Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Heart Books!

It is no surprise I love books - I love the way they smell, the way they feel in your hands, and most importantly, the way they transport you to another life, time, or place. Since I was a little girl, I have used the summer months to catch up on all those books I haven't had a chance to read during the school year. This summer, I've already been lucky enough to read four books (besides my textbooks of course), and it is just the beginning. Why tell you this? Because along with rediscovering my love of reading these past couple weeks, I have had a lot of fun with It's a way to see what people and your friends are reading, to read reviews on the books being read by your friends, and to get ideas of what you'd like to read when you finally get a chance. So if you have a minute, check out Even if you're not churning out novels by the week (or by the day if you're my sister or my grandma), it's still entertaining to see your friends are reading.

And despite sounding much older than I am, I have to tell you how much I enjoy attending my book club. A group of my teacher friends started it a few months ago. The book club is great because we have teachers that come from all disciplines so we get a variety of perspectives from people who have such different backgrounds. Our most recent discussion was on "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." It tells the tale of a nine-year-old boy who has recently lost his father on 9/11 and the journey he takes in trying to understand both his father's life and his death. I cannot adequately explain the story in its uniqueness and its twisting plot, but it is very well written. The author uses pictures and color to help demonstrate his themes and points--I've never read or seen anything like it in an adult novel. Our book club discussion was all over the place as we hit topics varying from world politics to what the objects we value mean to those who are left behind after we die. Not to mention that we laughed at a nine-year-old's take on love, New York City streets, and the quirky people he encounters. I'd highly recommend it. Next month we're reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" if you want to join us--

Anyway-- enough random spill on books. I have to be careful. Once I get started talking about books, I almost cannot stop. I am off to read "Twisted" or "Salvaged Pages" - not sure which I'm craving more. Happy reading!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

In Honor of Johnny

I am not a consistent journal writer. Despite the fact that I carry a small notebook everywhere I go to record random impressions and ideas, my beautiful leather bound journal has more blank pages than it should. I don't write for a number of reasons - the chief of which includes that I am far too detailed, and I've usually written pages before I've gotten to the heart of what I intended to write about. Also, writing experiences or thoughts down makes them real. I can avoid them or pretend that I don't feel that way in speech and in action, but there's no hiding in a journal. It's complete honesty, sometimes to the point of pain. And yet today, I feel it necessary to set a new goal to write in my journal on a regular basis. Seems a simple thing to do, but I have set this goal before and failed almost immediately. This go-around though, I have a stronger motivation and reasoning for doing it - concisely put, it is because of Johnny.

John Dietrich Hoffman was born in Germany on April 16, 1922. We don't know when exactly the Hoffman family immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, but we know well that he was my papa's brother and my grandma's uncle. He lived a very humble life - a young man during the Depression, he worked to support himself as part of the CCC - FDR's idea of how to employ those affected by the economy's downturn. Unknown to anyone else, he joined the army in the early 40s and showed up at my great-grandparents' home in San Francisco after completing basic training. Little is known about his service, though we do know that he did not like the army. And so when the war ended, he took a job found for him by his brother in South San Francisco in a factory near what would later be known as Candlestick Park. He worked there as a machinist until he was 62. Then he collected his pension and his social security and lived a quiet life that only included a few blocks in the heart of the city. To our knowledge, Johnny never married, though he did love a good woman named Peggy who he took care of while she suffered a long battle with cancer. Johnny was content to never learn how to drive - he didn't have anywhere that he wanted to go. He ate breakfast at the same diner every day. He walked his beloved dogs, read his paper, watched a little tv, and bet on horses when he could at the track. After complications from a bad fall in January, Johnny died on February 2, 2008.

