School is Good

buried in books and rambling about it


Sitting at the computer, there is a wall of books, double deep, to my right. Over my left shoulder, across the room, there is another small bookshelf spilling the baby books out. In my bedroom, we have a bookshelf stacked tight with hardbacks and paperbacks, then the dressers that serves as my nightstand has several book towers teetering precariously on top. In Gabbi’s room, there are more spilling baby books from her book shelf, and Dominic’s room has a bookshelf jam-packed.

Then there’s the guest room, where we need to purchase a bookshelf for the filing boxes, stacked three high, with books. And in the living room, that bookshelf is crammed with a mix of piano music, Shakespeare, and cookbooks.

We have books.

Just a few.

And yet, I wonder if I manage to read a full 15 minutes from any of these books to my kids each day.

That’s the recommendation, since birth, coming from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Did you know that? They specifically outline reading 15 minutes, aloud, every day, to your child starting at birth.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot ever since Nathan and I went to dinner a few weeks back with my Dad and some of his friends. One of them happened to be the former superintendent from the Salt Lake school district. It was fascinating to hear him talk about his work and emphasis (as an education consultant now) on early childhood education.

The feeling in this country seems to be that our school system is sub-par.

We don’t seem to compare with other first-world nations.

But the problem isn’t in the schools, he argued. Once the kids get to school, they’re already so far behind, they’ll never catch up. The intervention needs to be in the home, from birth. So much development happens in their little brains before they show up for their first day of kindergarten, or even preschool.

So I’ve been thinking about this, and have developed a bias to finding stories about this as I peruse the interwebs.

One in particular stated the troubling statistic that only 34% of parents hit the mark of reading aloud to their kids each day for 15 minutes.

I also think back on a book I read when Dom was first born: Brain Rules for Baby. It focused on providing some of the following for your child: healthy pregnancy, have a support group, work on your marriage, describe everything you see and do, put options in the playroom (drawing, music, costumes, blocks, books, gears, etc), not hyper-parenting, watching your own behavior, encourage hard work, limit electronics, etc.

I think of the kids at Nathan’s school that might be struggling and I’ve heard stories about parents in jail, homeless parents, working-multiple-jobs parents, parents without any English language skills, grandparents stepping in, grandparents attempting to step in, and so on. These kids aren’t being read to. Nobody’s setting them up with a playroom. Their parents aren’t congratulating them when they work hard at their homework.

I don’t worry about my two kids and whether I’m hitting that 15 minute mark on the head, because I do read to them every day, in varying amounts of time, and they are surrounded by books so that has to mean something.

As I read Gabbi’s bedtime story with her tonight, she pointed at the paintings of the animals on the pages and jabbered on with some noises. When I’ve been reading stories with Dom lately, he’s been asking me to teach him the words, too, so we read each page slowly and he repeats the words back to me.

One of the amazing things to me about reading with my kids is that it gives me the ability to experience their language development every day. It’s incredible to me. And I am never left without gratitude for two little children that learn and grow and experience this world with attitudes full of hope. They don’t worry about presidential elections, terrorist groups, paying bills, or if there’s acne on their jawline. Every day is new and fascinating. When we read the same book together over and over and over, day after day, it’s still the best to them.

I appreciated my teachers in sketches

Happy teacher appreciation day. For blog posts about this, I would suspect the common theme would be similar to the tweet that Obama posted, thanking his 5th grade teacher.

I had some pretty amazing teachers and I could rattle off a list of them with stories about how they impacted me. Could you? Could you rattle off the teachers that impacted MY life and the stories about WHY? Just wondering how well you really know me, internet.

high-school-teacher-sketchesInstead, I am going to share this doodle with you. Well, several doodles, really. I doodled them my senior year of high school, in one of my journals. I doodled them in pencil so they don’t scan well, but I took this little tool called Photoshop and adjusted the contrast so that you could see these teachers of mine a little better. Okay, so here’s the question for you. If you went to high school with me, can you tell who these teachers are? Clearly, my tiny caricatures are chock full of details. Chock. Full.

Do you want to know something that no teacher EVER taught me, in ALL OF MY LIFE?

The word, chock.

Seriously: what does that word mean?!


Here’s a chock for you. I drew it very quickly. With a pen. Not a pencil, like in high school. I’m a sophisticated doodler now, drawing with permanence. I live on the edge!



Back to school night

Dom and I knew that we would be on our own for dinner tonight because Dada (a.k.a. Chef Guapo) had Back to School Night. I may have forgotten how to cook in the 3+ years since getting married. I may have forgotten whether or not I DID cook when I was single. Snickers for dinner was once passable.

I did my best to procrastinate figuring out dinner for us tonight by taking Dom to Back to School Night.

