The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread…

I’ve heard people ask the question, “Well, what was the best thing before sliced bread?” It’s a valid question. I guess. Until you consider the fact that it’s just a figure of speech and people don’t really think that sliced bread is one of the greatest things to ever come along. But all the same, let’s ponder it for a bit. It appears that in 1928, Otto Frederick Rohwedder introduced sliced bread to a grateful public. Unable to distance himself from his most successful creation, Otto’s inventions later in life, such as sliced socks, were met with less enthusiasm.

We’re looking pre-’28 so let’s orient ourselves.

In 1928:

– Herbert Hoover is elected President of the United States.

– Thomas Midgley, Jr. develops Freon as a gas for use in refrigerators.

– The New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup.

– Ariel Sharon is born.

– Mickey and Minnie Mouse appear for the first time in a short titled, “Plane Crazy”.

– Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

– General Electric begins television broadcasts.

– Noam Chomsky is born.

– Paul Kollsman develops the barometric altimeter. The radio beacon is also introduced for navigation. The combination makes instrumental flight possible.

It really makes you stop and wonder if the phrase, “It’s the greatest thing since freon” would’ve been as successful. I doubt it. It would be equally clumsy to try to use, “Boy, I tell ya, Bob, that 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner is the best thing since the combination of the radio beacon and barometric altimeter.”

But if the phrase had existed in a modified form prior to 1928, what fantastic invention might it have referenced? It would have to be something that’s convenient, but not essential to survival. Gimmicky, but with staying power.

People might have been saying, “That’s the greatest thing since Pierre Michaux invented the bicycle (1861).” Or, “Wow! This vacuum cleaner (1899) is the best thing since toilet paper (1880)!” You might have also overheard someone say, “Hey! Have you done one of these crossword puzzles (1913)? They’re the greatest thing since Cornflakes (1906)!”

Personally, I’d like to update the current version of the phrase. The substitute? That garlic bread in the foil bag that you just chunk straight in to the oven. The irony is, it isn’t sliced.

Paris…Texas, that is.

This is an e-mail that I wrote in January of last year. I thought I’d put it up here for those who didn’t receive it the first time around.

I have several students who don’t speak a word of English, and I have even more who only know a couple of phrases. So when an office aide brought a new student to me at the beginning of 3rd period on Tuesday and said, “This is Judith. She doesn’t speak English.” I wasn’t very surprised. Over the past 4 months I’ve gotten used to having my eloquently crafted sentences packed with life-changing implications simply bounce off of a couple dozen blank stares without so much as a nod or an “uh-huh”. Sometimes there is even drool. I’d take the old saying of, “In one ear and out the other” because at least in that case it’s apparently going through the brain for a nanosecond.

But I love having ESL kids because, for the most part, whenever I talk to them we’re both really trying to find a way to communicate. Eyes are squinting for some understanding and we’re literally bending our ears. So when Judith looked as if I’d just spoken Martian to her when I said, “Bienvenidos a la clase de arte, Judith! Me llamo Mr. Rhea” I knew something was up. I should’ve known right away that she wasn’t Hispanic based upon her complexion, but she did have black hair and some of my students from Mexico have very light skin so I thought there was a chance. Aw, who am I kidding? The reason I spoke Spanish to her was because that’s the only other language I can say hello in! The fact that greeting her in Spanish would do as much good as greeting her in Texan (“How y’all doin’?) didn’t really cross my mind.

Time for Plan B. Plan B is a highly-technical, heavily-researched method of determining a students native language in a classroom setting. It looks like this:

“No English?” They shake their head.

“No Spanish?” Another shake.

“What then?” The teacher then puts their arms out in the universal sign for, “Huh?” If there’s no response here, pointing at your mouth and going, “Bah bah bah” will usually work. Fortunately for me, Judith responded to “What then?”. Unfortunately, she said, “Francais.”

Que interesante.

After showing Judith to her seat and getting the rest of the class started on the assignment, I went back over to her to try to make some sort of connection. I can’t imagine the sort of culture shock that must take place in moving from France to Texas. From Jacques Chirac to W. Why don’t we start forcing her to walk on her hands from now on while we’re at it?!

Obviously, using the petty invention of language wasn’t getting us anywhere. But finally, after a series of overexaggerations and marginally decipherable illustrations, I was finally able to get her to tell me that the city she lived in before moving to Carrollton was none other than Paris, France. “Bingo!” thought my brain. I had the connection I was looking for! We’re both from Paris! I thought she’d get a real kick out of this little bit of trivia, now all I needed was a way to show her. Enter: With a few clicks and a modification or two, I had the map that I was sure would make Judith chuckle at the very least. I walked back over to her table feeling like Charlie with a Golden Wonka Ticket.

