
    Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. Partly based on the life of the author’s grandmother, Caddie Woodlawn is a charming look into life in the mid- 1800’s.  Good reading for pre- and early teens.
    Toys Remembered, an anthology compiled by author Madonna Dries Christensen. Toys is a delightful compilation of memories of childhood male playthings. Many of the stories are humorous (especially for those of us old enough to remember the toys) and some are poignant. Computer Geek has a story in there and so does Quangster Ken Devine.
    Home Fires by Luanne Rice. A love-story following the usual pattern of will they/won’t they. A woman recently separated from her husband falls for a town hero, a firefighter whose face is scarred. With a lot of minor character backstories, it is an interesting read, though a little too graphic—in both romance and violence—for my taste.
    Silas Marner by George Eliot. I liked this book better the second time around. I just couldn’t make sense of it at age thirteen. This time though, I was able to appreciate her characterization, her poetic prose and her surprising sense of humor. It’s a story of a miser who is redeemed through the love of a little girl.
    The Alchemyst by Michael Scott.  A fantasy based on the legends of Nicholas Flamel and John Dee. Twins Josh and Sophie unknowingly get entrenched in a battle between the two immortal rivals.
    Currently reading:
    Sarah by Orson Scott Card. Reading for the second time. It’s a fascinating novel which uses Card’s unique perspective to shed light on the relationship between Biblical Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. OSC is one of my favorites for his ability to take some minor event in his life and craft it into an intriguing novel. He writes fiction, science-fiction, historical fiction, folklore and non-fiction. The man is a genius. He wrote two other book where I “didn’t see it coming”—Ender’s Game and Lost Boys.
    Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff. A pre-teen novel. Set in Ireland during the potato blight years, young Nory must try to keep siblings from starving while her father is away fishing. Adults will recognize the horror of the situation as Nory tries to do what she can to persuade her little brother to think of other things while he goes to bed hungry.
    The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari.  The old tale of God and Lucifer warring over the soul of Job, but set in modern days. The new “guinea pig” is teenager, Joby, who must go through Job-like trials. Ferrari’s descriptions of landscape and human character are so spell-binding that I usually go no more than a full page without saying, “I wish I could write like that.” I was disappointed to find nothing more that he has written.

    I am currently compiling a list of must-read novels for this summer. What good novels have you read lately?

   
   


Friday, April 15, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: M is for ...


Long ago, when my girls were still small, evenings were hectic. I was working four jobs at once, because I was a single mother. My time was scheduled with little room to spare.
    One evening, I was exhausted after cooking, washing clothes in the sink (I had no clothes washer and my job schedule made getting to the laundromat impossible,) getting the girls ready for bed, and picking up. I brushed my teeth, locked the door, turned out the lights and fell onto my bed.
    I was almost asleep when I clearly heard a voice in my head say, “Get up and lock the door.”
    Since I knew I had already locked the door, I ignored the “voice” and tried to fall asleep. Soon, I heard the voice again. “Go lock the door.” Because I tend to be a somewhat cautious person, I knew I had already locked the door. Yet, the phrase “Lock the door” kept repeating in my mind until I finally, in exasperation, got out of bed.
    My hand was almost at the light switch when I head something new, the voice saying, “Don’t turn the light on.”  By this time I was getting annoyed at “the voice.” I again started to reach for the light switch only to distinctly hear again, “Don’t turn the light on.”
    I walked, in the dark, out of my bedroom, through the living room, and into the dark kitchen where the sole door in my apartment was.  As soon as I entered the kitchen, I was appalled to see the bright blue flame of one of my gas burners. I had been boiling something earlier, had taken it off the stove, and in all the chaos of the evening, had never noticed that I had left the burner on.  If not for the voice telling me to first check my door, then leave the light off, I wouldn’t have noticed the flame and it would have burned all night long.
    Was it God whispering to me? A guardian angel? Regardless of what it was, I knew that that night something special had happened.
    M is for Miracles.
  Miracles are all around us. Babies are born, we make it to the bus stop right as the bus pulls up, the very item we need for dinner happens to be deeply discounted at the store. Sometimes the event is truly unexplainable, almost as if God has reached through the curtain that separates our realm from His, to assist us.
    My mom lived on the other side of town, back in the 90’s. The girls and I visited her frequently. On the way to her house was a 4-way stop sign. One day, while driving to visit her, I reached the sign, stopped, saw no other cars, then proceeded forth through the intersection. When I was nearly in the middle of the intersection, another car ignored the stop sign and came barreling through at high speed. I had to decide whether to slam on the brakes or speed up. In a moment though, I realized that a T-bone collision was inevitable so I froze and waited for impact.
    The impact never came. My foot was pushed to the accelerator by some outside force, and even though the laws of physics told me that there should have been an accident, the other car seemed to float invisibly through the interior of mine. I kept right on going, and so did the other car, on paths perpendicular to each other. I wondered if the other driver was also saying, “What the heck just happened?”
    I know I am not alone in experiencing life’s little miracles. What about you? What miraculous things have you experienced?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: L is for ...

