Friday, February 14, 2014

My Funny Valentine

I've seen a lot of cute "when we first met" pictures on Facebook this week of friends who met in high school or college . . .

. . . but that is so not us. ;) When we first met, Kevin was 36 and I was 35. We got hitched when we were both 37.

Through the magic of PicStitch, though, I was able to mesh our fresh young faces into a side-by-side pic to see what a cute couple we would have been had we met in college. Here it is:

We've joked several times about how great it is that we didn't meet in college.

He's seen photos of me back then -- I was a big fan of all things XL (as you can tell from the sweatshirt above) and also a big fan of flannel. He's admitted that he probably wouldn't have given me a second look, drowning in all that material.

I was pretty black and white in my thinking. I expected to marry someone with a solid job offer straight out of college. Had I met Kevin back then and found out he spent his entire junior year studying abroad in Costa Rica and then backpacking through Europe, I would have thought he was a slacker who needed to get his life in order.

My, how things change. ;)

So yes, we got together a little later than others, but I'm pretty darn thankful now. It's hard to imagine how different our lives would have been if we'd been met in 1995 instead of 2010.

All I know is I'm glad I met him when I did. We were being stupid the other night while brushing our teeth before bed, and I thought, "Thank God we found each other, because who else would want us?" We're dorks. (In the best kind of way, of course.) And we're who we are today because of all those years of growing into who we would become. It's awesome.

He's awesome.

(And he's still as hot as he was fifteen years ago.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Thank a teacher

I heard a story on the radio this morning that made me smile.

Before surgery, a neurosurgeon's patient asked who had inspired him to become a doctor, and he said his junior high science teacher had been a big influence on him. When the patient came out of surgery, he told his doc, "You make sure you call that teacher! You make sure you thank him!" He did. The teacher's response? He cried. (You can listen to the full three-minute story here.)

You see, teachers don't hear "thank you" very often.

It reminded me of standing in line at the mall last week. There's not much in life I hate more than the mall, except maybe the mall at Christmastime. Ugh. I'd ordered something online, though, and while waiting for an employee to go get it out of the back room, another employee struck up a conversation with me. When he found out I teach at West High, his face lit up.

"That was my school!" he beamed. "Class of '91! You know, I just called Dr. Arganbright a couple of months ago."

He was the store manager, so I thought maybe he was interested in mentoring kids in business or something, but what he said next surprised me.

"I don't know if it was a midlife crisis or what," he said, getting red-faced and sheepish. "I just wanted to tell him thanks . . . maybe he thought I was crazy or something . . . "

"No! I'm sure he was happy to hear from you!" I said. Right then, the employee came back with my stuff and sent me on my way. I never got to finish telling the guy how great it was that he'd thanked someone for his education.

One of my current classes -- ten kids from ten different countries!
Some days being a teacher is great. I love kids. I wouldn't want a job that left me feeling like I didn't at least have a chance to have an influence on the next generation.

But other days? Honestly, there are days when I can't wait for that last bell to ring and the last kid to shuffle out so I can just prop my elbows on my desk, hold my head in my hands, and wonder why on earth I didn't go into some other field. Any other field. One that doesn't involve anyone under age 25.

Here's the thing: we don't know how good we've got it until we've had some time to experience life and do some reflecting . . . so when is it we realize how good a certain teacher was? Not until long after we've left their classroom. I get that. I know kids don't think the way adults do. That's why it means so much when an adult, who used to be a kid in your classroom, surprises you with a thank you.

If you've got some time this weekend, do a little internet research. Find a teacher who meant a lot to you and take five minutes to write them a letter. Seriously. They'll hold on to it for weeks. Months. Maybe forever. Ten bucks says they'll cry. That's been my response the few times I've heard from old students.

Teaching is not for the faint of heart. Some days are sunshine but other days are rain. Bring a little sunshine to someone's life this weekend. You have no idea what a difference it will make . . . 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

52 New Things -- Week 30 -- Cara Box

Forget Christmas in July -- it's like Christmas every day for the woman who lives across the hall from us. I was home every day in the month of June, taking a class over the internet, and the UPS guy seriously came at least three times a week. Do you have any idea how torturous it is to think, "Hey! The UPS guy just came . . . and I can hear him coming up the stairs! Maybe it's for me!" . . . and then he knocks on the door across the hall? Every time.