Though we didn't see Johnny often (he didn't like to travel - Concord and Alamo seemed an eternity away), it was always entertaining when he came to dinner on holidays and special occasions. He had a distinct way of speaking - he never beat around the bush, and he always wanted to know about you and your family. Johnny asked sincere questions about other people, but never spoke about himself. He had a way of deflecting your questions and moving conversation back to someone else in the family. And that's why, after his memorial service that was held yesterday in Placerville, I walked away wishing we knew more. His siblings and parents are long gone. Anyone else who knew him is aging or dead and was also kept at bay not knowing any of Johnny's personal details. We don't know why he hated the army - was it the death he saw or corruption in his commanding officers? Why didn't he marry Peggy? Or if he did marry her, why didn't he share that with his family? Why did he lie about being born in Germany, instead always saying he was born in New York? Etc, etc.

With Johnny at the forefront of my mind today, I heard multiple talks and comments that seemed directed at me. They all focused on remembering and recording who we are, both for our purposes and those that follow us. I knew as I listened and now as I write, that despite my inadequacies and my constant reflection on the oddest things, writing in my journal needs to be a priority. I have always known that, but not accepted the responsibility. I have watched great examples (Megan--you especially!!) prove that it can be done and done well. I want to fill dozens of journals with pages that are covered with the classic day-to-day experiences and life-altering moments and random recollections of love that was lost and found, divine inspiration that changed everything, dreams that somehow came true, and goals that were finally accomplished.

Someday, when I have passed through the veil, I will sit down with Johnny and finally hear his stories. With diligence and help from above, hopefully, my family won't have to wait that long to know what I thought, what I did, and what I knew to be absolute truth because of my journals and the stories we have told over the years. The people I love most deserve to know, and so now I am off to write-- Good night and happy journaling!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer Bliss

Welcome to Summer 2008! I have been dreaming of this moment since August 27th of last year. Somehow the two moves of last summer negated the lazy bliss that is supposed to be mine for two solid months, and so here I am ready to begin the endless days of nothing that I have to accomplish. Except, that I do have things to do - it wouldn't be my life if there wasn't some list made out of all the things I hope to do with my endless hours.
So far, summer has been wonderful. I have spent solid chunks of time dedicated to studying and writing papers for my Stanford class (okay - not so wonderful, but I've had the motivation to do it so that is truly a wonder). I have spent a lot of time with my family and my grandparents for Ryan's graduation and Father's Day. Jewels has been up to Alamo almost every day which means excessive laughing with my sisters. Tracy and I have spent hours lounging, talking, and making plans for all the fun things we want to do in the next few months and the rest of our lives. I have already sent out the invitations for Jewels' baby shower with Jenessa's help and am having fun imagining life with Baby Mae running around. I have begun evaluating different lessons I taught this past year and made plans for what I want to try and incorporate in my classes next year. I have started three novels (Mercy, Fire in the Blood, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) and have finished one (Fire in the Blood). I said good-bye to one of the Katies (two amazing friends that I teach with at SRV) as she prepares to start a life in the shadow of the Colorado Rockies. I have started piano lessons for the first time since high school - my fingers felt a bit like the Tin Man's as I tried to finger scales that used to just flow across the keys. I am definitely going to need some oil and hours of practicing before that's a reality again. And to think - this is just the beginning. I love summer!

Ryan's graduation officially marked the beginning of summer. In this picture you have the SR4 and M2 (Mae counts as a person too!). Oh, and can you tell we're related? No wonder the SR4 freaked people out in the hallways on those rare occasions that we were all together!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Daddy's Girl

I am a daddy's girl. Growing up, if my dad was interested in something (baseball) or seemed to know a lot about a subject (history and politics), I needed to be a part of it. For Father's Day this year, my dad asked for his kids to write a memory. In lieu of a blog about how great my dad is, I think this memory written in letter form will suffice. It is, after all, one of my absolute favorite memories from my childhood.

