Whether I'm trying my best to not fall off an Icelandic glacier, or standing in an ice-cold stream in Austria, or watching a lioness snack on a zebra on the African plains, or (more often) just sitting at my desk overhearing 16-year-old girl gossip, every day's a holly-day for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Taveuni to Times Square

Wellllll...I am now attempting to cover two weeks worth of Janet's adventures in one blog post. You know what they say about good intentions.
    So after our fun weekend in Dallas, we got to bed at a decent hour in preparation for the week ahead. On Monday after school, Janet went with one of my students, Charlotte, and Blake (my friend Melissa's daughter) to shop and have dinner while I went to a birthday dinner with some of my friends. The girls helped Janet pick out some shoes for our trip to NYC and then took her to eat fajitas, get ice cream and go to the park. Around 6:30, Blake brought Janet to me at the restaurant so all my friends could meet her. When I met Janet downstairs, she excitedly told me about a little girl she had met at the park named Mila. Mila was about the same age as Janet's sister, Leila, who passed away in January and Mila was Leila's middle name! Janet told me she thought meeting Mila at the park was a sign and a hello from her sister, and I told her I agreed.
   Janet met my friends, and they loved her, of course. Several of them gave Janet gifts, which she loved,  and they all contributed to the cost of sending back an extra suitcase to Fiji. Fiji Air is a great airline, but they are NOT messing around when it comes to charging to check an extra bag! We've gotten Janet so many fun things to take back to Fiji that a second bag is definitely going to be necessary, but worth it. I am so appreciative to these friends for their generosity to Janet and to helping me cover the cost of the extra bag.
   After about 45 minutes with my friends, another group of my students came to pick Janet up so they could take her to a Young Life meeting. She got home around 9:00 and said she'd had a great time. AND she won one of the games and got a t-shirt for winning. We started packing for NYC a little and got to bed by 10:30 or so. I told her I trusted her to watch the clock and close the laptop at 10:30. I checked on her at 10:45 and she was asleep.

   On Tuesday,  Janet went to her classes and played volleyball with some of the student athletes, which she LOVED. They also gave her an MHS VB t-shirt, which I know she's going to love having when she gets back to Fiji. After school on Tuesday, two of my yearbook students, Ali and Cara, took Janet to the zoo. She took approximately 18,973 pictures and was so excited to tell me about it when she got home. Pretty much every animal she saw there was a first for her. She liked the seals and the elephants the most.
   We had pizza for dinner with Cara and then went home to finish packing. I tried to get her to pack herself, but that concept was easier said than done. I've come to realize that decision making, even about pretty basic things, is something Americans take for granted. We have SO MANY options about everything we do...what we eat, what we wear, what we watch, where we go. We make hundreds of decisions each day without ever realizing what a privilege that is. Janet doesn't get to make decisions like that on a regular basis, so I helped her pack and tried to explain how to plan for/pack for a trip.
   Wednesday was a pretty hectic day with me trying to teach and wrap up some things before the trip.  My friend, Bobbie, came to school to get Janet around 10:00 and took her to a movie - her first! - and to lunch. She also rode the carousel at the mall, another first! She had a great time with Bobbie. She got back to school around 1:30 or so and went to play volleyball again. I rushed home right after my last class to grab our bags and Janet stayed in my classroom with some other students who were waiting to leave for NYC at 4:00. When I got back to school, Janet was full on, 100% asleep. Even with getting to bed at decent times, she's been tired from going NONstop, not to mention the mental stimulation she's getting every day. I woke her up around 3:45 and by 4:15, we were headed to the airport on a school bus with 45 other students. As soon as we got to the airport, she was hanging out with students, eating dinner with them, etc.. She likes me...but she likes being with my students even more! Totally understandable and what I expected. And that's pretty much how the NY trip went. I saw her, of course, but my sweet students totally took her in, ate with her, asked her to sit with them, walk with them, etc. I keep telling her it's like she's a celebrity and I'm her manager and I just arrange all her social events. I literally have started keeping all her "lunch dates" and after school activities in a separate color on my school calendar because everyone wants to spend time with her. I didn't expect any less of my awesome students, but it's been so impressive to watch how kind they've been to her.

