Sunday, April 22, 2012

How'd I Do Coach?

It's taken me a week to find the time to sit down and write. I think of my blogging time now as "my time." So many people own so much of my day...but this time is mine. It's such great therapy. I write part of a blog every day...then when one is done, it tells me, and I publish it. I wish there was a more organized way to do it - a common theme would even be good. But I honestly never know what's going to be written until I sit down. The fact that I know people are reading has kept me returning to this chair much longer than any other therapy I've ever tried. So thank you for reading. Your invisible presence gives me a reason to take a few rocks out of my pockets every day. I am to the point however, that even if you stopped reading, I would still write. I've found something that works for me. I think everyone should write a blog, even if you don't open it up to the public.

There might be too many ideas in this one - sorry and... too bad! I've had a week to think about what I want to say.

One year, back in the 80's, the public school teachers got a turkey for Christmas. The tax-payers balked: "You cannot give the teachers a turkey with tax-payer money!" The turkey went away forever. I felt at once, humiliated and demoralized. As if the monthly paycheck wasn't enough. Heck, we even got a turkey from our part-time job as janitors. Teachers don't come into the job for the turkey, though they seem to work for a few. Real teachers, I like to call them "DNA teachers," come into the profession for obviously different reasons. When you find them, hang on to them.
I was at State drama last week at Juab High School when a wonderful high school student, not from my school, came running up to me and said "I read your blog!" I nearly fell over. I have known that a few of my own students have stumbled across it, but they don't really acknowledge that they read it. Probably all those Octo-Mom stories were a revelation to them and now it's A.W.K.W.A.R.D. That's okay. It's because I know students are reading, though, that I do measure certain words and phrases before I publish them just like I do in class. Like right now I'm wondering if I will get fired for alluding that my boss is a "turkey." He's definitely not.

Since formal education began, teachers have always been required to keep themselves above the world's fray. Required to sacrifice for the children. I believe it's because the world knows what a huge influence we are on their kids. Right? No one would actually deny that, would they? There used to be real laws about a teacher's conduct in the community they were teaching. The following comes from New Hampshire (U.S.) 1915:

1. You will not marry during the term of your contract.

2. You are not to keep company with men.

3. You must be home between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM unless at a school function.

4. You may not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores.

5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairman of the chairman of the school board.

6. You may not ride in carriages or automobiles with any man except your father or brother.

7. You may not smoke cigarettes.

8. You may not dress in bright colors.

9. You may under no circumstances dye your hair.

10. You must wear at least 2 petticoats.

11. Your dresses may not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankles.

12. To keep the classroom neat and clean you must sweep the floor once a day, scrub the floor with hot soapy water once a week, clean the blackboards once a day and start the fire at 7AM to have the school warm by 8 AM when the scholars arrive.

We've come a long way in 97 years...or have we?

I married 18 years into Rule #1 and he has made my life so much easier. Still, whenever our students see us holding hands in the hall, they say "EWWWWW! P.D.A!" As for Rule #2, I wish someone would have taught me HOW to "keep company with men," because I may have married sooner than I did.

I LOVE rules #3, and #4 because if they still existed, I would have a life outside the stage door and I would not have spent so much money at Cold Stone.

If I didn't travel beyond the city limits, I would not be able to go to Las Vegas! (see Blog #?)

I wouldn't be married if Rule #6 existed in 2006. Thank you Honda and the great state of Arizona. (Blog #?)

If #7 were still a law, it would sure save a lot of teachers. I once took a group of kids to Scotland and there was another school staying in our dorm. We got to know them quite well. As a result of a lifetime of smoking, their coach had to stick his finger in the hole in his neck to talk to his kids and even then they had to lean in to hear him. (My kids would probably be grateful if I had that problem.)

#8 wouldn't matter to me, I'm a theatre person and my entire wardrobe is black.

#9 WOULD matter to me, because if I couldn't dye my hair, my kids would be able to guess my real age. As if panting my way to the top of the amphitheatre isn't hint enough.

#10 and #11. Let's talk about this. Let me digress a second. Girls were required to wear dresses to school in my district until I was in Third grade. Then one day, when I was hanging on a jungle gym bar at recess, (Lehi Elementary, 1973) a boy (who I still know but he would die if I told on him!) reached up and pulled my underwear down around my feet. Oh....yeah. I'm the reason that rule got changed. You're welcome women of America.

I'm appalled at how much teachers are "exposed" to these days. If we dressed like some of these kids do, we'd end on the front page of the paper. I'm so grateful I teach in a school that requires uniforms, but the college kids are so much WORSE. I have actually wondered, this spring at Dixie State, if there was a major in "special services performance." Oh, this is an entire blog waiting to happen.... my ire is up, I'd better stop now while I'm still employed.

When I taught at Lehi High I was well-known for my classroom dress policy. It was simple: "Say No to CRACK(s)." I never hesitate to enforce a dress policy when I am being exposed to something I would not show to the public myself. So I have said a lot of  "cover yourself, you looking for work?" and it solves the problem. Nowadays, all I'd have to do is whip out my phone and take a picture, email it instantly to her mom and say, "when can we meet?" The end.

#12 is pretty good. I'm still in charge of cleaning my auditorium, I just don't have to light a fire, though sometimes, that would be an easier way to get rid of it all.

Because I teach, I am expected by society to model good behavior 24/7. Not just when I'm in front of a group of kids. Certain careers of influence, are heavily scrutinized by the media. With teachers, the laws have mostly gone away, but the pedestal has not.

