Saturday, March 24, 2012

Eight Steps

This week I spent my first big block of time directing the Titanic cast. Blocking, for those of you that enjoy plays from the audience, is when you (the director) tell the cast where to stand and move when they are on stage and WHY they are there, WHY and when they enter the stage, WHY and when they leave... (because I guarantee they do not decide these things for themselves when they are 14 - 18 years old). So this week, for example, I barked instructions to 9 DOZEN (very awesome) kids for three hours straight, until we had achieved the days goal of getting everyone where they should be. We blocked 27 pages of a 138 page script.

I was going to attend my nephews ball game this afternoon, but I had no voice left for cheering. And I was in a stupor. I didn't know my own name by Thursday afternoon. By Friday I was courting the angel of death. Tonight, after dragging my sorry butt back to the high school this morning, on a Saturday...for more rehearsal...I GET to chaperone Prom. Woot. I'm dying to pull on panty hose right now. Can you feel my excitement. This must be the karma returning since I never went to Prom when I was in high school. I've been to FAR too many proms since.

The thing is, I wasn't at rehearsal by myself. The kids were there too. And they were at rehearsal before I was, and left bouncing their way to the parking lot because they are all headed to Prom. I can get up the stairs and in a dress...I think I can... I think I can. Did I shower today? That was so long ago.

We teach at a charter high school for kids that are interested in having a performng arts twist on their basic education. There are no auditions, no tuition. Our school's annual attendance rate is over 95%. Our kids like school. They chose to put their name in a lottery and get pulled out of a hat. Because we are a public school we must accept everyone that "get's pulled" until our desks are full. Our kids have just chosen to put their names INTO that hat. I consider that a kind of contract. They put their faith in me, and I earn that faith by doing my best.

I am the artistic director (the arts version of the athletic director). We don't have any athletics at our school. No cheerleaders, no drill team. We have P.E. of course, but our athletes are in the dance studio all day, or on stage all night. Our kids also wear uniforms, khaki pants and a polo shirt. Those are the three big differences between our school and a regular district school. The combination of being able to choose the school, narrow the focus of their education and narrow the clothing choices creates a kind of unity, an awareness of the privilege of education, higher expectations on both sides of the desk. I don't like everything about charter schools, but I like that.

Our school is divided into 6 "academies." The kids choose to take their elective credits in one particular subject. Originally it was to help us predict how many classes we would need in each area. If we would need to hire additional teachers or move faculty around, we could tell because our freshmen had to list their main interest on their registration form; Actor Training, Dance, Music, Musical Theatre, Technical Theatre and Visual Art. (Side note that you probably already picked up: Andy is the head of the Actor Training program here. Nepotism is alive and...well.) Next year we are adding an Honors Academy. Academics are taken very seriously here.

The side benefit of the academies is that it sent a message to the public that we are best equipped to teach a kid that is interested in the arts. Our arts teachers are professional artists as well as certified teachers. We are not really a school that can rehabilitate a student that has failed everywhere else. Though we have no way of preventing those kids from getting into the lottery, we have welcomed them with open arms and I have seen that miracle many times.

If a kid isn't coming to school, or isn't turning in work, we can know that information almost instantly.  Every Friday morning we come together as a faculty and discuss what is being done to help the kids that are struggling. You will often hear "Is anyone getting any work out of so and so and if so, how are you doing that? I was bothered by that in the beginning. I wondered why the teachers cared so much. See, I worked in big district schools for 15 years and I NEVER thought I'd teach at a charter. My father was a regular district teacher for 35 years and the thought of leaving that system seemed a bit of a betrayal for some reason, even though, our school is public too.

Charters aren't popular with district schools. I guess everyone thought that having an arts charter would take away jobs or drain the talent out of the other schools in the county. Attending those school's plays has taught me otherwise. There are enough artsy-fartsy kids to go around.

In fact....

I would guess, that in the eight high school musicals last Fall combined, there were probably about 500 kids in costume across the county. 500 kids memorizing, focusing, singing, dancing, acting, being part of a team, accomplishing a goal, meeting a deadline, managing their time, taking a risk, opening themselves to criticism, being vulnerable infront of an audience, keeping their grades up to stay in that play, coming to school, showing leadership, making friends, making memories that will last forever. Sounds so cliche. But true. T.R.U.E.

108 kids auditioned to be in our spring play "Titanic: The Musical." Because we have so many artists that came to our school to be involved in musical theatre, we do a "NO CUT" show once a year. Basically, if you audition, you get cast. We do it to encourage some of the younger kids to try out without the horror of not seeing their name on the cast list. It takes the risk out of auditioning. it doesn't guarantee where your name will be on the cast list...but you'll be on it somewhere, provided you have the grades to audition. Those younger kids will be your leads one day and we don't take that lightly...we are constantly on the look out for a future Jean Valjean, a Tevye, Dolly, Pippin...

Last Fall I attended a forum on the educational arts at a teaching conference in Chicago. In one of my classes, teachers from all over the United States were complaining about the economic downturn and how it obliterated their arts budgets. In some cases, whole arts programs were cancelled. Everyone in the room was trying to learn how to raise money so that they could produce plays, or get more kids involved in plays. Some of them had been assigned to direct a play even though they taught math or science during the day. Schools that don't have the money for a drama teacher, will sometimes offer a small addendum to a sucker teacher that will create the miracle after school.

I listened in horror. There was a school that had never produced a musical, too expensive. Another guy talked about not having the money to have a tech class during the day. He was coming in on the weekends to build his sets and he even taught himself how to sew out of necessity. On the flip side there were many teachers that were geniuses at creating excellence with no money at all. These ideas were what we all came to hear and they were flying around the room, feeding us. Imagine if those teachers had the money to just TEACH, and not be a fundraising machine too.

I work in a state where the arts are "not dead yet." I work in a school where the kids are expected to audition and they come out in droves. I work with kids that are filled with joy when they learn how to sing harmonies with their buddies. Sometimes I tear up at rehearsals because the "Ah hah" moments are happening at light speed and en masse. It's one thing to see a single kid get a concept, it's entirely another to watch it happen to 106 kids at the same time.

So "Titanic..." has 106 cast members (a couple of them lied about grades, a couple dropped and a couple were added). We will add the help of about 40 student technicians, making the total team, 146 members strong...or weak if you look at it that way. Some will. What that means is that we are going to have to come up with 106 Edwardian style costumes (1912), complete with hats, all the brass buttons and Navy uniforms we can find in the desert, 2012. We are going to have to build and sink a ship on a flat piece of concrete. We are going to have to load it in and light the Amphitheatre after a concert on Saturday night and open the play three days later. We are going to have to teach the 40 of them that have never been in a play before, how to do that to, and do it to our expectations.

There are 8 steps between my office and the back door of the theatre at our school. Every day at 3:05 I take those eight steps into rehearsal. Usually I take eight steps back because I've forgotten something, script...keys....whatever...but eventually I make it into the auditorium. On that eight step journey I say to myself "if you don't give 100% of your talent, how can you expect your kids to do the same? You are not dead yet." And no matter how hard the day, how S.U.C.K.Y. I feel or how tired I am...I have eight steps to get my poop in a group before I have to lead by example. I know this for sure - whatever attitude I bring into the room, will be the attitude of the rehearsal. I set that temperature. If I am not willing to bring life and passion to the game, how dare I ask them to?

But who cares how hard it is to be a drama teacher?! I knew...nobody held me at gunpoint when I signed the contract. I try to always remember that my kids CHOSE to be at this school and CHOSE to be in rehearsal with ME. On the first rehearsal of Titanic we learned the finale number to Act One Scene One. That sound!!! Imagine it! 106 kids singing 6-part harmonies to a Maury Yeston score. It was glorious. And they knew it. Eyes opened wider, kids sat up straighter and looked around. Did they hear that right? That sounded good. Wow! That satisfaction of doing something well...that feeling of knowing you learned something, you gave 100% and it paid off! They will reach back to remember and reach forward to grab at that feeling their whole life! What a great drug of choice.  Imagine if every kid in the world had an opportunity to set that standard in their systems while they were in high school instead of searching for it in less productive ways. Yet I fear...that this opportunity is disappearing around the country.

For the time being, I will make it a priority to bloom where I'm planted and help my kids do the same. Eight steps. Every day.

This week I reached for the 100%. Was it as easy as taking those eight little steps? Oh hell no. But I like to think this eight step program helps "re-set" me. It does. I've had to do it for years. If I didn't, I'd surely be dead already. But I'm not.

