Monday, June 30, 2008


[Drum roll...] The envelope, please!

And....yes! The test results show that Nathan! is! gifted! I glance up from the missive on Jordan School District letterhead and observe my son blissfully picking his nose and wiping the boogers on the wall.

Gifted? Sure. At swiping cookies. At holding his crotch. At flirting with the dental hygienist.

I sigh and return my attention to the letter. His test results were interesting. They rated his performance in reading and math as compared to kids one year ahead of him in school (so, kids finishing first grade). For reading, he was in the 56th percentile, which doesn't strike me as astounding, even though it is in comparison with older kids. Not if we're talking about [in an ominous tone] "GIFTED". Math is a little more interesting. 99th percentile compared to kids a year older. Ahhh... now that's a suitably freakish statistic. This all means that he qualifies for the district's special program, which involves attending a "magnet school", rather than his neighborhood school. As we were walking up the steps of the testing center he stopped and said, "Mom, I'm NOT leaving my friends and my school!" (His little wheels started turning. I could see them.) "Even if I have to do wrong answers on this test." Hmmmm... clever.... I told him that there was no point in even talking about it until we saw the test results, and that we just wanted to see how smart he is.

I must digress a little here and comment on the othermothers! OMG! There was an informational meeting while the kids were testing, and honestly! "Well, when my little Georgie was found to be gifted, I had to fight so hard to get the resources that he needed. Luckily, with my two other gifted children, it has been easier..." Yeah, Honey. Genius breeds genius. Whatever. Or, "I just don't know what to do about little Jimmy. No program can contain him. He's been figuring out square roots since the age of two. Dear me." These ladies were bleary-eyed from the long hours of making flash-cards and waking their kids up at 4:30 AM to practice the cello. These ladies live to be the mothers of brilliant children.

We aren't going to send him. All the advantages of having a neighborhood school, in which your neighbors are you classmates are your soccer teammates would be lost. Anyway, during the next couple of years, the district has mandated that all schools put an accelerated learning program in place for kids who, although maybe not gifted, could benefit from a faster pace. That sounds more our style.

All this got me thinking, though, about the nature of being "gifted". Nate's smart, but don't gifted people do things like... compose minuets? Nate still pees his pants, for heaven's sake. He's into Star Wars, not quantum physics.

So what is it to be gifted? To me, it means you need to have exceptional, innate abilities. Take my coworker, Emile. At the school picnic the other night, we were playing music and practicing dance steps: Salsa; Cumbia; Marengue. She patiently demonstrated these to me and offered pointers; first while I danced alone, then with my student Carlos. But when Carlos asked her to dance, the truth came out. She's awesome! An amazing dancer! I was slack-jawed. Driving back to school afterwards, I asked her how hard she had to work to achieve that level of skill. She pretty much shrugged it off. "Weeelll... I have always been able to pick up dance steps really quickly..."

I don't have gifts. I have skills. I appreciate them, but they're different. I'm working on not letting that bother me. My friend Diane thinks that maybe some of us have gifts that we haven't discovered, because the right opportunity has not brought them to the forefront. That's a bit "tree falls in the forest", though, isn't it?

How about you? How would you define "gifted"? Did you get a gift? What is it? Or are are you like me: skilled, but giftless? Does it bother you?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hot Dish

Or, as people from places more elegant than the Mid-West call it, "casserole".

Last night was our annual school picnic. We have a couple of pot-luck parties every year, and I often make my mom's Three-Bean Hot Dish. It is easy and yummy: a variation on baked beans steeped in a long tradition of church basement triumph. For Mom, not for me. Invariably, I get busy and distracted, so I do have a tradition, but of a different sort.

Every year:
  1. I concoct the hot dish the night before, then bring it to work and put it in the fridge until about 5:00 PM.
  2. I put it in the oven at 350 degrees.

  3. A while later, I peek at it and think, "Well, I'd like to to be more bubbly, and I have to leave for the park in a few minutes, to help set up the picnic."