You rarely hear about the baker that was caught with his apron down, or an engineer, or a mortgage broker, butcher, candlestick maker... that doesn't make a good national headline... but it's still shocking to people when a teacher, cop, pastor or elected official will show their true colors and end up in jail or pregnant by some thirteen year-old (as well they should...end up in jail that is). I'm not saying "stop talking about teachers." Just that teachers make good headline fodder. Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been front page news in Walnut Grove if she was ever caught with her bloomers down. And so would I.

Laura Ingalls Wilder would NEVER have been bloomer-less.

Sometimes I am with my students 24/2 or 3 and when I get home I'm literally exhausted from keeping myself up on that pedestal. The porn comes out, the cigarettes, I start cursing like a sailor. No, just kidding... except for the cursing part. I've said it before and I will say it again: It is not small thing when a child is placed in your path in any capacity. I still remember a high school math teacher that moved me back to a remedial class, out loud...and that was 25 years ago.

My dad, who was a Spanish and History teacher for 35 years, always told me "they will not remember when the Civil War was, but they WILL remember how you made them feel about it and how you made them feel about themselves."

I know it to be true, because I was a student myself.

My point is...and I do have one...

Last weekend at the Utah State Drama Competition, we did pretty well. But it doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game, right? I knew, from the amount of work that my kids were doing to polish their pieces, that we might have a chance at "taking state." My strategy is this: coach, lift, motivate them all. Then if you don't bring home a single individual trophy, the one that you will have is the Team Sweepstakes. THAT trophy is all that matters because it means that we ALL have ownership in it.

For 15 years we have been taking kids to the "State Drama FESTIVAL" where judges would give everyone the top rating (to avoid controversy), and there was no way to acknowledge the kids that had gone above and beyond. It really reinforced mediocrity. The problem was, the quality of work was shabby, the numbers of competitors dropped and I always had a kid or two that had special learning challenges and those kids would be the only ones without a medal. To be fair, the judges had no way of knowing how far these extra-awesome kids had come just to participate. It always killed me. Changing the festival format leveled the playing field a little. Everyone worked so much harder, everyone helped each other. The TEAM mentality was in full bloom.

I have several students, I won't name them here, but these kids started out life with massive challenges. The  theatre has given them power! In the competition format, there is an extra round called the "medals round." Each kid performs three times for three different judges, then the top 5 or 6 kids with the highest rankings, get to perform one more time to decide who is "best in the state." It's quite an honor.

We had Tuacahn kids in every medals round, but I could not attend them all at the same time so I chose to watch the round that had three Tuacahn entries in it, and one of them was a brilliant kid with many challenges. I have watched him since he was in Ninth grade when he could not/would not tell you his name. I started crying the minute I found out he had broken the top tier and I have not stopped since then. I've been crying about it for 9 days. Because...that's what it means to be a teacher.

During the round, each kid got up and performed. It was very tense. Three Tuacahn kids were competing against each other (out of 6) and it didn't matter to them. They were rejoicing together. You could tell that they were ready to fight for the team as a unit. I sat at the back in case a judge knew me and didn't like me.

They all had the best performance I had seen them give. I was SO GLAD that I wasn't judging. Each time, after their performance, they would go back to their seat, take a deep breath, and then turn around to find..........ME. Their eyebrows would raise in a "how'd I do coach?" kind of way and I could do nothing but give them each a thumbs up and shake my head in disbelief at their awesomeness. I'm glad I wasn't sitting close enough to hug them, because things would have gotten messy and ugly fast...but just that they LOOKED BACK.......AT ME. AH!!!! What an honor!

The gesture was so small, they didn't even know they were doing it, or how much it meant to me, but I'm crying again just thinking about it. They needed someone to reassure them that they had done alright. They didn't ask their friends first...they ask me! Made me feel like a mom, for a minute.

On the bus home my special challenged kid said to me, "I'm sorry I took Third Place." I said "WHAAAT?" "Well," he said "I took home Second Place at Region. I feel like I've let you down." I said "WHAAAT?" again, then spent an hour on the bus explaining to him why Third Place at State was so much better than Second Place at Regionals. How could a 3 ever be greater than a 2, I could see him struggle to work it out in his mind. He was so distressed! I just wanted to put my arms around him and say " turned around and looked for me. I will never forget how you made me I mattered to you." For the record, I would never have put my arms around him, because we aren't allowed to touch any kid anymore for any reason.

So when society expects you to act a certain way, expects you to be responsible for their tests scores, for their behavior, their success (or lack of it), and gives you $31,000 a year in return for your back-breaking work, (and your degrees, and your student loans) the little victories become the real "paycheck"....the medals rounds, the "3 is greater than 2" conversations...become the "hidden Christmas bonus," that you will never get.

We must treat all learning great and small as a personal victory. We will not always "win." We will (and I have) lose (lost) some (kids) along the way just like every professional. There are simply too many of them in each class...and that isn't a teacher's fault. I cringe at the thought of every kid I haven't been able to reach. But when you have 35 - 50 kids, six or seven times a day...Bah! Blessings on the elected official that can make that right.

Mini-soapbox...I'm over it.

I spent two days last week at State with the most amazing teachers across Utah. True coaches. They are some of societies greatest moral examples. They are societies greatest weapon, greatest gift, greatest asset. They LOVE what they do or they would not do it. These are teachers that prepare their students to fight a moral battle every day, that treat their classroom like a sanctuary, that treat their kids like gifts from a loving higher power. Treat those teachers like gold and you will have a future society that can react to the challenges that will surely beset them us all.