When we got to the school, we followed the crowd of parents to the printed lists on the wall, posting teachers and their students. We looked for his name, but apparently, he wasn’t assigned to any grades. We wandered around to see if any of the teachers could possible take him, or even wanted to. We found two: the librarian and the science teacher. Dom won’t have home room, I guess.

Dom found the library on his own, practically ran through the door with a big smile on his face announcing, “Library!”

He tried out most of the beanbag chairs and carried a book of “peeeple” around with him.

Eventually, I distracted him away from books and we sauntered down the hall to one of the last classrooms, assigned to a science teacher, Ms. Baldree. He ran into this room as well, which surprised me.


I came around the corner and saw that he had found Dada in there. Big hugs all around. Dada then had to do some principal duties.

Ms. Baldree set Dom up with some coloring and he was quite happy for hours. Well, “toddler hours”. It was excellent and then I had a chance to catch up with the teacher because she and I are friends from years back.

It was a good evening. Dom saw his Dada at work and then we hit up some dinner at Paradise Bakery because I ran out of time to cook him something before bedtime.

The BYU testing center

Nathan has been a student at BYU for a year now. The other night, I mentioned the “MOA café”.

“Moa?” he asked.

His BYU and my BYU are different.

This was my BYU:

  1. I lived in dorms on campus as a freshman.
  2. I walked or bussed to campus from nearby apartments the other years.
  3. I met friends at places to eat around campus: MOA café, the Tanner Building paninis, etc.
  4. I was single.
  5. I attended BYU wards, on campus.
  6. I had classes strewn throughout buildings: running from the JKHB to the JSB.
  7. We still had the Smith Family Living Center, SFLC, which people pronounced syphilis.
  8. I didn’t really use campus parking.
  9. I used campus facilities: library, organ practice rooms, language lab, computer labs, printers, library, intramural sports, the gym, library, and the library.
  10. I used the testing center.

This is Nathan’s BYU:

  1. He still lives in Salt Lake.
  2. He drives his car down for a full day of classes once a week.
  3. He might grab lunch in the Wilk, but hasn’t heard of or been to the MOA café.
  4. He is married and has a kid.
  5. He attends our family ward back in Salt Lake where at least he’s not in the bishopric anymore. (Shh, don’t tell people.)
  6. All of his classes are in one building, and even the same room. All. Day. Long.
  7. They tore down the SFLC and built a fancy new humanities building.
  8. He uses campus parking, but it’s for GRADUATE STUDENTS.
  9. He has not used any other campus facilities, really.
  10. And he has not even HEARD of the testing center.

Which gets me to the thoughts of my blog today: the BYU Testing Center.

Wikipedia told me that it’s the largest college testing center. Ever. (Or in the nation, but ever sounds better.) It was the BYU library, once upon a time, and now its purpose is taking tests. Even when I was there, they had a webcam you could check on to get an idea of how long the wait is. It was like checking the wait times for a ride at Disneyland.

Except you weren’t getting on Splash Mountain.

You were going to spew out memorized Shakespeare, Church history, biological anatomy of a bee, or an essay on feminist literary theory.

A few interesting things about this amazing testing center:

  • You can pay a late fee, if the professor allows it
  • If you forget to bring a pencil, you can buy one at the entrance
  • They had razors there for boys that forgot to shave that day
  • When I first started using it, you waited for a ticket or receipt to print out with your test score at the exit
  • That was replaced with a TV displaying an electronic feed of test scores by student ID at the exit (ooo, technology)
  • During finals, the testing center also set up “satellite” centers in the JSB, Wilk, etc
  • And yet, during finals, the lines were insane
  • I am not being extreme when I say insane
  • See this (poorly made) YouTube video as proof
  • I never used the upstairs room where they played quiet music out of wall-mounted speakers
  • I often saved my study time for standing in line
  • I always wished I’d brought a camping chair with me for the long line
  • Eventually I just took all of my tests after 8:00 pm when the line was usually shorter

Wikipedia also told me that they have 650 desks in the large, main testing room. I wonder how many hours I spent in that room throughout my BYU life. Harry Potter should have had a testing center at Hogwarts. A magic testing center.

And for a third YouTube video link, here’s Divine Comedy’s testing center sketch.

Confession: I Never Learned to Speed Read

I’ve purchased books on “how to speed read” before, but never got around to reading them. I found that, well, humorous.

I felt like it was a skill I should probably learn in order to survive as an English major. Somehow, I survived without it. I read most of the books I was assigned to read in classes. I drank a lot of caffeine to succeed.

Well, in case you were wondering, Staples has this test to see how fast you read. I’m sure it’s incredibly accurate, being that it’s Staples’s test and all. I did it twice and got almost the same score both times. Turns out, I don’t read fairly fast, and it’s definitely not speed reading:

You read 464 words per minute.
That makes you 86% faster than the national average.

