Monday, August 16, 2010

On being impulsive

When Dean and I were first married, we were trying to fall asleep one night in the summer, and he said, "Pancakes sure do sound good right now." So, at around midnight, I said, "Let's go to IHOP." We rounded up Bradley, Mariah and Mariah's friend who was spending the night and we headed to IHOP. The kids STILL talk about that 7 years later. The spontaneity of it all and the fact that we went to IHOP in our PJs in the middle of the night was so exciting to them that they still talk about it. (The irony of Dean's "I want pancakes comment" was that he didn't even order pancakes when we got there; he had chicken friend steak.)

Last week, I was watching the local evening news when I learned that there was a meteor shower that night. That sounded kind of cool, so at 10:30 PM, I looked up the observatory in Tooele County (which was opened that night for the occasion), did a crash course on you tube on how to change the aperture on my camera, loaded the kids in the van with blankets and headed out to Stansbury Park (which is approximately 50 minutes away). Mariah's boyfriend had just dropped her off, so he went with us.

I have always been amazed at all things space related. I don't even begin to pretend that I comprehend anything about stars, planets, galaxies and outer space, but I do think it's really, really cool. One of my favorite places to visit during a visit to Chicago is the Adler Planetarium. I've probably been there a dozen times.

By the time we got to Stansbury Park, all of the kids were asleep. The crisp air woke them right up. We went out with a couple hundred other crazy people to the observation area and waited for burning particles to fall from the sky.

The first time I ever saw a meteor was in 1995. I was on my way to St. George, Utah. I had picked up two hitch-hiking teenage boys in Cedar City. I said, "I will take you to St. George if you promise not to kill me." One of the kids said, "We'll get in the car if you promise not to kill us." Deal. I saw unbelievable meteors that night. I had no idea what they were! I asked the two kids, and they had seen them hundreds of times. I knew them as "falling stars," but that is not really what they are at all. I know just how brilliant they can look in the desert sky, and I wanted the kids to see.

It is near next to impossible to catch a meteor with a camera, and I missed so many of them while fiddling with my tripod and camera. The oohs and ahhs were reminiscent of the 4th of July. Eventually, I saw some really cool ones streaking across the sky.

While I didn't get a picture of a meteor, I took this rad picture of the Big Dipper.
I also caught this picture of Jupiter. (You're going to have to just believe me that it really is Jupiter). It was the "brightest star" in the sky, but when Elle and Dom asked the astronomer, he told them it was Jupiter. They thought that was super cool.
The star party ended for us when 1) it got kinda cold and 2) when the sprinklers adjacent to the viewing area came on. A load of people laying out there got sprayed with water at 1:15 AM. I wasn't going to take the chance with my camera equipment...nor was I excited about a van full of wet kids and wet blankets. We packed up and headed home (and this time I remembered to turn the headlights on! ARRGGH!)

I had covered my flash with blue tape so that it wouldn't disturb others. I took this funky picture of Garrett (in the back of the fan) and Elle. The blue glow is from the tape on the flash. We got hot chocolates and headed home.
I had a good time, and I hope the kids did, too. I'm not as spontaneous as I used to be....but when the bug hits me, I'm going to try and act on it a bit more. Life is short. There's no harm in spending a few hours chasing a thunderstorm, looking at a meteor shower or creating an IHOP memory that will last a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Junior High School

Today I worked for 5 hours at my local junior high school as a volunteer assisting with registration. Lest you think I was sloughing my day job, I'm proud to announce that my company has a REALLY cool program called SEED: Serving Education Every Day. We're all adults; we're professionals. We are encouraged to volunteer in our local community to advance educational causes. We even have a SEED employee of the month. So, I'm allowed to volunteer on work long as it's not interfering with my work. So, I'll be working for several hours tonight to catch up ;-)

You should know that junior high was the WORST time in my whole adolescent life. Seriously. I was overly pudgy in 6th grade. I then hit puberty in junior high...which is really a traumatic event (or it was for me). My mom went through her 2nd divorce when I was in junior high (again, another traumatic event). I was trying to find my way in the world, and the world was working against me. I was always on the cusp of being in with the "it" crowd. I had great friends (some of whom are still friends today). I had drama with my friends when they all boycotted my 14th birthday party because I was too bossy. (Not much has changed....with the bossy thing...and I wouldn't give a rats if someone didn't want to come to a party of mine today.)

