Saturday, May 30, 2015

Finally Finals!

My freshman English class starts on their final exam.
27 May 2015

Here I stand, on the cusp of summer vacation, having survived finals week at Blue Ridge High School! Since Memorial Day was on Monday and the high school doesn't have classes on Fridays, it was only a 3-day school week. In some ways it was too short, and in some ways it was too long. Too short for grading finals, recording semester grades, packing up and shutting down a classroom, and all the other duties required to end a school year. But too long for anticipating the start of a glorious 8-week summer break!

My "Read 180" classes take their finals online.

Like most of you, I grew up with the typical Memorial Day-to-Labor Day 3-month summer vacation, so 8 weeks seems pretty short. Part of it is due to our state increasing the number of instructional days over the years, a weak attempt to balance instruction with the increased number of days spent on ridiculously copious amounts of testing. 

The plus for online testing is I don't have to grade them. The computer does it!

The other reason for such a short summer break is that our school district runs on a modified year-round calendar. That means at the end of each quarter (9 weeks), we get a full 2-week break. I love it. Two weeks in October, two weeks in December (the usual length for Christmas break), and two weeks in March. Believe me, after nine weeks of teaching, I'm ready for a nice long break! Thus I feel that a shortened summer vacation is well worth the trade-off during the school year.

Nightmarish traffic at the high school entrance 30 minutes before graduation.
29 May 2015

And, in behalf of my friends and family who work at other careers, allow me to say that I strongly feel you should get more time off, as well! I think everyone should be given at least one month of vacation per year. Other countries do it, and there's plenty of research to show that their workers more than make up for the time off with increased productivity during the other eleven months of the year. We all need time to refresh and rejuvenate from the daily grind!

The parking lots of 4 school buildings on district property were already packed.
By the end of the night, cars were pulled up on the dirt and parked among the trees!

The crowning event of the high school year is, of course, graduation. Our was held last night at 7:30. Mark and I left the house at 6:40. (Dylan, as usual, had to work.) The school is 3 miles away. We arrived at the last stop light before the school at 6:45 and found that the line of cars waiting to turn into the school entrance several blocks ahead started just on the other side of the intersection. We waited in line for almost 15 minutes before we finally turned into the high school parking lot!

Throngs of family and friends fill the stadium. By the time graduation began,
it was shoulder-to-shoulder standing room only along the fence at front.

After turning left into the entrance, an immediate right takes you into the old junior high parking lot (which is now the high school "east campus," where my classroom is located). That's where I wanted to go, but when I tried to turn right I was stopped by a volunteer officer directing traffic. There was no room in that lot, she told me. I explained that I work in that building and have my own out-of-sight parking spot there. I convinced her to let me drive back and see if it was open.

The graduates file by twos into the seating area.

Back when that building was the junior high, there was a cafeteria on the far end. Outside that cafeteria was a small, sheltered bay, barely big enough for two cars, where food trucks could back in to make their deliveries. The old cafeteria is now the library, and that little hidden bay is where Mr. Robinson (the librarian) and I park our cars each day. As luck would have it, no one had discovered my hidden space, so I parked my car, and Mark and I hoofed it to graduation, cutting through the building to save time.

Soon the field is filled with seniors-turned-graduates.
At left is Ms. D's choir, who provided great music for the evening.

It's always a pleasure to watch these youth, all bright-eyed and enthusiastic, as they prepare to leave high school behind and chase their dreams. Many are kids I've known since they were in diapers (small-town living). Many are students I've worked with since they were freshmen. Some never thought they could do it. A few are the first high school graduates in their families. Ever. Several have come to my room over the past few weeks, all choked up. "I made it, Ms. Carter. I made it. I'm graduating. You're going to be there, right?"

I wouldn't miss it for the world!

Dylan's friend Courtney was Valedictorian. Barely tall enough to see over the podium!
She's also the violinist who performed a solo at the concert I blogged on May 9th.
Her speech was very funny!

Admittedly, Blue Ridge has the longest graduation ceremony of any small school on the planet. On occasion, I hear people complain about it. I say, if you don't like it, don't come. Our seniors embrace our traditions, and this is THEIR day, THEIR ceremony. In my 25 years at Blue Ridge High, there have been a couple of attempts to make changes, but the students themselves always shout it down. They want their day in the sun. They want to be featured with their friends in their very own Senior Video, shared with their supporters at graduation. And they earned it.

Senior Video

All year long, the yearbook and photography staff create the Senior Video, which is shown on a huge screen on the field at graduation, after the sun has gone down. It adds about 20 minutes to the ceremony, but it is a remarkably precious tradition. Everyone turns their chairs and watches clips and pictures of events throughout the year. Then it winds up with a baby picture, followed by a senior picture, of each graduate. Parents carefully choose which baby pictures to submit (some of us may even have chosen those photos 15+ years before graduation arrived...), some sweet, some humorous, all adorable.

Almost as fun as seeing those baby pictures is hearing the reactions of their classmates. Soft "Awww's" for each baby picture are followed by an eruption of cheers and applause when they see who that baby grew up to be. Everyone gets a cheer. Every. Single. Student. It's amazing. And we all love it.