L is for Les  Miserables
    Singing is not one of my talents. Not only is it not one of my talents, it doesn’t even fall in the realm of things of which I am capable.  I sit in the monotone section.
    It came as a shock to me therefore, several years ago, when a drama aficionado friend of ours approached Computer Geek and me and requested that we play parts in a reader’s theater production of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
    I’m all about great literature and so I was somewhat comfortable with the thought of playing the part of Madame Thenardier. That is, until I found out that it was to be a reader’s theater/musical and that I would be required to sing as well as read.
    I tried to explain to the director that I couldn’t sing.
    “Oh, I’m sure you sing just fine. Everyone thinks they can’t sing.”
    “No, seriously. I can’t sing.”
    “You’re just being shy.”
    “Nope. Can’t read a note.”
    “Well lots of people can’t read music, so we can let you listen to the songs and then you can sing them.”
    “Doesn’t matter. I still can’t sing.”
    He didn’t believe me until I later gave him a sample of my singing during practice.
    “Okay, so maybe you will just have to chant your lines in a sing-songy voice. This may work since the piece is comedic in nature anyway.”
    Practice was a humbling experience. My fellow performers sang their pieces flawlessly and with such emotion that they moved me to tears. The more I heard them sing, the more I was sure that I could not do this thing. I would be the laughing stock of the troupe. At home, I listened to Madame Thenardier’s part over and over until finally I could get the words out in a singing-like manner.
    So I chanted my lines in Master of the House in a sing-songy comedic way and I survived the two performances. Ironically, during the finale of Do You Hear the People Sing? the sound manager shut off my microphone.
    I later read the full volume of Les Miserables. It took me five months of reading whenever I had a spare moment. I learned to love all the characters even more than I had during the performance. I will defend Hugo’s wordiness to the end.
    But on a still, reflective, evening I can be heard laughing to myself, saying, “I sang in Les Miserbales. Ha ha ha ha ha!”

 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: K is for ...


K is for Kicks

Dictionary.com describes a “kick” as a “thrill; pleasurable excitement.”  I’m happy to be alive, so each day is a series of thrills and excitement for me, or in other words, kicks.  Here are a few things that make life sweet for me.

I get my kicks by:

Being married to a man who thinks I’m beautiful even when I have no makeup on, have a bad hair day, and have spilled soup on my shirt.

Listening to my children. I am so proud that all three of them are good-hearted, thoughtful, kind people. I like hearing them talk.

Accepting hugs from small people. Or big people. Size mattereth not.

Hearing a story take form in my brain, all on its own, and then writing it down.

Listening to the sound of keys clicking on a keyboard.

Blogging.

Making my own spaghetti sauce.

Washing dishes by hand.

Buying new pens. My favorite so far is the Pentel R.S.V.P.

Seeing the red message indicator on Facebook, telling me that someone wants to be my friend.

Watching dance performances, especially Irish hardshoe.

Reading.

Hearing a student get excited because they heard on TV the same thing we talked about in class.

Eating Cadbury eggs at Easter.

Searching online for ways to landscape my yard without spending any money.

Learning a new computer trick.