Here’s a link to take it yourself. Then tell me: how did you do?

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

Uintah, You Make My Heart Sing

If you haven’t heard (it’s been ALL over the news), my old Alma Mater made a boo boo by taking away kids’ food at lunch because they didn’t have money in their accounts. Here’s one of the many news sites with a story about it: Lunches seized from kids in debt at Salt Lake City elementary.

It has been so interesting to me to listen to this unfold through coworker conversations, social media comments, and conversations with my family. I thought I would share a few of these tidbits because it will be interesting to me to look back on one day and remember the hullabaloo.

  1. Through the powers of Facebook, I read comments posted by my once-upon-a-time 6th grade substitute teacher, Mrs. Reese, who works at Uintah. She simply stated that this has been blown way out of proportion and has created a mess. Good job news and public: take the focus off of letting the students focus on learning.
  2. A comment by some random person I don’t know that I actually liked: “…this is a tempest in a teapot.”
  3. As I read comments on these stories posted on national news sites, I was kind of disgusted by people. They have a strong opinion on a situation that was vaguely reported in the news.
  4. It surprises me that of all of the news reports, there is only one mom that has been quoted in all of this. It seems, she is the only one outraged.
  5. I’m saddened that this takes away the focus from the kids’ being in the classroom and learning. The more I hear, the more I find that this is an ongoing problem for years and many kids have been in similar situations where their lunches are taken away.
  6. What is it about this time that makes it national news?
  7. It’s interesting that people often think these are “needy” kids instead of coming from one of the most privileged elementary schools in Salt Lake. Somehow, that was left off of the story.
  8. I hope that some nice lunch lady doesn’t lose her job over this because the media went nuts over people trying to figure out how to follow some state or district level policies. Nathan assures me that this isn’t likely.
  9. I don’t want kids to feel embarrassed because of their parents’ actions, so that is certainly unfortunate.
  10. Remember to pay your bills.

I’ve learned a bunch more about what went on “behind-the-scenes” and wasn’t included in the news report, but chose not to go on and on about those details. Did you read about this in the news? What did you think? Was your initial reaction like mine (outraged) and then you learned more and thought, what a difficult situation for all involved?

Teacher Appreciation Week

Did you appreciate teachers this week? Did you know that was this week? Here are a few of my favorite teachers:

  1. Mrs. Adams, my first grade teacher: she taught me to write my name in Chinese characters and we went to a typing class once a week. That’s right. Typing. In first grade. On typewriters. My goal was 20 wpm by the end of the school year.
  2. Mrs. Gibbs, third grade: she let me eat snacks out of her snack drawer one day when I got sick at school and had to wait for Grumma Campbell to come and pick me on. She also let me do the seating chart for the entire class with my friend, Ally Baldwin. On the flip side, I think she may have been my brother, Jarv’s most disliked teacher.
  3. Mrs. Lake, my English teacher in 9th and 11th grade: I always said that I hated English and loved Math, but I secretly enjoyed English when Mrs. Lake taught. In 9th grade, she opened my eyes to better ways to keep track of all of the characters in the multiple novels I usually read. In 11th grade, I finally learned to clean up my writing when my use of adverbs and the passive voice made things drag.
  4. Angie, my 10th grade and 12th grade math teacher and my basketball coach: she had the biggest impact on my high school “career”, even though in AP Calculus, she gave me an F at midterm. I’m sure her goal was exactly what happened: get me to come in for a conference with her (just me, not my parents because I didn’t tell them I had an F) and make a plan for the rest of the year. I never missed that class after that and even passed the AP test with flying colors. Oh yeah, and she gave me an A for my final grade. I called her up when I was in college and had declared myself an English major. She tried to talk me into being a Math major. I knew I couldn’t be a teacher like her so I didn’t want to even try to go that route.
  5. Louise Plummer, my college counselor: I showed up in her office at BYU on academic probation and she had me laughing by the end of the visit. We would meet once a week, on Thursdays, and I felt like I could be a successful human being again. Somehow, I had gotten confused and believed that I couldn’t even graduate from college. When I did graduate, I stopped into her office to let her know and her simple response: “Of course. I knew you would.” She helped me get into my Master’s program by writing a letter of recommendation. She writes great books, too.
  6. Mr. Elkins, my husband: he is the best husband around, despite what you might think about who you’re married to. For one thing, he puts up with me. All of the time. He cooks amazing food. He’s handsome and kind. His writing is superb. He makes me laugh. He’s intelligent and classy. His testimony is real and sincere. I know that the kids in his 8th grade English classes have learned to love things like poetry, because of his love for it and commitment as an awesome teacher. I could go on and on and on about how amazing he is, but I won’t make you too jealous about how amazing my spouse is.