I'm not dead yet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bloom Where You're Planted

I don't have any garden space but I've tried planter boxes and pots of every size. I just don't know how to get stuff to grow in this climate, in a pot. My mom and dad have a yard that resembles the Garden of Eden (like I was there) but I can not grow a tomato that you could cut through. Governor Leavitt visited my dad's house one year and he looked out back and said "you don't have a yard, you have a farm." So you'd think after years of mandatory weeding and watering, I would be a genius with some dirt and a pot. Ha!

This year I decided just not to waste money on anything green. I'm so bitter. I want a real garden space. Andy and I have started driving around looking at single family houses...again. And it all started because of our pilgrimage to the St. George Parade of Homes.

We have gotten tickets to attend the "home show" every year. For those of you that are reading this outside of the United States, a "Parade" of homes is not like the kind of parade where you walk down the street or play in a marching band. This is put together by a group of home construction companies that build a house, have it furnished and decorated to the nines, and then open them up for people to come and tour them, like a museum. A museum where people live. Fancy, faaaancy people. This year there are 28 homes on the tour. We visited 19 of the 28.

"To dream! Perchance to wake..."

This year, after miscarriage #8, I should NOT have gone.

But did I listen to my good sense? No. Since we had a blessed Saturday off, we put on some good shoes, filled up the gas tank (choke....) and set off on our little mini-daycation. We ate lunch out with our "Dixie Direct" card - never leave home without a coupon card - and set off to see how the real people live in St. George. Why do I torture myself so?

One home on the parade had a 1950's diner inside of it. Another had a tub that received it's water from a hole in the ceiling. There was a bedroom that had a glass-encased office on one end and on the other end was a wall that could be opened completely to the pool and yard. Almost like camping... at the Marriott.

My favorite thing was the shower that was like a car wash. There were about eight shower heads coming out of various places 360 degrees in the room. I imagined standing there, turning on all eight faucets and waiting for the St. George water pressure to build up enough to reach me in the center of the room. It lacked an automated chamois rub. Disappointing.

Along the bathroom wall of one house were three or four tiled insets like, permanent shadow boxes. There were about 8 inches square. One of the little holes contained a tiny little cactus, growing in a teeny, tiny fishbowl laid on it's side in a bed of tiny purple pebbles. I did write "J + A" in the perfect pebble bed. It was just calling out to me like when I lived in Japan and people would rake their pebble yards...the temptation was too much. I left secret messages all over Japan. Maybe I should plant cactus....?

One house had a big television in the kitchen that rose up from under the counter case you want to keep up with Rachel Ray as you make your dinner. The first thing I thought, when I looked at the cut edge in the granite counter was "if that was at my house, in two weeks it would be stuck shut. There would be so much food in that ditch you'd have to sit on the floor and open up the bottom cupboards to watch T.V."

There was the house with the glass stairs. G.L.A.S.S. stairs. I really thought twice about going down them but sucked my stomach in (like that would make me weigh less) and gingerly descended into a theatre room that sat about 24 people on leather lazyboys all around. A.H.mazing. Andy stayed at the top. He said he'd take my word for it.

There was a secret pantry in one home that could double as a fallout shelter. If there was a nuclear war, I'd want to be in that room for sure. It was huge and shelved from top to bottom. You had to know that it was there, otherwise, you would think the door was just a couple of kitchen cabinets. I loved that they had a circular dining room, practically made of glass that overlooked the backyard. All it needed was a T.V. that could raise up out of the counter...wait...

There were smaller homes. One of them had about four bedrooms in the basement and a small kitchen there as well. Perfect for eight to sixteen Tuacahn students. We could only afford the mortgage if we stuffed that many kids in there. Just call me Miss Hannigan. Could I shut the door at the top and pretend they weren't there?

There was also an entire house that made Andy claustrophobic. His shoulders just skimmed the Newport Beach artwork on either side of the hallways as we went through it. It was beautifully decorated, like Martha Stewart herself had flown in (and maybe she did). Did they forget that they live in a desert? Or were they just pining for a coastline? Whoever they were...they were very tall and thin people. They probably got that way from wallpapering the 12 foot ceilings in that house. Good luck scraping that off in 2014. Do NOT call me.

I forget which house it was that I tripped and nearly killed myself on the stack of rugs in the living room. I guess it's like double or triple-matting a picture in a frame. These people could not choose which rug to use so they used two or three and stacked them up creating that matting effect. That was popular this year as was the wall-paper (here it comes again, our moms will be so happy).

My question there an economic crisis in our country, and if so...where is that happening?

Because it isn't happening in St. George, Utah. Or maybe all the people that kept their cash in their mattresses are finally dipping into it to build homes here.  We could see that the home sizes decreased from years past, but when you are a school teacher, and you see the prices are down from 3 million to 2 million... it still cuts you through to the core. Really? It makes you want to shout "someone taught you! And they are living across the railroad tracks in West Side Story! er...on the west side!"

I don't deny them their American Dream. I'm all about the free enterprise system. I just want to know why I was so attracted to teaching? I knew better! Having grown up with a dad that taught...did I think the pay check would be different for me? He worked three jobs for decades to keep us alive. I went into this teaching thing with FULL knowledge. D.U.H.

Truthfully I never thought I would teach, or would teach for very long. I thought I would get married and all my troubles would be over. In New Rochelle... or Leavittown or some (where that's green)musical theatre place like that. But not only did I become a teacher, I married one! Looks like I might end up running a boarding house full of little girls.

We have our Hunsaker Hotel (see blog #?). It's a townhouse, which I guess is the politically correct word for CONDO...eeeeeeeek. It's an "end-unit" so...we live on the end. Bonus: we only share a wall with neighbors on one side. It has a vaulted ceiling in the living room with three huge windows. I used to love those windows because the light would stream in and the dogs would stretch out in the sun on "Sun"day mornings. But, that was before they built the unit next door. Now we get about 11 minutes of light at 10:30 in the morning which is of no use to anyone because, we're never in our home at that time of day. Except on Saturdays and if we're out of bed by 10:30 on a Saturday morning it's because we have already been at rehearsal since 8. Who scheduled that? ;-)
Our home is warm and comfortable. It holds a collection of furniture from that past 20 years of producing plays. But somehow it works -  it's sort of Broadway Bohemian, if you will. For example, there are three lamps in the living room, one we bought for Black Comedy, one for You Can't Take it With You and the last has a shade from Stage Door and a stem from The Miracle Worker. You get the idea. I'm always fine with it, until I go through the Parade of Homes and we come home "Bitter At the World. Party of Two."

My bitterness today also stems from a pot full of purple snap dragons that I planted in front of our house to celebrate our decision to go on birth control. It was a really traumatic decision for me...admitting that we needed to move on... that kind of thing. I just wanted something to LIVE. So I broke down and bought some gorgeous, half grown, snap dragons. I love them. They were growing like gangbusters in just just a couple of days. Until yesterday. When we drove in after work I noticed that someone had "picked" them all. I hope they took them home and gave them to their mom. I just came inside and had a little pity party. Dang.

I sat right down and fumed. I was mad. Then I looked at the one thing in my house that I bought at the trendy store, just for me. It is a wooden cutout that stands on a shelf, you know the kind. They usually say "Families are Forever" or "Return With Honor." Mine is just as cheesy now and it says "Bloom Where You're Planted." Deep breath.

At first I rebelled against that trite cliche, thinking "I might as well have a house covered in mauve wallpaper." But I kept seeing it in craft stores when I was shopping for shows or in the JoAnn's ad. As if to say "THIS MESSAGE IS FOR YOU JAN!" So when I saw that it was just $2.94 at Tai Pan, I bought it.

So after the Parade of Homes this year, I walked into my little space again, limped around and lamented my lot as usual. Old furniture, small townhome. No yard, fridge door is tied shut. If I'd only gone to law school we might have nice things. Then I dragged my eyes to the little wooden sign..."Bloom Where You're Planted."  Get yourself together I thought. That dang fridge makes a mighty cold Diet Coke I thought. And that yard is mowed by someone else. I can put my feet up on the furniture and not even think about it twice. The best thing is, if there are guests staying at the Hunsaker Hotel, just give me one trash bag and the Swiffer and I'm feeling ready in minutes. Just don't look in the garage. (Two-car garage BTW - Woot!)

