23 December 2011

Some Thoughts From this "Holiday" Season

The term Holiday Season used to bother me. It seemed like another concession to the insanity of political correctness. I’ve gotten over it. I do think it’s pretty silly when people try to disguise their Christianity by saying Holiday when they very clearly mean Christmas, but I have also decided that Holiday season aptly describes the November to January festivities that I participate in. This year has seemed to me to be the year of complaining. I have encountered a number of grouchy Christians that, in their effort to preserve the piousness of their celebrations, I think have become quite Grinchish. In addition to bemoaning the atheistic title of the season and objecting to the commercialization of Christmas, they find fault in almost every aspect of traditional American Christmas celebration. I think they are missing out on what could be the “most wonderful time of the year.”

I know that Christ was not born in the winter. I am fully aware that Christmas is in December to coincide with the ancient pagan holidays celebrating the Winter Solstice. It doesn't bother me. I don’t think that makes me less Christian. The fact that pagans thousands of years ago thought that an evergreen tree had mystical properties because it did not die in the winter is interesting. The fact that I choose to think of the evergreen tree as a symbol of everlasting life made possible through the Son of God does not make me an uninformed purveyor of pagan traditions as I place a Christmas tree in my house.

I know that retailers push the beginning of their Christmas observance as early as possible in order to raise profits. I realize that the Thanksgiving holiday was moved a week earlier in order to lengthen the official Christmas shopping season. I have decided that I don’t care. I have been known to put a stocking or two up before Thanksgiving, and I have no rigid date set for the appropriate beginning of Christmas music. Despite the fact that I join the evil corporate monster in beginning Christmas before December, I don’t believe that this makes my own personal observance of Christmas any less spiritual. I like the idea of combining the two holidays. Certainly a day dedicated to gratitude is in no way diminished by remembering the birth of the Savior, for whom I am extremely thankful. And the celebration of Christmas is probably enhanced by adding an element of thanks. So instead of sighing at the lost soul of America as I see candy canes displayed the day after Halloween, I find some peppermint ice cream and start to wonder where my Nativity sets will be best displayed this year. I have spent the last ten Christmases in ten different residences, so it really is a legitimate question that often requires some extensive pondering.

On a much less defensive note: I have a small collection of nativity sets. My favorite one is magnetic. It is my favorite partly because I love all things magnetic, and partly because it goes on my refrigerator door in the kitchen where I spend a significant portion of my life. I like that I don’t have to find a place for it every year. It usually goes up first (before Thanksgiving) because I don’t have to think about where to put it. I also like that I can see it amid meal preparation and dishes. It’s a good reminder to me that I can seek the divine even among the mundane parts of life.

09 October 2011

The First Snow

When I was in elementary school, my class made paper snowflakes. I was not any good at it. I always folded the paper incorrectly and/or cut the wrong side. Each time I thought I was ready to unfold my triangle to reveal the beautifully symmetrical design I instead ended up with a pile of scraps on my desk. After several failed attempts my teacher folded the paper for me, and stood next to me while I cut the edges. I placed my scissors and then waited for the approving nod indicating that the intended cut would not completely destroy my project. I anxiously opened up my paper ready to see the long-awaited masterpiece of a snowflake. I was disappointed. Some of the kids in my class produced exquisite and intricate forms. I thought mine was rather boring and, quite frankly, ugly. It was not a shining moment in my life.

We took our completed snowflakes into the hall where the teachers had covered the wall with a large calendar of the rest of the year. We each guessed when the first snowstorm would be and placed our snowflake on our forecasted date. The assignment indicated with acute clarity that I did not have a future as either an artist or a meteorologist. Despite the dismal failure of my snowflake cutting and weather predicting ventures, I enjoyed the project. I minimized my embarrassment by writing my name in tiny letters on the back of my snowflake so that no one would know that the unsightly ill-placed prediction was mine.

