I know that someday you'll find better things.

Friday, May 31, 2013

161 Candles


According to Google, today is Julius Richard Petri's 161st birthday. I'm uncomfortable with numbers that high when discussing birthdays. I don't know why; it just creeps me out.

Well, I made the mistake of clicking on that google tribute, and look what happened. Now I am creeped out AND grossed out. Happy freakin' birthday, JRP!

Friday, May 24, 2013


Xavier Roberts achieved fame and recognition as the inventor of the Cabbage Patch Kids doll. Xavier, Charles Francis—better known as Professor X—achieved fictional accolades by founding a school for gifted young superheroes. Xavier, which means ‘new house’ according to some baby name websites and ‘savior’ according to others, has increased in popularity over the last few decades. The name currently holds the rank of #77 according to the most recent data available on babycenter.com.
Xavier might have a hard time finding a personalized little license-plate keychain at the airport someday.

Naming a child is such a huge responsibility. Finding the balance between too common and too unusual is challenging; many parents try to bridge this divide by selecting a popular name and choosing—maybe even inventing—an unusual spelling variation so that the child can still feel somewhat unique.

Which can be tough for souvenir-buying, let me tell you, especially when your children are old enough to seek out that omnipresent giant spinning magnet display, and two of the three spot their names while the other has to settle for “#1 Disney Fan!”

Should that even matter?

The effects of naming extend far beyond merchandising to sit squarely in the lap of socialization. What’s cool, what’s lame, and what does this rhyme with? Will the initials of the child’s full name spell something potentially inappropriate? All of these seem to be fundamental factors in determining social status among students in the primary grades.

For as long as I can remember, even since my own childhood, one of my biggest pet peeves has been when people make fun of others’ names.

Like ear-size and eye-shape, the recipient of that name had no choice or voice in the decision. It arrived at birth.

While teasing shouldn’t be tolerated, it seems like joking about a bad haircut (or hair-style) is a lesser offense than making fun of a name. Hair grows. Mullets are temporary. For most of us, names are forever—a lifelong gift from parent to child, usually chosen with great love and deliberation.

My heart breaks for the cross-cultural casualties, though—especially when a name is beautiful and honorable and deeply symbolic in its home culture and borderline (or completely) taboo in another. Russ once had a student, new to the United States, whose name was Phuc. Often students from other countries will adopt ’American’ names that are structurally similar or share the same first letter with their birth names, so no one was surprised when Phuc quickly became Peter.

The real shock came when he switched back to Phuc a month later.
Turns out some of the kids were teasing him about the name Peter. Go figure.

There’s also a tender place in my heart for those whose names have strong emotion-based origins. I think I’d be overwhelmed with the responsibility to live up to the possible idealistic expectations associated with the word. Will Allegra always be happy? Will she feel that she’s disappointing her family if she allows herself to show sadness? Are Dolores and Tristan condemned to a life of sorrow? How will Hope cope with doubt?

While trying to come to terms with the notion of falling in love with the son of her father’s sworn enemy, Shakespeare’s Juliet mused that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but I don’t agree that this can be applied to all situations.

Flowers, fruit, even sports equipment, maybe. (Jock strap? They really couldn’t think of anything better?) Names of people--real people—are different. Sacred. Special.

Despite their small size, the little keychains at the airport pack a powerful affirmation:

You matter, they say.
You’re someone, they say.
You belong.
The universe planned for your arrival to this gift store on this day.

Not having one can be a pinprick to the already fragile spirit. In that moment, hearing “But this means you’re unique! Isn’t that special?” doesn’t feel special. It almost tarnishes the term ‘unique’ because now ‘unique’ feels more like

You don’t matter.
You’re nobody.
You don’t belong.
Nobody knew or cared about your arrival to this airport on this day.

None of this is said in an attempt to find fault with the names you’ve chosen or to influence the names you might someday choose. This is your right and your responsibility. Your blessing. Your curse.

My only request is that at some point, even if it means special-ordering it, you bestow that little token of cultural acceptance to the one you’ve named.