I am blessed. What more could I need? We feel safe here. We have incredible neighbors. I don't want to clean a bigger house. I don't want to owe money to a pool boy, or have tiny cactuses growing in pebble beds in my bathroom. Cactuses hate bathrooms! And I don't have time to plant a garden.

Our life is a Garden of Eden. It is a virtual FARM full of blooming... kids. And we... are going to be fine because we are great kid farmers.

I think the world is glorious and lovely as can be
The birds and bees and blossoms bring sweet messages to me
I sing and sing and sing and sing a song of joy and love
I sing and sing and sing and sing my thanks to God above.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Have Your Cake and Make It Too

Brad and Ashley, 2009
Every person has a role in the infrastructure of a family. We have dentists, house builders, musicians, electricians, seamstresses, car dealers, personal trainers, florists, hairstylists, nurses...valuable types.

I am the cake lady.

Wedding cakes are the darndest things, aren't they?
A pile of flour, sugar and fat, all dressed in its Sunday best and waiting for the bride and groom to take one bite out of it and then walk away. As if to say, "Who cares about the cake? Get us to the honeymoon!"

Cakes run from a few hundred dollars to thousands, tens of thousands. They take anywhere from four hours to 4 days to create. I have created sugar flowers that take weeks to prepare one petal at a time. So why do we spend so much time, effort and money on something that is probably going to stand in a back corner, and has 2 million calories, and might get thrown away by catering in the end?

Please write in if you have an answer.

I'm not great at piping. But for Brashley we added "Est. Feb. 7,
2009" and lots of personal words and nicknames they had
for each other. It was very personal, even though we were also
going for elegant.
Since antiquity, weddings have been celebrated with a special cake or bread. The Romans use to break bread over each other's heads for luck. The wedding party would then scoop up the crumbs and put them under their pillows at night for good luck or that they might be married next...or fertility... maybe I should have crashed an Italian wedding. Tradition also says that breaking the cake symbolized the breaking of the bride's virginal state and the subsequent dominance of the groom over her. Ah. So that's why the tradition no longer exists. Well, it's sort of impractical to pick up a four-tiered cake and break it over the bride's head. Messy. Think of her $90 up-do.

Oldest wedding cake. White icing gone brown.
In the 1600s two cakes were made, one for the bride and one for the groom. The groom's cake was typically a rich fruitcake. In fact, the oldest cake still in existence was iced in 1898 and on display in bakery window until the 80's. It was covered in royal icing. (The stuff that hardens) When they tested the middle of if with a syringe, it was still moist. YEEKS. That's one up for the fruitcake. In contrast, the bride’s cake was usually a simple white cake with white icing because white was a sign of virginity and purity. Maybe that's why there are so few white cakes anymore... just sayin'.

I think it's very ironic that someone like me, that's had chronic miscarriages and didn't get married until she was dying her gray hair every month...has been responsible for dozens and dozens of wedding cakes. Humphf! Cheap superstitions. Lotta good it did me.

I've been to a few weddings. But it all started back in 1976 when I got a cake decorating kit for my 12th birthday. What was the first cake I decorated? My own, of course. I only remember that it was lavendar and that I had one distinct thought "I think I've overdone it." There you theme emerging.... It's just that it was so fun to squirt that little frosting flower on...everything.

I built my first wedding cake when I was 18. It was for my very funny cousin Jim and his gorgeous wife Laneeda. That was 1983 and the only reason I remember is that I have a picture of myself standing next to it, wearing the dress I wore for high school graduation. We used plates and columns for that cake, but I don't think I put any kind of stabilizers in it. It had maroon buttercream roses and it was leaning at the start. It finally fell over - well, I caught it before it hit the ground. We turned my handprints to the back.

Jared and Heather Peck, Early 90's?
I should have taken a class I guess, but my family needed a cake lady. I've been ballsy. My reasoning is always that if you attach a big deadline to something (like a wedding day, an opening night) you simply HAVE to learn how to do have no choice. So that's the education system I put myself through. That, and the Food Network. I'm pretty good at lookng at a picture of something and figuring out in my head how it was done. After the "fall out" with columns we bought a stand that held cakes without all the fuss. The "early cakes" like Jared and Heather's were covered in buttercream and we used a lot of baby's breath back then. Brian and Melody Hadfields was the same...look at that fern! Do they even grow fern like that anymore? Brides don't even want "filler" anymore. The trend now is "dry-stacking" the flowers like the lavendar roses on Megan Houston's cake. Gorgeous.

Brian and Melody Hadfield, late 90's
Megan Houston, 2011
The one at the top of the page is my brother Brad's cake. That was a knockout if I do say so myself. I've learned a few things over the years. It was stacks of fudge cake and brownies. That thing weighed far more than the bride. It was filled with chocolate mousse, caramel gooeyness, nuts.... always add the nuts.

There are so many cake shows on television now and after watching Cake Boss and visiting the store in New Jersey I decided I should take a class in fondant and sugar roses. I'm really glad I did.
Practice roses from class.
These are time consuming but so fun.

This cake was my final project for my fondant/ gum paste class.
I was acting in Musical Comedy Murders for the summer so I
took this one to the last night of the show. Good timing.

I have encouraged brides to stay away from fondant because it doesn't taste very good. But Andy and I learned how to make it with marshmallows from watching You Tube videos. Seriously! If there is something you want to learn how to do, it will probably be on You Tube.

Fondant still, however violates my policy of taste first, beauty second. My philosophy about the cake is the same philosophy I have about life. It doesn't matter what it looks like on the outside as long as it is amazing on the inside.

Here is one of my favorite cakes because it was amazing on the inside. The bride came to me and said "we don't like cake can we do cheesecake?" I had never made homemade cheescake before so we were pretty excited to have that assignment!!! WOOT! We made about 12 cheesecakes just to make sure we could pull it off on the big day. (We didn't have to practice as much as we did...but we had to try every flavor or course.)

Cakes for friends. Amanda Gerry, 2011
 Cheesecakes! Good choice.

What I didn't know was that I would need carpel tunnel surgery a few days before the wedding. My sisters bailed me out of course by listening to me bark instructions for cheescake making, and I spent the weeknights before the surgery making white sugar roses so we could just assemble it on the day of and not have to pipe anything. That would have been P.A.I.N.F.U.L. It all worked out. I love the colors too. Her husband is in the military - hence the red, white and blue.

Wendy and TJ cutting the cake
Close up Wendy and TJ
Another one of my favorite cakes was the first one Andy and I did as a married couple. It was for Wendy Milam and TJ Penrod, two of our great friends. Colors: White, Black and Green, flowers: Mini Cala Lillies and White daisies. Thanks to new technology, we  built some long stemmed LED lights so that it would be sparkly in the gazebo outside. This ribbon trend also is still going strong.

Incidentally, by feeding each other, the bride and groom are symbolizing their commitment to provide for each other. Wendy and TJ own a very successful comedy improv club/school. They spend their life making other people laugh. Must have been that cake.

The best thing about cakes is that it brings people together. I love to decorate a cake at my moms house. She has a kitchen in her basement and everyone gathers to see it happening or to help out. I love that.

This is a cake we did in the basement kitchen for my brother Andy and his ultra-chic wife Sarah. Thank goodness she was ahead of her time. I thought it was going to be the ugliest cake because I was used to using a ton of flowers and buttercream ruffles, etc... She challenged me and I'm so glad she did. The colors were green and brown and we used these tiny green orchids and a single bead of chocolate. So elegant in the end. Good job Sarah.

Andy and Sarah Shelton, 2007
Tracy Wells and her sister Laurie taught me that you don't have to stack a cake either - I'm glad I learned that from them, because that's what I ended up doing for myself.
Laurie Wells, 2010? LOVE these colors!

Tuacahn High School, 10th Birthday, Homecoming 2009
I can also be talked into the craziest things by students. This birthday cake was for Tuacahn High's 10th birthday and because I was in charge of student council at the time we (they) decided that we were going to get birthday cake for everyone at the Homecoming dance. Buying cake to feed 200 people was out of our budget. So guess who ended up making this SEVEN cake monster? It was fun and unlike most wedding cakes, it disappeared in about 10 minutes flat. Nutsy colors...but whaddya do? I cannot turn down a student.

