January 28, 2008

A Tribute to a Great Friend

President Gordon B. Hinckley, the prophet of our church for my entire adult life (he was sustained when I was 18), passed away last night at the age of 97. I was saddened when I heard the news, yet happy that he lived such an incredible life and was able to make a difference to so many. I think I echo the feelings of many when I say that he seemed very close, like a friend you could easily talk one-on-one with, and who in fact won the hearts of many with his appearances on high-profile TV interviews like 60 Minutes and Larry King Live. He had an easy, friendly way and never made his interviewer (or the viewer) feel uncomfortable. Some would call that being "media-savvy" - I just call it so cool!

I remember President Hinckley (or "Gordie B", as I affectionately and irreverently called him) coming to BYU to speak when I was there as a freshman. He had just been called as the Prophet/President of the church, and I recall sitting in the Marriott Center waiting for him to appear. All the seats were filled and it seemed many shared my eagerness and excitement, as the place was quite loud. As he entered, however, it only took about 4 seconds for the cacophany to reduce to a pin-drop pipe-down, and as I watched him take the stand, I knew that here before me stood a prophet of God. To cut the silence, however, he turned around to his audience and as loudly as he could, said, "Well, how are you? You look great!" to which we all chuckled and smiled. With that one line, he established in me a long-standing affection that never once wavered. In fact, he just got better and better.

My next brush with Gordie B was when he came to a regional conference in Atlanta, GA in Spring 1998. I was there on my mission, and he requested to have a meeting with just the missionaries in the area, which meant all the missionaries for the Georgia Atlanta Mission (go GAM!). Elder Perry, Sister Hinckley, and he spoke, and all were phenomenal. I remember that in the middle of my note-taking, I freaked out, so amazed that I was in his presence. We were asked to remain in our seats as he exited the chapel, but he took his sweet time and shook several of the missionaries' hands as he walked down the aisle, mine included. Love that gap-toothed smile.

Later on that year, in October 1998, to be exact, I distinctly remember his announcement during General Conference that over the next several years, many more temples - most of them smaller - would be built worldwide to accommodate the growing membership in the church. What a perfect blessing for us! I can still recall the many whispers of glee that circulated the darkened chapel that morning. Here are pictures of him dedicating two of scores of temples that were built during his lifetime. What a legacy.

Gordie B was a prophet during a period of huge growth in the church. The temples he approved and completed offered great blessings, church membership continued to grow by the hundreds of thousands and even millions, and a project was undertaken to move General Conference to a new "Conference Center" just north of the existing Temple Square. When I first heard that announcement, I was crushed that they would be leaving that ultra-cool Tabernacle, mostly because we have some pioneer heritage tied in with the building (specifically the organ), but also because it was a huge piece of history. However, with this new building, the number of saints who could attend a live session of conference jumped from approximately 6,000 to about 20,000. Not a small feat. I've been there a few times now, and it's amazing. During the first conference held there, he stood at that gorgeous pulpit and he told the story of how his favorite black walnut tree got fashioned into the most recognized pulpit now in the church. Very cool.

I used to teach at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo when I was attending my final year at BYU. Best part-time gig in Provo. As a teacher in the English program (since they didn't have a "Southern Dialect" program), I got a new district every 3 weeks. One of these districts brought an Elder Hinckley into my life. He was young, he apparently had a sister who was very similar to me (God bless her), he dug jazz, and he was just a very cool and very kind Elder. As the days went on, we had teaching exercises - some with the class, some with their companions, and some one-on-one with me. During one of these tete-a-tetes, I asked Elder Hinckley about his testimony of the prophet. His response was like nothing I'd hear from anyone else. To paraphrase: "Well, first and foremost, he's Grandpa. I admit that when he was called as the prophet I wondered if there'd been a mistake, because only men who are, y'know, not related to me are prophets. But then I remember the first time he spoke at General Conference as the prophet. I watched him. I listened to him. I just felt that it was right." I smiled at him and asked if he was even more personable as Grandpa as he is as our prophet. He grinned and told me a funny story. "Grandpa - President Hinckley, I should say - came over for FHE one night at our house. He was having a good time with us, and my dad came home from work wearing a suit and tie. Grandpa stopped what he was doing and looked at my dad and said, 'Son? Are you still wearing those button-down collars? You need to get some better shirts - dress up a bit,' all with a twinkle in his eye." I was cracking up. The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was such a classy dresser, right down to his French cuffs. After that talk, I always kept an eye out, and they were always there.

