Thursday, May 29, 2008

My Favorite

So today, I’ll devote a post to my Aunt Marian; she and my cousin Melissa are staying with us for a few days while they’re in town for the high school graduation of my other cousin’s (Anita’s) son. Anita herself is not here. She is on probation for driving while stoned. Much as I would love to regale the world with more stories about Anita (rich fodder, always), I will instead turn the spotlight on my aunt.

She remembers when my elderly father was an annoying little brother who would not stay out of her room.

Amazing Aunt Marian Trivia:

She was a teacher for deaf children because she was fairly deaf as a child. She had some sort of fungal infection in her ears that couldn’t be cured and went to a school for the deaf herself. The doctors thought a dry climate might help, so the family moved out to South Dakota for a while. She ended up going to the University of Arizona for the same reason, and turned into the desert rat that she is today. When she was about 50, she was able to have surgery that cured a lot of her deafness, but she still has a bad ear; and she still finger-spells any time she says the names of people or restaurants or such things.

She married a Mexican/ American guy named Conrad Hernandez, which is why my cousins are Latinos. His job took them to Mexico for a number of years, so my older cousins are bilingual and Aunt Marian speaks Spanish. He was Mormon and she converted to the LDS church, which is why that side of the family is Mormon.

Things Aunt Marian Hates:

1. Bad manners
2. Old men. She has a hard time dating, because all the guys in her age group are, “Old! What a bunch of fuddy-duddies!”
3. Road kill. She has a habit of pulling over and removing dead animals from the road.

Things Aunt Marian Loves:

1. Carnation Instant Breakfast, which she buys by the case
2. VW camper vans
3. Dove brand ice cream. The mint chocolate flavor. The ice cream gene has persisted in our DNA for many generations, but she does carry it a bit far. She left the supermarket last night without any ice cream at all because the store didn’t have Dove Chocolate Mint.
4. Birdwatching
5. Pepsi
6. Reading. She is always calling me up and giving me lists of books that I need to read.
7. The outdoors. Also a family trait. She is a lover of camping, and an expert on the Sonoran desert. She worked for the National Park Service for years as a ranger.
8. Me! Unlike my parents, she is so forthcoming about telling me everything she likes about me. Yesterday, she said to Simon, “Do you notice how slim and glamorous your wife is?” People say that a parent’s love is unconditional. Maybe. But I have always felt that my relationship with my mom is complicated by her expectations and my struggles to live up to them. My relationship with my aunt is a lot less complicated. Once, when I was in my 20s, my mom said, “Maybe Marian should have been your mother instead of me. You two seem to have so much more in common." I replied that, if Aunt Marian had been my mother, she wouldn’t have been my doting aunt. Mother and aunts are different.

Tell me about your favorite aunt / uncle.

Monday, May 26, 2008

No Beer Was Consumed

Well, we did go camping this weekend; and as predicted, we froze. When we got home and I emptied the cooler, I put all the icy cold beers and sodas back in the fridge, untouched. The cocoa, spiced cider, tea and coffee were all gone. Still, it was worth it. The House Range is beautiful and so remote that, Memorial Day weekend or no, we only saw 4 or 5 other camps in the whole 30-40 square mile area that we explored.

The land out in the West Desert is mostly owned by the federal government, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (or the Bureau of Livestock and Mining, depending on whom you ask), which means that you can camp anywhere you want. For the sake of lessening our impact, we always look for places where people appear to have camped in the past. So, we followed a dirt road about 30 miles to a smaller dirt road; on which we went 15 miles, to a double track; which took us to a ridge, where we found an old campfire circle sheltered by some cedars.

Here's our camp. The blue shelter is a new addition to our equipment - this was its inaugural trip. It came in handy, too, as it gave us a place to eat when it rained on the first night. In the past, we always had to empty out the back of the truck, stow all the gear underneath and climb in under the shell (food in tents in a big no-no out here.) Simon also made our fabulous camp table out of 2 milk-crates and a hunk of old desk.

