Saturday, December 15, 2012

It Matters Now

Granada Heights Friends Church choir sang at Disneyland’s Candlelight processional this year. We joined the masses of singers—a swaying sea of golden robes, white collars, and flickering candles—walking to the cadence of the hymns we sang beneath main street’s pine swags and wreaths all lit up with green and gold and red lights. I had a clear shot down the train tracks, straight between the rows of singers to the pinnacle-like Christmas tree decked out in ornaments, lights, and toys.

Our lines divided at the tree to line up on stage, which was impossible to see in the darkness. The only lights were the candles in our hands and the LED flashlights used by the Disneyland workers to light up any bumps on our road. I kept a keen eye on the ground appearing from under the yellow robe of the high school student in front of me.

I also can’t tell you how we sounded. I was surrounded by sopranos. If a lone alto hadn’t been singing in my ear, I would’ve been singing the traditional Christmas songs as a soprano too. It was difficult taking it all in. But what I did notice was the applause after Kurt Russell read: 

"Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as that one solitary life."

I saw the blinking cameras filming the show and I saw the audience standing to the Hallelujah chorus. I don’t know if they did that because the king came in late to that song or because the king was startled from his seat. Whatever the story, the audience in 2012 stood at Disneyland as if the king had just come in, the real king. I saw a lady dabbing her eyes and then I couldn’t sing anymore. It all meant something more. I’d saved my fading voice to sing this song, and now I couldn’t because it was powerful. It was beautiful.

Things seem to matter more these days.

There were five fat birds on the power lines this morning. Our neighbor fed his four Chihuahua’s on his red painted porch. We can see him outside Lee’s window. Stratus clouds hung low over Whittier like a wet sponge, and we left our Christmas lights on overnight; Lee noticed. I was showing him the trash truck, but instead he starred at the lights. It matters because he sees it, and I do too.

It matters that my shoes aren’t double knotted and that the empty Airborn tube rolled under the table and that the carrots in the soup are soft. The vacuum is loud. The dishes in the dishwasher are dirty. The caps are on my pens. Nasturtiums are edible. The hummingbird feeder is empty. The wind is blowing.

This year Phil got us a Christmas tree. We haven’t had one for the last three years because one wouldn’t fit in our studio. We’d adorned the spiral staircase instead.  This year we put a four-foot Douglas Fir on top of our end table and decorated it with Grandma Stevens’ ornaments. Lee stares at the lights and reaches for the ornaments when we lift him up. There’s a wreath in our window and an advent calendar on the bar. It’s the same calendar that I grew up with. It means something now. It’s home. It’s Christmas.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Severe Mercy

The trouble with mishaps, injustices, tragedies, or foolish choices is that we have no way of knowing how events might’ve otherwise been worse. Did this minor fender bender save me from a head-on collision? Did this knee injury stop me from breaking a leg? Did the tipped over jelly jar in the refrigerator, prevent me from writing that vicious e-mail?

I’ve often wondered how my life would’ve been different if I chose to go to the same High School all four years. I wonder what was the point of getting my pilot’s license? Why did my knee have to give out in the first few miles of the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon? Why did those friends move away? Why did God put those obnoxious people in my life? Why was feeding my baby so hard? And if these events didn’t occur, would things have been worse for me?

For the last year I’ve been rewriting a novel I wrote in High School inspired by The Lord of the Rings and a little bottle of fairy dust that my grandma gave me one Christmas. The story is called Providence: Heady and Headless. And through it, I’ve learned how an author must treat his or her characters. While I’m able to reform them, force a change of mind upon them, or insert an all-knowing wise wizard to explain the truth, that would be intruding too much. Characters turn into puppets, and the magic is lost.

No, I can’t force them, but I can bring along rainstorms, robbers, cults, insulting teachers, dull swords, forks in the road, and conflicting personalities. Thrown into a labyrinth of conflict they change: some for the better, some for the worse. It’s like medicine. Some that take it grow wings; others grow fangs. Or as CS Lewis says in Mere Christianity: we are all growing into either more heavenly creatures or more devilish creatures.

