Thursday, March 25, 2010

And a good time was had by all....

Daughter and I went to Salt Lake City for her Spring Break. Five days in a nice hotel, with nothing to do but the fun things we planned ourselves. Or rather, that she planned. I let her take the lead on these trips, since this is our third annual trip to what she calls "Mormon Disneyland."

We took our time getting on the road that first day. A stop at Walmart for snacks and drinks. Breakfast with Ranger. Put all of our potential destinations in the GPS's "favorites" menu. Point the car west, and off we go!

Note: I say "Off we go!" a lot. My daughter thinks it sounds like Spanish, so now she says, "Afuego!" (which really is a Spanish word) whenever we go some place. Silly girl.

As we entered tiny little Wellington, Utah, she noticed that the itsy tiny town actually has two Mormon church buildings, or "meetinghouses." See, you get a new church building when you have enough people to fill it. It says something about the LDS population there that a little town has as many meetinghouses as Lubbock, Texas - population 200,000-ish.

So, Daughter made up a new game for traveling in Utah. Instead of Slug Bug, we now have Slug-a-Meetinghouse. We spent the rest of the drive irreverently looking for the distinctive LDS steeples, so we could (softly) punch each other in the arm.

I recently got a Palm Pre. Daughter found a free app for keeping score in Slug Bug games, but we now use it for meetinghouses. How fun is that?

Finally, we arrived in Salt Lake City, at our favorite hotel. It's located on the same street as Temple Square and the Gateway Mall area, equal distance from each. How much more convenient can you get, when those two locations are Daughter's biggest priorities? It is also a block from the theater where we were going to see comedian Brian Regan perform. If you haven't seen him, you must go straight to YouTube and have a look! Good, clean humor, suitable for my daughter. And she just loves him.

Dinner was at the hotel, where they serve a kind of rustic-nouveau cuisine. Daughter had a Caesar salad that didn't quite turn out as she imagined. Long leaves of lettuce, wrapped in fried-to-a-crisp cheese thing, with a mountain of tomatoes, and a drizzle of dressing. We had a tiny table that ended up filled like a puzzle with square and rectangular dishes. Even the manager commented on our "very full table top."

The room was heaven. A lovely view of the city at night. Sleep Number beds, which were a riot to play with. Each morning, we had a good laugh at the Mommy- and Daughter-shaped crevasses we left in our beds.

Daughter had planned many sights to see. Temple Square, shopping at the Gateway Mall (namely, Build-a-Bear Workshop), Hogle Zoo, the Children's Museum, the planetarium, Heritage Park, Pioneer History Museum, and dinner at the Mayan Adventure, with all the hot divers jumping into the water before you, as you have dinner. Yeah, she's not old enough to date, but is gaining an appreciation for quality man-flesh. The Twilight series and their ripped actors have done this for her.

However, a pattern emerged as the trip actually got underway. Not much of this agenda proved to be a big priority. Each day, she's wake up about 10:00-11:00 and start talking. She'd get ready and talk until 1:00 or later. It was like she had stored up all these things to say and discuss when we were alone, without being surrounded by a houseful of prying eyes and ears. It was painfully obvious to me that she felt we had no private place or uninterupted time at home, where she could speak freely, and I could respond freely.

She talked about school, church, friends, family, home, and all of the ups and downs of her daily life. She just talked and talked. Sitting in the hotel room, facing each other on our respective cushy beds, I couldn't think of anything better I'd rather do. I didn't care one bit about what we were missing or what we could be doing out in the city. My teenage daughter wanted to talk to me, and no one else.

How huge of a treasure is that? And I'll always cherish that memory, of just sitting peacefully and listening to her, my lovely daughter. I couldn't be more proud of her.

When we finally left the hotel, we'd look for food first. She had a list of restaurants we simply had to go to, and what she wanted there. We found a new one, though. And it's now on her "have to" list.

It's a wonderful sushi restaurant we found around the corner. She became sushi-obsessed! We ate there twice. Some of it had to do with this delightful thing they had called Ramune soda. It has a marble in it. When you get it, you press on the top and it shoots this glass marble into the bottle, where it's helpd in a chamber that keeps you from swallowing it. It's a light, refreshing soda, too. Are we suckers for marketing or what?

Then, we headed to the Children's museum, which was really meant for small children to pass many hours in hands-on learning play. A friend recommended it to Daughter. She enjoyed it, anyhow, and made her first stop-motion animated film there! It's about three seconds long and ends with a blood-curdling scream. Gotta love it.

Of course, she had to make a stop at Build-a-Bear, a bear. These stuffed animals have become her souvenier of choice when we travel. We sat on a patio and had Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and watched the water feature they have in the Gateway plaza, with Olympic music playing. The water feature is built on the logo from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake. Kinda fun.