While I realize I should not be jealous of what is clearly an addiction to the Home Shopping Network (one quick peek makes it very clear that she is not working from home but indeed ordering, ordering, ordering stuff from QVC), I wanted a delivery, too, darn it.

A few months back, I bookmarked a blog about doing a Cara Box Exchange; basically you get matched up with other bloggers and exchange a boxes of fun goodies. After being envious of my neighbor all of June, I signed up for the Cara Box exchange for July (not realizing it was about to turn into the craziest month of my life).

It was fun to read the blogs of the two young women I was matched with. I put together several items for a girl named Sam at The Samantha Daily. She's a cute & bubbly college girl who made me smile every time I read one of her cute postings. She keeps a book of wedding ideas, so I sent her a Bride magazine. She also blogged about how she wished she were more flexible, so I ordered a flexibility DVD off of Amazon for her. Neither of those really fit the "nautical" theme we were supposed to be shooting for, but I couldn't find much of anything -- a couple of rubber ducks, an ocean-scented candle, and red and blue nail polish were the best I could come up with. Oh, and you were supposed to try to make something, too; I scoured Pinterest but couldn't find much of anything that matched my craftiness level -- LOW SKILL. I ended up making her a sugar scrub . . . it was bluish. Like the ocean. Which is kinda nautical, right? Ugh. I hope she wasn't horribly disappointed.

I got a box from Cait over at My Life As A Long. She's spunky and fun and way more crafty than I could ever hope to be. She's also working hard at getting fit and looking great . . . which kind of makes me feel bad about myself, to be honest. I need to follow her lead! Anyway, she sent me a fab package and stuck to the nautical theme way better than I did. I got a Scentsy satchel, red nail polish, fun straws, cool hair ties, and then -- putting my Cara Box to shame -- a personalized beach towel. For real. It's awesome. I love it. But I feel like a crappy Cara Box partner after seeing it!

The whole Christmas in July part was awesome -- I just hope Sam wasn't bummed to get a box from Miss Lack-of-Crafty-Craftiness!

Friday, August 2, 2013

52 New Things -- Week 29 -- Bedwetting

I want to write about camp, okay? And no, it's not a new thing -- I worked there the whole summer in 2010 -- but I had to change some sheets for the first time ever, so we're gonna go with that as the new thing so I can write about what I want to write about. ;)

Can I just say Paul Newman was a stud? And not in the blue-eyed-movie-star sense, but in the leave-the-world-a-better-place sense. Thousands of kids with cancer, sickle cell disease, metabolic issues, HIV, and other illnesses get to spend a week or a weekend at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp every year to forget about hospitals and (in Newman's words) raise a little hell. For a short amount of time, they get to be like any other kid. I wish more of the rich and famous would follow his lead; twenty-five years after founding the camp and five years after his death, camper after camper after camper reaps the benefit of the legacy he left behind.

I drove out Friday and Saturday and the kids arrived Sunday. We had an absolutely fabulous week fishing, riding horses, swimming, singing, dancing, and more. There were six little girls in our cabin, all with sickle cell disease. Before I worked at camp, I didn't know anything about sickle, like the fact that kids with sickle often get cold . . . which means kids with sickle rarely go swimming in the summer because pool water is too cold. The Hole in the Wall's pool? A toasty 89 degrees. The kids were in heaven.

The second to last night at camp was rough. I'd already been woken up twice by two girls needing help; I finally drifted back to sleep and was dreaming the girls were up at 5:30am and I was instructing them to go back to sleep when a little hand patted my shoulder.

"Do you know where my cheetah print shorts are?" a little voice asked.

"Go back to sleep, honey," I mumbled. "We'll find them in the morning."

I heard her rustling around in her trunk, then creep out of the room toward the bathroom. Only then did I groggily realize she'd probably wet the bed. I hurried after her and found her getting out a washcloth and a bar of soap.

"Did you have an accident?" I asked. When she nodded, I told her to go ahead and clean herself up while I put new sheets on the bed. I managed to get the bed changed and her back into it without waking up any of the other girls.

I will be a horrible mother someday. They will puke, pee, wail . . . and I will sleep through it all.

All six of our girls were great, and the boys in the cabin next door were a mix of adorable and hellish. It's the kind of thing where you're super excited at the start of the week, exhausted and unsure you can finish strong toward the end of the week, and sad to see them go on the last day.