Both of the aforementioned Xaviers valued acceptance. Xavier Roberts’s Cabbage Patch dolls were each packaged with a little adoption kit and birth certificate so that the doll could officially become part of the family. Professor X promoted self-acceptance among his clan and provided them with a safe and supportive environment to learn to accept themselves and one another.

Giving the ones you love a name keychain may seem minor, materialistic, or inconsequential, but it will go a long way toward long-term acceptance.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Winging It

At the Dollar Tree (motto: “Everything’s a Dollar!”) the price may be right, but it is not necessarily a good value.

Dollar stores have gotten very sneaky through the years. Some stores, like Dollar General, distort the dollar store concept by offering items priced in even-dollar amounts. (Laundry detergent, only $4.00!)

Even at the traditional store model of this genre, many of the single-dollar priced “deals” are actually quantity manipulations.

Sure, you can get individually-portioned applesauces for school lunches there, but they are packaged in fours. At the regular grocery store, they are packaged in groups of six, usually for $1.52.

Not such a bargain now, is it? Especially if you had to make a special out of-the-way trip to the dollar store in addition to your regular grocery store visit.

Another tricky tactic I’ve noticed involves toothpaste—one dollar seems like a deal, but upon closer inspection, that tube of Crest (boring, traditional kind—no fancy whitening agents or anything) is 2.8 ounces. That means there’s a tiny little tube in an oversized box. Today at Walmart, I scored a tube of Aim brand toothpaste for 85 cents, and it was SIX full ounces!

You must be shrewd, calculating, and alert if you wish to make the most of a trip to the dollar store, and you must always make a list of exactly what you’ll need. They prey on the impulsive and weak-minded folks who are easily seduced by pseudo-savings on items such as kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies, and energy drinks.

I’m a pro at this.
Don’t worry about me.

With the tornado ravishing our neighbors to the north and more storms predicted for our own area, it seemed wise to stock up on emergency supplies—often a bona-fide dollar store value. Besides, Mia had been nagging me about needing more mouthwash, which is a whopping $4.28 at most of our usual haunts.

 A trip to the dollar store was in my forecast.

My list was concise; my goal was to be out of there in under ten minutes and ten dollars.

Unfortunately, I forgot my list in the car, so I had to wing it.

Forty-two minutes (and $42.41) later, I emerged with the following supplies:

1 package of q-tips
1 package of cotton balls
1 package of cotton “rounds” (those seemed handy)
1 tube of triple anti-biotic ointment
1 very large bottle of peroxide
1 surprisingly small bottle of rubbing alcohol
1 box of (generic) bandaids, 30 count, flexible fabric style
1 box of surgical facemasks, 10 count, one size fits all
1 bottle of saline nasal spray (Did you know that stuff can expire? I happened to notice that the mostly-unused bottle in our medicine cabinet had a date of 8/10 on it!)
2 3-packs of D batteries (We already have a huge collection of all the other sizes because we can’t seem to find a use for dollar store batteries as they are very unreliable. Oh. Whoops.)

And of course,

4 bottles of kids’ anticavity mouthwash, bubblegum flavor

When you are winging it, you must keep your options open for other emergency items that probably would have been on your list if only you’d thought of them.

Which is why I purchased these supplies, too:

3 sets of earphones (if you have kids, you know that lost earphones qualifies as an emergency of catastrophic proportions)
1 annoyingly small bottle of Lysol toilet bowl cleaner
3-pack of toothbrushes (each with its own little travel case—perfect for an emergency)
1 battery-powered toothbrush with battery
2 jump ropes, one with sparkles
1 toy paddle with a ball attached via string, Avengers-themed
2 2-packs of diving toys for the pool
1 box of snack baggies, 60-count
5 packages of nylon bejewelled butterflies, assorted colors
1 package of electronics wipers, pre-moistened for a no-residue streak-free shine
1 “windtwister” garden decoration, rainbow-colored
1 "pinwheel-style" garden decoration, multi-colored
1 car duster, convenient handle, reusable, washable
1 very large patriotic bow
1 GoJo Hands-free Adjustable Headset with BONUS headset (As seen on TV!)
1 five-piece set of teeny tiny kitchen utensils

So, would you like to guess what kind of emergency I was preparing for? Because I, too, am dying to know—I’ll need some very convincing excuses when Russ asks me about all this stuff.