When I started teaching in Texas I was saddened to learn that snowflake cutting was not part of the standard elementary school curriculum. I thought this oversight left a severe gap in my high school students' education, and set out to rectify the matter. Armed with a few more years of life experience and a Bachelor of Arts degree, I took to the internet and searched for paper snowflake instructions. I hid alone in my bedroom to work. When I felt competent enough, and didn't fear that it would be utterly humiliating, I moved to the kitchen where my roommates could supervise the effort. After a few attempts in my kitchen I mastered the skill to the point that I could explain it to the kids.

The day after Thanksgiving break I started each of my classes with cutting snowflakes. The kids did an excellent job and did some amazing work. Every single one of them put my childhood attempts to shame. There isn't really a first snow (or any snow) in Texas, and I didn't think the administration would approve of my making the hallway wall into a calendar, but I felt that their accomplishment should be displayed in some way. I called a friend and we spent the hours after school hanging almost 200 snowflakes from my classroom ceiling.

Now we live in Idaho, and we spend nearly six months of the year covered in snow. Despite the length of the winter I still think that the first snow is magical. It is simultaneously peaceful and exciting. Although snow signifies the beginning of shoveling the driveway and salting the sidewalk, for a moment everything seems calm and still. The dying grass suddenly looks as though it has been sprinkled in glitter, and the trees take on an icy angelic look. The dropping temperatures make me wonder how I will keep a hat on my infant when we need to venture out into sub-freezing weather, but I still enjoy sitting inside with some hot chocolate and watching the silent precipitation.

25 September 2011


This year I have decided that September is the perfect month. This may be partly due to the fact that I am not pregnant (read: throwing up) and have finally recovered from a stage 4 tear and subsequent infections and complications. The world really is a better place now that I can successfully walk across my living room without pharmaceutical assistance. Medical accomplishments aside, September is also the prefect month for a host of yearly recurring reasons.

The school supplies go on sale. There is just something magical about a brand new box of crayons, or a set of perfectly sharpened colored pencils. And nothing is quite the same as the pristine paper and unbent corners of a new notebook. My joy and excitement over new school supplies are significantly increased when they cost less than a quarter.

Open window weather. September is the enjoyable combination of fallish summerness. The days are warm and pleasant, but I can bake without my house approaching 90 degrees. The evenings cool off, but are not yet bitterly cold. I pretty much keep my windows open all day and all night. This practice fills my house with a pleasing breeze and the occasional sound of birds.

Sunflowers. I love sunflowers, and in September I see them everywhere. They grow along the side of the road, around parking lots, and in open fields. The ubiquitous growth of these bright and cheerful flowers somehow indicates that all is right in the world. This year is especially nice because I planted my own sunflowers. Now I don't have to go around town to appreciate some bright yellow foliage. I have had fresh flowers on my kitchen table all month and it makes me happy to know that they came from my backyard. I feel quite accomplished even though all I did was put some seeds in the ground and then ignore them for a couple of months. The awesomeness of my homegrown centerpiece is compounded by the fact that I planted two varieties of sunflowers so I have both yellow and orange blooms to enjoy.

The kids in the neighborhood sell pumpkins. It's the fall incarnation of the lemonade stand, and it makes me smile. Although I have never stopped to purchase a cold beverage from a neighborhood child, I am a sucker for a six year old selling pumpkins.

Fresh produce. Not the "fresh" produce from the store, but real fresh produce from our [neighbor's] garden. Despite my inexperience our own garden is doing quite well. We successfully grew everything required for homemade salsa. This accomplishment made up for the rather disappointing crop failure of our green bean experiment. I've also quite enjoyed eating corn on the cob minutes after it has been harvested. And our rather large and aggressive squash plant that is trying to take over the entire yard has finally set some squash. I am hoping it reaches maturity before the first freeze.

This year's September is especially perfect because I purchased some Nutella. I don't know why I have never done this before. It's chocolaty nuttiness has dramatically increased my enjoyment of life.

14 September 2011

The Secrets of the Fire Swamp

We recently visited Texas because summer is the best time to visit the land of triple digit temperatures and record setting humidity. We used the same excellent decision making skills to determine that we should make the cross country trip in our car.