   We didn't get to our hotel in NYC until nearly 1:00 am, so everyone was exhausted. Janet was staying in a room with two freshmen girls I teach and she fell asleep quickly, as we all did. On our way to the hotel and throughout the trip, Janet looked at the skyline and the skyscrapers in amazement and said "wow!" or "whoa!" several times. We toured Columbia University and saw the room where the Pulitzers are voted on and announced, toured Madison Square Garden, saw the skyline from the top of the Roc, walked all though Central Park, strolled Fifth Ave, toured the NBC studios and got a wave from Kate McKinnon who was rehearsing an SNL skit, ate a lot of good food, shopped in China Town, rode the subway several times, went to the Today Show, walked WAY more than she or I have ever walked in one day (10.2 miles just on DAY ONE!), visited the WTC site and the 9/11 Museum and saw Kinky Boots on Broadway. I could write for days about specific events on the trip and Janet's reactions, but I'll touch on the highlights.
   She got to "perform" on stage with a few of my other students at the Apollo theater. A few nights later, when we were back home, Live at the Apollo was on TV and I showed it to her, and she immediately recognized the stage.
   She LOVED Kinky Boots. She said that was the best part of the trip. I tried to explain to her what a musical was before the show, but I don't think she really understood until it started. She sat next to me and I watched her more than I watched the show. She was enthralled. I am having trouble uploading video to the blog for some reason, but will try to post a video of her at the end of the musical on my Facebook page.
   She also loved visiting St Patrick's Cathedral. She and I spent about 45 minutes there and she looked at every memorial area, every sculpture and statue, prayed several times and lit a candle in honor of Leila. She read most of the information placards and asked lots of questions and took a ton of pictures.
   On Saturday morning, the group visited the 9/11 museum. The night before, I brought Janet to my room to ask her what she already knew about the event. Nothing. So I spent a little time trying to explain what happened and showed her some pictures. I didn't want her to go to the museum with no background at all. I checked with her mom to make sure it was okay for her to tour the museum, as I didn't want it to upset her so badly that she would then be scared to fly home. Illy assured me it would be okay and Janet said she wanted to see everything. I took her through the museum and explained everything we were seeing, although she seemed to understand it just fine on her own. I kept telling her that we could leave the exhibit any time she wanted to if/when she'd seen enough. After about 45 minutes, we got to a video that showed the towers collapsing. I watched her watch the video and knew she was done. I asked her again if she wanted to leave and she said she did. We went to the lobby and talked a little more. I saw her get tears in her eyes a few times in the exhibit, but I think overall, she handled it and took it all in very well.
   After finishing at the museum, the group visited Chinatown, Soho and Little Italy. Janet ate pizza and gelato in Little Italy and got quite the eye-opening exposure to the city as she walked through ChinaTown. She told me she didn't like ChinaTown and that it "was scary." I'm sure there are plenty of people who would agree, but I was proud of her for navigating the city so well throughout the trip. I don't think she LOVED NYC overall, as it was just too much to take in, but I know she LOVED some of the specific experiences she had. I think there are plenty of Americans who would say the same about NYC.

   We got back to Houston late Saturday night and went straight to bed. No request for the laptop at bedtime that night. We slept in on Sunday and then got up to go to lunch to meet Janet's namesake, Janet Pierson, and her daughter, Georgia. Janet and Georgia (along with Janet's husband, John and their son, Wyatt) lived in Fiji in the early 2000s and ran a free movie theater on Taveuni, where Janet lives. Janet Pierson and Janet's mom, Illy, became friends and Janet was named after Janet Pierson. Janet now runs the SXSW film festival in Austin, so she and Georgia drove over from Austin to see Janet. We had a great lunch and great conversation, and I know Janet was happy to see them again. She'd only met them one other time, last year, when the Pierson's went back to the village to visit. A documentary was made about the Pierson's experience in Fiji and Janet gave us a copy for Janet to take back to Fiji. The documentary, Reel Paradise, gives a good glimpse into what life is like in Janet's village, and her mom and dad and even Janet herself at six months old, are in the movie!

