Monday, December 20, 2010

Airport Atrocities

First of all, we had to be at the airport at 5 a.m. Need I say more? Apologies to our hosts and chauffeurs, Jesse's parents! Second, there was the couple whose questionable genders and embarrassing public displays of affection obstructed curbside traffic for several minutes; while waiting for them to take a breather and kindly get out of the way so we, and the 20 vehicles behind us, could get out and unload the van, we tried to determine whether they were a man and a woman, or two men. One of them had a beard... Finally, after winding through the labyrinthine security lines and observing the new full-body scanners--which were, by the way, just sitting there unused--it was time to divest ourselves of all coats, shoes, and metal to walk through the standard detectors. I walked through without beeping. Jesse beeped. The TSA officer made him walk back through three times, insisting that Jesse had something in his pockets, even after Jesse turned his pockets inside out all three times. So Jesse was herded over to the pat-down area and had to listen to variations on the theme of "Okay, sir, I'm going to squeeze between your legs now..."

Five minutes later we all discovered that Jesse had been wearing his watch the whole time. (Jesse's note: "I was very disoriented by the fact that the TSA worker INSISTED I had something in my pockets!")

We had three connecting flights: Ontario, CA to Seattle, Seattle to Anchorage. Anchorage to Kotzebue. In each airport and on every plane, someone had hit the replay button so that all we heard was "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Santa Baby," the two most ridiculous Christmas songs in the universe. The Seattle to Anchorage flight, a three-hour ordeal, is the longest leg of the trip. On the Seattle to Anchorage flight, Jesse sat next to a portly Asian man whose eyes, when closed, disappeared into multiple folds of forehead and cheek fat; his nonstop snoring--a bubbly, sputtering sound of saliva trickling out toward an open corner of his mouth and then being sucked back in again--and his halitosis made him a delightful traveling companion.

We then faced the prospect of spending the night in the Anchorage airport because of low visibility during a snowstorm that had been raging all week in Kotzebue. For several days all three daily flights had been cancelled due to inclement weather. But the storm cleared up just long enough for us to land on time, and all was well. Our suitcases came off the plane caked in snow, it was 9 degrees with 35 mile-an-hour winds, and I started off my Christmas vacation in a jolly humor with frostbitten cheeks from the snow machine ride home!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in a box

"We are so lazy," Jesse said as we recently watched our parade of neat and tidy prepackaged hunk o' kettle fried turkey, the pre-sliced smoked ham, and the pumpkin cheesecake inch forward on the Costco conveyor belt. 

"Wrong!" I countered. "We are not lazy. We are busy." Or at least, that's what I told myself as the nondescript turkey was loaded into a box. "This is so much more convenient," I thought, "No need be up to my elbows in turkey innards, poking the pale, goose pimply skin and extracting stringy, purple giblets..." The stuff "gives me the shivers," as the main character says in A Prayer for Owen Meany. When we have a house without concrete slabs for a backyard and a table big enough to accommodate our ten kids, then I'll happily get up 24 hours in advance to stuff a turkey and begin the brining process, basting every half hour to achieve the golden perfection of the bird on the cover of the special Thanksgiving issue of Martha Stewart Living. And then, I might even make my own gravy, too, instead of following the instant packet's directions to "just add water!"

All these thoughts wandered through my mind as Jesse swiped the credit card in the checkout line. But later I thought more about it, and decided Jesse was right. We are lazy. We are so busy that laziness has become an inevitable consequence.

1. averse or disinclined to work, activity, or exertion; indolent.

Yeah, that's us. After a day of staring at a computer screen crunching data for project managers in Boston, then listening to lectures from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. at the U, then enduring the hour-long ride home on Trax trying (without an iPod) to drown out the surrounding conversations of cell phone junkies loudly publicizing epic tales of last night's sexual exploits, or their latest break-up, the last thing Jesse feels like doing is more work. 

My commuting is less thrilling. I drive 40+ miles to get to BYU. Then drive 40+ miles to get home. The end. After teaching 80 students and sitting in seminars listening to discussions of the vices of alcoholism in Victorian England, I feel like doing only one thing: taking a nap. I am disinclined to exert any mental effort whatsoever. This includes cooking. I don't remember the last time I cooked--not reheated a frozen pizza, or bought dinner at the nearest deli, or persuaded Jesse to take me to Cafe Rio. When we were even too lazy to do any of the above, I thought Jesse would get tired of eating cereal and root beer floats for dinner in mid October.

I suppose this is why I'm allowing us to "host" our first Thanksgiving "out of a box," courtesy of Costco. This, and the fact that I have to write about 100 pages before December 14th. I haven't started yet. Now might be a good time...

As usual, I'm missing the point of the whole holiday. It's easy to get caught up in the preparation of trying to get everything just right, even if it's precooked. All that really matters is that you're grateful. And there is so much to be grateful for.

P.S. Our fish died on October 8th. We were too lazy to have a funeral.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Halloween Memories (for lack of a better blog topic)

Now that Halloween has been over for several weeks, I thought I’d write a Halloween post—in classic Sarita fashion, everything is late. Don’t worry, the Christmas post will probably come in February, along with a Christmas card. If I get around to making Christmas cards.

My dream version of Halloween appeared in the pages of Marc Brown’s Arthur’s Halloween where the kids (or, I should say, anteaters and rabbits) walk down sidewalks kicking at big piles of dried, brown oak leaves, and find the little old lady with snow white hair hiding in the upper stories of a decrepit Victorian house with shingles on the roof, waiting for trick-or-treaters to knock on her door so she could give them chocolate donuts and apple cider.

In reality, Halloween was a test of endurance. In northwest Arctic Alaska, we were lucky if it was warmer than -20 for trick-or-treating. But one of the few redeeming qualities of Halloween in Kotzebue was that we could walk wherever we were going, so if we felt the onset of frostbitten fingers and toes, we could be home in a matter of minutes.

Halloween was also very unstylish. In elementary school we had to wear costumes on top of layers of sweaters and snowsuits, fur hats, hoods, scarves, mittens, and bunny boots. That meant our costumes always had to be one or two sizes bigger to stretch over the bulk of the requisite insulation. This was not cool. You could not be a graceful angel/princess/witch/fairy waddling down the street with puffy snow pants and clompy boots exposed beneath the hem of your costume. We also had to stuff hand fulls of Kleenex in our coat pockets so we could stop every five minutes to wipe our noses that dripped incessantly from the cold. Blowing your nose outside was inconvenient. You had to stop, put everything down, and hike up the costume fabric to find your pocket, unzip it, pull out a tissue without the whole clump falling out and blowing away, etc., all before your hand got numb. The whole process of nose blowing wasted so much time that it was easier to just wipe snot trails on the back of your mittens. It was even more fun when you had to go to the bathroom.

