Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mr. Lingwall

From the time I was 10 until I was 21, I played the trumpet. The clarinet was my first choice, but we were poor and we had a trumpet, so the trumpet is what I played. But that is a different story. In the small Arizona town where I grew up, I had a handful of band teachers. Mr. Lingwall was my high school band teacher.

I found out today that he passed away on Monday.

Next to my parents, I probably spent more time with him than with any other adult during those four years. There was marching band, symphonic band, jazz and pep bands; road trips, ensembles, contests and band camp. You get the idea.

Because of my huge involvement with band, Mr. Lingwall had a huge impact on my life, as well as on the lives of every other student he taught. From him I learned about discipline and teamwork, as well as accountability. He had high expectations from us and we wanted to deliver. We marched when it was 110 degrees outside. We marched in the rain. We marched during Christmas break to rehearse for the Fiesta Bowl.

As I mentioned, the town where I grew up was small. Drugs, alcohol, and teen pregnancy were very real issues at our high school. The drop-out rate was staggering -- I believe my class had over 700 entering freshman, and we graduated 327. But there was Mr. Lingwall, stallwart and steady, providing opportunities to a bunch of know-it-all teenagers that we might not have otherwise had. We marched at Disneyland. We competed at UNLV. He once awarded me a solo at a Cardinals/Eagles game. He put us in little ensembles to play around the town at Christmastime. I remember playing in an ensemble for Palm Sunday at his church. He sent us to leadership seminars and encouraged us to always strive for that "superior" rating.

Mr. Lingwall taught me to be my best.

I learned it by example.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Well, I am in the full throes of Christmas Break and I've obviously taken a break from blogging. Christmas has been wonderful, yes. A whirlwind of baking and and singing and wrapping and visiting. Toss in the fact that my husband started with a new company and training has meant that I've been on my own for most of December - he's in Sacramento as I type - and I am exhausted!

But every day I see and/or hear something, and I find myself saying, "this is so going on my blog." So here goes.

First of all, I was chatting with someone tonight who was explaining to me his violent bout with food-poisoning after stopping at a roadside diner in central Utah. It was only after he finished eating that his daughter pointed out the sign that read "Ho-made Pies." So, so wrong.

Secondly, does anyone REALLY want to see the movie where Dwayne Johnson plays a Billy Bad-A** hockey player who gets sentenced to becoming a tooth fairy? REALLY?!? (Honestly, I saw this trailer today when we went to see Alvin and the Chipmunks - The Squeakuel... and I totally regret breaking my dollar-movie-only rule).

Finally, I need to rant for a moment. About the terrorist. You know who I'm talking about. They keep calling him a "suspected" terrorist. Except that 300 people on an airplane can confirm that he tried to blow up said airplane. And that they found the explosives in his underpants. I know this is America and we give people fair trials and blah blah blah. But all the rest of us are going to have to once again change our lives and show up at the airport 4 hours early because of one idiot. One cretinous idiot. Let's not forget that our tax dollars are paying for his medical treatment, hospital stay, and subsequent hearings. Here's my anti-terrorist plan. We take the CONFIRMED TERRORIST off of the airplane straight to the tarmac and detonate his underwear. It's a lot cheaper. And what's more American than taking down the bad guy and saving some money in a down economy? Anyone?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best Christmas Present I Ever Got

This is my son Jamison. This is one of my favorite pictures of him. It was taken three years ago, and yes, those are his sister's glasses. He was born to entertain. Today is his 7th birthday. From the moment he was born, he was a happy kid. He was born with natural comedic timing, as before he could even talk, he was doing things to make us laugh.

I remember sitting by the fireplace on Christmas eve in 2002, holding this 9-day old baby and feeling complete happiness.

Now, seven years later, if you could be a fly on the wall in our house during dinner, you'd hear things like: "There's this Spanish kid in my class named Francisco and he always asks me what my name is and I say Jamison and then he asks me what my other name is and I say Ted and then he asks me what my other name is and I say Stagg and then he asks me what my other name is and I have to yell at him because I don't have any other names, but he doesn't get it and he just keeps bugging me and now I never want to go to San Francisco."

Yesterday when I asked him how his day was, he said, "Mikey hit Jack on the forehead and now I think Jack has de-ja vu because he doesn't remember me at all."

Happy Birthday Jamison!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Importance of Staying Fit

Yesterday, I was sitting on the couch, folding laundry. My son (who will be 7 tomorrow) emptied the contents of his Transformers backpack and pulled out this paper nativity scene. He carefully arranged them on the coffee table in this position, looked at me with all seriousness and said, "Mary and Joseph are doing push-ups while Baby Jesus watches." And he walked away.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Quiet Moment

This is a blurry picture of my Nativity set that I took with my cell phone. It's not the prettiest one; I've had it for a long time. The last few years, I have only put out these three figures and left everything else in the box.