That must mean that what I have called unjust or tragic may actually be a mercy. Their hurt to me could be the preventative maintenance of an otherwise larger catastrophe. Wouldn’t I have moved into that house of sand if the waves hadn’t washed it away? Wouldn’t I have gone on slandering others, had I not been slandered myself? Wouldn’t I have continued thinking the world of myself, if others hadn’t thought ill of me?

I can’t explain every situation. How can I? I’m not the author. But I know when the transformation of my thinking occurs. It happens when I stop thinking of an event as evil and start thinking of it as sad or sometimes—when God’s grace has been injected into me in double dosages—as humorous.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Invisible People

Lee turned 5 months this week. He smells like cheerios and yogurt, and he hovers his chunky bowlegged legs above his diaper as if this were as ordinary as crossing his arms. He focuses on his tiny fingers cupped in front of his face, and then YUM! He gobbles them up. He giggles for no reason at all, for any reason, and his laugh sticks, like syrup, to whoever is nearby. He puts himself to sleep by arching his back and worming his way over to the side of his crib where he shoves his face against the netting and sticks his two middle fingers into his mouth. Sometimes his pointer finger goes up his nose. Sometimes he prefers his thumb. Sometimes a toe. Sometimes no fingers at all. He tells us that he’s ready for bed by scratching his head with one hand and rubbing one eye with the other. And he tells us when he’s ready to get up by talking softly to himself and kicking the rattle toy that hangs on his crib. He enjoys just sitting and shaking his burp cloth up and down. Sometimes he'll tilt over onto his face without being able to pull his arms in front of him, and because he won't make a fuss other than a few grunts, I'll find him face smashed into the couch cushion. He smiles often, cries rarely, naps inconsistently, sleeps 11 hours at night, and poops almost daily.

His parents find themselves calling other children sweetie pie. We tell each other news that would’ve made my eyes roll a year ago hearing it from a mother in our fellowship group: Lee’s graduated to a size 2 in diapers; he drank about 5 ounces in one sitting; I fit him into a 6-9 month carter onsie; today he snatched the napkins and scattered them all over the table; today I tried to give him tuna baby food. What strange little news we have to tell one another now. Before Lee, our news was: the echiveria by the front door is blooming; I accidentally nudged the side of the house with my car; the mailman can’t decide which mailbox to put our mail in; little Maddie our neighbor was walking around outside in her diaper this afternoon. How strange how the topics of our daily phone call to each other have changed. I suppose lawyer and doctor spouses might talk about Obama care or digging for oil in the Whittier hills, but maybe they just talk about missing socks and water spots on their wine glasses.

I have finally come to see that I have something special here. It’s like I’ve been sitting at the bus stop with someone famous and after several hours, I’ve finally noticed who's sitting on the same bench as me. Everywhere I go, the old ladies smile, the sight of Lee brightens their faces. My coworkers hold out their hands and say, “It’s my turn to hold him.” They always comment on his hair. My, how much of it he has. My coworkers tap the bottom of his feet to see his toes curl and gently pinch his hands between their thumb and forefinger. I don’t mind if they don’t say a word to me. I don’t mind that the lady behind me at Trader Joe’s is talking to Lee and not me. I don’t mind that older neighbors peer over the stroller’s edges to get a better look. At the end of the day, he’s mine. I take him home and struggle to put his flailing limbs into a sleep sack and kiss his nose and lay him down to sleep. He smiles at me in the mornings and calls for me when I’ve left him alone too long. 

He is the instant ice breaker, the heart-melter, and he makes my relatives act like clowns. They each have their unique way of addressing Lee. They speak or ask rhetorical questions several times in a row. They feel his grip and say, “Oh, he’s going to be a good rock climber.” They babble nonsense or tell Lee all the things they’re going to do with him without his mama knowing. They turn into gibberish talking machines of googoo’s and oodoo’s and laalaa’s, while pumping his arms and legs rapidly. He has brought life and energy and high-pitched voices.

Yes, the entire experience has been like hell week of La Serna High School’s soccer season, like living those newly wed months again, like moving into a new home, like traveling to a new country, like discovering that there are 7 billion people in the world instead of 3 million, like falling in love, and like walking around church with a giant sign that says, “Coming soon: new mom, give her all the advice and warnings you’ve got." When I’m away from him, I wonder, What can he be doing? Has be started on his second bottle yet? Will he take a nap? Will my mom remember to shake up the formula through and through? Will she find the pacifier that I stored in the front pocket? Will he do anything that I’ll regret missing?