Broadmoor Junior High School (formerly Broadmoor Intermediate School) in Pekin, Illinois
I am seriously in awe of junior high teachers! I had some wonderful teachers in junior high who really were looking out for me. Holly Brown sticks out in my memory more than the others. Holly was my 8th grade Language Arts teacher. She took me in as her study hall assistant and had me grade the 7th grade papers. She always wrote thoughtful and supportive things in my journal, and she would give me small gifts at Christmas. I think she knew that I needed extra help. I'll never forget her kindness, and I'm seriously tearing up just writing this...and I never tear up!

My kids have had some wonderful junior high teachers, too! I have personally written notes to special teachers who have helped my kids. I don't know why anyone would take on that age group, but the fine teachers at my local school LOVE their jobs and love the kids. We also happen to have some WONDERFUL teachers.

Anyway, I digress. I watched 7th, 8th, and 9th graders come through my registration line for hours....about 125 of them in all. As I observed the junior high folks, their parents and their siblings, I felt thrown back to 1984.

Our little school in Sandy, Utah is pretty diverse for a Utah suburb. We have a vast strata of socio-economic statues and ethnicities.

I saw the dedicated working moms come in dressed for work with their piles of forms and kids in tow.

I saw stay at home moms dressed in their capris and flip flops hauling multiple little ones and disheveled piles of papers.

I saw a lot of dads come in and fill out paperwork with and for their kids. I had one dad come to me for help seriously overwhelmed by the number of forms. He said, "I have 5 kids, and I'm not usually the one who does this." I helped him fill out his paperwork, and as he left the school that day, he made a point to thank me. Trust me, he didn't look old enough to have 5 kids. If I had to guess, he started very young.

I saw moms who only spoke Spanish whose children translated for them.

I saw grandparents who were raising their kids' kids.

I met a foster mom who was overwhelmed because she didn't get the packet in the mail, and seriously, there is A LOT of paperwork that she had to fill out. Our former PTA President compassionately said, "You're doing a good job; don't worry about a thing! You can bring it in tomorrow."

I saw one of those dads with the blue tooth headset who walked through the registration process while chatting on the phone. (I loathe that, by the way! Either be on your phone or be talking to me, not both!)

I could tell a lot about the kids by their parents. That might be judgemental, but it is not meant to be that way. Every parent was the hyperbolic manifestation of someone that I knew in junior high over 25 years ago. As I helped those parents I saw a Jodi Dully, a Becky Innis, a Jenny Cheek, a Gina Cantrell, a Susan Bryan, a Melissa Baer...I "saw" so may who as adults in their 30s and 40s could have been my friends when we were barely hitting puberty.

Then I observed the children of these parents. The 7th graders (especially if they are the first junior high schoolers in their family) were nervous and excited. There was a definite air of maturity in the 9th graders. The 8th graders had earned the rite of passage to 8th grade by surviving the 7th grade. I know many of the kids from my PTA service, and I know many more of them because of my associations in my neighborhood and at church.

As I observed from afar, I thought how much things are still the same in junior high school. I thought how much of our lives is determined by the circumstances in which we are raised. I wondered if these 12, 13 and 14 year old have any idea how much junior high WON'T matter when it is all over. I wondered how many of these kids would take advantage of their privileged circumstances. I wondered how many kids would rise up out of more difficult circumstances and try to make the proverbial "better life" for themselves.

About 20 years ago, there was a popular book and poster titled "Everything I Need To Know, I Learned in Kindergarten." I would retort that, "Everything I need to know about getting through life, I learned by surviving junior high school." Seriously, I consider those three years at Broadmoor Intermediate School so important; those were my formative years. I am still trying to recover from those years; I constantly refer to that time in my life as I talk to my junior high aged girls and help them work through the same trials that I had in the 1980s. Have things changed? Yes, they have. But fundamentally, I think junior high is still that crazy time in your life that is filled with so much growing, so much learning and so much drama! In that way, some things are still very much the same.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Japan Sweaty"

Our time in Tokyo was short, but I am glad that we spent the time and the money to see a few of the sites.

Our trip to Tokyo was super easy. There is a direct, non-stop from Salt Lake City to Tokyo. Nice! Sure, it might be a 12 hour flight....but THAT'S it! No transfers....seriously, it's super easy. I must say that my experience through immigration and customs in Tokyo was also really was baggage. I was really impressed with the Japanese efficiency (or perhaps we just got lucky). After a 2 hour bus ride to our hotel, we arrived in Shinju-ku (the Tokyo business district).