The Texan did most of the driving, and I did most of the entertaining the child in the back seat. However, one night an errand involving diapers found me behind the wheel. Driving in Texas is unlike any other place I have ever driven. When I first moved there, I was absolutely convinced that Texas traffic would be the cause of my final demise. I was particularly offended that I had to merge to get both on and off the freeway. My roommates and I referred to mastering navigation on Texas roadways as learning the secrets of the fire swamp. At a fairly recent point in my life I reasonably proficient in the secrets of the fire swamp. However, my current stint in farm town Idaho has quickly eroded my Texas driving skills.

I briefly coveted my infants five point harness and wondered if I should locate a helmet before facing the extreme peril ahead of me. I buckled my seatbelt, turned on the GPS, and set off on my diaper finding quest. I gripped the steering wheel and tried to recall the rules of Texas driving.

1. He who hesitates will never ever ever get on the freeway. Assertiveness is required. Unfortunately, the freeway is unavoidable. Texas has an abundance of freeways, and every car trip will involve at least one of them.

2. Traffic will never let up. For some reason thousands of cars have a dire need to be traversing Texas at eleven o’clock at night, or at three in the morning, or at one in the afternoon. There is no predictable or avoidable rush hour. Similar to the line in the women’s restroom, traffic in Texas is a Grand Law of the Universe.

3. Frequent lane changes are required. The Texas department of transportation is rather proud of their twelve lane highways. They have laid the roadways out in such a way that all motorists must utilize every lane. Without warning the right lane abruptly becomes the left lane, and the center lane is suddenly labeled exit only. It’s almost as though Escher was the city planner.

02 August 2011


The little redhead has had a busy six months. Among other things, he has discovered his hands, learned how to spit, rolled over (both directions), been vaccinated against polio, eaten a banana and some squash, and outgrown all of his clothes twice. He is currently learning to sit up on his own, and there is a distinct possibility that he is working on his first tooth.

This week he encountered a major milestone in the life of every redhead: he is experiencing his first sunburn. I would like it noted that all appropriate parental precautions were observed. But sometimes no amount of sunscreen and shade can compensate for fair skinned genetics when at a water park. Our little boy has accepted his lot and is taking it like a champ. In fact I’m not sure he even knows that his face and arms aren’t supposed to sting. He hasn’t fussed or whined about it. All he does is blink a couple of times when we try to wipe the peeling skin off from under his eyes.

06 July 2011

High School Patriotism

It is the policy of all public schools in the state of Texas to dedicate a portion of every day to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the Texas pledge (yes there is such a thing) and a moment of silence in which "students may reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that does not interfere with or distract others." It is the policy of many teenagers in the state of Texas to refuse to stand during this ritual. I spent the majority of my short teaching career asking defiant students to sit down. But without fail, when it came time for the Pledge of Allegiance, no one wanted to stand.

I can appreciate religious exception. It wouldn't bother me if a Jehovah's Witness didn't want to stand for the Pledge. I don't have the same belief, but I can respect it. I could even understand an atheist refusing to stand because they were uncomfortable with the acknowledgement of deity.

I am aware that the United States is a country based on protest. If my students were refusing to stand as a form of political demonstration I wouldn’t object. In fact, I would be rather excited that they actually had an opinion that was strong enough to compel action (albeit a very passive action). I would be behind them completely. But when a student refuses to stand just because they are too lazy to get out of the chair, I get irritated.

One day a particularly insubordinate student insisted, “Miss, you can’t make me say the Pledge of Allegiance.” I’m relatively certain that she was referring to my actual physical capcity to influence her speech, and not to the legal restrictions imposed upon public educators in a 1943 Supreme Court ruling (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette). I thought about pointing out that I wasn’t asking her to say the Pledge; I merely wanted her to stand while someone else said it. I briefly considered acknowledging that if she could articulate a reason for declining to stand I would concede the point and allow her to remain seated. I decided that neither approach would do anything for my classroom management. It was time to end the argument. I asserted my redheadedness and declared “I can’t make you say the Pledge of Allegiance, but as your History teacher I can require you to memorize it. The quiz will be on Friday.”