If we don’t come up with something quickly, it will be abundantly clear that that I was winging it again…

Definitely emergency supplies!

No matter how desperate the emergency may seem,
I will NEVER purchase a pregnancy test at the dollar store.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Vinegar is the hardest-working condiment in the pantry, at least in our house. Maybe instead of quail, I should be focusing my post-apocalyptic preparations on vinegar—how to make it, how to store it, how to barter with it. Vinegar has become our miracle tonic. Here are just a few of the ways in which we use it.

White Vinegar
  • Cleaning the shower- spray and wipe
  • Cleaning the windows- spray and wipe
  • Cleaning the tray under the water dispenser- soak overnight
  • Washing the dishes- add to the jetdry compartment and/or place a cup of it in the top rack before running a load
  • Soothing and healing ear infections- mix a teaspoon of vinegar with teaspoon of rubbing alcohol; place a few drops into infected ear
  • Soothing and healing sunburns- use cotton-balls to apply to affected areas; you’ll smell like a salt-and-vinegar potato chip, but you will feel fantastic!

Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Removing rust from tools-soak overnight
  • Clarifying and conditioning hair- wet hair with water in shower, apply 1:1 of ACV and water mixture to hair, allow to set for three minutes, rinse, then shampoo and condition as usual. GREAT for lifting undesirably dark hair-dye.
  • Killer BBQ sauce- see recipe here

Balsamic Vinegar
  • Teriyaki steak marinade- see recipe here; the recipe calls for white vinegar, but substituting balsamic makes a big difference. Also, using brown sugar instead of white does amazing things for the flavor, too. We also add red pepper flakes for extra zest. For extra flavor, let it marinate overnight. 

Bragg ACV with ‘The Mother’
  • Soothing and healing UTIs- mix a tablespoon of this ACV with a full glass of water and chug

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


“Write about a time when something unexpected happened,” I’d told the students.

It was during the first few days of teaching eighth grade in Dallas, and I was trying to gauge the student’s skills in order to determine what concepts and skills would most urgently need attention.

I’d spent a good ten minutes going over the instructions. I thought I’d made the expectations clear, but very few students were actively writing. It annoyed me that my time was being spent patrolling behavior instead of supporting the writers.

One student was especially committed to his task, though. His page was nearly covered in writing while others nearby remained blank. He rarely completed his assignments, so this unbridled passion was very unexpected.

“Yo, Miss!” he called out. “What’s another word for ‘annoy’, ‘specially when you are starting to get mad?”

Glad you asked, Robert.

“The first word that comes to my mind is ‘irk’. That’s I-R-K. Here, let me use it in a sentence for you,” I said, happy for the impromptu vocabulary enrichment opportunity.

Plenty of students, noticing that I was otherwise engaged, were now completely off-task and socializing.

I increased my volume significantly as I created a context-rich sentence for Robert. “Does it irk you that so many people are not following directions?”

A few students snapped back to attention, but one—let’s call him Jay-Z—was out of his seat and clear across the room trying to impress the ladies.

“It is really starting to irk me that Jay-Z is flirting with Beyonce instead of working on his assignment. Perhaps he’ll need to stay after school to finish it.”

Jay-Z glared at me and sauntered back to his seat, and Robert returned to writing.

That night, I reviewed their writing samples. Mechanically, the writing was rough—‘suposeta’ and ‘useta’ were frequent fliers, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize this was ‘supposed to’ and ‘used to’.

The mini-memoirs featured situations that were definitely unexpected.

  • Moving to a new apartment a little ways down the street because of an advertised special on rent, and then finding out that it was part of a different attendance zone 
  • Discovering a cockroach infestation in the kitchen
  • Learning that a friend or relative had been killed
  • Getting beat up and having all the groceries stolen while running an errand for the grandparents
I cursed myself for having chosen this prompt. Each one was more heartbreaking than the previous.

Then I came to Robert’s.

Young Robert, it seems, had arrived a bit late to a party. When he stepped through the door, he began to scan the room in search of his best friend. What did he see? 

There was his own girlfriend, sitting on the lap of his best friend. Making out.

