Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Lovely Roof Over Our Heads

February 28, 2012

When I bought my house several years ago, it was already pretty old. The house was mostly in good shape, but I knew that the roof wouldn't last forever. Over the past three years or so, the roof started giving me oh-so-subtle hints that it was ready to give up on its primary purpose in life. Every time a storm blew through, I prayed that the roof would hold. Mostly, it did. However, there were three spots in the ceiling inside the house that showed just how ineffective our roof was becoming--one in the girls' room, one in the study, and one in the dining room. Eventually, we couldn't ignore it anymore, as the ceiling in the study began to bubble and fall apart in strips. It was time to fix the outside roof that was causing water to leak in and cause the water damage to the inside. Now that the roof is fixed, I can't even express what a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Thank goodness we had such a mild winter that there weren't a lot of stormy days, but now...bring on the rain!

The ceiling in the study, pre-repair. I'd put up an 'after' picture, but it would just look like a plain white ceiling. Not much to see, which as far as I'm concerned, is what a ceiling is supposed to look like.

Pictures from inside the garage as they stripped off the old roof.

Project complete.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Staff Vs. Student Basketball Game

February 27, 2012

The teacher-cheerleaders went old-school style with jerseys and sweatbands. How cool are we? It should be noted, of course, that the teachers won, once again proving that the young pups don't have all the moves. I'm quite sure that the teachers won because of the spirited support of their cheerleaders AKA us. Naturally.

After the game, one of my students who participated in the game told me he wanted to see me take a shot. Mind you, I haven't played basketball in oh, say, thirty years. And I haven't played basketball well in oh, say, never. But goaded into it by my student, I agreed to try. I told him it wouldn't be pretty, and it wasn't. I didn't hit anything close to the net. Or the backboard. Or the pole. He smiled and said to give it one more shot, although I figured the odds were good it would be a repeat of my first performance. I moved up just a bit closer, eyed the target, and let it go. SWISH! Dropped it in beautifully! I high-fived my student and walked away. Believe me, I know how to quit when I'm ahead. Yup--the young pups are not the only ones with the moves.

Nancy, Jen, Kristen, Mo, Tina, Victory, and me.

Victory, me, and Mo

Big Red Carpet Night

February 27, 2012

Oscar Night--one of our favorite nights of the year! Our annual tradition continued, with several friends dressing up and participating in the Oscar pool. With almost comic predictibility, David Krepp ultimately won, guessing the most number of correct Oscar wins. He has yet to be able to make the journey to actually be with us on Oscar night, and yet he has managed to win at least four times by sending his ballot in absentee. It might even be five--I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong. This year, he even shipped our Oscar back to us the day before the event, on the off chance that someone else would be bringing home the gold this year. It turns out, he could have just kept the guy for another year. In addition to pool, we held our highly anticipated Appetizer Contest. The winner this year was Chocolate Pie by Michelle, as a tongue-in-cheek homage to Best Picture nominee The Help. Poor Doug was the only one not in on the joke, as he didn't see the film and The Terrible Awful that Minnie did to that pie in the movie....

The fabulous MCs for the night, with the requisite comic banter:

Joe, Pat, Doug, Jim, and Victor, vying for Oscar gold (and David by proxy, naturally):
Ladies vying for the gold--Michele, me, Michelle, Rosa, and Julieann:

Julieann's practicing her acceptance speech.

First Track Meet of the Year

February 27, 2012

My super-strong girl is back out on the track field! She loves shot put and discus, and is ready to beat her personal records this season.

Reunion Time

February 27, 2012

I have heard stories about Doug's friend, Dave Karner, for many years. He's a friend from long ago, an old partner in the kind of shennanigans that young, single, good-looking men seek out for themselves in their glory days. And recently, I got the chance to meet Dave when he and Doug found themselves in close geographical proximity for the first time in many years. He was in California attending a photography workshop, and it was near enough to us that he was able to make the additional trip our way.