The Mayan Adventure was as fun as ever. Entering this place feels like you're going into a ride at Disneyland. Daughter got a spectacular dessert that actually has fireworks on top. It spews brilliantly for about a minute. It's the only thing that distracted her from the divers.... She took a lot of pictures.

Besides shopping and eating, our sightseeing ended up being Temple Square. That's all, but we spent hours there. Daughter took 79 pictures in that area alone.

Something is very spiritually-nourishing to her, just being there. We like to lay our hands on the temple itself and talk about our ancestors, who helped build it so long ago. And the trouble they went through to be there, and work on it.

Watching her take her pictures, she seemed so small beside this grand structure. I took the one to the right, standing at the base. It's an awesome perspective to me. Oh, I could go on....

Saturday was our big day. She was so excited to go see Brian Regan at Abravanel Hall. So, we woke up slowly that morning. I noticed that it was getting late in the morning, but the usual bright sunshine wasn't peeking through the curtains. So, I opened them. And saw this....

No, not fog. That's snow. You should be able to see tall buildings in this shot. But no....there's snow.

We wandered down the street for lunch, at a cafe by Temple Square. It looked link this:

Again, you should see buildings behind the temple. But it's snow. We just couldn't believe it! We'd had such bright sunshine before that day! And we were to head into the mountains, going home the next day. It was a little worrisome.

That night, after the hilarity of the comedy show, we had dinner at the Garden Restaurant. It's at the top of the building beside Temple Square, and had the creme brullee thatwas on Daughter's list. The dining room has huge windows, overlooking the temple. As darkness fell, the spires of the temple were lit. One at a time, the lights on each spire would gradually start to glow and gain brightness in the dark and fog. When all six spires were lit, I realized again that the fog was snow, as the large flakes were silhouetted against the glow. It was a breathtaking sight.

We took our time leaving the next day, giving Soldier Pass a chance to thaw a little. I'd tried to check the highway cam online to see the conditions, but the camera's lense was covered with snow. That alone told me something.

Finally, we made our way home. Back to the chaos that we call home, anyhow. Daughter was a little quieter on the drive back. But we each carry brilliant memories of our time together. Our special time each year, that I'll treasure always.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

How to make a difference to someone

This person probably has no idea he's impacted my daughter's life as much as he has. I wish I'd get the chance to tell him.

He's the kid front and center in the photo on this post. He's a senior at her school, the lead in the school production of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." He was so phenomenal in the role (including the unicycle riding) that they did not cast an understudy. The comparison would not have been fair.

The entire production was unbelievable, not to mention that a high school did this. The sets were incredible, including the scenes where Augustus gets sucked up the chocolate pipe and where Charlie and hig grandfather are floating around with the bubbles. We were mesmerized.

That said, he's also an award-winning drum major for the marching band. There's a couple of videos on of their homecoming performance. If you want to sit through them (one is short and one is long), you'll see why he's award-winning. He's the tall kid, front and center, in the orange uniform. Born to perform, I swear.

The short one - the Drum Major entrance

The longer one - the performance

Daughter is a freshman. She's new to the drumline. She should fly under his senior-status radar. Or so you'd think.

But no. I first saw him during marching band rehearsals, during the summer. I had picked up Daughter and a couple of friends for lunch, during one of their breaks. This boy pulled up beside us at a stoplight, his car overflowing with other senior friends.

Slowly and dramaticly, he turned a sunglass-topped grin over his should at Daughter and her friends in my car.

"Hey girl! How you doin'?" Which started a small chorus of "How you doin'?" from his pals.

Daughter cracked up at him, which seemed to make him smile, as we left the stop light.

When school started, she was delighted that he was one of the upperclassmen who went out of their way to say "hi" to her in the hallways. Her friends were appropriately impressed that it was the first day at their new school, and Daughter already had friends established. And senior friends at that! Ah...high school society....

After the school-year rehearsals started, the band still spent time doing stretches to prepare for practice. Daughter is quite body-conscious....or rather, self-conscious....and hates doing public stretches. But the band kids must pick a spot on the ground and go to it. She just wanted to shrink into the ground and get it over with.

But here comes this drum major. He picks a spot right beside her and says, "Hey Daughter! How are you doing?"

He engages her in conversaton about starting high school, her classes, teachers, band....then another upperclassman approaches.

"Hey, did you hear about...." he starts, to the drum major. He literally walked into the middle of the conversation and started a new one, excluding Daughter. She assumed she'd just gone by the wayside, being "just" a freshman.

"Wait a minute," says the drum major. "You just interupted my conversation here with Daughter."

The other boy laughs, taking it as a joke. "Yeah. So, did you..." he keeps going.