         I see people walking in uptown, people at Trader Joe’s, Target, Granada Heights Friends’ Church, and in parking lots—people that I didn’t know existed, but now suddenly here they are pushing their strollers, corralling their kids, loading up the van, toting around car seats, and shushing their babies. I swear these people didn’t exist 5 months ago; they were invisible, unintentionally ignored. I only noticed people that were my age or younger. But now the world’s population has grown. Is this how it will be as I transition into each new stage of life? Will my world grow bigger when I have to take my kids to sports’ practices? Will it grow again when they go off to college, when they marry, when I become a grandmother, a senior citizen? How large the world must seem then to people over 70! How invisible they must feel to the rest of the world!

Monday, August 6, 2012

SCBWI Conference

         Women with purple hair. Pinched ladies with tiny butts, flat stomachs, and narrow noses. Frumpy librarians with gray-haired braids and tennis shoes under their floral-printed dresses. A sparse group of well-dressed men who were either suspiciously dashing or reminded me of absent-minded professors. Authors and illustrators, editors and agents. Some with superiority complexes and others as gentle and humble as saints. What an odd collection of people!
The authors and illustrators at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference were a crowd of 1,234. Not many of us were ever cheerleaders in high school. We were a crowd of self-proclaimed introverts that were strangely so good at talking. There were “veterans” who were so eager to give me their business cards and talk about their agents. Then there were bright-eyed newbies like me, though after yesterday I don’t think my eyes were so bright—a pox on those speakers for making me cry!
I can hardly believe that I’ve sat in the same room as the editors of Amazon Children’s Publishing, Abram’s Books, HarperCollins, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. I’ve spoken to the author of Sara, Plain and Tall. And heard the creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles. This was the real deal. This was the place where authors are found or created, where the market catches fish and finds diamonds. It’s where the great minds glean and give.
I can recall four names in the sea of people: Svetlana the Ukrainian who has lived in the US for 17 years, Wayne the loud-laughing congenial fellow who sat next to me on the first day, Amy who recognized providence in our meeting at the Golden Kite Luncheon, and Clare Vanderpool, the Newberry Book Award winner who was so kind to sit with me after she made me cry during her talk. Alright, I’ll take my pox back.
For three days the SCBWI attendees stretched the Starbucks’ line halfway across the Hyatt lobby. For three days we congested the escalators (do others find those moving steps as difficult to ride as I?). We power-walked to the men’s restrooms that had been converted into the ladies’ room. We tucked business cards into our nametags. And we browsed through the bookstore, patting, caressing, smoothing, and fingering those wonderful children’s books.
           It’s been ages since I’ve been somewhere where nobody knew me. Where I could be daring and shy, independent and engaged, observant and observed. It was both liberating and lonely, especially at the Golden Kite Luncheon as I wove through the tables wondering where I should sit. I watched people hollering to their friends and giving directions over their cell phones. They waved their hands and said, “Can you see me now.”
Then I longed to hear someone calling my name. “Abigail, sit with me!” But no one did. And I didn’t see any familiar faces. “God, please have me sit where I should.”
          I walked from one end of the Hyatt ballroom to the other and at the far side, I tapped an empty chair, “Is this seat taken?”
            “No, go ahead.”
           I sat between two ladies. One with prickles and a forced smile, and another with chopped short hair like mine and discerning eyes. We chitchatted about our work and lives, and she noticed my distracted expressions whenever I failed to listen well. When babies came up, I said, “I’ve just had my first. He’s four months old, and I’ve finding it so hard to do any kind of writing anymore. How did you manage to keep writing while you had two young kids?”, she cocked her head and said, “You look like you’re going to cry.”
             In case I hadn’t planned on crying, I sure was now. The floodgates opened after that. We had so much in common, so much to share, so much to glean. When I mentioned that I was a churchgoer, her dark eyes brightened and she smiled. “Me too!” Then we couldn’t stop talking…about babies and church and God. We cried together and forgot about eating until we noticed that everyone else at our table was politely waiting to start on their chocolate mousses. Then I downed my ravioli and chicken, and she called the waiter to take her plate away.   
I’m not crushed that I’m going home without a soul interested in my story—I’ve told no one about it anyway. I’m better at asking questions than answering them. Where are you from? Do you write or draw? What genre? What’s your story about?
I’ll take home packets of information, names of editors who might look at my work, and some wise advice, like don’t write crap. And good writing is musical. That raising an infant is like being on an airplane; when the oxygen masks drop, put on your own mask before your child’s. And let your mind run wild while folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and feeding the baby.
And that all things have to leave us at one time or another.
And to be patient. Give it time.
And the best of all: to let the wind blow through the holes in your soul; to let it make music for others to hear. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June Happenings