   Janet's last week of school was pretty routine, but still busy! More students wanted to spend time with her after school, so we arranged all her lunch dates for the week. On Monday, my good friend and former photography teacher, Cathy, took Janet on a photo shoot and to dinner and swimming with some of her friends and their daughters. Janet had a great time and came home telling me how nice Cathy was to her. She took another 14,739 pictures. She's actually a pretty good photographer.

     On Tuesday, Janet spent some time working on filling a scrapbook that our current photography teacher, Elizabeth Carney, had given her. I've printed about 100 pictures for Janet to take home and I'm encouraging her to get them all in albums and labeled before she leaves. Again, easier said than done, but so sweet of Elizabeth to give her the scrapbook and supplies and show her how to create the pages. Around 11:00, one of my former students, Meghan Pisters, came to pick Janet up for another adventure. Meghan was on the Fiji trip with me when we met Janet, so they were both excited to see each other again. Meghan took Janet to eat barbecue  - her favorite - and then took her downtown to the Aquarium. Janet had a BLAST. They saw all the fish, rode rides, and took another few thousand pictures. When Janet got back, she told me it was the "funnest day so far."

   That night was the annual end-of-year yearbook banquet, which is always my favorite event of the year with my yearbook staff. Janet and I changed clothes and headed down to the banquet around 6:00. There were about 85 people at the banquet, and during my speech, I introduced Janet to the parents and thanked my staff for taking such an interest in Janet and taking her in as they did. She's told me several times that the best part of her visit overall is going to school and spending time with my students. I also mentioned in my speech that Janet has remarked that the clock "moves much faster" in the US than in Fiji and told them that we should all take a lesson from the Fijians and slow down a little. I've found myself telling Janet way too often that we have to hurry or we're running late or we don't have time to do something, and I can see the frustration on her face of always being in a hurry. I'd love for her to come back sometime when we could slow down the pace...but honestly, I'm not sure when that would ever be. Maybe when I retire??
   Janet has mentioned a few times that she wants to stay here. I don't think she understands what that would truly involve and how much she would miss her family and her life at home. I've explained to her that it would not only be illegal for her to stay here past her visa expiration date but that I also couldn't take care of her the way I would need to with my crazy work schedule. She understands, but it still makes me sad to see her sad about leaving. I also know that she's homesick and misses her family and will be thrilled to see them.
   Wednesday was Janet's last full day at school, as we were leaving to fly to LA on Thursday afternoon.  I could see she was as little more somber than usual, realizing her trip was coming to an end.  She went to Mary Reed's geography class for several periods and gave a short presentation about Fiji to the students. She ate lunch with girls from the soccer team, all of whom she adores. After school, we shopped for a while and got her a dress for her confirmation in July, a new backpack, several DVDs to take home and a few other gifts for her family. When we got home, we began the process of packing. And by "we," I mean I packed while Janet supervised. Ha! We've had so many clothes donated by students and have shopped so much that we had to pick and choose items to send to Fiji and items to leave here "until next time." We've tentatively agreed that Janet will return for Christmas in 2019, so she made the decision to leave some warm weather clothes here with me for that trip. Smart girl! We got her packed and then Janet cooked curry potatoes and pork and rice. It was delicious! She's a really good cook and has mentioned that she might like to go to culinary school after high school.

I spent several hours trying to do a factory reset on a first generation ipad that I wanted to give to Janet. I was finally able to get it all working, but it's so old that it won't really load any apps. Nevertheless, she was happy to have it and will use it for surfing the web and storing pictures. She watched some more Netflix and we were both asleep by 10:00. I realize it probably sounds like Janet is watching WAY too much TV/Netflix, but she loves seeing American movies...basically squeezing in as many as she can in her time here. She sees movies on DVD in Fiji, but to have access to so many options while she's been here has been one of her favorite things.
   Thursday morning, we loaded up the car with Janet's two HUGE suitcases and my one backpack and headed to school. Lots of hugs and goodbyes and even some tears as she told all my students goodbye throughout the day. Several of my students gave her goodbye letters or small gifts. They are going to miss her as much as she will miss them. We left school and Ubered to the airport to head to LA...Janet finally seems to grasp the Uber concept, although I think she still finds it odd!