Dear Dad--

I have wanted to live in a musical my whole life. From the minute I saw Annie put on by the Clayton Valley Third Ward at five or six-years-old, I was sure that things were better when put to song. I belted out an off-key version of “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” so often that one FHE, a smaller version of the Hutchins clan (just Dad, Mom, Juliann, and myself) went to Tower Records to buy a tape of Annie. I, of course, had no idea that’s why we were getting in the car instead of watching The Cosby Show, but I can still feel the perma-grin feeling when you walked me to the musical section of the store and handed me that tape. I remember carrying around a tape player for months afterward just so that Annie and Daddy Warbucks could come with me and serenade whatever task I was doing. I was probably just coloring a picture or reorganizing my stuffed animals on my bed, but while I put the pink bunny next to my Hello Kitty, I was singing “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”

Really though, my love of musicals became an obsession when I first became acquainted with a little girl named Cosette and with a tragic, lovelorn Eponine. When Mom came back from her bookclub trip to LA to see Les Miserables, I took her tape and began to try and learn the words of a story set to music that would eventually change my life. I don’t know how long I belted out “On My Own” before you came home from work one night and showed me two tickets – one for you and one for me to the Curran Theatre in San Francisco to see Les Miserables.

Time for a seven-year-old does not pass at the same rate as an adult, but after an interminable time, you and I got on BART one Saturday and rode to the city. I was wearing my mint-green dress with black polka dots. I had on white socks with lace and black slip-ons with bows. Mom made me bring my white sweater (which I, of course, needed, but didn’t want to take), and I had my little black purse slung over my shoulder. In my purse, I probably only had chapstick, but I had to be fancy that day since you were in a suit, and we were going on a daddy-daughter date!

I don’t remember where we ate, though I know I spilled hot chocolate on my sweater. You let me buy Juicy Fruit gum from a corner market. I ate all 17 pieces by the time we got home from the play. I do remember though, walking into the theater. I remember the red carpet and the bright lights. It was so grand to my little eyes. Only Annie got to go to theaters like this. We sat in the front row of the Loge section. I was so short that I had to lean over the railing the whole time, but to this day, that is my favorite place to sit in a theater.

I am sure I did not understand anything about that play though I do remember the electricity in the air as those amazing voices pierced the air. I thought for sure that Fantine would get better. I thought that Marius should have picked Eponine. I thought the gunshots were real, and thankfully did not understand what lovely ladies really were. I remember us talking about the story during intermission and on our way back to the BART station. I hated Javier and could not appreciate any aspect of his struggle. As you held my little hand in yours, you probably laughed at my shock and vehemence over a story that was so different from usual discussion of my Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein books.

The fog never burned off in the city that day, and so I remember curling up next to you on the train as we rode home from that Saturday matinee. I fell asleep, exhausted from the excitement of my first real play humming melodies that would help inspire my love for the piano as well as my overall love for music. When I walked off the train, dazed but thrilled to show Mom my program, I thought I had just had the best day of my life.

I still listen to Les Mis at least once a week as I get ready for work. I still love Marius, but I now understand his choice of Cosette. I love the Bishop for his compassion, and Fantine for sacrificing everything for the love of a child. I don’t hate Javier anymore. I try to live by Jean Val Jean’s example, who like you, gives his life to the person [people] he loves most.

The final line in Les Miserables before the cast breaks into “Do You Hear the People Sing” is “to love another person is to see the face of God.” When I saw Les Miserables for the first time, I did not appreciate that concept nor did I fully appreciate what an impact you would on my life. But through your unconditional love, I see the power and comfort in God’s love for us. I appreciate that glimpse of heaven and your example, more than you know. And on less serious note, thank you for making my life as close to a musical as humanly possible. Love you forever!