But the prospect of being able to gorge on candy that our parents would normally never let us have dispelled all fears about looking dorky while making the rounds through town. Merella and I joyfully knocked on as many doors as we could before we froze, and were careful to avoid the following: 1) dentists, because they’d always give kids toothbrushes--lame; 2) anyone who was a doctor, because they’d only give you apples—Washington Reds—gross, it totally defeated the purpose of trick-or-treating; 3) any houses that belonged to boys who were the subjects of our latest infatuations--for obvious reasons relating to our appearances; 4) the Senior Citizen Center, because their idea of a “treat” was to make an industrial-sized bowl of fat free popcorn and mix in raisins and unshelled peanuts. When you said, “Trick-or-treat!” the staff member in charge of distributing the goods would toss a handful of the disgusting stuff into your bag. Without plastic gloves on their hands.

When we got home, before we’d even taken off our winter clothes, we’d each dump out the contents of our bags and turn the living room floor into a sea of silver and gold candy wrappers. We would barter with each other for our favorites. Nobody liked Tootsie Rolls so those were the first to go. Dad gladly took those off our hands for free. My favorite candies were the finest specimens of cavity-inducing genetically modified sugar: Blow Pops, Dots, Nerds, and anything else with red 40. Once the bartering started, it had to be gotten over quickly, because we were ordered to hand over the loot to Mom, who would then magically make it disappear. The candy would reappear only after dinner, or the completion of chores or homework.

For the rest of the year we would spend hours searching for our hidden treasure. We never found it. But we suspected it was buried in a snowdrift outside, because it was always cold and rock hard when Mom brought it out.

I suppose the benefit of this miserly distribution was that our candy didn't permanently disappear until March.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Replace "Jesse" with "Sarita" and "he" with "she"

If you thought something was fishy about my last post--but were too polite to say anything--you were right. If you know Jesse, you understand that the last thing he wants is 300 pictures of himself. So, there's no way he's taking credit for my brilliant idea; since Jesse's too busy to post his rebuttal, I thought I'd do it for him. If you do as he said in his last comment, you'd have the right story, although I did not find the maternity photos inspiring.

Jesse was probably secretly glad that it rained; it meant he didn''t have to change into his second outfit. In this picture, he's probably thinking, "My butt's wet. Are we done yet? I'd rather be watching Macbeth!"

The moral of the story is that Jesse likes me a lot. Or, I suppose you could look at it this way: I remained level-headed enough not to feed the chipmunks or fall off the edge of Angel's Landing, so I deserved a reward. Take your pick.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Anniversary Photos

We had our pictures taken on July 30th while we were in Cedar City. It was all Jesse's idea. He tried hard to convince me that the following were good ideas: packing two separate outfits to wear while traipsing around the farm towns surrounding Cedar City, posing awkwardly for a stranger we had never met, but whose photos he had seen here (the maternity photos on this site inspired him to make an appointment with Andi). He may have been fooled by the website, but I was not.

Three hundred pictures of myself is the last thing I wanted. I tried to explain how awkward this would be, with closeups of kissing and walking into the sunset, but he insisted we do it. He finally sold me on the idea that the photos would commemorate our five-year anniversary. Although I hate getting my picture taken, how could I say no to that? So I finally gave in and tried to find an outfit that would coordinate with the colors he chose to wear.

The day our photos were scheduled to be taken, it rained. All afternoon. The rain only confirmed my initial suspicion that this was a bad idea. Oh, the things I do for him! He agreed that the photos will serve as birthday and Christmas gifts for the next five years.

This last one reminds me of the painting, American Gothic. Jesse wanted to bring props--overalls and pitch forks--and suggested I wear an apron and my hear in a slicked back bun, but I refused. Also, the sheep were being uncooperative and would not pose with us.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Eviction Notice

This week I was “kicked out” of my classroom. I only teach two periods at Elk Ridge, and the teacher who’s been filling in the rest of my schedule has been teaching four periods in my classroom. We have enough seventh graders to give her two more classes. So a move of Machiavellian pragmatism was made to relocate me to a “portable.” These are classrooms outside of the school, lined up like one-room houses on the East side of the main building. They are divested of any technological equipment, they have regularly malfunctioning air conditioning and heating, and they have orange carpet and the lingering odor of wet dogs—at least mine does. I can see it now: For the rest of October, the room will be swelteringly hot, with kids slumped over their desks, half asleep; in December and January, we’ll all be huddling in a refrigerator, wearing our coats and gloves with icicles sticking to our snotty noses.

I was told last week to expect an official notification from the administrators. It never officially came. I knew it had to happen soon, and got tired of waiting for a definitive answer. I got suspicious on Thursday morning, the last day of parent-teacher conferences, and therefore the last day of the week because Friday would be teacher comp day. On Thursday, several of my students told me they would be switching out of my class and that I wouldn’t see them anymore. The counselors told them to expect their new schedule to take effect on Monday. On Monday! So when was someone planning on telling me?

This meant I would have to move out of my classroom and into the portable, and make it look presentable as soon as possible. I’m not sure how people expected me to magically move into my new room without coming in on Friday, or Saturday, or 5:00 AM on Monday. My solution? Skip out on parent-teacher conferences. At my designated table in the gym, I left a note for parents to come see me in the portable.

The portable’s previous inhabitant must have been a Spanish teacher, because an assortment of classroom furniture still bore laminated labels with Spanish phrases emblazoned over colors of the Mexican flag with sticky tape peeling off. So as a result of my relocation, I now know how to say “trash can” in Spanish.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Timpanogos Hike

Last weekend, Joey and I hiked up to the top of Timpanogos. We started around10:00 pm or so on Friday night and didn't get back until around noon on Saturday. We slept for a few hours in the early morning in the permanent structure (not really a shack or a cabin) near the base of the mountain before climbing up to see the sunrise. It was a fairly grueling adventure but satisfying nonetheless.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Becoming a Teacher

During our graduate instructor training at BYU a few weeks ago, we were asked to respond to the writing prompt, "On becoming a teacher." So, here it is.

I got a head start on my career in elementary school. Merella and I filled our long summer days with school preparations. From Landon’s toy box we pilfered all the rectangular wooden blocks and turned them into desks for our Noah’s Ark hodgepodge of pupils—plastic cats and dogs from the “My Littlest Pet Shop” series, rubber ponies, porcelain horses and twin felt-covered zebras. When Dad brought home boxes of surplussed office supplies, we ransacked the stores for mini Post-it note pads and constructed books for each student. Merella made tiny art projects and U.S. maps out of squares of poster board to hang on the walls. I made little math work sheets with enumerations of times tables and 3-D models of the solar system out of Styrofoam beads and fine beading wire. We molded minuscule sandwiches and apples out of Sculpey clay, baked them in the oven, and painted them with layers of acrylic paint so each “kid” could eat lunch. Our students were impeccably well-behaved because their teachers believed in public humiliation as an effective form of classroom management. Anyone who misbehaved had to sit at the front of the room wearing a dunce cap made of construction paper.

When I grew out of this phase, I focused more on helping my dad get his real classroom at June Nelson Elementary School where he taught kindergarten. I put myself in charge of arranging the kitchen center and stacking books. I designed bulletin boards that inspired the envy of other teachers. The school of fish board was the best. On broad expanses of butcher paper from the teacher’s lounge I painted huge splashing waves. Jumping out of the waves were big cut-outs of orange fish—they looked like happy cartoon piranhas—with speech bubbles floating above their under bites that said “Welcome back to school!” Other teachers enlisted me to do their bulletin boards too. If I had had any sense, I could have turned it into a business.

