Monday, April 24, 2017

I Am a Bus Driver

I passed the CDL test, HR has approved me, and I am now an official substitute bus driver.

That's all you need to read unless you want a bunch of details (below).

Tomorrow I go on a ride-along with a driver for whom I will be substituting this week. It's just nice that I get paid for the ride-along at bus driving rates. Cha-ching.

You're probably wondering how difficult the CDL driving test was. In terms of the anticipation factor, it was pretty bad. In terms of actual experience, it wasn't bad at all. My co-trainee was so stressed and worried and turned so white I thought he was going to pass out. He still managed to pass, though.

I spent the entire time my co-trainee was out doing his test (about 90 minutes) studying and studying to keep everything fresh in my mind. I used my own body to memorize the steering components (steering wheel, steering gear box, pitman arm, drag link, steering ring knuckle, spindle, steering arm, and tie rod. Hey! I still remember all of it!), and I visualized myself going through every part of the pre-trip inspection. By the time they all got back, I was confident.

Because it was starting to rain, the tester only made me do part of the pre-trip inspection (I didn't even get to describe the steering components after all that memorizing!). Then I aced the parallel parking skill test, mostly aced the cross-over backing skill test, picked up and dropped off an imaginary load of children, and then headed out onto the road.

My trainer and the tester, who are good friends, chatted the entire time I was driving. I knew they were keeping an eye on how I was doing, so their easy conversation helped me relax and loosen up my shoulders. I didn't hit any curbs, cars, or pedestrians, which is always good. I didn't hit even one construction barrel when we headed into a narrow, one-lane construction zone during rush hour traffic in the pouring rain. I managed not to get hit by any trains at the railroad crossings, as well.

After a good two hours (they asked me stop at the Target so they could grab some stuff for an inservice meeting--and then didn't come out for 30 minutes!), I pulled back into the bus garage and was told that I had done a "lovely job." I don't like to brag, but I'm pretty good at driving large vehicles--even when I'm sitting forward of the front axle. Who knew?

Want to know what it's like to steer a vehicle when you are sitting forward of the front axle?

I thought you'd never ask.

The next time you're grocery shopping, watch your cart. Every time you swing around a corner, notice how you have to push the front end of the cart out into the middle of the aisle before turning the wheels. Now imagine you're sitting at the front of the cart like the figurehead on a ship, steering it. That's what it's like driving a bus: you have to take into account the fact that the front axle is behind you, and then watch carefully to make sure you also account for how big the tail swing is and where your dual tires at the back are going. Without mirrors, the whole thing would be practically impossible.

Also imagine that your cart weighs over 10,000 pounds, and that stopping it takes more time and space than you think.

Now imagine me cheerily waving at you from the driver's seat. I'm waving because I'm thrilled you obeyed the blinking red lights on the stop sign and didn't try to pass me while children are crossing the road. Major thumbs up!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Everything's Gonna be OK

It's been a busy week.
  • Myles the Cat died. He was old, so it wasn't a total surprise, but it was still sad. Some of the kids don't remember life without him around.
  • My youngest daughter turned 16 and has been asked out on her first date.
  • I told my former client to shove it, though not in so many words. After over two years of doing my best work for them, they decided they wanted to pay me less than half what I had been making as a contractor. While that is the best thing for their bottom line, it was the last in a series of straws breaking this camel's back. We parted ways, though I used the opportunity to offer the name of one of my friends who wants to break into the content writing profession and for whom the new rates would be appropriate. They were very interested.
  • My oldest daughter's boyfriend wants to have a little chat with Husband and me in order to ask for Sian's hand in marriage. Gulp.
  • I have mastered parallel parking and backing into a dock with a 40-foot school bus.
  • I agreed to take on two beginning piano students but also asked my driver trainer to set me up with a summer job that runs Monday through Thursday, 10 hours a day. We'll see how it all works out.
While you could interpret the following song as whistling in the dark, I really like it. I always feel encouraged every time I listen to it. Certainly I love the singer's voice. (It's like butter.)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Little Shredder Music

You wouldn't believe how many snowboarding movies I've watched in the last few days. I know the season is pretty much over, and, no, I haven't suddenly become a shredder. It's part of my research for a blog post for Ship Skis's snowboarders to watch in 2017.

