Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Radio Has Spoken


The school year has begun.

My oldest two girls are in high school, All-a-Boy is in middle school and the next 4 littles are in elementary.  (Yes, Curly is now in kindergarten, and she is beside herself with joy over it.)

I have been pretty proud of myself for all that I have stayed on top of.  I signed all the beginning of the year disclosure documents (save a tree, for the love!), made sure the kids are doing their homework as soon as they get home, and they're all reading and practicing and (mostly) getting their chores done. 

As I drove the littles to elementary school this morning, I was going through my mental checklist of things they needed and asking them out loud.

"Everyone has their shoes on, right?"

Check.  (I've learned the hard way that although it seems obvious, this is an important question.)

"Backpacks?"

Check.

"Lunches?"

Check.

But something still seemed amiss.

"Did you guys all brush your teeth?"

Um, not really.  One kid even said, "I did it yesterday!" and another said, "I'll do it after school."  But we were pulling up to the school curb, so what could I do?  I passed out mints and reminded them to have their best day, EVER.  Fuzzy teeth with minty-fresh breath?  Good enough for the guys I go with.

As I watched them run off to their class lines, I figured it out.  I saw what wasn't quite right.

Hubba was wearing the same clothes he had worn yesterday.  The exact same outfit, down to the strawberry stain on his right sock.  

No one else will notice, I tried to convince myself.  And at that point, what could I do about it?  Should I call him back to the car, take him home, get him changed, and bring him back?

I knew what I needed to do.  It was one of those times where I needed to let the radio decide.  (Everyone does this, right?)

I turned the radio on, volume down.  I pushed radio button number 4, then slowly turned it up to see what advice would be given.

Bono was singing to me, near the end of the lyrics from Beautiful Day.

Talk to me, Bono.  I said.  What do I do?

And he answered with,  It was a beautiful day! Don't let it get away. Beautiful day...

Okay, yeah, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, whatever, I responded.  But what am I supposed to DO, here, Bono?  My kid's wearing the exact same clothes he wore yesterday!  Help a girl out! 

So Bono, nice man that he is, kept singing to me:

What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now
Don't need it now...





I think it was the best, most direct advice I have ever gotten from my Magic Radio 8-Ball game.


It could have been worse, I told myself.  He could have still been in his pajamas.



And then I drove home.

Thanks, Bono.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Friend, Jason



You may have noticed my absence here on my blog recently.  I have had a difficult couple of weeks, as I learned about the loss of one of my best friends, Jason Zimmerman, on August 11th.  He was best known online as Teachinfourth, but in real life I knew him as an amazing teacher to 5 of my kids, a talented photographer who graciously took pictures of my family each year while refusing to accept payment, a thoughtful and full-of-surprises weekend companion for Allen and I, and an unconditionally loving and concerned friend who made time to be a part of my life.  Maybe you've read some of his Moments With Joey posts.  Or maybe you've seen some of his phenomenal photography or read the words he could always lace together in such beautiful ways.  His absence from this world has had a profound effect on me as well as many others, and it is difficult to imagine life ever really being the same without him here.  

I tried to write something to honor my friend, but the words would not come.  However, when his sister asked me to speak at his memorial service this past Saturday, I knew I could not say no. 

Here is what I shared there:

This is my attempt at using words to honor the life of my friend, Jason.  I’m not sure how I can adequately cover so many years of a life well-lived into the short time I have to share my thoughts with you.  Honestly, there are no words to do this justice.  So bear with me as I try.

I love this poem that a friend of Jason’s shared with me:

The Measure of a Man

Not – “How did he die?”
But – “How did he live?”
Not – “What did he gain?”
But – “What did he give?”
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man, as a man, regardless of birth.
Not – “What was his station?”
But – “Had he a heart?”
And – “How did he play his God-given part?”
Was he ever ready with a word of good cheer?
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not – “What was his church?”
Nor – “What was his creed?”
But – “Had he befriended those really in need?”
Not – “What did the sketch in the newspaper say?”
But – “How many were sorry when he passed away?”
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man, as a man, regardless of birth.

I think Jason measures up pretty well.

