Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dear Tooth Fairy

The teacher in charge of Nibble and Scribble yesterday read a letter from a woman to a doctor she had met years before she wrote the letter. She wrote the doctor to say thank you for providing her with some momentary comfort the day she had given birth to a child that died a few hours later. So we were then asked to write a positive or negative letter to someone who had briefly been part of our life but had left a lasting influence. There were countless possibilities for my letter, but I settled on this one. Wouldn't it make a lovely kids' booook (as Strongbad says)? (

Dear Tooth Fairy,

If you had met me last year when I was six, you would have known I was your biggest fan. My first loose tooth was a paragon of excellence, an impeccably clean, fragile, little grape-nut sized specimen. Of course, you already knew this because you kept a close eye on every dental ritual in town. You watched my mom rub down my gums and teeth with a washcloth right before I skipped off to the dentist’s office. You saw me flash a smile for the dentist’s big Polaroid camera numerous times, and the dental assistants tacking my pictures to the “Look, no cavities!” bulletin board in the hall. You would have been proud of me, gazing into the dentist’s treasure box and pulling out any item I wanted from a secret stash revealed only to the worthy ones.

I knew that wherever you were, you were watching, a miniature version of God and Santa. Except you have teeny wings, a magic wand, and fairy dust that would turn kids’ teeth into shiny new quarters, or if the tooth was extra clean, maybe a crisp dollar bill. Yep, I knew everything about you too.

Or so I thought.

After my first tooth fell out, I put it in a special place, in an empty vitamin bottle. I didn’t even shake it to hear it rattle around inside because I didn’t want to damage my tooth before you got to see it up close. Getting ready for bed, I dressed in my favorite pair of Ghost Buster pajamas, the blue ones with the red stripe down the legs, and my fuzzy bunny slippers (I wanted to leave a good impression). I even brushed the gnarled curls out of my hair before standing on my bunny tip toes to check out my new gap-toothed grin in the mirror one more time. And then I emptied the vitamin bottle and gently placed the tooth in a nest of toilet paper under my pillow. I fell asleep smiling, wondering if I would catch you at just the right moment in the middle of the night.

But in the morning the tooth was still there. Not a single penny was left in its place.

Maybe it was just a busy night. Maybe you couldn’t find my house because the stars weren’t out. Maybe where I lived in Alaska was too cold for you.

That’s what I decided, it was just too cold, and maybe the frost would have made your wings dysfunctional, like when I stay outside too long and my eyelashes get feathery and white and it’s hard to see. I guess I didn’t see that coming, because I thought I knew all about you. It’s okay. I forgive you.

But now I am seven and my second tooth is loose. Will you please, please, please come this time?


P.S. my vocabulary is above average for my age, so may I have an extra quarter for being precocious?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Abba Zaba Where Are You?

I need help. One of my duties as CUWPie program assistant is to present the daily "Mugging," a ritual that involves a minimal amount of pain via public exhibition, depending on the answers the fellows provided to a pre-program questionnaire I sent out earlier. "Mugging" is a more sophisticated term for spotlighting and get-to-know-you stuff. At the end of each CUWP session, I get to "Mug" someone by sharing the answers to a selected fellow's questionnaire. For example, today, some of the chosen fellow's clues were: "This person loves country music and wishes she had written the Twilight series (but that she would have gotten a better editor to fix all the typos) and said her mother-in-law ruined her wedding by exercising her talents as a control freak and acting like the day was all about her instead of the happy couple. Who is this person?" And then I present the Mugee with a mug bearing the CUWP logo.

My boss said I could approach the mugging however I wanted and so I added a new feature: I fill the mug with the Muggee's favorite candy. Most people savor the regular gamut of sugary sweets--Snickers, Smarties, jelly beans, hard candy. But some are indecisive and don't know what they want. Some are recovering chocolate-aholics and so I have to put fruit in their mugs. And one person said, when asked, "What's your favorite candy?" "Doritos and cottage cheese!!! Have you tried it? It's sooooooo good!" I wondered if she discovered this treat while pregnant.