Teachers eat turkey at Christmas too, you know.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Good Men Always Do

One night when I was working at Lehi High, I returned home after some rehearsal or other, plopped my groceries on the counter, flipped off my shoes, grabbed the remote and stood in front of the T.V. choosing a channel. The usual routine. When suddenly I heard a muffled conversation coming from my room upstairs. The only light in the house was one I had turned on as I entered. It was so late. Who would be in my room right now? Having a conversation in the dark? I turned off the T.V. and the light. Why do we automatically reach to turn out the lights when we should be turning them all on? I got my phone out of my pocket and called my sister Paula who lived a block away, but she was not home. "There is someone in my house," I said calmly, frozen, about to pee my pants, "call me when you get home... if I'm still alive by then." So dramatic.

Of course I assumed it was someone horrible and I assumed they were robbing me...of my year supply of toilet paper or pinto beans. I owned nothing of value except my diplomas and my year supply of food (that would really only last me a couple of weeks). Even my underwear would befuddle the most perverted thief. What could they want? I listened again, they were speaking Spanish. I moved silently to the kitchen but I did not own a big knife so I pulled out two little steak knives...well, it was that or a wedding cake spatula. I moved to the bottom of the stairs. Were they... singing?

As I ascended the stairs I could tell that someone was indeed my room. But it sounded like they were under the bed. The nerve! Some sicko entertaining himself while he waited for me to arrive so he could...defile me? Take my dehydrated potato flakes? Whatever. No rapist would survive me. I read somewhere that if you just start laughing, it confuses them and they leave. I have an acting degree...I can turn laughter on and off like a faucet. I prepared myself to start laughing. Stair 11, stair 12, 13.... There was definitely someone singing quietly, in Spanish, in my room. The door was shut, but there were no lights coming from under it. It was pitch black.

I squeaked out "hello?" No answer. "HELLO?" The music stopped. I opened my bedroom it was silent. NOW I was scared. "I've got knives," I said calmly as I entered the room, sorta wishing I had the spatula because I knew what to do with that. When I turned the corner I could see the closet light was on. But the door was shut. He was inside my little walk-in closet. I hoped he wouldn't come out dressed in my clothes. I was frozen, whoever was inside the closet was frozen. Time passed. I did NOT know what to do. I could not speak.


My brother Andy burst from the closet and I nearly fainted.

I'm sure..knowing myself, that many expletives were shouted and something about "I could have killed you, you idiot...!!! WHAT are you doing in my closet?"

He was recording a CD.

He had written a new song, and he had set up the closet as a sound studio for a sample CD that he was making for his new album. "It has perfect acoustics," he said. "Do you want to hear my new song?" No. I want to KILL you with my steak knives...right after you clean up the pee I'm standing in.

Andy is Shelton #7.

My parents lost baby #4, a full-term little girl named Katie who lived six days and then returned to her Heavenly Father to wait for and help the rest of us. Her death created a little age "gap" between the seven living siblings that divided us into two groups "the older kids," and "the younger kids."

I am the oldest, then my brother Steve and sister Paula. We make up the older kids. Katie....then Penny, who heads up the younger group, followed by JoEllen, Andy and Brad (Blog Feb. 9). Steve Paula, Penny and JoEllen married at a respectable Mormon age, hehehe, and began raising beautiful kids with beautiful spouses. My parents were getting grand kids left and right. It was nice of them to divert attention from the three losers that were over 21 and still at home.

Andy and Brad served missions for the church, returned and "twiddled their thumbs" for a few years as we say in Mormon-land. They became those men in the church that we like to call "a menace to society." Walking around ignoring all that procreation potential while they figured out what they were going to do with their lives. O!...that's a little irreverent...and funny. They brought several girls in and out of my mom's house but not many returned. (So...maybe it was our fault.) I always felt bad for any girl that was introduced to my family. Especially because having three older sisters was like having three extra critical moms instead of just one nice one. Pick-a-little, talk-a-little...pick-a-little, talk-a-little!

We employed the "squint, head cock and frown" reaction, i.e...Andy: "Jan this is (name of poor girl)." Big smile. Jan: "Oh, hey! Welcome to the Shelton's!" (wait until she's looking somewhere else...squint, cock head to the side...frown.) She won't last long. Too skinny. Too fat. Too much hairspray. Too quiet. Too bold. Too...too...there's got to be something wrong with her if she's dating Andy.

I'm just kidding of course...I have enjoyed watching my brothers become who they are. I adore them all. But because I was on my way out of the nest when the two youngest were just settling in, I got to watch them from a distance of sorts. Andy Shelton often gets confused now with my husband Andy Hunsaker, who, because my Andy married a Shelton woman that had a few notches on her belt, is also sometimes called Andy Shelton which is hilarious! (But not to him.) Truth be told, both Andy's are very similar in age, personality and perspective. If you ask me, and you didn't, the world could use a few more Andys for so many reasons.

First of all, I always thought Andy Shelton would be a stand up comedian. He always makes people laugh. When he left on his mission, he let me proof-read his farewell talk and after the very witty speech introduction, in parenthesis it said "(wait for laughter...wait for someone to shout out YOU ARE THE FUNNIEST MAN ALIVE!)" People are always surprised about that because he's also very quiet in public. The Shelton girls do all the talking in this family. The men rarely utter an unnecessary word. They don't have to. ;-) (One word is all it takes to scare the pee out of someone apparently.)

So it was VERY surprising when he came home from Honduras, where he had endured kidney stones and a world-class hurricane, carrying a guitar and singing. I always knew he could carry a tune, but this was different. This was amazing. All those years I could have used him in musicals... turns out he's the most musical Shelton of the bunch, excepting our cousin Blake.

Just kidding. Made ya' flinch though, right?