Seeing how many groceries I can buy for the littlest money possible.

Hearing good verbal wit.  George Carlin. Jack Handey. Steven Wright.

Sitting at a beach and feeling the sunlight seep into my skin, the waves swoosh against the sand, and the wind brushing the trees.

Getting snail mail. I even love junk mail. So much to do with it.

Watching videos of flash mobs.

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

Dipping Nacho Doritos into bean soup.

Listening to Craig Ferguson’s accent.

Drooling over the Skechers shoes website.

Scrapbooking.

Watching Jeopardy and getting at least some of the answers right.

Playing Trivial Pursuit online.

Taking pictures, downloading them and setting them to music.

Traveling.

Inhaling in a bookstore.

Watching Oprah give stuff away.

Pretending like I’m a gardener just because I like to read about it.

Writing things on a calendar, on a to-do list, or in a planner.

Getting a calendar of Ireland every year from my sister.

Doing nice surprises for people.

Re-using something that was headed for the garbage can.

Marveling over the miracle that happened when someone invented Glue Dots.

Feeling music take over my body.

Stalking the aisles of office supply stores. Oh, if I had the money.

And finally, listening to good violin music. Nothing beats Explosive by Bond. (I'm not overly fond of the video, but the music makes it worth it.)


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: J is for ...

J is for Jobs
Although my fondest wish in life was to be a stay-at-home-mom, I have nevertheless been very grateful for every job I have ever had. When I needed to work, jobs magically appeared, and I have never had to pound the pavement looking for one. I’ve learned many things because of my jobs and I believe I am a better person because of them. Care to go with me on my employment journey? (This should be more fun than just posting my resume online.)

1. Detassling corn.  When I was fourteen, detassling was my first job. It’s a tedious job, where you walk down selected rows of corn, pulling the tassels out. We don’t do it just to be mean to corn; the tassel, which has the pollen, is pulled so that the pollen from other rows of corn can sneak over to the tassel-less corn and pollinate it, producing a supposedly superior corn. I was fired after one week.
  Worst part of the job: Working in high temperatures with high humidity, getting dust and pollen in your eyes (it swells them shut in the morning,) getting your shoes stuck in the mud, smelling the body odor of your co-workers, worms, and not having anyplace to go to the bathroom.
  Best part of the job: Getting fired.

2. Bishops Cafeteria.  I worked there from ages 16-31. I started in high school, working the salad bar. Later, I got recruited by another Bishops location and transferred there to work as a person who rings up tickets, then later a cashier and bookkeeper.
  Worst part of the job: Smelling like food when you get off work, wearing hairnets (real attractive, I tell ya,) and dealing with an occasional irritated customer.
  Best part of the job: The hours were perfect for students, I learned excellent customer service, I met wonderful friends there, got five weeks of vacation a year, and the best benefit of all: BEST. FOOD. EVER.

3. Avon. You all know what Avon ladies do, don’t you?
  Worst part of the job: I spent most of my earnings on product.
  Best part of the job: I got to spend most of my earnings on product.

4. Teen Learning Center.  I tutored teen girls who lived in a group home. I helped them with chemistry, history, Spanish, English, physical science, government, algebra and geometry.
  Worst part of the job: I had to work until 10:00 p.m. and I was working three other jobs.
  Best part of the job: Watching the girls gain confidence in their abilities, and in some cases go from D to A students.

5. Pro-tech Hearing Aids. I assisted audiologists in setting up appointments, cleaning hearing aids, and doing hearing tests.
  Worst part of the job: The store wasn’t as busy as we would have liked, forcing it to close.
  Best part of the job: Seeing a person’s face light up when they tried on their hearing aids for the first time and could hear again, having weekends off for the first time ever, and working with great people: Jess, Katie and Mike.

6. Gateway 2000.  I started off answering customer complaints over the phone, then progressed to processing paperwork, then worked on a team that handled sensitive issues for executive management.
  Worst part of the job: Mandatory overtime, the nature of the job being that we only dealt with extremely angry people, high stress environment.
  Best part of the job: Learning new technology daily, finally solving a customer’s problem, being a part of a world-wide organization (it really expands your world-view,) getting fun “spiffs” such as t-shirts, mugs, etc., getting to see famous people at your company parties (Allman Brothers, Santana, War, Brian Setzer from Stray Cats, Ted Nugent,) knowing you were a part of something huge, and working with amazing people.

