Friday, July 31, 2015

School's in Session

My classroom, all set up and ready to be filled with high-schoolers.
This view is looking  in from the classroom door. My desk is out of sight, on the left.
The desk ahead (by the inner door) is where my aide Joe works.
July 27, 2015

For those of us who are "veteran" teachers, our official first day back on the job was this Monday, July 27. The next two days were filled with district and high school meetings and activities, and a tiny bit of time left over to work in our classrooms and prepare for students incoming on Wednesday. (That's why I spent two days the previous week getting my room in order.)

Here's a little peek at the first week back on campus...

Monday began with a district breakfast in the high school cafeteria.
Teachers and staff enjoyed visiting and catching up after 8 weeks of summer.
(Apologies to those I caught chewing or in equally unflattering poses...)
There are about 100 teachers in our small, rural, k-12 district.

After breakfast, we headed to the auditorium for a 2-hour district meeting.
Those are the district and various building leaders seated on the stage.
At the podium is our new high school principal, Jay Cox.
I've worked with him closely in the past. He's a good man.

Ms. D's "Harmonies" performed "I'll Be There for You" from Friends.
Now that song is stuck in your head, isn't it? It's still stuck in mine.

After the district meeting, we had about an hour for department meetings.
Then we were all treated to a district barbecue near the football field.

Our new superintendent and a school board member grill burgers 
for faculty and staff. 

Elementary principal Dave Clark, formerly my colleague at the high school,
serves up all the fixings in the concessions stand.

Feeding all the teachers and staff of our district.

Later in the day, I took a walk through the halls of the main building.
There was a lot of sprucing up and remodeling done over the summer.

Walls freshly painted, floors freshly waxed.

It's really not the same without students. They fill the halls with energy.

What's a senior commons without seniors?
Dylan is one of those seniors this year.

This hall looks barren. (Three people have told me it looks like a mental institution.)
For the 25 years I've worked here, its walls were hung with group pictures 
of every graduating class since the high school was established in 1963.

I understand our new leaders are going for a "clean" look, 
but a lot of student artwork and proud emblems are gone, painted over. 
The halls have lost their personality and warmth and tradition.
I hope the pictures, at least, will be rehung someday.

The front office was remodeled and carpeted.

The front of the high school was also painted, and all vegetation removed.
I do like the tan color, but I think the reddish brown is ugly and clashes with the tan.
These colors don't say "Yellow Jacket pride."
I never cared for the hedges that were removed, but the bare beds that remain
now need some decorative color, small plants, not boring gravel.
Dylan says it looks like a prison. I hope they plan some type of landscaping for the future.
"Clean" does not have to be boringly utilitarian.

Finally, the first day of school on Wednesday, July 29.
At 7:45 the students head to the gym for an opening assembly.

The stands are packed with excited students.

Our new principal decided everyone should get up in front of the crowd
and tell about the classes they teach, clubs they sponsor, or sports they coach.
The office staff went first: Denise, Jeff, Jill, Greg, Amanda, Amanda, Candy, and Jay.

Even the special education instructional aides introduced themselves.
On the far left is my aide, Joe. What would I do without him?
Although I'm teaching regular English classes for half the day (3 periods),
I still teach resource English the other 3 periods for kids with learning disabilities.

There's no picture of me in front of the crowd, so I took a picture of the crowd
while I waited for the microphone to be handed to me.
Dylan is there, in the center of the seniors crowd, black shirt, looking at his phone.
He said it was "weird" to watch his mom address the whole student body,
but he was relieved and surprised that I was able to do it without embarrassing him.

The cheer coach, my longtime friend and neighbor Michelle Daly,
asked me to film her girls when they performed. 
Afterward I was able to snap this shot while they led the fight song.

