Monday, December 28, 2009

I Loved You For It

To my husband on our fourth anniversary 

August 2005

I was sitting on the back porch of a house in El Salvador. It was night. You were thousands of miles away, and yet I always felt like you were right beside me that summer. I could hear the wild life of a strange country buzzing and hooting in the trees as I dialed your phone number and readied myself to unveil the plan I’d been scheming for weeks: “Ry, I have a proposition for you,” I began after a few minutes of small talk.

“Okay?” you responded, the curiosity evident in your voice.

“What if we got married in December instead of May, took winter semester off of school, and came back here—to live and volunteer at the orphanage?”

You were silent. You were thinking. Then finally you asked, “Could we make a difference to the kids, Rach?”

So I started to talk. And I talked and talked and talked.

And at the end of all of my talking, you said five words: “Okay, Rachel. Let’s do it.”<

You trusted me.

And so we spent the first three months of our marriage in El Salvador. We slept in a single bed together—the only bed that the orphanage offered us. We got chased by mangy dogs on our morning runs and then came home to freezing cold showers. We did our laundry in the bathtub. We got in fights when we were lost on the city buses and were both too stubborn to ask for directions. We ate powdered mashed potatoes and PBJ sandwiches almost every day.

I jumped off a cliff and “butt flopped” into Lake Atitlan. You valiantly tried to save me as I writhed and sobbed in pain, floating on my back in the choppy water. You updated me every hour on the status of the bruises on my backside and patiently listened to me whimper as my sore hiney endured the bumpy bus rides.

We played with the niños. We played and played and played. You sat with Carlitos every day, reading books in your faltering Spanish and pointing out the pictures. You blew bubbles with Inecita for hours on end, talked to Cindi even though she couldn’t talk back, and pushed Edwin’s wheelchair through the obstacle course at top speed.

I loved you for it.


May 2006

Several months later, I was home in Colorado visiting my dad, and you were in Utah, searching for our first married apartment. I remember calling you from the phone in the blue room and then sitting down on the bed, eager to hear about all of the great housing options you had undoubtedly found for us.

You were excited. “Rachel, I found a perfect place for us to live. And it’s only $400 a month, including all of the utilities!!”

“$400 a month?!” I asked, a red flag waving in my mind. “Ryan, what’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing! I mean, it is an attic apartment, so it’s a little small, and there’s not a lot of storage space…but I think we can make it work.”

I was skeptical. “It must be really small for it to be only $400 a month…”

“Well…” you began hesitantly, and the red flag waved faster, “there is one little quirk with the place: the tub is in the corner of the bathroom, under the slant of the attic ceiling, so you can’t really stand up when you are showering.”

I was silent. I was stunned. “You can’t stand up when you are showering?” I repeated, the concern evident in my voice.

So you talked. And you talked and talked and talked. And, somehow, you convinced me that an inconvenient shower was worth all of the money that we would save.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard myself saying those five magic words: “Okay, Ryan. Let’s do it.”

I trusted you.

And so, we moved into the attic. And for a year, we spent every morning standing hunched over in the bathtub, holding the shower hose over our heads as we tried to spray off the soap and shampoo as quickly as possible. We learned to cook in that teeny apartment, and I threw temper tantrums when we burned several pork roasts and dropped a chicken potpie on the open oven door. (We ate the pie anyway.) We stayed up late grading papers—you were always willing to help me during that insane first year of teaching—and we rarely went out on Friday nights because I fell asleep on the couch by 6:00 p.m.

I made you a scrapbook of our first year of marriage for Valentine’s Day that year—and a waiter at the Olive Garden accidentally dumped a pitcher of water all over it. The poor kid was mortified, but we didn’t yell at him for it.

We worked a lot. We worked and worked and worked—you on finishing your undergrad, me on teaching 200 teenagers to write. And when I was too tired to get up in the morning, you made me breakfast and ironed my skirt and lifted me out of bed with a hug.

I loved you for it.


July 2007

You graduated from BYU and got accepted to dental school. We packed up our little attic in Provo and flew across the country to find a new apartment, a new teaching job, and a new life. When we first drove into Buffalo, New York in a rental car, it was night. We were 1500 miles away from home, and it was raining. We didn’t know a soul in that cold, grimy city.

“Babe,” I said, surveying the abandoned, boarded up warehouse outside the passenger-side window. “What are we doing here?”

