Tuesday, May 31, 2011

There are palm trees out my window...

While Utah is still having rain storms, it's summer in sunny California! And, after nearly 11 long hours in the car, Tina and I are enjoying it up close and personal, in Palm Springs!

This was definitely a last minute trip. Our parents had a time share they could only use half of because of my baby sister's last week of school. They offered it to us for the second half of the week and we couldn't say no! Because my last day of school was Friday, we were able to rearrange our schedules pretty quickly.

It was a really long drive. It would have been about 40 minutes shorter if we hadn't made it all the way to Draper before I realized we were going north instead of south. As I like to say, I'm so directionless that "I can't find my way out of a paper bag."

We did come prepared to break up the monotony with some hot tunes...

...lots of food (we did, in fact, have lots of real food, too, I promise)...

...and exciting detours (like to Beaver's cheese factory!).

The last 3 hours are desert for miles and miles. It's hard to feel super optimistic, except for the fact that it's the roller coaster road and who doesn't love that? You know you've been in the car too long when you finally result to listening to, "Hakunah Matata."

But, finally, along came solar heating and Palm Springs...

We can't wait to soak up the sun tomorrow by the pool and get in a lot of reading!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What a (Lagoon) Day!

Every other year, Dixon goes to Lagoon.

Little did we know that our good friend Coach Hendrickson is a theme park junkie. He lit up like a little boy on Christmas the moment we stepped off the bus.

There weren't as many students going this year (they had to qualify) so less teachers got to go. I put my name on the list fast, but some of my friends didn't. At the very last second, we had 2 empty seats on the bus and Jessica (who I did Thoroughly Modern Millie with) got to come! We were so stoked, especially because she had never been to Lagoon before!

Coach's excitement was absolutely contagious.

He was our tour guide through the park. He had the day planned out so we would hit the rides at the times when there would be the shortest lines. It was genius.

...except for the part where we went on the water rides first. The day was overcast and my jeans were still wet at 9:00 p.m. that night. Though it may be hard to tell, this is us being soaked after we rode in the log ride.

I had one of the coldest half hours of my life right around lunch time. Jessica and I had to go to the bathroom and spend a good ten minutes drying off under the hand dryers.

The climax of the day was at 11:00 a.m. Coach has a tradition of taking a teacher with him on the sky coaster, probably the scariest ride at Lagoon. You have to pay $15.00 per person just to do it. Somehow (and I'm not sure how) he talked Jessica into going. Just like drugs, I had already made the decision in my life ahead of time that I would just say no to that kind of terror, so no amount of peer pressure could persuade me to change my mind. The choice was easy. Jessica was on the fence, and Coach is the king of pep talks. So, she ended up in the jump suit, terrified.

Although she was still shaking for an hour afterward, she said the sensation of flying was totally worth it.

Here we are, the three amigos, in line for Wicked (so fun).

And here we are on the Rocket. I shrieked and kicked my legs the entire ride.

As per tradition, the teachers got together for a Western photo shoot.

I put these pics in sepia for a few reasons:

1) It looks more old fashioned
2) My hat does not actually match my dress
3) I am, in fact, wearing the exact same dress they put me in two years ago.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some people can say things so much better than I can.

After a grueling year, hilarious emails such as these are very welcomed:

Ms. Houston--

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the 7th grade choir concert last Thursday. Anyone who can herd 7th graders (who can be like the barbarian hordes ...) and get them organized and singing--well, my hat goes off to you.

--A 7th Grade Parent

What are the barbarian hordes? Anyone?

The funny thing about 7th grade concerts is that the only things I CAN accomplish are getting them "herded", organized and singing. Singing well? Now, that's a WHOLE other league, one I am not yet a part of!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shake it to the left, shake it to the right, come on teachers, fight, fight, FIGHT!

Today was the student/faculty basketball game. Of course, I clearly couldn't offer my athletic prowess on the court, but I was more than excited to be a cheerleader along with my friends Whitney and Carrie (who made our amazing cheerleading skirts and headbands). It was so liberating to act like a fool on purpose in front of hundreds of students. We jumped and twirled and danced and hollered and kicked and did spirit fingers like there was no tomorrow. A student actually asked me afterward if I had been a cheerleader in high school.

It must have been the herkie.

You may wonder if I'm sore. The answer is that I'm probably more sore than any of the actual basketball players put together. I'm not used to that kind of intense workout!! I have a new found appreciation for cheerleaders, Christina.