  4. I turn it up to 450 degrees.

  5. I scrutinize our picnic checklist to see that we have done the things we need to do: label the large utensils that belong to the school; make a 5-gallon jug of punch and another of ice water; make sure we have enough BINGO counters; pack two coolers with ice; put up a sign on the door, explaining that we're out of school. I check off certain items that we often forget: a lighter for the grill; the picnic permit; hot dog buns; an extension cord for the CD player.

  6. I go to the park and help set up.

  7. Everyone arrives, including my family.

  8. About an hour later, Simon says, "Well, Honey, looks like your hot dish was a big success. I wanted some, but it's all gone."

  9. Gasp.

  10. Experience wave of nausea. And deja vu.

  11. Run for my car and speed back to school, relieved to find that it is not engulfed in flame.

  12. Unlock the school and savor the aroma of scorched brown sugar.

  13. Rush to rescue the hot dish.

  14. Return to park to discover that my parking spot has been taken.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. World without end, Amen.

Later, after the picnic, we were all back at school cleaning up and my co-worker Diane looked first at the dessicated hot dish, then at me. "How many times have you done that, now? Two?" "Three. Look! If you dig down a few layers, it's edible..."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Foul Fashion Faux Pas

I was all set to blog about something completely different, but my MSN home-page had a story about things we're not supposed to wear anymore once we get to be 40-ish. I was fascinated. Time for true confessions: how many of us in the 40-and-up range are committing fatal "Fashion Don'ts"?

The rules, as stated:

  1. hot pants (Oh, well. I'll live.)
  2. tie dye
  3. ripped jeans (What? I love ripped jeans! Can allowances be made if they rip after we've bought them? Deduct one point for ripped jeans.)
  4. off the shoulder (Think Flashdance.)
  5. bright-colored leggings
  6. chunky platform shoes
  7. ruffles
  8. bare midriff (Geeze! Well, I don't bare my belly at the office, but at parties?...sometimes? show off my piercing...? [sigh] Deduct one point for midriff.)
  9. sheer over sheer
  10. gladiator shoes (No one looks good in those things.)
  11. too much tan (no danger there)
  12. glittery makeup
  13. dark red lipstick

OK, so I'm guilty of flouting the rules 2 times out of 13. How about you? Tell the truth- any neon leggings in your closet?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kill the Fatted Calf

Hooray! Sara and her friend M. are home from Girl Scout camp. Sunburned, filthy. They had a great time. They shouted all the way home - I think they had been shouting all week.

Not a moment too soon. MIL and FIL were starting to get bored. I discovered that MIL had whiled away an hour or so scrubbing the...uh...(I like to call it the) "flavor patina" from the inside of my tea pot.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


My student Eugenio graduated tonight. Because we have a long waiting-list, we limit students to five years in the program. Not like very many of them are able to stay that long, but some do. Eugenio's five years are up. I have been dreading this.

Five things I love most about Eugenio:
  • In the winter, he wears a fake, Daniel Boone-style raccoon-tail hat. With a straight face.
  • In Mexico, he was an avid hiker and climber. Any time an outing to the mountains is on offer, Eugenio's first in line.
  • Whenever he understood a new concept for the first time, he would have a big light-bulb moment: he'd light up, stab the air with his pencil and say, "Exacto!"
  • He didn't have a car, and lived pretty far from school, but he would move mountains to get here. I have known him to cycle, walk (we're talking MILES!), take the train, carpool, use the bus... during the five years he studied here, he has arrived using every mode of transportation except maybe horseback.
  • He was an excellent student, in spite of all the barriers he had to overcome. He has no comfortable place to study: he lives in a corner of the garage where he works, doing body-work on cars. He started studying English at age 59; with a minimal education in his own country, a fear of teachers (he was caned a lot in school during the few years he was able to go), and no prior knowledge of English. Learning was never easy for him, but he clawed his way from Level 0 to Level 4 through discipline and hard work.

Today, he had prepared a short speech for graduation, which he memorized and practiced pronouncing over and over until it was perfect. I wasn't allowed to see it or hear it in advance, so it would be a surprise. It wasn't just understandable, it was elegant and articulate.