June gloom. Jacarandas. Magnolias. I can't recall where spring went, but summer is in full bloom and life is settling down to a new normal.

Lee is a talker, which I attribute to Phil. But he also demands to be set down and left alone quite often to wiggle, which would be me.
I took the little guy over to Land Concern to surprise Phil, the other day. His co-workers played along well, pretending that I was a client waiting for him in the conference room.
In other happenings, we've torn down the fence between our house and our neighbors in preparation for a new trek fence. It went down fast. In forty-five minutes that thing was gone. The termites probably helped some though.

And our garden is pushing out all kinds of vegetables: zucchini, sweet peas, green beans, lettuce, herbs, turnips, tomatoes, cucumbers...

Did you know that eating too many cucumbers can cause digestive problems? Well, Phil and I sure know it now.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Unless a Seed Die...

        Running a marathon was hard, not just because I was physically broken, but because I ran the last half alone. Tearing my rotator cuff was painful, but the doctor said to take Ibuprofen, and then the pain went away. My wedding day was emotionally exhausting, but relief came as soon as I made it down the aisle. Moving to Comstock unraveled my organizational self, but this trumped them all.

The doctor had bad news.
“I had this once, and I felt like I was going to die. Really. It’s that bad. Take Ibuprofen and if that’s not enough take Tylenol. But you can’t stop. Keep feeding every 2-3 hours: day and night, fever or no fever, blood or no blood.”
I obeyed, getting up at 12am, 3am, and 6am to relieve the pressure, sometimes I shook with chills; other times I was sweating with a 103 temperature. I kept my beanie and scarf by the bed so I could bundle up. Later I woke up wet with sweat. I slept in spurts. 1.5 hours was average; 2 was lucky, a light sleep too, kept awake by the baby’s grunts and sighs and squeals. He was happy. I was broken. The antibiotics flushed me out a little too well, so I was on a diet of jello, rice, and applesauce. I was dehydrated, sore, tired, bleeding, and still asked to perform.
Even with Phil helping with the night feedings and my mom coming over everyday to watch Lee so I could nap, I was in tears. I couldn’t think straight and forming sentences was a chore. I was trapped in this body; I was trapped in this three-hour pumping schedule. I was trapped in this tiny home that dozens of well-meaning people had crowded with their gifts.
Why hadn’t anyone told me about this part of having a baby? All they talked about was labor and delivery. Or when they did talk about postpartum, they just chuckled and said, “Enjoy your sleep while you can.”
Maybe if I’d taken a class…maybe if I’d read a book, I might have known that when the little old ladies at church smiled at me and said, “Isn’t motherhood wonderful?” that I would either have to become the world’s best actress or shock them with my candid reply: “No, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Moms told me it would get better after six weeks. They said my supply was adjusting to what the baby needed. They said I’d get more rest after three months, that I’d emerge from the fog after half a year. Half a year? How could I think about years when I was struggling to make it through each day?
I remember stepping into the shower to let the hot water relieve the pressure and I asked myself, “What have we done?” I didn’t want this. Couldn’t things go back to the way they used to be? Just Phil and me in our studio. Quiet evenings. Oodles of time. Tasks completed. Sweet sleep. A clear head. Health. Organization. We’d had it so good and now everything was in upheaval.