By fifth grade, I felt I had my whole future planned. I would go to college and be a kindergarten teacher and my kids would bring me apples every day and I would live happily ever after with a yard full of cats. Then my teacher disrupted my simple paradigm of happiness. The class was asked to write essays about what we wanted to do with our lives. After she read mine, she made me stay after school. She said, “Sarita, do you realize you could be so much more than a teacher? You could be an artist or a brilliant heart surgeon! Don’t settle for teaching!”

Throughout this lecture on my poor choice of career, I thought, “Just because I did a report on the human heart in this class doesn’t mean I can be a surgeon. . .” and “After our impressionism unit in art and reading about all the starving artists who cut their ears off to send to old girlfriends, and who were disowned by their parents, I don’t want to paint landscapes with toothpicks and initiate a 20th century neo-pointalism revival for a living. But thank you for the advice.”

Nobody asked what I wanted to be when I grew up for a while after that. Until the summer before my senior year of high school. My family was visiting some friends we hadn’t seen since I was in elementary school. These family friends had both taught in elementary schools with my dad, and they had a son, whom I will call B— in case he turned out to be a blog stalker and discovers I still remember him. B-- was my age and was being groomed for Harvard medical school, which sounded so glamorous that I wanted to marry him right out of high school. During our visit, B—‘s dad asked me what my college plans were. “Not sure yet,” I said. I went through a phase where I wanted to be Miss Piggy’s costume designer. But in general, I didn’t know what I wanted. He looked me in the eye and said, “Sarita, if you become a teacher, I will never speak to you again.”

“Okay,” I said.
“You know what I always told B--?”
“I told him, son, you have to dream BIG. And now he’s going to be a doctor.”
“That’s great…” I said.

My parents were never worried about me. They guessed I’d figure it out someday. I have to admit that B--'s dad's comment made me want to reconsider. Why? I don't know. I should have ignored it. But it made me pay more attention to my teachers when I returned for senior year in the fall. I noted all the teachers who lost control of their classes or who might have stirred from their desks and let go of their coffee cups if the classroom had gone up in flames. I saw the flaws in teachers who assigned "read-the-chapter-silently-and-answer-the-questions-at-the-end-and-be-ready-for-a- test-on-chapters-1-10-tomorrow" assignments every week. I internally criticized the "teachers" who let us watch movies every Friday. It was uninspiring. My teaching ambitions were lost in the Ether.

I read A Farewell to Arms right around the time I thought about writing my college application essays. The nurse Catherine Barkley made nursing sound romantic. I began to like the idea of nursing, beyond the idea of Catherine Barkley. So I went through another phase. I wrote about nursing on all my college application essays.

I took chemistry 101 my first semester at BYU, since this class was a prerequisite for the nursing program. I hated it. I wanted to burn the textbook every day after class. And then I realized that this did not bode well for a prospective nurse, and that I really didn’t like needles and bed pans and hospitals anyway. So I switched to “open major.” The career aptitude tests I took at the BYU Student Services Center didn't help either. They all indicated that I demonstrated aptitude in wine tasting, the arts of the environmental standards technician (euphemism for garbage collector), and teaching.

“Teaching it is,” I thought. Eventually I did all the paperwork to change my major to English composite teaching mid-way through my sophomore year. English composite teaching supposedly prepared one to teach English using music, art, and history. Immediately after I had enrolled in the prerequisite courses, and had gone to class for several weeks, the major was discontinued. English teaching was the new backup plan.

I chose English teaching after sitting in my apartment, staring out at the rain drizzling the window panes, thinking in the voice of the armless cartoon character, “Homestar Runner” who breaks down one day and wails, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life!” The rain outside reminded me of a rainy afternoon I had spent in the house, when I was in high school, curling up on the couch to read C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. My dad walked into the living room and found me annotating the pages furiously, saw the ragged edges of neon-colored sticky notes creeping out of the top of the book and said, “You want to be a high school English teacher, don’t you?”

Then I remembered how I never took any high school English classes. Instead I took writing classes from a local branch campus of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Some obscure world literature classes on the side. But I missed out on all the classics normal students at any other high school would have read. I decided to compensate for this gaping lacuna in my education by reading as many books as possible from the “College Bound Reading List" in the last two summers before high school graduation.

I spent summer afternoons with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the voluminous tomes of the British Victorian period that distinguish one in the masochistic reader's hall of fame —Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Wuthering Heights. I read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and For Whom the Bell Tolls during slow evening shifts of waitressing. When school started again, To Kill a Mockingbird and Animal Farm were some of my constant companions during the cross country running season when we flew to compete in all our meets. And in twelfth grade I propped my science textbook on my desk and pretended to be extrapolating the number of lichen bushes on the broad expanse of Kotzebue's tundra regions based on a 12 x 12 foot sample. Instead I was reading The Catcher in the Rye...

So there I was sitting in my apartment staring out the window, and wondering why I hadn’t started out as an English major in the first place. It made sense to major in English teaching. I loved education and reading, writing, and helping others. So I changed my major one last time and dreamed of being the woman version of John Keating in The Dead Poet’s Society--but without my students calling me "O Captain, my captain."

And then I got my first teaching job. Seventh Grade English. So not what I had envisioned. It was even better.


I have a folder in a filing cabinet at home. The folder has gotten a little fatter every year. It’s filled with thank-you notes from students. Some of the notes say, “Thanks for not giving us boring old grammar worksheets!” or “I never knew English could be fun,” or “You’re my favorite teacher because you never yell at us!” or “I come in your class and feel like my day is going to be okay.” Some of the notes are from straight A students who love English anyway. But the ones that surprise me are from the kids who sat through class all year, raising their hand only to ask if they could go to the bathroom in the middle of a lesson.

One of these thank you notes I will always remember. It was from a ninth grader at Lehi Junior High. He never talked in class. (The most I had heard him speak at one time was when he played the role of Juliet in his group’s red-neck rendition of the balcony scene.) Yet he managed to fill both the insides of a folded card and had more to say than I would have thought possible. I never considered graduate school until after I read his card, remembering how much I wished I could teach his class in high school, and how a master’s degree might have made me a more marketable candidate.

Middle school kids amaze me every year. I wouldn’t go back to age 13, or 14 or 15 for anything. So I often wonder why I continue to surround myself with this age group. I suppose it’s because I know that at their age, their job is to get through the day without doing anything embarrassing, and if they have a secret, everyone knows, and as Laurie Halse Anderson says in Speak, one of my favorite books, “It’s easier to floss with barbed wire than to admit you like someone in middle school.” I like middle school kids because in the midst of all the newfound glories of puberty and sitting through sex ed and the terror of showering after P.E. or being ostracized for wearing the wrong shoes, they still have the decency to say “thank you.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The important thing about Jesse

This is the obligatory anniversary post. A bit belated, but that's how I do everything these days.

