Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Story #21 Trying to get home or There's been a problem...

I may have reached my fortieth birthday, but I haven't reached my fortieth story...on we go!

The summer before my junior year in high school I went to Greece as an exchange student. While there are a few interesting stories from that experience I want to start with the ending...trying to get home.

A few months before my departure the Athens airport was briefly overrun by terrorists and therefore, no one was eager for 20 some high school students to fly directly to Athens. (Although, what are the chances that would happen again so quickly? In fact, I don't think it has happened since.) So, we flew into and out of Yugoslavia. It was a 24 hour bus ride, a lot of which took place in communist country - so there were no rest stops, convenience stores or places to get out and stretch. On the way to Athens we all needed to stop and have a bathroom break. We finally found a small cafe, along the desolate highway. The owner of the cafe said we could use the bathroom if one of the girls gave him her gold watch. She reluctantly agreed. Getting toilet paper took a necklace. It was worth one square per person. ONE SQUARE! Anyway...this is supposed to be about the way back....

We had a similar ride back to Yugoslavia, but this time our bathroom breaks consisted of squatting on the shrub free roadside. After a mostly event free evening (someone tried to buy one of the blond girls from our guide - see why it's better to be a brunette?) we flew back to New York City.

Upon our arrival to the Kennedy Airport we were met by the local student exchange representative who distributed our previously purchased return home tickets. She came to me last..."Are you Michelle Olivier?" "Yes." "Well, there's been a problem with your ticket. It appears that the airlines you purchased your ticket on has gone out of business." "WHAT?!" (I should mention I hadn't slept in over 24 hours.) "What can I do?" I asked her. "Well, if you go to the United ticket desk, they said that they would accept your ticket." "Great - where is that?" She went on to explain that it was in another terminal and I would need to take a shuttle bus to get to it, the actual flight I would be on left from another terminal still - so this wasn't going to be a simple process. She then left.

Two of the other girls, Mary and Siobhan, stuck with me. Siobhan was leaving from the terminal that I was heading to for my new ticket and Mary had a few hours before her flight left. Mary said she would stay with my luggage and wait there, so I wouldn't have to carry everything. Siobhan and I left Mary and headed off to the shuttle. Siobhan and I crammed into the elevator to street level. As the doors opened I felt a sharp jab at my wrist and saw a young man take off running. He had cut my watch off of my wrist. Great. We had no time to deal with that, and hurried to a shuttle bus. This is where I learned that New Yorkers can be really pushy. After two buses came and went without us being able to get on we decided no more mr. nice guy and shoved on our way onto the third bus.

As we traveled along the maze that exists at the Kennedy Airport we heard a loud pop, the bus swerved and then pulled over to the side of the road. The bus driver came over the PA system, "There's been a problem. We blew a tire. You will all need to walk to the next shuttle to get to your destination." So the whole pushing and shoving process began again, this time with grumpier people.

When we finally reached the United ticket booth, Siobhan and I said a quick good-bye and I went and retrieved my new airline ticket. After another wrestling match I was able to return to Mary. It was going to be a close flight was leaving really quickly. When I found Mary she was sitting on my suitcase, sobbing. "What's the matter, Mary?" She went on to tell me, "There's been a problem. I moved over here to the corner to get out of the way - well a couple of guys came over and started giving me a hard time. They stole your camera (which was in the front pocket of my carry on) and mine and who knows what else would have happened if this nice couple hadn't come to my rescue. I'm so sorry!" "That's okay! It wasn't your fault. I'm so glad you're not hurt!" I tried to comfort Mary but was really pushing it time wise to make my flight. We said good-bye and with all my luggage in tow, I went through the shoving match for a spot onthe shuttle bus to get to the terminal. I went racing up to the gate only to discover that I had missed my flight by 5 minutes. I asked the gate attendant if there were any other flights - but other flights that night. I pulled my suitcase off to the side, sat down on it and had a good cry. After a few minutes another gate agent came over and asked if she could help. I explained the situation and told her I didn't know what I was going to do. She did a little checking and discovered another flight that would get me to Salt Lake City via Chicago - but it left from the La Guardia airport. She said if I hurried - meaning a taxi, not a bus - I could make it.

I rushed outside to the porters and told them I needed a taxi to La Guardia. One man went to hail me a cab, while waiting I asked the other man how much a cab to La Guardia cost. "Oh, $20-25 plus tip." he replied. "Oh, thanks." Hmmm, I had exactly $12 American dollars, the rest of my money was in drachmas (Greek). I didn't say anything, but said a quick little prayer. Right as the cab pulled up a woman came up and asked for a cab to La Guardia. The porter asked her if she would like to share a cab with me...HOORAY...thus sharing the fare as well! She agreed and we hopped in and took off. The minute the cab got moving she burst into tears. She told me how she was from Denmark but married a New Yorker. She had just put her parents on a plane back to Denmark and probably would not see them again for several years. She was distraught. She cried and talked the entire ride. I tried to be sympathetic and kept wondering if it was too late to ask her what her first name was...or tell her mine. By the time we got to my stop she told me not to worry about the fare. I had been so nice that she would pay for it. Hooray! I got to keep my $12!! I thanked her and hurried into the airport.