Here is where I spent a lot of my time: standing almost on top of the fire. You can see that we are burning our old wheelbarrow. The night before, it was off-cuts from the new hardwood floor. As Si pointed out when I laughed about it - in the old days when we lived at the cabin, we had a wood lot; now, we have to get more creative.

The kids did okay. I worried about them at night, but I brought an extra old quilt that covered both of their sleeping bags. I made them sleep with stocking caps on, too. They thought that was weird at first, but it makes a difference. The back of the truck was a warm place to play when the wind kicked up.

I didn't get very many good photos, cause the light was so flat and grey. This one of our campsite turned out relatively well.

We camped at the base of Swasey Peak, and drove up the double track as far as we could to check out the view. There's no trail to the top of the peak and it's not a bushwhack that would be fun for kids, so we stopped here. This is a good illustration of the West Desert's Basin and Range landscape. We're in the House Range; and behind these guys, you can see the Tule Valley, which is about 20 miles wide. On the other side, the dark grey mountains are the Confusion Range; then the Snake Valley, also about 20 miles wide, is hidden behind them. You can barely see the paler grey Deep Creek mountains on the horizon. I am intrigued by them: they're BIG - still snow-covered on the peaks. I checked them out on the maps, and there's no road access in there at all. And in between us and the Deep Creeks, there's nothing. This is one of the coolest things about Utah.

We stayed warm during the day by descending into the Tule Valley to explore a little. Let's see... what did I say we were looking for in the House Range, besides nothing?
The hermit's house. We found that. It was up in this canyon.

A guy named Bob Stinson came out her after suffering from pretty bad shell-shock after WWI. He made this little hide-out, and lived here from about 1919 until 1945.

I took a photo inside, 'cause I was impressed with the nifty design of his stove, made from a culvert. You can sort of see some wooden shelves on the wall, too.

Fossils were also on the agenda. There is a U-Dig fossil quarry, where for $25 per adult and $15 per child (!!!) (I went in as a non-paying adult and just took pictures. Nate was free 'cause he's so young) (but still!) you get a hammer and a bucket from the guy in the trailer who runs the place, and then you look for trilobites all you want. Predictably, we found a few trilobites, mostly broken and often set in stones too big to break or take with us. If you ever come out there, don't bother with U-Dig....

...because, just a few hundred yards down the double track where we were camped, we found a slope with a bunch of exposed limestone and sat down there to look for a few minutes. After about half an hour, I found all these. And a scorpion. Bonus.
Oh! Mustangs. Well, we saw one. A stallion, all on his own, too far away to photograph. Better luck next time. And there will definitely be a next time. We have scoped out about 6 really cool places in the House Range to camp in the future.
So, now we're home, and thawed out. It felt SO GOOD to shower and wash all the soot off myself. And even better to stretch out under my soft quilt and clean sheets.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's a Bird! It's a Plane!

It's Bibleman! Yet again, the donations have yielded some crazy-ass s*** that we can dress Mark in.We want him to hang on to this until Halloween, because several of us at the office want to dress up like Luchadores (see "Nacho Libre" if you need to study up on Lucha Libre), and these would be valuable costume components.
Is there anyone out there who knows about Bibleman? What are his super powers? Turning things into pillars of salt? Reciting the books of the Bible in correct order? Let's far can I go?
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy...uh... there are some Kings in there somewhere...
Can Bibleman influence the weather? Here it is, Memorial Day weekend. Normally, we never camp on Memorial Day weekend, because everyone else does. But, it's do or die: we're busy next weekend, and then the in-laws descend for the month of June; and believe me, they don't camp. So, we've decided to explore the West Desert. Is there any way to insert a link to Google Earth? I pulled up Notch Peak, and I wish I could show where it is, but I can't figure out how to insert the link here.
We have never camped out there before. It is definitely at the end of the road less traveled, even in Utah, where there are a lot of less-travelled roads. Out near Notch Peak in the House Range, there is:
  1. a trilobite quarry, where you can dig for fossils;
  2. herds of wild mustangs;
  3. a hermit's shack, if you can find it;
  4. the ruins of Topaz internment camp, in which Americans of Japanese descent were held prisoner during World War II;
  5. other ghost town;
  6. nothing else! Except dirt roads which, in heavy rain, will wash out.