    When we were boarding our flight, the flight attendant noticed Janet looking back into the cockpit and offered to let her look in. The pilot showed her the controls and let her sit in the captain's seat. She thought that was "super cool!" We landed in LA and arrived to our hotel in Venice around 5:00. The hotel was right on the beach, so we immediately hit the sand for a little while, walked and shopped and people watched (which is very entertaining and maybe a little bit frightening in Venice!) and then went to dinner with my former Editor in Chief, Holly Hepper, who lives and works in LA now. Janet ate...wait for it...pizza. Shocking! We went to get ice cream and Holly dropped us off at the hotel around 9:00. Janet laid down the second we walked in the door, fully dressed and was asleep in less than two minutes. I tried to wake her up to put on her pajamas, but she wasn't having it.

   Janet slept in her clothes all night. Well, until 5:00 am when she popped up, turned on the bright overhead light and announced she needed to take a shower. So she did just that. At 5:15. A.M. As in, 5:00 in the morning. I was so pumped to be awake at 5:00 on a day I could've slept in! I convinced her to lay down for a little while longer after her shower, but by 9:00, we'd already been to CVS, walked the boardwalk, seen the canals and cool houses along the canals and returned to the hotel to pack up. We stored our bags at the hotel, had lunch and Ubered to Santa Monica where got a manicure and a 30 minute massage (again, her first!), ate fro-yo and shopped. As we were walking around Santa Monica, I dropped a letter I needed to mail in mailbox on the street. Janet asked me what it was and I told her it was a card I was sending to my nephew for his high school graduation.
   She said, "and then?"
   I said, "and then he's going to the Army."
  She looked confused and again said,"and then?"
  I said, "Well, then he'll be in the Army for a few years and..."
  "NO!" she said. Pointing to the mailbox, she said "and then what happens to the letter?!"
   I died laughing when I realized she was asking how that letter I'd just dropped into a random metal box on the street in California ended up at my nephew's house in Texas. As I explained it and told her it cost less than 50 cents for the service, she looked amazed. I just shook my head at yet another thing we take for granted.
   At 4:00, we met my brother Rob and my niece and nephew, Bee and Henry, at the Santa Monica pier. To say Janet "liked" the pier would be equivalent to me saying I kinda like George Clooney. She basically spent all the spending money I'd give her for the day on arcade games. It took her about four tries to be fully convinced that the "Claw Machine" is a rip-off, she loved skee-ball as much as I do, and apparently, she should be playing softball. She started playing the game that involves getting points by throwing balls at the clown shaped bean bags to knock them over and accumulated 187 tickets in about 15 minutes. She was REALLY good at this game and kept saying "just one more time" at the end of every game. Mom, does that remind you of anyone??
   After she'd spent all her money on arcade games, she cashed in $20 dollars worth of tickets for 87 cents worth of plastic prizes. But she was thrilled! We then moved on to riding rides, which was equally thrilling. She loved the roller coaster and the Green Dragon. My niece, Bee, looked green herself after the first round on the Green Dragon, but Janet somehow convinced her to ride it a second time. Janet didn't really like the ferris wheel after too long because it "didn't go fast enough." We left the pier by 5:30 or so and went to dinner. Janet ordered a caesar salad, chicken parm and fettuccine alfredo. Juuuusst kidding!! She ate pizza. And some of Bee's spaghetti. And plenty of lava cake and vanillas ice cream. After dinner, Rob and Bee and Henry dropped us at the airport for Janet's 11:30 pm flight.