Miraculously, I had not missed my flight! I checked my bags and boarded....nervously waiting for something to go wrong. It didn't take long. After we started to pull away from the gate the captain came over the P.A. system. "Ladies and Gentlemen, there's been a problem." I wanted to jump up and scream "Okay, it's me! I'm the problem, I'll get off the plane! I knew this was too easy." Shockingly, however, I was not the problem. "Ladies and Gentlemen, one of our passengers has had her bag stolen. This bag contains her family's passports and it is imperative that this bag is returned. We will not take off until the bag is returned." We sat the gate for one hour. I'm not kidding. I was starting to get a little nervous; will I make my connecting flight in Chicago?

Eventually, we took off. I have no idea whether or not the bag was returned - I can only assume that it was. I just think, if it was someone else on the flight why not take off on time and strip search us all, if necessary, during the flight. Think how well we would have gotten to know one another.

As we pulled into O'Hare, those of us with connecting flights were given our gate numbers and allowed to ...what's the word...deboard? disembark? How about leave? We were able to leave first and race off to our respective gates. I arrived at mine just in time to see it pulling away from the gate. There are few feelings worse than that of watching your own flight leave without you. It was 1:00am. I was stuck in the airport with no luggage, just a purse containing my passport, $12, some drachmas and a toothbrush. A United ticket agent informed me the airline would put me up in a hotel for the night, since it was their fault I had missed my connection. I said that would be great, since I was exhausted!!!! He asked for I.D. and discovered that I was only 16 years 8 months old. Too young to stay in a hotel by myself. A member of the United team would have to stay with me. An hour and a half later they found someone willing to stay with the minor.

We arrived at the hotel, she with a full bag of clothes, me with my grooming kit and the same clothes I had been wearing for almost 2 days. I climbed into bed exhausted while she got on the phone, started making calls and turned on the cable. The TV was loud. She was loud. I was tired. I pulled the blanket over my head and got to sleep for 4 hours.

A fun little side story. I was flying to Salt Lake to see my sister, who was pregnant with her first child, before returning home to Oregon. They lived an hour from the airport. Since these were the ancient times before cell phones, there was no way to reach Rob once he had left for the airport, to let him know that I would not be there. At this point he had driven there twice.

When we returned to the airport I was put in a special room for minors. The next oldest person was 8. I couldn't wait to get on my flight...these were the pre-diet coke day...I was tired. Don't you love that a soda is a milestone for me? I got on the flight and flinched every time a flight attendant or captain got on the intercom system. I was waiting for the problem declaration...somehow it never came. On Rob's third trip to the airport he finally found me and I enjoyed two whole days being alternately disgusted and amazed at the thing contorting my sister's belly.

I drove home to Oregon with some family friends. They dropped me off in the driveway. As they drove away I lugged my suitcase up to the front porch. I was finally home. I put down the luggage, took a deep breath and grabbed the door knob - only to discover that I was locked out. There's been a problem, I thought. I tried the back gate - also locked. I stood on the garbage can and clambered over the fence to the sliding door. Locked. I was finally able to break in via the garage and welcome myself, the problem, home from my long journey. (Almost as long as this post!!)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Story #20 The Perfect Day

I may be talking about today - but it is counting as one of my stories! I may only be halfway to my goal...but I am still going to finish my 40 stories!

Today may be as close to perfection as one could hope for - and it didn't even include a day spa! Today is my 40th birthday, in spite of my brief anxiety last night, I woke up feeling pretty great today. I lounged in my jammies for a ridiculously long time and enjoyed listening to many different versions of Happy Birthday being sung over the phone by wonderful friends and family members.

My parents came by and brought me a beautiful 4 generation photo array from me to my great grandmother. Then Christy and I went to Zupa's and where I had a super yummy "nuts about berries" salad and shared a sandwich. We chatted and caught up on each other's lives, which was long over due.

I then came home, plopped on the couch and read while listening to Nicole play the piano. When Bob came home he presented me with Gone Is Gone by Wanda Gag, both a first edition and the reprint from 2002. I was floored and teared up! I have wanted a copy of that book for about 20 years - it was the perfect gift.

The girls and I played cards until we left for a family dinner at some mysterious location. I was thrilled to walk into the restaurant and discover a room full of some of my favorite people. Not only that, but Bob had made (paid someone to make) a dvd montage of photos of me...many of which I had never even seen before! What an amazing, fun fabulous evening!

I have been so blessed to have crossed paths with so many intelligent, funny and talented individuals. I was so touched to see so many of them together in that one room - I felt like I wanted to raise my hands up to the Lord and thank him right there and then for this group of guardian angels who have blessed my life!

I am so grateful to Bob for all of his effort in making this such an amazing day - I love you, Babe!!

I was also touched that dear Jill had sent a present along with Michelle to the party. Her card was short, but profound and made me realize this is where true equanimity lies:

Surely life must get better as we acquire wisdom and life experience because we know what to hold onto and what to let go.

Thank you dear friends for helping to make this a perfect day!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Story #19 The Dorky Little Sister

Tomorrow is my 40th birthday. I have been excited about it until tonight. Bob started making up a little song where he mentioned me turning 40 about a hundred times and it has left me in a funk. I find this annoying because up until now I felt fine about 40 - but it has left me feeling like the "dorky little sister"....thus the following:

My brother and sister are only 1 1/2 years apart in age. I am 4 years younger than my brother and, therefore, 5 1/2 years younger than my sister. Because of the closeness in their age I always felt like they had this connection that I was not a part of. I was the caboose child...never quite able to catch up with the rest of the train. Growing up I often had this feeling of wanting them to like me more. Now I realize this sounds rather pathetic...but I was a child, after all. I would often say things that I thought clever or funny and they would roll their eyes, or say "Michelle" in such a way that I felt foolish. I remember being at my Grandma's house for dinner and waiting for the opportunity to use a new phrase I had recently read. If you have read my profile you know that I get phrases stuck in my head just like you may get a tune stuck in yours. Eventually, you must hum or sing that song, willingly or not, it just needs to come out! So, when my Grandmother offered me more potatoes I cleverly replied, "Thanks, but no thanks." In a cool off handed way, emphasis on cool. Marc and Lisa both moaned in disgust. "Michelle - apologize!" Lisa scolded (taking on the mother role, even though the mother was present...isn't that what big sisters do?). I couldn't understand why it was wrong, but I felt like a fool.