Someone said Abba Zaba is their favorite candy. Cool. I didn't know anything about Abba Zabas, except that I get them once a year in my stocking when Jesse and I visit Rancho Cucamonga. I vaguely recalled they had electric green and black wrappers, but that's all. I went to Wal-Mart in search of an Abba Zaba. Couldn't find it. Then today, I found out why. They are made in southern California!

A speedy Google search yields the following information about the candy. Abba Zabas first appeared in 1922 but are currently manufactured by Annabelle Candy Co. Before Annabelle took over Abba Zaba, the packaging was considered by some to be racist (see right). The candy makes a cameo appearance in the movie Half Baked when the custodian Thurgood Jenkins declares, "Abba Zaba, you my only friend." The candy is also the title of a very weird 1967 song by Captain Beefheart that mentions Babbette baboon and an anonymous yellow bird taking on the sky, which, along with the rest of the lyrics, convince me that drugs of some sort could have very well facilitated the song's composition. See the very scholarly source Wikipedia for other such references to Abba Zaba in popular culture.

Another site with the article "The United States of Snacks" that lists Abba Zaba as a CA specialty ( lists various other states with their own regional treats. Utah's is fry sauce. Who knew? The best delicacy in my opinion (or the most deranged) is Mississippi's "Koolickles," made by marinating pickles in Kool-Aid. Yum! How fun would it be to pack up your bags for a road trip and visit all the states listed on this site?!

A well-intentioned website with the heading "Nostalgic favorites in candy are now available online" directs readers to other sites that sell Abba Zabba online in bulk. But I only need one or two! This site also says: "Great gift possibilities for friends with nostalgic cravings! Very bad idea for those of us with a weight problem and little or no will power."

I may just have to settle for this writing fellow's second choice, a Whatchamacallit, an item with which Wal-Mart is always well stocked.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nibble and Scribble

One of the CUWP's daily rituals is called "Nibble and Scribble." Each writing fellow volunteers to bring food and a writing prompt at some point in the program. The writing prompt can be inspired by any piece of writing of the fellow's choice. Yesterday, the first prompt was selected from a fascinating book titled Candy and Me: A Girl's Tale of Life, Love, and Sugar by Hilary Liftin. Each chapter in her book is centered around a memory sparked by different type of candy--circus peanuts, candy corn, "bubble burgers," you name it. The fellow presenting the writing prompt reads the text or excerpt aloud and then we are all free to write about whatever comes to mind for about 15-20 minutes. Liftin's book led me far back to the dark ages of fourth grade:

There was this class party in fourth grade. Of course, I wanted to bring something that would amaze all my classmates, something that would give me bragging rights and elevate me to a position above the kids whose moms distributed individually prepared packages of festive delicacies and favors at all the holiday parties. On party days, desks were draped in tablecloths and energetic moms helped the teacher transform the back of the classroom into a smorgasbord of sugary delights, delectable by every child's Epicurean standards: graveyard cakes with little marshmallow ghosts and spindly licorice spiders on Halloween, gumdrop Santas and candy cane shaped cookies for Christmas, bunny-shaped cakes trimmed with flaked coconut dyed green like grass during the Easter season.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have one of those moms. Now, in retrospect, it was good that I didn’t—because, for one thing, I had all my front teeth intact by age five, which was quite respectable and more than I could say for some of my peers—but at the time my ten-year-old brain could not perceive this deprivation as anything other than a great injustice.

Mom was a culinary genius when it came to all things healthful and unappetizing. When she came to the United States after marrying my dad, she brought with her an intangible and exotic recipe book full of tips on traditional Filipino cooking. She knew how to marinate chicken and pork and braise beef and what seasonings elicited the best flavors in fish. She could even make squid and octopus almost edible. All her cooking was instinctive. She didn't have a little box of index cards that told her how much garlic or soy sauce any dish required, nor did she have a shelf designated for cookbooks (there were a few lying around, but she rarely used them) and she never measured anything. But none of this was useful to me, since I could not bring a platter of fried squid to school.