Famished, we sought out sustenance. A spaghetti place was nearby...yep spaghetti Japanese style. I found that when hungry, I can eat spaghetti with chopsticks; my Italian ancestors would either be proud or mortified, not sure of which.

On Saturday morning we jumped on a tour bus and headed out into the Japanese heat. I'm from Illinois, so I respect a good dose of humidity. But I have to tell you that this day in Tokyo was beyond hot and humid; it was OPPRESSIVE. Seriously, just standing there, we were sweating...and I mean buckets. Now when Dean and I are talking about the heat, we compare everything to how hot it was in Tokyo. Alternately, we call it "Japan Sweaty." Despite all of the sweating, we had a nice time and are very grateful that we had the opportunity to visit.

This is me at the Meiji Shrine.
Dean at the Shrine.
The flowers at the Imperial Garden-East.
Imperial Garden-East
Sweating buckets...I seriously think I had heat exhaustion after this stop. It was so miserable. The walking was not strenous at all, but the heat was so terrible that it felt like I'd run miles.
The 5 story pagoda at Asakusa
Buddhist Temple at Asakusa
Me at Asakusa

So many people at the market on a hot, sunny day.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Our Guam Cultural Experience: Talofofo Falls

Our last day on Guam was a FULL day of site seeing. One of the last places we went to was Talofofo Falls. Here it is on the map:I thought the falls would be....well...just some waterfalls, but we were amazed when we found out at the end of DanDan Road there was an entire eclectic theme park in the JUNGLE. Who knew. We got out of the car (there were maybe 5 other cars there total) to approach the window and pay our entrance fee when we heard a gun the jungle theme park. I looked at Dean and said, "Was that a gun?"

We approached the window, and the girl working the booth asked if we were military. When we told her no, she said, "Are you just visiting?" We told her that we were tourists. She said in a whisper as she leaned closer, "I'll give it to you for $12.00 each." The normal fee was $20.00 each, so we were grateful for the discount. We grabbed our park map and headed for the ride down the hillside. Here is the park map:

Really, the map makes the place look kind of classy, and it's really not that classy. If you notice on the right side of the brochure, there is a guy shooting a gun.....this is because there is a shooting range AT the themed park in the jungle. If you look closely, it kind of looks like the guy is shooting toward the kiddie rides. The whole concept is a bit disturbing. On our way out of the place, we saw these wild boars hanging around by the kiddie train.

Like I said, this was a cultural experience. Dean kept trying to suggest that the roaming pigs might be part of a petting zoo experience, but I was not buying it.

It was really pretty down near the falls. Here is a really nice picture of Dean.
Just down from this spot, there were beautiful bamboo clusters in the jungle.

Thankfully, the jungly spots around the falls had been cleared. It really was a dense area, in general. Guam is a tropical island with a lot of rainfall and a high degree of humidity. We wondered if this is what it might have been like in the jungles of Vietnam. Whatever it was or wasn't like, it would have been unbelievably difficult to cut through that place with a machete. I don't even want to think of what might be creeping and crawling and running through that jungle.
The falls were pretty.
To get to the other side of the falls area, we had to climb a set of stairs and cross a suspension bridge. After careful consideration, we decided that it might be wise for us to cross the bridge one at a time. As I'm almost all the way across, a staff member volunteered to take my picture. He then insisted that Dean join me on the bridge to take another photo. Um, I'm you know how much we weigh? The entire point of going across one at a time was practical more than anything else. We lived, and so did the bridge.
After the bridge, the staff guy insists that we walk out onto the falls to take another picture. I was so not thrilled with the picture taking of me. I'd been snorkeling earlier in the day, and I was all icky. Oh well. I don't look any worse than when I was sweating in Japan.
At the top of this fall, there is a gift shop run by a Korean guy and his two kids; there is also the most bizarre "museum" experience I have ever had....including the time that I had a gun pulled on me at a museum in Novi Sad, Serbia. (I'll have to share that story some other day.) We paused for the requisite "stick your head in this big plywood board thing and take a picture." Here's my tropical flower Dean.

A short walk across another extension bridge led to the other waterfall. On our way out of the falls area, there was a Buddha in a cave...with mini-Buddha's in tow.
And the guy running the cable car was listening to Linkn Park smoking his coconut...and no, that is not a euphemism. Smoking coconut with on-looking bird.
There you have it. Our trip to Talofofo Falls. The end.