I owe a lot of my happiness at Lehi High to the Andersen family. So when Emilie was getting married I could not let anyone else do her cake. It was right after I had taken that fondant class and I was feeling ballsy. She was the fondant wedding cake guinea pig. We made 15 pounds of fondant with french vanilla marshmellows (so it wouldn't be white-white) and 20 pounds of buttercream to lay underneath it (for taste). The wedding was in northern Utah so we drove the ingredients from St. George to my moms basement in the back of our little car and attempted to assemble our first fondant wedding cake in a kitchen that doesn't have any appliances or utensils. We ended up leaving the buttercream in the fridge in St. George and so we started over there - putting us WAY behind. It was like a Food Network Challenge only for real and what a nightmare. I have a whole new appreciation for what they do.
Step One. Bake it all and get it in the freezer.
Step Two. Slice them in half and fill them
with yummy stuff. This cake was called
Rasberry Lemonade and you could smell
it from the next block down.
It had about 8 lemon rinds in it.
The red dots that you can see on the top
of the cake are thick heavy straws
(inserted down into the cake) from
Maverick (the gas station by our house).
The secret is, make good friends at
the Maverick. Thanks Janet!

Step Three. Dirty Ice

Step Four. Decorate. Fix the topper that
you broke taking it out of the packaging.

Travel to the venue and pray. Smile that it made it in one piece
and I am still upright after 24 hours of teaching myself how
to do a fondant cake.
When the florist only gave me about 6 stems of flowers from the wedding I was freaking out! I didn't know what to do. But, Emilie didn't want it covered with flowers and I FINALLY learned that LESS IS MORE which I have always had a hard time with. In the end, everyone was aghast at this cake and I realized that sometimes you have to buckle to the times and learn how to do what the customer/bride wants.

Did I do my own cake? Yes I did. It took my mind off things. It really relaxed me and it was cheaper of course. I always felt bad that by getting married at such a late age, I should try to do as much of the wedding as I could on my own. I am the family cake lady after all and that certainly doesn't excuse me from doing my own cake.
Jandy's Cake. Garden themed for the venue.
You can sit a cake on just about anything.
Andy's favorite desert is chocolate cake, so I did it all in homage to him. I added a lot of nuts because he's a little nuts, the situation was a little nuts, we had a lot of nuts in the family... The bottom layer of each cake was a brownie layer, and it was filled with ganoche, homemade caramel and chocolate mousse. The ribbon covered all my buttercream mistakes and the flowers were done by my sister Paula and my cousin Melissa. Gorgeous. (The room was covered in these amazing bouquets) I intentionally stayed away from doing all the layers in white... I was 41 after all.

We were scheduled to get on a plane and fly to Miami that night, so when the karaoke got away from us and we realized that it was past time to leave, we cut the cake, ate the traditional bite and left. Andy didn't even get to have a piece. TRUST me, at the time I could have cared less. ;-)

My mom saved the top layer for us which we stuck in our freezer and a year later, we thawed it our and realized that the pins that were stuck in it, should have been taken out, because they had rusted. So we thought twice about having a piece on our anniversary! Dang cake. Oh well.... it would have been really ridiculous of me not to have one.

Andy and I have a cake website that is a work in progress. You can visit it at
It's not much right now, but as soon as we finish the next show...!!! HAHAHAH isn't that the truth.

Though it took me forever...I have had a great time finding all the pictures for this blog! Thanks for helping me everybody.

So why do we spend so much time, effort and money on something that is probably going to stand in a back corner, and has 2 million calories, and might get thrown away by catering in the end? For me, the wedding cake symbolizes the first meal we will have together as a family so the wedding cake is really a celebration of creating a new family isn't it? I don't know about you, but when our family gets together there is always food. Once in your life, you shouldn't care about how much it costs or how many calories it has and it should be four or five feet tall and covered in sugar.

I used to feel really bad that I didn't become a doctor, and I can't fix your car when it's broken, build you a house and DO NOT let me cut your hair or draw your blood...but if you need a wedding cake, I will be there for you. My life's lesson for this journey through time via the wedding cakes in my life, has taught me that every member of a family has important gifts to give, or in my case, to give back. I've been given so much.

Even though my siblings and cousins are all married now, I'll never be out of business...that's for sure. Check out the next generation! WOOT!! 16 wedding cakes waiting to happen. I can't wait!
Jan's wedding, 2006. All the Shelton grandkids (at the time) ;-)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Has Anyone Seen My Keys?

Remember that old adage "Those that can, do, those that can't, teach?" I dare someone to say that to my face. I've always said I could never kill someone, even if they were attacking me, but if the preceding comment had been that adage, I would kill them and feel good about it. I have had contact with some G.R.E.A.T. teachers this week and each of them, has made my life easier. They are artists in the highest degree, because they know how to teach the art. They have so much talent and passion that it oozes out of them and all over their students. It's because of who they are that I write this today.

Mark Daniels at Weber High always makes a big impression on me, because he shares. The man does not have a territorial bone in his body. Years ago, when I was directing Once on This Island at Lehi, he gave me resources that I could not have afforded in my infant program. He made our show look like a million bucks. He did not ask for anything in return and he never does.

Phaidra Atkinson is another selfless drama teacher. Phaidra decided to quit teaching to raise a baby. Something I would kill to do. But while she was "gone" she created an organization called "Utah Advisory Council for Theatre Teachers." This network has become invaluable to over a hundred drama teachers in the state of Utah. Before UACTT, we were all strangers who saw each other occasionally and were polite. It was an isolated field despite the fact that 150 of us exist in the same state. Now, we are empowered because we belong to a group of people that are just like us! We are bonded together because Phaidra saw a need and knew that she alone had the passion and the time to accomplish such a thing (and the brain). Phaidra is a super hero to me. SO many are....

Drama teachers all start the same way...

Sometime in junior high school, Andy and I and most of our teacher friends, were bitten by the theatre bug. It's deadly. The bite will fester for years eventually turning into a full-fledged flesh and brain eating ailment.We WILL die of this disease. They will find us on a lift gripping the last lighting fixture in our paint covered hand, or in the costume shop flopped over a serger. We might be slumped in our chair with one hand resting peacefully over our grading program and in the other...our last diet coke. Not even our life long addiction to diet coke can save us from this deadly bug. The only thing that saves an actor from an early death is teaching drama. Warning: this does not stop the disease it just slows the progression of it down to about 30 years...perfect timing, since you spent all our retirement money on plays anyway.

There are some early warning signs of the disease. The first is sleep deprivation. Not because you don't sleep, but because you can't turn off your brain. "4 yards of muslin...two gallons of black paint... safety pins...poster to the the the t-shirt...collect the receipts for the t-shirt...finish the fundraiser...set up another I have a house manager for this show...why can't I get to sleep....did I order the tickets to New York...who is still going to New York...wish I could get off my Ambien......Sleep deprivation will kill you. Your brain needs to rest too.

Cure: stop doing theatre.

The second symptom is an eclectic office (messy much?). Most offices contain a desk with a computer (gray metal, district issued, one drawer doesn't work), a chair (that you found at the thrift store for a play and sort of adopted), and several bookshelves (full of scripts that you always meant to read) and a diploma on the wall in a cheap frame that says some college gave you permission to give the theatre bug to other people. Don't they know?!?!

But the unique thing about the theatre teachers office is that it contains all the things that you don't want the kids to steal. Fog machines, a hazer, snow machines, confetti canons, a shelf full of vintage hats, a 1940's radio that still has its original tubes. There are various posters from shows hanging about, a few dust covered trophies from 1992 that served their time in trophy cases and got kicked out eventually. There are also various "directors" gifts: a signed baseball from the Damn Yankees cast, a ceramic bottle engraven with "Ashes of Pains in the Ass" on it and various Greek style masks that you have collected or have been given you over the years. Most of them say "Made in China" on the back. There may also be framed Playbills from those trips to New York that you always take with your students because that is the only way you can afford to go out there.

I could go on and on about the office. It's got it's own stereotype. In the movies when set dressers are assigned to create a drama teachers office, its one of the easiest assignments ever because they probably grew up in one.

The third symptom of theateritis is losing your keys. It begins with one simple phrase: "Has anyone seen my keys?" So and so took them to the and so took them to the custodial closet...the costume shop....the dock and so used them to break into the office and so used them to get into the counseling office to change his grades... But if you stop to open every door yourself, you will not be able to do anything else all day. The anxiety level of having the only set of keys that float around a bunch of high school technicians will kill you.

Cure: stop doing theatre.

The fourth symptom of the disease can be found in your shopping cart. Your cart is divided into two sections: stuff for your personal life (milk, eggs, dog food, diet coke...) and stuff for the play (four different kinds of tape, a five gallon bucket of black paint, safety pins, double stick velcro, black socks...) You absolutely don't have time to come to the same store twice. (Tuacahn High School's playbill should read "Produced by Walmart.")