And the forecast is....drum roll... You guessed it.

Please Bibleman, make the weather sunny and warm!

I'd better sign off and get home. I have prep cooking to do for the camping trip. If we go, I'll post again on Sunday with (hopefully) interesting photos of the barren West Desert. If I post tomorrow night, you'll know that even Bibleman was unable to help and we had to bail.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"God Bless America"

A couple months ago, our adult English as a Second Language (ESL) program started incorporating monthly student assemblies. We fold up the four lunch tables in our postage-stamp-sized cafeteria; herd all the students, staff and volunteers in there (standing room only) and.... show off for each other in English. Sometimes, a student reads a paragraph that s/he wrote. A group of students might interview a volunteer tutor or demonstrate a language-learning game. Once in a while, I make an announcement, but I really want the students to be in charge.

Last night, a couple of students interviewed their tutor; then my (rather headstrong)student Carlos led the assembly in song. Carlos keeps my life interesting. He told me a few weeks ago that he likes to sing God Bless America in the car as he drives; and that he, along with the rest of his group, would teach it at the next assembly. There are two other people in his group. Lidia is easy-going and was cool with this idea. Eugenio is very shy and reserved. He looked sideways at Carlos with murder in this eyes. Personally, I don't much like God Bless America. People are starting to treat it like the national anthem, which it is not. I have to admit that it is a good ESL song, though. It's all in the present tense, with easy vocabulary! Just because it's hokey as hell... hokiness, like humor, often doesn't cross cultural barriers.

"Teacher, you get for me the words? We practice. We teach everybody sing along."
"Yeah, sure Carlos."
To make sure it was perfect, I Googled it and brought the lyrics for him to look at. He was disappointed. He wanted to know why there weren't more verses. I told him that this is what I found when I Googled it, and I wasn't sure there even were more verses. Anyway, maybe one verse was enough?

As the scheduled date came closer, he told me that he had the song on a CD; I should have a CD player ready for the assembly. No problem. Last night, he came in and proffered a disk. "First track," he said. He went to his class, and I cued up the CD player. On came Celine Dion.

[whispered] Bless
Ameeeerrrrricaaaaa (trill)!

Laaaaand (flourish)
that I (pregnant pause) loooooovvvve (warble)!

Oh, holy s***. I popped the disk out and hustled up to Carlos' class.
"Carlos! This is Celine Dion!"
"Yes! Is good, yeah?"
"Carlos! People can't sing along with this."
I demonstrated why not, sighing and posturing with the back of my hand pressed to my forehead. He got it.
"Is difficult Celine Dion."
"I have other in my car."
"You have another one?"
"Yes, faster."
"But," he said sadly, "is shorter."
Eugenio looked happier than he had in weeks.

No time to spare. I cued it up and realized, as the violins began to swell, that it was LeAnne Rimes. Still enough orchestration, "Ooooohs" and key changes that I had to hide my prickling face behind the kitchen counter a couple of times; but not quite as florid as Celine. Carlos was in paradise at the front of the crowd with a stick; he pointed out each word, neatly printed on a piece of poster board. If the resulting applause was partially due to relief, I don't think he picked up on it.

Monday, May 19, 2008


I left my planner at work, so I spent the whole weekend not knowing what to do. This was a bit of a joke to my family. "Hey, Mom! You're up! How did you get out of bed, without a planner to tell you to?" Ha ha.

This meant I couldn't set up a play date with my son and another little boy: his phone number was in my planner. And I couldn't make any work-related phone calls. Bummer. So...I goofed off. We finally were able to purchase the long-awaited pool table, so we shot pool. I worked on my drought-resistant garden. I'll take photos soon. Sue Sun had some useful suggestions, which I'm incorporating.
I also decided to torture myself by trying a new recipe and recording my pratfalls for the world to see. Unfortunately, it turned out just like the magazine said it would. What's the fun in that? These are called Char Sui Bao, or Chinese Steamed Pork Buns. I really wanted to learn how they're made, because my Vietnamese students prepare them a lot. In Vietnamese, they are called Bun Bao, and usually have an egg in them, but otherwise, the idea is the same.