And so it was simply not fair that my mom didn’t slave away in the kitchen the night before a school party, or place special telephone orders to Oriental Trading Company to purchase a class set of something cool, like boondoggles woven together in whatever holiday colors the occasion called for. Neither was it fair that I knew I had the only mom in the class who watched me brush my teeth at night to make sure I was still brushing when the last granule of sand sifted through to the bottom of the hour glass timer. Did it ever occur to me that her impoverished childhood in a Third World country may have had something to do with her conscientious frugality and her concerns for my general health and well being? Nope.

So I felt hesitant to ask Mom for help with this year’s Valentine’s Day party. But I was surprised when she agreed to procure something. “What do you want to bring?” she asked.

“Cupcakes!” I said.

“Cupcakes? What is that?” she asked.

I had to explain. Cupcakes were not a staple of the Filipino diet. I scanned the living room bookshelf for our copy of the Betty Crocker book, a 70s number with crinkled yellow pages that sold for fifty cents at a church garage sale. I pointed to the cupcake page and folded the top corner down so she couldn’t miss it.

“Oh! Those are cute! Maybe I can do that one…” Mom replied.

That week I dreamt of googley-eyed cupcakes singing the songs from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I saw perfect cupcakes in my sleep. Spongy vanilla cake dressed in dollops of fluffy pink frosting and crystalline red sprinkles with heart-shaped ju ju bees nestled on top. They were the kind of cupcakes you’d see in magazine ads where the moms and blonde-haired kids are baking together in their IKEA kitchens, gathered around the electric mixer, decorating their confections, laughing with white smiles and wearing their matching aprons. Never mind that Mom didn’t bake or even own an apron. I could still dream.

My cupcake fantasy ended abruptly at 7:45 AM, when on the day of the party, my mom pointed to the bag on the counter. It didn’t look like cupcakes. I held my breath for candy. If I couldn’t have cupcakes, shiny individually wrapped fun-size Snickers bars were the next best thing.

No such luck.

It was a bag of Werther’s Original butterscotch hard candies. I. Hated. Hard. Candy. I. Hated. Butterscotch. It was the most uninspiring concoction I could imagine, preceded only, in my limited experience, by the chalky flavor of Neco Wafers. “I did not have time for cupcakes, but this is good. Don't be late,” was all Mom said. This was all so disappointing.

I trudged to school slowly in the snow, head down like a dejected dog with its tail between its legs, trying to think of the most convenient way of disposing of the candy without having to lie or hurt anyone’s feelings.

When I got to school I discretely hid the candy in a large planter in the corner of the room. What do you know? Some dummy found it. I couldn’t believe it.

Later the teacher asked, “Who brought these?” Nobody jumped up to volunteer an answer. “Anyone?” Silence. More silence. Vacant stares from the crowd.
Head shake.

No way was I going to claim them, especially after this boy's mom brought in 25 neon pink teddy bears, one for each of us. She also brought cupcakes. I wondered how long it took her to color-coordinate the frosting to match the hue of the teddy bears.

Life was so not fair.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Animal Killer Strikes Again"

I was forced to reveal more about myself than I had anticipated on the first day of work with the CUWP. One of the CUWP directors was in charge of facilitating a get-to-know-you activity that required all 20 teachers in the room to write a headline that revealed something about their life on a strip of paper and post it on the wall for all to admire. The headline had to have a story behind it. For example: "Midlife crisis inspires nose piercing" and "Teacher breaks tailbone at assembly--again!" or "Michael Jackson lookalike stalked in subway." I couldn't decide what to share: "Girl Meets Boy Pride and Prejudice Style," or "Girl Smuggles Stray Neighborhood Cat into Parents' House," or maybe "Harmless Fourth of July Pyromania Detected by Cops..."

But I settled on "Animal Killer Strikes Again." Once all the headlines were posted on the wall, each teacher got to pick someone else's headline. Each teacher then found the person who had swiped his/her original headline and told the story behind the headline to supply the partner with enough details so that the other could write a short news article-type piece to introduce the owner of the headline.