What a great reunion! Dave's a great guy and a lot of fun to hang out with. We took him to Giuseppe Gallo's for dinner, and then went out to the Wiffledome where the boys played pool for hours, sharing stories and pictures and memories. I really had a great time listening to these two reminisce, and I know they were having a great time as well. Unfortunately, it was only a one-day trip, as he had to continue on his travels. I hope he makes it back out this way again someday soon, and that the next time he's got some time to settle in for a good, long visit.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mrs. Lutjens' Homework

February 16, 2012

I gave my students this assignment last week, so I thought I'd write my own version.

Six Things You Should Know About Me If....You're Going To Spend Time With Me. (Students could choose their audience: ...If You're going to Date Me, ...If You Don't Want to Irritate Me, ...If You're My Teacher, etc.) Students had to create a list of short phrases about themselves and then develop each statement into a full paragraph:

1. My Family Means Everything to Me.

I adore my three children, and I love spending time with them. Every day they surprise me and amuse me and delight me. It's true that they can also frustrate me and sometimes annoy me, as I'm sure I do them, but they make me so proud to be their mom, and I love them all more fiercely and deeply than they could ever know. In addition, my husband is the one who not only makes me happier than I ever thought possible, but who completes our family. I have been in awe of the role of step-dad he has taken on so sincerely, loving the kids and working hard to let them know how important they are in his life. When Doug married me, he knew he was taking on more than just me, and together we are making a life for ourselves and our family that is all about love, laughter, and real friendship. Finally, all of my extended family is an unfailing source of friendship, support, and loyalty. No matter what the distance that separates us, family is family. Blood is blood. We have quibbles, I suppose, every now and again, as every family does, but there is nothing that we wouldn't do for each other.

2. My Friends Are Just Like My Family to Me.

My girlfriends are my sisters, and my guy friends are my brothers. I love my friends dearly, all of them, and I know they would do anything for me. I was blessed with two brothers and two sisters by birth, but I consider myself lucky enough to have several additional brothers and sisters by choice. I adore those people who love me unconditionally, and I am very thankful for them. We hang out, play softball, sing karaoke, share family stories, eat, laugh, dance, hug, kiss, and even sometimes cry together. My life is richer because of the amazing people who have become such an integral part of my life.

3. I Teach Because I Love It, Not Because I Couldn't Think of Anything Better to Do.

There's an old saying that has always irritated me. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Ugh. Could you get any more dismissive of an entire occupation? Don't get me wrong; I am sure there are those for whom this is true. As for me, however, I went into the teaching profession not because I didn't have any 'real skill' but because my real skill is working with kids. I have a strong knowledge of my subject matter, but more importantly, I don't feel there's any more important work that I could be doing than to do my best to help students along their path as they transition from the world of childhood to the world of young adulthood. I feel that a teacher's job is not just to transmit knowledge, but to guide students into becoming the critical thinkers and thoughtful human beings we'd like to send out into the world. I feel a real sense of pride and privilege to get to be with these kids as they start out on their journeys toward becoming their future selves.

4. My Shyness Can Sometimes Be Mistaken for Boredom--Or Worse.

Those who see me in the classroom or with a close group of my friends would not likely see me as shy. When I am in my comfort zone, I don't suppose I am. However, around new people, or in large crowds or unfamiliar situations, I revert back to the shy young girl I was in my youth. It's a girl I have never really quite outgrown. There are people I know who walk into any situation with the mindset that they can add to any environment--they are an asset to any gathering. I don't mean this to be a condemnation or an indictment; I really admire those folks with that kind of confidence for all occasions. I myself still try to perfect invisibility in new environments. I need the time to process, to let the atmosphere sink in. Unfortunately, sometimes people can mistake my quiet demeanor for boredom or apathy, or even condescension, which is usually the last thing on my mind. Give me time, and eventually I might even become the life of the party!