You too looked around us—and then started to laugh. “I don’t know, Rachel. But I think we can make the best of it, don’t you?”

Shaking my head in amazement, I said the familiar words: “Okay, Ryan. Let’s do it.”

We trusted each other.

And so we settled into life in the Buff. We got lost finding the Wegmans grocery store for the first time. We drove all over town to pick up furniture that we’d found on CraigsList. We got in a fight after I insisted that the new apartment needed to be completely organized within a week and you insisted that there was no rush. We met the neighbors, some delightful and others scary, and accustomed ourselves to colorful language that we didn’t often hear in Provo. We tried chicken wings. You started dental school. I started teaching in a nearby suburb.

I was shocked to receive a phone call on my way home from work one day: “Rachel, we’ve been robbed.” The thief had made off with my laptop, my bike, our digital camera, and your electric razor. We were a little scared—and then we got over it.

We loved the people of Buffalo. We loved and loved and loved. We invited neighbors and young couples from church over for dinner (we had perfected the pork roast and chicken potpie by that time) and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to know them. We drove Deborah to church and took the Cookie Club kids on bike rides. You became the neighborhood favorite, and I became slightly overwhelmed by the incessant sound of the doorbell and the pleas of “Can Mr. Ryan play?” I sometimes watched you from an upstairs window, playing tennis with little Lawrence and David in the driveway.

I loved you for it.


December 28, 2009

This morning, I woke up thinking about the years that have passed and the years that are still to come. I rested my head on your chest and smiled.

I trust us.

“Happy anniversary, Ry,” I said quietly.

In your sleep, you put a hand on my hair and murmured, “Happy anniversary, Wife.”

You’ve always been beside me.

And I love you for it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store..."

Ryan and I had so much fun on Saturday "doorbell ditching" Christmas goodies with some friends, the Fordhams. Their little boys (ages 4 and 2) were absolutely adorable about it. Before we left, they insisted on "practicing" and putting on "disguises." Ryan was dubbed "The Fast One," and he was the boy's top pick for a doorbell ditching partner. It was pretty cute to see them all running away from the doors with their capes flying behind them--even Ryan wore one!

At the end of the night, Ry and I felt "in the Christmas spirit" for the first time this December. We've been so busy this month that we haven't even thought about Christmas! I am so glad that we are now in the holiday mood. Thank you, Fordhams, for including us in your family tradition! (We need to get some kids of our own!)

We had a very uplifting and spiritual meeting at church this morning, filled with beautiful Christmas music. Then the lesson in the women's meeting was especially meaningful, as we read and discussed Luke 2 together. I feel very happy today and am so grateful for my Savior.

Here's a great little video. I recommend it!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Numa Numa

Have you seen this?

My students showed it to me at school today, and I busted up laughing. Made my day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


A beloved member of the Nielson household was laid to rest this week. It was an emotional moment for me. I bit back the tears and tried not to sniffle as I said my final goodbye.

"So long, Track Suit."

Yes, my signature PJs/exercise/knock around the house (okay, I went everywhere in it) outfit is now at the bottom of the Good Will box. I feel so heartless admitting that. But it was time for Track Suit to be put out of his misery.

Friends and family know my track suit well. The matching pants and zip-up hoodie were a gift to me--from Ryan, actually--on my 21st birthday. And in the almost five years since, I have been seen wearing little else. I mean, of course I convince myself to change my clothes for work every day; but the minute that I get home, the nylons and heels come off, and the track suit goes back on.

I would like to point out that a matching track suit isn't the most fashionable choice to begin with; but add to that the fact that, over the years, the track suit has gotten smaller and shorter (due to countless turns in the dryer), and I have gotten wider and rounder (due to countless turns in the Dunkin' Donuts line)--and then you can picture how lovely I looked in that polyester beauty.

I once asked Ryan if I could wear my track suit to a birthday party thrown by our friends. He said only if I wanted to be "disrespectful." I wasn't totally sure what that meant, especially since the party was for a one-year-old...but I wore the track suit anyway. I hope little Taylor Dayton didn't feel disrespected by it.

So why did I decide to discontinue use of my trusty "uniform?" Well, last week, I was embarrassing myself in a Buns-N-Thighs class at the gym. I couldn't figure out the steps; I was a count behind everyone else; and I fell down (yes, like, on the ground) at one point. As I got back to my feet, red faced and sore, I caught a glimpse of something laughable in the full wall of mirrors across from me:

In the midst of spandex-clad, tight-bodied dancer girls, there stood a young woman wearing short, snug, stained workout pants and a matching zip-up hoodie.