“So I see my girl sitting on his lap kissing him. Tongues and everything. Well, it irk me like a chicken irk a cat. So I says you can both go to hell. And then I left.”

I’d never be able to convey the sweet irony to Robert. An unexpected situation which had brought him such pain and anger had unexpectedly delivered a refreshing dose of humor right when I’d needed it most.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tornado Season

When the sky turns iridescent greenish-brown, you know, even before you hear the alarms, that a tornado is imminent. Suddenly the annoying monthly ‘First Wednesday’ siren practice and the embarrassingly poised duck-and-cover drills have taken on a new and worthy status. It’s the moment we’ve been preparing for. Get ready.

They don’t happen often, but they do occur with enough regularity to make the preparation hoopla worthwhile. I’ve seen them here with my own eyes—most memorably after an arrival at DFW airport while driving back to Denton. I watched as it moved away, seemingly-slender tornado-tail twitching and twisting like that of a peeved cat.

We’ve been very fortunate through the years.
So many communities cannot say the same.

Just last week, Granbury was pummeled by a mile-wide tornado.

Last spring, the sirens sounded at the same moment that the principal announced over the intercom that we should get into position. We’d only just practiced the procedure the previous day, so everyone knew this was not a drill. The students in my charge were visibly shaken. Over half of the 26 kids in my afternoon class were new to the district, and they hailed from faraway places. Many probably had more experience with tsunami drills and avalanche practices than tornadoes.

Tornado season was just about the only time I was ever appreciative that my classroom did not have any windows. While the sky can be a huge visual distraction and source of anxiety during intense weather, rain and hail against the metal roofs commonly seen on Texas public buildings create a ruckus during storms that can be equally agonizing, particularly if you have a powerful imagination.

Already doubly-disadvantaged, due to visual and volume distractions, classrooms with windows (and those rooms that were adjacent to those with windows) are required to move to a designated safe zone closer to the center of the building.

Can you imagine having to duck and cover on the floor in the boys’ bathroom?

For windowless rooms like mine, the protocol was as follows:

1.       While the kids are lining up in duck-and-cover position with their heads tucked and practically touching the walls, the teacher opens the door and does a quick hall-sweep to pull errant students to safety.
2.       The teacher then returns to the room and secures the area, making sure that every student is in a safe location and proper position. (Never allow anyone to duck and cover beneath a desk, a table, or anything else that could collapse and/or crush someone!)
3.      Everyone maintains the position and waits until we receive specific orders to stand down. (Or, until we get blown away, I guess. Until now, I'd never allowed myself to consider that possibility.)

My students were hunched and snuggled against each other so tightly that they reminded me of newborn puppies at their mother’s side.
One of my students—Noelle, an avid worrier, like myself—had just returned to school from an extended medical absence. She’d undergone a ten-hour back surgery and wore a brace daily. Everyone was under strict orders to give her enough space so that she’d never be jostled.

Noelle definitely couldn’t join the litter of wriggling pups. We quickly discovered that she couldn’t duck and cover very easily either, due to the brace.

She was petrified.

The sirens continued wailing in the distance. This was the longest they’d ever been on continuously, or at least it felt that way.

I helped her ease down to a modified duck-and-cover against a separate wall from the others, and I promised her that no matter what happened, I would protect her.

I meant it. If a twister tried to blast through this classroom, I’d have fought to keep those kids safe with every fiber of my being.

When you are in this situation, you must only think about the kids in front of you. You must dedicate every thought and prepare every reflex for saving their lives. You must trust with your whole heart that your own children’s teachers are doing the exact same thing at that moment.

I did not think about Amanda at the high school all the way across town.
I did not think about Hannah at the middle school two miles away.
Or about Caleb, at the elementary school next to Hannah’s school.
I tried to push away thoughts of Mia at the preschool/daycare center a block from my school.

That last one was the hardest one to not think about, though, because the classrooms and corridors in the preschool are made entirely of glass. Where would they go, and how would they get all those toddlers to duck and cover and not freak out? And the babies’ nurseries—how would they get all those little babies—at least 30, some as young as six weeks—to a safe place quickly?

Suddenly, the sirens stopped.

