What Happens in Vegas

You know the saying. You’ve seen it on television advertisements and in movies; you may have even said it once or twice yourself. I would like to argue that it’s not what happens IN Vegas, it’s what happens when you DRIVE to Vegas.

If you aren’t acquainted with the route from Reno to Vegas, let me familiarize you: It’s about an eight-hour drive through the desert. For the majority of the trip, the speed limit is 70, but for every town you pass through, it will drop to 35 and then 25, forcing you to crawl along some of the most depressed areas you have ever seen. Towns that consist of little more than a few ramshackle buildings, a bar, and a brothel. Boomtowns like Goldfield which was named for the precious metal that was discovered and mined there in the early 1900’s. According to the 2010 census, today Goldfield has a population of 268. On the way to Vegas, you drive past the entrance to Death Valley, a couple of questionable hot springs, and lots of cacti. The halfway point is a town called Tonopah where you stop for lunch and fuel.

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I have always enjoyed a road trip. I like to take in the scenery, crank up the tunes, roll down the window, and drive. While most Nevadans claim there’s nothing to see between Reno and Vegas, I would disagree. It’s not the usual sights that I grew up with, and so I appreciate the peaked mountains, the dancing dust devils, the rolling tumbleweeds. What I’m not fond of is when that scenery includes flashing blue and red lights.

Last summer, my friend and I decided pack up our kids (two seven year-olds and two three year-olds) and we made the drive to Vegas to visit her mom. On the way back is when we got pulled over. Her mom had sent us home with all the booze we purchased but didn’t drink  and it was piled on the floor under the girls’ car seats. As the officer made his way to the window, we frantically threw the little ones’ baby blankets over the cases of Bud Light Margaritas and put on our most charming smiles. My friend’s son, Max, immediately started sobbing in the back seat. Max is a rule follower and his father is a cop. He was inconsolable. Thankfully the officer let us off with a warning, no thanks to Max’s sister though who when asked by the policeman if her mommy deserved a ticket, vigorously shook her head yes.

I guess I should have learned a lesson that day, but since I wasn’t the one driving, clearly it didn’t sink in. For just last week, my husband and children and I made our way to Vegas and this time, not only did I get pulled over, I got pulled over twice: a feat I daresay feels just as probable as getting struck by lightning twofold.

My husband had been behind the wheel for the first four hours and I was starting to get restless. A short stop in Tonopah recharged us. It was my turn to drive; I pulled out into the 35 mile-per-hour zone. As I had just begun, I was still getting comfortable and didn’t quite pay attention to the sign reflecting the change to 25. No sooner did I adjust my rearview mirror, and I was being pulled over.

“You haven’t even been driving for five minutes!” My husband found this to be highly amusing. By the time the officer came to my window, he was still unsuccessfully stifling his laughter. The Tonopah cop let me go, and I vowed to watch my speed…in the towns, at least.

Fast-forward three hours. It was open highway. I’d been singing along to a variety of satellite radio stations while my children were immersed in the IPad and my husband slept in the passenger seat. When he finally woke up, I was eager for some conversation. As I had recently been teaching some controversial texts in my English classes, I knew it was a matter of time before I would get a phone call or an email from a concerned (conservative) parent. We were talking about this when I saw it: the tell-tale U-turn.

Shit.

But then I thought: I can’t be getting pulled over again, can I?

Yes. Yes, I can.

Off in the distance, I could just make out the Stratosphere.

“Mommy, why do they keep stopping you?”

“Because I’m speeding.”

“But why are you speeding?”

Good question.

The officer told me I was going 97 in a 70. I wasn’t buying it…it was 85, tops. After all, if I was driving that fast, surely I would have been passing all the cars around me and that wasn’t happening. I even told the cop that I thought I was hanging with the traffic, to which he replied, “you were.” I guess I was the one who got lucky.

Needless to say, I did get a ticket, although he only cited me for going 75, which I guess I should be thankful for.