Another stellar example is my first foray into swearing. My Mother had sent me out to the drive way as some sort of make-out deterrent for Lisa and her boyfriend who were chatting on the front lawn. They were bickering about one of his friends, so the deterrent was unnecessary, when Lisa asked what I thought about this particular friend. (Keep in mind I was 9 or 10.) "He's a bastard." I said. Lisa and boyfriend burst out laughing and continued laughing for several minutes. I was flustered and wanted to disappear. I didn't know what I had said. Marc and I had been watching James Bond movies and I heard the word on the show....I thought it meant a bad guy or a jerk. Lisa calmed down and went into Junior Mother Mode. "Michelle, is that a word you would ever say in front of Mom?" The ultimate test for pretty much anything. "Um, no." I answered. "Good," she replied, "Don't ever say that word again." I slunk back inside feeling like an idiot.

These are only two of many examples. I just so desperately didn't want to mess up around them. You see, they were both incredibly talented and incredibly beautiful and I felt like the goofy, dorky, annoying little sister. I remember sitting in the audience when either or both of them were in a play or singing in a concert and feeling so incredibly proud. "That's my brother! That's my sister!" I wanted to shout to every one around me. But somewhere with this pride was also a feeling that I could never live up to their level of success.

There were moments where my Mom added to this feeling. I remember in the 6th grade being tested for which math class we would attend in junior high. There was a remedial, basic and advanced option. I ended up scoring in the basic category, as did most of the kids, and feeling fine with that...until I went home. My Mom exclaimed that both Marc and Lisa had tested into the advanced class. She wanted to have me retested....I once again felt like I had unknowingly embarrassed myself. My Dad (step dad) told her that if I was happy with the result we should let it go.

There was a lot of unspoken pressure to succeed in my family and I just didn't think I could live up to the reputation that Marc and Lisa had set. People would say, "Are you a great singer like your sister and brother?" How the hell are you supposed to answer that? Yes I'm amazing - sit down, while I dazzle you with my greatness. "Um not really..." I would say - "but I want to be" - I would think. "Oh, that's too bad." was the reply.

In high school I focused on school leadership and science, since Marc and Lisa didn't have a history there. I thought that if I could pave my own path I would feel better - but the music pull was too strong. I still ended up auditioning and joining the jazz choir and having a great time. The director always wanted me to try out for a solo, but I never did. I felt like I would never rise to the quality of Marc or Lisa's vocal abilities.

Now I realize this post is rather scattered and seemingly shallow - but sadly a lot of these types of feelings plagued my thinking...and clearly still do....oops...hole in therapy showing. So, let me end on a positive note.

There was a young lady in my ward (church) growing up who sort of took me under her wing. I believe she was Marc's age - maybe a year younger. She was at our house one day, I'm not sure why, and the topic of my sister came up. "She's so beautiful." I gushed. "So are you!" she said. I looked at her, puzzled and slowly replied, "Um, no, I'm not." She grabbed my hand and led me into the bathroom. She stood me in front of the mirror and said, "I can't believe you can't see how beautiful you really are." She then proceeded to write on the mirror 'You ARE beautiful.' She said, "Every time you see that I want you to know that is meant for you! Not Lisa or Marc, but you! You are beautiful!" I had never felt so touched or grateful to anyone ever in my life. It was a time where I felt like she was looking at me for me and not because of who's sister I was or who's daughter I was. It changed how I thought about myself. Because of that I named my daughter Kristen after her.

I still have far too many moments of feeling clumsy, awkward and...well...dorky - but just thinking of that moment in the bathroom with has left me feeling a lot better than I did at the beginning of this post. Isn't amazing how a simple act can change a person's life?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Story #18 This is supposed to be the happiest place on earth!

Before I begin, let me share with you another one of my shining moments. Yesterday, after stockings, cinnamon rolls and presents we decided to see a movie. Although entertaining, Avatar was just a bit long and left me with a screaming headache. On the way home I asked Bob if he could stop at Maverick so I could get a Diet Coke chaser for my Tylenol. Bob and the girls waited in the car as I went in for my drink. It took several minutes (since they had to change out the syrup), but was worth the wait. I know it's pathetic how excited I can get over a drink. As I came strutting out of the store, thrilled with my one dollar purchase I walked right past my car to the car parked next to it. Both cars were running with people inside....anyway....I walked over to this OTHER car and opened the door - before I realized this was the wrong car! Hello brain...where are you? The people in back had a look of horror and surprise, while the woman in the driver's seat was cracking up and graciously accepted my apology. I then decided to actually get in MY car, and could not stop laughing that I had done that. Bob was also cracking up...the girls, however, seemed to have shrunk about a foot and were just mortified. It still makes me giggle thinking I did that!