I like to think about that quiet moment this little family must have had before all havoc broke loose. Before the shepherds showed up with the animals or the wise men with their camels; not to mention some kid out there banging his drum. I imagine I wouldn't mind the hosts of Heaven singing right on my rooftop; but there had to be this quiet, perfect moment when it was just the three of them. Silent. Perfect. Joyous.

It makes me think about the fact that they were a family first, and then He became the Savior of the world.

Maybe it reminds me to take a moment to just BE with my family. We're often scurrying to do homework or to get dinner done; to finish our chores or make it to piano lessons on time. It's easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of being a young family. But to take the time to have those "be still" moments; to enjoy a cozy moment together - those are the ones we treasure.

My wish this Christmas if for each of us to find those still and quiet moments.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Grew Up in ARIZONA!

I woke up this morning to the sight of several inches of snow on the ground and the sound of our neighborhood being plowed. I got my kids and myself bundled up before trudging off to school. It was a balmy 3 degrees out, by the way. The snow was thick and still falling. The roads were slick, but I drive a BIG four-wheel drive Chevy Tahoe, so it took me a little longer, but I got to work in one piece.

I came home at lunchtime. The snow was still coming down pretty heavily. I had to leave again at 2:00 for an after-school meeting. The snow had accumulated and I live on a hill, so I decided to shift the car into 4-Lo. For those of you who get to drive fun little roadsters and rear-wheel drive racing machines, or who live on completely flat, paved surfaces, there are three 4X4 driving options:

1) 2HI - for normal driving, on-road, dry conditions
2) 4HI - for when you need some extra traction in the snow or off-road
3) 4LO - for when you're climbing steep hills and/or are driving in deep snow or mud

Like I said, I live on a steep hill, the snow was half-way up my tires, and I prefer driving as opposed to sliding. Okay. So I made it down the mountain in 4LO to a regular, mostly plowed road. I was ready for 4HI. I pushed the button to shift the transfer case but nothing happened. I tried again, still nothing. You can't drive much over about 10 mph in 4LO because it will tear up your front axle. So I had to pull over, take out my owner's manual and learn how to properly shift out of 4Lo. And I quote:

(It begins with a warning, of course)
"Shifting the transfer case to NEUTRAL can cause your vehicle to roll even if the transmission is in PARK. You or someone else could be seriously injured. Be sure to set the parking brake before placing the transfer case in NEUTRAL.

To shift from 4LO to 4HI, your vehicle must be stopped or moving less than 3 mph with the transmission in NEUTRAL and the ignition in RUN. The preferred method for shifting out of 4LO is to have your vehicle moving 1 to 2 mph. Press and release the 4HI switch. You must wait for the 4HI indicator light to stop flashing and remain illuminated before shifting your transmission into gear. If the 4HI switch is pressed when your vehicle is in gear and/or moving the indicator light will flash for 30 seconds but will not complete the shift unless your vehicle is moving less than 3 mph and the transmission is in NEUTRAL."

Are you kidding me? It's snowing! I'm driving! 10 and 2! 10 and 2!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

He's Just Not THAT Guy

We have never been a video game family. Nor do we have satellite T.V. or a DVR. Our kids don't have their own cell phones or their own t.v.'s. What we do have is lots of books, golf clubs, tennis rackets, and an endless number of mountains to climb. Our kids are really well-balanced and imaginative. More importantly, they're very good at finding ways to entertain themselves. Just earlier this afternoon, my 6-year-old son came into my room where I was napping and woke me up to tell me that "there are homes available in our area for only $199 a month. And they're big ones." See what I mean?

So it was with great deliberation and persuasion that I convinced my husband that we should buy them a certain video game system for Christmas. You know, the one with the nunchucks. I was pleasantly surprised when, earlier this week, he told me about an ad he had seen for a major big-box retailer who was offering a $50 gift card with the purchase of said video game system. He is SOOOO not the shopper in our family. What surprised me further was that he was willing to go to the store at 8:00 this morning when the store opened. Mind you, neither of us will ever be found within 10 miles of a shopping mall on Black Friday. I'd rather have chards of glass in my eyeballs. (Not really, but you get my point).

When he got to the store, the parking lot didn't appear to be too crowded. When he walked inside, there was a line-up of about 40 people for the electronics department. He called me and said, "I'm sorry. I just can't be that guy. We'll buy it somewhere else. Is there anything else you need while I'm here?" Amazingly, he went back to the sewing department and picked me up a yard of interfacing for a project I'm currently working on. When he got home, he handed each of the kids one those cute little round coke bottles.

Most people hearing/reading this story would probably say, "You mean you got all the way to the one-yard line and then backed off?" I can understand their logic. But sometimes, you just have to be who you are.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chicken Soup Month

Because it's December and we all love those feel-good stories, I thought I might try my hand at sharing a few good ones here and there throughout the month.

