Wednesday, August 31, 2011

K, k, knife?

Several months ago, I posted about my "Big Idea" to begin a combined Beginning English/Basic Spanish course for parents at my daughter's bilingual elementary school.

It's taken a while to get things organized, but this "Spanglish" course is definitely underway. I advertised at our Back to School Night and was amazed by the positive response. Even though I'm not requiring preregistration, I have well over a dozen sign-ups, mostly from Hispanic parents. You know, people often complain about how Mexicans come to our country (because they're all Mexican, right?), and make no attempt to learn our language. In my experience, this generalization is inaccurate. I believe that most immigrants have the desire to learn, although many are held back from formal classes by affordability and accessibility issues. Hopefully this class will help address both.

Now I am both anxious and excited to see how the first day goes. My biggest concerns are logistic. The space we have to work in is quite small and simply can't accommodate more than fifteen people. It's quite likely that I will end up dividing the class, at least initially. Also, I'm really hoping to get a good mix of Spanish and English language learners, although ultimately it may end up being predominantly ESL.

In the meantime, I'm having fun putting together my curriculum and lessons (FINALLY! Why am I such a hopeless procrastinator?). Which brings me to my last question... While searching Microsoft Word templates for flashcards, I discovered that they have pre-designed cute little alphabet cards with the letter name and a picture. A, a, apple, B, b, bat, you get the idea. So what genius chose K, k, knife? I know that English isn't a particularly phonetic language, but really! Someone needs some time off to think about that one.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Playing Human

On our way to the park today, Talia said excitedly, "Let's play Hide 'n Go Seek... or Humans!"

After a long day where the kids were definitely monsters, I was more than happy to at least pretend at humanity.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Sweetness

When kids are little, Sundays can be very hard. These little fireballs of energy clash with fancy shoes, hard pews, and quiet voices. Generally speaking, sacrament meeting is pretty much my most dreaded hour of the week. After seventy straight minutes of wrangling Eli while begging the girls for whisper voices, I'm exhausted and cranky.

In most ways, today wasn't particularly different. After a monumental effort to get to church on time, Eli fussed so obnoxiously that he got taken out into the hall before the service even began. Talia was tired and kept putting her feet up while lying in the pew, thereby exposing the entire congregation to her yellow Winnie-the-Pooh undies. Brooklyn sat quietly, although the purse she insisted on wearing on her head like a cock's comb may have been distracting.

And yet despite the typical chaos, today's Sabbath was sweet. Instead of stressing, I savored the joy of being with family on this holy day. Talia gave her first talk in Primary, with lots of help from her big sister Brooklyn. Watching them stand up together was priceless. Talia looked so eagerly to Brooklyn for guidance; Brooklyn, in turn, was so proud to help her little sis. By the time the talk was over, tears were rolling down my cheeks--partly because the scene was so sweet, and partly because it was so hilarious. After all, not every talk on the Word of Wisdom encourages you to eat lots of healthy foods like watermelon...and lemons.

As for Eli, he played happily in nursery until a stinky diaper made him unwelcome company. Since I was teaching the lesson in Young Women's, the nursery leaders brought him to Jason, who then stuck his head into my class. There's nothing sweeter than a man asking for the diaper bag. :)

On the way home, instead of getting frustrated with the girls for competitively racing past us, I fast-forwarded ten years to when I'll miss the sight of their bouncing blond ponytails and the sound of their high-pitched screams. (Okay, so maybe I won't miss the screaming, but you get the idea.)

Instead of preparing a fancy dinner, we roasted pigs-in-a-blanket over the fire pit in our backyard. Instead of hurrying inside to clean up, we sat together and watched the sun set. I wish I could say that we pulled out our sleeping bags and camped on the trampoline, but alas, it's a school night.

Yes, the carefree days of summer are over, but perhaps that makes unscheduled Sundays even sweeter--particularly when enjoyed all together.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Handmade for Haiti

I'm notoriously un-crafty. I gave up on domestic creations twenty years ago when I unwittingly cut a huge hole in the middle of my sewing project while attempting to serge a seam. I don't knit, I can't paint, and even though I now have three kids of my own, I still beg my Mom to hem my pants.