    I, of course, asked the lady at the Fiji Air counter for a gate pass, but she said I wasn't allowed to go past security in the international terminal. Janet seemed fine about being escorted by one of the Fiji Air employees and waiting by herself - much more "fine" than I felt about it! She has become quite adept at navigating security and airports and finding gates in three short weeks. Around 10:00, it was time for her to head to the gate. I walked her as far as I could and then had to say goodbye. I was tearing up before we even got to security and was curious how she would handle the goodbye. I hugged her and told her I loved her and to be careful and that if she needed anything while she was at the gate to have someone call me. She didn't cry - just smiled and loudly said "Bye! See you next Christmas!" and then headed up the stairs like she'd done it 100 times. I cried some more as I watched her walk as far as I could before I saw the hood of her sweatshirt disappear into the crowd. I went back to a hotel near the airport for the night and then woke up to a video from Illy showing them reuniting with Janet at the airport. I let out a big sigh of relief to know she'd made it and looked so happy to be home.
   What an incredible three weeks it's been - for Janet, for me, for my family and friends and students who have met her. Janet brings so much joy to everyone she meets and teaches all of us what's really important with her pure, innocent happiness.  She's very intuitive - it's almost scary sometimes - and intelligent and quick-witted. I love how genuine and honest she is. If I ever REALLY want to know how I look in a certain outfit, I'm Facetiming Janet - she WILL tell me the truth! And I can't wait to see her again.
  I am so appreciative to the many people who were so supportive and kind to Janet while she was here. And a huge thank you to my awesome principal, Lisa Weir, for allowing Janet to come to school with me and my always amazing mom for her financial help with this trip and for all she did for Janet.
   Thank you to all of you of who kept up with our story and sent well wishes.  "Bye! See you next Christmas!"

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Week One - and this doesn't even cover it all!

Remember when I said that I was going to post daily updates about Janet’s visit? Yeah. Me too. That was before Janet’s visit. Now that she’s here, I’ve been a touch busy. Between teaching, finishing the senior issue of the Anvil, picking two new publication staffs and editors, planning two end of year banquets and several trips, and trying to show Janet 15 year’s worth of life in the US in three weeks, I haven’t quite found the time. So this might be the longest blog post yet.
   Janet has adapted to Houston like she’s been here 12 times before. After the mani/pedi, we went to Creamistry, and she ate her weight in chocolate ice cream. We went to Marshall’s and Target and got school clothes and school supplies. She’s declared Target her favorite store. Duh. We then headed to the Galleria, where she looked up in awe at the multiple levels and down in amazement at the ice skating rink. We didn’t have time to skate but are going to try to go back. She walked through Sephora, asking why lipstick costs $34. Excellent question, Janet! We then headed to the Water Wall. Even though she sees natural waterfalls taller than the Water Wall, she was fascinated. This was also the first opportunity she’d had to see skyscrapers, and she rolled down the car window and craned her neck to see the tops of them. 