While in Honduras, he bought a cheap guitar and taught himself how to play. He also decided to crack out the voice he'd been hiding. He discovered that he could also write songs. Who knew? Soon after he was home, instead of going back to college, he had gathered a few other musicians together and they had a good band. This is where I can empathize. He wanted to become a singer/songwriter but respectable Mormon men get married, get degrees, children, mortgages. Andy needed money to produce albums.

The awesome thing about my parents is that they "go with it." Of course it is not without counsel: "Are you sure you want to be an actor/musician? Nurses/doctors make so much more money. There are always sick people." What parent wouldn't see that artsy-fartsy avenue as a path of pain and heartache? People also need to laugh, they need music. So... our goodly parents stepped back and bought a lot of play and concert tickets.

Andy and Brad lived with me for a while when other siblings were building homes and living with my parents. I had a home with extra bedrooms and a basement so it worked out to put all the menaces under one roof. Brad was in college most of the time anyway and Andy was my closet, apparently. I do not do single living well so I was secretly grateful for the company and the help. Neither boy married in Mormon-time, but eventually, in God's time they did, and WOW! Those girls were worth the wait!

Andy is always the first to help someone put in a lawn, or move, or do anything for someone else. His kindness is well-known. His sacrifices, a blessing to so many. God has given him a gift and he'll always have that gift. But his priorities have changed as good men always do. While he'd probably rather be traveling around the world with a band, right now he's the children's music leader in his ward (church group).  When all he wanted to do was pick up a guitar, he went back to school. When what he really wants to do is create music, he is creating an amazing family and I have no doubt that he loves being a husband and father more than he loves writing music in closets. And that's why the first time I heard "Great-Grandaddy Knew" on the radio, I cried so hard my contacts fell out.

Andy's birthday is this week and I just wanted to tell him, with my little blog, how much I love him and what a great example he has always been to me. I have seen him wrestle with life's bitter chaos, but he is not ever conquered by it for long. He is the conqueror because he knows who he is and he always involves G.O.D. Good men always do.

God also needs good men to bring children into the world. Sometimes our greatest gift to the world will be our children and the gifts they bring to the world too. There is a DNA line that works its way through the Shelton family that is very dramatic. Most likely that strain of kids was meant to come to me, but when they got tired of waiting around in the pre-earth life, they started coming down to my other siblings. That's my theory anyway. Andy's oldest son is one of them. That kid might actually be the "funniest little man alive." That kid is going to change the world.

So HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my brother Andy...the Modern Mormon Man. You are an example to the world. These days we could use a few more Andys.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

With Apologies to the Czech Republic

We called in a hunch and got someone arrested. We felt like cops. For about 30 minutes.

Monday night for family home evening we decided to go to a movie because we knew once school started again, we would be in Titanic hell. It was our last chance to play until closing night. We headed toward Hurricane, the next town north, because the theatre there is never full. But let's tell the truth, in Hurricane we can get a chimichanga at Lupita's before we go. It's a really nice town, on the verge of Zion Canyon, but Lupita's is the whole reason to visit.

We turned off I-15 onto Hwy 9 and Andy spotted a very old Mercedes 300 TE meandering down the road. It wasn't going particularly fast, but...the windows were completely covered in newspapers. Every inch of every window in the car, except the driver's side and front windshield, were covered in layers of newspapers. Weird, right?

With Andy's miraculous eyesight...he could tell that the papers were from Las Vegas which meant that whoever was driving the car was not from around H.E.R.E. Yikes, I'm turning into a townie. My mind raced...Las Vegas!...he could be a dozen types.

In the back window, slid in between the papers and the glass, was an 8.5 by 11 sheet of computer paper with 3 letters and 3 numbers printed on it. That was it. I guess it was intended to be a license plate but it was missing the state, the year, the date... it wasn't the yellow temporary sticker that we are used to seeing. I recognized the Helvetica Bold font and thought "if you are going to print your plate at home, at least choose something creative." I'm a judger when it comes to fonts.

The car swerved back and forth, which added to the mystery of it. Probably drunk. Or high. Yep. He was high. It was getting creepier and creepier as we imagined, in our little minds, this kind of person was going to Hurricane to "make a drop." Of course, by this time, we had given this person an entire personality and it was not favorable. We assumed it was a man, and we assumed the car was stolen. We assumed that it was full of meth or crack cocaine and we were about to become town heroes.

Still, why would a drug runner intentionally cover up his windows with newspaper? Andy told me that cops usually pull over drug runners because they are going exactly the speed limit, looks like a mom car and has a D.A.R.E. sticker on the bumper. Maybe this guy was thinking of reverse psychology: "if I look like a drug dealer, they'll think I'm really just a PTA mom delivering pink princess cupcakes to my daughters birthday party and I needed to shield them from the heat. In my junker Mercedes. With the bald tires and lack of plates. I hope they enjoy my font choice!"

We were convinced that this guy was probably smuggling illegal immigrants inside his seat they do. Do they?

And so we got the nerve to pull up next to the creepy car and glance over like we were being friendly. I thought we might get shot, but Andy said he would do it safely. Safely? What was my option there? Up he went, slowly passing this guy and I glanced over, smiling as if to say "Hey Las Vegas, welcome to Southern Utah!" I took a split second look at the woman driving then turned my eyes back to Andy so as not to get shot. Andy was STILL looking at her. He was practically inviting gun fire.

Obviously Andy got a better look because he said it was a man with a long braided ponytail. Damn his good eyesight! He said the guy looked "foreign." Which means, he could be from Hurricane. Truly, if you haven't lived in St. George all your life and then some, you are a foreigner. He was holding a video camera in his right hand, hence the swerving. We imagined that he was surveying the area and sending information back to the Middle East somewhere. We were going to be the center of a nuclear war. I knew we should have taken those jobs in Salt Lake.