“…the joke or tragedy of it all is that these golden moments in the past, which are so tormenting if we erect them into a norm, are entirely nourishing, wholesome, and enchanting if we are content to accept them for what they are, for memories. Properly bedded down in the past, which we do not miserably try to conjure back, they will send up exquisite growth. Leave the bulbs alone, and the new flowers will come up. Grub them up and hope, by fondling and sniffing, to get last year’s blooms, and you will get nothing. ‘Unless a seed die…’”
-Letters to Malcolm

I choked on the words. Die? My past life must die? My friendship and romance with Phil must die? They must become memories? But I thought that they were good. I thought that our relationship had reached the peak of its bloom, that this was how it always should be. Hadn’t we been doing everything right? Why till the soil when we were in the middle of enjoying the harvest? No. I couldn’t let it go. I was not ready to bury it.
It took a month of trying to put my house in order, a month of trying to clear my head to write like I used to, a month of trying to catch Phil’s attention when he’d already passed into the new thrills of fatherhood. I felt left behind, and my first Mother’s Day came and went like some obscure news in Africa.

“It is simply no good to try to keep any thrill. That is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go. Let it die away. Go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow. And you will find that you are living in a world of new thrills all the time…It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all around them.” -Mere Christianity

At the Tea Leaf and Coffee Bean with Lee asleep in the stroller next to my table and my thoughts fleeing my mind through the keys on this keyboard, I fought to keep a hold of what was already dead and gone. I clung until my fingers shook like they do after rock climbing. I saw that life passing out of my grasp and it felt like leaping out of an airplane without knowing if the parachute would open, like stepping onto a rope bridge without testing the stability of the planks, like flying a plane without running through my pre-flight checklist. Funny, those daredevil feats were so much easier compared to this. Those were gambling with my life; whereas this was gambling with my soul.
I have everything to lose and must lose everything because unless a seed dies, the plant won’t grow, the bulb won’t sprout, the flowers won’t bloom. So I let it die knowing that the best is yet to come.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake

To guide the future, as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Making a Raised Garden: by Philip

 While on family leave with Abby and Baby Lee we enjoyed constructing a raised garden. Here is a materials list on photo documentation of the project. Enjoy!

Materials for 1.5’ X 4.5’ X 16’ Raised Garden:
  • (8) 16’ Trex boards (or other composite board products)
    • (3) per side and (1) for the cap.
      • If you want the cap to overhang then you will need to trim the 16 footers down to 15’-7” and leave the cap pieces at 16’.
  • (4) 12’ Trex boards (or other composite board products)
    • These will be cut to 4.5’ length in order to close the ends up.
    • You will also create the caps for the 4.5’ sides from these boards.
      • You will end up with some short pieces since you can only get 2 full end pieces out of a 12’ board but I ended up using these left over pieces to make the planter dividers.
  • (2) 8’ Pressure treated 4x4s
      • These will be used for creating the 16” corner posts.
      • These will be used for spanning across the shorts sides to create the planter dividers.
  • (2) 16’ Doug Fir 2x4s & (2) 8’ 2x4s
    • This is where you should assess how you want to reinforce the Trex.
    • I chose to create a rigid X pattern on the backside of the 16’ side panels.
    • You could just cut 16” 4x4’s and place them every 24” and connect them top and bottom with 2x4’s (like creating a miniature wall that you clad with Trex).
  • (2) Boxes of coated deck screws Deckmate.
    • It was good to have two sizes.
      • The smaller 1-1/2” and 2-1/2” lengths.
  • (1) Bundle of 3’ wood stakes
    • These didn’t find a place in the final construction of our raised garden but they were instrumental in determining the size and placement of the garden and helping us mock up the basic idea.
  • Tools:
    • Drill
    • Circular Hand Saw
    • 2 to 4 clamps
    • Pipe clamps if available
    • A large flat work surface (driveway works)
    • Speed Square and pencil
    • Eye, ear, and hand protection