And wasn't he just hilarious? I remember one particular conference when (I believe it was) Elder Nelson gave a talk about prophets and focused in on President Hinckley. Man, did he go on about him! Elder Nelson moved from revelation and leadership to adoration and personal praise for our prophet. It was very sweet, but with President Hinckley being as humble as he is, I think it also embarrassed him a bit. Gordie B was conducting that meeting, so after Elder Nelson sat down, he came to the pulpit and said, "Elder Nelson? I challenge you to a duel! In the basement of the tabernacle, following the meeting!" The audience roared. When he had to start using a cane, he'd hobble up to the pulpit and then hook it on there with a loud thud, and then use it to wave at everyone in the choir on his way back to his chair. It always brought chuckles. I wondered if it was more of a weapon when he'd point it at his fellow leaders, like in this photo:

The man couldn't be ominous if he tried. Maybe I felt a kinship with President Hinckley because of his humor and love for everyone he met. Maybe I love him because he wasn't a pulpit-pounder. Maybe I love him because he loved the women of the church and encouraged them to forget being "barefoot and pregnant" (Ted's favorite line) and to get, finish, or acquire more of an education. Maybe he was just a kind of grandpa to all of us.

So here's to you, our wonderful French-cuff-wearing, gap-smile-flashing, cane-threatening, temple-constructing, pimp-ring-adorning, laugh-evoking, love-spreading Gordie B. Farewell, my friend. Give Marjorie a kiss from all of us.

January 19, 2008

CSET: The Bane of my Existence

I love California: the diversity, the beach, the 70-degree Christmases. I was born and raised here, I know the ins and outs and the In N Outs, and there are always new and interesting people around every turn of life who augment my own experience as a human.

However, there are several things about California that are really starting to get on my nerves. First and foremost: the program the state puts forth for an individual to become a teacher. Holy-Hannah-Montana-sold-out-concert! The hoops, circles, and rigamaroles one must go through just to step foot in a classroom! I'm sure it's rough trying to get certified in most states, but word on the street is that California is the longest and therefore most grueling. At this point in my certification, I heartily agree.

My recent beef comes in two forms. The first was arguing for weeks with the dean of Curriculum and Instruction about my program that they messed up last spring. I switched from part-time to full-time night classes, but my schedule was overlooked and I've been fighting to be able to take certain classes "out of order" ever since. The dean told me that I am NOT, in fact, allowed to take one more class this quarter, and in doing so, extended my program another six months. Don't get me started on that, because some of you wouldn't appreciate the things that would come out of my fingers.

The second form of my beef is something I had to suffer through last Saturday until my brain popped. It's this nifty little thing called a CSET: California Subject Examination for Teachers. It is a heinous test, for anyone who's had to take it. Yes, I'm sure those of you who had to take the MCAT or LSAT must be saying I have nothing to complain about, and I actually agree with you, but this is my blog and therefore my complaint forum. Go get your own.

Now, the CSET is a different test than the CBEST(California Basic Educational Skills Test). If you didn't pass the CBEST (notice the word BASIC in the acronym) you have no business being a teacher. No, the CSET actually tests real knowledge. I had to take three subtests to be certified for a single subject credential in biology. One of the subtests covers all things biological and tests everything I learned during my undergraduate years, um, 7 years ago, and the other two subtests measure my knowledge in "general science", which is a gross understatement, because I was required to know "everything from anthropology to zoology", to quote Ted during the phone call after my harrowing experience. So even though I had just spent 5 straight hours taking 3 intense tests, I thought about that one phrase of his and we played a game over the phone as I drove home. Did you know that the only letters that don't have a specialized science attached to it are J and Y? I can kinda see Y, but J? Ted's suggestion: Japanology. Here's our list:

A - Anatomy, Anthropology, Aeronautics, Astronomy, Archaeology
B - Bioethics, Botany
C - Chemistry, Cladistics
D - Developmental Biology, Dermatology
E - Ecology, Evolution, Entomology, Endocrinology, Embryology, Engineering
F - Forensics, Fluid Mechanics, Forestry
G - Genetics, Geology (geophysics, geochemistry), Geography
H - Histology, Hydrology, Herpetology
I - Immunology, Ichthyology
J - ???????
K - Kinesiology
L - Lichenology, Limnology
M - Mammology, Marine Biology, Microbiology, Meteorology, Mineralogy
N - Nematology, Nephrology, Neurology
O - Orthopedics, Oceanography, Optics, Ornithology, Organic Chemistry, Oncology
P - Paleontology, Physics, Physiology, Pathology
Q - Quantum Mechanics, Quantitative Analysis
R - Radiology, Robotics
S - Statistics, Soil Science, Seismology, Spectroscopy
T - Teratology, Tectonics, Taxonomy, Thermodynamics, Toxicology
U - Urology
V - Virology, Volcanology
W - Wildlife Conservation, Wave Theory
X - X-ray Astronomy, Xenology
Y - ??????
Z - Zoology

Yes, yes, I'm very well aware that we're nerds and that we have "too much time on our hands." I'll just say that before Shannon Hyer beats me to it. Gee, with all that time, I should have had plenty of it for studying purposes.... If I failed any of the three tests, it will be because of my ease of getting distracted. Maybe we should get a kid.