I found this piece of music in the Full Moon movie, in the section that features Robin Van Gyn. I have become a little obsessed. Thought you might also enjoy. Click on the link below.

Easy Nothing | Youngblood

Monday, March 6, 2017

Virtual Relationship Disorder: My Story

I deactivated my Facebook account some weeks ago. It's funny, but when I know I can't log on, I do not miss it one tiny bit. I suppose that because I grew up before the Internet--and certainly social media--was a thing, I don't have this visceral need to know what everyone I've ever known is doing, has done, or is about to do, no matter how trivial.

In the time I've been on Facebook (since one of my friends talked me into creating an account in 2008), I've been able to contact people I knew earlier in life and had wondered about and could find out where their lives had taken them. While that was thrilling at first, reality did settle in quite quickly. Now that I had re-connected to old friends and had exchanged enough data to satisfy my curiosity about how they were, the relationships usually devolved into a sort of gray and lifeless limbo, a highly unsatisfying turn of events, to my mind. I'd rather have no relationship at all than one that is only kept alive by the life support of knowing they are "out there" and we can contact each other whenever we want to, but don't.

It's amazing the amount of stress reduction I've felt after FB deactivation. Also, I do other things with the time I used to spend scrolling through my newsfeed.

Yeah, right.

But here's one more observation about the duality that relationships take on in the virtual vs. real world:

I have been looking for a new gig. Sick to death of writing for other people, and exhausted from being a freelancer and having to constantly look for new clients, I reached out to my friends and asked if anyone knew of something--anything--that I could do that would get me a paycheck. One of my friends responded that a data entry job had come up in her department. She warned me that the job often requires 10 hours of work per day--and often also on weekends--and that workers are paid by the piece, averaging around $9 an hour.

The fact that I shuddered in horror at the thought of working those kinds of hours for slave wages isn't the point, even if it was a work-from-home job. Even Husband agreed that I couldn't stay sane under those conditions.

The point is that I don't often talk to this particular friend face-to-face, even though she lives just around the corner from me, and so my interactions with her are usually through text messages--and those are infrequent. We usually see each other at church on Sundays, but she works with the children and I work with the adult women, so our paths don't cross there, either, except for the occasional "hello" in the hallways. My relationship with her, therefore, is almost entirely virtual, even if we are friendly with each other in our extremely rare face-to-face conversations.

If only texting were an aerobic activity.

It was a day after she had told me about this job, and I was getting more worried that I'd have to take it out of desperation, when another friend called me and told me he had put my name in with a friend of his in the county school district's transportation department, and that I had a job as a district bus driver if I wanted it. Get out of the house for a few hours a day? Check. Drive large vehicles? Check. Satisfy my love of a good road trip (even if it's local)? Check. Get paid far more per hour than data entry and get my CDL for free in the bargain? Check. Obviously, I submitted an application, called them up, and went in for the interview the next day. I'm now their newest trainee substitute bus driver/attendant until I get my CDL and the district approves me as an official driver.

I texted my other friend and thanked her for the job info, but told her I wasn't going to apply. I told her of another of our friends who was looking for physically undemanding work and asked if she'd like to reach out to her, instead. She thanked me for the information and said she'd contact this other woman.

Later that day, I was parked in my usual spot to pick up the afternoon carpool of children from the high school and junior high. This guy who got me the job jumped off his bus and came up to my car window, where we had a face-to-face conversation, and where I thanked him in person for landing me the job. We always joke around with each other, and we had a fun, casual conversation before he had to get back to his bus. A short but highly satisfying exchange. He reminds me a bit of my dad. I have only ever texted him about this job. Otherwise, our relationship is all face-to-face.

Yesterday, at church, I had the opportunity to lead the singing time for the children. The woman who told me about the data entry job was the pianist. I interacted with her through the duration of the singing time about the music, but it wasn't until after I got home from church that it struck me that during that interaction, I had entirely forgotten that she is also the same woman who told me about the data entry job. In my head, I have totally compartmentalized my virtual relationship and my face-to-face relationship with her. The compartmentalization is so effective that I fail to remember that both of those relationships are with the same person.