When I was in elementary school my grandma gave me The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon for Christmas. It was published in 1949. I thought it was about as thrilling as going to the dentist, but that's because I had no imagination and a limited tolerance for things that looked deceptively boring. Years later I discovered that it's a useful model text for secondary language arts teachers because it follows a specific pattern that students can imitate, yet personalize in interesting ways. The author describes the important things about a variety of items found in nature. Every page starts and ends with, "The important thing about _______, is _______. In between the first and last two sentences are descriptive details. For example, here's what she says about snow:

The important thing about snow is that it is white. It is cold, and light, it falls softly out of the sky, it is bright, and the shape of tiny stars, and crystals. It is always cold. And it melts. But the important thing about snow is that it is white.

If Jesse were a page in this book, here's what it would say:

The important thing about Jesse is that he picked me.

He thinks I look nice even when I exhibit swine-flu like symptoms, and he will still let me back in the house when I return from the salon with a haircut that looks like I did it myself with my eyes closed.

He doesn't care if I bowl 10 gutter balls in a row at the bowling alley, and he can do fractions without a calculator.

Jesse looks like a man, and smells like a man.

And he does t
he laundry.

But the important thing about Jesse is that he picked me.

August 17, 2005, Salt Lake City

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This is the place!

I can die happy now that I've been to This is the Place Heritage Park. We went for the Rich family reunion a few weeks ago. If you haven't been yet, I highly recommend it for the eye-opening experience and the likelihood that it will instill feelings of gratitude for modern technological advances. As I walked through Old Deseret Village with its restored pioneer buildings and houses, I had an epiphany: I might have made a half-way decent pioneer!

Living in Alaska was like being a pioneer. Sort of.

For one thing, I didn't see any toilets in the replica homes. The word toilet probably did not enter my vocabulary until I was five. Yet somehow I remember hearing stories about being an extrinsically motivated potty trainer. I was bribed with sweets. So maybe I had a toilet while my parents didn't. Fortunately, I was too young to remember those halcyon days without indoor plumbing. I have no recollection whatsoever of the "honey bucket," a crude sort of chamber pot with ten times the storage capacity. Wikipedia's entry on the honey bucket says the following: "The honey bucket sits under a wooden frame affixed with a toilet seat lid. These [buckets] are often the same type of plastic five–gallon (19 liter) buckets used for shipping many paints, cleaners, and solvents, as well as institutional quantities of food products" (emphasis mine). So naturally, a few questions arise in my mind: where did my parents keep said honey bucket? How often was it emptied, and where? I suppose the only honey bucket related memory I have is when I was a junior in high school and went on a cross country running trip to the village of Buckland. Our team was instructed to give the big red dumpster on the side of the trail a wide berth because it was filled with you know what. That was in 2001.

Okay, moving on.

Before age five, I lived in a 16 x 24-foot plywood shack, raised several feet off the ground, like all the other houses, on a hill overlooking the spruce-lined banks of the river in a village called Noatak (Noah-tack) with the Baird Mountains rising behind the trees. There were maybe two rooms. One of them was a bedroom with a home-made bed of my dad's own Posturepedic design. It consisted of layers of thick foam atop an arrangement of mismatched oil drums; some stood higher than others and created a lumpy, uneven sleeping surface (same concept as the returned missionary sleeping on top of his food storage in The RM). In this room we often woke up with the blankets frosted to the walls after the temperature dipped to -60 in the winter.

The second room doubled as a space for everything else. It was a room filled with the smells of diced caribou flanks frying in garlic or baked chum salmon, or the mozzarella cheese sandwiches with salsa on 12-grain bread my dad ate when he came home for lunch. It held the water supply, hauled by my dad in five-gallon buckets (water buckets, not honey buckets) up the hill from the Noatak River; the buckets sat in a corner while the gray river silt settled at the bottom before the water was boiled for cooking, drinking, and bathing. And speaking bathing, my sister and I took turns getting pots of warm water dumped over us while we sat in large plastic Rubbermaid tubs. It held an oil drum woodstove around which clothes wet socks, mittens, and hats were hung to dry after getting soaked in knee-deep snow during snow machine excursions. It held a dilapidated couch draped in the fur of a brown bear shot by my dad in his bachelor days. It was filled with drawings, since Merella and I were allowed to color on the walls, and I used the space to practice writing my name. Before the shack was torn down I imagine one could have found crayon murals of purple moose and pink princesses intermingled with inventive phonetic preschool spellings of "Sarita" streamed across the walls. The second room also held boxes of Harry and David's pears shipped from Conway, New Hampshire, close to where my grandparents lived--they sent packages of fruit regularly to make my immigrated Filipino mom feel "more at home." A kind gesture that I doubt compensated for the lack of a toilet and a real kitchen.

Noatak was a town where you had to wait in line at the post office to make your phone calls and where the mail came on a plane (along with everything else in the village) a few times each month, and where you could find porcupines nesting under your house. It was the good life for sure.

Secondly, I used to "make my own clothes."
Sometimes. My mom got a sewing machine for a wedding gift and figured out how to use it all by herself. She made us itchy wool pants that chafed every square inch of skin they touched, fur hats, parkas, dresses for school. For my dad she made button-up shirts of the most vibrant tropical floral prints that suited her taste.

I didn't touch a sewing machine until I was in ninth grade. The first thing I recall making was a dress for an Anne of Green Gables doll. It took about a week to make and by the time I was finished, I decided I was ready to retire from my brief career as a seamstress. I took the easy way out and made all the rest of my doll clothes with a glue gun instead.

I took up sewing again in the months of April and May for the next three years. These months were filled with prom preparations and I refused to be caught wearing the same dress as someone else. This devastating tragedy happened to several of my friends. I was not interested in spending several hundred dollars on a dress that would be worn once and trailed through the mud and residual snow of May to get to the sparsely decorated high school gym. I made do with what I had at home--a story for another time. I estimate my total cost of attire for four proms to be under $15. Given my gifted nature when it comes to spending money, this is a miraculous figure. All it took were some beads and some ibuprofen to ease the backaches I acquired while bending for hours over the fabric of my dresses with needle and thread poised between my fingers. I cannot explain these bouts of irrationality I suffered every April and May. Any sane person would have just mail-ordered their dress over the Internet like everyone else...

Outside the General Store. Inside you can buy faux racoon fur hats, which reminded me of the one my mom made for my brother when he was in kindergarten. He wore it with a bright blue snowsuit until the tail fell off. Inside the General Store you can also buy candy called chipmunk and rattlesnake poop. The rattlesnake poop was more expensive. Then we saw "Bella Swan" whose appearance was much improved by a taxidermist.

One of 700 pictures we took somewhere in Old Deseret Village.

We went into a hotel that smelled like toothpaste and bacon but had an ice cream shop annexed on the side. We looked at the menu and saw flavors such as burnt almond fudge, cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, and play dough. Unlike every other ice cream shop in the United States, this one did not offer free samples, so I had to trust the boys behind the counter who promised that the ice cream only looked like play dough and did not taste like play dough. They said it tasted like bananas or Skittles. So I had to take their word for it. It tasted peachy.