So why in the world would I volunteer to handcraft books, particularly when the project involved... (dum dum dum) sewing?

The answer lies in the sparkling eyes of a girl named Dixie whose bright smile positively jumps out of her ebony face, lighting up the entire room. The motivation is nestled in the clinging hugs of Panashe, the sweet boy who, having been abandoned one too many times, never wanted to let go. And of course, the reason can be heard in the high-pitched toddler voice of Jesús as he belts out a Spanish rendition of "I've Got a Friend in Jesus" through pursed lips, convinced that the song is about him.

The Handmade for Haiti books are thoughtfully composed and gorgeously illustrated. The creator and collaborators should feel extremely proud of their work. Yet high quality as this project may be, I didn't step out of my craft-less comfort zone because I love the books. I dusted off my sewing machine because I love these kids. As hard as I try to envision the children in Haiti, I still see the faces of these orphans from Zimbabwe and Peru. They live on unchanged in my memory, despite the fact that some have grown and some are gone.

So Dixie, Panashe, Jesús, and so many others--these books are for you. Despite the flaws and imperfections, they are crafted with love. They are also for the future--for your children and your children's children. No matter where in the world you may be, please know that you are not forgotten. And yes, there is always hope for the future--in you.


If you are interested in joining the Handmade for Haiti project by printing and assembling a book, please be sure to check out this fabulous website. The books are fun and simple to make, and might even provide inspiration for Christmas presents.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bye bye Berry

I'm sad to report that after nearly two years with our family, our betta Berry gave up the ghost today.

While I'm generally not particularly attached to fish, Berry was a bit of a wonder. Not only did he survive the rollicking truck ride from Illinois to Utah, but several months ago he made an astonishing comeback from death's doorstep. (I'll spare you the morbid details, but let's just say that for three months nothing Berry ate came out. The poor fish was nearly wider than he was long!)

After Berry's miracle recovery, I thought he might be destined to join our family indefinitely. This afternoon, however, I sensed that something was wrong. Now let's be honest; I'm usually not remarkably in tune with my betta's vibes. However, when your fish audibly thrashes before slowly sinking to the bottom of the tank, be warned.

Disturbed by Berry's strange behavior, I mentioned to my Mom that I wished he would just move on so I wouldn't have to watch him suffer. An hour later, he was gone.

So now I feel guilty. When I wished that Berry would die, I didn't mean that very moment! It feels like I pushed the poor fish into his porcelain grave.

And so Berry, I want you to know that you were good and faithful, as far as fish go. We were glad to have you in our family, and wish you many happy nibbles in the life beyond. As for myself, I solemnly promise never to wish anyone or anything dead ever again!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Omaha 2011--Just 'Cuz I Wanna

Well, despite yesterday's spiel about avoiding travelogues, I've decided to go ahead and post pictures from our 3 1/2 weeks in Omaha after all. Not 'cuz I hafta, but just 'cuz I wanna. Jason's gone backpacking with the Scouts, and there's no better way to pass a lonely evening than strolling down memory lane.

And so, I bring you Omaha 2011. Since spare moments are still at a premium, I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

The Dinosaur Museum in Fruita was both terrifying and macabre. This T-Rex sported darting eyes that tracked you before it roared fiercely and snapped.

The girls were terrified to even get near.

I can't really blame them for feeling frightened. One of the other dinosaurs spat water while the animated Utahraptor had a brontosaurus head dangling from its mouth. Is this really how we plan to educate the rising generation?

After the terrors of Jurassic Park, we were delighted to arrive safely in Omaha. We made it just in time to meet up with my cousin Monica and her three cute kids during their cross-country move to Colorado. Our little ones definitely look like family!

Speaking of catching up, I was fortunate to meet up with my great friend Heather from high school. We don't see much of each other since she lives in Georgia, but we both happened to be passing through Omaha at the same time.