Balls of yeast-rising dough.

Roll the balls out into 5-inch circles.

The filling is roast pork and chives marinated in just about everything you can think of.

Then, gather up the sides and pinch it shut at the top. This is where I thought it was going to start getting dismal. My attempts over the years to make real Polish pierogi have always resulted in the pierogi coming open in the boiling process, spilling their guts into the simmering pot. But...

...not this time! That which I pinched, stayed pinched. Voila!

OK, my little darlings! Time for your spa treatment.

Some tense moments passed. I couldn't see what was going on in there through the steam, but they looked like they were growing...touching! ...smashing into each other!...

Well, they look good, but how to separate them and get them out of there?

Turned out to be no big deal. I cut them apart with a spatula and they lifted right out. I'm thinking about calling them something like "Disaster Averted Dumplings" or "Kate's Lucky Day".

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sara's Very Bad Day

Sara does this thing. When she gets home, she pulls a stormcloud face and her eyes fill a little. She won't look at me. She did this yesterday after she got home from soccer practice, and I thought it might have something to do with the blood on her jersey and face.

"Hey, how did you get the nosebleed?"

She was momentarily distracted from her personal downpour. "Huh?"

"You have a nosebleed, Kiddo. Go look."

For a few minutes, she was occupied with pinching her nose. Then the stormcloud returned. (Sigh) OK, I'll bite.

"What's wrong, Sweetheart?"

Her face cracked immediately into a grimace, then a sob. "I had a really horrible bad day!"

I pulled up a kitchen stool and pulled her onto my lap. "What happened?"

Well, there was a list:
  1. Her two best friends both went home at mid-day because they weren't feeling well.
  2. The soccer practice was supposed to be a special clinic with a professional soccer player, but he didn't show up.
  3. She got clobbered in the shins. She was wearing shin-guards but it still hurt.
  4. She got a nosebleed.
  5. It's Wednesday, and Mom is going to work.

I work nights on Tuesday and Thursday, generally; my kids are used to that. But once in a while, I have to go in on a Monday or a Wednesday. We have a program that meets on those nights, and those teachers are also under my supervision. From time to time, I need to do observations, help with testing, etc... Yesterday, the plan was to cook and eat supper, then return to school for an hour or so.

Si walked into the kitchen to see Sara snuffling wetly on my lap. "What?'' he mouthed at me. "Hormones." I mouthed back. Remember, she is growing a boob...

I don't know if you follow NPR very closely, but if you do, you may have heard Melissa Block's coverage of the earthquake in China. That woman is going to win a radio journalism award of some sort. Yesterday, she spent the day covering a family who was searching through the rubble of an apartment building for the husband's parents and their 2-year-old son. She stayed with them while they commandeered rescuers and heavy equipment, while they dug through he rubble with their bare hands. the grandparents and baby were all found dead. I don't speak Chinese, but this woman's screams were in a universal language of parental horror.

Through an interpreter, the woman told Melissa Block that, just before she left her son at the in-law's apartment and left for work, her son was saying, "Don't leave! Take me with you!"

I sat in the supermarket parking lot crying until my tears soaked through the lap of my skirt. "Great," I thought. "Now it looks like I peed myself."

So, my daughter is having a really bad day, and I'm thinking, "Oh, cry me a river."

But I took her with me when I went back to the office, just because I could.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

See Anything?

Neither do I!
For a week, it has felt as if there's something in my eye, and it's starting to PISS ME OFF! What could be in there for a whole week? The Biblical mote? Or do I get the beam? I've searched and rinsed, rinsed and searched....
I went to the optometrist, and let him rinse, search, rinse, search. Poor Dr. Berner. He tried everything.
"Hold on, while I put a little of this neon yellow dye in your eye."