My children wanted to know how many times I had to get stopped before I went to jail forever and they would have to live with Grammy. My husband still couldn’t stop chuckling and shaking his head. When I explained to the officer that we would be switching spots so that my husband could finish our drive, the policeman said, “but you almost made it.”

Thanks.

We completed our Chinese fire-drill and my husband slid behind the wheel. Much to his delight, our four year-old announced, “Oh good. Now we’re safe.”

More thanks.

Checking into our hotel, I wondered if getting pulled over twice in one day was a sign that I should or should not gamble. Was my lucky number 97?

All in all, my careless driving did not overshadow our mini-vacation. While we didn’t win big, we made some great family memories. My eight year-old lost a wiggly tooth on the casino floor and the tooth fairy left her gambling tokens in lieu of money. (I guess that’s how she rolls in Vegas.) We got to reconnect with some friends we don’t often see as well as the family we went there to visit. We spent hours by the pool where my children swam non-stop and I remembered what it was like to lounge in the sun drinking piña coladas. And we returned home to Reno with the cruise control on and a ticket in the glove box, proving that what happens in Vegas, doesn’t really stay in Vegas.

5 Things I’ve Learned Since Living in Nevada

1. Pronunciation

“It’s Ne-Va-Duh, not Ne-Vah-Da.” That’s a bumper sticker. I’m not kidding. Nevadans are serious about the pronunciation of their state’s name. It’s also the first thing we were told when we moved here. My sister and her husband had already been living in Reno for a good six months before we came, and I guess they had to learn it the hard way. If we wanted to fit in, we better learn to say it correctly.

We did, but we still haven’t shed all of our New York accents. My students like the way I say paragraph. One time while working with some elementary school kids at a summer camp, my friend and I were teaching the children to write haikus. This kid asked how many syllables the word orange had. The two teachers couldn’t agree on the right answer. She insists it only has one; I say two. (You say tomato, I say tomato.)

Having the name Sara has also lead to some confusion with pronunciation. When I tell people my name, they hear it differently than they would pronounce it. Yet when they say it back to me the way they think they heard me say it, it sounds funny. “Sah-rah?” Ultimately, I end up spelling it out for them. Maybe I should have my name turned into a phonetic bumper sticker? Or a personalized license plate…Those are big here too.

2. Anything Goes in Virginia City

You can race camels, ostriches, and even outhouses. You can pay a man in long-john pajamas one dollar to feed a carrot to his mule. You can go to the Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival and get sheep testicles as a chowder, in a taco, or on a stick.

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I had just had my second daughter and my parents were still in town. It was the weekend of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Virginia City which coincides with the Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival. I stayed home with the baby while my husband took my parents and our then four-year-old to Virginia City for the festivities. As he was leaving, I begged him: Don’t let our daughter eat balls. You can feed her all the gluten, candy, hot dogs, and ice cream you want, but I draw the line at animal genitalia. Needless to say, husbands don’t always listen. And that was the day I learned, anything goes in Virginia City.

3. Lake Tahoe can Rival the Ocean

When I first left Long Island, people from home would ask me, “Don’t you miss the ocean?” This was a reasonable question, after all, I grew up at the beach. I spent the better part of my teenage years in the Hamptons. Before we were married, my husband and I lived in a small cottage directly on the bay, and before that I lived in a condo that sat atop the bluffs overlooking the Long Island Sound. So when I moved to the desert, I was a little worried.

And then I went to Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I know I’m not the most well-traveled person to make that assertion, but I feel confident that this is a truism nonetheless. Even Mark Twain called it “the fairest picture the whole world affords” and said that “to breathe the same air as angels, you must go to Lake Tahoe.”

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These summers you’ll find me and my family at Sand Harbor, catching crawdads, swimming in the crisp Caribbean blue waters, climbing on rocks and building elaborate castles. Since moving here, I’ve not once missed the ocean.

4. Chop Meat Doesn’t Exist

Anytime you move to a new geographic locale you will find the local lingo changes. Is that sandwich you’re eating a sub, a hoagie, or a grinder? It depends where you are. But we had already been living here for five years when I learned that chop meat doesn’t exist. Well, technically it does, but they call it by its more formal name: ground beef.