The assembly concluded after more music, games, and competitions, and then the students were sent to their homerooms for start-of-the-year instructions and take-home packets for parent signatures. The rest of the day was made up of shortened classes in which we discussed rules, discipline policy, expectations, and classroom procedures. By the end of the day, I didn't have much voice left. On Thursday we were back on regular schedule and most of us jumped into instruction.

Let the games begin! And may the odds be ever in your favor...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

First Car

17 July 2015: Sarah and Chris hand over the keys.

Yesterday, Dylan got his first car! Yes, it's a hand-me-down and, yes, it needs a lot of work, but--hey-- it's transportation and it's his!

This 1996 Buick Century belonged to my second husband, Ed, but he gave it to Sarah and Chris as a wedding gift when they got married in July 2011 (almost exactly four years ago!). For three and a half years it provided semi-reliable transportation for them, but they decided it was finally time for a newer, more dependable vehicle in February, when they bought their 2008 Jeep Liberty Sport.

Then they parked the old Buick and de-insured it, and there it has sat in their yard for the past five months, collecting pine needles and cobwebs.

Chris removes their old license plate and installs Dylan's new one.

Fast forward to July 2015. I have four people living in my home, all with jobs on differing schedules, and only one car. Right now that's doable because I'm on summer break, so I'm available to drive everyone all over as needed. That all comes to a screeching halt on Wednesday, July 29, when school starts and both Dylan and I (the only licensed drivers of the four of us) will be locked in the classroom from 7:30 to 3:30 five days a week (four days, for Dylan). 

We needed a transportation solution, and fast!

I think Diego was happy to see Dylan. He knocked him over!

So Sarah and Chris agreed to sell the old Buick to Dylan for $100, and on Friday we spent an hour transferring the title from them to Dylan at the Motor Vehicle Division (that's right, in every other state it's the DMV, but Arizona has to be different and call it the MVD. We're such mavericks!). The good news was it only cost Dylan $20 for the title and registration. That's one way in which old cars are nice: cheap registration fees.

While $100 is a good deal for a car that runs (and the engine really is in great shape with just 114,000 miles in 19 years), Dylan will face more expenses sooner rather than later. The Buick needs new tires and a new battery. Also, the driver-side door won't open, so you have to slide across the bench seat from the passenger side; the front passenger door won't open from inside, so to get out of the car you must lower the window to reach the outer handle; and the driver seat leans back a bit wonky. Luckily, Dylan is young and flexible, and he has put away $900 since he started working (as well as paying his own insurance).

Dylan gets behind the wheel. It started right up!

From the MVD, we headed to Sarah and Chris's place to pick up the car, and then we drove straight to our State Farm agent's office to get the car insured. That took more than an hour, and Dylan got more bad news. The cost of insuring a car, even one that's a year older than Dylan, is pretty steep for an 18-year-old driver. It's good that he doesn't have any other expenses right now. On a brighter note, during the long drive from Sarah and Chris's house to State Farm, the Buick performed perfectly. Although one of the tires was already flat by the end of the day...

I love our State Farm agent's little car. Notice the license plate!
(Click on the picture if you need to enlarge it.)

The next step will be getting Dylan's friend Jake licensed. He was born and raised in the Bronx (New York City) and has lived in Pennsylvania since 2005. Many people in those metropolitan areas never have a license or own a car because it's too expensive to park them, and public transportation is readily available. Now that Jake is an Arizonan, though, he'll need to drive! He'll be practicing a lot during the next week.

Mark looks forward to having a license again, too, but he can't get one until his parole ends in February. So our plan is that, while Dylan and I are at school, we'll leave the Buick with Jake and let him drive both himself and Mark to and from work when they're scheduled between the hours of 7:30 and 3:30. If there are occasions when Jake needs to be at work substantially earlier than Mark, then we'll have to call upon Sarah, Jacob, or Danielle to help get Mark where he needs to be. We hope that everyone's work schedules will be cooperative.

Wish us luck!