On Friday I asked each student to take out a blank sheet of paper and write down the Pledge. It was a more difficult task for them than I had anticipated. Their responses were both depressing and entertaining. My personal favorite came from a relatively well-behaved student:

“I pledge a legion to the flag of the United State of America
And to the public four witches’ stand
One nation under God
With invisible liberty and justice for all”

12 June 2011

Self Checkout

Using self checkout is always a mistake. It's one of those innovations that seems like it should be a good idea, but it's not. The line might be shorter, you might only have three items to purchase, you might have incredibly impressive scanning skills, but using the self checkout will never, ever be faster. I know that using self checkout is never a good idea. But every so often I forget. My most recent lapse in judgement involved two gallons of milk.

After scanning the first gallon of milk the ever polite automated voice asks me to "please place [my] item in the bag" at least three times. After scanning my second gallon of milk the voice asks me if I have any coupons. I don't, so I push the no button. The touch screen isn't responsive, so I try again. On the fourth push the voice decides that I don't have any coupons to scan. Then it tells me to please check my cart for any additional items. I don't have a cart. All I have is two gallons of milk, and I managed to carry them all by myself. I try to pay for my milk, but the machine is waiting for me to check my cart. The checker next to me has successfully finished checking out two customers.

The voice asks me if I am finished. I push the finish and pay button. It works on the third try. The voice asks me how I will be paying. I push the cash button. It works on the first try. The checker behind me no longer has any customers in her line. I try to put my money into the machine, but the voice is not interested in accepting my money until she has finished giving me directions. I listen to her tell me to "please place your bills in the bill accepter before placing coins in the coin accepter." Or maybe she asks me to do the coins first. I don't really know because all I have is a five dollar bill, and I don't care if she wants coins or bills first. I just want her to stop talking so that I can pay for my milk and be on my way. Finally the instructions are complete and the little green light comes on indicating the the voice is ready to accept my money. I put my money in, and she spits it back out at me. I turn the bill over and try again. Again she spits it back out at me. I crease, fold, flatten and otherwise try to prepare my five dollars for automated retrieval, but still the voice spits the money back out at me. I sort of feel like I'm trying to pass a counterfeit bill. I have no other method of payment with me because all I wanted to do was run in and buy two gallons of milk while the Texan waited in the car with Little Redhead.

I flag down a real person and explain to her that the voice is not interested in my cash. Real Person tries no fewer than six times to get the voice to accept my money. Finally Real Person goes to her own cash drawer and pulls out a new five dollar bill. The voice accepts this bill and then dispenses the appropriate amount of change. She then politely reminds me to collect my change and my receipt and thanks me for shopping. She invites me to come again. I should know better, but I probably will come again.

03 May 2011

Signs of Wealth

One day a student declared, "Miss, you dress like you're rich." I looked down at my garage sale/clearance rack ensemble and thought that surely he must be joking. I was fairly confident that although my outfit didn't look as cheap as it really was, and was appropriately professional, it certainly was not as opulent as he was claiming. The only item I paid more than a couple dollars for was my shoes, but they were embarrassingly old and definitely showing signs of wear. And because I am a better teacher when my feet don’t hurt they were painfully practical shoes: certainly nothing trendy or showy or in any way “rich.” Upon further discussion I realized that my necklace - a clearance sale chain with plastic beads covered in peeling silver paint- was apparently the tell-tale sign of affluence in my wardrobe.

While I do not in any way even pretend to understand this student’s thought process, I have decided that the RedHead household is in fact quite wealthy. I have three main reasons for thinking this. None of them is the silver necklace (which I still love and wear frequently despite the flaking paint).

1. We have three staplers. One is probably more than sufficient. I don’t really know how frequently we ever actually staple anything. I’m convinced that all our stapling needs could be adequately handled by borrowing the stapler at the library. Especially since we live in a college town and have access to both the university and the public library. Nevertheless, we own three staplers. One is a really awesome lime green color and can staple through up to thirty sheets of paper at a time. Another is a neat clear plastic device that doesn’t actually use staples, but is used for the same purpose, and so is still accurately categorized as a stapler. The third is a normal stapler- the only remarkable feature being the fact that it is orange. That is one stapler per person in our house. And one of those people doesn’t even know that he has hands yet. Surely he doesn’t need a stapler all to himself.