We made some zucchini bread in Heather's honor.

Oops! I guess it wasn't done. :) Somehow the culinary disaster was perfect for the occasion, bringing up so many memories of similar high school fiascos.

Coming back to Nebraska provided plenty of opportunities to relax at home. Snuggling Zoe was at the top of the agenda, of course.

That is, when her Mommy would give her up.

We sewed...

beaded T-shirts...

played beauty parlor...

and ate lots of yummy food. (Of course, Eli lined up whatever he didn't want before furtively feeding it to the pug.)

When the weather got too hot, we pulled out the double Slip-n-Slide...

and relaxed in the pool.

Every law professor deserves the chance to unwind, right Papa K?

And now, onto our excursions.

The Winter Quarters Temple:
A heavy storm had just blown through so we spent some time gathering leaves to help clean up. At least most of us did. Aunt Callie gathered children instead.

Dressing up like pioneers inside the Trail Center.

Pushing a handcart is harder than it looks!

Choo choo! Here's Talia riding a train at the Henry Doorly Zoo.

The baby goats are always a favorite.

So loveable!

This year we fed budgies for the first time.

(I won't tell you how Eli started sucking on the stick once the birds had finished.)

No trip to the zoo would be complete without lunch at King Kong.

What monkeys!

We viewed these next animals from the safety of our own car while visiting Omaha's very own wildlife safari. We saw hundreds of elk roaming the grasses.

This elk doe was just as curious as we were. It seemed like she wanted to crawl in the car right with us!

Of course, I wouldn't allow that since Eli was already sharing the front seat.

The pelicans gave us pause when they blocked the roadway for several minutes.

The bison were the grand finale.

I thought the previous buffalo was large until I spotted this Big Daddy that made all the other bison seem small.

All in all, this North American wildlife safari was a fantastic discovery.

Continually on the search for something bigger and better, we eventually traveled back in time to the Ice Age to hang out with the saber-toothed tigers, and mastodons at Fontanelle Forest.

Pretty ferocious!

Aunt Callie seized the opportunity to teach her nieces how to correctly hold xylophone mallets.

Glad to finally reconnect, she also caught as many Eli snuggles as possible.

Pretty coy!

Lest you fear that our children were bored, let me show you how they passed one evening at the O! Festival.

Yes, those would be our two little ladies flying high. Here's Talia getting a good bounce.

And Brooklyn, sailing high in the sweltering heat.

When I started this post two hours ago, adding pictures was enjoyable. Now it's late, I'm tired, and it's just not fun anymore. So despite the fact that we had much more Omaha fun (and I have the pictures to prove it), I am going to put away the computer and find my pillow.

So to anybody still sitting in front of their computer screen, may I wish you a Dinosaur Good Night.

Back to Blogging 101

Last week, I used Blog2Print to make a hardcover book containing our family blog posts from 2005 until we left for France in 2008. The process was simple and speedy; the result is so much fun to peruse!

Browsing this blog book has caused me to reflect on the purpose of this family blog. As I skimmed through these years of our lives, I was struck by a few things. First of all, I liked to chronicle the odorous messes surrounding potty training. Secondly, I didn't post very frequently. (I think the third trimester of Talia's pregnancy warranted a whopping two posts.)

I blog more often nowadays for several reasons. First of all, blogging gives me an outlet to write. Now that I am no longer a student composing paper after paper, I feel a much stronger need to express myself via the pen. After communicating with tiny ones day after day, I am embarrassingly out of practice when it comes to engaging in adult conversation. Too often I find myself befuddled by "Mommy Brain" as I ineloquently spit out the wrong words at the wrong time. When I write, I have the luxury of revision in expression. I can be witty, wry, insightful, or even indignant without the pressure of performing in the moment.

Furthermore, when I write I feel like I am engaging myself intellectually. Growing up, I was generally known as the "smart" kid. While there were times when I disliked the label, now that I have fewer formal opportunities to exercise my brain, I mourn the idea of intelligence slipping away. Writing is one way I cling to this piece of my identity.