We're now a two-car household!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Girl's Got Nails

14 July 2015: After 22 days, these nails were ridiculously long!

As I blogged back on June 22nd, Sarah, Danielle, and I had a girls' afternoon out to pamper ourselves with pedicures and manicures. For myself, I'd chosen to get a set of fake nails, my first ever. Since then, being a nail-biter since childhood, I've discovered that having fingernails takes some getting used to!

I'd asked the manicurist to make the nails short, but what I ended up with was not what I'd call short. This posed a problem because, of course, as my own nails grew out, so did the fake nails. Everything I was used to doing with my fingertips now, suddenly, became a challenge. 

As the next three weeks stretched on, it became difficult and then nearly impossible to type or text (usually hitting two letters at a time); to give my scalp an invigorating fingertip massage in the shower without slicing and dicing; to pick up coins or other small objects (I had naively thought that would become easier); or to put on makeup without leaving scratches. One night in bed, a hair blew across my forehead, and when I reached up to move it, I gouged my eyebrow. Even flossing my teeth became a prickly nightmare!

The manicurist told me to come back in 2-3 weeks for a "refill." Ordinarily, I would have simply taken the fake nails off when they began to lift at the corners, figuring it was fun for awhile but now it's time to get back to reality. However, I decided that this time it would be fun to start the school year with fingernails. So I put up with the inconvenience for three weeks and a day before returning to the nail salon on Tuesday (after lunch with my pal Debbie).

Still not short enough, but better.

I had a different manicurist this time. I told her right away that I wanted the nails as short as possible. She shaved them down quite a bit, but then I asked, "Can we make them a little shorter?" She said she would do that when she filed them. I asked twice more that she make them as short as possible, but she finally insisted she couldn't go shorter than this.

I actually think the nails are the perfect length--at this moment. I can use my fingertips again (blissful sigh). I can't help but wonder how long they'll be when I return to work in 11 days, or when school starts two days after that.

I'd really hate to go all Edward Scissorhands when I get crazy grading those study guides and essays again! 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lunching Ladies

14 July 2015: Mary and Debbie, together again!

At least once every summer my dear friend Debbie and I try to get together for lunch and a visit. Sometimes we even manage two visits during the summer months in one year. You see, Debbie and her husband George live in the Valley, but they are lucky enough to spend their summers here on the mountain where it's much cooler.

Debbie and I actually met 25 years ago, back when I first became a teacher here at the high school. She was an instructional aide in our program and we found we had a lot in common. Before long, she was working on her own teaching degree, and just a few years later she was certified and accepting a position at Mesa High School, where she served as an amazing teacher of special education youths until she retired recently. (I am SO jealous!)

Even though Debbie and George left the mountain something like twenty years ago, we've somehow managed to stay in touch (it is the age of electronic communication, after all). And they had a small trailer in our area where they could escape to the pines every summer, which gave Debbie and me an opportunity to actually get together and do some catching up. (In fact, I've done posts on our annual reunion in the past.)

This year was particularly exciting for Debbie and George, because they'd sold their old trailer and purchased a brand new park model to use as their summer home!

Debbie and George inside their new vacation home.

And so Debbie and I met for lunch at Show Low Cafe at 11:00. Okay, I was fashionably late, as usual, but only by 4 minutes! She enjoyed the soup and salad bar while I noshed on a yummy 3-egg omelet stuffed with spinach, avocado, and bacon.

After we'd eaten and visited for about an hour, we headed over to the new house, whom they have christened "Polly." Apparently they had quite an experience getting "Polly" moved up from the Valley and settled into her new niche, but she's looking good now! They've put lots of work into their new place, including a landing with both steps and ramp, walkways, landscaping, and Debbie's long-dreamed-of white picket fence. Their new vacation home reflects their pride and happiness and hard work.

We were able to enjoy a fun visit until almost 2:00, when I had to leave to pick up Mark from work. We hope to get together again in the next couple of months, before they make their way back to the warm country!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Worth Waiting For

A gift from someone who thinks I'm "Red Hot"!