When we got to the light infront of Purgatory (the local prison) it went red. I was truly freaking out. I was on his side of the car after all. Andy said "act natural and call the county sheriff." Other options please....

So I dialed 411 and they connected me to the county sheriff dispatch who took my information and then asked me to stay on the line while she found someone who could pull him over. My heart was beating so fast! I was on the verge of giggling to passing out. She asked me to keep naming the local landmarks as we passed them...Red Cliffs RV Park, Walmart, Chevron...then suddenly a black cop car pulled up behind us, moved over to pass us. The dispatcher said "wave at the cop if you are the car making this call." So we both WAVED like he was our long lost cousin from Tooele. What idiots. The panicked, giggly feeling will do that to you.

She told us to follow the cop car until the Mercedes pulled over, then to pull over ourselves and leave a big distance between us and them until his backup arrived. We were his backup! W...a...i...t. Both of us slid down in our seats at practically the same time. The cop turned on his lights, and the guy changed lanes in the middle of the intersection, without signaling, and pulled over just ahead of us. I knew he was looking back to see who he was going to have to kill, and it was going to be us. I put my sunglasses on.

We pulled over and stopped, watched the cop get out of the black car. Watched him lean down into the Mercedes. An hour went by (more like two minutes) okay it seemed like an hour, until the drug runner got out of his car and he had his hands closed over his head, elbows out. The cop frisked him, made him open all the doors of his car, trunk included, but even Andy was too far behind him to see what was in his car. Another cop showed up right then and we both yelled "backup!" and started giggling some more. What would we say in our speech to the people? Would anyone give us a medal?

The dispatcher called us back and said, "you are free to go now," as if she was watching us the whole time. Where were the CTU cameras? It must be Jack Bauer in the cop car after all. Maybe we should stick around and get his autograph. We were faithful, all six seasons. She continued, "the policeman has made an arrest." I didn't dare asked "for what?" But I was dying to find out. We felt a little disappointed and a lot relieved that they didn't need us anymore. We had done it. We had acted on an impulse and had gotten a bad-guy-foreign-drug-runner-international-terrorist arrested. We had helped the forces avert nuclear war. We saved the world. We were super citizens...for a minute.

Never judge a Mercedes by it's newpaper covering.

Once we got to Lupita's, hot chimichanga on the plate in front of me, the actual policeman that made the arrest called us! He did! I thought that was so nice of him. He wanted to thank us for making the call and thought he'd let us know that the guy in the paper covered car was actually from the Czech Republic. Well, I don't know my foreigners very well that's for sure. He was on a three month tourist visa and he had been driving from Houston, where he bought the Mercedes from someone who probably ripped him off because they gave him the ridiculous computer print out to use as a plate. He's Czech, he didn't know. But the car was actually registered in the name he had on his passport, and the plate's letters and numbers were the real deal.

He was headed to Zion Canyon, D.U.H., to rock climb. Double D.U.H. His car was full of climbing and camping equipment. The cop said is was a super nice guy, didn't speak English very well and was upset when they sited him for changing lanes in an intersection and not signaling when he did it. He's Czech, he didn't know. So the cop only gave him a warning. I would have done the same thing. The swerving, carrying a camera while you are driving...He's Czech, he didn't know. The camera was full of pictures of the great American southwest. I thought, you poor guy, don't kill your battery on Hurricane! Just drive another 30 miles, buddy. You haven't seen amazing yet!

The newspapers? He was out of money, so he was sleeping in his car and he didn't want people to rob him. Can't say as I blame him, still, the cop explained how creepy it looked here in the mild, judging, little-minded, state of Utah (yes, I'm talking about myself) and the Czech...he didn't know. He immediately took the paper out and apologized like crazy. There was no one buried in his seats, no drugs of any kind, and the glove compartment was full of all the right documents. He'd been saving and training his whole life to take this trip and some weirdos in Hurricane thought he was a terrorist and had him arrested.

We watch too much T.V.

Well...I feel bad and I don't. If you are going to drive a car in another country, rent, don't buy. Can't help wonder how many times that car broke down between Houston and Hurricane. Also, don't put newspaper in your windows, especially paper from Las Vegas. We thought you might be mafioso...or worse- some serial killer showgirl in drag. And if you're driving and video taping at the same time, you might want to google map that area and w.a.i.t. so as not to drain your battery before the real scenery arrives.

So I apoligize to the Czech's and the terrorists. (I'm a judger and T.V. has made me that way) But one last piece of advice....When you print out your own plate, just add the state, the date and use yellow paper. Oh, and Arial Bold next time. That's all. Hope you enjoy the memories you are about to have and can leave the one we gave you behind.

Sorry about that.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


When I got called to serve in Thailand on an LDS mission I was so excited to learn how to speak another language. BWAHHAHHA! I had no idea it would turn me upside down, spank me, chew me up and spit me out. It was a humbling experience. Every Friday was SYL (Speak Your Language)Day at the missionary training center. You could only speak the language you were learning. So Fridays, for the Thai missionaries should have been called Pantomime Day. For 18 months, you add vocabulary to your brain as fast as you can to decrease the communication barrier between you and the native population. You need 18 years. In the end, I was not a talented Thai speaker, but I became "fluent" because I received a lot of help from the Big Teacher in the Sky. There is no other way to explain it.

They say that English speaking missionaries come back spiritual giants (Andy served in Minnesota and this is true), Spanish speaking missionaries come back linguists (My dad served in Mexico and made a living teaching Spanish) and Asian speaking missionaries...just come back.

