Friday, January 29, 2016

The Greatest Snow (Mishaps) on Earth: Snowballs

*This began as a single post, but two paragraphs in, I realized there was no way to fit all my snow mishap stories in one post.  I hope you enjoy this three-part series.*

Excepting a two-year stint in Massachusetts, I am a Utah girl, born and raised.  Snow has been a part of my life every November through February--and April.  (Utah weather likes to toy with us.)  I have fond childhood memories of playing in snow, as well as not-so-fond adolescent memories of being defeated by that menacing substance.  Snow is cold through and through.  (Oh so cold.)

My youngest children are still enamored with the stuff, though.  In 2014, I gave #5 a snow shovel as a just-thinking-about-you gift.  He loves it!  What eight-year-old boy doesn't feel more manly shoveling his family out of the house alongside his father.  I love sitting at the dining room window with a cup of cocoa, watching the two of them shovel almost as much as he enjoys the work itself.

The view from my window during a December 2015 snowstorm.
There is a house across the street that is hidden by the windy snow.
The blizzard picked up while #5 was out shoveling, but he was undeterred.
If you look, you can see his silhouette with the snow shovel.
The wind blew everything back almost as quickly as he cleared it,
so he took a break until we could see across the street again.
When I pick up the kids from school, #5 likes to point out the increased size of the giant snowball that moves a couple feet across the schoolyard each day.  He tells me that the kids with the best gloves are selected to push the snowball hands-on while everyone else lines up behind them to add pushing momentum.  As the oldest children in school, #4 and the other sixth graders have taken it upon themselves to protect the snowball from all who would do it harm each recess.  I guess they figure if they're too cool to play at recess, they might as well provide a security service while standing around out there.

My sisters and I made a snowball like that once.  We had rolled and packed most of our front yard's snow onto it and were pushing it to the backyard for more layers.  We were navigating our snowball through the side yard when we met with an obstacle: our lilac bush.  Our childish bodies strained to keep that snowball under control as we inched around the 7-ft-tall bush.  Our family's first second car, a 1973 Ford LTD, lay unsuspecting in the driveway only a few feet away.

*Here comes a tangent!  Before writing this post, I had not considered the influence of Ford in my family.  I grew up singing our extended family's song with great gusto at family reunions.  The song includes a line about "We pack our lunch and load the bunch and come from near and far, to come to this reunion in the good old family car."  (The lyrics work well set to the tune of the University of Utah's fight song.)

I always thought that was a throwaway line so that "come from near and far" could rhyme with something.  Not so.  As it turns out, the family car was an important part of each family reunion.  When my great-grandfather, Alfred, penned the lyrics to the song, he was probably thinking about the car deals that frequently went down at these family reunions.  Great Grandpa's brother-in-law, Uncle Walt, worked at the Ford dealership in Meridian, Idaho, and he always had a car just a year or two old. The Rohner reunions, which apparently influenced the Glauser reunions, became a time to admire Uncle Walt's latest Ford or Mercury.  Catching up with each other soon turned to talk of buying Uncle Walt's current, gently used car.  How convenient to have it there for a test drive!  My dad and his younger brother always got excited at the prospect, which sometimes paid off.  Both my grandpa and great grandpa bought used cars at family reunions.  This begs the question whether my brother, Jacob, is now a Program Management Analyst at Ford Motor Company because it runs in his blood--or at least in his last name.
A perk of working in Motor City:
Jake sometimes borrows new cars for the weekend.
Back to the late 1980s and our 1973 Ford LTD.  This particular car was a hand-me-down to our family from my grandparents, who got it from my great-grandparents, who got it from Uncle Walt.  For many years, this car had enjoyed gentle owners before being turned over to our family of five children.  And now there it sat, naive and off guard, relaxing in our driveway that winter's day.  As the snowball, my sisters, and I rounded the bend of the lilac bush, our lopsided, 50-lb. creation tipped to one side.  We strained against it but simply couldn't stop its momentum.  As if in slow motion, we watched helplessly as the giant snowball rolled into the driveway, right into the side of the LTD.  The steel body panel was no match for our ball of packed, icy water.
Picture this beauty with a tire-sized dent in the passenger door.
That was the beginning of my snow mishaps.  Fortunately, steel likes to retain its original shape and my parents were able to pop the body back to almost perfect.  Not all snow-induced damage is so easily rectified, though.  As the next two stories will demonstrate, my snow mishaps became increasingly perilous.  Stay tuned...

Friday, January 22, 2016

Spelling Bee5*%!