We were shopping in Whole Foods which is not our usual grocery store, but I was pregnant at the time and they sold these pre-natal vitamins that didn’t give me disgusting vitamin burps and I needed to stock up. We had just come from the appointment with my obstetrician where we got to see the baby’s heartbeat and so I told my husband we should stop and get the vitamins and something for dinner. I decided we would make tacos since it would be quick and easy for when we got home.

As we stood at the butcher counter, I found myself asking the young man behind it for a pound of chop meat. He stared at me quizzically. Maybe he didn’t hear me, I thought.

“Chop meat. A pound of chop meat, please.” I said a little louder this time.

That same confused stare.

Maybe he’s new, I thought.

“Chop…Meat,” I said a little slower this time, like he was from a foreign country.

The silence hung in the air. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I turned towards my husband with that “WTF” look on my face. He shrugged. I turned back to the clerk. Then I tried another approach.

“Ground Beef?”

“Yes, Ma’am” and he turned hurriedly to package it up and get the crazy lady away from his counter.

After we got in the car, I replayed the scenario a hundred times over. Do they not say chop meat here? How could I have lived here for five years and not know this yet?

How? That’s easy. I never ASK for chop meat. Or if I do, it’s just my husband I’m asking as in, hey hon, go to the store and get some chop meat, and HE knows what I’m talking about since we both grew up in New York. But then I got to asking myself: Is it not just a New York thing? Is it, perhaps, a white trash thing?  I mean, we don’t say “chopped meat.” Was it one of those things where if you couldn’t afford the real ground beef, they just chopped up some scrap meat and voilà?

So I did what anyone does when they find something perplexing and worrisome: I called my mother.

What I learned is that no matter how long you live somewhere new, you are going to find some things that don’t compute. No matter how long I live in Nevada, I’ll always have a touch of my New York accent and I’m always going to refer to it as chop meat.

5. Education Gets a Bad Rap

Nevada is ranked last in education. We are literally at the bottom of the list. Of course, there are a lot of different factors for this ranking, but it still makes me cringe at times to be a teacher in a state that is nationally publicized as being the worst. Yet having come from being a teacher in New York, a state that is ranked among the best, here’s what I know to be true:

I am a better teacher in Nevada than I was in New York. I have had more professional training and more opportunities to hone my craft than I ever did as a teacher in New York. I have become Nationally Board Certified, which yes, teachers can do in New York too, but for the five years that I worked there, I had never even heard of it nor did I know anyone who had done it.

When they make these rankings, they take into consideration factors like how many parents of students have gone to college and how many graduates are college-bound, and I get it, there are way more colleges on the east coast and there are more professional families. Here in Nevada, there are cowboys and casinos and two main universities: UNR and UNLV. There’s not as many resources for education either. We don’t have the same funding that they have for schools in New York. But to put us last on the list gives the impression that what is happening in the classrooms across Nevada is also sub-par. Speaking as someone who spends every day in one, I can attest that that just isn’t true.

……………………………

In the decade that my husband and I have resided in Nevada, we’ve learned a lot. We enjoy living in a place where there’s always something happening, whether it is waking up at 4 in the morning to watch hundreds of hot air balloons ascend in the pre-dawn sky, floating lazily down the Truckee River, or sampling some of the best ribs from around the nation.

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We also enjoy the spontaneity that comes from living in a place where, if you don’t like the weather, you can wait five minutes and it will change. This year, it snowed on our spring break. It was late March, which might not seem crazy but we’ve seen it snow here in June. I woke up and started laughing out loud at the foot of white that blanketed everything. Within hours, the whole family had built a snowman and we spent the rest of the afternoon sledding down the hill in our backyard.