I wonder how I even have any friends who will talk to me at all? I forget, when I'm talking to them in person, that we have this other relationship that is virtual, and vice versa. In my subconscious, the two relationships are with two separate individuals, even if I know, consciously, that they are one and the same person. I realize that I don't even meld the two worlds of our relationships: I don't mention things to them in person that we have discussed via email or text message, especially if that is our primary form of communication.

Does that make sense? Am I the only one who has developed this psychological dichotomy between real and virtual relationships? Is it any wonder why I had such a rage issue with Facebook?

Ah, the endless psychological wonder that is our brave new world of virtual interaction!

This would be my favorite cafe.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


My youngest son, Little Gary, is nine years old. His best friend is a girl of eight, and she's so absolutely cute, she's going to be a total heartbreaker when she's old enough to date, I guarantee it! Her name is Molly.

Little Gary and Molly often collaborate on ways to earn money for the purpose of having me drive them to the dollar store so they can purchase snacks to feast on while they play video games. Their ideas are pretty creative, too. A couple times, they spent a while drawing and coloring comics, which they then sold to people we know. They've made a surprising amount of money selling those comics.

Today, they figured it was too soon to sell comics again, so they choreographed three different interpretive dances and then went and offered to perform the dances for a dollar. To my surprise, they came back with about five dollars.

They're now feasting on cheese crackers and candy while they play a video game together.

Little Gary and Molly have been friends for a couple years now. For a long time, Little Gary used to come to me and complain that the boys in the neighborhood and some kids from school who saw them walking home together would tease them and make mean comments about them being boyfriend and girlfriend. It just bothered Little Gary so much.

I told Little Gary to try and ignore it. I told him that, in fact, those boys are going to be incredibly jealous in just a couple years. When Little Gary asked why, I told him that he is learning how to talk to and become friends with girls, and that's a skill those other boys are going to wish they had--especially in this neighborhood, which appears to have produced a massive gaggle of boys and just a few girls. And especially as Molly gets older.

Molly's mother told me Molly has come to her with the same complaints, and she's told her to just endure it for the time being.

So now they just brush off the comments and hang out together at our house or her house.

"Wouldn't it be great if those two grew up and got married?" Sophia said to me the other day while we watched them playing. I gestured at her to be more quiet. We don't need to give them any ideas. Let them just be friends for now.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You Can't Trust the Pictures You See

My daughter, Gabrielle, is taking a video game designing class. One of her assignments was to alter a picture using Photoshop. She had to remove the tree from the original photo and insert herself in its place and make it look seamless. After she turned in her completed assignment, the teacher texted her    a gushing compliment (it started with "OMG!") and asked if she could use Gabrielle's picture as an example for all her classes.

Obviously, I'm proud of my daughter for doing such a good job. Obviously, it just reinforces my belief that you can no longer trust anything you see.

Here is the original photo with the tree:

Here is Gabrielle's completed assignment:

At first glance, you wouldn't be struck by anything out of the ordinary in this photo. There's nothing jarringly incorrect about the direction of the light source or how the shadows fall across her body or across the ground. It would be easy to assume this is a real photo if you didn't have a practiced eye for altered photos (which I don't) or if you didn't closely inspect the shadows themselves (which I did only because I knew it was doctored).

In other news, Sophia and Elannah are doubles for the same part in their high school play, which opened last night. They were both cast as Marcy in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (click here to see an example of Marcy's big solo)

Sophia and Elannah, are, fortunately, fairly non-competitive with each other, but this is Sophia's final year of high school, so Elannah can reign supreme in musical theater next year as the only representative of the Aurora family. Meanwhile, there was a tiny bit of squabbling over who got to perform on which nights, but they worked it out without resorting to bloodshed. So, on Friday, we'll go see Sophia as Marcy, and on Saturday, we'll go see Elannah.

Curious about how my oldest daughter, Sian, is doing? She's had an interesting time since she got back from Ukraine.

She found herself a full-time job in August and then started dating a lovely young man last September, and she was over the moon because this young man had all the qualities she wanted in a future husband. There was even talk of marriage after they both finished up the next semester at BYU. Sian was completely and utterly twitterpated, totally gaga, flying high with love and beautiful dreams of a bright future. Husband and I also approved of him as a future son-in-law and future father to loads of our grandchildren.