On my way home from Thailand, I was by myself. We had a layover in Narita, Japan. I was not excited to be returning. I had already extended my service and was living on borrowed time. I had been in a refugee camp and they needed me. I was very sad to be coming home. Back in pioneer time, we had to pick up our luggage and transfer it ourselves so I grabbed all five pieces of it, and started across Narita to find my next plane. It did not have wheels back then and it was so heavy. I had collected things, souvenirs, so as not to forget what I'd been through and to give to my family. They had paid for the experience after all. Those bags were heavy.

I walked about ten feet, would stop and shift it all, change hands, walk another ten feet, stop .... I thought for sure I was going to miss my flight. Being so loaded down, I must have looked ridiculous. Suddenly three HUGE American men came up behind me and asked me if they could help. They were three baseball players from the Chicago Cubs. No kidding. God had sent me some help and having been in Thailand amongst the tiny Thais, Vietnamese and Cambodians, these were officially the biggest humans I had seen in a long time. They relieved me of my luggage completely, and following me to my next destination. They didn't ask me who I was, the black tag a dead giveaway, they just said "You goin' to Salt Lake?" I nodded and off we went.

I had the dreadful feeling that I was losing Thailand every step I took. Just by listening to these three men talk about baseball in their salty slang, I felt that I was losing my Thai minute by minute. It was like a bad dream. NO ONE was speaking Thai to me, why would they? No one was filtering their English either, but I was so grateful for the help I kept my mouth shut. I felt the "missionary" peeling off me like a sunburn as we walked across Narita.

Sadly, I have not spoken Thai to anyone but Thai restaurants servers...since 1988. I can lamely say "We'll have the Paht Thai and Yellow Curry, please." That's about it.

Simple things come back pretty easily, "like riding a bike" and maybe if Andy and I went to Thailand the language would start coming back, but because it's tonal, identical words are dependant upon the way you say them. "Hand" and "Pig" are the same thing but I can't remember which one drops in tone and which one lifts. S.C.A.R.Y. I would undoubtedly offend the Thai nation and end up staying in a creaky grass hut over a swamp full of alligators. I've lost something I worked like a dog to obtain. It's so sad.

This is true with artists as well. They need to feed their art - speak their speak. Especially performing arts teachers. Because they get so busy, they are very lucky if they ever get to practice what they preach. We teach theatre, dance or music because it started out as a hobby for us and still is. I don't scrapbook, I don't train for marathons (o.k. I should), or garden (blog #?) but in my precious free time, I feed my disease, my passion. Because if I lose the passion for it, no amount of steps that I take into my rehearsals will be enough. We need to act! We need to sing! We need to dance!

When I lived in Northern Utah, there were plenty of opportunities for us to do community theatre at night. I got to be Penny (You Can't Take it With You), Sister Robert Anne (Nunsense), M'Lynn (Steel Mags)....and I got to work with adults...speak adult for a few hours every day. Our social circles were the people we met in community theatre. I miss that so much! The people we invited to our wedding were people we met doing community theatre. In fact, all the years I was directing the community theatre in Lehi, every time we had a play, it resulted in a wedding. It turned out to be a great way to meet people! Safer than bars, cheaper than the internet, and you always know you'll have at least one thing in common. If you can still find a place to do it. Community theatre kept me sane and most of all, I was a better theatre teacher because I was a practicing member of the theatre community as well.

Time for a little S.O.A.P.B.O.X. Sorry...

There is not a city community theatre in St. George anymore. There used to be, and many people were involved in great shows and hundreds of patrons appreciated it from the audience. But it did not have a permanent home and eventually, after many years of trying to string it along with little support, it died. Theatres are more expensive than ball fields. (Did I say that out loud?)

I do not know the reason why St. George doesn't throw some money at their amateur theatre arts community. Tuacahn uses a few community members but they are a professional theatre after all. The college and high school's are bound to use their own students because it's educational theatre. Small independent break out groups occasionally appear, but without a home, they don't last long.

I laude the City of Lehi because when Hutchings Natural History Museum got a new home, the city gave the old museum to us artsy-fartsy's and we turned it into a working theatre. It only seats about 100 people, but it provides a huge service to hundreds and hundreds of citizens that are looking for that outlet for their families. Good Lehi volunteers still perpetuate the arts there and that makes me so happy. My earliest theatre memories are of a community children's theatre class.

JFK said the arts civilize us. Look at countries where the arts have died...what do they have? Constant civil unrest. The act of free expression then becomes a matter of national security. See how the old debater in me made that argument linear? I guess I'm just bugged that no one around here thinks that the common man needs an outlet for their art!

Andy started at the Valley Center Playhouse in Lindon, Utah. You know it? I think the good Renstroms still run it. You can spit from one side of the audience to the other. But who cares? They are the "theatre parents" of thousands of us because they fought to keep that little theatre open for the community for so many years.

Andy is now an Equity actor. All that means is that if he works again (which he hasn't much) they have to pay him union wages and abide by the rules of the Actor's Equity handbook. He gets his own dressing room, etc... He's fancy now. He is also an acting teacher, think of the influence he has, will have.

Last year he got to be a guest artist for Southern Utah University. He played Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was like a good anti-depressant. I could see it filling his bucket. His students flocked to see the show and were shocked at his performance. It gave them a new respect for everything that came out of his mouth every day. I prayed for another opportunity for him but one never came and not being able to participate in his passion was making him bitter.

Then Santa arrived.

Because he's "Equity" the catch is that he can no longer work for free. But if he is a faculty member, Equity was okay with that. The school needed to raise some money anyway and I had volunteered to add a "faculty fundraiser" to my schedule. But every time we tried to make it work, there were just too many people's schedules to work around. I knew if we waited til spring, it would never happen.