I eventually found the teacher who had picked my headline, told the story, and he wrote the following article. Some of you know the sad events behind the news story below:

Middle school teacher, Serita Rich, was recently indirectly responsible for the death of several beta fish while travelling with her husband. Leaving the fish in the care of an acquaintance, she returned home to find the fish belly up in their bowl. According to the neighbor’s statements, the fish had been deceased for several days but she was unsure of what to do with their remains. The condition of the fish confirmed the neighbor’s claim. Representatives from PETA were unavailable for comment.

Further investigation revealed that Serita had a history of killing pets. While a middle school student, she was given a chicken. Being unfamiliar with the popular Saturday Night Live skit which teaches that “chickens make lousy house pets” she chose to sleep with her bird. During the second night of the sleeping arrangement she rolled over on the chicken. She awoke the next morning to find it dead. No information was available on what the family ate for dinner that night.

On a brighter note, not all of Serita’s pets have died, and she has had several plants thrive under her care.

The chicken incident happened in about 6th or 7th grade. The beta fish died in 2006, if I recall correctly.

And yet, these were not the only animals that met their demise under my watchful guidance! I had a puppy once. For about an hour. After the puppy funeral (first grade), I didn't get any more pets until several years later when my dad thought I could handle animals that could thrive in confinement on a bland diet. They were all the same color, sand brown, and blended in with the wood shavings in their cage. We didn't see much of them because they spent half their lives burrowed underneath little mounds of shavings, or dozing in the toe-ends of old cut up socks that we discarded. And they always smelled like pee.

Gerbils. What could possibly be more thrilling?

We kept these unfortunate creatures for a few years. When it was time for a three-month summer vacation to New Hampshire, we encountered a dilemma. What to do with the gerbils? The solution was simple. Set them free in the backyard!! It all made total sense! We had a small mountain of dirt and gravel that my brother built by hauling wheelbarrow loads of dirt from one spot in the yard to the other. It would be gerbil Mecca--fresh weeds and grass to gorge on, free range over the hill, endless possibilities for tunneling and burrowing, early morning dew to quench thirst... "But won't the cats get them?" I asked my dad, suddenly momentarily concerned about the gerbils for once. (Our back yard was a perpetual breeding ground for feral cats). Oh well. Dad didn't think twice about it, why should I? Although I had my doubts. But there was nothing else to be done and we weren't about to cancel vacation on account of some lousy pea-brained rodents. We carried their cage out to the dirt mountain, emptied it, and watched them scurry away.

Nobody never saw them again. At least this time, it wasn't my fault they died. Dad made me do it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mouch Potatoes and "It's not slime, it's mucous!"

At Elk Ridge Middle School, seventh graders were set free on June 3rd, teachers on June 4th, even though we were all ready for school to end in April. My summer vacation started with teacher dreams. I had four dreams--or more aptly put, nightmares--in four nights! This is not normal. In one dream it was the first day of school in seventh grade, but I had some of the same students--the ones who turn into eighth graders in February and would rather watch paint dry and listen to Ke$ha than me (I mean seriously, where's the competition?!), or think me unreasonable when I ask them to please stop walking on top of their desks. Somehow these students had made it back into my classroom for another fun year of seventh grade, and were tossing two-liter bottles of soda back and forth across the room, swinging from hammocks on the ceiling, and playing tag. Tag. In the classroom. And none of my Harry Wong classroom management tricks were working!!

In another dream, it was the last day of school and I was trying to keep students contained in my room. They were behaving like Brendan Frasier on Encino Man. Pink and yellow silly string and shaving cream materialized out of nowhere and was smeared all over the carpet and the walls in the style of the Lascaux Cave Paintings. And then they wouldn't clean up before the bell rang. And then I ran shouting after them into the halls, a stream of obscenities spewing from my mouth while all the ninth graders laughed at me. And then I got fired.