Here’s what I know about Jason.  Jason was a lover of Dr. Pepper, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Peanut Butter M&Ms, Safeway M&M cookies, Maple Bars (especially from Linn’s Grocery Store in Hurricane), Bacon, and he loved Sundried Tomato and Basil Wheat Thins with a fiery passion.  He loved spending time with his friends at Zupas, Cafe Rio, Carrabbas, The Cheesecake Factory, even Chuck-o-Rama, but most especially Texas Roadhouse where he loved trying to get everyone to embarrass themselves by sitting on that crazy contraption they bring around.

He mastered the art of creating cakeballs and was the inventor of the always famous Chunk-a-Poo cookies.  He was a connoisseur of great music who knew the names of every song and artist in his vast collection.  He also loved to discover new bands and songs and share them with his friends.  

I do not know anyone who knew and loved the deserts of southern Utah as Jason did.  He always looked forward to the time he spent there and shared the hidden beauties of the desert with us through his photography.  And speaking of photography, his skills behind the camera were unmatched.  He had a way of knowing just how to capture the light and what angles to use to photograph the beauties of the world around him in such a way that you were drawn to visit the places in his pictures.  We treasure the family photos he has taken over the years.  We have always been amazed at his ability to capture the personalities of each family member so well.  It was almost as if he had a magic lens.

Jason always carried little notebooks with him, everywhere he went.  He would pull one out and write down ideas as they came to him.  This was a part of what made him such an awesome writer.  He could take his ideas and weave words together in a way that his writing created pictures in your mind.  And it wasn’t only like that with writing.  The things he said always seemed to come out just right, too – as if he’d been waiting for just the right moment to use that particular string of words.

I think it is safe to say that Jason is probably best known and most loved here in Provo as Mr. Z, the phenomenal superhero teacher.  He knew and loved every child in his classroom and would spend countless hours outside of school time to help them succeed.  One friend made this observation after visiting his class:

Jason handled the room the way a magician handles an audience. He treated his kids pretty much the way he treated us grownups, with that wry, limit-setting tongue of his—sometimes a little sharp, but only because he respects us enough to give us a straight-up answer.  But the thing that gave me the most insight into him was what I saw in the halls of that school as we came back in from recess. It was like the man was a magnet, walking through a hallway full of iron filings.  Kids would leap out of the student flow and attach themselves to him - throw their arms around him and bury their faces in his shirt. That, or throw words at him, like they had five seconds to get in a round of speed tennis.

And he always knew the perfect words to throw right back.

Mr. Z had a passion for reading and love for learning that he passed along to each of his students.  His favorite authors and books became the favorites of many of his students as well, especially after hearing him bring the books to life as he read them aloud to his classes.  He will always be remembered for the voices he would use as he read aloud, making stories so much more fascinating to those who had the pleasure of listening to them.  Some of his former students have mentioned that their favorite books to hear Jason read aloud were James and the Giant Peach, A Return to Christmas, Time for Andrew,  The Watsons Go To Birmingham, The Boys Start the War & The Girls Get Even.

One class especially loved a unique book that he read to them, called Take the Long Way Home.  When he had finished reading the story to them, he surprised them all by telling them that the book was one he had actually written himself. 

His students will always remember the super activities he planned for those who completed their assignments: from BBQs at the park with night games, trips to Comedy Sportz, to movie nights at the dollar theater with BYU ice cream for everyone afterward.  They will never forget playing Star Wars in the gym.  They will always remember the names that Jason gifted to certain students, ones that every kid secretly wished had been crowned upon them - Muffin, Muffin Top, Peanut Butter Cup, Cupcake, Mumbo and Jumbo, Chica Marica, Stinky, Unicorn, everyone's middle name was Aloicious, and anyone named Juan got to hear, "You're number Juan!" all year long.

It was always a special treat to have music time with Mr. Z.  He would bring out his guitar and teach his students the songs that would transport them back to his classroom whenever they heard them later in life.  Songs like Don't Stop, Sandwiches, 500 Miles, Sweet Home Alabama, Going to the Zoo, The Cat Came Back, Cat's in the Cradle, The Winter Song, No Brains, Autumn to May, Clean Up Your Room, Kiss the Girl (with students names inserted in just the right places), Foolish Frog, You Ain’t Going Nowhere,  Free to Be You and Me, Puff the Magic Dragon, If I Ran the World, and, more recently, he tortured his class with Baby by Justin Bieber.  

But Justin Bieber had nothing on Mr. Z.  That guy could get kids to do anything!  If he told kids to lick a rusty pipe, they would do it. (And they did!)  He had them begging for him to write a huge ‘Z’ on their foreheads – in block lettering – with a permanent marker – on the last day of Expedition Red Rock.