We then took our ice cream into the building where the pioneers printed their newspaper. Each building in Old Deseret has one or more people dressed in pioneers supposedly "in character." "In character" for most of them just means that they are simply dressed in pioneer clothes. But the man in the print shop appeared to be stuck in the 1800s, because when asked a simple question that required one straight answer, "How long does it take to print the newspaper?" he proceeded to detail the differences between the pioneers and the Israelites based on the fact that one group had a newspaper and the other did not, while referring to the pioneers with first person pronouns. When it was clear that our question was not going to be answered, we backed away slowly toward the door and left.

How could I resist the schoolhouse? The "pioneer" hostess who gave her lecture on the life of school children included a lesson on the Deseret Alphabet--which is harder to read than it looks. We were also informed of punishments naughty children had to endure, including standing with their noses touching the wall and their arms stretched out behind them holding several pounds of books in each hand, and sitting on a stool in front of everyone wearing a dunce cap. And if they were really naughty, they had to bend over for spankings with a wooden paddle. Volunteers were singled out to demonstrate each of these punishments, and since me, Jesse, Barbara and Charles were pretty much the only ones in the room, we were asked to volunteer for everything--including the spanking. That last one was kind of awkward.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Going to the moon

Yesterday, our Primary kids were super naughty. I'd like to think that it's because we've been gone for several Sundays and had substitutes. But it's more likely that they're just indulging the latent kid version of Edward Hyde that lies within each of them. So, it was kind of a hard day at church, but I had this conversation with one of our kids, named Joey, while he was supposed to be participating in singing time, and it made me laugh.

Joey doesn't especially like to sing, so he turned to me and said, "Sarita, guess what?"


"When I grow up I'm going to be an inventor."

"Oh good! What will you invent?"

"I'm going to invent a rocket ship that will fly to the moon. When I get to the moon, I'm going to take it home. And flush it down the toilet."

"Hmm. The moon is huge! You're going to need a gigantic toilet--"

He held up his finger to silence me and said, "No! I'm going to shrink it and make the moon small. It's going to be smaller than my eyeball!"

"Oh, okay. Good luck with that."

Then he turned around and pretended to be interested in the song, "A Child's Prayer."

This was the highlight of Primary. It went downhill from there.

Death defying feats and wild ostrich chases (DDF and WOC)

Disclaimer: the following post has a Hyperbolic Quotient of approximately 9.53 out of 10.


Some might say that Shakespeare is so boring that they would consider it a death defying feat to sit through a whole play at the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City without falling asleep. This almost happened to us when we watched Macbeth on our last day of the festival before heading out to Zion. Macbeth was just anticlimactic after the giant smoked turkey legs and meat pasties we had for dinner--sold by a vendor with a phony British accent--which we gnawed at on a bench in the rain outside of the open-air theater, and after The Merchant of Venice, which we saw the night before. Merchant was very well done, a performance that in some aspects--the casket scene with the dopey Prince of Morocco and the obscenely effeminate Prince of Aragon--rivaled Michael Radford's 2004 film version with Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and Lynn Collins. It's just hard to take Macbeth, a very serious "psychological thriller" seriously when all the characters seem to be doing is screaming at each other and the witches look like they're doing a psychotic rendition of the Macarena.


Zion was the next stop. Looking back now, I'm not sure why we agreed on Zion. This vacation was supposed to be a "romantic getaway," relaxing, non strenuous. I was so caught up in getting away from my bubble of Murray that I forgot to consider that I seem to have developed a conditioned aversion to exercise. I forgot that hiking is strenuous. I forgot that hiking is not glamorous or romantic. These realizations came too late.

So there we were, hiking in Zion, sweating profusely in the heat and gathering thin films of orange dust--we later discover that this dust leaves obstinately impenetrable stains on our clothes. On day one we spotted three squirrels, 36 lizards, the antlers of two unidentifiable ruminants of the family Cervidae rustling in the brush, and two young owls perched on tree branches with an aerial view of all the sweaty hikers panting below them. Jesse actually found them because he is coordinated enough to look up without slipping or stumbling, while hiking the trail. The owls were so quiet that any unobservant spectator, i.e., me, would have missed them.

Dinner could have been a DDF, I suppose, based on the restaurant I chose for dinner. Springdale, the town just outside of the park is basically one long street flanked with gift shops, hotels, restaurants, and an apple farm. And one random stucco mansion. Jesse said he wanted to eat somewhere interesting. So I misinterpreted his claim and picked a weird place called Wild Cat Willie's with carved wooden vultures overlooking your food at the top of each booth, catfish on the special's menu, signs that said, "If anything happens to my daughter, I've got a .45 and shovel. I doubt anyone would miss you" and "No husband has ever been shot for doing the dishes," and a beer menu with fifteen options, some of which included "Dogfish Head Snowblower Ale," "Polygamy Porter," and "Fiddler's Elbow."

We just ordered pizza.


On day two we almost died. The infamous Angels Landing hike awaited us--five miles round-trip, a ridge that ascends 1500 feet above the valley floor below, elevation gain of 1520 feet, estimated hiking time: four hours. The tour guide on the shuttle warned that this hike is one of the most popular in the park, although not recommended for people afraid of heights--especially the last half mile, the steepest, narrowest part of the hike. I'm not sure what compels acrophobes to hike this peak. Most intrinsically motivated people just find the 360-degree views of Zion Canyon--the reward for reaching the top--exhilarating. I was motivated to risk being carried away in a stretcher, unconscious, with broken limbs, to the sound of wailing ambulance sirens by my undying love for my true and faithful companion.

The Zion Hiking Guide includes the following "Special Notes" about Angels Landing:

1) "For those bold enough to hike all the way out to the Landing, sections of chain provide a measure of security along the most exposed sections of upper trail."

This is not true. Had Jesse had both hands free during this part of the hike, he would have taken a picture of the sign that said, "DANGER! FOLLOW THE TRAIL. 1200 FOOT DROP BELOW," offset by pink construction tape--this is not the equivalent of chains.

2) "Please do not invite or feed the persistent chipmunks to avoid bites, torn clothing, and the hostile takeover of your backpack."

The outsides of Zion’s shuttles display ads of a person's hand, zoomed in on the inflamed and bloody holes left by one of the "persistent chipmunks" that was apparently fed, or not fed enough, by an unsuspecting hiker. These ads did not deter me. I still wanted to feed them. Especially when they came scampering right up to my feet. If it weren't for Jesse, I could very well have been the new Zion Canyon poster child for its 2011 anti "Death by Chipmunk" campaign.

3) "Many oblivious hikers carve their name in the rock as some sort of cult-like ritual--please do not join in; fortunately, the views supersede the vandalism from this awe-inspiring perch."

I only saw one act of vandalism, of the "B + J 4EVA" variety inscribed in a heart, so maybe this request has been effective.