"Let me just flip your eyelid..." (My hands clench into talons. Eyelid flipping grosses me out. This harks back to the days when my big brother used to turn his eyelids inside out, moan like a zombie and chase me around the house.) "OK, you don't like that idea, huh?"
"We'll ...just...dab... a little of this ointment on you lower numb it..." (I crack up. Optometry's answer to Botox?) "And then some of this soothing ointment..."
Etc... etc... And let's not forget the $11 tube of goo he sold me, hoping it would do the trick.
None of it helped worth a damn. My eye is still feels like there's something in there. Of course, maybe the reason it hurts now is 'cause he messed around with it so much yesterday. I'm reminded of the Bugs Bunny sketch, "Barber of Seville" in which Bugs applies shaving cream, then tonic, then a massage, then finally whipped cream and a cherry to Elmer Fudd's head.
Didn't Elmer Fudd chase Bugs with a knife after that?
Well, I haven't reached that point, yet. For now, I'll wait. And wear my (geek-bomb) glasses. Eeeew.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Deadlines! Deadlines!

I miss blogging and reading my buddies' blogs. Be back very soon, after I slay one more grant proposal....

Thursday, May 8, 2008

High Point, Low Point

Not much going on today, so I'll just play "High Point, Low Point".

If you want to play along, all you have to do is comment on the single best moment of your day (even if it's not that great) and the single worst moment (even though it's not that bad).

Stand back, everyone. This is harder than it looks.

High Point:
Finding a big bag of unclaimed potato chips hanging out on the staff room table.

Low point:
For most of the day, it felt like there was something in my eye, so I had to wear my geek-face glasses to work.

The thrills, the chills. My life is so amazing.

How about you? High point? Low Point?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Shuffle Songs

OK, I don't do very many MEMEs, but I saw this one over at Maria's place, and I thought it was funny. I am also the wrong demographic for it ("What do you think when you see the person you like?" Like, totally.) But it made me snort a few times, so all right. Plus, I miss my iPod. I haven't been running since the half-marathon, 'cause I've been too busy. It's starting to bug me.

The way this works: Hit "shuffle" on your iPod, and the names of the songs as they fall in the random sequence are the answers to the questions.

1. How would you describe yourself?
Paradise [Live] (The BoDeans)

Well, THIS game is off to a good start!

2. What do you like in a guy / girl?
Godspeed [Sweet Dreams] (The Dixie Chicks)

Ummm... Is this meant to imply that I fantasize about my little crushes? Or that I always end up discarding one crush for another?

3. What is your motto?
Second Hand News (Fleetwood Mac)

Wow. That is deeply cynical. Deeply cynical...

4. What do your friends think of you?
Only Love (The BoDeans)

Pfffffttttt!!!!! Yeah, right.

5. What do you think about often?
One Night Stand (Enrique Iglesias)

Who am I to deny it?

6. What do your parents think of you?
I Will Survive (Enrique Iglesias)

Well, that may have been my mom's mantra when I was a teenager...

7. What do you think of your best friend?
A Boy Named Sue (Johnny Cash)


8. What do you think of the person you like?
I'm Like A Bird (Nelly Furtado)

Sorry, this one isn't working, either. Hold on while I try to think of a birdlike person on whom I have a crush.

9. What do you want to be when you grow up?
She's a Runaway (The BoDeans)

I can go with that.

10. What do you think when you see a person you like?
If I Had It My Way (Emma Roberts)


11. What song will they play at your wedding?
Yarrington Town (Nancy Griffith)

What? First of all, my wedding is long past; and there was no music. It wasn't quite a Justice of the Peace wedding, but pretty close. I already know that this is the song for my funeral. It is the perfect "Kate's Dirge" selection.

12. What will they play at your funeral?
Escape (Enrique Iglesias)

Honestly. Can you imagine Enrique Iglesias funeral music? And by the way, I need to point something out. When I shuffled my songs, all the Enrique Iglesias songs ended up in the first dozen. This is not an accurate cross-section of my musical taste! How embarrassing. Really.

13. What is your hobby / interest?
Red Dirt Girl (Emmylou Harris)

Could be gardening....could be desert camping...