When Mark got home from work tonight, he handed me a white bag that was tied shut so tightly that I had to rip it to shreds to get it open. But when I found the card and gift inside, I immediately started crying.

During the two-and-a-half months that Mark has been staying with us, we've talked a lot about things that led to the end of our 17-year marriage (in August 2006). In fact, he was required to take a month-long counseling course with me as his coach, and in one of the chapters he had to explore his marriage and relationship with his ex ... me! We both learned a lot about the dynamics of our marriage during that unit.

One of the things I told Mark was that I always felt we were friends, in that I knew he loved, admired, and respected me and I could always be myself with him, but I never felt I was his best friend. He was too often willing to ditch me to party with his fellow addict-friends. After being married to Ed, my second husband--who told me a week before we were sealed in the temple (on our first anniversary in May 2011) that we could never be friends because he saw me as his competitor and my children as the enemy--I explained to Mark that I can't get married again unless I know I come first in my husband's heart, as his very best friend.

And so, as soon as I saw what he'd written on the card, my heart was touched and the tears began to flow. I know he means it. If he can only hold onto those feelings when temptations begin to intrude.

A sweet card and a gift candle.

The red M&Ms candle was touching, too, because he knows M&Ms are my most favorite candies. At first I thought he'd actually brought me a giant M&Ms candy, and I was a bit disappointed. I said, "You got me sugar?" He looked confused for a second, then said, "It's not sugar." I looked closer and saw that it was a scented candle, which he knew I'd use as a bookend, or rather a "DVD-end," to hold up DVDs that keep falling over on the shelf. I'd been looking for something like that to use.

And, if it had been sugary candy, I wouldn't have been disappointed in the gift. It's only that Mark was diagnosed two weeks ago with some serious health issues, and one of the doctor's recommendations was weight loss. So we both went seriously low-carb on Tuesday, July 7th. He's lost 7 lbs and I've lost 7.6 lbs in just six days, so I really didn't want us to be tempted and lose our momentum!

Some serious sweetness.

Mark had clearly spent some time finding just the right card for what he wanted to say. After I read it and cried some more, I gave him a hug and a kiss, saying, "I've been waiting for this moment since 1989!" That made him laugh.

Expressing himself doesn't come easily to Mark, especially in writing, so I will treasure this card  (and envelope) forever. I still can't say whether our new relationship will become permanent, but Mark is a good man with a huge heart and I do love him for loving me and our kids. He is pretty awesome!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Independence Day

My nephew Burke fires up the grill--literally!

Last year I spent the 4th of July in the emergency room, being diagnosed with diverticulitis, so I missed out on the fireworks and fun. I'm happy to say that this year I enjoyed a more traditional Independence Day, joining family and friends for a barbecue, visiting, and fireworks.

Plenty of food, since everyone brought side dishes and homemade ice cream.
I brought the coleslaw in the yellow dish and my strawberry ice cream.

Although my brother Jeff and his wife Dana now live in Glendale, in the Phoenix area, they keep a house here in the White Mountains. In fact, I have it on good authority that they plan to move back here, hopefully in August. They and their older kids decided it would be fun to gather here for a 4th of July barbecue like we used to do in the old days, and so that's what we did on Saturday.

More food!

Jeff and Dana provided the burgers and hot dogs, along with buns and condiments and drinks, while the rest of us brought potluck dishes. There was a ton of food, and it was all great!

Rain clouds hovered overhead but held their moisture

It had rained off and on all day, heavily at times, so some people were nervous about the fireworks being cancelled for rain. In fact, 45 minutes away, the big show in Heber-Overgaard was cancelled because it was just too wet. Our show went on, though. Our typical weather pattern during monsoon season is rain in the early to late afternoon, but rarely in the evening. I felt confident that we'd be able to enjoy our fireworks, and I was right!