On to story #18. A Christmas story. Eight years ago, just as we were officially becoming owners of the gym I came up with this genius idea: Let's surprise the girls and take them to Disneyland for Christmas. Bob had mistakenly heard that it was very slow at Disneyland on Christmas day, so it would be a great time to go. We had been so busy with our acquisition of the gym that I wanted to do something special for the girls for Christmas. I decided that we would pack everything up while they were at school and preschool, pick them up, tell them the surprise and start to drive to California...stopping in St. George or Vegas for the night.

I was excited. I worked my butt off trying to get everything arranged, without letting on about the surprise. Soon it was time to pick up the girls...this was going to be so fun...what child wouldn't love this? As we came home I sat everyone down in the living room and read my clever little poem (yes, very geeky, I know) about our surprise. Although I can't find the poem I know it ended with "We're going to Disneyland for Christmas!" I said this last line with a happy shout and was greeted with total silence. I took this as disbelief, so I told the girls "We're going to Disneyland for Christmas! Isn't that going to be fun? We're going right now, the car's all packed!" Nicole burst into tears. Kristen, seeing her sister's reaction, also began to cry. Bob started to laugh. Ignoring Bob, I asked the girls, "Why are you sad?" Nicole wailed, "I don't want to go to Disneyland! I want to stay home for Christmas! Don't make me go!!!" This sent Bob into an even bigger peal of laughter. "It will be's Disneyland. We will have such a great time! Think how fun to go to Disneyland on Christmas Day!" Kristen said, "Santa won't know where to find us! Why are you making us do this?"

I was stunned. I had worked so hard on the "great" surprise - and my children felt like they were being punished. I tried to explain that Santa would know where they were and what a great time we would have, but to no avail. I ended up down in my bedroom, crying to my Mom on the phone about how no one wanted to go to Disneyland with me.

Finally, the girls begrudgingly agreed to go to Disneyland for Christmas - and so our happy journey began. The high point of the trip was Christmas day at Disneyland. It turns out that Christmas Day isn't their slowest, but rather their busiest day of the year. The park was acres of wall to wall people. Good Times. It took forever just to get a fast pass for a ride, even the gift shops were too crowded to spend any time in! As evening approached, the air became cooler and I decided I would go to the car to get every one's coats. As I was returning to the park with an armful of coats I realized that I could not remember where I was supposed to meet Bob and the girls. Was it the entrance of Frontierland or Space Mountain? I tried to call answer. I went to Frontierland and sign of them. I ran over to Space Mountain....nothing. I continued to run back and forth between the two places until I felt like I had run a marathon. I knew the girls would be worried - but for the life of me I could not find them. I kept trying Bob until my phone died, but with the noise of the park, Bob could not hear his phone ring. By the time he thought to call me my phone was already dead. Soon I was beginning to feel a bit panicked. I went up to two security people and asked, "What do you do when someone is lost?" "Have you lost your child ma'am?" "Um, no.....I'm lost." They looked at each other and smirked. "Well, when we find a lost child we take them to city hall on main street." "Where's that?" I asked. Again they smirked and said, "We should probably show you the way." They were probably right.

When I arrived at City Hall and went up to the front and asked them woman if a man with two young girls had been in looking for, well, me. She looked confused and shook her head. I explained how I could not remember where we were supposed to meet and did she have any recommendations. She told me that when they had a lost child they had them sit in this back room, full of toys, etc. She said I could wait back there. As I sat down next to the only other occupant, a 3 year old boy, I imagined the following conversation:

Boy: What are you in for?

Me: I lost my family. How 'bout you?

Boy: I kicked Mickey in the shins.

Me: Rough.

Boy: Yeah.

After awhile and many strange looks from the woman watching the boy, I decided to leave and walked out the doors...they couldn't make me stay!...and stepped out onto Main Street and lo and behold, there were Bob and the girls coming to retrieve me from lost and found. I was thrilled. I couldn't stop hugging them. We slipped on our coats and found a good spot to watch the parade and made a family pact that we would not return to Disneyland for many years. We've kept that pact.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Story #17 Practical Jokes the later years

(I couldn't find the photos I wanted to post with this story...if I do I will let you know!)

Marc trained me so well - that left to my own devices the fun continued...only not on Lisa anymore. When I was a freshman at BYU my inner prankster came out again. The first instance was an act of revenge.

My roommate Dana was and still is quite a cutey - so many of the boys were interested in her. So much so that they were frequently asking me how to get her interested in them. One boy...maybe his name was Sean? I can't remember. He became convinced that Dana wasn't interested in him because of something I had said. So one night in our Dorm lobby (after Sunday night prayer) he pinned me down and gave me a hickey. Jerk. I was mad and felt a little violated. So I decided I needed to get even. My friend Andrea was game.

We dressed all in black (ninjas, baby) and armed ourselves with whipping cream, shaving cream and toilet paper and completely obliterated his car. I mean we covered this thing in so much paper and goo that we giggled all the way back to the dorms. The next morning we woke up early and watched out my 5th floor window as he discovered the attack on his SUV. It was fabulous!! The best part - he never suspected me.

Sometimes, I'll admit, maybe I went a little too far. Heather, another girl on the 5th floor, joined forces with us when the "Y weekenders" would come. These were high school girls touring the campus who wanted a feel for college life. I'm afraid we didn't show them the brighter sides. One of the favorites was not just saran wrap on the toilet, but also icy hot on the toilet seat. The great thing about icy hot is the more some one tries to wipe it off - the more they actually rub it in. One weekend we were actually in the bathroom brushing teeth when one of the Y weekenders walked into the stall we had booby trapped. We had never actually been in the bathroom when our high jinks were hitting their target. As she closed the stall door, Heather and I looked at each other and grinned. We had never brushed our teeth so slowly. We had to stifle our laughter as we heard a small gasp from inside from inside the stall. We waited for her to come out - but after a few minutes and she still hadn't emerged we left the stall.