14. What is your biggest fear?
R.O.C.K. in the USA (John Mellencamp)

Uh... "Republicans Own Congress....." (what to do with the "K"...)
Uh... "Ruthless Oil Cartels..." (Damn that "K" again...)
Uh... "Religious Orthodoxy Chokes Kate"?
I'm not good at acronyms.

15. What is your biggest secret?
Lay All Your Love On Me (ABBA)

After pondering this for a moment, it became clear. Yes, the fact that I like some ABBA tunes IS a big secret, and I wish it to remain so. Forget you saw this.

16. What do you think of your friends?
Closer to Free (The BoDeans)

This would be my childless friends, or the ones with the grown-up children.

17. What is your theme song?
Real Gone (Sheryl Crow)

Lately, given my feelings about my job, this is fairly on the mark.

18. What do you think of your family?
Hold On Tight (ELO)

That is SO sappy. Gack.

19. What is your best friend's theme song?
There is No Alternative (Tina Sugandh)

Well, he does have a hard time compromising.

20. What is your mood right now?
Naked (The BoDeans)

[pompously] I would call nudity a "state" rather than a "mood". Please.

21. If your heart could talk, what would it say?
ABC (The Jackson 5)

Geeze. I always thought guys were the uncomplicated ones.

22. What do your co-workers think of you?
Morena (Carlos Ponce)

Whoa. Don't think so. This song is in Spanish and the first lines translate to:

"Oh, Morena, your lips seduce me."

23. What does your future look like?
Hey Pretty Girl (The BoDeans)

Are these all the guys that are going to be sniffing around Sara? It won't be about me. I should be so lucky.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Whew! I have been so bad about posting lately. My work is taking over. The blob that ate New York.

We managed to get away to Moab for the weekend, so I'll get back into the routine of posting with some photos of sunny southern Utah.

Here's the Colorado River, looking up the Castle Valley.

We spent both days in Arches National Park. May is the busiest month of the year there, so it was packed. The picnic areas were crammed, so we toodled down this dirt road and ate on the truck tailgate. The National Park Rule applied: get 100 feet from the pavement, and there's NO ONE

Iconic Delicate Arch.

Nathan, working on a tricky camera angle.

Double O Arch

Thursday, May 1, 2008

We are the Sultans...

We are the Sultans of Swing.
C'mon Corinne! How can you not know this song?
Check out Guitar George/
He knows/
all the chords...
I felt pretty vintage the other day. Positively antique. If any of you follow the Center for Improved Living, you know that Marc recently asked about the first band we ever saw in concert. I didn't comment, because I wasn't allowed to go to concerts. Except, like, Chuck Mangione with my dad.

Yeah, Chuck Mangione and his floogle horn. Remember him? Not cool. So I was talking to my young, hip co-worker Corinne, and I asked her about the first concert she had been to. A Ska band. I forget the name she told me, now. She said her ears rang for a week.

You know how it is: if we can't be cool, maybe we can cash in on our partner's coolness. Simon has seen some REALLY cool bands, I told her. Sometimes, in little clubs like the Top Rank Suite in Brighton. "Oh yeah?" Her eyebrows go up. She's interested. "Like who?"

"Well, Dire Straits for one."

"Who are they?"

OMG. As if from a great distance, I hear her ask, "Well, what did they sing?"

Uh...uh... I'm flabbergasted that she doesn't know Dire Straits.

"Don't worry. I'll Google them." she says.

OK, Corinne. Here is a quiz for you. These are bands that Simon heard in concert (some better known than others). Have you heard of ANY of them?

  • Rush
  • Dire Straits
  • The Clash
  • The Pretenders
  • Meatloaf
  • Simple Minds
  • Jethro Tull

(As an aside, when I first met Simon, we were talking about music we liked and I wasn't very well tuned into his accent, yet. When he said Jethro Tull, I thought he said, "Death Hotel". Wow. Cool name for a band.

  • U2 (in a dinky little bar, before they were known at all)
  • Flock of Seagulls (that is little embarrassing, Si...)
  • The Stranglers

Please tell me that you've at least heard of one or two of these band, Corinne; or I'll feel totally obsolete.