Who were some of your favorite teachers? Did you tell them thank you?

In Love With Fall

I know. It’s not Fall yet. We’re still hanging on to the summer warmth, which I notice when I climb into my car at the end of a work day and can’t put my arm down to rest on the middle console because the black material (it’s not leather, it’s not fabric, I don’t know what synthetic makeup it is) will melt the skin off of my forearms. Ouch.

But in the mornings, it’s cold. And when I climb into my car to drive to work, I turn on the heater.

Heater in the morning; A/C in the evenings.

The cool evenings are hinting at something I LOVE: Autumn.

And I’m in an amazing mood.

There are so many reasons, but let’s simply focus on the anticipation of autumn.

When I was a kid, I never understood quite why I loved autumn so much. I mean, I could easily list off the things that made it such a delicious season, but then there was that one big thing that also came at the same time of year: school started. And so as I kid, I was confused with MYSELF that I was so excited for the season and yet so dreaded the new school year.

I never counted down with excitement for the first day of school. School meant there was less time for running around outside, reading novels in the tree, and having to go to bed earlier. Going to bed: the worst.

And yet, I still loved the autumn. The smell; the leaves changing; my birthday; Halloween; wearing hoodies again.


This is just to say to you, blog, that I’m excited about autumn.

How to Survive College

My sense of humor has changed as I’ve grown older. I suppose you can chalk it up to maturity, if you believe that I’ve grown more mature. The following journal entry, I thought was hilarious when I wrote it, as a freshman surviving BYU and living in an apartment with 6 girls and ONE BATHROOM. Also, remember that we were living in Provo and attending a no-drinking, no partying type of school where fraternities and sororities did not exist. Not exactly your typical college experience.

December 9, 1999

How to survive as a freshman college woman:

  • Have pimple popping parties
  • Don’t give up when the first five pizza places are closed
  • Study through osmosis
  • Keep a steady flow of Martinelli’s on hand
  • Read the text in line for the test
  • Hold ice cream pow wows with extra chocolate and caramel sauce
  • Email your roommates before you use the bathroom so they’ll know*
  • Create yourself a superhero alias**
  • Feed the ducks
  • Run up and down the bell tower stairs at night
  • Write backwards on the outside of neighbors’ windows with a white board marker***
  • Make sure everyone understands that a giraffe says ‘rawr’
  • Change your voicemail message weekly
  • Make documentaries of yourself (preferably dancing like water)
  • Visit Taco Bell with frequency after the guys have been kicked out
  • Spy on boys; get spied on by boys****

*Do you realize it was 1999? We thought it was cool that you could rent a computer from the school for a semester and have it in your bedroom. Sweet!

**Example aliases: Teqwita, Goddess of the Trees; Matrimonial Blizzard; Snow Princess

***This also required sitting on your roommate’s shoulders to reach the window

****I don’t even remember this, but it’s in my journal so it obviously happened

Quoting Larrie the High School Kid

I felt like collecting a hodgepodge of “goodness” from the pages of my high school journal. Have you ever done that? See, I have this thing where I really like lists. I make them in paragraphs, in bulleted formats and in my head when I should be sleeping. So this is a fun list because it’s random quotes from me my senior year of high school. Enjoy!

All we ever want is someone to say, “I love you.”

I am from a warm home where the backdoor never finds itself locked.

I am myopic.

I am waiting for lunch. My tummy has been growling ever since second period started.

Too many times, my sister and I had to struggle with too-thick tights, faded pink leotards and toe-crushing slippers before climbing with reluctance into the car headed for ballet.

Trapped within a playground, forced to learn, we must set something free, so we borrow oranges.

A clock downstairs bongs; I lay exhausted in bed, waiting for lost sleep.

Take two pills each week: anti-senioritis vitamins plus.

She pulled out a knife, began cutting, and the singers collapsed on the cake.

A short story is like a pinball game. It’s gotta have all the crap in the middle.

Take your character, stick ‘em in a tree, throw rocks at ‘em and then get ‘em down.

I grew a few inches Friday night dancing with Lance.

“How long until your baby’s due?” they asked my full stomach.

It popped three times when my ankle found that hole.

Winning isn’t everything, but it can be.

Exciting underwear can cheer up any day.

Although the stranger, snow, had intruded upon the season, she knew it was spring when she caught herself fantasizing romances.

Standing a foot away, looking like a turtle climbed out of his shell, Jeff turned his head slight degrees lost in confusing thoughts.

I write with the hope of a beauty blossoming from the bulbs and seeds I plant in my college-ruled soil.

I write, because this, too, will pass.