Cure: stop doing theatre.

The next symptom of theatritis is your aversion to sunlight. Classical vampires got nothing on you. You get to school in the dark, you leave in the dark, you work in a dark theatre all day. You own ten pairs of sunglasses, your skin is whiter than all the cast of Twilight combined, you may have had retina surgeries, you found a mushroom crop growing in your dark places...

Cure: stop doing theatre.

The next symptom is your urge to critique everything. You are watching the news and you see Ann Curry with a hair out of place. "Comb your hair Ann," you shout at the screen, "What is Matt Lauer wearing...geez...." You can't stand to watch Glee anymore. Even reality T.V. has lost it's edge to you. They want reality? "They should try directing a cast of kids that can't hit pitch. That's reality!"

Cure: stop doing theatre.

You can diagnose the next symptom by looking in a drama teachers car. In the back seat are the props from the current play that you just picked up at a thrift store. In the trunk are costumes from the last play that either need to be taken to the dry cleaner, or have come from the dry cleaner, and have never made it back into the costume storage. You might have a stack of posters from 1997, (that's when you bought your car) a few from 2003 and a box of props you borrowed from another school that you needed to take 2006. Oh, and one more the end of the year, when you are getting the heat from the financial office, where can you find a drama teacher? In her car, looking for receipts amongst the fast food containers, diet coke cans and empty Excedrin bottles.

Cure: Stop doing theatre.

Someone stricken with Theateritis also knows the ins and outs of every thift store within a 300 miles radius of their home. Two or three times a year, Andy and I embark on the "D.I.'s Across Utah" tour. D.I. stands for Deseret Industries, and those thrift stores are loaded with theatrical essentials. One persons trash is another drama teachers treasure.

Cure: stop doing theatre.

Two or three times a year, all the drama teachers in the state of Utah convene at various competitions and conferences. It's like a giant symptom identification-fest. You can see the varying levels of theateritis in their eyes. We don't run toward each other, we lumber. We nod. We shake our heads. "How are you...Tired...You? Exhausted (one up) my show opens next week...I just closed my show...what are you doing next?


Yes. That's right. The last and final symptom of the dreaded disease is addiction.

We complain 24/7. We cry in our exhaustion. We shake our hands in frustration when we see those teachers that DON'T have theateritis leaving the school at 3:00 done for the day. We will complain about the amount of work it is non-stop, but we will not stop doing it. True? T.R.U.E.

We are as ridiculous as any drug addict. We need an intervention. This is a truth: its impossible to find someone that will cure themselves by walking away from it. Jerry Ellison I'm talking to you. ;-)

For some of us, me included, its the only thing we know how to do. It's a God-given set of skills and we know it, and we are a way. Once the bug bit, back in 1978, I was never interested in anything else. It became the only thing I thought about. I remember reading Shakespeare in high school English class  and getting so choked up I had to hide the fact that I was crying. Nerd alert! But artists have to be passionate about it because it sucks the life out of you and feeds you in the same breath. Artists have to be willing to starve for their art. They have to be willing to have a garage full of costumes and a car full of props.

Non-artists will say to us "You are addicted to the applause," the ecstasy of the ovation...kind of thing and that really bugs me. Teachers never get to be on stage. But the highlight of my life is watching young people experience a standing ovation because they worked for it. They earned it. It's so much work for them too, when average kids run out of the building at 3:00, my kids sign on to do three more hours every single night. Then they get the ovation...Ah! To be in the hall after they are exiting an ovation is as close as I will ever get to winning the lottery. That pay-off gets you through to the next play, and the next....

But far and away the only reason I have not walked away from this job sometime in the past 22 years is because I've seen this particular art form, the theatre, and it's system of creation, change the lives of young people for good. I'm not willing to walk away from that I don't know a single teacher that is. It's the number one reason we do what we do. What we are truly addicted to, is seeing the kids use the theatre as a safe haven for their own personal progress across the board. I've seen the ultimate introvert, the child with straight F's on their report card, make a 180 degree turn once they have been bitten by "the bug." They might never do theatre again once they are out of high school, but they will be endowed with great faith in themselves, faith in the team and faith in hard work.

Things I've been privileged to witness in the last 22 years:

  • I've seen drama cure ADHD
  • I've seen drama create lasting peace in a struggling family
  • I've seen drama replace a hard-core drug addiction 
  • I've seen drama renew a kid spiritually
  • I've seen drama tame autism
  • I've seen drama conquer laziness
  • I've seen drama create self-confidence so many times I can't count
  • I've seen drama lift a kid out of serious depression and give them a reason to live
  • I've seen drama teach a child to stretch their capabilities
  • I've seen drama encourage a kid to go to college (by paying for it)
  • I've seen drama conquer every kind of fear
  • I've seen drama help a kid through their parents divorce
  • I've seen drama give a life, even a good living, to so many kids
  • I've seen drama create life long learners, life long creators, life long examiners of the human condition, life long givers
Early last week we lost a good friend of ours, Bradford Garrison. Bradford was a great teacher. He loved kids. He made us remember that what we are doing MUST be fun or we will lose the passion for it. He taught me that passion is the main gift we give. Who cares if they fail miserably, how did you make your students feel about themselves? Did you model passion for everything you do, or are you ornery because you are the last teacher out of the building? I've never forgotten that. Bradford was an incredible example to me, a brilliant actor too, and I mourn his passing this week.

It's because of him that I am thinking about all my teacher friends and wondering if I am accessible to them and do they know how much I love them? I just want you all to know that, for what it's worth, I am cheering for you!!! The kids are to...but they might not have the good sense or maturity to tell you. So on their behalf...please allow me to express to every drama teacher in the state of Utah and the NATION, that I know how hard you work. When you feel isolated and abused, I know how much you have to know to do what you do every day. I know how much you have to sacrifice for other people's kids. I know how much you truly care. I know how much you give. For what it's worth.

This is the time for all of us to look at our group of friends and see beyond what we see every day. Is there someone that needs us more today? Is there someone struggling in depths we can't understand? How can we subtract from their fear, their anxiety, their feelings of being overwhelmed? I make a pledge today to be more like Mark and Phaidra.

Those around us will just have to listen to us complain about how hard it is and help us get the resources we need to continue to change lives...because we know how to do that. And huge.

Continue to DO THEATRE - don't let the disease drag you down, let it lift you. You must practice the craft yourself if you are going to teach it, be in touch with it, grow with it, believe in it's power.

The only cure for theatritis is feeding the positive side of the art. Have a bunch of opening nights. Keep your eyes on the kids that need you. It is no small thing that they are placed in your path. Their growth will lift you because that is why you do what you do. Remind yourself WHY you continue to feed the bug. It's so much work to get kids to do what you know they are capable of doing, and when the play opens - they pull it off, (they always do) and you can finally sleep that night. (Unless 14 people came to the show and then you're screwed.) But hey, you got the kids to opening night, no one lost an eye, and they were all incredible. WOOT! Those are the pay-off nights. Too bad the ratio of stress to opening nights is so horribly one-sided. So what do you do? You direct MORE plays! woot . (Symptom #6) ...

Because those that CAN, TEACH.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Angelina Jolie's got Nothing Over Me

I was scanning through the T.V. channels and I paused for a minute on Dr. Phil. I've always been amazed at how honest Dr. Phil is with people and that he just doesn't care what they think because they came to him. He lays it out and says take it or leave it. I love that. I've been accused of needing to learn how to "shine the apple." I'm not very good at that.

I've never seen him interview famous people, but that day he was interviewing Susan Sarandon. I paused on the channel because I heard him asked her what the repercussions were from being an oldest child of such a big family...she is the oldest of 9 siblings....and she said it took her a long time to stop mothering the men she dated/married.

Then a choir of angels started singing inside my house and the light got very bright.....

Just kidding.

But for three minutes after that, I was in "Ah hah" land. You know that land. When you pause because three or four puzzle pieces of your life just snapped together and suddenly make sense. It resonates so deeply with you that it causes you to take a deep breath and think..."oh my heck...that's so true or that's" Thank you Susan. I would never date someone younger again in my life.

Until 2005.

When I made the move to St. George, it was in the middle of the school year. I was not unhappy at Lehi High School. I had created a huge monster that was eating itself, and in order to keep that monster happy, I was living like a stoker on the Titanic. We all know what happened to the Titanic.