A Tuna Christmas has 22 characters in it, men and women, but it's written so that all of the roles are played by just two men. So I asked Andy and our technical theatre teacher, Josh Scott, to take on the project. Because it is educational theatre, after all, I offered all the tech positions to our students. Part of the magic of Tuna is the quick costume changes. Some of them were less than ten seconds long and included wigs, glasses, shoes...the works. The real show was backstage so to speak. 14 awesome technicians, each with a singular duty, "shoe guy," "wig girl," "lighting guy," just like professional theatre. I chose our best 18 year-old Stage Manager to take the project because he needed to learn how to manage adults. He would use the opportunity for his scholarship portfolio later on. Josh's classes built the set, the art club painted it, a parent volunteer helped me with costumes and the faculty ran the house and provided concessions (which incidentally made a lot of money for the cause!) It was truly a collaborative project.

And it was soooooo fun. We rehearsed in our living room on Sunday nights and over the Thanksgiving holiday. We laughed so hard sometimes I did pee a little. I admit it. It made me happy to see those two acting off each other and developing all those different characters because they don't get the chance to exercise their craft very often. They are too busy spending their free time producing theatre for everyone else. I could see their buckets filling up. My bucket was filling up. It made me even happier to see our students and their families laughing buckets! Win, win.

I could have raised money in a different way, heaven knows I know how to do a cookie dough fundraiser. But the pay-off was different. Not only did we raise over $5000, we got to give a lot of kids a great opportunity, we got to teach by modeling good acting and we got to reassert the fact that our teachers are also real artists. Since Tuna, Andy and Josh have become community celebrities. We can't go anywhere without someone saying, "Hey, you're the Tuna were hilarious!" Tuna reminded Andy and I why we do this. Sometimes you forget. Especially if there is no other outlet around. Bloom where you're planted... and all that.

My point is, and I do have one, no matter what the talent, if we don't use it, we will lose not only the skills but the passion for developing our SELF and the ability to use it in the service of others.

Our spirits MUST be elevated regularly. If we are to meet our trials and tribulations with sanity, we must be whole. Empty buckets are funny. They can't give anything to anyone.

The bitterness of taking care of everything and everyone around you eventually seeps into the cracks and crevices of your good survival attitude. Eventually, at least for me, I'm dealing with depression because nobody cares, not even me, that I have an opportunity to do something for myself. No one will fight for your sanity. You are in charge of that yourself. Rogue bitterness at one thing, magnifies itself into bitterness about everything.

L.E.A.V.E. I.T. A.L.O.N.E. Bitterness' BFF is loneliness. It will be fine if you send it back from whence it came. I've seen so many people leave more important things behind because they didn't make time to fill their own dang bucket.

Eternal progression is REAL FOLKS. No souvenir you've ever collected is going with you to the next life. You can't take your money with you...fact is, you can't even take your bills. So what do you really want to do? What do you really want to see, to read, to play, to experience, to hear, what language do you want to learn?

Because there are a million reasons you should be speaking it!


Monday, April 2, 2012

Fully Committed

I've been gone a few days. I was on a bus. With other people's kids. We were traveling to competitions. To compete for scholarships, trips to New York, medals, trophies and bragging rights. I've had about 8 hours sleep in the last four days combined. But I find myself still vertical and breathing. That's good. Andy's horizontal...but he'll find his bearings soon enough.

It all started last Thursday morning, March 29, when we loaded up the school bus (and our truck) with some actors, some costumes, set pieces and a good dose of bravery. We set out to compete at the very first Region Drama One Act Play Competition. I say "first" because it's been a "festival" for the last fifteen years or so and (I hate to admit it) I haven't really cared about the quality of the work we produced because the judges are always generous to high school students. Unless your cast was still reading the script off the paper, we usually did pretty well. Superior, Excellent or Good. Hurray.

This year there was a trophy involved. A title.

"Region Champs." First, Second, Third Place.

Good marketing for a school of choice since 80% of our studentbody is from this region. So, since I'm in charge of marketing I thought we'd better go for it. And...who's kidding who.... a trophy changes everything. When there is competition, the quality of work is better. Goals are set, more kids get involved, work ethic doubles. Sure enough, across the region, that's what happened.

I cast 9 diverse kids in the One Act, one girl and eight boys of various sizes and types. I thought it was an interesting group of kids. Some veterans and some greenies too. They were simply awesome to work with.  I cast passionate kids even though some of them were very young, passion was the only requirement. Being passionate opens you to direction. I needed kids that could work with me because sometimes, hearing "lets go back and take the suck out of that" at seven in the morning, makes you want to shoot a teacher dead. These kids would say "please give me notes," and "what else can I add to this or that character..." I'm an acting teacher and director... if I can't get what I want from them, fire me. The key is...choose the kids that will let you open them up so all you are doing is pulling those characters out of them as fast as they will let you. Easy.

The play was called "Fully Committed" which I find perfectly appropriate considering the fact that we rehearsed at 7 in the morning, after Titanic rehearsals and on Saturdays. No one EVER missed a rehearsal. (Trophy involved.)

It's the story of a girl that works in the reservation office of a chic restaurant. For 45 minutes, 40 characters "called in" and tried to get reservations, confirm reservations, change their reservations and lie about their reservations. Each boy played several characters and at least one woman. The lone girl had every other line. She had to remember when to say "How can I help you" vs. "thank you for holding" every single time she picked up the phone and she was downstage center and could not see the boys behind her. I CANNOT imagine having the brain power for that kind of exercise. I only have three brain cells left. YOWZA! I watched her every day in shock. She was fully committed and then some.