Alright - I know I sound like a creep but I was was funny at the time....Okay, I did try to confess.

One evening our dorm Mother called all of the girls from our floor down to the lobby. She said that she was tired of the practical jokes and said that she would keep all of us down there until one of us confessed. We all sat there silently for several minutes. Finally, I raised my hand and told her that it was me. I was the one who had been perpetrating the discomfort of our guests. She looked at me for a long time and lie...said "Michelle, that is ridiculous I know its not you. Okay if no one is going to tell me who it is you can all go back to bed." So, I tried to do the right thing...can I help it if I have an innocent face?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Story #16 Practical Jokes -the early years

At an early age my brother Marc began to teach me some of the finer points in life-such as, why William Shatner made Star Trek cool, Why James Bond is the best crime fighter (it's the gadgets, my friend), and how to torture our older sister, Lisa.

There is only a year and half between Marc and Lisa, which created quite a love/annoy relationship. I frequently ended up being a pawn to be traded in their occasional squabbles. Suddenly, each would try to win me over to their side as a slap in the face to the other. They would offer to play with me, read together, play games - so I didn't mind their arguments.

I remember one night when a sitter was tending, when I was about 4 or 5, that Marc and Lisa tricked her into going outside. It was just before bed and they decided they weren't quite ready. So they locked her out of the house. I remember Karen, the sitter, banging on the sliding glass door begging me to let her in - while Lisa and Marc begged me to step away from the door. It was a rough night for everyone.

Anyway, in her teen years, my sister could be a bit moody, and therefore Marc was often inspired to play a joke or two on her. There was one series of jokes that he convinced me to be a part of.
The year I turned 8 or 9, my grandparents gave Marc and me footie pajamas. We both felt that we were far too old for these - but found a fantastic use for them a couple of years later.

Marc told me it would be funny to stuff one of the pairs of pajamas so that it looked like a real body. Using towels and rags we stuffed and rearranged until the body shape seemed just right. We then took a mask of Marc's and one of Lisa's pom poms and fashioned a head. We spent a great deal of time giggling and plotting all of the things we could do with "the body." Our first foray into "Lisa torture" occurred late one Friday night. Lisa had been out with friends and our Mom was also gone. I hid at the top of the stairs on one side - Marc hid on the other side. We turned off all the hall lights, so that as Lisa opened the door she was greeted with the small glimmer of a nightlight. As she stepped in to the hallway Marc threw the body over the stairs to as I did my best slasher flick scream. As the body crumpled at Lisa's feet, her scream far surpassed the strength of my own. Marc and I burst out laughing - which caused Lisa to alternate between death threats and tears.

When my Mom came home and discovered what we had been up to she was pretty upset. Marc had warned me that we could get into some trouble - but he knew just how to avoid it. As my Mom sat across from us in the family room and began to lecture us on our cruel behavior, Marc and I both began to giggle and grin. My Mom tried to be cross, "Now, you two stop your laughing!" But the more we giggled the more she lost the ability to do any kind of disciplining. She finally muttered, "Oh, you two..." At which point we jumped up and ran to our rooms.

Trick number two with "the body" only worked because my sister's room was always a complete mess. We arranged the body in her bed (which was always lumpy with blankets and clothes) and hid in her closet. As Lisa stumbled into bed and began tossing and turning, her arm went across the body. She paused. She gently felt next to her then went tearing out of her room screaming for my Mom and Step-dad. Marc and I flew out of the closet and ran into his room - wondering how we would avoid getting into trouble this time. I think we may have gotten out of it once again...Yet another great life lesson Marc has shared with me!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Story #15 Happy the Chimpanzee

I am keenly aware that I have not posted in days...and that I am only on story #15...hmmm.

The crazier things become at holiday time, the more I shut down both physically and mentally, until I am a mere blob convalescing on the sofa. I lose all motivation to get anything done, even though I will probably end up in tears at some point. In spite of this, I still chirp out a happy yes at any invitation or project request....what on earth is wrong with me? Anyway...

I mentioned in a previous post that my family spent every August and Christmas in Salt Lake City with my Grandparents. As I'm sure you have figured out, my birthday is right after Christmas, thus most of my under 12 birthdays were spent at my Grandparents house.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but when you are a child a birthday party is a pretty big deal. You look forward to the friends, the games, the presents, and the cake. Although every effort was made to make the birthdays joyous, it is a very odd sensation to feel like you are crashing your own birthday party. My grandparents would invite any neighborhood children that were in town to join us for my party. So, all of the guests knew each other, but I didn't know any of them. There were a few awkward moments..."Thank you for the crayons, Angela. Which one of you is Angela?"

(Don't be distracted by my pink, shiny, taffeta dress...that is not the point of the story, although I do look stunning.)

For my eighth birthday, my Mom and grandparents wanted to make it a very special day - so they hired a chimpanzee to come to the party. The chimpanzee was named Happy and you could "rent" him for a special occasion from the Hogle Zoo. As much as I enjoyed watching the animals from the outside of the cage - having one in the same room with me, with no bar barrier, was a little disturbing. You'll notice that one of my arms is wrapped around in a protective motion, while I shake hands with Happy. I remember feeling worried that his hand would be slimy, but it was actually dry and soft. Happy performed several flips for us and I was encouraged to help feed him some oatmeal and bananas.

