Saturday, April 24, 2010

A View from Behind

My buns are sore this morning.  For good reason: my pilates-instructor-of-a-little-sister had me on the ground yesterday doing all sorts of lifts and taps and stretches.

It was fun--for the first ten minutes.  Then, I had to pause to eat a piece of chocolate Heath cake.

The second set of ten minutes was a lot harder to get through.

Speaking of buns, a humorous anecdote from my trip:

On Monday night, I accompanied Laura to the Zumba class that she instructs.  I stood directly behind her, so that her view of me in the mirror would be blocked.  (I did not want to endure her giggles and smirks as I made a fool of myself throughout the entire class.)  From my position behind her, I had quite a nice view of her spandex-clad backside.  This became especially interesting as she demonstrated squats for the class.

As she bent her knees and thrust out her rear, I noticed that the spandex pulled tight and became suspiciously see-through. Maybe it's a seam in the pants, I told myself and looked closer as she again squatted down.

Not a seam.

Imagine my delight as I divulged the news to her after class:  You have been mooning your students for the past six months!

Horrified and mortified, Laura insisted that we drive directly to Target, where she tried on all sorts of yoga pants and where I was forced to do the "see-through check" as she squatted down in the dressing room.  Oh the things a sister will do.

At her Wednesday night class, she confided the problem to one of her trusted students who is also her friend from church.  "Can you please watch during the squats and let me know if I need to stop?" she asked nervously.

A middle-aged woman nearby heard the request and asked what was going on.

"Umm, well my sister informs me that when I squat, my pants get transparent, so apparently I have been mooning you ladies for the past several months," Laura blushed.

To this, the woman responded, "We don't care!  We want to see the GOAL!"

So I was thinking...if a periodic shot of her buns serves as such a powerful motivator to her students, maybe she should return her new pants to Target!  What do you think??

Friday, April 23, 2010

My California Adventure...

I spent April Break in San Diego with my little sister, Laura.  Her husband is a Navy engineer, so they live in paradise on the Navy's dime!!  I am quite jealous.  

Laura took me to lovely Balboa Park:

And to La Jolla Beach:

Is this not the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen??  I climbed through the tide pools to that rock, and I managed to only fall in the water twice. :)

Check out those fatty seals lounging on the beach...sure is the life, isn't it?? 

And to Coronado where Some Like it Hot was filmed:

And to the incredibly breathtaking San Diego temple (it was even more stunning inside, believe it or not):

In the midst of all of our sightseeing, we were able to spend a lot of time with my cousin Amber and her adorable children.  It was so much fun--I don't get to see them enough!

We went to the famous San Diego Zoo:

And to the Mormon Battalion Visitors Center (which was the most exciting church visitors center that I have ever been to--seriously, it was the Disney Land of visitors centers with interactive displays, a video presentation, costumes, and even panning for gold):

After all that fun, we were tired!!  (Or at least Dallen was!)  What a snoog!

Finally, in typical Westover fashion, we ate way too much junk food!  California has frozen yogurt shops on every corner, so we had to eat froyo every day.  In addition to that, there were greasy, authentic Mexican food shacks and adorable little cafes.  

Please notice the multiple chins...oh, and don't worry, Laura and I shared that pancake!

After our week of eating, we felt like this guy:

I am currently in the San Diego airport, waiting for my delayed flight to take me back to the Buff.  I will miss you, Sister...thanks for the awesome trip!  

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The past few months have been a struggle.

I have a condition that makes it difficult for me to get pregnant, so I’ve been seeing a fertility specialist since August. It’s not very fun—lots of invasive, uncomfortable, and discouraging procedures.

After several months of tests and treatments, I got pregnant in January. I was very excited for a couple of weeks, until I found out that the pregnancy was ectopic. It was a huge bummer and very painful—emotionally and physically.

My body is finally back to normal after the ectopic pregnancy, so later this month they are going to give me a laporoscopy to either fix or remove my fallopian tube. It’s not a major procedure, but I am nervous about it anyway. After my body heals from the surgery, I can start fertility treatments again. On the one hand, I can't wait to get started with the treatments again (because I really want a baby), but on the other hand, I am dreading it. You really can't imagine (or maybe you can) how uncomfortable these procedures are--not to mention emotionally exhausting. Think annual OBGYN exam x 100. Think five doctors appointments in the span of a few weeks, every single month. Think pills that make you crazy and chubby and tired. SIGH.