Besides dreaming about my seventh graders, I have undoubtedly annoyed the BYU Library Circulation Desk staff by inundating them with endless book titles on which I have placed holds for thesis research. I'm failing miserably in the attempt to avoid the trap that befalls almost anyone in academia--reading too much. At some point, you just have to start writing. "At some point" for me, my adviser says, is July 15, no excuses.

I have also turned into a "mouch potato." It's a cross between a "mouse potato" and a "couch potato." In the terminology of lethargy, hedonism, or what have you, a mouse potato (added to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition in 2006) is a not so distant cousin of the couch potato. Mouse potatoes are people who spend inordinate amounts of leisure time at computers. I've spent the whole of one week at the computer doing homework for my reading endorsement course, which ends this week. On the days when I've gone running in the morning, I've come home with the harmless intention of taking, in my nephew Evan's words, a "quick snooze" on the couch. A quick snooze always turned into two hours. Hence the term "mouch potato."

Tomorrow ends the mouch potatoing. Work starts again. I'm going to my first day of "teacher boot camp," a.k.a The Central Utah Writing Project. I'm not technically a boot campee, but a research assistant for a dearly beloved professor who established a branch of the National Writing Project to serve teachers in the central Utah area. The National Writing Project started in California in 1974, as a professional development program for teachers of all grades, all subjects, who could apply for the program and attend a month-long session of work shops, Monday through Thursday, that focused on improving the teaching of writing in their classrooms. Currently, there are branches of the National Writing Project in every state, and the CUWP is one of the newest, as this only its second year. More on this later.

The highlight of the summer thus far has to have been watching The Princess and the Frog. Jesse usually brings home good movies from the library, so I was confused when he checked it out in February. I was not interested in a "Disney cartoon." He tried again last week, mandating that I choose the latest rendition of Jane Austen's Persuasion or The Princess and the Frog (it was girlie movie week. But I made up for it by watching the Lakers overtake the Celtics in the fourth quarter of the championship game). I couldn't decide, so he picked The Princess, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. This is not a girlie movie. There's something for everyone--reptiles and mucous for the boys, a song every five minutes for the music lovers, romance, a dumb blonde, even a "death" (gasp! because it's Disney!). The film features a virtuosic jazz-playing alligator, a gap-toothed firefly who speaks with a lisp, hoo-joo mamma foo hoo (or whatever, I'm not really sure what this is) and frogs. And of course culturally diverse minority representation!! So now I have "Tiana fever" and I want the movie, and the costumes, cookbooks, and dolls! The movie will suffice for now, but I'll have to live vicariously through my daughters for all the other paraphernalia. Except they won't be black.

Friday, June 11, 2010


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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Conference Catastrophe

So I went to a conference to present a paper in March. Travel date: March 18. Destination: Corpus Christi. Presentation time: 9 AM, Saturday March 19. I almost did not get there at all, due to no fault of my own, except that I booked my travel with Continental Airlines. I blame the whole fiasco entirely on them.

I had connections from Salt Lake to Phoenix, Phoenix to Houston then Houston to Corpus Christi. I arrived in Houston as scheduled, and was enjoying an awesome layover in the airport, when an amiable gentleman sat next to me to await his flight to Corpus Christi, which happened to be the same flight I needed to reach my final destination. At one point while we were waiting to board, this man asked if I could watch his stuff while he went to the restroom. If you are up until 4 AM the night/morning before, frantically composing a paper that is due by noon on your date of travel to Texas and you're in an airport with a disabled internet connection and none of the nearby book stores carries Catching Fire and you cannot fall asleep because of the incessant intercom announcements that say something to this effect:

"Hello. Passengers of flight 17 bound for Caracas, with stops in Atlanta and Miami. The departure gate has been changed to 30B. Also, there will be a slight departure delay due to inclement weather outside. The ground crew is in the process of deicing the wings in preparation for departure. It also looks like the flight is slightly overbooked, so we are offering complimentary round-trip tickets to a few passengers willing to take a later flight. We should be boarding about a quarter to the hour. Thank you for your patience..."

Then you have nothing better to do because you are fit for nothing but staring at the wall and the people sitting in front of you, hoping they don't think there's something terribly wrong with you. So of course I watched his stuff. The man came back from the rest room, thanked me, and I continued staring at the people in front of me.