I was recruited to work at Tuacahn and I didn't know a thing about it, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. I wasn't sure why I felt so good about it. I was on the top of my game, stoking the fire 24/7, I was 40 (maybe that was it) and still single and had finally been working for a district long enough to make payments on a house, and I had just purchased two beautiful dachshund puppies. But never-the-less, I felt like I should move for some reason. I've ignored feelings like that before to my detriment, so I decided to sell my little, fabulous house AND the puppies, pack up my scripts and move four hours South. But the reception I got at Tuacahn was less than hospitable. That wasn't their fault. From my perspective, it appeared as if I was being dumped on a faculty and staff that had no idea they even needed me. I would have to prove my worth to them somehow. Point me to the stoker room. Problem is, I'm a little too much like Dr. Phil.

So, for the first few months that I worked there, I cried every night. My phone bill was ridiculous. I was a stranger in a strange land. There were so many fancy people there. I mean, I rarely wear mascara for pete's sake and my jeans were definitely under $20 from Che Walmart. Except for my two sisters, who were raising their own families, the only friends I had lived an hour North in Cedar City, home of my beloved SUU and the Shakespeare Festival.

I think I always knew Andy Hunsaker. It's a small theatre world. When he was 15, I was the makeup lady for a play he was in. Years later, he was filling is as a long-term substitute at American Fork Junior High. The teacher before him left suddenly trailing sadness and sorrow behind her. It was a terrible situation to land in. He was only 22 then...I was 36. Do the math. I'll wait.... ;-)

I was teaching just a mile north of him. He was trying to pull his kids out of quicksand and he had decided to direct our favorite play. He called me to ask if I had some props he could borrow. I felt so sorry for him, taking over in that situation, that I offered him the world. I remember him walking into my classroom and we loaded him up with the things he needed. "Poor sucker," I thought, "he's so brave." That was sometime in October of 2000.

I was in the dark "no men" period of my life because I had been dumped a few years earlier by a younger man. I was fully committed to that darkness. I was directing about 8 shows a year around the county and had been hired to direct a play at one of my favorite community theatre venues - The SCERA, in Orem. Andy happened to be in a play upstairs there while I was holding auditions for the next show downstairs. He showed up at intermission to audition in his costume as Granny from Into The Woods. He is 6'4" tall. He was so funny. I cast him. He ended up quitting the show because of his job. I will always have that blackmail. Never-the-less, because we were both working at the same place, we became great friends and you know the rest of that story. I moved South, he moved South...(Blog August 9th)

On December 12th, 2005 I realized WHY I had been inspired to uproot my life and move. I went to see Andy in the USF production of "A Christmas Carol: On the Air." Our BFF status had officially "turned" just three months earlier in Arizona. I really must start writing these blogs in order. We had been in our first official fight earlier in the day. The "make outs" were fun, but we just had to stop. He was *! years younger than me and eventually he would realize that he had lost all those years. Was he prepared to change my diapers and scrub my false teeth? That fight. All you cougars out there know that fight.

After his show, we met in front of the Randall Jones Theatre and he said "I parked on the other side of campus, let's walk over there." I was mad. It was snowing. Why did he park so far away? We crossed the street and cut behind the auditorium toward the Adams Theatre. You know that one? It's a replica of the original Globe Theatre. It houses some of the greatest Shakespearean theatre in the world. When you are a theatre student at SUU, you dream of acting on that stage. It's an outdoor theatre and usually during the winter it's locked up, but as we started toward it, I noticed that it was lit up with candles. I said "Someones having a seance in the Adams. Those idiots. We go in there and scare them." Andy said "okay." He was being unusually quiet. Something was up with him. But we started walking over to the wrought iron gates and it was open. So we went in to "scare off the stupid college kids."

Andy dragged me up on the stage despite me saying "Andy! We are going to get caught by the devil worshippers!" Why did the devil worshippers put all these roses all over the stage? And when I looked up Andy was getting down on one knee and I clued in. Finally. D.U.H.

It was snowing. And there were roses, candles and we were in a sacred place to the both of us. Then a ring came out - but I was crying so hard I didn't care about the ring at all. That's the truth of it... when you are 41 years old and your best friend throws caution to the wind, over and over again for you... you finally believe that someone might actually love you despite your age. You get a dose of faith in humanity, in yourself, in God.

Andy helped me put my faith in fifth gear and said yes. The darkness was over.

Mormons are taught to remain celibate until they marry. So we had a short engagement. Hehehe...
You have to stay celibate, or renew your commitment to your covenants through repentance and control your natural man, in order to be worthy to be married in a holy temple. I was 41. He was 27. We'd sowed some oats in our younger years so keeping ourselves worthy through this oasis in the desert was incredibly tricky. The stories are funny - but not appropriate for a blog. Anyway, when we finally walked into the temple it was a rush of relief. We had M.A.D.E. I.T. to the altar. By the skin of our teeth. Just outside the door of the sealing room where we would be married, we paused before going in and started laughing. We have always laughed so much. We ran down the hall to an open meeting room and had a prayer. One last time to back out I told him. We were interrupted by people that needed the room, but that was a special moment for me. I'm really glad we did it.

On March 11, 2006, just 6 years ago today.... we walked through the doors of a sacred room in the Timpanogos LDS Temple and we knelt across an altar and were sealed for time and all eternity infront of 60 of our closest friends and relatives. Everyone was sobbing. People that never thought that day would come for me were so happy, so relieved. They knew how badly I was looking forward to that day, even though, years before, I had written the opportunity off. There just aren't that many men in the world, that will put off the natural man to take a girl through the temple. I had waited four decades for mine. W.O.R.T.H. the wait. Worth every lonely cry in the dark, worth every single Friday night, worth the tears, the wondering, the heartache. W.O.R.T.H. it.

Let me tell you about Andy Hunsaker, even though many of you know may not know what kind of faith he has. He is a tower of faith. He didn't know he was getting into eight miscarriages when he married me. Still he stood by me and held my hand and said "We have lots of kids." You may not know how much he loves his students. Almost as much as I do. He loves the theatre, almost as much as I do, even though when he was in high school, he took a lot of crap for not trying out for the football team. They wouldn't have been able to use him. I'm sure he couldn't tackle someone without saying "I'm so sorry!" after it was done and helping the guy up.

He is a professional card-carrying Equity actor, which means he's never acted since he got the card. Hahahahaha....meh...not really funny. He is an incredible actor and recently his students got to see him in action when he volunteered to raise money for the school by producing and acting in A Tuna Christmas. He had 11 characters, some were women and he subjugated himself to wearing several dresses in the show...he didn't care. He was doing it for a good cause. He's like that.

Andy was adopted by Max Hunsaker after a childhood full of wondering whether of not his biological dad loved him. Max came in and gave Andy stability and unconditional love. That's why we named our son Noah Max Hunsaker. Max made Andy laugh again. Andy loves sitting around with friends and making people laugh. I once told God that I didn't care what he gave me, all I wanted in a man was someone that would make me laugh. I got so much more.

Whenever he sees Brad Pitt or Hugh Jackman in a movie he says "there's your man." And I laugh. Angelina Jolie's got nothing over me. There have been more roses, more candles, and kisses in the great times and the yucky ones. I cannot imagine another person that is more perfect for me and I thank God every day for his existence. I thank God for his good mother who kept him focused, and then gave him away. I thank God that he had more faith in me than I did. I thank God that he doesn't care how old I makes him mad when I remind him.

Most of all, I thank God for our awesome life and the sure knowledge that I get to be with him forever. Even if I leave him first, which is highly possible, ;-)  I know in the next life, I will be 29 again and bikini ready.

So today is our sixth Anniversary and since it's the Sabbath, it's been pretty low key. Because that's how Andy is... it was God's day today, not his. The number is only a number and when you're 14 years younger than your wife, you may spend you life convincing her of the value of numbers. Which he does. Every day.

Doubt thou the stars are fire
Doubt that the sun doth move
Doubt truth to be a liar
But never doubt I love.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fat Lily and the Beauty Pageant

Weiner dogs have long fragile backs. I lost my last dachsie, Piper, after she jumped off some utility stairs at my moms. She just stopped. Couldn't move at all. Became incontinent immediately and my brother was brave enough to take her to the vet and let her go. I was such a mess, I wasn't even able to be there for that sacred time.

So when Gus and Lily were small, we did not let them jump on anything. When they got fixed, Gus gained about 5 pounds, fulfilling his name-sakes reputation. Gus, is named after the fat mouse in Disney's animation Cinderella. He's very short from head to tail, fat and round like a good 18-pound German sausage. Gus is so "grounded" we've always picked him up. Not a lot of "body flight" as the ballroom dancers say.