7. Cellular One/Alltel.  I managed a cell phone store for eight years.
  Worst part of the job: Dealing with no bathroom for several years, having to skip lunch and dinner frequently, staying past closing when customers still kept coming in or refused to leave, having customers call at home at all hours when they couldn’t get cell phone service, having customers show up at your home when they needed help and the store was closed, and working 50-60 hours a week.
  Best part of the job: My bosses were amazing. They would surprise me with things like a car, a video camera, a new color printer for home use, a laptop, gift certificates, random $500 checks and other little tokens.

8. Teaching. I now teach literature and composition to twenty-seven 7th-10th graders in a homeschool co-op.
  Worst part of the job: During the summer I have to go four months without the kids.
  Best part of the job: Seeing kids make connections between what they have learned and other areas of life, hearing their funny stories, watching them excel, getting to see my son at school, and simply being in the presence of fantastic personalities.

I am sincerely hoping there will never be a #9.




Monday, April 11, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: I is for ...

    "I"  is for the loveliest state of them all...Iowa. (Or fill in your own favorite state, as long as it starts with an "I" today.)  I lived for thirty seven years in Iowa, which is why it is dear to my heart. The bubble-gum colored peonies in spring, the smell of lilacs in May, the whine of locusts on a summer night, the sporadic blink of fireflies in July, the vivid green rows of corn, the steel gray of a thundercloud, the white-out blizzard conditions, the 98% humidity...I'd better stop while I'm ahead.
    Below are a few photos of the things that say "home" to me...the things that say "Iowa."

I'll start with the first house I remember living in. We moved from here when I was four. I remembered the huge wall in front and in my mind it was about five feet high. I was shocked when I came back as an adult and saw that it was only about two feet high! I used to play with hollyhock seeds in the back yard.
I lived in this house from ages 4 through twelve. It was light green when I lived there, and there was no fence. Those are my bedroom windows up on the second floor. Best memories: moss roses growing in the back yard, white and purple lilac trees, lily-of-the-valley growing against the back wall, watching thunderstorms from that enclosed front porch, and picking rhubarb from the side of the garage in back.
My school for first and second grade where I was lovingly taught by Sister Gabriel and Sister Eugenio. The girls played on a playground to the right and the boys played on a playground to the left. No co-ed hi-jinks there. It's called Holy Family now, but back then it was St. Boniface.
I attended elementary school here from grades 3-6. I loved walking to school on foggy days, because then I could pretend my school was a castle. It was considered major good luck to have your classroom in the rounded rooms. Many thanks to Mrs. Rusch, Miss Faber, Mrs. Reinking, Mr. Toso, and Mrs. McGill. This school was originally a hospital.
The church I attended for 28 years.

Computer Geek and me in a lovely rose garden.

I love this statue. So majestic.

A statue of Lt. Colonel Dennis Nielsen carrying young Spencer Bailey from the scene of a plane crash. When asked how he felt about saving the boy, he answered, "I didn't save him. God saved him. I only carried him." Several artists were commissioned to submit proposals for a memorial after the crash. All were abstract and the people of Sioux City spoke, saying that the best memorial would be of Nielsen carrying the boy. The people won out. See the actual photograph here. I was coming home from work and couldn't figure out what all the sirens were for. I later found out about the plane crash.
The Mighty Missouri.

One of my favorite views: You are looking at Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota all at once.

Daughter Kay at Grandview Park, where a huge blues festival is held every summer. The rollings hills hold over ten thousand fans as performers, famous and aspiring, rock the crowd.

The Iowa flag!  Booyah!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: H is for ...