"I'm serious, man," says drum major. "Can't you see I'm having a very important conversation with Daughter here? You're going to have to wait." He says it with just enough humor in his voice that the other kid isn't offended, but he makes his point. The other kid waits his turn.

And Daughter finishes her conversation with someone who made her feel like what she had to say really mattered.

A lot of teenage girls would develop a crush on someone with this dynamic personality, who made them feel important. Not Daughter. She has a great respect for him as a leader, and a friend. She's watched him help lead their marching band through some tough things this year. His humor and charisma helped keep their pride up.

I don't know if he understands how he impacts others by just being himself. I hope I get the chance to tell him, as this kid heads off into the adult world. I'm hoping it'll be a life lesson he takes with him. I hope the world is good to him.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Whirlwind times ahead

Life is about to get a little crazy, but pretty fun. For the next three months, I've planned a lot of travel with the significant people in my life. It's going to require some frugal living to pull it off, but I'm hoping it'll all be worth it.

Next week, Daughter and I embark on our annual trip to Salt Lake City. She just loves it there and just can't wait for those few days every year when it's just she and Mommy, treating ourselves to a quiet hotel, seeing the sights, and casual shopping.

This year, we're throwing in something new. Comedian Brian Regan is performing at the theater just down the street from our hotel. He's has a family-friendly act and Daughter loves him, so we'll see him next week. Combining that with what we love seeing there anyhow, and it's going to be a nice time together, away from the craziness that is our home right now.

One good thing on that front is that others in the household have recognized the need for a teenage girl to have her own space. So, things have been rearranged for Daughter to have her own room back. I also suspect that my mother was afraid my sister and her brood were getting a little too comfortable, and the feeling was a little too permanent. And they were abusing Daughter's room. Posters pulled from the wall and trompled on the floor. Keeping it filthy with dirty clothes. So, we saved it. And now Daughter is decorating everything with tiger stripes, to reflect her school pride. Gotta love it.

At the end of March, I'll travel with Ranger to Missouri. He has a storage building of merchandise for his online store that needs to be moved here, so he can actually sell the stuff. And I'll get to meet his daughter for the first time. She and I are acquainted over the phone. She calls me all the time, especially when her mother has disappeared to her boyfriend's house for days at a time. His daughter is a year older than mine, and we have a lot in common. Since she's left to her own devices so often and for so long, I don't mind if she calls me in the middle of the night. I'd rather she do that than meet up with a hormone-driven boy....that could be disastrous.

We'll have about five days with his kids. I've met his son already. He's 21 and a techno-geek, so we also have a lot in common. Ranger is afraid of his ex pulling shenanigans with the kids, concerning me. She tries to undermine us getting along, anyhow. I wish she'd realize that you want your kids to get along with a potential step-parent. I've been there when they don't, and it's an unbelievable headache for everyone involved.

He's also afraid she'll try to disrupt our relationship. When I met him, she was really jerking him around. She rejected him, but liked to yank the chain still, to see if he'd jump for her. She likes control. A lot. She bragged to him the other day that she'd gotten her new boyfriend to do something for her that Ranger would never do. Her new boyfriend found a male friend to join in a threesome with them. It was said in the tone of "see how much better he is than you," and was hurtful to him.

Anyhow, Ranger and I have made a pact. No private conversations with her. If she wants to say something privately to one of us, we will make it clear that she can say whatever it is in front of the other one. No secrets.

Mid-April, I have my annual conference in Vail, Colorado. Four nights at a work-paid ski resort, during the last week of the ski season. Ranger will go with me again, like last year. It's so nice to go back to the room after a day of talking shop and being hit up by vendors, to have him waiting and anxious to pamper me and relax me in any way I like. And some ways I didn't even think of on my own! Last year, we had a balcony that overlooked the mountain and the ski runs. Vail is really beautiful, especially with someone who wants to enjoy it with you.

Then, May comes and, with it, the end of my son's high school career. A week after he finishes his classes, we've planned a trip together. It's probably the last time I'll get to do something like this with him.

I asked him what he wanted to see.

"Where's a good car museum?" he asked.

So, we're going to a huge (125,000 square foot) classic car museum in Las Vegas. We've searched all the attractions there and now have tickets to the car museum, Madame Tussaud's, and Circque du Soleil. Woo hoo!

I'm a little nervous about the drive to and from Vegas. Son likes to poke at me and try to get a reaction. In short, he likes to say things to piss me off. I think it's his particular brand of control, really. I just don't want to spend this little holiday pissed off.

Son has recently been accepted to the college where I work. We've been discussing majors and visiting with professors. He's on the cusp of his own life. And I will always miss the little boy he was, and worry a little about the man he's become.