I am not a very patient person. Throughout my life, whenever I’ve really wanted something, I could just work really hard to make it happen. Not so for a baby. I can’t explain all of the emotions that I have felt (from anger to sadness to acceptance to worry to peace to depression), but I’ll just say that it has been very difficult for me.

Currently, I am in San Diego visiting my little sister. We went to the Mormon Battalion Visitor Center tonight, and we watched a video about their journey across the desert. At the time, the hardships that they were enduring seemed very pointless; but in the subsequent decades, it became obvious to them that their experiences while crossing the desert were a blessing from God and prepared them for the rest of their lives.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but hope that one day, I will look back on my own frustrating journey and realize how much good came out of it.

In addition to the fertility treatments, Ryan and I have also started the adoption process. We figure that if we are doing treatments and adoption at the same time, one of the two is bound to get us a little Nielson! Both options may take many months (and maybe years but let’s pray not), so we figured we better start now. The nice thing about starting the adoption process is that it has given me something proactive to do about this trial in my life. I am excited about it.

I know much of this (perhaps all of it) is news to a lot of you; I haven’t felt ready to share and still feel somewhat weird talking about my most private and personal life on a blog. But it was time to acknowledge what has been consuming me for the past few months.

A wise friend recently told me, “It will all work out in the end—and if it doesn’t, it’s not the end."  I like that sentiment, and I do know it's true.

It will all work out in the end--but for now, it is hard.  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I got one of the best!

Last weekend, Ryan and I attended the "Spring Formal" for the dental school held at the Pearl Street Grill in downtown. It was very fun. We got all done up (well, as "done up" as a frumpy, Mormon school teacher ever gets--believe me, I had the dowdiest dress in the entire place!), we enjoyed a nice dinner with friends, and then we danced the night away.

It really was a delightful evening, and I am thinking of inviting my sisters and their husbands for next year's event, to make-up for our last attempt at a formal dance. What do you say, girls? Skip the Sheridan and fly to the Buff?

We sat next to some really friendly Asian students from Ryan's class. At one point, Ryan got up to get me a drink, and one of them (whose Americanized name is Ryan, ironically), slid over next to me and said in his thick accent and in all sincerity, "The very first time you met Ryan, did you know that you wanted to marry him?"

"Well, I wouldn't say that I knew I wanted to marry him," I responded, trying not to giggle. "But I did know that he was something special."

"He is something special," this adorably sincere fellow agreed. "He is humble, smart, and serious about he kicks my butt (he may have used a different word) on the soccer field. You got one of the very best!"

I couldn't agree more!

Ryan Nielson with Ryan the admirer

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Making a Fist

I love this poem, first introduced to me many years ago by my good friend Nelda. I taught it to my students today, and it almost made me cry.

Making a Fist
by Naomi Shihab Nye

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."

Years later, I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I, who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

When I first read this poem, my mother had passed away two years earlier. I was making some major life decisions, and I felt lost without her. I remember telling myself that I just had to keep "making a fist."

Almost five years later, why do I still feel like that little girl, "lying in the backseat behind all of my questions, clenching and opening one small hand"?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Apparently, I am not cool anymore.

We haven't seen the Cookie Club kids in forever. So, I thought it would be fun to get together and make some Easter cookies. I called them last night to set up a time, and then I made a special trip to the store this morning to get all of the ingredients.

I was surprised when the scheduled time came and went, and no kids showed up. In the good old days, the kids would be banging down our door, and we would be saying to them, "Come back in five minutes! We're not ready yet!"

I called their mom, and she informed me that they had decided to go to the YMCA with their friends instead.


I guess they are growing up. Preston is a junior in high school (he only came to eat the cookies anyway), Mahogany is an eighth grader (the age when no one is cooler than your friends), and Ebony and David (both still in elementary school) are influenced by their cool older siblings. On top of that, little Guinny, Natasha, Lawrence, and Yani moved away.

What a bummer.

I feel like a mom whose kids don't want her around anymore. It's kinda sad.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Teaching 11th and 12th grade English is a rollar coaster--some days I love my job; some days I hate it--heck, one moment I love my job, and the next moment I hate it. In all, it's a profession that includes lots of highs and lows--and plenty of chaos. I guess that is to be expected when you are dealing with hundreds of teenagers.

The Good

**The other day, I was sitting on a ledge in the cafeteria during "Lunch Duty" (an adventure all of its own), and I started reading The Catcher in the Rye, the novel we are currently studying in English 11. One of my "punk" students--you know, baggy jeans, black beanie with long hair sticking out, and big hoodie--came up to me and said, "Mrs. Nielson, I finished the book. I couldn't stop reading it." Well, I have to admit that I am shocked that this student even read the book, let alone several days ahead of schedule.