While the 9-pound Lily is longer and prettier, she will fly around the room and across the furniture.  She has always been so skinny. We named her after Walt Disney's wife Lillian Belle, which is also the name of the last car on the train that goes around Disneyland...and she is shaped like that. Yes, we are that couple.

Lily has the perfect dachshund face and as specimens of the breed go, she could be dog show material. A beauty queen of the breed. Until she gained three pounds.

A month ago, Lily stopped jumping on anything. I was so used to seeing her race around, the stillness in her was shocking. I thought of Piper and it sent me to tears immediately. I knew what was coming. We came home from our final dress rehearsal for How To Succeed, the show was opening the very next day, and she was using her front legs to pull her back legs around. I freaked out and so did Andy. She is Andy's girl. We went to the overnight emergency vet...just walking in there makes my debit card cough. But what do you do when your dogs are your children?

We had just gone through our final miscarriage seven days earlier and I had wrecked our car on my way to the college that week. My reflexes were not strong enough to avoid the lady in front of me when she slammed on her brakes. So watching Lily disintegrate before my eyes, and losing a baby in the same week....too much.

As I sat in that waiting room, the prayer went like this: "Heavenly Father, you promised me that you would not test me more than I could handle. This is officially the breaking point. I just want you to know, that I've been a big advocate for you, but if I lose this dog tonight I might have to be admitted to a rubber room forever. I mean it. Please, please..if you won't spare me, spare Andy from that." ;-)

The vet explained that he thought Lily had four or five worn out vertebrae and possibly a virus in her back. She needed a $6000 surgery in Las Vegas. We explained that we were school teachers and that was not possible. I thought I was going to die. I kept reminding God of the talk we'd had the night before, over and over. Didn't he know I was about to lose it? L.O.S.E. I.T.

We decided to treat her aggressively with steroids and an anti-inflammatory/painkiller which we have done, faithfully, for a month now. Today, she runs around like it never happened. There is a God and I've said it again and again. But the steroids make her appetite insatiable and she eats more than Gus. SO.... yep...she has gained three pounds. It has slowed her down for the time being and they say she'll lose it once she's off the meds. Lucky! However, she will no longer qualify for the miniature division at Eukanuba this year. (Just kidding. We are not that couple).

So now it's official,  no one in our family will ever qualify for the miniature division in anything...not even the mid-size division. Welcome to the family Fat Lily. You will never wear the crown you so deserve, but you are a queen in our house.
When I was in 12th grade, I hung out with eight amazing women. Once I got beyond the "fix me" stage, I attached myself to powerful, brainiac friends. Combined GPA 3.9 (I was the reason it wasn't a 4.0). They were also band, choir, drama and debate geeks. They make movies about us now...we're the ones on the receiving end of the slushy. But...we never got slushied. Who would dare? We were raised by Mormon women. There was a kind of Charlie's Angels meets the Chess Club mystery to us. Go ahead, cross any one of us and you'd be pulling a flute out of your dark places.

I digress.

Anyway - we were talented. Most of us played the piano, we all sang and played various instruments. We may have lacked curling iron and makeup skills but we were convinced that mankind was causing global warming and the United States was selling arms to Nicaraguan civil war factions in 1983. We had evidence. So when the "Miss Lehi" committee arrived at lunch to pass out registration flyers for the local beauty pageant they did not miss our table in the cafeteria. We had "Will Win Interview and Talent" written all over us. But there was that swimsuit competition that stood between us and the scholarship. (The truth is...I was probably the only one that still needed a scholarship.)

Swimsuit division...small problem for seven of the eight of us. BIG problem for me. Could I lose 50 pounds by pageant time and did they actually make a swimsuit in a Triple D cup size? BIG problem(s).

Miss Lehi herself came to the end of our table...with her flyers. She was in recruiting mode so she was wearing the C.R.O.W.N. She had bangs as tall and as stiff as the Chrysler Building. Maybe the crown was stapled to that crispy wave of hair? I truly don't remember who the girl was, but this is a moment, a flash, in life that was so powerful, it brings me to tears still to this day. I don't cry because of the memory of it happening to me, I cry because I teach kids that are that age now and I see them walking around in a fog of self-doubt which leads to a lack of self-respect which leads to a whole textbooks full of problems...and it makes me crazy. Been there, still doing that.

Anyway..I'll soapbox that later...

Perky Miss Lehi, started around the table handing a flyer to each girl "here you you go, you play the flute don't you? you like the crown? It could be yours!....Hahaha. "Blah...blah...blah...I really have no idea what she said - hey, it's been thirty years. But when she came around the table to me she said "Do you need one?"

I'm sure she didn't know how closely I was looking at her behavior. Or how offended I would be, because I was always on the defensive...always in some kind of emotional karate chop position. She didn't know I was reading all kinds of subtext into it, like a good actor does. She didn't know I was in a war with my jeans on a daily basis and wearing sweatshirts to hide my enormous...blessings. It was a fair question. "Do you need one?" Not "Do YOU need one?" or "Do you NEED one? Really?" She just asked me if I would be needing a flyer. But she didn't ask anyone else.

Maybe she knew I was on my way South for school. It would be tough to be Miss Lehi from a distance. Maybe she already knew that I wouldn't be caught dead in a swimsuit in public. Maybe she knew that my parents would have to sell a child to pay for the fabric for an evening gown (which I would make myself...hehehe...blindfolded...just kidding!). Maybe she knew I had already been asked to run the lights for the pageant so I would be...busy that night.

But I wish she would have asked everyone else...just one other skinny person! I wish she had thought to put a stack of flyers in the middle of the table and let us reach for one if we needed it. I wish green smoke hadn't come out of my ears. I wish....I wish.... I wish I could flush this tiny episode from my memory and G.E.T. O.V.E.R. I.T. That flyer does not define me! It's been thirty years for crying out loud.

I just remember the feeling in a bubble. The reverberation in my ears as the earth slowed to a stop. The question required an answer... and I squeaked out "No," while shaking my head like the question was ridiculously rhetorical. I wondered if my face was bright red and I tried to seem aloof. I was the actor in the group after all. So when she left, I immediately changed the subject. Several of my friends, smart girls that they were, offered me their flyers. They wouldn't be needing them. I can't remember if any of them competed. I didn't help with the lights, I know that. I think I probably went out drinking that just kidding...But the little girl inside of me, always wanted to wear a damn crown. Since the second grade play when the fairy's in Farmer Brown and the Coyote got to wear crowns and the carrots (me) got to wear green pipe cleaners sticking out of a head band.

Years later, I mean, twenty years later, I was teaching at Lehi High School...weird, I know. My beautiful student Natalie had won Miss Lehi..and I was like "...meh..." She's smart, gorgeous and talented, no surprise there. But then...she was supposed to honor a "Woman of Distinction" on her last night as Queen. Someone that influenced her in a positive way. There was a plaque involved and an acceptance speech.

My friend Diane, who ran the pageant, told me to make sure I bought a ticket. She knew how much I hated pageants, but encouraged me to support Natalie. So my sisters and I sat through the pageant and at the end, to my semi-surprise (my sister also told me not to wear jeans, I knew something was going on) Natalie had named me her Woman of Distinction. There was a crown on the plaque. I felt confused and embarrassed. I had said a lot of negative things about pageants over the years. So the first thing I blurted out over the microphone to 1000 townies was "I hate pageants."

Never let someone that has no politic-ing skills improv.

After the half laugh/gasp died down I got to explain that Natalie had changed my mind about pageants because she was genuinely a queen in real life. I felt like, if a pageant could find a real queen, and not a trumped-up faker, that was okay. And this kid, was really that. She didn't even know the story of the flyer.

And she's a teacher now. Uh huh.

If I haven't said it before - Thank you, Natalie, and Diane, Paula, Kate, Renita, Jean, pageant pushers - You inspire me every day! Are there more queenly women on the earth? I think not.

So I have my plaque up in my office, eye level as you walk out the door. It reminds me to act accordingly every time I leave. It doesn't fail, though I often do. It's message is that everyone, no matter what you look like on the outside, is a queen if they act like one. God is no respecter of persons or dogs and my constant prayers about Lily have been answered - reminding me yet again, that I am His child, a potential queen on an eternal scale and no registration flyer is needed. I must work harder to earn that crown!