It’s not always easy to move away from your roots, to leave your network of family and friends, but we have found a place that we enjoy calling home, a place that makes us appreciate the life we have built, a place where our chosen friends have become like family. We picked Reno, and for better or worse, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Early May. We’ve been teaching since the beginning of August. This is the home stretch. There’s six more weeks of school. Spring Break is a faded memory and every morning is a little harder to get out of bed. The weekends are busier; time goes faster as the days get longer. It is Monday morning. I am tired. The students are tired. And I forgot about the breakfast that the PTO was hosting this morning.

Teacher Appreciation Week isn’t the same for high school teachers as it is for elementary school teachers. I get it. As an elementary student, you have one main teacher. In high school, you have seven. Even a five dollar Starbucks gift card for each would cost more than most families are willing to splurge on, and high school students don’t always love all their teachers.

My school tries to show its support. In addition to the breakfast, we usually get a free pizza lunch from our Leadership Club and some desserts from a student club that would be the modern-day equivalent of Home Ec. Our administration sometimes gives us something useful with our school logo on it- a flash drive or sticky notes. One year we got a plastic travel mug although I’m fairly certain it wasn’t BPA free. This year we got gum and a pen.

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Occasionally a student will give me a gift. Usually they are the sons and daughters of teachers. If I’m lucky, it will buy me a Carmel Frappuccino. If I’m not, they made it themselves. One year a student gave me a broach that he found. He told me it was a cougar- our school mascot, but it was a jaguar. And since I’m not 85, I never wore it. I think it is still in my desk somewhere.

My friend teaches at an affluent elementary school and every year she sends me pictures of her swag. Spa Finder gift certificates, Coach Bags, gift cards to restaurants and bottle upon bottles of wine. I’m not jealous though. She usually gives me the wine she doesn’t like. I’ll drink anything.

So on this Monday morning, I was already a little bummed at having forgotten about the free pancakes when I began teaching my class. As I distributed their new monthly calendars, I mentioned that this was their last instructional calendar when a student, let’s call him Peter, said, “Good. I hate this class.”

I stopped and turned to face him.

“Thank you, Peter.” I said. “That really made me feel good.”

He mumbled an apology.

Now first of all, I know that teachers are told NEVER to use sarcasm in the classroom. But say that to any high school teacher and they will laugh in your face. Also, I technically wasn’t using sarcasm, it was more verbal irony, BUT in hindsight, I probably should have avoided that too but ONLY because Peter takes everything very literally. Like an elementary school student, he does not get irony or sarcasm.

In the nine months I have known him, this is what I have learned. Every class he takes out about a dozen pencils-each is about 3-4 inches long- and lines them up on his desk. He also takes out his pencil sharpener and continues to whittle each one down to a pointy stump. He then takes said pencils and stabs holes in his binder. When he writes sentences for his vocabulary quizzes, they are all about cats. He loves Minecraft. Peter reminds me of a sixth grade boy.

Peter came to our school as a new student to the area. He had previously been in a much smaller school system. From the first time I met him, I questioned whether or not he was placed accurately in “honors” English. I wasn’t the only one. My student intern was concerned. The counselor was concerned. The only one who didn’t seem concerned was his mom who swore that he belonged in honors. Throughout the year, I have been in contact with his mother probably more than any other student this year. We have spoken on the phone, emailed one another, and had face-to-face parent teacher conferences. Peter struggles to get his homework done and has barely maintained a D, but he has passed mostly due to my efforts to communicate with his mother and her support.

As any teacher knows, parent communication is a time-consuming part of our job requirement. At the high school level, with 160+ students, it is an area I work to improve every year because every year there is room for improvement. (Similar to how every New Year, I resolve to floss my teeth more.)

So when Peter declared that he hated my class, it bothered me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that not every student is going to love my class. I also know that not every student is going to love English, or love me. But until you have tried in my class, I don’t think you have a right to judge it. Much like a food critic can’t review a dish he hasn’t eaten, Peter has not earned the right to pass judgement on my class.

I also don’t think that Peter hates my class. I don’t think he likes that he isn’t doing well in it. I don’t think he likes when I email his mother and she makes him do his homework instead of playing video games. But like a juvenile kid, I think Peter spoke before thinking and I think he wanted to be a little mean.