Notice the body language...lean away! Lean away!

Even though I felt nervous, it was a rather incredible thing, having a primate at your party. I had to keep these pictures from my children for fear that they would believe this was some sort of family tradition. No need to go completely crazy! This was also the year that my brother discovered the birthday candles that would not blow out. I tried so hard to blow out these candles that I merely passed out. Marc also taught me the pleasant game of "Who can punch the softest." I always won....not a good thing.

After that party the neighborhood children realized that nothing could top a chimpanzee and future birthdays had a much lower attendance. Which was okay....fewer awkward moments.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Story #14 Airport Voyeurism

A recent story!

A few times a year I have to travel for business meetings. This summer when Katie, my gym director, and I returned from Texas we discovered that *gasp* Bob had not left to pick us up we knew we were in for a wait. We plopped down in a couple of chairs by the luggage carousels and settled in for some good people watching.

There were several different groups clustered near the escalators waiting for their missionaries to arrive. We began intently watching the family closest to us, trying to figure out who was who. After about 15 minutes, the long awaited for son began to descend the escalator. The family burst into cheers and began to cluster around the bottom of the escalator. We were betting on who would be hugged first...I thought Mom and sure enough I was right. Then he turned to Dad and held on for a long time as both Dad and Son started to cry. Standing in the background, behind the siblings and extended family was a beautiful young lady, who clearly was the girlfriend. As the newly returned missionary made his way through the family, this young lady began to fidget more and more. You could see him glancing sideways at her, but finding someone else to hug....the nervousness was palpable. Finally, he walked over and gave her a nervous and very fast hug. He then went back to his parents and hugged and wept some more - but every few minutes he would go back over to the girlfriend and hug her again...each time just a little bit longer. You could see that he was quickly remembering how nice that could be!

Katie and I were both a bit emotional watching the scene before us. We both teared up as the parents embraced their son, and laughed as he kept checking out the girlfriend. I loved watching his astonishment at little sisters that had grown so much over the past 2 years. I couldn't help but think about how much our families in heaven and our Heavenly Father are watching us now and waiting to see what we will make of our lives. I absolutely believe that our guardian angels are family members that have already passed on. I believe they are keeping an eye on how we spend our precious time here on earth. I hope that when I return it will be with tears and rejoicing at a job well done. (Every once in awhile I have my moments of spirituality.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Story #13 First kiss

My first kiss well, a little pathetic. I would like to say that it was a romantic, knee melting moment, but I would be lying.

In 8th grade a boy named Cam asked me to "go with him." Isn't that such an inane term? Not quite as clever as today's "going out"...but still. I liked Cam as a friend, but nothing more. I turned him down. The next several days he was so depressed that I started to feel really badly for him. So, I told his brother that if Cam asked me again I would say yes. Pity is always a great foundation for a strong relationship...tip from me to you!

The next day Cam asked me again and I said yes. For a couple of weeks the relationship consisted of hand-holding and listening to him moan on the phone that he wished he were smarter. Everything a girl could hope for. The problem was, spring break was coming up and I knew that Cam wanted a kiss good-bye. I had the typical concerns: "Will I do it right?" "Will he have bad breath?" "Will I have bad breath?" "Do I really have to kiss this boy I don't like?" I did kiss that boy I didn't really like (more than a friend). It was more like a mini-make out session where I was merely focusing on it not being awkward and hoping for an "A" in technique.

At 17 I finally had that knee melting, breath taking, head spinning kiss. Technique never crossed my mind, but that's another story.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Story #12 Getting asked to Senior Prom

Quick note...Kristen's arm is not broken...whew!!

High school dance invitations here in Utah are crazy to me. Boys and girls alike invent all kinds of clever and creative ways to ask out their date....they can involve flowers, fish, decorating some one's car or room and so forth. Well, in Oregon we weren't quite that clever. There were only two formal dances a year: Homecoming and Prom, and the invitations consisted of a phone call or the whimsical passed note in class. While I had a lot of boy friends I never had a boyfriend in High School - thus these formal dances were merely a way to make sure that twice a year I felt like a leper. To be fair and honest, I did go to homecoming and both proms, but mostly with friends from church. I'm also aware that my refusal to get drunk or stoned was a huge impediment to dating success in high school. Go figure.

Anyway, one favorite memory from high school was getting asked to Senior Prom. I was sitting in the courtyard pretending to study, when a young man named Steve walked my way. (Man there have been a lot of Steve's in my life!) I don't remember his last name, but I do remember his confident "I work in the A/V department" strut as he made a bee line in my direction. He came over to the platform I was sitting on and grabbed one of my hands with both of his. Oh my! He then said, "Michelle, I would be so honored if you would accompany me to our Senior Prom." If you are thinking this is one of those feel good stories where the young lady (me) accepts, even though the guy is a geek, and just appreciates the courage it took him to ask, stop reading now. It turns out I'm not that altruistic.

I have to admit it was hard not to laugh. I mean he was so serious, and he still hadn't let go of my hand...which was getting sweaty. I told him that I wasn't going to go to prom. I couldn't afford a dress, but I really appreciated him asking me.

I did not lie about this. Quite frankly, senior prom was not that big of a deal to me. So, there on the spot I decided that it would be simpler not to go at all, then to go with Steve. (Yes, I'm a creep.)

