Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Picture Pages

 Here are some of the photos that have been lurking on my phone.

Gabrielle texted last week and asked for the recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I always keep notes in my recipe books, so it is easy to find. When Sian makes these, she makes her own brown sugar using molasses and white sugar, and it gives the cookies an incredible depth and richness. But Gabrielle made them from this recipe and said they were a hit with all her roommates and friends. I always use this recipe, and, so far, absolutely no one has complained.

In case you can't quite read it, here's the recipe:

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup margarine (I use butter, and it makes the cookies slightly flatter and a little crisper. I just hate margarine)
3 beaten eggs
12 oz. chocolate chips
3 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt

Cream the sugars and margarine. Add the eggs, chocolate chips, and all of the sifted-together dry ingredients. Mix well. Bake at 350 deg. F for 10 to 12 minutes. Cookies are very moist. If you have an electric stove, lower it to 325 deg. F [which is what I do]. Very delicious.

Sophia had a lead role in the high school's production of Oklahoma, her last play before she graduates from high school this Thursday. She was Laury, and a very nice young man named Robert played Curly.

Elannah and Sophia worked together to choreograph all the dancing, and they did a right fine job of it, if'n I do say so myself.

In April, one of Husband's sisters-in-law came to town with her twins. We all spent the day together, including going to a thrift store. Elannah, Sophia, and their cousins all managed to find floral shirts, which, I guess, are a thing right now. My girls wear theirs all the time.

During that day, we took a tour of the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City, which the boys had never done before and which the girls were too young to remember doing. Here's Little Gary in the main hall that seats about 20,000, with the iconic organ pipes behind him.

I've been lucky enough to sing in a conference choir here. Who knew how many back hallways and tunnels this place has to keep things going smoothly?

Here are Little Gary and Marmite, perching on a stack of chairs in the kitchen. I think we'd had my family and Sian's future fiance over during General Conference, which is why the chairs were stacked after being used at the table.

Little Gary happily announced today that he made the honor roll at his elementary school--the first time that's happened. I'm just relieved that about halfway through the year he started doing his homework on his own with me having to nag him. I guess he's growing up. He'll be a fifth grader next year.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Adventures in School Bus Driving

In the early dark, the school buses at the bus garage start rumbling through their pre-trip inspections. Drivers must check the lights, horns, tires, and gauges before roaring out into the surrounding neighborhoods and towns to pick up happy, alert children and drop them at their schools.

I am one of them.

No, I don't have my own route yet. Since the end of the school year is fast approaching, I might not even be subbing all that often--though I have been driving nearly every day for the last two weeks. But next school year, there's some hope that I may get my own route.

Being a substitute bus driver is exciting, of course. Sometimes, it's a little too exciting. As a sub, you're just hoping that you'll manage to hit all the right stops on all the right streets in a town or neighborhood you aren't all that familiar with, and you hope you won't neglect to pick up some poor elementary school kid whose parents have already left for work and now the door to their house is locked and they have nowhere to go.

I mean, I don't care about the junior high and high school kids, cuz they can figure it out. They've got phones.

But what wakes me up in the wee hours before a run is my brain deciding to stew and stew over a new route, reminding me every three minutes from 3 A.M. on about what time I need to get to the bus garage (even though I remind my brain that I have set my alarm), and going over all possible negative outcomes.

So far, I haven't made any major mistakes. Minor ones, yes. Major, dangerous ones, no. Knock on wood...

For instance, I ended up sitting on the side of a road with a bus full of junior high school kids while we waited for the mechanics to come and fix my battery box door, which wouldn't stay latched (I didn't kick the battery tray hard enough, it turns out. In my defense, I had no idea I could kick it!).

Because I didn't enunciate my location clearly enough on the radio, the mechanics ended up in the wrong neighborhood and took even longer to find me. Meanwhile, I had to keep the kids from going all Lord of the Flies (which is a very real possibility when children that age don't have access to wi-fi for too long) by playing "School Bus Trivia," a game I made up on the spot. We all had a good laugh, and now they know how drivers get out of the doors after the bus is turned off.

And they STILL made it to school in time, much to their disappointment.