Next year, Peter is not taking an honors English class. This is probably a good thing, but it also is going to present him with more struggles. Peter will still not do his homework. His peers, in a regular class, are likely not going to be as accepting of him. For Peter, who has struggled with bullying in the past, this worries me. His teacher might not make as much of an effort to communicate with Peter’s mom as I have. Next year, Peter might authentically be in the position to say, “I hate this class.”

For Teacher Appreciation Week, I don’t expect a lot. I do, however, expect a lot as a teacher. I expect students to try. I expect that they do their best. I expect that they treat each other (and me) with respect. And that includes following the age old adage: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed to that luncheon before all the pizza is gone.

What Are You Waiting For?

I have been teaching a creative writing elective called Writer’s Craft for three years now. My first year, I knew I wanted to bring guest speakers into the classroom, but I was so busy with creating the curriculum and getting my National Board certification that I wasn’t able to. So my second year, that was one of my goals for the class.

That second year, I reached out to local authors and was successful in getting a few of them (three to be exact) to volunteer their time to come speak to my Writer’s Craft class. Not only did the students enjoy it, but I did as well. Listening to real, published authors was inspiring. My students were learning strategies and tips from professionals—people who made their living through writing.

In year three, I upped the ante. This year, my goal was to bring in a guest speaker once a month. Of course, there would be some months that wouldn’t happen, like August when we had first returned to school and I hadn’t had the time to network yet. Or December, when we were only in school for two weeks before winter recess and one of them was finals week. And March, where we were again off for two weeks for our Spring Recess. But overall, I was successful. We had a total of SIX guest speakers this year, and only one of them was a returning author from the previous year. (I would also like to note that only one presenter was paid to come speak to my class, and that was made possible through a donation.)

This year, my students learned about creating character from Jacci Turner. They learned about archetype and voice from Virginia Castleman. They learned how to write their own story from Terri Farley and about stakes and tension from Heather Petty. Todd Borg drove for over an hour to instruct my students on the hook, the twist, and the cliffhanger. And the last speaker for the year was Tracy Clark, whom my class met via Skype.

Previously, I had never used Skype as a teaching tool. I’d Skyped with my parents before on occasion, but I never thought about how I might use Skype in the classroom until Tracy Clark offered to gift my class with a 30-minute Skype session. I was immediately intrigued and terrified. As a teacher, panic sets in when technology doesn’t cooperate. I had flashbacks to when my mother-in-law wanted to Skype but could never get her microphone to work and we spent the time both on the phone and on Skype simultaneously so that we could both hear and see one another. However, my librarian worked on my behalf along with our IT department to make sure it was all working for the arranged date and time. And while we lost connection once and had to call Tracy back, other than that, it was probably the coolest thing I did in my classroom all year.

My students got to see the inside of Tracy Clark’s home. They got to imagine themselves living the writing life. It was so personal and intimate. It was like taking them on a field trip without leaving the school.

All of the authors who volunteered their time to speak to my students were amazing. Each one of them has said things that stuck with me. However, something that Tracy said in this Skype visit really made me think.

One of my students asked Tracy how she started writing, and in response, she told us this story. She said that she always loved to read and she was reading to her daughter one night before bed when her daughter said to her, “Aren’t you so happy? All of your dreams have come true.” Tracy realized that all of her dreams really hadn’t come true. That while she was happy being a wife and a mother, there were other things she aspired to, and writing was one of them. When she explained to her daughter that there were other things she wanted to do, her daughter asked her why she didn’t do them. And that’s when Tracy Clark started writing.

This all happened just as I was thinking about starting this blog. Wait. Scratch that. I had been thinking about starting a blog for a few years, but I had never actually gotten around to doing it. Just like I had started that novel. And just like I had that really great idea for that teaching book that I’d written a query letter for. For each of those things, I’d let my life get in the way. And it was easy to make excuses because excuses meant that I hadn’t failed. You can’t fail at something you don’t actually do.