Dylan's friend Sam ("Sammy G") with his diploma.

Even the act of presenting diplomas is special, as the narrator tells a little something about each graduate while they cross the stage. Last night's most popular message was a girl who wrote (and the narrator, Mrs. Clark, read): "So-and-so plans to become a rich divorcee. Meanwhile, she will attend U of A and study aerodynamics..." Or something like that. I was laughing too hard at the divorcee part to hear the rest.

Dylan's friend Spencer is newly graduated, too.
We've known both these boys since they were preschoolers.

It was a beautiful, not-too-chilly night on the mountain, and a momentous occasion for some very special young people. Congratulations to all. Now, get out there and conquer the world!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Weekend

Memorial Day 2015

Our family has been unusually blessed when it comes to loved ones in the Armed Forces. Quite a number of my family have served over the years. During World War II, my Uncle Ernie Butler was a turret gunner on a TBF as a Marine; my Uncle Johnny Shields served in England with the Army's 8th Air Force; and my Uncle Elmer Stokes served in the Army Military Police. My Uncle LeRoy Haley served in the Army during the Korean War in the 1950s. In more recent times, several of my cousins have served in the military.

What is unusual about this? Despite such a high rate of service, all of our loved ones came home, alive and whole. On this Day of Memorial, we are reminded that not every family has been so blessed. Many sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins gave their last full measure of devotion and never returned home to the arms of those who must wait for a joyous reunion when we all meet, at last, beyond the veil.

Our love and appreciation goes out to those men and women, and to their families, as we honor them on this special day. We owe them a debt we can never repay.

Mark slices tomatoes for the burgers.
24 may 2015

It may be that some people see Memorial Day as merely as excuse for barbecues, boating, and parties, but I think deep in our collective consciousness it's a reminder that every moment with our loved ones is unutterably precious. Thus we gather with family and friends to celebrate both those who gave their all and the freedom we continue to enjoy, thanks to their efforts. The truth is that none of us knows whom we may lose tomorrow, whether in the military or on an overcrowded highway or in a hushed hospital room. We must enjoy and love each other as much and as often as we can in the now.

Jacob handled the burger duty, combining the meat with 
finely diced onion and spices, then grilling them to perfection.

Because Sarah had to work from noon until 9:00 and Dylan had to work from 4:00 to 9:00 on Memorial Day itself, we had our Memorial Day barbecue on Sunday as part of our weekly family dinner. Even at that, Dylan was unable to join us for dinner because he had been scheduled to work on Sunday, as well.

Dinner was cheeseburgers, french fries, and corn on the cob.

I started out preparing the corn, but Jacob took over
after I showed him the cool trick I learned on the Internet:

Leave the corn in its husk and microwave on high for 4 minutes (per cob; we did up to three at a time for 12 minutes). No pot, no water, just lay the corn on a paper plate. After removing from the microwave, cut through the husk and cob at the end just above the stem (you'll actually cut through the corn at that end). Then grasp the end of the husk where the silk hangs out, and pull firmly. The corn will slide out, perfectly clean and cooked, without a bit of silk sticking to it! Very quick and easy cleanup!

Gathered around the table: Sarah, Mark, Chris, Jacob, and Danielle.

I decided to do some individual shots this time, so here's Mark.
Do you think he likes a little ketchup on his fries?

And here's me, Mary. Yep, already cheating on day 10 of my diet,
with french fries and corn on the cob. But no bun on my burger!

Here's Sarah...

...and here's Chris.

Here's Jacob...

...and here's Danielle.

And here's Jurassic World!

After dinner, since we no longer have our favorite Sunday shows to watch together (Once Upon a Time, Secrets and Lies, and The Walking Dead), I decided that we should watch a Jurassic Park movie every Sunday for the next three weeks. Since I recently received my 3-disc DVD set of the films from Amazon, and since I am way beyond excited for the new Jurassic World movie to come out on June 11th, I thought it would be fun to have a look at the original films and get psyched up for the release of the new movie. So that's what we did!

Jacob gets the ice cream freezer fired up.

Of course, I spent the first quarter of the movie listening from the kitchen while I prepared the mixture for homemade strawberry ice cream, which was ready to be served up and consumed toward the end of the movie around 9:00, just in time for Dylan to come home from work and join us. It was delicious!

Dylan tries to eat homemade ice cream and fight off his brother at the same time.

Mark and Jacob monitor the grill for our second barbecue.
25 May 2015

Tonight we grilled again, but this time it was just Jacob and Danielle with Mark and me, since Sarah and Dylan had to work. A quieter evening and a simpler meal, but another opportunity to be together and remember the sacrifices that keep us free. Thank God for those who protect this great land!

Tonight: hot dogs, cheesy bratwurst, potato chips with toasted onion dip,
and my homemade coleslaw!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

More Togetherness

Jacob, Danielle, Chris, and Sarah at Cinderella.
15 May 2015

There's no real story to this blog post, just lots more fun family togetherness, for which I'm most grateful, and some pictures to share!

Mark, Mary, Jacob, Danielle, and Chris before the performance.