"I'm so glad, Carl!" I said, grinning. "What do you think?"

"I think I don't understand the ending."

So, in the midst of the noisy lunch room, we discussed the symbolism of the red hunting hat, the carrousel, and Holden's realization that he cannot protect Phoebe from the dangers and disappointments of adulthood.

A spirited discussion of literature with an unlikely student--now that is something I love about my job.

**A few days ago, I sparked a lively debate in my class about whether or not Mr. Antolini (a teacher in The Catcher in the Rye) is a creeper. I told the students that they must support their opinion with textual evidence, and they had a heyday finding direct quotes to either defend or destroy poor Antolini's reputation. At the end of class, I heard one of the students say, "We always do such fun things in this class."

An unexpected compliment from a student after a day of textual analysis--now that is another thing I love about my job.

The Bad

**I caught two of my smartest students copying a take-home quiz this week. This is incredibly frustrating to me. Cheating is so rampant that teachers honestly can't even assign homework anymore because the students' automatic reaction is to copy it--even if they are perfectly capable of completing the assignment on their own; even if the assignment would only take them 15 minutes to complete; even if the assignment could teach them something valuable. Honestly, the only homework that I can assign is reading (can't really copy that) and major essays (truly stupid if you copy that).

Realizing that many teenagers have no sense of academic integrity--that is one of my major frustrations as a teacher.

**I recently had the students complete a group poster project. They had to draw a character from the novel, using descriptive clues from the text, and they also had to incorporate aspects of the character's personality. The posters and presentations turned out great, and I was feeling quite good about the whole thing. Well, after class, a student approached me and said, "You can't hang the poster of Ackley on the wall." After I questioned her further, she admitted that the kids had purposely modeled the drawing after a specific student in the school who is constantly bullied for his poor hygiene and awkward social skills. Ackley is a character in the novel who no one likes--and the students were alluding to the fact that this real teenager was even worse than Ackley. They had dressed their character in a particular t-shirt that I guess the real boy always wears, so that when other students saw the poster, they would make the connection and laugh. I had not recognized this subtle bullying because I do not know the real young man, and therefore didn't notice the t-shirt.

The incident made me feel ill. I see the best in my students and never assume the worst of them--I do not like to acknowledge that they can be so heartless.

A few positive things did come out of the situation however: 1) I was able to thank the student who intervened so that I didn't unknowingly hang the poster. I sent a letter to her parents explaining how proud I am of her. What a good kid. 2) I was able to speak to that class about the incident--which lead to a talk about respect and compassion: "If there's one thing you learn from me, I don't want it to be the importance of reading and writing--I want it to be the importance of treating people with kindness." It's not very often that I get to say things like that to my students, but it is so very true.

One of the perpetrators came to me in tears after class, and she and I were able to have a heart-to-heart about peer pressure and character. I think she may have learned something.

Witnessing upsetting incidents of cruelty in my classroom and in the hallways--certainly not my favorite part of this job.

The Ugly

**I'm sorry, but facing a room of 25 sleepy, grumpy teenagers at 7:15 a.m. and saying, "Let's discuss the book!" is kind of an ugly situation. They don't want to discuss the book at that outrageous hour of the morning--I don't want to discuss the book at that hour of the morning!! In fact, the early mornings seem to be getting earlier...and the seductive snooze button seems to be getting more tantalizing. I have now mastered the art of showering and getting ready for the day in a total of 15 minutes. I will admit, I barely make it to school on time--sometimes after speeding like a maniac and perhaps even purposely running a red light on a totally deserted street. (Don't you hate that when you are stuck at a light and no one is around??) But I am on time, darn it! And the adrenaline rush really wakes me up for those "lively" discussions.

7:15 a.m. school starting time--now that is an ugly part of this job.

**And finally, perhaps my least favorite part of the job: Grading papers. I don't have school today, and the weather outside is lovely--in the 70s--yet I am holed up in the UB Library, grading research essays. I have about 25 more to do today...and they are lengthy...will I survive it?

Spending a sunny day-off grading boring research papers about gun control, the death penalty, and outsourcing--definitely ugly.

I better get back to it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring on Rounds

It's finally Spring time here on Rounds Avenue. Know how you can tell?

The rap music is blaring.
The neighbors are all chillin' on their porches.
The teenagers are blocking the street with their basketball game.

This all might get old by the end of August, but on April 1st--it's very fun.

We love Buffalo.