I’d also gotten in the habit of trying to enlist friends into my great schemes.

I had decided that my friend (I call her Hooker) and I should do the blog together. We like to get together and craft (and drink). We could call it “Two Hookers and a Hot Glue Gun” or “Crafting with Cocktails.” But Hooker never said she wanted a blog, so why was I pawning off my dreams on her?

I was talking to my mom and explaining this to her when she said that we like to have someone to blame other than our self. And she’s right (moms usually are). It’s another excuse we can add to the list for why we never got to do ________________.

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In my English classes, we just got done reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and we ended with a Socratic Seminar. As I sat there literally biting my tongue (as a teacher, it’s so hard not to speak during those things!) I was struck by the conversation of my students and my own thoughts on Chris McCandless. Among other things, my students were discussing how he lived his life, how he died happy and at peace doing what he loved, and how his escape into the Alaskan wilderness was his way of rebelling against society. Society expects people to go to college, to graduate, to start a career, to get married, and to have children. So many people wait till they are retired to do the things they want to do. When they are retired and the children are grown, then they will travel, or then they will have the time to golf, to start a garden, to hike, to paint, to read War and Peace, to learn Cantonese. But how many people never get to do those things?

The time to live your dream is now. The time to stop making excuses is now.

So here I am. This is my blog. What are you waiting to do?

Blueberries on the Brain

Have you ever had one of those moments when you are standing in the shower at 6 A.M. and suddenly you are struck with an epiphany? I’m not talking about one of those Come-to-Jesus moments, or that you suddenly realize the meaning of life. I’m talking about having a head full of shampoo when it dawns on you that you effed up, that it isn’t the week you thought it was, and that you inadvertently had your husband drop off two quarts of blueberries for the teacher appreciation breakfast a full week in advance. That’s right folks. That was me this morning.

It must have been that steamy water that unclogged my brain.

“Mike? Mike!” I hollered while squeegeeing the glass doors of the shower. “Did you drop off those blueberries to the school yesterday?”

He did.

“What did they say?”

Strange looks were exchanged and there was a mumbled thank you.

The irony of the situation is further highlighted when you consider what I do for a living. I’m a teacher for crying out loud! You would think I might be able to get Teacher Appreciation Week right. Nope. Not this week.

Last Thursday, I interviewed for the Department Leader position at the high school where I have taught and worked at for just shy of a decade. It was the second time I had interviewed for this position, and the result was not in my favor. The last time I ran against the current DL and the administration felt that she deserved a second term. After she stepped down, I interviewed again. This time I was up against a fellow colleague. On Friday afternoon I was told that she was the preferred candidate because she had her masters in Administration (mine is Literacy Education). They felt she would have a better understanding of what they were trying to accomplish on their end of things.

I’m not going to lie. It hurt. It was the second time I had heard “you had a strong interview and an impressive resume and you are well qualified to be a department leader, but we’re not picking you.”

I spent the better part of the weekend wrestling with the disappointment and figuring out what my next steps should be.

As a Type-A, I am a planner. I can’t, as my friend suggested, just stay in my classroom, teach, and be happy. That’s not to say that teaching doesn’t make me happy. I really love my job. But professionally, I want to continue to grow and learn. So as I spent my weekend plotting my next moves professionally, I also had to keep tabs on all the other things I needed to make sure got done: I had promised my students I would see them in the school play Friday night, there was gymnastics class and a belt test for Karate on Saturday, we were taking the girls to a Baby Animal Days event at a local farm, attending a bowling birthday party, and having family dinner Sunday night at my sister’s. Somewhere in that same weekend, I needed to grocery shop, clean the house, do enough laundry to make sure we all had clean underwear, and behind that all, the mantra: Don’t Forget the Blueberries!

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A few nights before my interview, I had a strange dream. It involved a current student of mine whom I drove to the airport. He had misplaced his boarding passes and was frantic and nervous about flying alone. I stayed at the airport with him until he boarded. In doing so, I neglected to pick up my children from school and daycare. Once my student was safely on the plane, I became frantically aware of my mistake. How could I have forgotten about my own children?