2. I buy two-ply toilet paper. I am absolutely inflexible in my tissue preferences. I categorically refuse to buy one ply. Sometimes I can justify buying a more expensive product because its higher quality means it will last longer, and therefore, in the long run, ends up being the more frugal option. However, bath tissue becomes trash the instant it is used. So the whole it-will-last-longer theory doesn’t rationalize the higher expense. I continue to buy two ply anyway. I am fully aware that it is a luxury, and I am certain that I can’t live without it.

3. I have two complete sets of 24 colored pencils. And they are Crayola colored pencils. I am not an artist. I thoroughly enjoy coloring, but I don’t really know the difference between sky blue and periwinkle. I have both colors. And I have a backup of each just in case my periwinkle coloring needs exceed the length of an entire pencil and sky blue will simply not suffice.

19 April 2011


Slightly more than two centuries ago some of the most gifted minds on the continent decided that confederation wasn’t really working out all that well, so they decided to take a crack at federalism instead. Really it was a brilliant way to promote unity among the states while preserving liberty and preventing tyranny. The basic idea of federalism was that sovereignty would be shared between the state governments and the national government. The national government has the authority to do things like regulate interstate commerce and the state governments get to do things like establish a public education system. It’s a great idea, and one of those things that makes you proud to be an American. But sometimes federalism can be a real headache.

For example, I did my EMT training and certification in Colorado. I lived in Utah when the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. I thought it would be fun to be a medical volunteer for the Olympics, so I went to apply. I was told not to bother. Public safety falls in the realm of state sovereignty, so my EMT certification was not valid in Utah. I guess CPR might change when crossing state borders. Apparently only those who were trained and certified in Utah were properly qualified to medically assist the international community at the Olympics in 2002.

When we made plans to move to Idaho, I needed to get an Idaho teaching certificate in order to apply for jobs. I called the state board of education to find out what I needed to do. The list seemed pretty straight forward: fill out an application, send a copy of my Texas certification, and pay the appropriate fees. The last step was to be fingerprinted for a background check. Texas does background checks on teachers quite frequently, so I wondered if the information could be shared without having to duplicate the process. When I mentioned that Texas had a recent background check already on file I was told, “That doesn’t matter. We need your Idaho fingerprints.” Really. Idaho fingerprints. I’m pretty sure my fingerprints are not dependent on my location. In fact I think that last year when we went to London and Paris my fingerprints were exactly the same as they have been in Colorado, Utah, and Texas (each states where I have been fingerprinted for various reasons).

The largest federalism headache by far started with the Texas highway patrol. Shortly after moving to Texas I was pulled over for speeding. I have a theory about speeding tickets: If you’re going too fast to notice the cop and slow down, you’re going too fast to be safe so you deserve the ticket. I didn’t notice the cop in time to slow down, and although I was annoyed, I was prepared to accept the speeding ticket that was coming. But he didn’t just give me a speeding ticket. He looked at my Colorado driver’s license and asked me how long I had been in Texas. I told him when I moved, and he informed me that in Texas you have thirty days to change your license. Since I had passed the thirty day window he issued me a ticket for not having a valid Texas license. The fact that I had a valid Colorado license was irrelevant. I was particularly incensed because I had only missed the thirty day deadline by two days.

A few days later I made the trip to the department of transportation to get the appropriate license. I was expecting to walk in with my Colorado license, spend an inordinate amount of time waiting in line, perhaps take a test, and walk out with a Texas license. I look back and laugh at how na├»ve I was. I was prepared to handle the standard inconveniences of federalism, but I was completely blindsided by the utter ridiculousness of Texas Nationalism. After waiting for three hours in line it was finally my turn to approach the desk. I told the worker that I needed a Texas driver’s license. She asked to see a Texas vehicle registration. At the time I was student teaching, and was driving a car that belonged to my parents. I told her that I didn’t own a vehicle. She insisted that she must see a Texas registration in order to issue a Texas driver’s license. After a rather lengthy conversation where she insisted that everyone that has ever gotten a driver’s license in Texas has also had a car registered in Texas, I asked to speak to her manager. He conceded the point, but asked to see my social security card. I didn’t have my social security card with me, so I left without a Texas license.