So now, he is off to another school: bigger classes and a more demanding schedule. I am (frankly) miserable. I've been a teacher for 19 years, and I thought I was finished having favorites. Not true. Eugenio was my muse. Whenever I thought about a new unit or a different teaching approach, I always thought, "What will this do for Eugenio?" Whenever the media requested a success story, his was the story I loved to tell. Obviously, since here I am, telling it again.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Here are Sara and her friend M., being dropped off at girl scout camp this morning. I’m expecting a dirty, bedraggled, exhausted “after” photo when I pick them up on Saturday; and, if I’m lucky, they will sleep all the way back to Salt Lake.

I suspect I miss her more than she misses me. I indulged in a minute of leaning in the doorway, staring forlornly into her room this evening.

I watched for an opportunity to discuss homesickness with her before she left, but it never came up. When I tried to mention it last night, she totally shut me down: “Mom, making new friends is one of my specialties. I’ll be fine. Now, can we read a little Harry Potter?” Fine. The truth is, I’m a believer in (and an expert at) homesickness. A powerful force for change! AND it comes in endless permutations. Misery has never been so much fun.

There’s the “Hey, I Thought I Was Doing This With A Friend” version. Like the time I journeyed to the far ends of the Earth, finally arriving at a youth hostel in Townsville, Australia where I was supposed to rendezvous with (then boyfriend) Simon. Instead, I found a note on the notice-board saying, “Can’t find work here. Have moved farther up the coast. Will be in touch.” I had a teaching job lined up in Townsville; the plan was that he would also get a job there and we would live together in romantic bliss. Yeah, right. It was a great youth hostel: clean and new; but the other people who were staying there were pairs and groups, touring Australia on vacation, having a great time. My partner was AWOL. That was a lonely night. The next day, I left there and found a bed at the Australian equivalent of the YWCA, full of women from other cities who were working in Townsville. Simon ended up living in Cairns, four hours north. Lesson: Really, you’re doing this on your own. Always.

There’s the “This Place Sucks” version. This would be my first night in my bed-sit in Littlehampton, England. I had wandered aimlessly through the town, looking for the amusement park where I was supposed to start work in the morning. Eventually, I found Alf, the park manager, in the pub smoking and reaching up some girl’s dress. It was nearly dark by the time he walked me up to the second floor of a terraced house and showed me into my room. I reached for the light switch, but nothing happened. “Oh, uh…have you got 10p?” “Ten pee?” “Pence, Sweetheart. Have you got a ten pence piece?” “Oh! Ummm…” I stirred through my change in the semi-dark, squinting at the unfamiliar coins. “Never mind.” He took one from his pocket and bent over a little metal box behind the door. He inserted the coin and tried the lights again. “There we go!” A single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated the room. “That’s a meter. You put money in it to pay for the electric,” he said; and then he was gone. I stood there, looking at the mold creeping up the walls. The rickety table and chair. The neighbors upstairs started screaming at each other. Lesson: When faced with a room that sucks, run out and buy a little lamp and put it on your table. Don’t turn on the overhead bulb ever again.

Finally, the “Holy S***, What Have I Done?” version. The Big One. The nuclear approach to homesickness. For me, it was my first night in Poland with Peace Corps. Our group of teachers was taken to a hotel in Warsaw. It was mid-June in a country with the same latitude as Hudson Bay, so it was still light at 10:30 PM. I was disembodied by jet-lag. I realized that I was famished, but had no idea where to go to find food. My new acquaintances and I hadn’t realized we were being given single rooms, so we had no way to find each other. I stuck my head hopefully into the corridor, but saw no one. I turned on the huge wood-cased radio on my table. It spoke to me in a language that I couldn’t understand. I twiddled the knobs, looking for music, but could only find military marches. I turned, exhausted, to the bed, and realized that I had no idea how to get into it. The bedding was a mystery. I ended up tangled in the duvet cover. Then it hit me that this confusion and isolation was going to be my reality for a long time. I was facing two years of mysterious bedding and military marches. That was a lonely night. If you can call it that – it never did get truly dark. Lesson: There were too many to relate. Sorry, Sara. Go and find your own lonely hotel room.

How about you? What is the most profoundly homesick you have ever been?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

All Right, Lillian!

Lillian tagged me for a "Fives Meme". I try to be obedient, especially to Lillian, who lives within a stone's throw of me (relatively speaking).