I have attended many spelling bees over the past ten years, and I've learned that the bee divides students into a few categories.
  1. There are those who are not great spellers who know they are not great spellers.  These children generally go along with the competition, knowing they will get out on the classroom level of the bee.  This may be the only time of the year that these children grumble about their learning time being wasted as they are forced to listen to classmates say letters s-l-o-w-l-y.
  2. There are those who deeply care about every academic competition.  Some of these students spend days or weeks studying for the bee.  Some look at their older sisters' bee records and figure ten minutes of practice per day for the last two days before the bee--along with natural talent--will carry them.  Either way, this group usually leaves the bee in tears when they lose.  It's hard to see their hope that comes from minutes of studying get crushed by one (or three mistaken) letters.
  3. Then there are students who don't study, don't care about the bee, but still end up placing in the grade or school level.  This is my favorite group, because the older they get, the more entertaining are their spelling bees.  (Keep reading.)
  4. I suppose there is a fourth group, being Akeelah and other students who study for months and compete quite well.  I almost forgot about this group because none of my children are in it.
My #1 falls into the first group.  She never became a bee bully, teasing the children who were actually good spellers.  She spells fine, but she has always known the competition she was up against, so it wasn't a big deal when she never made it past the first-round classroom bee each year.

#5 is in the second group.  He studied really hard for two days before this year's class spelling bee, plus at least six minutes of study during the drive to school on the day of.  His confidence waxed strong, even though he missed every fourth word when we practiced the night before.  What he didn't take into account is the Samantha factor.  Samantha is the youngest daughter of my friend who organizes the school spelling bee each year.  That family takes spelling very seriously.  In their junior high years, Samantha's older sisters competed in the district and state levels of the bee.  Samantha is in #5's fourth-grade class this year, which means he didn't stand a chance.  Sometimes being an eternal optimist means you come down hard.  He was f-l-a-b-b-e-r-g-a-s-t-e-d when I told him Samantha probably started studying at Thanksgiving.  (She went on to place second in the school-wide bee, losing first place to an eighth grader.)

Until this year, I wasn't sure into which group #4 fit.  When I picked up the kids at the end of school on the day of the class bees, #5 bravely told me that he had taken fourth place, and (with tears in his eyes) added that he wouldn't be advancing.  #4 wouldn't offer her results until I pressed: "How about you [#4]?"  "I made it."  Her friend who carpools with us was now the flabbergasted one: "You made it into the grade-level spelling bee?!"  "Yep."  I figured she was downplaying her enthusiasm so she could be cool in front of her friend.  At home I congratulated her sincerely, which she returned with, "Whatever."

Over the next few days, I asked #4 if she would like to study for the bee.  She never did.  (It's pretty hard to tear her away from editing videos.)  I asked if she would like me to come for the sixth-grade bee.  She didn't care, so I took that as a yes.  #4 was the second speller of twelve.  She went to the mic to receive her word.  I don't remember the word she was given, but I remember her response: "Oh great.  Really?  Okay."  At least she was going to keep the bee a little more interesting for the audience.  She spelled that word correctly, shrugged, and took her seat.  She only lasted two rounds, but at least her nonchalance got chuckles from her peers.  Yep, definitely in group three.
#2 has been great at spelling since age four, so I had high hopes for her.  I rescinded those hopes when she was eight, after sitting through her third year of 70-minute-long bees.  Those are not the most exciting events, and I sometimes get dirty looks when I bury my nose in a book during every other speller besides my kid.  #2's sharpest memory of a spelling bee was the one time she got out at the class level.  She misspelled some unknown word like pusillanimous--which, at that point in her spelling bee history, she wasn't--and then the next speller was given alligator.  #2's response upon hearing the next speller's luck was, "Alligator!  Seriously, alligator?  EVERYONE knows how to spell alligator!"  Way to go down with grace, daughter.  

(Have I mentioned before that our family is practiced at the art of sarcasm?)

#3 is good at sarcasm, but she's possibly better at spelling.  After placing in the school-wide bee a few times, she had the p-r-o-s-p-i-c-i-e-n-c-e this year to know that she could probably get by on humor and no studying.  Besides, she was up against the eighth grade's funny boy who is too smart for his--or his teacher's--own good.  He was determined to not advance to the next round, and so spelled impugn as i-m-p-u-g-n-3-r-2-9-x-o-8 (or something along those lines).

#3 appreciates his humor, but wasn't ready to betray her intelligence, either.  Following is an excerpt from her eighth-grade class spelling bee.  #3 thought she may have met her downfall before making it to the grade-level bee, so she decided to have fun with it.  