5. I Have a Somewhat Enthusiastic Communication Style.

Once I've become comfortable in a particular environment, I become quite the talker. I'm a storyteller; my favorite communication style is via anecdotes. When I do tell a story, or debate issues I'm passionate about, or give directions--honestly, anytime I'm talking--I do it with flair. I gesticulate. Wildly. My hands talk almost more than my mouth. It's my own personal sign language. Actually, once my class bet me that I couldn't go a full two hour class period without using my hands. I almost made it through the whole class period (notice I said almost), but it was one of the longest class periods I've ever endured. My kids said it was one of the most boring classes they'd ever endured. On top of that, I found it quite difficult to think and to find all the words I wanted to use to communicate. I was so focused on not using my hands that I couldn't process what I wanted to say. It was an interesting experiment, but not one I'm likely to try again. I embrace my visual communication style. Just don't sneak up behind me when I'm speaking, or you're likely to get hit inadvertently with an errant hand gesture.

6. I'm a Little Addicted to Pop Culture--Unless It's Sports Related.

Sports are not so much my cup of tea, but besides that, I'm addicted to pop culture. Music, television, movies, books, magazines--I love it all. Although I can't really sing, I've got a huge catalogue of knowledge of song lyrics. I watch way too much television--reality shows like Top Chef and Dancing with the Stars and sitcoms like Whitney and Modern Family, for example, though that's certainly not a comprehensive list. My hubby and I are such movie fans that we throw a huge Oscar Party every year for all of our friends that's one of the highlights of our year.
I love most genres, although horror is not really for me. Hubby makes up for my lack of interest there, though, since that's his favorite genre. We've got a movie collection that rivals Blockbuster. (As a matter of fact, since Blockbuster is gasping its last breath, we'll probably take over for them. Maybe we could go into a small side-business of movie rentals.) I'm an avid reader of books, as well--pop fiction, classics, teen fiction, non-fiction, and we subscribe to more magazines that we can possibly read. I think I just figured out why I only sleep five hours a night....

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Yeah, This is Pretty Much What My Days At Work Are About

February 15, 2012

What the Bad Guys Do After the Cameras Stop Rolling

February 15, 2012

He's Mine, I'm His

February 15, 2012

For Valentine's Day, Doug had flowers delivered to me at work. I love that he wanted all my kids to see me getting my flowers--they all thought he was so sweet (and of course, I agree!) He even had them be sure to deliver flowers that didn't mix together red and pink, since he knows I can't stand those two colors together. (I can't explain it; it's just one of those little things that bugs me, and he's thoughtful enough to remember that when ordering flowers.) He also had a cookie bouquet sent to me at work--big, beautiful Valentine's cookies. While the kids thought it was sweet that he sent flowers that we could all enjoy in the classroom, they thought it a little inconsiderate that he didn't send enough cookies for all of them to share. : )

My cookie bouquet:

My gorgeous flowers:
The card attached to the flowers:
I happened to be at a conference just before Valentine's Day, and the guest speaker was Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones. I had decided that I was going to surprise Doug and get her to sign a copy of the book for him, because he loved the book. When my turn came for her to sign, I said, "You know, I promised my husband I'd tell you this if I got the chance to talk to you. He said that your book was quite possibly the best book he'd ever read, and he's quite a voracious reader. He doesn't know it yet, but I'm getting him this copy autographed by you as a Valentine's Day present." She asked his name, and then proceeded to sign the book. I absolutely love the inscription she wrote! I couldn't wait to have him open his present--he loved it!

Oh Goodness, I Love These Things!

February 15, 2012

After a hiatus of many years, predominantly due to scanty budgets at the district level, I was able to attend a CATE (California Association of Teachers of English) Conference. There are lots of different workshops in which to participate, opportunities to network with fellow English teachers across the state, and just a general renewed sense of purpose and affirmation about the job we do every day. We get to spend an entire weekend with a whole group of folks who celebrate reading and writing and communicating well, and most importantly, who celebrate the work we do with our students. I am always energized by these conferences--this is really what inservices should be all about.