    On the way home, we saw a homeless woman sitting in the median. Janet asked me what she was doing and why she had a “sign with words.” I explained it to her as best I could. She got very quiet, and I saw tears well up in her eyes. Later that night, she asked me if I had a gun and said that she’d heard that everyone in Texas has one. She explained that she’s never seen a gun. We discussed how both good people and bad people can have guns and she seemed satisfied with my answers. Two major social issues down in the first 24 hours of her arrival. Only about 173 to go.
   Dinner on Sunday night – her first dinner – was barbecue. Obviously. We pretty much ordered everything on the menu. I almost fell down when he rang it up and told me the total and so did Janet! I didn’t care – I wanted her to taste it all. We had PLENTY! We ate barbecue for days, which was fine with her. She loved it! While we were waiting for the order, I offered her a dill pickle slice, not even thinking that she probably hasn’t experience the sour/tart flavor of pickles. She has been willing to try anything and everything I’ve offered her, but she was NOT HAPPY with me at all. Not a fan whatsoever. I also ordered some mac-n-cheese, certain she would love it. I was wrong. Fijians don’t eat much cheese, if any, so that’s eliminated so many things that I was excited about feeding her. She didn’t even like Goldfish crackers. Heartbreaking!
   After dinner, I introduced Janet to Alexa. As in Amazon Alexa. Let me just say, I think Janet now likes Alexa better than me. She talks to her pretty regularly now, attempting full conversations. It’s actually been great because she asks her what time it is in Fiji and what the weather there is like. I also showed her my Ring doorbell camera and my “clap on-clap off” bedside lamp. She was amazed by both! The back-up camera on my car prompted another big “what is that?!” When she saw it, she looked at the camera, then looked all around, looked back at the camera, then back behind her and quickly figured it out. Janet is extremely intelligent and intuitive and seems to “get things” much more quickly than most.
   We headed to bed around 10:00, but understandably, Janet’s body clock was off, so she – and I – were up until about 2:30. I was thrilled about my 6:45 alarm, as was she. I offered to let her sleep in, but she was excited about school and jumped up pretty quickly. We made it to school, introduced Janet to the office staff and the principals and waited for my yearbook students to arrive. They came in and greeted her and began asking her lots of questions and offering to show her around. She took to them right away (as she does everyone) and pretty quickly was asking to work on a computer. She stayed in my room all day on Monday and couldn’t wait to leave so we could go home and swim. We went BACK to Target to get a bathing suit and as we left, I spotted a Dollar Tree. I took her in and explained that EVERYTHING in the store was one dollar each. I gave her 10 dollars and told her she had 20 minutes. Four minutes later, she was finished. She picked one thing for herself and nine things for other people back home, including a paper fan for her grandmother. So sweet.

      We got home and she had her new bathing suit on faster than I could get upstairs. I warned her that the water was going to be cold, but she assured me it would be okay. I had my doubts, but she proved me wrong. She jumped right in and said the water was warmer than the rock pool water where she normally swims. She swam for about an hour and then we got ready for dinner. Her first restaurant meal ever was spaghetti at Carrabbas. She loved the noodles and sauce but didn’t love the meatballs. She ate all of it though and asked if she could have more noodles! After dinner, I took her to Whole Foods and let her pick out some fruit and snacks. She tasted grapes for the first time and has eaten them every day since.

   When we got home, she asked to use my laptop to watch videos. Apparently, Taylor Swift’s appeal to teenage girls is universal. I told her she needed to close the laptop when the clock said 10:30 and I went to bed. I had every intention of checking on her at 10:30. Rookie mistake. At 12:40, I heard that she was up using the bathroom, but in my haze, I didn’t get up to check on her. The next morning, I went to wake her up and all the lights were on, the laptop still open and on. She was a little slower to get up, but still jumped up pretty quickly.

    We had decided that on Tuesday, she would start attending classes. I took her to a World Geography class with my friend Mary Reed. Mary took her in immediately, as I knew she would, and asked her if she could “teach the class” about Fiji soon. Janet sat in the front row for class and then a sweet girl from the class walked her back to my room for lunch. Ashlie Simon, our former photography teacher who had been on the trip to Fiji with us in 2015, came to see Janet and let her meet Ashlie’s one-year-old son. After lunch, I encouraged her to write about her trip in the journal my mom bought for her, but she wasn’t having it. She tried to get started but kept erasing and starting over, despite my attempts to give her a list of ideas to write about. We still haven’t managed to get anything written in the journal. I also took her to meet my good friends Leslie, Krisi and Holly. She has met SO many new people and does a great job of introducing herself and trying to remember names. In Holly's Engineering classroom, we showed her the 3D printer, which really impressed her, and Holly let her pick a color and print a letter. 

   We finished out the day and then went home to get ready for the Astros game that night. The drive from my school to my house is less than 15 minutes. Janet slept all the way home. I tried to get her to take a nap when we got home, but she took a hot bath instead. She’s been cold about 90% of the time she’s been here and loves taking hot baths and showers.