Also, although the teachers held their own pretty well, we totally lost. I'm trying not to take it personally. We DO have some pretty amazing ballers for students, however...definitely some future BYU b-ball stars! Can't wait to hear about them in 5-10 years.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Jonah Day

Today has just been one of those days. Everything seemed to go a little bit awry.

I had grand intentions to get spiritually prepared for the breakout session I was to conduct for our R.S. board meeting with those sisters involved with education. Just as I sat down to study, "Teaching, No Greater Call," I got a call from my dad. Our smoke detector over at the Country Club Villas condo had gone off and was creating quite a disturbance to all the other residents (there was no fire, just a lot of loud beeping).

I went over there with my friend Daniel to get it turned off. We discovered the roof just above the offending smoke detector was wet. Come to find out the people living above our unit just had a flood in their bathroom this morning. The water soaking through the ceiling dripped into the detector and caused it to go off.

I tried to get a hold of my dad to let him know about the flood damage, but he was giving a talk at a ward conference and was seated on the stand and could not respond. I called my mom and she tried for a half hour to find the phone number of the people who live above us so we could let them know what was going on and figure out what to do. After calling a wrong number, looking them up through 411, and contacting the manager of the building, my mom finally found the woman on face book and sent her a message about what was going on, hoping she might happen to check it.

While this is going on, I'm in Sacrament meeting. I left right after the meeting to get Christina and Jeremy from the airport (yay!). I knew I had to get back by 2:30 for the R.S. board meeting (which I still hadn't prepared for). I had just enough time to get there about five minutes early. On the way home, however, I got to talking with Christina about the woes of dating in Provo and I made it all the way to Spanish Fork before I realized that I had passed our exit...3 exits ago. Ugh. After getting to their house and while waiting for Tina and Jer to get their luggage (and for Tina to bring me some plastic forks from her house that I was supposed to bring to the meeting), I quickly read a little story to share for the board meeting. I know. I'm terrible.

I finally made it to the church at 2:40 after the meeting had already begun and realized I left my manual with my story in the car. There was no way I was leaving the meeting again to get it, so when the breakout session started and it was my turn to present, I tried to tell the story from memory and butchered it.

BUT...I'm about ready to leave on a walk in the beautiful sunshine and I think things are looking up...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

So long, farewell...

Thursday night were my end of the year concerts. Yes, that's concertS, plural. I tried something new this year. Due to the lack of space in our auditorium (there are about 500 seats and with 200 kids in the program, multiplied by 2 parents each plus other family members plus space for my students to sit, it's a mess), I decided to have a 7th grade concert from 6:30-7:00 and an 8th grade concert from 7:15-8:00 p.m. It was a little more exhausting, but worth it in the end. In past blog posts, I've done concert highlights and lowlights and I think that's how I'll continue to report back on concerts from now on, as it's short and sweet and straight to the point.