There was a ripple of movement as the kids repositioned, tentatively stretching legs straight out behind themselves and re-tucking, flexing shoulder-blades, turning their heads to make eye contact with one another as we waited for the all-clear announcement to arrive over the intercom.

Within minutes, the kids were back in their seats, and we tried to resume the lesson.

The sirens returned, then the announcement.
Back to the wall.

“Bring your novels,” I advised. Who knows how long this’ll continue, I thought.

This time when the sirens suspended and the announcement granted reprieve, the kids sat up and tried to read. Nobody bothered to return to their usual seats—I guess we all sensed it wasn’t over.  A few complained of dizziness—no doubt a head-rush side-effect of maintaining the position, so I offered to read aloud to them from the book we’d been reading as a class.

Twice we were interrupted by office aides—one to notify us that one of the students was being dismissed, and one trying to locate another student for another early dismissal. The second kid must have gotten caught up in the hall sweeps. Certainly she was safe, it was just a matter of finding her. All systems have their flaws, and our emergency plan prioritized safety above everything else.

Twenty minutes remained until the school day would conclude. A different voice entered the room through the intercom.

“We have a list of students who are being dismissed. Please listen for your name.”

“Or something that sounds a bit like your name,” I chimed in. The cultural diversity at our campus was astounding, which meant that the name-pronunciation was challenging.

And then the sirens started screaming again.

Dismissals meant parents and possibly younger siblings were in the front office, and cars were presumably parked in the bus loading lane in front of the school.

I hoped no siblings were waiting in those cars.

It was understandable that the parents wanted their children released to their own protection, but the safest place for everyone in that moment was inside in a designated area, ducking and covering. The classroom was far more secure than the family smartcar.

What a mess.

The sirens ceased, but there was no announcement. We were shrouded in a blanket of eerie silence, compounded by the lack of background noise. The power had briefly blinked off earlier, so the usual hum from the computers was temporarily absent. This wasn’t a big deal, but I did find the lack of communication a bit unnerving. With the day’s end so close, it almost wasn’t worth powering up my computer, anyway.

Because I was blessed with an adult assistant that day, I knew my students would be safe and supervised, so I made the decision to venture out and check on my colleagues and their students in case they needed anything.

The intercom communication resumed, and names were being read and maybe botched for what seemed like an eternity.

I’d checked in with four nearby classrooms when the sirens returned.

As I hurried back to my own classroom, I glanced out the hallway windows and saw that the sky was black. Not the usual tornadoey electric greenish-brown. Black like midnight.

What did that mean?
Was the tornado close?
Was the end near?

We were now ducking-and-covering past the official end of the school day, and the kids were becoming panicky. My assistant crawled over to where I was crouching protectively over fragile Noelle and whispered that while I’d been gone, she’d spoken to the kids about home safety since upon dismissal many would be arriving to empty houses until parents returned from work later that evening.

Wasn’t that smart of her? I don’t think that would have ever occurred to me.

“There’s a problem, though,” she continued, whispering even more quietly, “it might not be a big deal, but I thought I should tell you. When I explained to them about choosing a small, safe place on the first floor, George said his house didn’t have a first floor—it only had a second floor.”

Sweet George, new to the school district, had arrived with more baggage than most—profound learning disabilities and medical issues involving a seizure disorder. His father worked out of state, and his terminally ill mother had passed away less than two weeks earlier.

I was so glad she’d told me. If this was George’s current mindset, this was certainly a big deal.

My assistant took over my protective post of Noelle, and I crawled over to the wall and parked myself next to George in the puppy-line.

“I think we need to call my dad,” he said immediately. He was trembling; I hoped it was from fear and not from the start of a seizure.

“Well, you’re right, we might need to,” I said. I hoped we wouldn’t need to, though. It seemed particularly cruel to worry an already-grieving father who was eight hours away with news of a storm that could potentially kill us all or skip over us completely.

My voice wasn’t as confident as it had been earlier, and I hoped George didn’t notice. “Who’s taking care of you at home right now?”