Before showing her the map, I pointed at her and said, “Paris?”


I put the map of Texas on the table and pointed at Paris and then myself. Smiling I said, “Me too. I am from Paris, too.” It didn’t seem to be working, she just stared at the map, confused. I repeated, pointing at myself and at Paris on the map, but she continued to look down at the sheet of paper – a foreign landscape without a roadside wine café or a Mo-ped dealership to get her bearings. Finally, she looked back up at me. Her expression was priceless. I’m prepared to redefine the word humiliation as, “the feeling you have when a thirteen year-old looks at you with an expression that says, ‘You idiot. You think that Paris is in Texas?!’”

Evacuee Housing Update

On Friday afternoon, I called the family we were going to house to see what time they were going to move in and it turns out that they’ve been given 28 more days in a hotel by the Red Cross. It was a wierd feeling, because if it were me, I would much rather have the privacy of my own hotel room so I had to be happy for them. Buuut, it was also a little disappointing because Laura and I were looking so forward to giving them a place to stay for a while. So, the plan is that in 28 days when their Red Cross support runs out, if they need a place to stay they will come live with us.

Things seem to be going pretty good for them, considering. Their girls are enrolled in school and they are having some success with getting enrolled in local Community Colleges to continue their schooling as well.

Brian wins the Frostee!

well, as predicted, I haven’t exactly been the best blogger. This is official post #2! 😛 But I really appreciate my dear husband keeping you all updated on our lives and goings ons–and I appreciate you all for reading it and caring about what is going on with us!!

So, what possibly, could be so important as to warrant my re-entrance into this world o’ blog? Something I knew B would never report but you absolutely must know about. Mr. Rhea, 7th and 8th Grade Art teacher at Polk Middle School was awarded the “Frostee” Award this week!!!! 😀

“Frostee” is this giant inflatable snow man that mysteriously appeared in the school over the summer break. So Mr. Hicks, princial extraordinaire, decided to make it an award/contest this school year. It is given to a teacher each week who made someone’s day, has a great attitude, did something to really help just to help–that kind of stuff. And then whoever has it one week, gets to decide who to award it to the next — someone that made their week, etc. So the new Frostee honoree comes into his class Monday morning, and–surprise!– there sits Frostee!!! And Frostee then hangs out in his or her class all week–until that teacher moves him Friday after school to whoever they deem the new winner!! The teachers have really gotten into it, and it has been a fun first few weeks of school to see who gets “Frostee”. And Week Number FOUR it is…dum-dum-da-da-dum– Mr. Rhea!!!

The REALLY cool thing about Brian winning the Frostee is that, as opposed to how it was set up (that a teacher would give it to another teacher that they thought had a great attitude and did something positive in their life that week), Mr. Cotee, who had it Week 3, had all of his students VOTE on Friday. And he teaches BAND (i.e. a LOT of students). The students shouted out a few names, and he put up the top ones repeated on his chalkboard, and then all day the students voted on the teacher they thought deserved it between those few candidates. And Brian won!! :)

The Happiest Place on Earth

Walt Disney World has absolutely nothing on The Polyphonic Spree.

If I told you that last night at midnight, Laura and I were with a large group of people, singing along, dancing, arms stretched up towards the sky while 23 robe-clad hippies were on stage orchestrating the entire thing, you might think we’d joined a cult. Well, it’s not a cult but we do have to say goodbye to everyone and move to an undisclosed location in Virginia. We’ll write when we can.

Nooo. I joke, I joke. I keed, I keed. At least, about the Virginia part, the other stuff is true. The Polyphonic Spree (or, as I like to call them, The Ultimate Post-Modern Church Service) were at the Granada Theater in Dallas last night and despite Laura’s having 80-plus pages to read for a meeting in the morning and my being generally responsible for teachin’ the chillens about line, shape, value and the rest; we decided to go with a couple of friends anyway.

Some people call the style of music Symphonic Pop, Baroque Pop or…a controlled explosion of light, sound, color and electricity wrapped up in an Up-With-People attitude. Regardless, I don’t think any of those are categories you’re likely to see at the local music store. Describing the live show is even more difficult, but here is a decent start.

And even better, you can view one of their videos here.

If you’re lovin’ it up, you can go to which has lyrics and audio from their first album. It might be a little confusing…you click on the title and then in the window that pops up click the word “Click”. And I’ll just use the word click once more for good measure. Click.

Full House?

As soon as we heard about people opening up their homes to Katrina victims, Laura and I started praying about offering our guest bedroom and study to someone who would need a place to stay.