Our whole family, with the exception of Dylan who had to work that night, attended our high school's production of Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (my personal favorite version). The play was very well done and most enjoyable. It was all Danielle and I could to to refrain from singing along with the cast! Even the guys got a kick out of it.

Cinderella with her fairy godmother.

Cinderella's stepsisters and stepmother were simply hilarious!!

The Prince and Cinderella have their momentous dance at the ball.

 Chris's niece Morgan had a part as a town person in the play!
She was delightful!

Jacob and Danielle at El Rancho.
16 May 2015

On the following night, Saturday, Jacob decided we should all go out to dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, El Rancho. During the 17 years of our marriage, Mark and I took the kids to El Rancho quite regularly, but this was Mark's first time to eat there since our divorce in 2006.

Dylan and Jacob ham it up in the restaurant.

Coincidentally, two tables over from ours, our friends Jim and Kathy Rice arrived shortly after we did and filled pushed-together tables with their family of daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. When Jim stopped by our table to say hi, we both mentioned how nice it was to have our entire families together that night. Not one person was missing from either family!

Chris and Sarah in El Rancho.

Mark and Mary at El Rancho.

Sarah prepares her bratwurst during last Sunday's family dinner.
17 May 2015

The next night was our weekly family dinner. We enjoyed bratwurst (not me--I can't stand the stuff, so I had chorizo sausages, a spicy Mexican sausage), ruffled chips and toasted onion dip, and "Dad's Salad," an invention of Mark's from many years ago.

Mark invented this salad when the kids were young.
They call it "Dad's Salad" and insisted he make some for us.

One day we didn't really have anything in the kitchen for a side dish with dinner, so Mark went through the cupboards and refrigerator drawers and threw this together: diced cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, onion, and cubed cheese, all blended with spices and a bit of mayonnaise. It was delicious, and we've enjoyed it ever since. Last week, the kids insisted he make it for us, for old time's sake. And it was yummy!

Jacob's filled plate.

My plate was a bit more modest, minus buns and chips.
Yes, I'm back to eating right--again! (I've lost 5.2 lbs in the first 9 days.)

Mark and Dylan have macaroni and cheese for Sunday's lunch.
17 May 2015

Lastly, allow me to confess that I'm enjoying having another person in the house. It was pretty lonely when Dylan started working 5 evenings per week and it was just me at home, alone. It's even better when all 3 of us are together at meal times, or watching a DVD, or just talking and joking around.

My lunch was a no-bread sub with ham, cheese, tomato, onion, and alfalfa sprouts.

One night it was stuffed bell peppers (with meatloaf for Dylan).

One of the fun things about having Mark back in the house is having someone to cook with, who enjoys the same foods I do. I guess it's natural to develop similar tastes after being married for so many years. And somehow it's more interesting to plan and prepare meals when you're doing it with someone else. Due to Dylan's aversion to most foods (his three food groups are meats, breads, and sweets), it just wasn't the same as cooking for or with someone who's going to actually eat the dish you've prepared!

Another night it was beef stir-fry with leftover steak, broccoli, cauliflower,
green beans, and mung bean sprouts. And plain grilled steak for Dylan.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mothers Day

My three reasons for Mother's Day: Sarah, Jacob, and Dylan!
10 May 2015

Our entire family gets together for a nice Sunday dinner every week, and this past Sunday was no exception. However, there were a few elements we added in honor of Mother's Day.

Jacob makes us one of his veggie-packed salads.

We started off with a dinner of Chicken Parmesan, fried potatoes and onions, and a huge salad. Unfortunately, our newly-employed Dylan had to work that evening, so he missed out on this part. We did save some chicken for my vegetable-detesting son for when he got home at 9:00. Of course!

Chicken Parmesan

Fried potatoes and onion

Lining up for dinner, buffet-style: Mark, Sarah, Chris, Danielle, and Jacob.

Mary with an addition to her Willow Tree collection.

After dinner, it was time to open Mother's Day gifts from Sarah and Chris. They gave me a beautiful new Willow Tree figurine for my collection. This one is called "Lots of Love" and she cradles a glittery heart in her hands. I love it! Sarah also gave me a cute little date-book featuring Willow Tree photos.

Jacob and Danielle gave me a rain check for a mysterious gift they found for me in an LDS bookstore in Las Vegas last month. They both assured me that it's "perfect" for me, and they plan to order it online next week. My curiosity is piqued!

Dylan brought me the little orange geranium. The carnation, booklet, and a dark chocolate 
Dove bar (I'd already eaten mine!) were handed out to all the ladies in church.

Each week we gather around the TV to watch one of our favorite programs, Once Upon a Time, and we did the same on this night. We'd been anticipating the 2-hour season finale, which delivered all the twists and turns we've grown to expect! By the time it ended, Dylan was home and we all enjoyed a dessert of cake and ice cream together.

Jacob made me a spice cake chock full of chocolate chips,
with cherry-vanilla frosting.

I'm so grateful to be a mother and to be richly blessed with such wonderful children, both my own three and those who've become my own, including Chris, Danielle, and Ryan and Shera. I am so blessed and I love them all!