And then he broke up with her right after Christmas, stating that he just wasn't ready for a really serious relationship yet.

Fair enough. You wouldn't want to marry someone who was going to resent the fact that he was married to you, even if he was the one who first started talking about getting married. But, understandably, it broke Sian's heart, and I spent a few weeks helping her put her shattered heart and dreams of her future into perspective before she had to head back to school. We had many long talks and many sessions where I just let her cry her heart out.

Fortunately, she's been able to deal with her grief and begin moving on with her life. She's even put herself back into the dating pool and has made a concerted effort to be social and make friends. She decided to change her major from linguistics to English teaching with an ESL minor, and, for fun, she took a music composition class, which she absolutely loves. She's doing well, and we talk all the time.

I love how as my daughters have grown, our relationships have changed into friendships. I still play the "Because I'm Your Parent and It's My Job to Teach You Important Things" card with my two younger daughters--and especially with my even younger sons--but I'm encouraged that my two oldest are good, decent people. They are independent and make good choices, but they still feel free to call me and their dad and ask for advice or just tell us about their lives. All my kids are unique, but they all know they are completely loved by their parents, and that whatever struggles they have to go through, they know we're there to support them. That thought comforts me when my brain plays all my parental failures over and over in my head.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Things I Collect on Purpose

If you need me, I'll be in the study. 

1. Books
    a. Cookbooks
    b. Books on subjects I wish I had time and money to master (domestic arts like sewing, upholstery, gardening, interior decoration, etc.)
    c. Books on crochet (afghans, crochet blocks and edgings, bedspreads, crocheted wire jewelry)
    c. Books on subjects I have had to write about extensively in my freelance writing work (plumbing, home repairs, personal injury law, divorce law, car repair, real estate, etc.)
    d. Books on disappearing cottage crafts (i.e. lute making, building a homemade non-electric lathe, building a house by yourself)
    e. Books on miscellaneous subjects that catch my fancy (quantum physics, energy healing, history, health and nutrition, writing, architecture, psychology, etc.)
    f. Fiction (i.e. classic English literature, young adult fiction, books I loved when I was a kid, etc.)
    g. Blank books
    h. Books of house plans
    i. Music books (piano, cello, guitar, voice) and sheet music (piano, solo voice, choral)
2. Magazines
3. Pens
5. Odd and quirky thrift store art
6. Perfume
7. Empty cardboard toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls -- how many times do those come in handy, am I right?
8. Plain white ceramic mixing bowls, soup bowls, mugs, and plates
9. Spices
10. Bottles and boxes of ingredients for foreign dishes I don't make all the time but that are essential to have on hand if I do (i.e. various curry pastes, fish sauce, pho seasonings, rice vinegar, seaweed, rice wrappers, etc.)
11. Shoes
12. Personal letters my friends and family wrote to me when snail mail was still a thing, including the original copies of letters I wrote to my dear friend and former college roommate (who sent them to me recently after making digital copies of them in order to reduce the amount of stuff she has to store while her job takes her around the world)
13. Cheap jewelry

Things I Collect on Accident

Bath salts: a great idea for re-gifting.

1. Bath bombs and bath salts (these are gifts, but I can't remember the last time I had a bath instead of a shower)
2. Ingredients for experiments that are cheaper to buy in bulk (i.e. 10 pounds of diatomaceous earth, five pounds of magnesium chloride flakes, sunflower lecithin, a gallon of vegetable glycerin, boxes of Borax, etc.)
3. Jars
4. Beads
5. Yarn
6. Credit card offers with sensitive information that need to be shredded
7. Fabric remnants

Things I Used to Collect but Never Had the Space to Display

Beautiful milk jugs just mock the lactose intolerant among us.

1. Ceramic milk jugs

Things I Collect Digitally

The key is to remember where you put all your thumb drives for safe-keeping.

1. All the yearly anthologies of Backwoods Home Magazine
2. My painstakingly typed up collection of all my journal entries from the time I was six years old
3. Digital copies of all the letters my mother wrote me after I moved away from home

Bottom line: I'm planning a massive yard sale when the weather gets warm enough.