Short Book Reviews and a Long Tangent

This is the first of what I hope will be several posts regarding books we've read for pleasure, as opposed to those awful ones I'm still stuck reading for my credential program. Blech. Any insomniacs out there? Grab a copy of Norman Unrau's Content Area in Reading and Writing: Fostering Literacies in Middle and High School Cultures. Holy-Hannah-Montana-sold-out-concert. Big fat snore-fest.

Anywho, we both love to read, so we hope to periodically get on here and tell you our faves. As you may have already noticed, we have a fat list of books we've read since last summer. This doesn't include the various crossword and sudoku puzzle books we've filled.

Tangent Alert! Embarrassing admission: we used to have competitions between the two of us on who could finish a moderately difficult crossword. There were two on facing pages, so we'd flip to a fresh page, look at the time, and say Go! It would take each of us about 10-12 minutes to finish ours, and the only reason Ted hasn't mentioned it is because I beat him best of 7. He kicks my butt on the harder puzzles though. What I lack in brains, I make up for in mad pencil-flying skills.

So here's a short blurb about the latest books I've read, in no particular order.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin - It's hard to believe this book was written so long ago. It's so quaintly cute, with all the subversive intents underlying everything. It's a story of four totally different women happening upon an advertisement to rent a castle in Italy for a whole month. They go, they're transformed, and the reader totally giggles. I couldn't stop thinking of my friend Jana on this one. She'd love it, if she hasn't already devoured it.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier - My favorite book growing up was Rebecca by the same author. That one is an intriguing mystery tied up in the middle of a widower marrying a shy, pretty, yet awkward woman many years his junior. His large estate with its servants and pretentiousness intimidates her, but she grows up quickly as she figures out what really happened to her husband's late wife. This book has a similar type of mystery. A young man, Philip, orphaned at a young age and brought up by his older cousin, Ambrose, becomes acquainted with the woman he eventually married while he was abroad. Shortly after their marriage, Ambrose dies, and Philip can't seem to forgive Rachel, his widow, until he meets her. I'll leave it there for so I don't spoil it for anyone.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson - An interesting murder story of "whodunnit" set in post WWII on a small island off the coast of Washington. It opens with a court trial in December, and as the blizzard goes on outside, the reader is given many flashbacks about the backstories of the defendant, his wife, the town reporter, and the victim. Was it really an accident, or is the Japanese defendant really to blame for a white man's death based on a decade-old family feud and prejudice? Lots of interesting queries, and I love how the story was resolved.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult - Holy crap, you have to read this book. This author did so much stinkin' research for this incredible, not-too-far-off-the-mark story. A 3-yr old girl is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, and the older brother isn't a match for transplants, so in the age of genetically engineered embryos, Mom and Dad make a designer baby girl to save the life of their other daughter. The day she's born, the umbilical cord stem cells are harvested and frozen, and the expectations put on her through the years are incredible. The book begins with her visiting a lawyer with issues of her own to request medical emancipation from her parents, and an amazing number of questions are brought up from then on. I found myself asking "What would I do if I were the daughter/mother/sister in this case?" And at the end, I totally bawled. This was a bad thing, considering my students came into the classroom right afterward and wondered what the heck they did to get me so upset. A fellow teacher read it and loved it, then went out and bought every other book this author has written - and there are a lot.

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier - This author is fantastic. She writes the science column for the New York Times, and if anyone would get you interested in learning about the science you never learned in high school, it's this woman. She knew she wanted to be a writer, but took a variety of science classes in college, and now has an absolute gift for bringing all the important tidbits to the forefront with ease and LOTS of humor. I can't get over how clever this woman is in her writing - part of her genius is that she personifies things you've never thought to give a human voice to, including mammary glands and evolutionary time scales. I'm currently reading her other hilarious and wonderful book: Woman: An Intimate Geography. It's more than I wanted to know about myself, so of course I love it.

Stiff by Mary Roach - The author's name is fitting considering the tenor of the content. She writes all about dead humans. I used to work for a mortuary and got my fill of them, I thought, but she takes it 18 steps further - how cadavers are used for all sorts of research from crash test dummy impact capacities to helping forensic criminologists figure crack murder cases by putting a bunch of them in fields, cars, and concrete to test their decomposition rates. It's gory, graphic, and absolutely fantastic. I got two copies for Christmas one year from two very different people - what? Am I an open book or something?

January 18, 2008

A Recap of our Wedding, Almost a Year Later

I'm sorry for how long this is going to be. Look at me - the first post and I'm already apologizing. Expect more of that in the future.

Ted and I just so happened to have the perfect wedding day. And it's all gone downhill since then. Ha! I jest. I've been sorting through our pictures, trying to figure out which ones to include, and all I'm doing is getting dreamy again. For that, thank you again to our fantabulous photographer whom we loved and who has provided us with these lifelong memories.