The following week I returned with my social security card in hand, certain that this time I would be able to obtain a Texas driver’s license. After waiting only an hour and a half, I approached the desk. The employee asked to see three forms of ID. I showed her my Colorado license and social security card, and asked her what other forms of ID could count for the third. She said, “Well, I guess your Colorado license can count as one ID.” I repeated my question and she told me that I needed to show her a passport or birth certificate. So once again I left without a Texas license.

On my third trip I arrived with all the appropriate documentation and waited in line for two hours. When I approached the desk I was greeted by an irate man who rather unpleasantly asked me why I was bothering him. I told him that I had recently moved and needed to obtain a Texas driver’s license. He rolled his eyes at me and asked to see my current license. I handed him my Colorado license which he promptly cut up. Then he took my picture, wrote down my address, and told me my new license would arrive in the mail within the month. I asked him what I should do until it came. He pulled a form out of his drawer, slammed it on the desk, and hurriedly scribbled in the information that indicated that I had applied for a Texas driver’s license, and that its arrival was pending. Then he sent me on my way without asking to see any further identification. I left a third time without a Texas license. At this point I decided that the state of Texas did not have any standard requirements for receiving a driver’s license. Instead, all employees of the Department of Transportation hold the authority to make up whatever provisions they deem necessary to ensure that all drivers in Texas have been appropriately harassed before being allowed to navigate the horrendous traffic for which they are famous.

02 March 2011

World Wars With Inner City Kids

When I taught World History, World War II was one of my favorite units. It was always taught near the end of the year after TAKS testing and spring break. Everything on campus was much more relaxed after TAKS testing, and the kids responded by behaving much more appropriately. They were also slightly more mature in May than they had been the previous August, and were moderately more interested in Nazis than any other subject that I tried to teach them. Basically the universe aligned perfectly for the teaching of World War II, and tended to produce the most successful teaching experiences that I ever had with inner city kids. My second year of teaching, the unit went so well that I gained new hope for the future of America.

Throughout the year, my student Virgil would make references to Iraqistan. I valiantly tried to convince him that no such country existed, but he continued to insist not only that it existed, but that he was the country’s soverign. One day he told me that Iraqistan was as real as platform 9 ¾. I had never told my kids about my love of all things Harry Potter, but somehow he knew that calling upon the authority of JK Rowling would settle the issue. I conceded the point. In true nationalistic form he brought up his imaginary country as frequently as possible. When I taught the kids about propaganda I asked each student to create a propaganda poster for a country of their choosing. Virgil immediately declared that he would make a poster for Iraqistan. I told him he had to pick a real country. When he asked why I told him that propaganda relies heavily on national symbolism, and Iraqistan had no national symbols that he could utilize. He informed me that the national colors of Iraqistan were green and yellow and the country’s flag was a black chicken on green background. He then drew a picture of it for me.

When we were talking about Pearl Harbor and the United States entering the war, I had the students working in groups. Virgil quickly enfranchised all of his group members as citizens of Iraqistan. He then proceeded to declare war on Antemyra. When I asked him about Antemyra he explained, “That group over there with Alice and Myra.” I asked him if he could just declare war on another country unprovoked like that. He replied, “Of course I can. This is a dictatorship.” Alice, not wanting to be outdone, responded quickly: “Well, Antemyra is a democracy.” Following which she convened congress who then voted to declare war on Iraqistan. Virgil quickly turned to the group next to him and asked if they would enter an alliance.