   I was being honored at the game that night as a finalist for my school district’s teacher of the year and got to go on the field. I tried to explain to Janet who the Astros were and what the World Series was and why I was getting to go on the field. I think she understood it for the most part, but she was still pretty overwhelmed by downtown and the stadium and the crowds. She had her first hot dog (she liked the hot dog, not the mustard) and loved Orbit and the train at the top of the stadium wall. I had several friends in different places around the stadium, so we walked A LOT to see everyone, getting lost a few times trying to find different sections. She was NOT happy with me for making her walk so much, and was understandably exhausted, so we headed home in the sixth inning.

   We went right to bed when we got home, exhausted. Rookie mistake number two – I forgot my laptop was still in Janet’s room. I went to wake her the next morning and saw her school spiral sitting open next to the laptop. She had been taking notes the night before on Fiji – history, population, names of the islands, etc. I woke her up and asked her what she’d been doing and how late she’d stayed up. She said he was preparing the lesson on Fiji for Ms. Reed’s class. I explained that she had plenty of time to get her lesson ready. Poor thing – she thought she was going to need to “teach the class” that day.

    When we got to school, some of my yearbook students got Janet Shipley’s donuts. Sprinkles on the donut got a thumbs down…chocolate glazed got two thumbs up. She’s had several since. She went back to Ms. Reed’s class that day and has been every day since. She’s still working on her lesson and will present it her last week here. She has also now been to an English class and a PE class and has had lunch with different students every day. She walks to and from classes by herself and is very confident in talking to students and teachers, for the most part. I’ve been most impressed.

    On Wednesday night, we met a longtime friend of mine, Gary, at Escalante’s for Mexican food. I was excited to introduce her to a Texas tradition, but…she wasn’t a fan. She liked the fajita beef and the tortillas, but that was about it. She loved the chocolate ice cream after dinner, though, so all was fine. When we got home, she asked me if she could make some “plain white rice,” and of course I said yes. She did a great job – way better than my rice! We actually got to bed at a decent hour that night and both felt better the next day.
   After school on Thursday, I needed to work for a while with my newspaper staff, so three of my yearbook students took Janet to Sky High, an indoor trampoline park. Earlier in the day, my editor in chief, Maddie, showed her a video of Sky High. That resulted in Janet asking me about every 20 minutes for the rest of the day how much longer until she was going with Sarah to Sky High. Needless to say, she loved it. They took her to eat Southwell’s afterward (burger – meat, bread and tomato only and fries and a chocolate shake), and then we went to watch the MHS softball playoff game. My good friend, Melissa, has a daughter, Blake, who plays for the team, so we went to watch her last game of the year. Janet also met and played with Melissa's nieces. We got home by 8:30, packed for our trip to Dallas and were both asleep by 10:00. Finally, by night four I learned – I took the laptop and the remote out of her room, so she was forced to sleep.

   On Friday, we arrived to a decorated classroom. My sweet yearbook students had decorated for my birthday. We had donuts and Chic-fil-A and Janet went to PE, English and Geography. We headed to Dallas so Janet could meet my family, but of course we stopped at Buc-ees, which was a big hit. Soooo many things to see and so many “what is this?-es.” It was fun to see her face when we walked in, and I laughed when she said “why are there so many bathrooms?” Welcome to Texas, Janet! As we were leaving, she spotted a Shipley’s and she asked if we could stop. I mean, how could I say no to that?

   We arrived in Dallas and Janet met my mom and step-dad and my brother, Chris. Janet spotted the pool and was in the water in less than 15 minutes. After swimming, she sat in a hot tub for the first time, which got a big thumbs up. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs and later, my brother and sister-in-law, Steve and Mimi, arrived. Steve is the Grand Prairie Chief of Police and was in uniform. Janet was amazed. She asked about his uniform and his gun quite a bit, and Steve and Mimi talked to her a lot about her life in Fiji and being Catholic (as they are, too). We played a dice game called Tenzi’s and “gambled” with Jelly Bellies. Steve asked Janet to promise that she wouldn’t go home and tell her mom that we taught her about guns and gambling. She loved meeting them and the feeling was mutual from them.