Those eight boys (and a brilliant stage manager that was doing live sound effects on stage) flipped in and out of character every time they picked up their phone. 40 characters! It was not only a blast to watch, it felt miraculous. At the competition, when the lights went down, I said my usual prayer "Heavenly Father, thank you for giving them talent, bless them now with focus, strength and confidence. Their best is still within them, help them find it." (If you are a teacher that doesn't do you get through it?)

"Their best is still within them."

Sounds bad, like maybe they aren't very talented, or haven't reached high enough. We tell the kids every day that if they don't give 100% of their talent every day at rehearsals, how will they ever know what their 100% is? Every day, as they push themselves, their 100% moves ...102 ...105 ...110 ... setting a new mark every day. If THEY decide to find out what they are actually CAPABLE of doing, if they decide to test their "sacred potential" as I call it, they will find it. And when that happens, look out!

So on THURSDAY, with the judges looking on, everyone decided to test their potential at the same time. I sat in giddy awe of my kids. Urgency, pacing, volume, not one line missed, the comic timing...all brilliant! I waited for someone to falter, but no one did. They were really listening to each other, working together as they rode the tide of that play. Final curtain. I took my first breath in 45 minutes, thanked God for his help, and got the kids back on the bus...with their First Place trophy sitting like a hood ornament on the bus heater. I got out my lists and started planning what to pack for the next days competition.

FRIDAY, March 30.

14 scenes and 8 monologues. All costumed, all blocked, all whipped up in the dark hours of the night and morning, between classes and caffeine. 45 more caffeinated kids. Region Part II, Individual Events Team. Orders of the day: Load the bus in costume, arrive at foreign school, endure the stares and laughs of a studentbody that isn't used to seeing kids in lace cravats and spats. Special Instructions: Find your round and test your potential or I will kill you." Just kidding! I think I said, "just have fun" but in my mind I was praying "H.F., their best is still within them, please help them find it."

One by one I watched the ballots come in. Brilliant! Everybody tested their potential. Best of all, everybody contributed to the First Place team trophy which somebody tucked under their arm and skipped it out to the bus for the ride home. Within about 5 minutes, after we lathered praise on them and did the school cheer (we have one, we really do) I sank into my seat on the bus thinking about how privileged I am to work with such amazing children of God, when suddenly, behind me, there was a conversation about who was better, Zach Efron or Justin Beiber. Ah... there they are. They were gone for just a little, now they're back. I pulled out my next set of lists and started planning the next day's bus LOGAN... to the Utah Musical Theatre Awards.

SATURDAY, March 31.

We slept for about three hours, returned to Tuacahn with our luggage, 51 kids, costumes, several adults, and a semi-negative attitude...about buses. EIGHT hours of driving (that I didn't have to do, thank goodness or we might have died by Cedar City), eight hours of teenage small talk, singing, oh... there was far too much singing, damn them! But to call an end to it would be to crush the very soul of the teenage performer. What if I took five Ambien and someone woke me up when we got there?

We got to Logan late because the old yellow dog only goes 35 MPH through Beaver and Logan canyons. Bless my good brother-in-law Joel for driving that old thing. He was truly testing it's twenty year-old potential. It did a good job. Everyone arrived in one piece and thanks to Bountiful High for switching us places so we could still rehearse on stage for a few minutes.

We went from the bus to the rehearsal, from the rehearsal to dinner, from dinner to the hotel to get into costume and from the hotel to the performance. We did not stop. Once I sat down in the dark auditorium filled with 2000 high school kids, I was done. The highlight of the evening was winning the "Audience Favorite Award for Best Musical." Again, not an individual award, but an award achieved by the entire team. I love that.

They got to perform "Brotherhood of Man" which is the big finale number in the show they were nominated for and I have not seen them perform it better. I was, again, in SHOCK. How is it done? Most of them had been with me all week...same bus...same competitions. Yet there they were...testing their potential right up until the very last note of the song. Then there was the "group button." The one where everybody on stage raised their jazz hands and says "OH YEAH! Bomp." Audience went nuts! How do they do it?!?! Hotel bed here I come.

SUNDAY, April 1. No joke.

On our way home, we had the privilege of stopping at Primary Children's Hospital and singing to a fellow classmate who has been in and out of hospitals all year. It was the perfect Sunday activity and her spirit renewed us! I'm not sure how many surgeries she has had, dozens, but again, when I am tired, God shows me the sweet irony of a thing and I am simultaneously spanked and lifted up. Back on the bus, spirits renewed, Ambien waiting. Eight hours later we pulled in to the school, again...only this time, we didn't have to come back for nearly 12 hours. "Oh Yeah! Bomp."

When you are going through a run like that you just take one step at a time, one question at a time, one issue at a time, but now I'm looking back thinking "HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?" Why was there suddenly a test of my own potential included in this babysitting deal? Did everyone arrive at home alive? Yep. Then yes...even I can test my own potential. The best of me is still within.

The thing is, we're not alone here. There were teachers from all over the state that did exactly what we did. Nobody came to Logan from the edge of Arizona going 35 mph, but they all prepared their teams, supervised the madness, gathered up their trophies and revelled in the genius of their kids...because the drama teachers in this state test their own potential every day, I don't know a single one that doesn't. Thanks to everyone that made all of those competitions possible, especially Vanessa Ballam who is my personal hero.

So congrats across the state to the thousands of kids that tested their God-given potential this past weekend and the 150 teachers that didn't kill anyone in the process. That I know of. Yet.

Our best is still within us and we are FULLY COMMITTED.