  • (7th grade) Hearing all three different melodies being successfully sung together in, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" was a beautiful thing. Each section was able to sing a different melody independently and they sounded great.
  • (7th grade) Our rhythm piece (spoken, not sung) turned out really cool. My friend and accompanist Reed (the choir director and UVU) played the drum. He suggested once during class when he came to practice that I have the kids move side to side so they could feel the rhythm and thus speak in rhythm more effectively. That was an awesome tip, especially since the song is called, "Do You Feel the Rhythm?" Why didn't I think of that? Thank goodness for mentors.
  • (7th grade) The alto part on, "You Raise Me Up" came through loud and clear, which warmed my heart right up. They did it!! Learning to sing in harmonies is new territory for many of these kids. The baritone part...not so much. But hey, I'll take the soprano/alto split happily!
  • (7th grade) Hearing those kids blasting, "You ain't Never Had a Friend Like Me" at the top of their lungs got me every time. They LOVE that song. We did straight up melody, no dynamics and harmony, but they loved it. I'm grateful for the suggestion of another mentor to have the kids sing some easy, fun stuff.
  • (8th grade) One of my students has his own band. The band consists of him on the guitar and his buddy on the piano. They write their own stuff and they are actually pretty dang good. They even have their album on itunes! I invited him to open the 8th grade concert with one of his original pieces and it was fantastic.
  • (8th grade) My girls ensemble sang their French piece, "Dirait-on" exquisitely. I am SO PROUD of them for how far they've come this year. Because my concert choir is pretty advanced for their age, the girls often get over-shadowed. Dirait-on is not an easy piece and they rocked it. This is a group of girls who are extremely diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity, socio--economic background, and social class. I've never had an 8th grade group with such a wide range of personalities and backgrounds. Many of these girls weren't raised singing in church every week and in family home evenings. To some of them, the whole choral experience is completely foreign. They have learned to sing in three part harmonies like champs. They are why I teach.
  • (8th Grade) During, "Homage," by Randall Stroope, one of my favorite choral composers, the concert choir and I were truly one as we interpreted the music together for the audience. It was an incredible experience. They watched my direction like hawks and I was thus able to experiment with tempos and dynamics that we had never before done in class or in a previous performance.
  • (8th Grade) My concert choir sang a piece that I sang in high school called, "Fire, Fire" by Thomas Morley. It's a five part (SSATB) harmony polyphonic piece from the 1500's and a traditional madrigal. Each part is singing something completely different from the other 4 parts for the majority of the song. Each part has different notes, different rhythms, different entrances, different cut-offs, etc.I wanted them to learn this piece so badly because I remembered how much I loved it from high school. I bought it during first semester and presented it to the kids three times. The first two times, we simply were not ready. We had to put it away. I didn't know if we would ever make it. They nailed it. They worked so hard and didn't give up when we finally decided we were ready for it. They pushed the limits of middle school choir. We couldn't have done it without their incredible musicianship and their parents who have supported them in musical endeavors their whole lives.
  • (8th grade) My girls ensemble sang, "Good Morning Baltimore" with 8 girls doing choreography in the front. It was so cute! They wore poodle skirts. Christina got them started on the choreography before she left on tour and they finished it. The stuff they came up with was so cute. They did a fabulous job.
  • (8th grade) A small group of girls from my girls ensemble sang the Prince Royce version of, "Stand By Me." It's done in the style of bachata music, a popular Mexican genre, and sung in both English and Spanish. 6 of the girls performing it were Latina and 2 were Caucasian. They put their own group together and choreographed a little dance, bachata style. They did the entire thing on their own during their free time. Words can't express what it meant to see them together on stage bringing together two different cultures. That's the whole point, right?


  • Within 5 minutes of me walking in to the school, three students separately told me I looked like a vampire.
  • I realized too late that I had the more unwilling-to-participate-with-the-group girls in the alto section, who happened to carry the melody in the piece we performed. Oh well.
  • A little group of my 7th graders chose to hang around in the parking lot after their concert was done and they thought it would be fun to go around and pound on doors during the 8th grade concert. Luckily, I didn't hear it, or else I don't know what I would have done during the concert!
  • I decided last minute to accompany the 7th grade boys on, "Under the Sea" instead of conduct them. I didn't realize how much they needed me for the words during the middle section. The words to that song move pretty fast. You can probably imagine how that went down.
  • The Girls Ensemble learned, "For Good" from Wicked in about 3 class periods. They begged me to let them use their music, as they didn't know the words. I insisted they were fine (probably because I know that song in my sleep and just assumed everyone else did too...ugh, I'm so weird) and wouldn't let them take the music. I was afraid they wouldn't look up at all. Wow. We had some scary moments during that piece and it was all my fault. Luckily, this group of girls is very forgiving! :-)

Here is Reed who had his phD, giving his time to accompany a humble little middle school in P-town. Thanks, Reed.

Here is, "Fire, Fire." I couldn't figure out how to just do a sound clip, so I did it in a movie format with just one picture in the background :-).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Do you ever have those times in life where there is so much to say that it's much easier to say nothing at all?

I've let almost a week go by without posting on my blog, and I kind of miss it. This blog has been an incredible outlet for me, as well as a good journal of my experiences over the past three years. But right now, my life is in a period of flux and I don't know exactly what to do. It has occupied my mind and moved writing about more trivial things to a back burner. I know I need to make a change in order to be happy, but I'm having the hardest time identifying exactly what change (or changes) I need to make. I have learned a lot during this period about prayer and personal revelation.

One thing that has become crystal clear is that I can't just pray and fast once and receive all the answers during one temple trip. I kind of hoped it might be that easy. But the Lord's way is not my way. He teaches little by little and if we accept and apply the things He teaches us the first time, we will receive more. Slowly but surely, pieces of the puzzle will come together. It has been an exciting journey for that reason. I am required to continually seek Him for help and guidance, rather than simply acknowledge His presence. I haven't really done that since my mission. And, while trials of patience and are not always fun, I am grateful for them because they are truly shaping and refining my spirit, as cliche as that may sound.