We wed on the gorgeous, cloudless, perfectly temped and tempered morning of March 30, 2007. Our engagement was five months long and I took a quarter off from night classes to try to plan the big event. Ted's schedule and therefore availability allowed him to be at my beck and call, so he took a very active and needed role in the preparations. HUGE thanks to our parents for all their suggestions and help, and I can't stop bragging about my incredible bridesmaids who fulfilled every little detail I needed, and lots I didn't think I did. It made me wonder: why do girls ask their unmarried friends to be their bridesmaids? The married ones are the ones who have been through it all and know what needs to be done. All hail to my girlies! In deepest gratitude, I have posted your fabulously slippered and pedicured feet below. Love them shoes!

We got married at the Los Angeles Temple. The grounds were incredible, everyone was happy (hint: get married when you're a bit older - people are ECSTATIC you finally found someone....anyone), and none of the men were sweating in their suits or tuxes. Look at that sky!! Did I mention the weather that never went over 72 degrees? Ahhhhh......

This is one of our favorite photos from the day. We'd been walking along a path to get to the grounds at the front of the temple when I heard the click of a camera. Right after Sandie snapped this picture, I looked forward to see that she had just been swinging her camera down and had taken it while she was walking forward, with her camera down around her knees. I thought "No way is that one going to look good. I was probably picking one of Ted's boogers at the time." But here it is: perfection.

Some of the photos from the temple: the exit out those very cool back doors, playing around in the front, and a thinly veiled make-out. Sandie never had to tell us to kiss each other. She had to tell us to stop.

This is us enjoying the entertainment at our luncheon after all the wedding. Ted's look is typical. Hot and unbothered.

I call these our dreamy shots.

Well, dreamy and booby.

Our reception was at the LDS chapel in La Canada, CA. I went to junior high and high school there, so there was a lot of sentiment there (or "sediment" as Ted would say). It's a charming building, inside and out. Here's a picture of both families. We made quite the large bunch on the front lawn, and I'm not just talking about my Spanx-clad booty.

During our engagement and the wedding itself, I was working as a biology teacher at Renaissance Arts Academy. It's a performing arts charter school in Eagle Rock where the students have a chance to learn lots of music and dance along with their academic studies. The Monday after we got engaged, I was passing out a worksheet to one of my classes. Victoria, with an eye for bling and romance, noticed the new ring on my hand and freaked out.

The cat was out of the bag and from that day on, most of the kids in the school begged me to be invited to the wedding. Instead, I asked one of the string quartets to come perform while we were in "the line" (they were fantastic - you never would have guessed their average age was 14) and then asked a few of my most eager and hardest-working students if they'd like to come to be the waiters and waitresses. They were incredible. They were SO HAPPY to be there and I admit it was wonderful to hear them cheering for their dorky teacher. I still get compliments on how accommodating and cheerful they were. Here's the quartet (Kyle, Geena, Lucy, and Isabella):

A few months before the big day, we did the usual cake-testing (I wasn't about to miss out on THAT part of the planning) and were only pleased with one that was in our price range. Of course, there's no telling how those same cakes are going to taste after they've been decorated for a few days - this homechick has had her fair share of dry wedding cakes. So to save money and to guarantee a good-tasting cake, I made it. Chocolate raspberry with mixed berries and chocolate ganache, served with raspberry sauce. Mom's got the top tier in her freezer, just waiting for our first anniversary, which is only a couple months away. Man, I'm behind!

We had a fabulous program planned out. Jenelle, Stephanie, and Suzy sang a fabulous trio: "Wishin' and Hopin'", my family roasted the two of us with changed lyrics to Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time" (favorite line: "She has a sweet tooth - she's always been a bit uncouth.") and I surprised Ted with a song while Kelly played. My salsa-dancing friends came to show off their goods, and I got to dance with them, having rehearsed with them for weeks to surprise Ted with. This next picture was taken during the hilariousness that ensued, what with Mike giving us classic marriage advice during the musical interlude of his Harry Connick, Jr solo. Again, this is a typical picture of the two of us. My mouth is WIDE open with guffaws exiting at rates faster than Britney Spears' popularity drop, and then there's Ted - mildly amused.
After my mouth stopped hurting, the dancing got underway. LOVED it. I'll never forget all my best girlfriends on the dance floor, singing the words to Salt N Pepa's "Whatta Man". There I was bragging about my brand new husband, and what was he doing? Talking to his labby gal pals on the other side of the room. It was a grand beginning! We left on my hot friend Kerri's hot motorcyle. This is us leaving the premises:
I drove. And our marriage has been that way ever since. hehehehehehehe
Want to see more pics? Watch our slideshow

The Cooling Rack

Baked goods are only half the story...