Last week, I was driving a route that takes me into a new street with only one entrance/exit. The street is lined with multiple new houses all under construction at once, so there's always cement trucks and other construction vehicles scattered around. This particular route takes me into this street three times a day in order to pick up or drop off a total of three kids.

On Thursday, I was able to thread my way through in order to turn around at the end of the street and get back out. Barely. On Friday, however, the road was entirely blocked--and even if I had been able to get through to the turnaround at the end, the turnaround was littered with the parked cars of the construction workers, making it impossible for me to get the bus turned around.

So there I am: a load of elementary kids are already on the bus, and two cement trucks pouring a new foundation are completely blocking my way forward. Then, when I look in the mirror, I see a guy double-parking a pickup truck with a trailer, completely blocking my ability to reverse out. What?? Does it seem normal to him that a big yellow school bus full of students is just going to sit and idle in the middle of the road for the indefinite future?

I'm now locked in. Dilemma.

I can't leave the bus to talk to the construction workers (there are kids on board), the construction workers can't hear my air horn over all the noise (not that they can move until the foundation is poured, anyway), and I'm not supposed to reverse--not that I can at the moment.

Obviously, I must reverse or I'm never getting out of there, so I radio the bus garage to let them know what's up. I tell them I'm backing up all the way to the entrance of the street. They are nervous. They request that I at least put an older child in the back window to give me directions. I comply by assigning a sixth grader to tell me if I'm going to hit anyone or anything (not that I can hear anything she says because of the construction noise).

So I put the bus in reverse and watch the pickup truck driver scramble to re-park his vehicle as soon as he hears my reverse alarm (miracle!). Then, dear reader, I backed that big bus straight through all the parked cars, pivoted perfectly into the the dead end to get myself facing out to the highway, and got those kids to school on time and with no other problems. My palms were sweaty, yes, but I felt a certain thrill of triumph.

Substitute bus driving = living on the edge. I'm just a crazy kind of gal!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Let Me Brag about My Kids a Bit

Each of my children have very specific interests. In the case of Sian and Gabrielle, their interests were very different. Sian is a musician and composer and has written many amazing voice and piano pieces. She was also her high school's newspaper editor-in-chief because she enjoys writing.

Gabrielle realized she loved to draw at an early age, and she's never stopped.

Sophia and Elannah share interests in drama, voice, and dance, but each of them have their own individual style.

The boys are still figuring out what they want to pursue, but I see a native talent for drawing showing up in Little Gary, and Joseph has been trying to figure out the concept of humor and comedy since he was old enough to talk. He would also be very good at dance if he cared to pursue it, but it's much less socially acceptable for a boy to do that than a girl, I think. Especially when you are junior high age. While I've never discouraged the idea, he would be horrified if I signed him up for dance classes.

As you know, Gabrielle is taking a digital media course as part of her game design degree. She had to create a YouTube channel on which to display her completed assignments, and I thought you'd like to see one of her videos. This is a speedpaint video of a picture concept she first created when she was a young teen. Right at the end, she shows the original drawing so you can compare it to her updated drawing. It's quick, so you have to pause the video in order to really appreciate how much she's improved. I am amazed at the progress she's made.

Oh, FYI, Sian is now engaged to be married! The wedding is set for August 31st. After I hyperventilated a bit at the thought of my baby becoming a wife (and, eventually, a mother), I'm very happy about the whole thing. As is her dad. She's marrying a great guy. He's intelligent (Applied Physics major) without being condescending. He's spiritual without being self-righteous. And he absolutely adores my daughter (and she adores him, of course). He's the kind of great kid who just gets better with age.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Faith Precedes the Miracle

OMGosh! Can we talk about Bill Nye and his amazing transformation from a very mediocre comedian/actor/mechanical engineer into an expert on all things science? He totally, like, proved it with that song and dance that Rachel Bloom performed on his new show. No, no, don't look it up. You'll hate it. Well, if you do look it up and watch it, just trust me that it's horrendous. I could only get through a little bit of it. It's called "My Sex Junk." And if you do watch it, don't say I didn't warn you. (shudder)

But I digress. Bill Nye the Psycho Guy is not something I want to discuss right now. I want to discuss miracles.