I love the speakers we get at each day's meal--keynote speakers who regale us with stories and anecdotes. This year we heard Annie Barrows, who was just fascinating to listen to as she told us stories about which books were meaningful to her growing up. We also got to hear Alice Sebold speak. Sebold is the author of The Lovely Bones, which my husband and I both loved. Finally, our closing speaker was an amazing teacher and speaker named Kelly Gallagher, who was completely inspirational. I am so thankful that even in these budget-conscious times, our district and school has recognized the value in these conferences and sets aside money to make it a priority.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jacob, My Nephew

February 13, 2012

This weekend we lost my nephew, who has struggled with depression for several years. It's just heartbreaking to think of all the family he's left behind who loved him. I especially feel such a sadness for his mother, my former sister-in-law. A mother should never have to go through this experience. I'm wishing peace and comfort to the whole family as we all say goodbye.

Jacob, with Brianna and Jake's big brother Jamey, many Christmases ago.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cracking the System--How Do I Know Who to Root For in Football?

February 6, 2012

Now that the Super Bowl is over for the year, I can let you in on a little secret: I do not follow football. Not even a little bit. Shocked? Yeah, I thought so.

Nevertheless, I can sit an watch a game with my hubby or our friends and root for the team of my choice, and actually have a good time doing so, whether it's the Super Bowl or one of the lesser match ups. Now, most sexist folks might say the under-informed female half of the species is most inclined to choose sides based on the rather predictable and mundane 'prettiest uniform' factor, at which I take offense.

My decision on who to root for in any given match up is multi-tiered, multi-faceted. It's a complex system that goes into deciding which team to cheer for if you haven't a clue who's out on the field. There are four major levels of decision-making input:

1. First of all, I determine if either team suited up on the field represents a bird. I have no use for birds. If you play for the Ravens or the Eagles, for example, your team is automatically out, and I'm rooting for the other team.

2. If neither team is a bird team (or if they both are), then I go to Tier Two. In Tier Two, I look at the mascots as well, and determine if one has a more favorable impression on me. Let's say for example The Bears are playing the Steelers. Bears win, because, you know, Bears are just more charming than a Steeler is. Yes, I know bears can be ferocious creatures; I'm not thinking of the mean ones. I'm thinking of Winnie the Pooh. I'm sure The Bears won't mind the comparison if it means they've got one more fan in the virtual stands. If the Vikings are playing, I have a hard time rooting for them (unless they're playing a bird team, of course), because Vikings are dirty--historically speaking. Some of the other ruffian teams also fall by the wayside due to my OCD about clean hands and clean faces. Yes, I know the current and modern Vikings et.al. probably shower regularly and clean up nicely, but my mental image of a Viking is Erik the Red, and that's simply not doing them any favors in the me-choosing-a-team department. On the other hand, if a team like The Chargers is playing, odds are in their favor. I like the spirit in a name like that, you know? There's something hopeful and optimistic about those who by name are compelled to move forward against the odds. However, if both teams are birds, I only briefly consider this question, because as I said, I've got no use for birds. This tier, like the first tier, is a draw for those two teams, as no bird is better than another. So we move to the next tier of decision-making.

3. If both teams are bird teams, and therefore at a draw, or if the mascots are equally awesome--say, The Bengals and The Lions--we move to Tier Three. Decision-making at Tier Three simply comes down to "Have I ever heard of the quarterback?" Not do I like him, not what are his stats, but have I heard the dude's name. Because, after all, if I've heard of him, he's probably pretty good, right? Unless I happen to know of his name because of particularly unsavory acts (think Michael Vick), in which case the team automatically falls into the 'there's no way I'm rooting for that guy' category. If say, a Manning is playing against Blah-dey Blah, then there will be no love for Mr. Blah. Score one (or seven) for Manning. If I've heard of them both, there may or may not be a sub-category of the tier that takes into account how pretty their eyes are or how articulate they are when speaking into a mic, but I'm not copping to that one. (It's in the fine print.)