My overall feeling all week was gratefulness . . . gratefulness for a place where kids feel safe and loved and normal and awesome for a brief moment . . . gratefulness for the college-kid counselors who choose low pay and lots of love over internships . . . gratefulness for people with money who contribute the millions of dollars it takes to let every kid experience camp absolutely free . . . and gratefulness that I get to be a part of it.

Here's a quick three-minute slideshow that gives you a glimpse into a week in the life of a camper -- totally fun!! And no, I'm not in it . . . but when you see a feisty-looking little guy blasting someone with a super-soaker in the pool, guess who was on the receiving end? This girl. And I couldn't be more grateful.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

52 New Things -- Week 28 -- Publish!!

Did you know you can publish anything on Amazon? You can. Well, unless it's a terrorist manifesto. They don't like that. But anything else you've written they will happily turn into a book for you.

It's kind of a lot of work, though. And you're pretty much on your own. I mean, when I was writing the book and wasn't sure where to put a comma or how to spell something, I just thought, "No biggie . . . an editor will fix that." Nope. When you self-publish, you're on your own. (Well, for a few hundred, Amazon will take care of that for you . . . or design a cover for a few more hundred . . . they'll do about anything for a big chunk of money.)

But when you're only going to make $2 per copy and you add up how many friends you have who want to read this book, you realize dropping a few hundred here and a few hundred there would make this a losing venture real fast . . . so you do it yourself.

I still think it's better than the old way of doing it though -- I was afraid I'd have to pay someone thousands of dollars and then have boxes upon boxes of books in my garage, collecting dust. Mailing individual books to a hundred people? That does not sound like a fun venture. I'm glad Amazon does the print-on-demand thing and all the shipping for me.

Another perk about the print-on-demand system? If you see a mistake, you can tell me, I can change it, and the next book that gets printed is error-free. So yeah, if you see a whoopsie in there somewhere, let me know!

I thought I'd get to set a release date . . . maybe come up with a marketing plan of some sort . . . but all the sudden, there it was, live and ready to order! So my week has kind of been a mess . . . I had to write seven papers and send a portfolio by four today to finish up my ELL endorsement, so that's kind of a mess and not exactly my best work . . . I'm leaving for a week of camp on Friday, so my guest bedroom is a mess, covered in everything I want to pack . . . I'm three weeks behind on my blog and trying to catch up on that while doing a hundred other things . . . I'm trying to put together a flier for some book signings I'm going to be doing, which I hope will be less of a mess, since other people will have a hand in it . . . and I'm generally ignoring the poor man I searched through all fifty states for. Luckily he still loves me . . . primarily because he hopes I'm going to make us rich with my $2/book profits! (I did cook for him several times this week and leave leftovers individually packed in the fridge so he won't starve while I'm gone, so I'm trying, friends.)

I had to laugh Tuesday night when the book became available on Amazon . . . I posted it on Facebook, and all of you lovely people blew up my comments and likes and made me feel so loved. And then I made dinner. And emptied the dishwasher. And reloaded the dishwasher. And cleaned the kitchen. So yeah, that "oh my gosh -- I just published a book and people are buying it!" glow lasted for approximately seven minutes before reality sucked me back. :)

Anyway . . . thanks friends, for making me feel loved. It was an amazing time of my life, and I'm excited for you to read about it. Some parts are depressing, since I was pretty bummed for a while, but mostly it's pretty humorous. I'd hop in the car and do in all again . . . minus the dating . . . because this time, the hubs would be in the passenger seat . . . sound asleep and snoring. We live a pretty exciting life. :)

(Just in case you missed it, you can click here to order!)

52 New Things -- Week 27 -- Marching Band Competition

What a hottie, right? Actually, the wool uniform WAS very hot . . .
Here's what marching band looked like in my high school: At half-time of the football game, we'd line up down by the goal posts and march onto the field to a drum cadence. Once we got to the middle of the field, we would face the audience and play a song. Then, to the drum cadence again, we'd form a pinwheel and march a while, then turn around and reverse the pinwheel. It was a pretty big deal. Then we'd march ourselves into a new formation, AC-T (for Albert City-Truesdale, our school name), and play the school song. Once it was over, we'd march ourselves right off the field, again to the drum cadence.

Did you catch the subtle omission there? We never marched and played our instruments at the same time.