Last Saturday, when the church gave food, supplies and hopefully a mental break to the evacuees staying in Dallas, we also asked them to fill out Needs Assessment Forms. On Sunday, IBCers “adopted” families and worked together to provide the things they had asked for on the form. In looking through them, nearly every single family needs housing. I can’t imagine the feeling of not having a place to live. So, this is how Laura and I found the family we were going to house. We had already heard about their situation because they’re related to one of the custodians at IBC. But, after talking with them, it turned out that they didn’t need to be housed after all.

So, today the church put on the same type of event that they did last weekend and probably around 300 evacuees came to get some help. Laura was, of course, helping out in the pre-school area. My job was to be a Family Advocate. Basically, when people came in, looked around at all the activity and asked, “What now?”, the Advocates were there to walk them through the paperwork and various available services. Renate, a friend of ours, was there at the same time I was so when two single moms with their daughters walked through the door, we offered to help them. After getting a general idea of their needs I started getting really excited because I thought that Laura and I might be able to offer them the exact type of housing they needed in the short-term. Not to mention the fact that Charlita and Brandi were both so grateful and friendly and warm from the moment we met. They are best friends and had evacuated New Orleans together with their two daughters. After telling us that they were hoping to stay close together housing-wise, I thought, “Alright, that’s it. I gotta ask Laura if I can offer our house to these two!” I tracked L down and brought her over to meet Charlita and Brandi before asking if they’d like to stay with us until they can get their feet back under them.

We are so excited to be able to help them out during a time of uncertainty that I can’t even begin to put myself in. I hope some of you get a chance to meet them! The guest bedroom is already pretty well set up. We pulled the computer desk out of the study and found a nice place for it in the living room and thankfully Paul & Betty were able to bring a bed to put in the study-turned-third bedroom.

They’re going to meet us at the church tomorrow and we aren’t sure right now exactly when they’ll be moving in. They have a hotel room through Thursday but may be joining us before then. We’ll keep you posted!

Hurricane Relief Effort @ IBC

On Saturday, Irving Bible prepared the building to offer a range of services to Katrina evacuees. Throughout the week, staff and volunteers had been delivering meals and flyers about the event to hotels in the area. Our pastor, Andy McQuitty, sent out an e-mail asking for volunteers to show up on Saturday morning at 10:30. We needed counselors, physicians, computer nerds, child-care givers and volunteers in general. By 11:00 over 500 people had shown up to help and they had to make an announcement that those who hadn’t already been given a job could go home and please come back next Saturday because we’re doing it again. It was an incredible outpouring of service!

People were able to e-mail family members or register their name on the Red Cross web site to let friends and family know that they were ok. There were several bounce houses set up in the parking lot for the kids to play in and a distribution center handed out clothing, diapers and other things.

As Laura was helping three preschoolers get checked in to child care, she saw an amazing thing. A lady came in the building, saw the kids and became overjoyed and started screaming, “Oh! You made it out! You made it out!” She ran over and started hugging them. They turned out to be neighbors in New Orleans and hadn’t seen each other since the day before Katrina made landfall. The kids were able to take the woman to their mother and Laura said seeing that reunion was just incredible.

Because there were so many volunteers at IBC, Shailen and I decided to see if there was somewhere else we could be of a little more use. As it happens, they were in need of some help at the DFW Hilton just down the road so we made our way over there. After sorting clothes for a little while, we came back and picked Laura up from the church and went back to the Hilton. In the four hours we were there, the line of cars dropping of donations never slowed down. It was a steady stream of people giving whatever they could to help out.

I’m sad that we don’t have any pictures because it was a heart-warming thing to see happening. It felt good to be doing something tangible, something that made you break a sweat. There is something very cool about being a volunteer among volunteers. You’ve never seen these people before in your life, you probably never will again; but because you’re standing a couple feet from one another sorting Medium, Large and Extra Large shirts in to piles of collar and no-collar, for some reason you’re instantly best friends. And it isn’t just that everyone is working towards a common goal, it’s that everyone is working towards a common goal for the benefit of someone else. When we’re all at the grocery store, we share a common goal: filling up the pantry and refridgerator. But for the most part, we’re consumed with our own agenda. We get in, we grab the stuff, we get out. I’m never standing there picking out pasta sauce going, “Ah, you like the Classico brand, too, eh? So, what line of work are you in?” I don’t know, maybe the rest of you do that and I’m a jerk.

The Hilton has converted their conference center in to what is essentially a makeshift Goodwill for the hotel’s guests. Five hundred Hilton employees have come from New Orleans and are being given free rooms for a week. And not employees as in management or front office. These five hundred people were the maids, kitchen staff and janitors. They are in a heart-breaking situation; having left everything behind but having absolutely nothing to return to. As they enter the conference center there are rows of bags for them to chose from, then they can make their way from table to table, filling their bags with clothing, toiletries and other necessities.