This story was told to me several years ago, by my father-in-law. He is an active member of the Rotary Club in Salt Lake City. This particular club sponsors a local inner-city elementary school, where most students are minorities, many of them refugees. These children have very little and so the Rotarians help by providing books, dictionaries, and other school supplies. One summer, the school's music teacher came to the Rotarians, asking for help to purchase violins for each and every student. This was no small undertaking, but he wanted to require that all students in the school learn to play the violin. He gave many reasons for such a request; it would help improve their academic achievement, it would give them exposure to the arts that they might not otherwise have... the list went on.

So the Rotarians, doing what they do best, dug deep into their pockets and managed to provide the school with violins for each and every student. The months went by and the Rotarians had moved on to other affairs, having somewhat forgotten about their generous donation. That is until the music teacher came back and asked if the students could perform a song for them at their December meeting. He promised that Michael Ballam, a well-known opera singer and Utah native would also be a part of the performance. The Rotarians were delighted and the date was set.

My father-in-law explained it something like this: "Michael Ballam sat at a piano at the front of the room. The students were standing between the various chairs and tables throughout the rest of the room with their violins. Michael Ballam began to play and sing 'O Holy Night.' The children accompanied him. There was a little girl, about nine years old, standing right next to my table. When I looked at her she had tears streaming down her cheeks as she played her violin. Then I looked around the room at the other children and all of them had tears as they played that beautiful song. By the time the song was over, we all had tears streaming down our faces."

This is a story that I have remembered for years. Can you imagine the impact it had on those kids? To know that not only were they not forgotten, but that they were loved. To have a chance to play a beautiful song with a professional musician; to hear the words and feel the message of that song: that is the magic of music.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Today is December 2nd, so I thought I'd better get this out in the open right now. I am a Christian and I celebrate Christmas. I have a sparkly, pretty Christmas tree in my living room. There is a nativity set sitting on my entrance table. My family and I are spending the month reading accounts of Jesus Christ's birth from the scriptures. I will give my children Christmas presents on the morning of the 25th. I will wish various people throughout the month a Merry Christmas. If you happen to be one of those people, but you don't celebrate Christmas, I won't hold that against you. I won't apologize for it either, but please don't hold it against me because I celebrate it. I am simply giving you greeting of warmth, love, and general good cheer.

If a Jewish friend wants to wish me a Happy Hannukah, that's fine with me. I promise not to be offended. I will be glad for the kindness. That goes for anybody else who celebrates anything at this time of year. What a nice way of sharing a little bit of yourself with me!

I write about this today because a co-worker of mine was recently berated by a parent whose daughter came home with a paper turkey. He yelled at my friend, telling her in no uncertain terms that he did not want his daughter involved in any type of activity that had anything to do with any holidays. Period. This teacher never received so much as a note on a napkin informing her of this request. We've already celebrated Halloween and the parent never said "Boo." When this parent came in with his tongue lashing, he didn't cite any type of religious reasons or any other reason, for that matter. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, by the way; not a religious one. His child attends an American public school. What does he expect?

Let me give you non-teachers a bit of advice: when an irrational parent comes in and yells at and berates a teacher, all it gets you is disrespected and talked about behind your back amongst all the other teachers. And then, as your child moves up through the grades, nobody wants her because they don't want to deal with YOU.

Of course we teachers are happy to accommodate and will respect requests for students to not participate in certain activities for whatever reason. Many years ago I had a student whose family practiced a religion that did not allow for the celebration of parties, including holidays and birthdays. They spoke to me about it in a calm and kind manner on the first day of school; and you know what? We parted at the end of the year with genuine feelings of kindness and mutual respect. That student has to be in his early twenties now and I can imagine that he is a very successful and well-rounded young man.

I realize I live in a part of the country (Utah) where most people predominantly belong to one religion. But I have a grandmother who is a Muslim. She sends me Christmas cards. I have relatives who don't believe in any type of higher power at all. They send me Christmas cards. I have relatives who are gay, who are living with HIV, who are black, white, Indonesian, Dutch, American, Catholic... you name it. They've all got a branch on my family tree. And the fruit is beautiful.

So this December, let me share a little bit of myself with you.

Merry Christmas, people!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Comfort Food

Hot Jasmine Rice. Mmmm. The aromatic steam wafting its way from my little bowl to my nose instantly evokes an "aaahhh" from my throat. I can't help it. I love it. I need no sauces or fru-fru extras. Just the rice. As long as it's jasmine rice.

There's also an Indonesian curry-flavored soup called Soto soup that takes me home every time I eat it. The only way to get it is to make it myself (or actually go to my mom's house in Texas and beg her to make it for me). It's quite a process, but as soon as the first savory sip trickles across my tongue, I'm ten-years-old again.

If I'm sick, it's soft-boiled eggs. With a little salt.

And let's not forget hot bread, fresh from the oven. Slathered in butter, of course.

I know this is not the typical list of comfort foods, but they are my comfort foods. Maybe, in a way, they are a window into my personality; a profile of my background. Regardless, we all have foods that we turn to when we need that indefinable extra something.

What are yours?