And, speaking of Expedition Red Rock, he enjoyed taking students from Sunset View Elementary on the Expedition Red Rock trip along with his colleagues and friends to explore the beauties of Goblin Valley.  It was always a bonus for the kids in his class who attended each year  and got to take an exclusive hike to the (whispered:) white mountains.

His classroom was full of unexpected surprises.  There was Stanley the Stoplight, Trips to Australia, his class newspaper: 'In Z-News', class T-shirts to wear on field trips, Calvin and Hobbes all over the place, the Downtime Machine, earning Bonus Bucks to spend at Market Day, Song Lyric studies, his unique hall passes (there really were rocks in that basketball, right? Not dead puppies?), and if you were really lucky you got to meet Wolffie.

For a long time Mr. Z had substitute teachers who would visit throughout the day on Halloween.  There was SirYesSir, Professor Snape, Obi-Wan, a pirate captain and even a Wal-mart greeter with multiple personalities named Earl.  For a few years his mysterious twin brother, Jessie, would show up to substitute as well.  The funny thing was, Jessie looked exactly identical to Jason in every way – but their personalities were quite a bit different.    

Mr. Z always took the time to unify his classes every year by playing team-building games and activities with them during class time and recess.  The other kids on the playground always looked on with envy as Jason’s class sang and did the actions to Czechoslovakia (Boom-Sha-Boom), or led each other blindfolded all over the playground. 

Jason always had a way of bringing people together.  Whether it was in his classroom, in his home, through his blog, or at some sort of gathering, he just had a knack for connecting people.  By the end of each school year, the students in Mr. Z’s classes were more like a close-knit group of friends rather than a room full of students.  

And Jason was not an easy teacher.  He believed in pushing his students to become their best.  Above his classroom door was a sign that read, "Through this door walk the greatest kids on earth".  And he really believed that.  He saw potential in each of them.  He didn't only teach his kids about math and language, he taught them life lessons.  How to treat others. The importance of being a good friend and working as a team.  He taught the importance of being kind and having a sense of humor.  He taught them to love who they were and that he loved who they were and the importance of always doing your best and working hard.

Mr. Z loved to challenge his students to reach the Foot Hall of Fame or even the Tall of Fame, as well as earning the Soaring Dragon or Ascending Aviator awards.  His end-of-year class programs always included a video presentation which reviewed the adventures they had enjoyed all year, but the best part was when he took the time to call each student forward and talk to the group about the special qualities and gifts he recognized in each of them.    
       
Jason was an amazing teacher everywhere he went.  I have a friend who was in his singles ward a while back.  She told me that she would never go to Sunday School unless he was teaching – because he was such an engaging teacher.  She mentioned that you always knew when Jason was teaching, because the halls were unusually empty during Sunday School on his weeks to teach.

Above all else, Jason was one of the most service-minded people I have known.  His friends, family, students and colleagues were his life.  He was always busy thinking of ways he could serve others in small ways.  He was always concerned for others and doing little things to bring smiles.  There are so many examples of this.  I’m going to just share a few with you.  

One friend of Jason’s was in a musical a couple of years ago. On opening  night the families of performers could get in for free.  However, her family was out of town, so she asked Jason if he would come.  He was there like a proud father, with his camera, snapping pictures and clapping loudly. It was a small theater in the round, so she could hear his laugh and was a little embarrassed - but also pleased by his loud “woo woo!” every once in awhile. But that’s not all – he actually came another night during the run of the show as well, knowing that she would appreciate his support. 

One of Jason’s former students shared this experience with me: She says, my ward held a 50/20 (where you walk 50 miles in 20 hours) and I wanted to join. I remember making it past the half way point when every person in my group slowly dropped out. When I was the last one standing, I was moved up with the group just ahead of us and continued the trek with them. This group was too fast for my little legs and I eventually was convinced to stop. I went home and was disappointed. My mom had already bought ice cream and treats to celebrate, but I didn’t finish. After a lot of thought and some help I decided to go back and finish. My dad took me to the place where I stopped and together we moved forward. As I came down the last street I saw a crowd of people cheering for me. At the end of the line was Mr. Z. I remember his redish car parked in the street playing music as he stood there grinning. He had even set up a finish line for me to break through as I walked the final steps. I can still picture his smiling face as he congratulated me. This guy knew how to make a kid feel special. I don’t know whose idea it was to contact him, but I know that he cared enough to come out there and not only support me amongst the crowd, but to make his presence known. I love this man. He taught me so much in and outside of the classroom.