A couple of weeks later, Mr. Wills, a vice-principal, called me into his office. He was the advisor for the student body officers, of which I belonged. I happened to be the Student Body Manager and was over all of the dances and assemblies. He had somehow learned that I was not going to prom and gave me a huge guilt trip on why this was NOT OKAY. I eventually decided that I would ask someone that I had a very mild crush on, to attend prom with me. I had heard that Steve had asked a freshman, so I figured there would be no hard feelings....I was wrong.

When Jon and I arrived at the dance Steve and his date came over to us. Steve said, "Jon, may I have permission to dance with Michelle?" Jon looked a little dumbfounded. "Um, okay." Steve and I stepped out on the dance floor where he informed me that he had been deeply wounded when he discovered that Jon and I were attending prom together. He had spent a great deal of time thinking about it and decided that we could move past it and still be friends. He also mentioned that his date was a better choice after all, since, even in heels, he was taller then she was. Had I known what an issue height was I would have worn heels to school everyday that spring. So there you have my non-heroic, "whew I dodged a bullet" prom story.

Story #11 My first attempts at cooking

I am in a bad luck cycle right now. My laptop is still being repaired (I can pick it up later today....for $150.00), I threw my back out at work yesterday - but have no one to cover for me - spotting gymnastics when you can't even put on your own shoes will be interesting, Kristen may have a broken arm, Bob is still sick and I STILL DON'T HAVE MY CAR BACK!!!! Okay, done whining.

When I was around 7 or 8 my Mom decided that she needed more help from us kids. Who can blame her, she was a full-time working single Mom. I think she thought it would also teach us some necessary life skills. Her idea was that each child would have one night for cooking dinner. I was very excited. My mom had this big, yellow box full of recipes. Each month a few more came in the mail. They had a picture of the finished dish on the front and the recipe on the back. I loved looking through that box!

After my Mom finished her inspirational speech of how these cooking nights will be great for the whole family, I was elated! I happily signed up for the first turn and grabbed the big yellow box. I don't remember the exact menu, but I do know that there were many courses and the first course was some kind of fruit or prune soup. Mmmmm. I lost Marc and Lisa at that point. There was no way they were going to eat soup made out of fruit with prunes floating on top....even though I had placed a generous dollop of cool-whip on top. (Insert sarcastic yum here.) I'm pretty sure that the ingredients for the meal cost more than we usually spent for 5 meals, and I am positive that this was one of those great parental sacrifice moments, as my Mom managed to swallow something from every course.

With one elaborate meal I managed to both start and end my Mom's shared cooking nights - so really I think that Marc and Lisa should have thanked me. After that I settled down I learned some basic baking. I recall Marc and I making popcorn over the stove and forgetting to put the lid on the pot....popcorn everywhere....I also remember trying to concoct some sort of fabulous drink out of the 4000 bottles of condiments in our fridge. (There may have been vomiting afterwards.) But I knew one thing for sure, I wanted to be a good cook.

Ironically, one of the best cooks I know was Joanie. It is ironic because when I was young and she tended me, all I ever wanted to eat at her house was (brace was her son's idea) noodles with ketchup and cottage cheese. What would you call that? Poor man's lasagna? I don't know, but we LOVED it!

I got married right as Martha Stewart's popularity was on the rise.....grey prison shawls not even a thought at that point...and I wanted to cook as well as she did. After I had Nicole and was no longer working, I would spend 2 to 3 hours preparing dinner - even though Bob and I were the only ones to enjoy it. Even when Nicole was old enough she was frequently not interested in what I was making.

But now as a working Mom I seem to have lost some of my cooking momentum, and unfortunately hit Subway for dinner on a fairly regular basis. Someone pointed out that almost all of my cookbooks say "quick" or "15 minutes" or "fast and easy." So, I hope Bob has a few memories of those three hour meals....and I will have to send my mom a thank you for eating the prune soup.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Story #10 Why I am grammar impaired.

Before my next story I have to mention something that cracked me up. I was driving Kristen to dance, she was sitting up front and started moving her foot in all different directions. I thought maybe she was "warming up" for dance when she said, "Look, when I move my foot like this it looks like I have cankles." Who would get excited about having cankles? (For the uninformed, a cankle is when a woman's ankle is about the same size as her calf muscle...not a desired look.)

On to story #10 - there will be some major doubling up on stories - I am behind!

While I was attending BYU I worked as a receptionist for Stephen Covey. I had to be at work a little before 7 every morning, which is painful for a co-ed with a fun social life. I would rush home around noon, eat lunch and head to my first class of the day....Grammar, with Professor Skousen at 1:00pm. Professor Skousen, although brilliant, never felt it necessary to change the tone or speed of his voice at anytime - EVER. That on top of not enough sleep, just having eaten lunch, and...hello...the topic is grammar...woo hoo let's diagram sentences.....led to me falling asleep in class.......every class.

This also happened to be a class where the grade was based on only 2 things: the midterm and the final exam. You may be shocked to hear that I received a D on the midterm. There was no text book for this class - only the information we received from his scintillating lectures and our fabulous notes. My notes consisted of about two lines per class and drool - not helpful.