“My relatives. They came for the funeral, and they’re staying with us for a while.”
“Maybe we could call them,” I suggested.
“We can’t. I don’t know their phone numbers. They don’t speak English, anyway. I’m so worried about them—they probably don’t understand what’s happening right now. The sirens…” He trailed off for a moment, then composed himself, “They’ve never had this kind of weather before, either. They won’t know what to do.”

The principal’s voice thundered across the intercom system granting us permission to move about in the classrooms. The school buses would be delayed until the storms had definitely passed, but everyone else could be released to parental custody. Students scrambled to power up cell phones and make contact with their parents. A line formed to use the phone at my desk.

“I’m usually a walker, can’t I just go home with my best friend and his mom?” asked one boy.
“Absolutely not,” I told him. Heck no! I thought.

His mom was an elementary teacher at a nearby school, and I knew she had her hands full with her own students. She needed to be able to count on me keeping her son here and safe.

George tugged my sleeve. “I think we need to call my dad. My relatives will worry if I’m not home by 3:45.”

More names were being rattled off over the intercom. I glanced at my watch. It was 3:40.

I knew what I had to do.
I knew I would probably get in trouble, maybe fired, but I didn’t care.

“Do you know how to get home?” I asked George.

I turned to my assistant.

“Do you feel comfortable supervising the students for a while?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said, and she placed her umbrella in my hands. Because she was amazing and intuitive and magnificent about anticipating things, she already knew what I was going to do. “Be safe,” she whispered.

To her, I gave my thanks and promised to be back soon.
To George, I gave directions to gather his things. We’d head out the side exit.

“But the front is closer to my house,” he said.

I explained that even though I knew what we were about to do was the right thing, I wasn’t sure my bosses would agree. We needed to be subtle and fast.

The sky was still inky dark, and the umbrella created a reasonable disguise, hiding our faces as we navigated across the school yard and through the mess of cars arriving to pick up other students.

George was probably mortified when I held on to his elbow as we crossed the street. Can’t turn those mom-reflexes off. He was lucky I didn’t grab his hand.

Every ten feet or so, he’d say, “Okay, we’re pretty close. I can go alone from here.”
“Sorry, kid. I need to see you safely inside your house. I need to make sure the relatives are there and that everybody is okay.”

Moments later, we stood before a lovely brick one-story home, and I rehearsed the safety procedures for the evening with him.

“What will you do if you hear the sirens?”
“Get all the pillows in the house and take them and the relatives to my dad’s bedroom closet.”
“Good.” I knew they’d be okay.

He ran up the walkway to the house. The relatives flung open the door and flung their arms around him. He turned and we exchanged thumbs-up signs.

Right then, the sky opened up and I raced back to the school.

Everything from that point on is a foggier memory, maybe because the adrenaline rush had worn off.  At some point we were allowed to leave school for the evening, and Russ and I went off to gather up our own children.

Memories from the rest of that evening are fragmented, twisted, and partial…

All four kids, sharing their feelings and fears about the afternoon’s events.

Hannah, telling us about her frustration of watching several friends be dismissed to the custody of her best friend’s parent, how at first she felt so left out, but how she later realized that she’d much rather be in the safety of the school and the supervision of her teachers than home alone, worrying and wondering.

Russ, confirming that we would have been livid had she been dismissed to the friend’s parent, explaining how desperately we depend on them being where they need to be in order for us to focus on the kids in front of us.

Mia, explaining about the “mat sandwiches” that the teachers made to protect the kids—padded layers above and below them--as they waited in the cafeteria, while the babies cried and the teachers rocked them.

Praising the kids for following directions at their respective campuses.

Downplaying the threat in an attempt to soothe lingering worries.

Deliberately ignoring the television. Avoiding turning it on, even, in an effort to move past the drama.

Attempting to make the evening as normal as any other.

Tipping our hand to the emotional exhaustion by making frozen pizza for dinner (“But it’s not even Friday!” the kids had protested.)

Leading them out to the backyard to see the evening sky as it gradually brightened, pinky-golden dawn-at-dusk, to prove that the danger had passed.

Supervising homework, reading stories, compelling bedtime routines as scheduled, still without ever turning on the television to see the local news.

Hugging them extra-tight before tucking them in.

Realizing that we each had at least ten messages stacked up on our phones from friends and loved ones asking if we’d survived.