Chairs are set up in the driveway, ready to enjoy the show after dark.

Once the meal was done, the fireworks program was still more than two hours away, so we passed the time in a variety of ways. Most of us older folks sat and visited. We had our chairs in place, with the best seating in town. The program is presented at the local high school, and Jeff and Dana's driveway happens to be right across the soccer field from the football field. The fireworks literally explode right over our heads. Some years we were actually covered in ash and bits of paper by the end of the show!

Some people took selfies while being photo-bombed
by their younger brothers.

Many of the younger folks took walks or gathered in groups to talk...

...or to share things on electronic media.
(Burke, Elsie, Dylan, Jacob, and Mark.)

The little ones loved playing with sparklers (that's my niece Callie).

Dana was highly popular with the younger set, handing out and lighting sparklers.

Eventually the time passed and the lights on the fields went dark. Then everyone took to their seats and the spectacular light show began!

The individual fireworks on the ground were visible across the field.

It was beautiful. You can look at this picture and take my word for it...

Or you can watch the video of the grand finale (1 minute 23 seconds), filmed from my chair, below!

The next day, being Sunday, was our weekly family dinner. Everyone in our family was there, including a special visitor: my beautiful, camera-shy niece, Savannah, who came up from the Valley to enjoy the Fourth with everyone this weekend. To my surprise, she allowed me to take her picture while she and her cousins played games after dinner. It was a great end to a wonderful weekend!

Savannah, Sarah, Jacob, and Chris play Uno.
5 July 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Baby's No Baby Anymore

Dylan on his 18th birthday: July 1, 2015!

That's it. There are no more minors in my family. Sarah is 25, Jacob is 24, and now my baby is 18. Where has the time gone?

It's hard to get a serious picture with this family!

Yesterday we had Dylan's birthday party and, miracle of miracles, everyone was able to be there. Danielle didn't get off work until after 6:00 and Sarah didn't get off work until 6:30, which meant we didn't have dinner until after 7:00, but ultimately everyone was there to celebrate.

All accounted for: Sarah, Mark, Chris, Dylan's friend Jake, 
Dylan, Dylan's friend Mary, Danielle, and Jacob.

Dylan's choice for dinner: fried chicken, rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy.

We enjoyed all of Dylan's favorite foods at dinner. He adores my low-carb fried chicken (dip in an egg/cream/spices mixture and roll in finely ground pork rinds and Parmesan cheese), he loves bread of all kinds (unless it involves cinnamon or raisins), and there are only three "vegetables" he will touch: mashed potatoes, french fries, or corn. To say he is picky would be an understatement.

Dylan reacts to his Xbox Live gold card, a gift from Sarah and Chris.

After dinner, we were all way too stuffed to even think about cake and ice cream, so we cleaned up the kitchen a bit and then gathered to watch Dylan open his presents.

From his friend Mary, he got a Mickey Mouse toy, assorted candies,
and Cheetos Puffs--which is a traditional gift between them.

Earlier, his friend Jake gave him a video game, Alien: Isolation,
and Dylan's friends Haley and Jeramy gave him a bag of York Peppermint Patties.

Dylan tries out his gift from Jacob and Danielle, a selfie stick!
As for me, I pre-ordered a game for his Xbox, Black Ops III.
He won't get it until November, but he can play the beta version online until then.

The three-layer birthday cake made by Jacob and Danielle.
Later she used peanut M&Ms to write "18" on top.

Around 9:30 we were ready to do cake and ice cream. Dylan's favorite ice cream is cookies and cream, and we got a carton of thin mints ice cream for good measure.

Singing "Happy Birthday to You." Dylan also got 18 swats and a pinch from his dad!

Jacob and Danielle found a "Surprise!" cake online that they really liked, so they worked together to make it a reality for Dylan's special day. Watch the short video below to see the surprise when Dylan cut into it.

Fun times! Happy birthday to our young man, Dylan!
But you'll always be my baby...