I would have been much better off on this hike if I hadn't entertained recurring thoughts of plummeting to a gruesome death by taking one misplaced step--thoughts of impending doom in the same vein as those I indulged at Magic Mountain a few years ago where I vividly pictured the roller coaster cars derailing at the top of the 250 foot drop on the "Goliath." These kinds of thoughts are not helpful. At one point, well before the last .5 mile stretch, I refused to take one step further. Jesse had to coax me on by promising to take me shopping afterward and suggesting that I say a prayer. Why didn't I think of that?

I would have also been much better off on this hike if the French kids (yes, kids) behind me had not been so close that they were practically shouting in my ears. Probably having a conversation about me and Jesse along the lines of "Why are these Americans so slow?! They climb like sissies!" To which I would have gladly responded, "Hey, Jacques Strappe, the Americans who climb like sissies don't have Mont Blanc in their back yard and would also like to live to see the bottom of this mountain, thank you very much, so just chill out, je vous en prie!!"

When Jesse was serving in the bishopric of a single's ward a few years ago, Bishop Johnson brought kayaks to a ward activity at the Provo River. He suggested that every couple considering marriage should test their aptitude for sympathetic emotional endurance, patience, and general mindreading skills by attempting to navigate a kayak along a swift current. We tried it. I fell out of the kayak and into the river, considered bludgeoning Jesse with my paddle, and stomped around in my soggy shoes for a few minutes once we reached land. By then it was too late for Jesse to back out because by then he was already stuck with me. My point: if you don't have a kayak, go hike Angels Landing before you get engaged.


As promised, Jesse took me shopping in St. George after we had rubbed our skin raw from scrubbing the orange dust off ourselves. On the way back to the hotel, Jesse took note of a bright pink and black sign that advertised for cactus jelly. Half a mile later, we passed a sign that said "fresh ostrich eggs" and listed a phone number. "We should have bought some cactus jelly," said Jesse, because "I like to try new things." So we pulled over, turned around, and searched for the cactus jelly. When we found it, we pulled up to what looked like an abandoned house with a box reading "place money here thank you" next to a table of jelly with the consistency of liquid Kool-Aid. Yum.

We drove on to find the ostrich eggs. We saw the sign too late and had to pull over and turn around, only to find that nobody was home, according to the signs on the gate that said "be back in 15 minutes. gone for feed." So we waited, admiring the ostriches until they fell asleep. We read the other signs on the gate: "please be patient. one-man band slow, may be running 1/4 mile," and "please try twice, slowly, if calling," and "feed ostriches from your hand $2.00" (this sign was uprooted and lay on the ground with the dollar amount crossed out, because, as Jesse guessed, "Someone probably had their eyes poked out trying it, so he thought it wasn't such a good idea anymore.")

Fifteen minutes passed and no humans appeared. Apparently, we were in a town called Virgin, Utah (population: probably 10) and we didn't get cell phone reception, so we couldn't call. So we left. Jesse instructed me to hold the cell phone and alert him the moment bars appeared on the screen. Minutes later, I saw two bars pop up and we pulled over and I left a message after the answering machine's generic voice recording. I doubted we would get a call back.

But we did. "The ostrich man" called at 8AM the next morning and I couldn't tell if he was drunk, or hung over because he sounded like Lyle on Napoleon Dynamite who slurs through his lines about Shoshone arrowheads. But he was neither. We just had bad reception, even in the hotel. We said we'd be there in one hour.

When we got there the gate was still locked and no trace of human life to be found. We stood there for a while and when I was about to give up and get back in the car, Jesse found the cooler, on the other side of the fence, with a rope attached to it so that he could pull the cooler up and over, choose an egg, and pay $15 in the box that said "place money here thank you." I guess that's how they roll in Virgin, Utah, intrepid salespeople of odd novelties without fear of being ripped off by tourists.

The ostrich man (we never did get his name--didn't want to get too personal) came lumbering up the hill to say howdy with his bowl of oatmeal in hand, grizzled white hair turning yellow, 9 o'clock shadow, neon blue cut-off tank top with greasy shorts and hiking boots, socks rolled up over the top (the only thing missing was his shotgun). "You want to know the secret to saving the shell?" were the first words out of his mouth. He proceeded to tell Jesse how to poke a hole in the bottom and extract the egg without cracking the shell of the three-pound egg. We had all sorts of questions, but had to limit ourselves for the sake of courtesy, so I asked where he got his ostriches.

Ostrich Man (OM): "I got them in Ocean Side, California, brought them up here and sell a few now and then to a friend in Colorado City, where they got a zoo up there."

Me: "How long do they live?"

OM: "Oh, they'll live for 80 years and be productive for 40."

Jesse: "Are they good eating?"

OM: "I've got 33 birds and I used to butcher about 5 a year but this year I've only eaten about three because they got ornery."

Me: "What do they do in the winter?"

OM: "They just sit there with snow on their backs and wait for the storms to pass."

This made me think of ostrich-shaped snowmen that would have inspired envy in the snow art of Calvin and Hobbes, and ostriches huddled in snow banks with conical snow piles on top of their heads.

The WOC ended with some small talk about the poor cell phone reception and the OM pointing to a brand new cell phone tower that had been recently installed. Apparently it didn't work well because any time he wanted to use his cell he had to run across the street, climb the hills, and hold out his phone until he found a spot that picked up the signal. Kind of like a water diviner wandering the land for a hot spot with their sticks crossed in front of them.


We made it home without any other incidents. Jesse’s parents arrived a few hours later for the family reunion that was scheduled for August 4-7. The next morning we cooked half the egg and tried to make it look as normal as possible by adding mushrooms, cheese, onions, and fresh bell peppers and tomato slices from Barbara and Charles's garden in California. We tried to make breakfast look more enticing by offering fried potatoes and cantaloupe and cactus jelly toast. Charles, Jesse and I agreed not to announce that we were eating ostrich eggs until Barbara had finished. She got Jesse back by instigating a covert rubber alligator-hiding operation. She slipped me the goods and I hid them under Jesse's pillow. At 12:01 AM Jesse’s unearthly screams woke the whole house.

I think it will take about two weeks to finish the rest of the egg.

Entering Cedar Breaks hours before watching Macbeth in Cedar City.
Jesse, looking manly at the top of Cedar Breaks.
Somewhere before near Cedar Breaks. It looks a lot like Alaska, only without the mountains.
Outside of our Zion Canyon hotel, trying to look glamorous.
Overlooking Zion Canyon, trying not to look sweaty.
Jesse, exploiting his mountain goat genes.

They just sat up there, blinking their big eyes and craning their fluffy necks from side to side, exhibiting a useful defense mechanism: appear to be as boring as possible so that hikers will move on and leave you alone so you can take a nap in peace. They were so cute. I wanted one.
Two minutes into climb up Angels Landing. See those minuscule green clumps of trees eclipsed by the blinding sunlight? That's the top.

Jesse loves hiking! He's standing on one of several lookouts, or "false peaks" that we thought were the top of Angels Landing. The narrow ridge behind him is the beginning of the last .5 mile!
Sarita loves hiking too!