    After they left, we “celebrated Christmas” with my brother, Chris. He lives in Canada and was supposed to be here at Christmas, but couldn’t make it at the last minute. We just kept all his presents wrapped and had Christmas in April with him. I think Janet was a bit confused – they don’t exchange gifts at Christmas and definitely don’t celebrate it in April! The confusion was forgotten pretty quickly when my mom and step-dad gave Janet a necklace with a pendant of Texas (just like one my mom wears) and then, the coup de gras, a laptop! (one my mom no longer uses…). Janet was beside herself and jumped up and thanked and hugged my mom repeatedly.

    On Saturday morning, we got up and headed out to see my brother, Dale, and my nephew, Dusty, at Dale’s ranch in North Texas. My niece, Stephanie, and her boyfriend, Rob, joined us. Before we left, Stephanie gave Janet a bag full of school supplies and treats from Target, which Janet loved, of course. We headed out and before we got to the ranch, we stopped for lunch at a small cafe in St. Joe's. Next door was a nearly 200-year old saloon turned museum that has all kinds of artifacts and pictures from the cattle drive days of the 1800s. Janet saw the original saloon cash register, old liquor bottles, blacksmith equipment, saddles, chaps and cowboy hats. She seemed to know way more about some of it than I expected her to, but also asked plenty of questions. On the way to Dale’s, we tried to explain to Janet that Dale has hunted all over the world and has an extensive collection of taxidermy. We were afraid it would upset Janet. When we got there, she looked up in amazement at Dale’s beautiful house and all the taxidermy. When she met Dale, she said, “I think I’ve seen you before in a movie. Spiderman.” We all died laughing because she was referring to Willem DaFoe, who Dale favors. He told her he was on a break from acting these days but she could still tell all her friends she met the Green Goblin.

    We went outside and let Janet meet the cows, explore the ranch, and DRIVE THE GOLF CART! Chris says she "over-steered," but all in all, she did pretty well. She is now convinced that she should be perfectly fine driving my car.  We played pool and darts and she tried out the treadmill, then watched Sweet Home Alabama under a blanket in a recliner with her feet in the electric massager. At about 6:30, we peeled her out of the recliner so we could go to dinner. We went to a really cool outdoor pizza place near Dale’s. Janet was cold the entire time – still not used to our climate – but she enjoyed seeing the outdoor pizza oven and the pizza. She slept in the car all the way home and then proceeded to stay up most of the night (unbeknownst to me) watching Netfilx. Teenagers really are the same all over the world.

   Sunday morning, I went in to wake Janet up and she was watching High School Musical. She got up, sat in the hot tub for a while, took a shower and was served my mom’s famous shaped pancakes and bacon. She also asked for rice and milk. My mom whipped up some rice and then gave her SOYMILK! YUCK! Janet agreed with my assessment of the soy milk. She asked to try coffee, so I let her have a little with plenty of cream and sugar. She liked it. Obviously.

 We left Garland to head back to Houston but stopped for some barbecue with my long-time friend Donnie. Donnie is the funniest male I know (I designate "male" because my best friend, Jamie, is the funniest female I know and I feel sure if she reads this, she's going to be offended if I say Donnie is the funniest person I know!). Janet agreed with me about Donnie - the three of us laughed through lunch, and then Janet and I headed to Houston, wishing we could've spent longer with Donnie. I told her that I was not going to let her sleep the whole way because I knew she wouldn't go to sleep tonight.   She didn’t seem too happy about that. Anyone want to place a wager on which one of us won that battle?
   We got home, unpacked, ate some more barbecue, played some games and then negotiated on how much time she was going to get to watch movies on the laptop. I THINK she's asleep right now...I can say for certain she's not watching movies because I am typing this on my laptop, and I took her new laptop AND the remote from her room. Finally cracking down! She - and I - are going to need plenty of sleep tonight. We have a reallllly big week ahead. I'll try to do better about blogging this week. No promises! What I can promise...there will be even more to write about. We're heading to the Big Apple on Wednesday!