One year Jason came to my husband Allen and asked if he could help him build some awards he had dreamed up for all of the teachers at his school.  He felt bad that not everyone could win the Golden Apple each year because he could think of reasons that each teacher deserved it.  So he thought up his own award, had them built and gave them anonymously, always denying any involvement and never looking for any thanks. 

He would also never let us pay him for taking pictures of our family and I'm sure many others here could say the same.  Even when he did charge a fee to anyone, it was well below what someone with his talent could earn.  He just loved being able to do this for others, to share his gifts.  Jason would often pay for an extra cone of soft-serve ice cream at Macey's and ask the cashier to give it to someone who looked like they needed it.  His good friend Janelle shared this story with me:

Valentine’s Day is one of the loneliest days of the year for singles. One Valentine’s Day, not too long ago, I showed up to work at my school and I saw a vase filled with a beautiful bouquet of flowers sitting on the office counter. With a twinge of pity for myself, I wondered who they were for, then went on to my classroom. About 5 minutes later, the secretary brought the bouquet in to me! I was shocked. There was no note, and I spent the day deliberating who might have sent them. I suspected Jason right off because it was just the sort of thing he would do.  I eliminated a couple of other suspects, becoming more and more certain it was Jason. Then I called him on my way home from work to gage his reaction when I told him about this amazing bouquet of flowers I’d gotten anonymously. He pulled the innocent act, and never admitted openly to sending them, but I knew the truth.

These are just a few examples.  I am sure that each of you here can probably recall your own story where he did something to let you (or someone you know)  know that he was thinking of you and that you were important.  Something to make sure that you felt loved.

Jason had a way of making everyone feel special and loved.  He was easy to connect with and fun to be around.  My oldest son often asked if we could adopt Jason so that he could have a fun older brother. One of his former mission companions wrote the following, which illustrates well the kind of person Jason was:  

When I started a family of my own Jason quickly became the adopted uncle for my young boys. As they have grown up over the past several years they too have formed an amazing bond of love and friendship with Jason that will never be forgotten.  We were so blessed to have had the privilege of having Jason in our home on so many occasions that created so many wonderful memories that will always be cherished. These visits were always highly anticipated by our boys. They would be bouncing off the walls with excitement and yet those were the nights that they actually wanted to go to bed, they couldn’t wait. Because this meant that Jason would be telling a bedtime story. He would create these magical lands of mashed potato mountains and let the boys interact and help the story take twists and turns as they decided what would happen next. These stories started when my oldest son Tanner was just a small child. They have continued over the years as an ever evolving story that never ended. It just kept going the next time Jason would come for a visit. Now at 13, when most young men are outgrowing bedtime stories, he still looked forward to these stories from Jason. They were so special to them and will be greatly missed.

There are so many things we are going to miss. We will miss Christmas in September.  We will miss Hocus Pocus Night.  We will miss watching movies in his underground cinema.  We will miss his smile.  We will miss his humor and his quick wit.  We will miss his unconditional love.  We will miss our friend, our teacher, our brother.  

But our lives will always be “more better” for having known him.

 I found a quote that I loved, and I would like to share it with you.  It reads:

"Don't be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends." ---Richard Bach

I know that there is life beyond this mortal life, and I find comfort in knowing that someday we will see Jason again.  I hope you can find comfort in knowing this, too.

 photo found here

If you would like to read the words that others have written in tribute to our friend Jason, there is something new being posted every day over at Four Perspectives

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Twenty Awesome Years


Twenty years sounds like such a looooong time.  I can remember when I turned twenty years old, and the time it took to get there seemed endless.  Now I've been married to Allen for just as long as I didn't know him beforehand.  Lucky me!

Twenty years ago this morning I had a slight headache after waging a minor war with my little brother throughout the night regarding whether or not we should keep the window open in the room we were sharing at the Yardley Inn. Me: But I'm getting married tomorrow!  Can't we keep it shut?  Chip: How can you not appreciate this clean, fresh air?  It's good for you!  Me: (thinking) I'll wait until he's asleep and close it. Chip: (thinking) I'll wait until she's asleep and open it. 