The rules:
1. Post the rules of the game at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they've been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you've posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?

Oh, that was NOT a good time in my life. I was thinking about divorce. I was imagining myself with someone else. I was getting my navel pierced. That was the summer my father came to Utah and we took 4-year-old Sara on her first backpacking trip. He became violently ill in the back country and getting them both out was an experience I'd be grateful not to have to repeat. That was the summer my MIL and FIL came to stay for an entire month, along with BIL, SIL and two nieces. I cooked for 10 people every night.

What are five things on your to-do list for today?

1. Go to the dentist. Walk around with numb drooly mouth for half the day.
2. Call United Way in search of a small-business mentoring program for women. Or try to, with a numb, drooly mouth.
3. Plan lessons for tonight's classes.
4. Write postcards to send to Sara at Girl Scout Camp next week.
5. Update student attendance and testing records.

What are five snacks you enjoy?

1. Sun Chips!
2. Dark chocolate in any form. Add mint and I'm in heaven.
3. Is Scotch a snack?
4. Roast turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich (when snack becomes art)(the fine line between snack and lunch).
5. Pudding. Warm. Let's dip some mini-pretzels in it.

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

1. Travel, travel, travel.
2. Build the new school we are trying to raise money for. If I were a billionaire, the required $8,000,000 would be a drop in the bucket. Then I would travel.
3. Get an eye job. Then go away somewhere exotic until the swelling went down. And a manicure. In New Zealand. I've never even had a manicure in Salt Lake.
4. Stop worrying. Lie, anxiety-free, in a hammock in Costa Rica.
5. Have a big foundation like Bill Gates and travel around the world, solving the Big Problems.

What are five of your bad habits?

1. Hitting the snooze, over and over and over. And over.
2. Biting my nails.
3. Swearing.
4. Pretending that I don't know the dishwasher of full of clean dishes, in hope that Simon will empty it and I won't have to.
5. Thinking, "I'm fat. Does this make my ass look big?" all day, every day.

What are five places you have lived?

1. Markesan, Wisconsin
2. Northfield, Minnesota
3. Townsville, North Queensland, Australia
4. Oxford, England
5. Littlehampton, West Sussex, England
What the hell? I'm on a roll. Before my suburban exile, I had a life!
6. Lomza, Poland
7. Brighton, Utah

What are five jobs you've had?

1. Pizza delivery person
2. Carnival barker
3. The person who cuts the corn off the cob in a corn-canning factory
4. Door-to-door double glazing salesperson (for about three hours)
5. Pub kitchen grunt

Five people I tag:

Kristen (fresh meat!)
Erin ('cause I haven't in a while)
Super Hero (to get his mind off work)
Flying Pink Elephants
Trysha (she's been looking for subject matter)

Monday, June 9, 2008


[First, an update: In-Law Watch, Day 3]
So far, so good. At least, I think so. You never know what’s going to set them off. I was unable to say, “good-bye” to them this morning when I left for work: FIL was in the shower and MIL was in her room with the door closed (getting dressed, probably). I piddled around for a little while, in case either of them emerged; but I ran out of time. I can guarantee that although they may say nothing today or tomorrow, this will be added to my rap-sheet.

Luckily, I have my blog where I can secretly say:

“FIL! If you sit down to breakfast and there is a large bowl of fruit on the table, it is not necessary to stare at the bowl for a minute, then ask, ‘Would it possibly be all right if I have a banana?’ Just take one, Honey.”

“MIL! Thank you so much for bringing Sara the t-shirt with the ponies on it. She loves it. She has worn it two days in a row. And so if, at any point, you would like to stop telling us over and over about the shop where you saw it, your decision to purchase it, and your certainty that Sara would like it, I’d be OK. Five times is enough.”


There are aphids on my roses. To be honest, I find roses beautiful but more trouble than they are worth. It seems to me that the best roses are in the yards of abandoned homes. As I drive through depressed parts of town and look at the boarded-up houses, the roses are going NUTS! And I think, “Why can’t my roses look like that?!” Probably the previous owners of the house put in some fussy variety.