I have a long way to go in figuring out my life. But I'm pretty sure there is a phrase out there somewhere that says, "Slow and steady wins the race"...right?

I like the quote below better. It's one I can count on for sure.

1. Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene one step enough for me.

2. I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: Remember not past years.

3. So long Thy pow'r has blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Uma Festinha Brasileira

Last night, I hosted "A Little Brazilian Party" (see title).

The decorations were inspired by the Brazilian flag:

In lieu of confetti and water for the fake flowers, I used black beans, a staple for homes in southern Brazil.

I added a few little trinkets of mine from when I served in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Sylvia was a HUGE help in putting together this event. For those of you who don't remember, she and I served together in the same mission. She made the Brazilian dessert pizza (above) and the Brazilian salad (below). The dessert pizza has mozzarella cheese, milk chocolate, and strawberries, all on a regular bread crust. The salad is simply onions and tomatoes soaked in vinegar and salt. Salad in Brazil isn't as we know it, with lettuce and a bunch of vegetables cut up in it, at least not where I served. It's usually just one or two vegetables with vinegar.

Above, you will see a bowl of little balls called pao de queijo, or "cheese bread." They were made from a box, yes, but look were the box 'o ingredients was made:

(Hint: You can buy this mix at Macey's grocery store! Trust me, you want to!)

My dear friends Kelly and Chad came to share this meal with us, along with my friend Reed. Chad and Reed actually knew each other from graduate school in Rochester, New York. I made Asian dumplings (or pot stickers) with Reed a couple months ago and I kept promising I would return the favor with a Brazilian meal (not to mention the fact that he's doing me a HUGE favor and accompanying my middle school choirs for my concert this week!!). So, that was the whole reason behind our little festinha.

Below, Chad and Reed are making the Brazilian version of pot stickers (sort of) called pasteis. A special thanks to Violet's mom for emailing me the recipe from Brazil where she is serving with her husband in the Recife temple. Here in the states, it's easier to buy wonton skins to put the filling in before frying them. The filling consists of ground beef, basil, onions, celery, and salt and pepper. So delicious!

Our friend Rachel from the mission moved in to our ward last week! We were so surprised and excited to see her. It was perfect timing so she could come to our dinner last night! She brought the cherished "refri" (or soda) above called guarana. Below, you can see both Rachel and I sporting our shirts from Brazil.

Kelly and Chad brought the rice. Thanks, guys!

The main dish was the Brazilian version of stroganof, which was my favorite dish in Brazil. In fact, some members would purposely make it when they knew I was coming for lunch (the biggest meal in Brazil) because I made such a big deal about how much I loved it. If you're curious as to what goes inside, check out the recipe: http://www.grouprecipes.com/10553/brazilian-stroganoff.html

Sylvia and I got a little creative with it to get it to taste just right (we don't have the exact ingredients here that they use). We put in much more ketchup and sour cream then it called for and even added cream cheese. It was a lot of fun to experiment. As most of you know, that's not something I ever do unsupervised in the kitchen. Thanks, Sylvia, for being my mentor and teaching me about cornstarch.

On top of the estroganofe, Brazilians often put potato sticks. They are literally potato chips made in teeny tiny little sticks instead of chips. On Reed's plate above on the right, you can see the completed pasteis after they were fried.

Our friend Andre from the mission, a real Brazilian, joined us for dinner. I knew that would be the TRUE test of whether or not our food was passable. He said the stroganof was 95% accurate. We'll take it!

We though our picture below turned out funny...it looks like a family photo.

Now I just have to get back there to have the real deal once again...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Kelebration of Khocolate

Hosted by Krista, Kelsey, Katie, and...Ksylvia

Brought to you by the letter...


(betcha thought I was going to say, 'K,'!)

Festive decorations





The difference between girls (above) and boys (below).




Mike told me that he is a semi-legit cowboy because he used to work on his grandpa's farm during the summers. It was exciting to have a real-live cowboy at Krista's party!

Funny Fotos

Funky Frames

Fa la la la la's

A helium filled happy birthday (above)

Food Fights


Thanks, Krista, for being born! We love you!