My family arrived at the Manti Temple (where we were getting married) well in advance of Allen's family and I had a short window of time where I thought he may have changed his mind.  My worries dissolved when I saw him walk in, and here we are today.  Twenty years later.

If you enjoy cutesy photos and sappy love songs, this is the video for you.  But really, it's for Allen.


 

Happy 20th anniversary, Hon!  Thanks for sticking around - forever's looking pretty good on us.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

We've Been Framed

Before Allen the Younger left on his church mission, he had one request.  "Mom, do you think you could put up a more current picture of me on the wall before I leave?"  His request was legitimate, especially considering how sad our picture wall has been for so many years:



The sad facts were obvious.  Two of my kids hadn't even made it on the wall yet, for one.  Also, most of these pictures were over 5 years old.  Not because I hadn't had newer pictures of the kids taken, but because I had them on my computer and was too lazy to have them printed out.  And I'm fully aware of the fact that placing the pictures in a straight line across the wall lacks any creativity as well as being completely aesthetically unpleasing.  Plus, buying new frames?  Creating a new layout?  Ugh.  I am about as far as you get from an interior designer, and our house shows it.  Simplicity reigns. 

Well, thanks to the YMCIA, I had the first step in my wall transformation taken care of: current pictures were printed off and resided at the top of my dresser.  I had even already collected a hodgepodge of great picture frames from local thrift stores which were being stashed in the garage loft.  I realized I just needed to get this done and dedicated a day to figuring the whole project out. 

First, I laid the pictures out on our bedspread until I found an arrangement that I liked.



Then I gathered my picture frames from the loft, dusted them off and laid them out on the table.


I removed all of the prints from the pictures and cleaned all of the glass.


Then set up a table outside for spray painting the frames black.  I decided this would pull the whole wall arrangement together better than leaving the frames in their hodgepodgey state.




I left the frames on the table to dry and then moved on to the next step in my process: sketching the layout.  I taped together two pieces of some leftover Christmas wrapping paper in the approximate size of the finished wall arrangement.


I then laid out the pictures the way I wanted them on the wall, but on the wrapping paper.  I took time to measure between pictures (I'm a little OCD) and scoot them around quite a bit.


I even rearranged some of the frames at one point because I felt like the balance was off...


Once I was happy with the layout and swapped a few pictures around into different frames, I traced around each picture with a sharpie.


I needed to tape the wrapping paper to the wall at this point, but I couldn't find any blue painter's tape.  I only had packing tape, which I knew would pull the paint off my wall and create a larger project.  I did not have the patience to drive to Home Depot and buy some painter's tape, so I decided instead to get creative.  I stuck the packing tape to my jeans to make it less sticky...


then peeled it off.  It worked perfectly!  Voila - my own kind of blue tape:



Once the layout was up, I could step back and get a good look to make sure it was straight and centered the way I wanted.  I had to move it around a few times, but that was great.  It made the whole paper layout thing worth it.


Here comes my favorite part.  The part I found online.  The part that will change the way I hang pictures for the rest of my life.   I made this awesome little tool out of an old paint-stirrer and a nail:



But then realized after my first try that the nail was too long and wiggled when trying to hang pictures.  So I switched it out for a smaller nail on the other end:

 

which worked perfectly!  I would suggest using a clothespin, I think it would hold the nail better.  But I didn't have one, and that laziness thing kicked in again, so I made the paint-stirrer work. Anyway! Are you ready for this?  You take your tool and hang the picture on it, like so:



Then you place the frame up against the wall where you want it to go.


In my case, I just lined each picture up with the sketch of it on the wrapping paper, then pushed on the frame with my other hand.


This left a small hole where I wanted each nail to be.


So I grab our random nails jar out of the garage, 

  
and start pounding away!


I have to admit, it almost seemed too good to be true.  I had to actually put all of the pictures up to make sure they lined up and looked good before I tore down the wrapping paper and re-hung them.  And now?  I love my picture wall!  The day I put these up, Little O came to me and said, "I get to have my pitshure on the wall too, Mom!  Thank you for my frame with me in it!"  FOUR years this kid has been in our family and he's just now getting his picture on the wall.  Pretty sad.
 


The kids commented that it was like I had remodeled the dining room, which this wall is a part of.  My favorite part is that we now have a wall that we love, with everyone's pictures included.