I remember seeing a commercial on TV, about the same time as I was marching in our not-so-great marching band, for a marching band competition. It looked pretty cool, but everything looks cool in commercials, right?

Well, fifteen years later, I finally went to a marching drum competition in Colorado Springs that some of my youth group kids were in.

Wow. Those kids were amazing!

And Friday night, I saw it taken to the next level. Wow again. I'm just gonna put a video clip here and let you take a little looksie for yourself:

This is the team that won Friday night at a show earlier in the summer.

Let me just point out a couple of things:
1) Not only do they march and play at the same time, but in some cases, they are RUNNING and playing at the same time.
2) Besides marching and running and playing all at once, but they are also dodging flags and fake guns and helicopter blades and praying one of those flag boys doesn't lose control and smack 'em in the head. Yikes!

So, long story short: impressed.
(And also a little bit bummed, because one of my old youth group kids was supposed to be marching with that group but had bronchitis and had to sit out.)  :( 

But I got to spend time with old Ascension friends who drove all the way from Colorado Springs to see their son (not) march, so that was fun.

Some other observations:

Most interesting prop? The giant blue ball in a mesh bag that a boy dragged all over the field. I think it was supposed to be the earth? That doesn't explain the dragging . . . or what appeared to be a giant UPC symbol on the bottom of it. (Y'all know by "most interesting" I'm politely saying "weirdo," right?) But great job, kids!

Cutest costumes? The little 50's girls that I unfortunately did not get a great picture of. Let's just say that a lot of those flag kids were running around in eeek-inducing outfits, but this gang got lucky.

Most unwelcome visitor of the evening? Fish flies! Ugh! I hate those things! They hatch in the Mississippi River (this competition was in Dubuque) and then swarm around lights . . . and . . . well . . . at a stadium, you've got a lot of wattage . . . so by the end of the competition, everyone in the crowd was getting dive-bombed. I hope they didn't swoop down onto the field and that none of the kids competing had clogged horns afterwards. Yuck.

But overall? Pretty wowza.

Kinda makes me feel bad I didn't practice the baritone more . . .

52 New Things -- Week 26 -- Migrant Summer School

I pretty much gave up on the idea of a relaxing summer vacation weeks ago. I took a class all of June, the last class I needed to get endorsed to teach English language learners. (They used to call it ESL -- English as a Second Language -- but then they realized lots of kids were showing up in American schools knowing more than just one language, so the title didn't really fit.)

Before I can wrap the whole thing up, I have to do a thirty-hour practicum. It's kind of like a very brief student teaching experience. I thought I might be up a creek, trying to find summer school in July, but I found a school about twenty miles down the road from our new town that has a summer school program for children of migrant families. Monsanto hires lots of laborers for the summer months to detassle and do other field work, so an influx of Mexican-Americans from Texas arrive in this mostly white Iowa town every summer. The kids are required to go to this summer program so they're not sitting around the camps unsupervised.

I'm matched up with the reading teacher for 7th and 8th graders, and they're awesome. We're reading a book called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It's about a freshman boy who decides to go to an all-white school twenty miles away from his reservation in hopes of getting a better education and having a better life. After talking about stereotypes of Native Americans, we asked the kids if there were any stereotypes they felt people had about them as children of migrant laborers.


They had a lot to say about that. Here's a little of what they shared:

1. We are not illegal. We were born in Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana. We're as American as you.

2. We can speak English. We speak Spanish at home sometimes because our grandparents speak Spanish, and sometimes we speak Spanish when we don't want people to know what we're saying, but we can understand everything you say about us.

3. We're not poor. We come to Iowa in the summer because the jobs pay better than the jobs in Texas, but our parents work in Texas, too. We come up here because we're smart about money, not because we're desperate.

4. We listen to the same music you do. Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5 . . . whatever's on the radio.

5. We eat foods other than tacos and burritos. We like pizza and "American" food. But Taco Bell is awful and nothing like what our mom makes.

6. No one in our family owns a sombrero.

7. We don't do drugs and we don't help people cross the border illegally.

8. We don't have ten families living in one house. We do often live on the same block, though. Why would you want to drive three hours to see your grandma? We love our families, so we live close together. We don't just get together on holidays or once or twice a year -- it's more like, hey, it's Thursday and we're grilling, so come on over.

In other words, no one likes to be sterotyped . . . and if you'd just get to know us, you'd realize we're a lot like you. :)