Wondering—somewhat guiltily—for the first time that night, if the twisters had struck someone somewhere nearby.

Tuning in to the ten o’clock report of nearby devastation with that almost-shameful feeling of relief.

Whispering to one another, “That could have been us. We are so blessed, again.”

Sleeping fitfully, reliving the day’s events throughout the night.


The following morning, we arrived at school. It was business as usual as we all moved forward with our day. The faculty received an email mid-morning from the principal, praising the staff for the previous day’s performance and thanking everyone for their help during the crisis.

A few he thanked specifically, sharing personal anecdotal examples of the responsibility the teachers had shown. He even mentioned me—how I’d braved the weather to ensure a student arrived home safely.

Chagrin spread through my soul—I’d been so certain that I’d avoided witness, so convinced that I’d be reprimanded.

The principal acknowledged that there were some procedural things we’d need to revise and that there were opportunities to improve based on the experience. Everyone read the message and carried about like any other day.

This is how it would continue, until next time.

There’ll always be a next time.

I’ve had this story moving in my mind for over a year now, but I was reluctant to record it because I didn’t want it to be scrutinized or cause de-facto consequences to resurface. It was a good story, an important story, and one that needed to be told. Not because I’d been heroic (I hadn’t) but because this is part of our everyday lives.  People here must be ready to take action when the moment arises. The same protective actions I’d taken were happening in all the other classrooms of my school, and all the other schools in our community.

I wasn’t uniquely brave, either. Nobody is afraid during those moments. Even if you spend most of your life fearing far less destructive things, like rollercoasters and germs, fear is not an option during intense weather. Your energy and your thoughts are consumed with protecting the ones in your care.

Schools, daycares, hospitals—maybe even prisons—depend on the courage and responsibility of the employees. All of these community helpers have stories of their experiences in these kinds of situations.

With regard to this day’s events, although my perspective is limited to my own role, my belief is that we all did the best we could, which is all that can be asked or expected in an emergency situation.

Tornado season is an acceptable risk for everyone who has chosen to make homes here. The landscape and weather can be hostile, but the people are reliably strong, courageous, and compassionate. This reward in the humanity is worth the risk. Texas attracts survivors—it was founded by survivors—and the spirit of survival is in our land and our blood.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

SOOS Strategies for Saving $$$

Cindy once told me about an amazing strategy to save money. It was called the SOOS method, and it was VERY effective.


“Stay Out Of Stores!” she’d said.

It’s a valid concept. How often have you ventured out to the store to get milk, only to return home with party plates, Magic Mesh (the amazing screen door, as seen on TV) and a pet hermit crab

And maybe the milk, maybe not.

In our house, there are three things we go through more than anything else.
1.       Laundry soap
2.       Hand soap
3.       Chicken broth

Trips to the store for these three things used to result in the purchase of emergency supplies for non-emergency situations and infomercial gadgets that never worked as well as they said they would.

After a few simple adjustments, we were able to embrace the SOOS method. Guess what? It really does work!

Here are three of our favorite solutions.

Laundry Soap

This detergent recipe has kept our family of six (that’s 10+ loads per week) laundered for ten months at a stretch, sometimes even longer. All for less than one Andrew Jackson!

The basic recipe involves combining these items:

  • 1 box Borax (4 lb 12 oz /2.15 kg/76 oz)
  • 1 box Arm & Hammer Baking Soda (4 lb/1.81 kg)
  • 1 box Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (3 lb 7 oz/55oz)
  • 3 bars of Fels-Naptha soap (which you shred using a cheese grater)
  • 2 small containers of Oxy Clean (around 3.5 lbs total)

***The Oxy Clean is usually the most expensive ingredient, but if you get it at the dollar store, you can reduce your total cost for the recipe to around $12.

***If you like a strong fresh scent for your laundry, you can throw in a canister of those Downy Unstopables beads. I think Gain makes a similar product.

Rumors indicated that the Fels-Naptha soap could be quickly and easily shredded in the food processor, but this did not work well for us. In fact, we almost broke both of our food processors in our attempt, so we’re content to use the traditional cheese grater method.