H is for Helicopter Rides
     It's very odd that I would choose helicopter rides for my "h" word.  I hate flying. I would rather spend 2 days driving to Iowa than spend 5 hours flying there. The feeling of having nothing under my feet is unpleasant and tilting in the air doesn't do much for me either.
     Yet, if I can concentrate on the beauty below me when I am in a helicopter I can almost forget that being in the air is just not natural. The times I have spent trapped in a 'copter have been among the most memorable of my life. In a good way.
We rose above that ridge. Slowly. While the pilot kept saying things like, "C'mon little helicopter--I know you can do it," and "Boy, I sure hope we can get up there. It might not make it."  Very helpful.
But we did make it!  Whew! 

Magnifico.

I had no idea that the building I drove by every day was that huge.

Lake Powell
More Lake Powell. The pilot (same one as in the mountains) thought it was extremely hilarious to barely skim over the top of that outcropping, then turn nearly completely sideways. Is it any wonder I hate flying?

And finally...
video

Friday, April 8, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: G is for ...

G is for Grampires!

What is a Grampire*, you might ask?  A Grampire is an older, red-eyed creature that dotes on and incessantly spoils small munchkins known as "grandchildren."

[Computer Geek insisted I leave his eyes red in this photo]

Below, you will find photos of some of the Grampires' playthings, youngest to oldest. (Shh..some of these happy kids don't know yet that we're not biologically their grandparents. We mix the genetic and heart-born grandchildren all together in one joyous lump.)

Pixie the Precious,  who is now 8 months old

Radison, the radically beautiful, just turned one

 Chunk, with a chunk of 2nd birthday cake. At least this year he knew he was supposed to eat it.

Avatar, the amazingly clever, age 7

 Pinque, the protective big sister, age 7

Hoolie, age 7, before going onstage for her "Little Butterfly" dance performance

 River, age 11, helping us move tons of coal. Yes, he is that strong.

Dash, the Scandinavian, who knows that if he wants treats from his Irish grandparents on St. Patrick's Day, he'd better wear green.

If you have a child who does not have Grampires in his or her life, we'll take anybody.

* The term "grampire" is not original, but was discovered by Computer Geek on a website known as Funny or Die. Because of the somewhat edgy nature of some of the videos on the site, no link will be provided. You can thank me later.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April A to Z Challenge: F is for ...


I actually uttered this sentence to my husband yesterday before I knew what I was saying: “I need a good *F* word.”  Ah, that wacky A to Z challenge.  The *F* word for today is Frugality.
    My days as a single mother, when my girls were very small, forced me, out of necessity, into a frugal lifestyle. Amy Dacyczyn was my hero. I learned to live on very little money. Now that Computer Geek is job-hunting, we’re back to not only pinching pennies, but licking the salt right off of ‘em.
    Most environmentalists would be proud of me, but I promise you that my love of recycling garbage has more to do with selfish frugalista pleasure, than with reducing my carbon footprint. (I figure that as long as my carbon footprint is less than Al Gore’s, I’m safe.) My favorite things to recycle are containers of any type. I love them.
     We save plastic juice bottles, refill them with water, and store them in case the city shuts off the water without notice. We refill plastic laundry jugs with water so that we have soapy water too. Unique jars are especially tantalizing and any cool box with a lid is safe from the trash can.
Look at this chocolate brown and pistachio green beauty that originally housed peanut brittle from my husband's former boss. It is now home for all the magnets I use in crafting.
Come on. You don't really throw away these, do you?
     My favorite jars to save are the tiny ones, so that I can use them for scrapbooking supplies such as brads, beads, and eyelets. However, Mr. Twelve-Year-Old Who Puts Away the Dishes, does not share my fascination. Frequently, we have the following conversation:
     “Where is the lid that goes to that spice jar I just washed?”
     “What lid?”
     “It was small, brown, and metal and goes with this spice jar.”
     “I don’t know.”
     “ARGH!”
     The other day, Computer Geek was in the process of throwing away a perfectly good empty sandwich baggie box when I had a vision.  It was the perfect size for—you guessed it—holding smallish type lids! The kind that go with adorable little spice jars!  I turned this…

…into this!
    
 And while I was at it, I revamped that cute little gum container.

    Frugality. My second favorite *F* word, next to FREE.

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