Ostrich #28.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Starved for adventure

While I was working with the Writing Project we did "writing marathons," which were established by the New Orleans Writing Project. The basic idea is that you get with a group and walk, talk, write, and share your writing in interesting places. The designated parameters of our writing marathon included anything on American Fork's Main Street (since CUWP was held nearby in American Fork).

AF Main Street has several antique stores and consignment shops. On one marathon I stood with my group on a street opposite of Finders Keepers, a store whose brightly colored furniture arrangements in the windows caught my eye from a distance. I said, "We have to stop there!" while pointing in its general direction. My group just laughed at me. Then I looked at the store next to it and read the sign: Husband and Wife Lingerie. How did I miss this sign printed on a flashy red background in black and white letters?

One thing guaranteed by a writing marathon properly organized is that while you're walking along with your group, the sensory overload--sights, sounds, tastes, smells, etc.--and conversation topics that naturally arise inspire ideas for writing. For example, while one of the two male teachers in our group was passing Husband and Wife with all the women in his group, he overheard a teacher joke about the poor taste of the lacy corsets that clung to the headless mannequins like blue and red cobwebs. Another teacher said, "That's the whole idea! When you're buying lingerie you
want to be cheap and tawdry!" So later the male teacher started a humorous essay on the baffling and complicated nature of girls' underwear.

Another curious thing that's bound to happen on a writing marathon, if it's done right, is that when you stop in a restaurant or a cafe, or somewhere with food (every writing marathon
must have places with food) writing almost seems easier. People loosen up around food--whether it's good or bad. This is how I discovered Flour Girls and Dough Boys, a site popular with this year's CUWPies, and a bakery that made me think of China, of all places.

July 1, 2010:

We're sitting in
Flour Girls and Dough Boys with its orange checkered floor and teal walls. Chandeliers, like clusters of sparkly tears suspended above the tables. Shelves hold curvy glass jars filled with gumdrops. One wall is full of an assortment of empty picture frames and clocks, each with a different time.

Glass cases with slabs of mint brownies the size of small bricks, and loaves of sourdough bread that look like blooming flowers, fresh out of the oven. Everything arranged in trays lined with perfectly cut squares of wax paper. Little hand-decorated cards, propped in front of the trays, bear names like "Tinkerbell Cupcake," "Goldilocks Cake," and "Shortbread Chocolate Chip Cookies"--this buttery, flaky, cookie studded with dark Ghirardelli chocolate morsels is a favorite of customers. The whole place smells like Christmas--including the bathroom.

This is
Flour Girls and Dough Boys. It's neat, clean, and sits off the corner of Main Street in American Fork. Everything in Main Street is similar--shops inside the buildings, safe, closed to open air.

This morning Merella sent me pictures of China. She's in Bejing where her pictures captured a scene so different from where I'm sitting now. She showed me pictures of
food markets outside under tent pavilions, the stalls lining entire streets with their own trays and labels. There are rows of typical fruits and vegetables labeled in English and Chinese characters: soy beans, mushrooms, lettuce, gourds, satsumas, guavas, lemons and limes. Intermingled among the fruits and vegetables are pans of beetles--longhorn and water beetles, shishkebobbed in neat lines just like the bee cocoons and silk worms. Scorpions of various sizes, deep fried or impaled on skewers spiked from the heads of cabbages. Cuts of pale pink snake meat are splayed on beds of ice next to the curling octopus legs and torpedo-shaped squids.

Back to real time:

When I saw these pictures I thought: 1) I'm glad I'm in America with my cookies and Diet Coke; 2) I have to go to China!!!

Which made me realize that I was starved for adventure. After spending most of the summer at school and work, Jesse was too. Earlier in the year we were set on going to the Philippines but those plans fell through at the last minute. So we had to think of something else, fast. We actually considered going to China to pick up Merella after her study abroad program finished in mid August. When we realized it wasn't going to work out, we thought about other options, places we'd never been before. Hawaii. Road trip to New Orleans. Mexico. Caribbean or Alaska cruise. None of the cruises we wanted fit with our schedule.

So, after about five minutes of deliberation, we settled on the exotic locale of Cedar City, Utah! We bought tickets to the Shakespeare Festival and afterward we decided to spend a few days in Zion National Park. Neither of us had been to either Utah attraction, so we decided to see what each had to offer. We left Friday, July 30th and came home on Wednesday, August 4th. Stay tuned for the accounts of our harrowing excursions and the souvenirs we brought home.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Beauty of Low Standards

The only way I can get anything done, as far as thesis writing, is to set the bar low. If I say to myself, "Okay self, once you have written your 100 words for the day, you can take a break." This helpful advice is from Shannon Hale, famous UT author of The Goosegirl and Austenland, who is expecting twins and has answered numerous questions about how she finds time to be author and mother.

Before I had such low standards, I found myself wanting to do everything except write. Instead of working on my thesis, I would much rather have:

a. scrubbed the toilets
b. braved the rush hour crowds at Wal-Mart
c. gone shopping at Lowe's with Jesse
d. folded laundry.

Why? Because, as Walter W. Smith says, "Writing is very easy. All you do is sit in front of a typewriter keyboard until little drops of blood appear on your forehead." The challenge of writing is further evident in Ernest Hemingway's conversation with an interviewer from Paris Review:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times, before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Or better yet, look at Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" (1916). Pound began with 30 lines after stepping off a metro train at La Concorde in Paris (in 1913) and seeing so many captivating images that he had to put them down on paper. He said, "
I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion." He threw away the thirty-line draft. Six months later, he pared it down to 15 lines, but later realized they had still not been "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." So at least one year later, he found his final draft:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

And I thought my job was hard...

In the past I have tried to reward myself for sporadic bursts of productivity by saying, "Okay self, once you have written today, you can take a shower. You can get dressed. You can eat lunch. Or go to Ross, or babysit the neighbor kids, or check the mail." These pep talks work 50% of the time. Which is why I've spent many a day in my pajamas, with swamp-thing-hair, sitting at the computer until 3 PM.

Hale's advice makes sense because if I say, "Self, you have to write for an hour," I can easily end up "thinking" for an hour, or finding another source to annotate, or staring at the wall, instead of actually writing. So, the fool-proof way to do it is set a word count limit. At least 100 words each day. This amounts to one short paragraph!

What's supposed to happen is that you get so into it that you inevitably end up writing much more. So this is my new theory--set standards so low that it's impossible to fail! It has worked since I started--yesterday. Only one week off schedule!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Little Friend Next Door

There's no shortage of cute children in a family ward. Several live next door. Yesterday I babysat one of our personal favorites, Gavin. He'll be three in September, and Jesse and I have babysat him before. The reason he hasn't been deleted from our list of clientèle is that he's so cute, but also incredibly well behaved.

It had been a while since we visited with him, and this time I was informed that he has graduated from his crib to a "big boy bed" and he is potty-trained. I guess that's why they had a tiny plastic toilet with a faux silver flush handle and an inviting smiley face (also nearly brimming with pee) sitting in their living room. I made a mental note not to trip over it, while wondering, "What if he gets a peristaltic urge?" Later he was excited to explain the disappearance of his diapers by pointing to his underwear and triumphantly yelling, "I'm wearing panties!"