    Irrigation Parts:
    • (1) 50’ ½” Soaker hose
      • Conveniently divides into (3) 16’ lengths.
    • (2) Barbed brass hose connections (pvc aisle, not in garden center) for connecting the cut lengths of soaker hose to the irrigation delivery system.
      • I used zip ties to secure the soaker hose to the barbed end as it wasn’t as tight as I liked.
    • (3) PVC ball valves and related fittings to connect to the barbed brass hose connections and irrigation pvc.
      • I had an irrigation lateral stubbed up into the planter area. I extended it up so it was at the hight of the planters finished grade and split it into three lines that feed the ball valves. The reason for the ball valves is that our solar orientation is such that half or more of the garden will be in shade at certain parts of the year. So we can shut those soaker lines off at the ball valves when they are in shade and continue irrigating the sunny planter rows.
    • PVC cutters and Red-hot Blue Glue
    • Total cost: $620.00
Staking out the perimeter of the garden

Digging trenches so that the garden is level
Garden gets divided into three parts
We lined the garden with cardboard to kill the grass underneath
We ordered dirt from Treeco

Shoveling and distributing the dirt. Yes, that's baby Lee on Abby 

Planting: zucchini, squash, carrots, beans, peas, herbs, lettuce, cucumbers, and spinach

Friday, March 30, 2012


I have felt you;
Now I touch you.
I have carried you;
Now I hold you.
I was afraid;
Now you are.
And I cry too,
But different tears,
From new spaces,
new rooms found here.
Our home is larger.
You've made it so.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hiccups Inside

Spring is here. It’s not just the position of the sun now. It’s the reddish-tinted leaves on the Boston Ivy outside our front door and the glossy green shoots on the Crape Myrtle that we planted less than a month ago. Our squatty Naval Orange is blooming, and the Loropetalum's firework flowers are making a pink show. There’s still some light in the sky when Phil calls to say he’s on his way home, and I don’t have to close the living room shades all the way to keep the sun out of my eyes. Yes, spring, come, come, come! Let the Jacarandas turn yellow and lose their leaves so that they can bloom purple in June. Let the lawn look its worst so that it can come back in full force. And let that sun rise higher and higher so that our new citrus trees aren’t in the shade all day.

And yes… let February pass. Let it go like the end of a vacation or saying goodbye to a good friend. Let it go and let the real spring equinox arrive on March 20th, when the daylight hours are equal to the sunless hours, and the house will be ready for a spring bean…I hope.

Plant your tomatoes alongside the house, fasten stair treads to the spiral staircase, and put the nightstand in the garage. Say goodbye to your students, hand the classes over to Megan Hotz, ask Phil to help tie your shoes, and pack away another load of clothes that don’t fit. March is coming, and I cannot slow its coming.

February 11th is my Valentine’s decorating gathering. February 23rd is past the premature months. March 3rd is shower 3 of 5. March 5th is my last staff meeting. March 8th is my final teaching day. March 10th is my final hurrah to the Montage. And March 25th is Jacob’s birthday.

Let me live this day now and not those days: this blustery day of sunshine, this day in our studio that suits our every need, this day of work or rest, cleaning or organizing, writing or listening. This is the day my God has given to me and I will be glad in it, rejoicing for the new growth on our plants, the Ginger marinate on the chicken, the peach tea with Ashley Emerson, and the hiccups. Yes the hiccups once or twice a day. They make me feel like I am hiccupping too. Just last night there was such movement that Philip and I watched the show together. He looked at me wide-eyed. “That’s crazy, dood!”

It helps. It helps to see it and feel it: 5am, 8:30am, 11:45pm, 3:30pm, and 9pm, with little jabs all throughout, sometimes at my side, sometimes straight out. The cashier workers at Trader Joe’s frequently ask me if I’d like help out to my car. The first time I gave them a blank stare, but now I know why, and I politely say, no thank you.  I wasn’t as gracious when our front house renters asked if I wanted help lifting a pot and I snapped, “I’m not handicapped, James!” 

I also haven’t figured out how to be gracious to the church crowd who must make comments like, “You’re getting bigger,” “When’s your due date?” “Oh isn’t it wonderful!” “When’s the baby coming?” “It’s coming soon,” “When are you due?” “Aren’t you excited?” “When’s the birth?” “Enjoy these days.”

Just shut up! Everyone shut up! I’m considering wearing a sticker that says, March 22. IT’S MARCH 22ND! STOP ASKING!