It was me.

Humiliated, I tore off the hoodie, but underneath, I was wearing a
t-shirt with a smiling gumball machine on it. This did nothing to improve my image.

Call me shallow; call me a fairweather friend; but Track Suit had to go. I am now too cool--and too chubby--to wear him.


Track Suit
May 31, 2005-December 10, 2009

Pictured here in May 2008...believe it or not, the track suit was even more motley, short, and dorky a year and a half later...time to say goodbye!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I love underachievers.

For four years now, I have taught the "worst" kids in the school. Without fail, I always get assigned to teach the remedial English classes that none of the other teachers want. Some of the honors teachers feel sorry for me--but guess what? I feel sorry for them. Who would you rather teach: funny, relaxed teenage boys who keep me laughing with their crazy comments, or uptight, grade-grubbing AP kids who crowd my desk to whine about every missed point on their last test?

Of course those are gross generalizations. I have some high-achieving kids who are great and some low-achieving kids who are a pain in the butt. But overall, there are some real perks to teaching underachievers:

1) They don't try to cheat on tests because, well, they aren't expecting a super high grade anyway.

2) They don't copy each other's homework because, well, they realize that their classmate is not likely to know the right answer.

3) They don't notice when you lose a pack of their journal responses and quizzes because, well, they don't even remember completing those assignments. (If they even did!)

Yes, it's true...not one of my eleventh grade students has asked about the papers that I lost on my plane trip to Idaho. Not one.

Luckily, it was only about one assessment per class period that disappeared on the plane in Atlanta. So, I simply excused the assignment or gave everyone participation points for completing it, and then I moved on with my life. I am quite proud of myself because, in past years, I would have been freaking out and given myself anxiety attacks over this loss. (Eh hem, I might have been one of those uptight AP kids in a former life.)

Rachel Westover Nielson is learning to relax--maybe my students are rubbing off on me! :)

P.S. I did tell my seniors (because I lost a major essay for them), and they all just reprinted it. I can't believe it, but it was no big deal! (Huge sigh of relief!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Somethin' to Talk About

Every so often, I have a moment occur in my day that makes me think to myself,  How is this happening?  How am I sitting here observing this right now?  Ryan thinks that I am a magnet for bizarre experiences.  I think he may be right.

I just had such a moment.

A little background: I am great friends with all of the night janitors at my school.  This can be attributed to the fact that I am one of the only teachers who is still in the building when the late shift starts.

Night janitors are great people—but inevitably quirky.  And certainly dedos.  At my first school, the night janitor named Valancy spent her break each evening talking my ear off about Anime and Star Wars conventions.  When I left the school, she made us matching Indian dream catcher necklaces, and I still have mine.  I love unexpected, unique people.

Just now, John, one of the elderly night janitors at my current school, came into my classroom and said, “Rachel, I hear you like to sing.”

A little taken back by this random comment, I suspiciously confirmed, “Yes, I like to sing.”

John continued, “Well, then, you have some homework.”

“Okay?” I replied, my wariness increasing.  

“You need to find us a duet to sing together.”


“Who would we be performing for, John?”

“Nobody.  Anybody.  I just like to sing.”

I tried to graciously decline his invitation to perform.  “Well, I’m a little scared to just start singing in front of people at random times.”

“You are?!  I’m not!” he declared—and proceeded to launch into a heartfelt rendition of “Just to See Her” by Smokey Robinson.

As I watched him singing—his eyes shut in order to get the full sense of the song, his arms pantomiming the lovers’ embrace, his eyebrows moving up and down for dramatic emphasis—I couldn’t help but think, Is this really happening to me right now?  I also couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face.  So bizarre!  So delightfully bizarre!

When he finished, I clapped enthusiastically, and he liked that reaction so much that he gave me several encore numbers, including “Lady in Red” and "Dancing in the Moonlight.” 

At the end of such a passionate performance, how could I deny him his duet?  And so, we ended this unexpected melodic interlude with—at his request, I might add—a duet performance of “Let’s Give ‘Em Somethin' to Talk About" by Bonnie Raitt. 

As I sang the twangy words and tried not to giggle, I noticed that a few students were in the hallway, presumably getting their stuff after a long basketball practice or something, and also presumably hearing this oh-so-random janitor/teacher duo.

I think we gave them somethin' to talk about, don’t you?