  • Teacher:  "Please spell pharmacopoeia."
  • #3:  "Um, what?"
  • Teacher: "Pharmacopoeia."
  • #3:  "Could I have the definition please?"
  • Teacher:  "Pharmacopoeia is a book that lists medicinal drugs, their uses, and their effects."
  • #3:  "Could you use it in a sentence please?"
  • Teacher:  "A doctor may reference the pharmacopoeia when prescribing medication."
  • #3:  "Could I have the language of origin?"
  • Teacher:  "Pharmacopoeia comes from Greek."
  • #3:  "Can you say it a little more slowly?"
  • Teacher:  "Fahr-muh-kuh-pee-uh."
  • #3  "Can you say it even slower?"
  • Teacher:  Raised her eyebrows doubtfully.
  • #3:  "Okay, fine.  I'm sorry.  Could you say it faster?"
  • Teacher:  Gave #3 the stink eye.
  • #3:  "Can you say it backwards?"
  • Teacher:  "No."
  • #3:  "Could you spell it for me?"  (That little trick works on substitutes and the occasional elementary-school teacher.  To the delight of her classmates, #2 has successfully used it on multiple spelling tests.)
  • Teacher:  "Just spell the word."
  • #3:  "Can I get a Bic Mac with that?"
  • #3's BFF from the back of the class:  "With fries!"
  • Teacher, with unending patience:  "No.  Just spell the word."
  • #3:  "Pharmacopoeia: p-h-a-r-m-a-c-o-p-o-e-i-a.  Pharmacopoeia."
  • Teacher:  "That is correct."
  • #3:  "Dang!  Seriously?"

I think the teacher was relieved that most of her eighth graders were too cool for spelling so she didn't have to go through another round with #3, who subsequently went on to the grade-level spelling bee where she placed fourth.  That was fine by her, because she didn't want to go up against the fourth-grade Samantha factor in front of the entire school.  

As a former teacher's pet, I must give props to Samantha and others like her who do well because they don't rely solely on raw talent, but actually STUDY!  And, I guess, good job to my kids who show up and win ribbons with their i-n-s-o-u-c-i-a-n-c-e.

Back in the day, four years ago,
when she was still nice to her teachers.

One-Half, One-Third

Mid-life crisis?  No way.  I'm looking forward to my one-third-life breakthrough!

Kent and I both turn 40 in the next few weeks.  I know many twenty-nine-year olds dread turning 30, but I looked forward to that birthday.  For us, it signified a new decade defined by parenting.  At that time I was pregnant with my fifth (and last) baby, and 30 felt like a nice place to be as a young mother.  Our twenties were the decade of setting the future forward with an education, a marriage, and children.  My thirties were my time to focus on family, being an involved mom, and creating a home where my children and their friends wanted to be.  Kent used the last decade to build businesses and find personal health.
Of course there is overlap from one decade to the next, but we're looking forward to our forties being a decade of raising teenagers into adulthood and venturing on new projects.  By the end of this decade, I expect Kent and I will be empty-nesters and grandparents to a few babies.

Kent calls this his mid-life birthday.  Since I'm planning to live to 120, at this one-third mark, I'm still only getting started on life!  

My plan to defy aging is to defy expectations of whatever number of years I've been alive.  On a recent date night, a new friend was in disbelief when we told him that our oldest child is a senior in high school.  He said, "You guys don't seem old enough to have kids that age."  That's the response I hope we get more often!  The more years that pass, the more contrast I want in how we live compared to expectations for our age.

I had my annual checkup a couple weeks ago.  My labs look good, and the indicators favor me avoiding cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia.  Kent and I work to stay physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy, so I see no reason to check out before my century is over.  Since I have a lot of life left to live, I might as well live it up!

38 was Kent's year of getting healthy and getting energy.  39 has been my year of realizing that I want to try new things.  Here are a few for our bucket lists:
  • Learn to play the violin
  • Try downhill skiing
  • Live somewhere with amazing food, a low cost of living, and great weather.  (Guatemala!)
  • Publish a novel
  • Try public speaking
  • Travel the world: Italy, Spain, China, USA
  • Learn Spanish
  • Maybe give hiking another chance
  • Study improv entertainment
  • Attend a meditation retreat
  • Learn my ancestors' stories
  • Create a valediction project/business
  • Become a certified yoga instructor
  • Take a carpentry class
How are we going to get it all in?  Let me recommend Greg McKeown's book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.  As his website explains, "The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies..."

We enter this decade believing that life is joyful and we have much still to explore.  Here's to 50 more years of crossing off bucket list items.  I'll let you know at my two-thirds point (90) what new items are on my bucket list.  There will probably a lot more books to read, and hopefully a lot more time with my family.  I'm also hopeful that a lot of my friends will still be around, so take care of yourselves, and we'll plan on a snowball fight at 101!