The one that really irks me is when another mom holds up her baby and says, “Take a sneak peak at what’s coming.” I want to respond with a finger on my chin and an enlightened look in my eyes. “Oh, is that what I get out of all of this? Good thing you told me, cause I thought it was going to be a hippopotamus.”

God gave all the grace to Phil in this marriage. When we’re together, I just shut up and let him do the responding. He’s a natural. Me…well…I have to spend my Sunday morning’s praying for a miraculous change in my attitude, and even still I get people like Doug Francis asking me if I’m mad at him. Oh dear! I thought after 4 months of this, I would have gotten a little better, but I think I’m getting worse.

I find interacting with my Junior High students easier.

“Mrs. Stevens can I have a candy?”
“But your baby wants me to have a candy.”
“Oh really? Let me ask him… nope, he said no candy for you.”
“Mrs. Stevens are we going to get to see your baby?”
“Sure, I’ll bring him or her one day.”

Their eyes get big at that. Then I pick up my tablet and scribble up another Algebra problem for them to try. My Mimio tablet allows me free range in the classroom while I’m teaching so I can check that their desks are ready for class, that they’re doing the problems correctly, or that they’ve written in their organizers. One particular student thinks it’s the time to poke me in the arm, wave his paper in front of my face, and ask, “Is this right?”

My philosophy with teaching is to ask questions. “Let me see. Okay, so tell me what you did here and why.” Between my asking and their explaining, they often find their own errors or realize that they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. The trick is to burden them with the responsibility of learning instead of feeling burdened to get it into their heads. I’ll run through the regular list of teaching aids when introducing a new concept—say it, show it, have them repeat it, draw a picture, give real life examples—but after that it’s up to them. If after all my songs and dances, they still ask me questions that I’ve already answered, I give the lesson over to the class and let them teach each other. I figure that if they won’t listen to me, perhaps they’ll listen to their peers.

I’m just finishing up a lesson on fractions in two-step equations with my eight graders, and they’ve dragged their feet every bit of the way. These problems are long and complex. If they mess up at the start, the whole thing is wrong. I tried to help by putting all the homework answers and work online, which took me an extra hour each time I did it, but they were so lazy that only 3 or 4 went online to check their answers. I tried assigning corrections as a regular homework assignment, but I still had the same 3 or 4 students going online while most everyone else was satisfied with doing all his or her problems wrong twice. It was time to get clever. I covered the next online assignment with pictures of sharks, and then threw a pop quiz asking them what animal was online last night’s slides. Only four got the answer right. The rest earned a painful zero on a quiz. The next day we tried again. I told them that during roll I was going to ask them if they’d checked their answers online, and if they hadn’t check, I wasn’t going to accept their homework. And it worked! All but one student had checked his or her answers online. Finally! Sometimes this job makes me feel like Thomas Edison testing light bulbs. I try and try again until something works.

I hope I can pass that on to Megan Hotz. I hope she can learn how to keep control of herself instead of demanding control of the class. I hope she can find the humor in these little monsters. I hope she can learn how to communicate with the fewest words possible. I hope she speaks slowly. I hope she finds out how saying instructions once while everyone is listening is better than saying it five times when no one is listening. I hope she can keep her emotions out of tense situations. I hope she can lay down the laws and uphold them. I hope she’s willing to sit for an extra half-hour dreaming up manipulatives or real life situations to drive the lessons home. I hope her patience grows so that she can wait for them to do it on their own, instead of doing things for them. I hope she loves them, like I’ve learned to love them. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Vacation To-Do's

The beauties of the Huntington Library were equally as stunning as the destruction from the winds that closed the gardens for over a week. Philip and I ambled through the succulent gardens, the jungle pathways, and the Chinese garden for tea. We sat on benches; Phil to sketch; I to jot down descriptions.
Splintered Bamboo at the Entrance
Aloe Tree Ripped Off
 Ancient cactus trees have toppled over. Trunks of old oak lay like piles of chopped carrots on the statue lawn. A collection of ferns now exposed to the sunlight leans in odd directions like someone's bed head; this is where a great tree fell. The Camellias too have suffered from the fall of those giants that used to shade them. The White Perfection's branches are held together by a wire and all that remains of the Bleichroeder Pink is a skinny stump. The Vedrine looks untouched. It is covered in red blooms as red as the Queen of Heart's red roses. The blooms hang down like lanterns, red like pomegranates, lipstick red.
Wedges of Oak Trees