I had to explain that his newly acquired article of clothing technically has another name. My goal for the evening was to get him to recite a new mantra: "boys wear briefs, girls wear panties."

At dinner, Gavin sat at the table with me and Jesse and entertained us with his version of "Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star," into which he inserted random lines from the ABC song and "The Wheels on the Bus." After dinner he helped Jesse water the dead grass, although he insisted that the huge concrete slab in our backyard get its share of water, along with the east side of the fence.

Then, when it was bed time, I thought I'd have to be more persuasive to tear him away from his Thomas the Train DVD, I was pleasantly surprised when I said, "Okay, bed time." He looked at me and said, "Okay, let's go," and took my hand to lead me upstairs. He got up into his bed, wrapped himself up in a cocoon of blankets with only his blonde head poking out, and said goodnight.

A few minutes later he was whining about how I didn't put on his music--which his mom forgot to mention. I played the CD and said goodnight.

A few minutes later he was crying. This time when I went up to check on him he said, "Cuddle me." So I had to get in his bed and find a square inch of space among the 500 stuffed elephants and lions on the side. He scooted closer, two inches from my face and stared at me while I pretended to be asleep. I had to peek every few minutes to see if he was asleep yet, but he stayed awake, just lying there, thinking about who knows what.

What seemed like eons later, after both my arms had become tingly from falling asleep, I heard little snoring noises. "Yes!" I thought. With the stealth of a clumsy ninja, I crept off the bed and tiptoed two feet before I heard a creak in the floorboards. Gavin sat straight up and looked at me in the dark and said, "Where are you going?"

So I had to start all over again. It took him about an hour and fifteen minutes to actually fall asleep.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hotel Rich

Jesse and I practiced our spontaneity last week by renting a car and packing up to drive to California. We never just decide to go on the spur of the moment. Trips are typically planned weeks or months in advance because there's always work or school. But last week work ended for me on Thursday, and Jesse's classes are wrapping up, and he's so "astute" anyway that he could have spared three weekends without studying.

So right after work, we picked up our Nissan Versa Hatchback and promptly got stuck in rush hour traffic on our way to Provo. Once we got going at real speed, we made good time and arrived at our final destination, Hotel Rich, at 2:30 AM (UT time).

We spent Friday at Newport Beach, where Jesse asked me to ensure that his back was adequately covered in sun screen. I covered his back, he covered mine. If people gave out report cards for effective application of sun screen, I would fail with flying colors. I rode home with sunburn everywhere--except for my back. Thanks Jesse! And by the end of the day, Jesse's whole back had turned the shade of those plastic ornamental lawn flamingos, minus the five spots where I distinctly recall aiming the Bullfrog spray bottle. Sorry Jesse!

Hotel Rich offered excellent accommodations, as usual--better than the low-rate Priceline deals at Christmas. Here's why:

1) Individually wrapped Dove Chocolates are deposited on top of the pillows.

2) Funny little people are accessible at most times--whether it's Audra asking if her bum is fat (she's two-and-a-half), Evan reading Dr. DeSoto and demonstrating his concept of print awareness by reading the words on the signs in the illustrations that aren't actually words in the story, or Skylee who has solved the problem of body temperature regulation by shaving her legs.

This time we saw Megan, Jacob, and Lexi, who we hadn't seen in years! The last time we saw them was Thanksgiving in Reno, 2007. I was just about to finish student teaching and had a massively tedious project due in December, so I spent a lot of time doing homework. Lexi was maybe three at the time, and she sat on the bed in the guest room, coloring on scrap paper and watching me work. When I was out of earshot, she said to Laura, "Mommy, Sarita's perfect." Laura said "perfect" was Lexi's then current word for everything which met her approval.

3) Animals are allowed.
I finally got to see the chickens in person, although they were monopolized by the grandchildren. The chickens were designated as rightful property in this order: Megan attached herself to Susie, because this chicken was the biggest, like Megan (the oldest), Barbie went to Jacob, and Bobbie, the smallest one, to Lexi. Lexi became distressed whenever Jacob held "her chicken."

The chickens spent most of their time trying to evade the grasps of Megan and Lexi, who at one point had cloistered all three of them in the upper reaches of the clubhouse for at least half an hour. Their attempts at escape thwarted, the chickens perched side by side on the bench and fell asleep.

Lexi decided that chickens would enjoy the playground as much as humans, so she tossed them or gently patted them down the metal slide whenever she thought nobody was looking. Jake had to intervene when Lexi tried to give Bobbie a boost up on the zip line. All this, I might add, is normal behavior for children, as it reminded me of how I used to dress up our cats in doll clothes and the time I walked my chicken to the elementary school playground behind our house and sat with it on the swings (a story for another time).

Jacob starred in a one-minute video on Granny's camera in which he runs around screaming in the process of escaping the clucking advances of both Susie and Barbie. After watching the video numerous times, Jacob was convinced that it would win second place on "America's Funniest Home Videos."

4) There was a pool. It was filled with Megan and Lexi and the chickens and their food and water trough contraptions. But there was still room for me to sit cross-legged inside.

When we went to Jake and Laura's hotel to try out the Hyatt Place pool, Lexi swam up to Granny, who was supervising pool activity from a safe place under the shade of some flimsy patio furniture, and asked, "Granny, which one is your favorite chicken?"

Granny said, "That's like asking me which is my favorite child." So Granny devised this politically correct answer: "I guess I like each chicken equally for different reasons. Barbie and Bobbie are cute, but I didn't feel as connected to Susie because she has a personality problem, and I feel like I've made progress with her."

Lexi didn't know how to respond, so she swam away.

5) Express food lanes are open 24-7. Staples of this visit featured bottomless pasta salad bowls, fruit smoothies, and homemade cheesecake. Starving is never an option.

6) We played our third favorite game. Cranium! Everyone knows that Pictionary is our absolute favorite, but we're too humble to subject others to the devastation of facing us as we expertly doodle things like "Pat Benatar" and "A rolling stone gathers no moss" or "gastric bypass diet" in record time. Whenever we play Pictionary, our opponents can just expect to be lapped around the board at least twice. Our second favorite is a tie between Citadels or the "Bean Game," depending on how vindictive I'm feeling. So that leaves Cranium, which I’m not sure why I like because I’m neither a “Star Performer” nor a “Data Head,” and I can’t spell backwards or hum on key. The appeal must be that the game always makes someone look silly--like when you're at a loss as to how to impersonate "Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen" (Abby would have come through for us!) or you're doing a poignant impression of "roller derby" and it's really obvious and your teammate can't figure it out. Sorry Jesse! What's not to like? It also must be the interchangeable hair pieces and hats on the players.

I give Hotel Rich 5 stars! The only disadvantage was the conspicuous absence of rubber flies and lizards strategically hidden around the premises. Although Jesse did find a fairly realistic wooden snake in one of Abby’s bedroom drawers.