Once conscious, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the student represented work. My children, well- they were my children. In taking on a larger role at work, I subconsciously feared it would interfere with my duties as a mother. And yet in life, we can’t let our fears-or our role as mothers- hold us back.

Being a full-time, working mother is tough. It’s hard to balance both our professional lives and our personal lives. Sometimes… you’re going to get hit in the head with the blueberries.

A Life Without Emojis

Let’s get something straight: I love the written word. I love to read it; I love to write it. I am that person who re-reads emails I’ve composed before I hit send, and then again after the person I’ve emailed has replied. I am that wife who writes my husband letters to better explain myself after we’ve argued. The person who gets thank you cards in response to my thank you cards (a vicious cycle).

Let’s get something else straight: I am a little bit of a penny-pincher. I don’t like to say I’m cheap, because I can be very generous. I also don’t always spend money wisely. I’m not someone who budgets well and I don’t cut coupons (although I have tried many, many times to be that person).  That being said, I was raised by a single mother who was raised as one of seven daughters. I was raised knowing that money was tight, sometimes tighter than others. I was raised wearing hand-me-down clothes and sometimes going without. So in my adult life, I always eat our leftovers, I buy second-hand furniture, and I find it difficult to replace things that aren’t broken: my dishwasher, my washing machine, my refrigerator, my cell phone, my car. While a new one would be nice, and certainly do a more efficient job, I just can’t do it. So what if after a vigorous spin cycle I have to find the top of the agitator somewhere in the pile of wet clothes and pop it back into place? Is it really that hard to fill ice cube trays now that the built-in water and ice dispenser has gone kaput? But sometimes when I pick my cell phone up after it has clattered to the floor, I actually hope that the screen will be cracked this time, that way I’ll have to get a new phone.

My Iphone 4 is, for all intents and purposes, functioning just fine. Yes, there are some apps that are no longer compatible with the antiquated operating system, but overall, it works. Yet for some reason, I have never been able to send emojis with my phone. I’ve tried. Believe me. While this wasn’t initially a problem, I’m starting to feel that I am not learning a language that everyone I know communicates in. I don’t have the luxury of choosing the string of pictures that will best accompany my texts. While others are blowing me kisses and sending me electronic cocktails and fist-pumps, I am left replying with 🙂

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Besides, obviously, 😦

For a person who loves communication, especially written communication, it is frustrating to feel so limited. My words- at least when I’m texting- just aren’t enough. And I find myself wondering, how many different races of Santa are there?

Recently, I discovered that while I receive most emojis, my outmoded phone doesn’t compute all emojis. When that happens, what I end up with is alien. Literally, the emoji is an alien. For the longest time, I was trying to figure out why so many people were enamored with aliens.  And how it was that these aliens fit within the context of a TGIF text alongside a glass of wine, a woman dancing in a red dress, and a party hat.

Wine, dancing, party hat, alien? I would shrug my shoulders and move on. After all, you can’t question one’s choice of emojis. There’s some unwritten etiquette rule that says so.

Then one day around Christmastime, my friend texted me excitedly. She was ready to “break out black Santa.” I got two emojis: white Santa and an alien. I was confused. After a series of texts back and forth, she sends me a screen shot of her phone with the text she’d sent me and there, dark as night, was black Santa. Was my phone a racist? Did it not want me to see the black Santa? I thought he was darling in his red suit and white beard.

It didn’t take long to realize that for every alien I’ve gotten, I’ve missed something else. But what exactly was I missing? It’s like having the secret message from Little Orphan Annie without the decoder ring. How will I know that I’m supposed to drink my Ovaltine?

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It’s been many months since Christmas, and while we’ve talked about getting new phones, (I’ve even gone so far as putting them in a virtual shopping cart) I’ve yet to make the purchase. I’m sure I’ll break eventually, that is, if my phone doesn’t break first.

Or perhaps we’ll get them next Christmas when (black) Santa brings them.