The Fountain Lawn
Piles of Oak Branches Beside the White Marble Statues
Palm Fronds and Oak Branches
 The jungle suffered the most I believe. The view south from the main entrance used to be blocked by these massive Ficus trees. Now I can see over the tops. The once shaded forest floor is completely exposed to the sunlight.
The Jungle Ficus Trees Completely Stripped
 The desert conservatory, which is located up an obscure path just within the succulent gardens, was open this time. There we saw all sorts of South African plants: cacti so other-worldy that if canned, their labels must read, "Made from 100% unnatural ingredients."
Tightly packed balls with stringy flowers

Green spotted crab claws

The pac-man plant

Looks like a monkey's tail

Ribbons of variegated color

Wafer thin coin-shaped leaves on this cactus

All this is billowing from the tops of little cacti.

Is that cotton seeping from this cactus?

Boston Ivy Berries
Visiting the Huntington Library was only one of our Christmas vacation to-do's. We drew up an extensive to-do list after Phil got off work the Friday before Christmas. He'd put in a full week at Land Concern, staying until 10 pm the last three days before Christmas Eve. So when he was free, he drew a picture of our plans in his sketch book. As of today we've accomplished almost all of it.

 One item that was NOT on our list was squirrel proofing out avocado tree. Using the Murphy Oil that Grandma and Grandpa Seelye gave us for Christmas, we put together the concoction, which included cayanne pepper and tabasco sauce. Phil—who by the way was dressed in his orange jump suit to paint earlier in the day—climbed the tree and misted the leaves. We clogged or broke all of our spray bottles in the process, so the last few branches were doused instead of misted, but I don't think the squirrels will be able to tell the difference. They BETTER not.

A day of creativity was on the list of to-do's and that meant Shinodas for the Stevens ladies. We spent three hours walking the aisles of silk flowers, plastic foliage, and ceramic vases in search of ideas to beautify the church sanctuary. We are three independent minds, so we each took our own shopping cart and veered off different directions. Occasionally we met between the Christmas topiaries and the pink flower aisle to compare notes. "What do you think of this flower?" "Do you think these sunflowers will be enough?" "What sort of vase should I get for these?"
Heather cutting foam for the vases. It's harder than it looks.
The final products will be used when no one signs up to bring flowers to decorate the GHFC stage. In the long run this cuts down the church's expenses. Plus I think our arrangements look much better than those awful leftover conglomerations thrown together by the florist.

 Tearing out our cactus was also not on our list, but planting a Crape Myrtle in the alley was, and at Ayon Nursery, Phil was so overcome by a multi-trunk Strawberry Tree that I said, "Would you replace our cactus to get this Strawberry Tree?" I do not like that cactus. I have never liked that cactus. Now the cactus is in our neighbors' green bins. There just wasn't enough room in our own green barrel even though the segments cut as easily as watermelon, watermelon with agitating white sap. Phil and I both found red abrasion on our limbs after this.

 Perhaps you're wondering how we lifted that 24 inch box into the planter. It's too big for one man, and I'm feeling more and more pregnant these days. Solution: we rocked it back and forth, alternately tucking bricks under the crate until it was level with the planter. Finally we slid a wooden plank beneath it to smoothly scoot it into its hole. I say smoothly, but Phil did the grunt work.
Crape Myrtle replaces Pony Tail Palm in the alley.

We planted sharp agaves around the base to discourage thieves.
We've one day left of vacation, which we plan to spend planting a Boxwood hedge, replacing a cracked window, watching the Rose Parade, and sharing a meal with the family. I wish it wasn't ending. This time has reminded me how much I love working and being with Philip. It feels like a honeymoon all over again complete with night time walks, lazy mornings, movies, and meals out on the town using long forgotten gift cards. Alas, we've no more gift cards, movie passes, or Christmas cash to use up.