Although not the best student in college - a D was pretty shocking. I was determined to do better. I decided that I needed to sit in the front row for every class and take furious notes. So my first class after the midterm I arrived a few minutes earlier and sat right up front. I had my freshly sharpened pencil ready to go, but then he started talking and...well, I'm an auditory learner, for whom vocal inflections are important...I started feeling my head droop. It was some kind of hypnotic effect that I could not resist - his mouth opened and my eyes closed. I decided if I folded my arms instead of resting my chin in my hand, I would be unable to fall asleep. Just so you know for your own use...this is not effective. I discovered this when I suddenly awoke falling out of my chair onto the floor. I WAS MORTIFIED. Not just because I was wearing a skirt and I had just fallen out of my chair in the front row of a class of 100+ students - but because the professor actually knew who I was. "Am I a little boring today, Miss Olivier?" I scrambled into my chair and had enough adrenaline coursing through my veins to keep me awake for days. Ironically, when he asked if he was boring he used more vocal inflections then I had ever heard him use before. Maybe he was a very interesting person, but grammar bored him, too.

A side note to this story. When my parents were visiting my Mom wanted to come to class with me. I told her that grammar was really boring and to skip that one. "Oh no," she said, "I love grammar." Within minutes of class starting, I could hear her gentle snore.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Story #9 The Reluctant Business Owner

For as long as I can remember there was one thing I wanted to be when I grew up...A Mom. Not just any Mom, a stay-at-home Mom. When Bob and I began dating seriously I really made it clear that this was a huge priority for me. And for the first several years of our girls' lives it happened- But at the end of 2001 things changed.

Bob had always dreamed of owning his own business. We had an opportunity to purchase The Little Gym in Salt Lake, where our girls attended classes. At the time, Bob was in a job that was supposed to be ending within the next 6 months, so it seemed to him like good timing. We were under the impression that the place basically ran itself and the owner was really an "off-site" owner. This seemed ideal. Bob told me that he couldn't start this without my help. I had been teaching piano at the time to help pay for preschool and dance classes. He said I would be able to stop teaching piano and only have to work 15 hours a week - I could pick the hours when the girls were already at school - so I could be home with them as much as possible. He was going to work his job and then go to the gym in the evenings.

Now let me briefly interrupt this story. I made a huge error. I had always said that being a stay-at-home Mom was my number 1 priority, but when push came to shove I didn't stand up for that and say "NO!" For that I will always feel badly.

After returning from an intensive training at the corporate office, it became quickly apparent that as capable as the managers at the gym were, the previous owner had never really allowed them the opportunity to run things. I think he liked the idea of them taking care of things - but couldn't seem to let go of his control and trust them to get things taken care of. My 15 hour a week job quickly turned into a full-time job as I needed to learn the business, make a lot of changes in the business practices at the time, and to build relationships with both the staff and the customers. To say I was overwhelmed is a huge understatement. My bachelor's degree in English had not prepared me for business ownership....particularly when it came to budgets, finance and marketing. There was a lot of trial and error in the early days!

Although Bob set up and kept track of the finances from our home, he was unable to have a strong presence in the gym itself. We did work many Friday nights together, however, running our "Parent Survival Night," basically a 3.5 hour party for the kids. Business ownership is a lot of work and if things fall apart there is no one else to fix them but the owner! I now have a business that has bumps in the road - but allows me only have to work about 30 hours a week...sometimes less. I have an incredible manager who is always begging for more responsibility - which I happily turn over - for that I am blessed!

I have learned a lot through this experience. I have learned how many really amazing parents there are out there! No matter what someone looks like, or believes in, people generally want the best for their children. I have learned that a high income, or a lot of education does not mean a child is better off. I have had to be the voice for a child who's mother was abusing him. I have learned that there are a lot of people who believe they are the exception to every rule. I have learned that - judging from my past and current employees - the next generation is a lot smarter than we give them credit for - And I have learned to be a better parent. I may not have wanted to be a business owner, but I can tell you that I 100% believe that what we do is making a positive difference in the lives of the children and parents we teach.

I love having the opportunity to learn and study child development and the best practices for raising all different types of children. I have read A LOT of books on both subjects and I know that working with kids will always be a part of my life in some form or another.

I have been blessed to work with amazing, talented, loving and supportive team members whom I adore! I love that I am able to keep in touch with so many of them...and I have learned so much about becoming a better person through their examples.

In closing, let me share a few bits of unsolicited advice on parenting:

1. All of the primary caregivers in a child's life need to have the same expectations and consequences for a child's behavior. If one parent is overly strict and the other overly permissive the child will grow up feeling insecure, nervous and more apt to be manipulative...since there are no clear boundaries. Mr. Rogers puts it best: "Every child needs LOVING limits." They may be loving - but if they are never enforced they don't exist.
2. Teaching your child basic social skills and acceptable manners is not crushing their spirit, but allowing other people the opportunity to enjoy your child as much as you do.
3. Every time you add a new child to your family you have to learn how to parent all over again - no child is the same. Step back and watch what makes your child tick...and go from there.
4. Give your children A LOT of opportunities to do things for themselves. We are not raising children, we are raising adults. Think of the kind of adult you want your child to be and lay the foundation for it now. Keep in mind that a 2 year old is often full of tantrums because they are ready to start helping take care of themselves.
5. Let your child make simple choices every day. A favorite of mine is letting them pick out their own clothes. They may end looking crazy - but people won't think that you did that to them. They can see that you can match your clothes - they will admire your ability to relax about unimportant decisions that can allow your child the opportunity to feel fantastic!
6. Your child may look like you and talk like you - but he or she is not you! They will have interests and talents and quirks that will baffle you...but because you love them you give them as many chances as possible to become who THEY really want to be.
7. People are more important than things...ALWAYS!
8. Practice what you preach.
9. Read and sing to your children as much as you can - because someday they will think they're too old and that you are off key.
10. If you are ever losing control, take a deep breath, turn up some music and have a dance party...I promise everyone will feel better after that!