Happy Father’s Day—

Friday, June 6, 2008

Dead Week

It truly was one of those slow motion observations during 1st period. I watched Carlie's hands miss her Nalgene bottle and the water cover her, her chem book, and her desk. Immediately, I moved into fix-it mode - towel, paper towel - which is better for the textbook? I hurried from my desk towards the double-door cabinets....
....and then after a couple steps noticed my bare feet on carpet. Then slowly, I realized I was standing a few steps out of bed clad in my pajamas. There was no need for a towel, just an excessive need for more sleep. The joys of vivid teaching dreams (or nightmares) during particularly stressful times of the school year. So no, Carlie did not spill her water this past week, but this spring's dead week has been an adventure. I should have more report, but I am basically just glad to have survived. On Monday, after being buried by papers, anxiety (mine, my students', my coworkers',etc), and a few other choice things, I did not think I would. Now on Friday after having officially left school at eight pm, I am inwardly dancing (and admittedly outwardly if you peek in the window on my classroom door) at the thought that this time next week, I'll be free!
I should note before I venture into a dreamless sleep [here's hoping, right?!], that I could not have done this week without Tracy. Every day this week, she did something above and beyond the call of duty. From listening to exhausted rants to showing up at school with ice cream to helping set up the enrichment I hardly had time to stop for, this girl did it all. Everyone should be so blessed to have a friend like her.
So now, it's off to bed. My Saturday morning has me back at my desk in E4, red pen in hand whether I'm fully awake or not. For my students' grades' sakes, I really should have at least one eye open. Good night!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Jenessa Alyse rocks my pretty pink socks!

This past school year, Monday through Friday, the Hutchins high-schoolers, Ryan (18 - senior), Cameron (17 - junior), and Jenessa (14 - freshman) have left the house at 6am to make their way to the Danville stake center for seminary. By about 7:25, Jenessa has made the rounds, checking her locker and catching up on the latest gossip (which she is rarely a part of - smarter than her sister already!) By 7:30, Jenessa has found her way to my classroom to spend her A period with me. While I run around posting makeup work and writing the day's agenda on the board, she crammed two hours worth of homework into forty minutes. Though we have managed exceptional (and necessary) amounts of productivity during that A period, we have managed to laugh until we cried about everything from how to pronounce Miercoles to my teacher voice to the awkwardness of having a student walk in and say, "You're my best friend" and then turn around and walk out.

Flash forward six 55-minute class periods, one 10-minute break, and one 35-minute lunch, and you find us exactly the way we were in the morning, her sans the homework and me marking attendance online. We're laughing at that same kid who says I'm his best friend and who has now come in to inform me I'm his auntie (Cameron adopted him) or griping about lame parents, teachers, students, or classmates (depends on the day). We compare plans for the afternoon and evening, roll our eyes at the insane amount of homework she has, and on good days, plan an outing to High Tech Burrito. Then off she runs to catch carpool before Ryan leaves her.

The reason for explaining Jenessa and my weekday madness is to give you a glimpse into how special this kid is. On my worst afternoons (ie days when kids either lit things on fire or told me to my face that my class was &$#@), when I thought breakdown was inevitable, in tumbles this incredible kid who surpasses me in every way especially her goodness and her brilliance. Though Jenessa could be running around with her friends, she makes sure to check in and say hello. This school year has tested my limits - on two very specific occassions, I was sure that I was going to quit, but Jenessa kept me going. I couldn't leave her. Send her to the library during A period?! How could I? More than that - how could I miss this chance to spend so much time with Jenessa during her high school years?!

It's been so much fun to watch the "rug rats" as I used to call the youngest three take on the challenges of a new high school, especially after being away from home for so long. When I left for BYU, Jenessa was 8-years-old, reading up a storm and scribbling into her fifteen notebooks that she had stashed around her room. Her bed had over a hundred stuffed animals on it (all named by the way) which actually only left her a corner to sleep on. When I came home this past summer, she was 14, tall, beautiful, and much cooler than I ever was - she loved the Book of Mormon, had great friends, worked hard at school and piano, and aspired to the Ivy Leagues. In the last nine months, she's only gotten cooler. High school hasn't ruined her - she's just as friendly as she was last August and gets funnier by the day. Miss Ness has made my year. I'm looking forward to the question next year of, "Miss Hutchins, is Jenessa Hutchins your sister?" To which I'll reply, "Of course she is - she's taught me everything I know."