Thirty minutes before our flight was scheduled to board, a new intercom announcement interrupted my reverie: "Flight such and such to Corpus Christi has been canceled due to a lack of a pilot. We can put you on the next flight to Corpus Christi for Saturday at 9 PM... blah blah blah blah."

While we were waiting in line to harangue the customer service agents who were about to be inundated by obscenities from angry customers, the man whose luggage I diligently guarded asked me where I was from.

"Alaska," I said, "the ugly, boring part in the middle of nowhere."
Said he, "Oh! I lived in Alaska years ago. In Fairbanks!" (also in the middle of nowhere, but not as ugly or boring as Kotzebue.)
"Where do you live now?" he asked.
"In Utah, outside of Salt Lake City," I replied.
"Oh! I lived in Salt Lake City years ago!" he said...or maybe it was Sandy. I don't recall...

How convenient. I tried to care, but inside I was fuming about the flight. What was I supposed to do now?

His name was Richard. Richard had to call his wife and say he would not be meeting her that evening because the flight was canceled. I told him of my predicament and said I didn't know if I should turn around and fly home or just scavenge around for an unclaimed square of airport carpet upon which to attempt to rest for the evening. He suggested that I just rent a car and drive to Corpus Christi, since it was only three hours away.

I wanted to say. "Mr., I just barely figured out how to drive my way out of a paper bag in Provo (there's a logical explanation for this, but now is not the time). I doubt I'd be so lucky in Texas. P.S., I've never been here before. I'll probably miss a key exit and take a detour to somewhere like Rabbit Hash, Kentucky before I notice something is wrong."

He said, "I'll give you a ride to the rental car facility, we'll pick up my GPS, I'll loan it to you, then you can just mail it back to me."

I thought, "GPS? What's that?" and "What if I get into his car and never come out again and become Texas Chainsaw Massacre victim #1,983,562??!! He's portly and going bald and old enough to have kids in college so I could probably outrun him..." and "Wait, did he say he was Mormon? Why else would he be so nice?"

But instead I said, "Really? Ok, sounds good."

All happened as Richard had promised. The GPS delivered me right to my hotel doorstep. I was so impressed that I put GPS on my Christmas list. Google Maps pales in comparison. Anyway, another weird coincidence--Richard's wife Renee was staying in the hotel adjacent to mine, and had I the time, I would have walked over to say hello.

No Richard was not LDS, but from his kindness and willingness to trust me--for all he knew, I could have chainsaw massacred him in the airport parking lot--you would never have known he wasn't. I had no pass along cards, darn it.

So I arrived in my hotel, presented the paper the next day, and had to drive the rental car back to Houston to avoid incurring further fees of depositing the vehicle at the Corpus Christi Enterprise office, and flew home. 

When it came time to mail the GPS back to Richard in Houston, I looked for the business card he left with me that had all his contact information and the address he specifically pointed out to me. I couldn't find the card anywhere. Again, I blame this on Continental Airlines, or airport sleep deprivation. Not sleeping can make you do stupid things. So I probably threw out the card without even thinking about it. DUMB.

Luckily, I remembered the address as soon I saw it among a list of countless others logged into the GPS after plugging it into our own car. I sent the box and a thank you note with a message that asked him to email me as soon as he received the box so I knew it had arrived safely.

A week passed and I didn't hear from Richard. Then, finally, he responded by saying that his act of charity had sparked interesting conversation at work; chiefly the conversation resulted in Richard being called an idiot for trusting a stranger. But his email ended with "Thank you for proving them wrong." I will always be grateful for his assistance, because even though the trip was a disaster, people like Richard are what make life worth living.

So it was a weird weekend. Continental Airlines refused to refund the Corpus to Houston return flight (because I was driving the rental back to Houston). So in the future, I will swim through a river of glass (without floaties), squeeze habanero chili juice into my eyes, or tattoo the insides of my nostrils before I ever book with Continenal again.