As for the swimsuit division, I'm hopeful that bikinis are allowed in the next life, because that's all Lily and I are ever going to wear. Ever.

Oh...and the crowns.

Monday, March 5, 2012

We'll Call Them Schmecky and Schmole

There is a day time persona that I have created that is a little cold, a little sharp, a little tired. I know it. I use it as both a wall and a weapon. The wall keeps a kid at a distance and allows me to say "I have to cut you from the play because you are failing Biology." I use the weapon like this: "Kid, if you don't start coming to first period, I will kill you with a broadsword from the props closet." (just kidding!)  I'm not the teacher that let kids walk all over me, but the price of that is a reputation that you are...the kids would say, "hardcore." I don't have a bunch of kids that hang out in my room after school. I sometimes get jealous of the teachers that do. But I'm with kids A LOT. I don't usually have a grade to hold over their head. I just want to help them see the amazing musical or play performance that I know they have inside of them. I know how much it will change them for good.

So I have to be fairly strict. Sometimes that comes off as "mean," or "scary." I'm not the sterotypical drama teacher that you see in movies - okay...more Mrs. Darbus than Corky St. Clair if you know what I mean. I require my casts to sign contracts, provide excuse forms for missing rehearsal, sign in, and if someone isn't testing their sacred potential every day, there are 15 kids behind them that will and that "Come to Jesus" is everyone's nightmare. I will make changes after the cast list has been posted, though I haven't done very often because I'm not usually wrong about kids. Sounds kind of hooty-tooty of me. But looking back, I've put thousands of incredible kids (and adults) in plays and I was only wrong once. I was so wrong that time. Another incredible kid bailed me out, so it all turned out okay.

Maybe the Scary Jan comes from years of watching the P.E. teachers leave at three o'clock. I know the English teacher leaves with a stack of papers to grade, but she gets to leave. Go home. Eat at home. Grade papers infront of CSI Miami. Put her laundry in while she grades papers. She doesn't have 50 pairs of underwear (Blog #2) because her laundry doesn't have to wait for President's Day.

See, my second shift is just beginning at 3pm. That's how I got my addiction to caffeine and kids. They know I love them and will help them, still, there is a little bitterness when the student council approaches you and says "Will you chaperone Prom? Because no one else will..." and you are wearing overalls that can stand up by themselves and have been wearing them since Tuesday, But it's because of my second shift, that I grew to love kids and see what they are capable of accomplishing.

Over the years I have been given a kind of intuition about kids by diagnosing their homework, their attitude, their work ethic, their parents. I can see the future in their skills and their DNA then I just start asking God about it. You might think that's crazy, but...He knows what they need and I'm just guessing. So I like to involve Him if He's telling, and sometimes I'm tuned in enough to hear it.

Such was the day I approached Schmecky Schmawson about becoming a stage manager for me when she was in the tenth grade. Schmecky had a brother, Schmole, that was willing to learn how to use a lightboard and I needed the help. Today is Schmole's birthday! 28! Becky's is next month! It's been ten years since I let them graduate from high school. I say that because I thought about failing both of them so that they'd have to repeat a year, but then I liked their parents too much and I was so excited to see what they would do with all that talent. I have not been disappointed! W.O.W.

They aren't really siblings. They are more like BFF's with a side of family thrown in. You know what I'm talking about - everybody has them...your "brother from another mother," "sister from another mister," kind of thing. I have a few dozen children I borrow from other mother's. "Schmole and his sister Schmecky" have been my surrogate children for the past 13 years. I've changed their names to protect the innocent...thought I'm quite sure neither of them is too innocent anymore. ;-) Hehehe....

It was about 2000-ish. I had been watching, diagnosing this girl Schmecky, for about a month. I was on the prowl for a stage manager. She was sitting on the front row. Good sign. Stage managers are smart - they have to be. Smart kids sit in the front. She was beautiful inside and out. She had long blond hair, rosy cheeks and she was nice to E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. But when she needed to do class work, look out! There was no question. School first, plays second. (Great priorities. I knew right away that she would never pay tuition to any university. I was right.) So when I met Schmecky's mom at parent teacher conference, I knew immediately that I wanted both of them in my life somehow. I was not wrong.

I've always wanted to write this historic moment down....and now I will....

I said "Schmecky, what would you think about stage managing our musical Once on This Island?" She said "I don't know anything about it but I guess I could try. Could I bring my friend? He couldn't take the class, but he wants to be involved." What am I going to say? That afternoon I met Schmole. He was also beautiful. Too skinny but I could fix that. I always did. Schmole saw that I didn't know anything about lighting and he went up into that booth and figured it out. He and Schmecky set out to stage manage and light a huge musical at 15 years old and that's truly the beginning of two lives as they are now lived.

Schmecky is a professional stage manager with a Masters degree in it, and Schmole runs his own lighting business and teaches (of course!) lighting at the University of Utah. Neither of them ever paid tuition. But that wasn't my fault. They came that way. They had "goodly parents" and they were strong. I can't help look around and wonder where the strong kids are these days. It seems like I am constantly cleaning up a mess, or putting out a fire, or begging kids to test their potential. I've been doing a grade check on the Titanic cast this week and I guess I'm unnaturally discouraged about how kids take their education for granted. Scmecky and Schmole pushed their potential every day and along the way, they made my life a lot easier. THAT is the key! I learned it from them! How can we make other people's lives easier?

Okay. Time to come clean.

Teacher's have favorites. There I've said it.

When you are a single drama teacher and have a load of after-school responsibilities, sometimes you are at the school until two or three in the morning setting lights, painting a set, recovering a sofa for the fourteenth time. There are always a few kids that see your plight, have awesome parents that trust you, and allow their kids to stick around and help out. To save your life. To make sure you get some sleep. Sometimes their parents know that you haven't eaten and they will bring New York Burrito, to the school at 11pm (and they will bring enough for you too!) which you will inhale in your free hand while you paint wood graining, circa 1938, on a table you just made at lunch. Those people get it.

Those are the kids that make your life easier, that took the time to find out who you really are after the school day is over. They don't want anything from you. They just wanted to work hard because that's who they were and if I happened to teach them a thing or two, great. But I think I gave them passion...because that's what fuels the fire of life long learning. I learned so much more from them. Those kids became my little surrogate family.

There are a handful of kids over the years that have stuck around long enough to see that the cold, sharp Mrs. Darbus Jan is just a wall infront of the gooey Corky St. Clair marshmellow center. Real Jan wants to see them realize their dreams. Not just because Jan wants her name mentioned over the pulpit at the Tony's, (waiting for it!) but because Jan really, really loves them and gets a huge kick out of watching them find happiness and success in an arts based career. People say it can't be done. Those people are wrong.

Over the years Schmecky and Schmole and I did many things together. We became more like a production team than teacher/students. We produced many plays together, but the two I remember the most were The Comedy of Errors and Children of Eden at the Scera. We had been nominated to take a play to Edinburgh's Fringe Festival. Becky and Cole were 17. Becky's dad made a full-sized hang man's post and noose that fit into a piece of luggage. That bugger was heavy. But it was so awesome in Scotland! They figured out how to get the entire play's set into luggage, and when they packed the costumes, the props, the posters, etc... off we went. With the help of both of their mothers, we also raised over $100,000 together for the feat.

Children of Eden was fun because Cole got to light a huge amphitheatre and we got to figure out how to build Eden with plywood and paint. That cast was incredible and we made eternal friendships. Cole still lights amphitheatres.

We have a guest bedroom in our house that we call "Cole's room," because we insist that he stay there when he's in town and he does. It's usually accompanied by four hours of "catching up," but worth the lost sleep. That time is never wasted, I adore it.

The downside of being a surrogate mother is terror and fear when your "children" are in trouble or unhappy. They were in northern Nevada when they got in a car accident once and I didn't think I'd survive the ride to Salt Lake just knowing that they were coming into the hospital in ambulances. I learned so much about love that day, and prayer.

I have seen Cole turn the last ten years into gold. I have seen Becky walking around New York City like she owns the place. I am living the dream now through them, yet there they are, still making other people's lives easier. 

Happy Birthday, chickies. I love you so much. Thank you for all you ever did to make those years tolerable and for all you still do for me. Thank you for being the stellar examples that you are. I wish you both every happiness and a life full of love.

Your old drama teacher,

May tomorrow be a perfect day
May you find love and laughter along the way
May God keep you in His tender care
Til He brings us together again!

                                       (Courtesy of Donny and Marie!)