4. Finally, all other things being equal--no bird to knock a team out of contention, equally majestic (or equally mundane, as the case may be) mascots, and equally known (and pretty) or equally anonymous quarterbacks--we come down to the final tier. Tier Four is the tie-breaker, the coin toss, the overtime final decision. Tier Four's final chance for a team to win me as their cheerleader for the day comes down to: color. (Mind you, this may change, depending on whether the team is playing in their home or their away uniforms.) Yes, yes, lots of folks choose a team by which jerseys look prettier out in the stadium against the backdrop of a verdant field, but that's too easy, too thoughtless. We only move to the color of the jerseys if all other factors yield no clear victor. After all, if those boys in blue (the team I'm cheering for against the boys in orange) are going to give it their all on the field, I figure I should put a little time and effort into deciding who is worthy of my loyalty--for the day, anyway.

Don't Let Him Fool You; He's a Big Ol' Softie

February 6, 2012

Last Thursday night, I picked Nicholas up from Robotics at about six o'clock. I was sick and achey, and all I wanted to do was to come home and collapse onto the couch in front of the television. When we walked in the door, me single-minded in my mission, Nicholas suddenly and 0h-so-nonchalantly said, "Mom, I think I want to learn to bake something tonight. Would that be okay?"

Ugh! "Nicholas, that is so....random. Why do you want to learn to bake tonight?"

"Oh, I don't know. I just want to try it."

"Listen, Honey. I would love to help you learn to bake, but I'm really sick. I don't think I'm up for it tonight. How about this weekend? I'll help you this weekend, okay?" He shrugged in acknowledgment and went back to his room. A few minutes went by and he wandered back in.

"Uh, Mom? I really want to try it tonight. Can I just try it, and if I need any help I'll come in and ask questions?" He was very persistent. Why not? He's fifteen. He can read directions. I gave him the green light, still wondering what had prompted this sudden interest in developing his home-making skills. I didn't give it too much thought, though, because my head was fuzzy and I just wanted to doze.

After a little while, I heard squabbling in the kitchen. Not the there-is-imminent-danger-of-bloodshed kind of squabbling, but the just loud-enough-to-be-annoying kind. Danielle had wandered into Nicholas' baking area, and was clamoring for a piece of cake when he was done. He was insisting that she wouldn't be allowed to touch the cake, let alone eat a piece. The very sophisticated verbal wrangling went something like, "Yes!" "No!" "Yes!" "No!" (If you're a parent, you're familiar with this particular rhetorical strategy from your kids.) My husband, bless his heart, went in the kitchen to resolve the issue. He was back in a matter of minutes.

"Did you know that boy is in there baking a cake for a girl?" he asked. "I went in there and told him he couldn't just bake a whole cake in this household and expect to have it all for himself, and he told me it wasn't for him; it's for a girl in his class whose birthday is coming up." Well, doesn't that just take the cake!

I called him into the living room to get the scoop. Yes, it was for a girl--a very sweet girl that I happen to know. No, he doesn't like her that way; they're good friends and he just wanted to surprise her. Her birthday was on Saturday, and he had class with her on Friday. I thought it was completely adorable. Once the cat was out of the bag and he knew that he had a mom-approved reason for not letting Danielle have a piece of the cake, he didn't mind asking me for decorating tips and advice on how to wrap it up so that the cake made it intact to class the next day.

By all accounts, he did, in fact, surprise her, and the cake was tasty. Truth be told, he surprised me, too. I'm not sure I would have guessed that his hidden agenda was a sweet birthday surprise for a friend. As my kids grow up and mature, I love the little ways they continue to surprise me.