The Miracle

I could go on and on about faith (and I have already, though I haven't published any of those posts), but it all boils down to this: each of us has to learn that when you lay your burdens at the Lord's feet, leave them there and don't pick them up again. Picking them up again to worry and stew over them entirely defeats the whole purpose of laying them at the Lord's feet in the first place. Picking them up again shows a lack of faith. Laying them at His feet and then leaving them there with a lighter heart, trusting that He knows your needs, is what builds faith.

Not that that's an easy lesson. It's taken me years. A lifetime, really. And I'm generally a laid-back person.

I believe you know that I told my last writing client to take a hike, as I did mention it two posts back. When they recently said, "Hey, after all this time of you doing excellent work for us, how about we cut your rates to less than half?" I responded, "Hey, how about I don't work for you anymore?"

It wasn't just ego, which I did try to suppress in order to look at their offer objectively. I mean, yeah, I was insulted, but I did consider whether or not I could still work for them and not feel overwhelming resentment, because money. Conclusion: nope. I'm human, not a robot. I was already charging them rates on the lower end for my work as a professional writer, so I didn't see any advantage to tying up my time and mental energies writing for them for pennies.

By severing ties with them, I now placed myself into a position of not having an extra source of income. The whole thing had soured me on trying to find new clients and haggling about rates, so I decided to do something that gets me out of the house and allows me to talk to people other than myself. Thus: I am now a fully licensed Class B driver with school bus and passenger endorsements.

But another problem: I can't drive a school bus over the summer, which means I don't earn anything over the summer. Uh oh.

Also: taxes were due and we didn't have enough tax credits to reduce our federal and state taxes to reasonable levels. This year, we owe a lot. More than we can afford. Uh oh.

Proposed solution: get a maintenance job over the summer (or something) to make up the income shortfall. If I squint really hard, I can totally see how fun that will be. I can work with young people and learn lots about changing light bulbs and painting schoolroom walls. Right? And we'll sort of wing it with the taxes and take the penalty fines while we pay them off in chunks (bites nails).

And yet, I felt calm and peaceful. I laid my burdens at the Lord's feet and explained the situation and why I couldn't work for my former client anymore. I also explained how money is an issue. We're trying to pay off debt and increase our self-reliance, but a family still has to eat--at least a little. Then I made a conscious effort to not pick up my burdens again and just trust and have faith. Every time the worry tried to well up inside, I reminded myself that faith and fear are mutually exclusive. I choose faith.

On Sunday, April 16th, we had no way to pay our taxes, which were due on Wednesday, April 18th this year. I was also barely recovering from a raging tooth infection that had brutalized me with pain all Saturday night and Sunday.

On Monday, April 17th, the antibiotics I got from the urgent care doctor were finally starting to have some effect (and being able to pay the urgent care fees in order to get the antibiotics is a another miracle I won't go into at the moment). I also got a text. It was from a colleague from a former writing job who now works for a large nutritional supplements company.

"Hey, I need a good writer," he said, "and I'd like to pay you an insanely good rate--and also pre-pay you, starting today!"

I immediately responded, "Hey, I'm your new writer!"

It's amazing how getting paid what you're worth can resurrect your interest in writing for other people, amiright?

He sent me a list of the articles I need to write, and I sent him an invoice. He paid me within minutes. It was enough to cover the federal taxes, due the next day. The money hit my bank account on April 18th.

Now I'm a freelance content writer with a client again--a client who is also a writer, I might add, which is why he isn't trying to pay me pennies for my mental exertions. I have a way to earn good money over the summer. I get to write about natural health topics, which is one of my favorites.

This is a miracle, folks. It's one of the obvious and mind-blowing ones, the kind that makes you fall to your knees and cry out your gratitude to a God who knows you personally and answers prayers. While I know answers don't always come like this, I'm not going to argue. Even if we hadn't received such a brilliantly unforeseen miracle, I still choose faith. My last two writing jobs have followed this very miraculous pattern, which has allowed me to stay at home and and be there for my kids (though the bus driving gig does take me away for a few hours at a time).

And I know that miracles are always happening to me; for every miracle that I see, there are probably hundreds that I am completely unaware of. How can I be anything but grateful at all times? How sad is it when I find myself grumbling and groaning about my lot in life?

I'm feeling very blessed.

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