Blogging as a means of finding personal self-fulfillment is admittedly self-centered. And yet, there's an inherent tension because this blog really isn't about me--it's about my family. I blog because, let's face it, I think my kids are great and cute, and I want to have a record of all the fun things that happen from day to day. (Because, let's face it, if I don't write it down right away, my Mommy Brain will forget.) Or perhaps I blog because my kids aren't always great and cute, and life is hard and I want someone to share it with. I want to be able to look back and realize, wow, that was tough, but we made it!

In rereading my earlier blog, I realized that somehow, somewhere, I crossed over and turned the family story-sharing blog into the family history. Perhaps I've become a little too literal in answering the question, "What's Up with the Wheelers." Just because something nifty happened doesn't mean I have to blog about it. Just because pictures were taken doesn't mean they have to be posted. This blog can be fun and valuable without the pressure of chronicling every visit and vacation.

In addition to blogging, I print pictures and label photo albums. (Sure, I'm two years behind at the moment, but I'm working furiously to diminish the gap.) For a while, I've been torn as to whether this blog should become the single family record. After a bit of debating, I've decided that, no, both serve a distinct and valuable purpose. This blog is the treasured receptacle of amusing anecdotes and occasional deep thoughts that are adorned by Jason's gorgeous photography.

In the future, this blog will probably be somewhat less of a travelogue. This busy Mom simply can't keep up with the online chronicling of every wonderful get-together. No matter how I try, I can't keep up with all the cherished visits with family and friends. It's a vicious, guilt-ridden cycle, wherein I worry that omitting an event will somehow reflect poorly on how much I value the relationship, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Enough already. It's time to stop the insanity. If we are fortunate enough to meet in the real world and I never blog about it, my sincerest apologies. Chances are that our fun spanned far beyond the virtual realm, and we were far too busy living life to spare time for posting about it.

At the moment, I would love to post all about our fantastic trip to Omaha. Despite the blazing heat, we did it all. Literally. Slip 'n slides, budgies at the zoo, dressing up like pioneers at the Mormon Trail center, tracking woolly mammoths at Fontanelle forests, chasing balls for hours at the Children's museum, dancing to Jazz on the Green, wildlife safaris in the Heartland style (think bison), Stormchaser baseball games, bike riding (Talia conquered the two-wheeler), bowling, swimming, sewing, crafting and on and on and on.

I'd love to tell you all about the gruesome Dinosaur Museum we visited in Fruita on the way there, or the amazing hoodoos we hiked through in Bryce Canyon on the way home. And photos? I've got hundreds.

But unfortunately, in the real world, children need to be fed, suitcases need to be unpacked, and diapers need to be changed. And oh, there's a house that needs to be cleaned! Life just keeps charging forward.

So instead, I'll tell you how Brooklyn cracked open her chin while jumping into the hotel swimming pool in Grand Junction on the way home. Nothing like a last minute trip to the ER to help you get the flavor of a town! Fortunately, our brave girl was treated like a princess. No wait at the hospital, plus she walked away with five stitches and a Tinkerbell blanket.

As for Talia, her latest news is that she's decided to serve a Disneyland. She talks of little else. Oh, plus I let her play my french horn today. Is four too young to start a brass instrument? She was actually really good. Blowing as hard as possible to make an extremely loud noise seems the perfect outlet for all that pent-up energy. While handing over my personal instrument seems unwise, I may start perusing Craigslist for an old cornet.

And Eli, well, he opened up his burrito today, spread it out on his high chair, turned around, and sat in it. As I peeled the tortilla off his rump, the girls squealed in unison, "Ewww, Mom, that looks like..." I quickly interrupted with "Yes dears. I know."

And thus, my blogging returns to its earliest roots. Long live the potty humor!

But Mom and Dad, just in case you miss the mounds of pictures, I want you to know that you're always welcome to come browse our photo albums. :)