Laura put herself to work sorting boxes and boxes of infant clothing. She also walked around with several women, helping them fill their bags with something that hopefully looked like a step in the right direction.

Shailen and I were part of the group that was unloading donations from vehicles. This was an interesting subculture. Either directing traffic makes people overly anxious and hyper, or overly anxious and hyper people tend to volunteer to direct traffic. It’s a chicken and egg thing here you guys. All I can tell you is that the two gentlemen who were primarily responsible for relaying information to drivers needed to chiiiiiill ouuuuuuuut. But, God Bless ‘Em, they took their job to heart. The Unloaders (Shailen, myself and probably a dozen others) were an interesting species to observe. As a fresh car would pull in to position, it would be descended upon before it had even come to a complete stop. The driver would pop the trunk and the sound of the latch giving way triggered a Pavlovian response in all of our hands to start reaching and grabbing. The sight of ten or more hungry hands diving in to a trunk, starving to help…that’s not even a metaphor…that’s a living, breathing example of humanity’s intrinsic desire to serve. Something very evil and very clever exists that too often makes us forget that desire.

I remember being at my cousins’ house once when we were little. Well, I should rephrase that; the house actually belonged to my aunt and uncle, I’m relatively certain that they were the ones who covered the mortgage. All the same, one night Aunt Martha was entertaining us by inventing games. She came up with a brilliant one that I don’t think we were able to truly appreciate being about ten years old allowing for three years of standard deviation. As she told it, the purpose of the game was to, “try to out-courtesy each other.”

“Oh, you go ahead.”
“No, no. Please, you first.”
“No, really. I insist.”
“But no, honestly. I’m begging you, go right ahead.”
“Don’t be silly. Go on, please.”

I’m not really sure if we actually played the game, but I thought about it a hundred times on Saturday. As the Unloaders picked a car clean, there would occassionally be a person who didn’t get a bag or box and would offer to split the load with someone who had. The game of out-courtesying was on! Fortunately, the over-zealous traffic directors had usually already moved another car in to position and the empty-armer could swoop in pile up.

It was a blessing to get to be there on Saturday. There are snapshots of people in my mind that I hope I never, ever forget.

The range in quality of donations was amusing. Shailen emptied one bag that contained some sort of ab-roller. Laura sorted some hand-me-downs that could be traced back to the Johnson Administration. Whatever you can give, I guess you give. And a lot of people are giving a lot. There were a couple of cars I helped unload three different times. People would show up with several hundred dollars of brand new merchandise from Target. I carried eight brand new duffle bags still in the packaging to the luggage section. Even before I could unpack a single one of them, people just coming in were asking, “Are those for us?” The look of astonishment on those people’s faces as I got to give those bags away is one of the snapshots I don’t ever want to lose.

I just hope this initial outpouring of support doesn’t dry up in a couple of weeks. Laura and I are praying that it doesn’t happen to us. It can be a little too easy to let the impact heal, or even worse, to find yourself getting bored of the situation. It’s pretty clear this is going to be months, and months, and months of healing and rebuilding. The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are going to need the support they’ve had these past couple of days well after the disaster has ceased being frontpage news.


Man, am I hurtin’ for some bloggin’! That sounds like a Danish word. Hurtenfursumblagen. Loosely translated, it means “more pastries please.”

I don’t know what they eat in Denmark.

It’s been a full and fun week at school. We had Open House last night and so a good deal of the week was spent preparing an exhibition of 65 drawings that our students have created so far. It went over very well, both with the parents and with our principal (which is a bonus).

Now we’re preparing the house for our good buddy Shailen who is visiting from College Station. He’s one of the links to the right as a matter of fact. We are also housing another good buddy of ours, Tyler Blue. If that sounds like an interesting name for a human, it’s because Tyler is a Weimaraner. Some friends of ours went out of town for the weekend and we’re getting to watch after him! It is already a lot of fun, because, it’s not only going to be cool having a big dog to jog with and wrestle; but, it also means having the best dog in the 75019 zip code. Tyler is a beautiful dog (pictures later) who has been beautifully trained. I already took him for a jog earlier and he “heels” halfway through the command. Even at 65 pounds and every bit of it muscle, handling him is effortless.

Laura’s also been busy at work preparing for a big day on Sunday. It’s a longer story, but basically, a new wing of the Children’s Ministry department (do you call them departments?) is being opened and it’s going to mean a lot of adjusting for her Adventure Zone kiddos and parentos.

We’ve also been painting the cabinets white the past few nights with Laura doing the lion’s share of the work. This is primarily because I spend most of the time sulking and relating to Daniel-San in The Karate Kid. I am all for having white cabinets, but I have not been able to harness my Chi and focus it on painting this week.