At any rate, we try to stay away from chemicals if we can help it. Sara suggested that I get a bag of ladybugs at Home Depot. I readily agreed, in spite of hearing my MIL tell (8 times, now) the story of how she was bitten 5 times by a ladybug on the finger and had to have her wedding ring cut off. I am enthralled by those bags of ladybugs. They’re so…swarmy. I bought them and as I drove along, they got very excited. Maybe from the warmth of the car – maybe because they knew that freedom was in the offing. I carried them over to the rose bushes. They were frenzied. I snipped the corner off the bag. They rushed out and proceeded to totally ignore the aphids. I watched one walk right over a clump of them, like he didn’t know what they were. OI! EAT THE APHIDS! I picked up ladybugs and aphids on the tips of opposing fingers and introduced them. Mr. Aphid, meet Mr. Ladybug. Mr. Ladybug, meet Mr. Aphid. OK, now, kill. The kids had come running to watch the bloodbath, but soon wandered away, bored. This morning, I spent some more time out there while I waited to spot my in-laws and say, “Good-bye” to them. I found three ladybugs remaining on the rose bushes, and the same 4,000,000 aphids that had been here yesterday.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Barriers to Blogging

Holy s***. I really hate it when I don't get to blog for a week or so. It causes mental log-jams. Then there's no way to get going again aside from verbal vomiting. I will try to quell this impulse with a list. Let's call it "6 blogging inhibitors".

1. Weather. I have been SO BUSY building an ark. Utah is soon to return to its original state as an inland sea. I lie in bed, listening to the relentless drumming on the roof and think, "Where is my desert? Where is my searing heat? Where are my evenings on the patio with a drinkie after the kids go to bed?" Why blog when I can fret about the future of my tomato plants?

2. Childcare. There was a time when I loved the daycare where my children go after school. That was before the Reign of Terror: Heather, the officious, pompous, haughty teenage (well, almost) daycare director has decided that after-school care is no longer in keeping with the mission of her establishment. Sara's last day there is tomorrow. Nathan can stay for the summer; but after that, it's just going to be a preschool only. Now my time is taken up with calling other centers run by teenagers and asking how many years long their waiting lists are. OR I could start the Sisyphean task of persuading our local elementary to offer after-school care. OR I could try to form a co-op with other parents. OR, our children could become latchkey kids. Instead of blogging, I sit slumped at the kitchen counter, drinking endless cups of tea and arguing with my husband about what the hell we are going to do.

In –laws. Here they come again! Ah, the joy! The ecstasy. Every June! All June! My job is to cook delicious meals and look at Si as if I think the sun shines out of his ass. No opinions, no talk about my job, no music. In the meantime, I'm busy hiding the sex toys and contemplating the appearance of the spare room. Maybe I SHOULD iron that duvet cover... Definitely getting in the way of blogging.

Hormones. Well, I can't be expected to concentrate on blogging over sex, really. Last weekend, we had a little get-away to Park City. Simon had traded favors with the general manager of a resort over there, so the guy offered us a room. It turned out to be this suite with (get this) three fireplaces, private deck with hot tub, giant plasma-screen TVs, jetted tub, fancy shower with three different shower-heads. I spent about half-hour just pushing buttons and saying, "Wow!" I was in awe at how the other half lives. I guess they must just have sex all the time. Their hotel rooms are certainly conducive. Which is good, 'cause I was in the kind of mood in which my idea of foreplay is to close the door. Now, though, the pendulum has swung. Last night, I amused Simon by demonstrating all my techniques for keeping his hands off my boobs. You know, the subtle ones, like reaching down to scratch my knee, thereby sealing up the bottom of my shirt; or the less subtle hand-slap. How can I blog when he's pawing at me?

Book work. I have made a vow. Each month, at the beginning of the month, until I have completed certain tedious administrative tasks, no fun may be had. No workouts, no blogging, no movies, no novels, no laughter, no joy.

Dim sum. My steamed buns generated enough interest that some friends and I concocted a Dim Sum Pool party. Basically, everyone brought some sort of Asian-inspired appetizer (egg rolls, spring rolls, samosas, pot stickers) and then we all played pool. No way can I blog with a samosa in one hand, a gin and tonic in the other, and a pool cue clutched between my knees.