Alice then walked over to Iraqistan and handed Virgil a crumpled up piece of paper. She walked back to her desk, and told him to open it. Virgil unwrinkled the paper and read out loud, “Grenade. Boom!” He wrote “Bomb, boom!” on another piece of paper and threw it across the room at her. Deciding it was time to intervene, I insisted that throwing things was not allowed in my classroom. Someone from across the room called out “Don’t worry Virgil, she’s like the League of Nations. She’s not really going to do anything to stop you.” Meanwhile Alice and Myra were busily crumpling paper balls and had quite a pile stacked up on their desks. The citizens of Iraqistan responded by crumpling their own paper balls. Dustin, who had been watching the whole event from the opposite corner of the room decided to add his own commentary: “Oh no. Now we’ve got an arms race.” Being situated close to the recycle bin Antemyra was able to quickly produce many more weapons than Iraqistan. Virgil, AKA King of Iraqistan, saw that he was being outdone. He grabbed a pile of paper off of my desk and commenced crumpling. Not wanting to waste a whole pile of new paper I told Virgil that he was not allowed to use my raw materials to make his weapons. Now fully caught up in the analogy Oscar indignantly commented, “Yeah, go colonize elsewhere.”

I was ever so proud of my students for their use of their knowledge of history, but I had not forgotten that I had just been compared to the League of Nations. I decided that my only option was to prove that I had no intention of getting myself involved in a rather large mess by practicing appeasement. I picked up the trashcan and confiscated the weapons of both Iraqistan and Antemyra. Denise decided that such an act made me not the League of Nations, as the class had anticipated, but instead the UN. I placed my peacekeeping forces (myself) on the border of Iraqistan and Antemyra, and the class went back to work.

27 January 2011


Once upon a time I decided that I wanted to become an EMT. So I did. It took me about 3 months and 5 phone calls to figure out what I needed to do, and in December 2001 I was officially certified. The training was a lot of fun, and very fascinating to me. I kept my textbook because I still find it interesting reading, and also because it was expensive, but mostly because I think it’s cool to have a book on my shelf that says Prehospital Emergency Care and displays a picture of a helicopter, fire truck, and ambulance all at the same scene.

The thing about emergency medical care (and probably every profession) is that there is a lot more to the daily operations than just the textbook procedures. It’s really good to know how to take a blood pressure, and know what it means. It’s certainly important to learn how to appropriately perform CPR. And it’s pretty much absolutely essential to memorize the indications for administering epinephrine. But when the 911 call comes in, it turns out that there is a lot more to responding than just the medicine. And so, my EMT instructor gave us what he called “practical advice for life” as part of every class. The stuff that’s not in the textbook, but is important to know. And he wasn’t kidding either. I didn’t realize important the practical advice for life was until I failed my first practical exam by losing “style points.” I didn’t even know that style points existed. But in his class they did, and they counted for a lot.

I walked into my exam room where the instructor explained that my patient had been the victim of a drive by shooting and received 2 gunshot wounds: one in the leg and one in the stomach. I somewhat dismissively said “Well that sounds like a bad day.” He gave me a chance to redeem myself, but I didn’t know that I needed redeeming, so when he asked “What?” I said with equal flippancy “That sounds kind of uncomfortable.” And right there I failed. Before I even approached the scene, or assessed the wounds, or controlled the bleeding, or administered oxygen, or made a decision about transportation (all of which I could have done perfectly). I failed the exam because I had disregarded the advice that one of the most important things an emergency responder can do for patients is validate them. Instead I had minimized the problem to a “bad day” and “kind of uncomfortable.”

Once I realized that style points did in fact exist, I did a lot better in the class. Most of the practical advice for life was not profound. Much of it was very entertaining. Although it has been years since I’ve really been anywhere near the emergency scene, I still recall the top 3 pieces of practical advice.

1)Always carry a pen.

2)Babies can be very slippery when they are first born. If you drop the baby…pick it up.

3)Never ever ever ever say “oops” or “uh-oh.” No matter what you do, no matter how badly you mess up, no matter what is going on, a patient should never hear you say anything that indicates something has gone afoul. It doesn't matter if the problem is painfully obvious. Even if you’re carrying a hiker down a mountain trail on a backboard and you drop him, and he goes tumbling down the mountainside- Never say “oops.” Instead say “there.”

I’m not sure why “there” is the word of choice, but it is.