Line a large bucket with a plastic garbage bag and pour in all the ingredients. Remember to close your eyes and hold your breath, because there will be a big cloud of powder initially!

Stir the ingredients with a large spoon or yardstick, and then transfer the mixture to a large storage container with a lid. (A plastic Utz pretzel container is the perfect size!)

An old coffee scooper provides the perfect portion of soap for a large load of laundry.

The website where we first discovered the recipe has a more detailed tutorial about the process. They also offer a recipe for dishwasher detergent. After our initial success with the laundry soap, we were eager to try the dishwasher soap one. What a mess! It has taken a lot of tweaking to make it work, and I’m not sure our silverware will ever be shiny again. Recently, we realized that we’ve been using the same batch of it for over a year, so it has definitely saved lots of money. Despite the savings, I’m not sure I’d recommend the dishwasher detergent. Your mileage may vary.

Hand Soap

Hand soap is my favorite gift for teachers. It’s calorie-free, clutter-free, and promotes health. Around the holidays, Bath and Body works offers promotions on their yummy-scented liquid hand soaps. When they go on sale ‘Five for $15’ I stock up. Sometimes they even offer a coupon for $5 off purchases of $15 or more.

During the holidays, the store even provides customers with perfectly-sized cellophane bags, cute tags, and decorative ribbons.

One year I over-bought. This turned out to be a happy accident, because B&B’s foaming-style pumps are a much better fit for our family’s needs than the traditional Softsoap style. When using the traditional liquid soap pumps, the kids would always use too much. The water would run forever as they’d try to rinse it off. The foamy style is more efficient and effective.

We’ve discovered an easy way to make our own refill mix of foamy hand soap, and those pumps have been going strong for years.

Here is what you’ll need:

  • Foamy-style pump containers
  • Traditional liquid hand soap
  • Hot water

Before you get started, you might want to spend a few minutes washing the exterior of the containers and the pump apparatus, especially if you’ve been reusing the same bottles for a while. Ours tend to get pretty grubby.

Combine the hot water and liquid hand soap in a ratio of 1:1 and gently stir the mixture. (Eventually, you can play around a bit with this ratio—sometimes I do 2:1 or even 3:1, and nobody seems to notice a difference.)

It is easier if you add the soap to the hot water. Doing it in the opposite order will result in lots of bubbles, and you’ll need to wait a long time for them to go away.

Fill the containers about 70% of the way, so that you are leaving plenty of space for the pump.

Cap them up and deliver them to their locations.

(I usually refill ours every 6-8 weeks.)


Chicken Broth

This is by far my favorite money saving strategy, because it maximizes resources and minimizes waste by recycling food.

When we have rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, or any kind of chicken involving bones, we bag the corpse in a ziplock and toss it in the freezer.

Same thing for produce odds and ends—the leafy part and the stump of the celery stalk, the woody part of the asparagus, the ends and peels of onions, any carrots and parsley that have been hanging out in the refrigerator drawer too long and are on their way out. Bag it all and toss it in the freezer.

When you’ve amassed at least two bags of chicken bones and enough produce to fill your slow-cooker, toss it all in, throw in a few tablespoons of minced garlic, a couple of bay leaves, some kosher salt, and 10-12 whole peppercorns.

Fill the slow-cooker to the brim with water and turn on high for a few hours.

Then, reduce the heat to low and ignore it for another 12 hours.

Test the flavor and “strength” of the broth. If it’s not strong enough for your preference, let it steep on low for another 6-12 hours.

Strain it, chill it, skim it, and pour it into quart-size bags. (Label them first with the contents and date!) 

Put the bags on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. After about a day, they are frozen-solid and can be rearranged in the freezer in a more convenient way.

Thaw as needed for recipes.

The steps listed above make this look much more labor intensive than it really is—the total hands on prep time is less than 5 minutes. Then there’s a solid day of just ignoring it, and eventually the bagging process which takes about 20 minutes. The joy you feel in your heart from this “recycling” makes the effort totally worth it!

Savings in Summation

Although I don't know precisely how much money we've saved while implementing these three strategies, using them has definitely kept me out of the stores. Many thanks to Cindy and the SOOS method!