I have generally been very pleased with my doctor. He has been very helpful, usually has good bedside manner, and I would recommend him to anyone that asked me about him. His medical training, although exponentially more thorough than my little foray into first aid, evidently did not include practical advice for life. I’m officially past my due date, and am exhibiting no signs of impending labor, so he sent me for an ultrasound to check on the growth of our baby. When the ultrasound tech handed him her report he offered a very surprised, and not reassuring, “Oh my!” This is not quite the same as “oops,” but not much better. Apparently, despite having very average sized parents, our baby is huge: potentially large enough to significantly complicate delivery. We are now scheduled for the soonest available induction. All of this information would perhaps have been much more welcome if it had been preceded by “there.”

24 January 2011

New Job

I have taken up babysitting. This is also frequently referred to as substitute teaching. Substitute teaching is in no way similar to real teaching except that it occurs on a school campus.


  1. I don’t have to work every day. This is really convenient on days that I am sick.
  2. I have no before or after school responsibilities. No bus duty, no lunchroom duty, no metal detector duty, no staff meetings, no lesson plans to submit, no papers to grade. When the kids leave, I leave.
  3. I get to have a new specialty every day. In addition to History I have now “taught” Accounting, Chemistry, Psychology, Keyboarding, Economics, English, Algebra, Public Speaking, and Basketball. I do not think the PE teacher realized I was pregnant when she called me, but it was a week that I was feeling pretty good, so I went ahead and did it.
  4. By far the most significant: No irate parents.


  1. It’s really really really boring. Sometimes the most difficult thing I have to do all day is stay awake. Having been a teacher I understand the wisdom in providing a self-directed assignment for the kids to work on, but as a substitute I sometimes wish I had more to do than take attendance and hand out worksheets.
  2. The kids aren’t mine. Instead of knowing who just got a new haircut, and who’s trying out for the play, and who has been looking for an after school job, and who always writes in green pen, and who just moved in; I just have a list of names. The politely say “here” at the appropriate moment during attendance, and that’s about all I get out of them.
  3. No lesson plans. It doesn’t matter if I have an awesome idea for teaching the stock market crash, or if I know a really great activity to introduce Pavlov’s theories. My job is to follow the provided lesson outline which is usually to take attendance, and hand out the worksheet. Or take attendance and start the video. Or take attendance and tell the kids what chapter to read in their textbooks.

The job is different, and the kids are also significantly different. Rural farming community kids in no way resemble their inner city counterparts. They are remarkably submissive. They come into class and sit down without being asked, and they follow directions without argument. I wondered how far this compliance would go, and one day I told them that I needed them to line up in alphabetical order by the second letter of their middle name. They did it incredibly quickly. Nobody asked “why?” None of them said, “This is stupid.” The whole class just jumped up and started asking each other how to spell their middle names. It made me laugh. Then I divided them into teams for basketball.

01 January 2011

Dr. Visit

I have somehow become entirely conditioned to believe that visiting the doctor will make me feel better. I'm not sure how this happened. As I reflect on my experience with doctors I realize that such belief has received very little positive reinforcement. This is in no way a negative commentary on doctors. I know that their medical expertise and advice have led to my eventual recovery on multiple occasions. But, while it has never happened, I have come to believe that a trip to a doctor’s office will result in the immediate cessation of ailment.

My doctor has told me that he has done everything he can for me, that it is normal (and somehow healthy) for me to feel awful, and that pregnancy is supposed to be uncomfortable. Even still, when I am feeling particularly miserable, I find myself looking at the calendar and counting the days until my next doctor appointment and, despite my knowledge to the contrary, believing that it is a magical day on which I will suddenly feel better.

While not a single trip to an obstetrician has been able to fulfill my irrational belief, last month’s visit was at least somewhat vindicating. As we were sitting in the waiting room I mentioned to the Texan that our baby had the hiccups. He apparently had never heard of this before, and insisted that it couldn’t be true. Later, while the doctor was listening to the baby’s heartbeat he mentioned that the baby had hiccups. And while I still felt just as nauseated as I had when we arrived, I was thoroughly delighted to declare a professionally endorsed “I told you so.”