December 31, 2008

Four Seasons

It is still December (if only for today), which means that winter is far from over. If you live in Chicago, you know that our coldest months are yet to come and that our winters can stretch well into spring. Why, then, did I receive an e-mail from Old Navy advertising "New Spring Styles for the Family" today? Anyone else find this disturbing? I mean, what would I do with a lace-knit cami or mid-rise Bermudas this time of the year? Seriously!

Anyone else feel like this phenomena seems to happen earlier and earlier each year? It's along the same lines as selling Christmas decorations in October (which happened this year). Why are we always in such a hurry to get to the next thing?

Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I feel like winter is practically ignored when it comes to clothing. The fall line is revealed, a couple of sweaters are added to the mix, and then the spring line is introduced. I was still waiting for the really warm stuff to be revealed. Did I miss something?

Certainly, I recognize that there are parts of the country that do not freeze over into a winter wonderland, but I feel somewhat slighted that these massive clothing chains have dismissed winter before it truly arrives. Would it really be that difficult to sell winter clothing all winter long? When I finally get sick of digging out my car in ballet flat shoes, it would be nice to walk into a store and actually find snow boots still on the shelves rather than flip flops. I'm just sayin'!

December 29, 2008

Highlights of 2008

As the new year rings in, I thought it would be fun to share some of my highlights of 2008:

1. Subbing - The 2007-2008 school year was a tough one for substitute teachers. Many districts had moved to electronic systems that no longer gave anyone preferential treatment. This is certainly better for the new subs, but for those of us who had worked our way up the ladder, this was a tough pill to swallow. Jobs I would have been guaranteed in the past were now taken by others (it is a first-come, first-serve kinda thing). I went from working 4-5 days a week to hoping for 2 (and most of those I nabbed because my friend and I cheated the system... and because he gets sick a lot). Combined with my knowledge of the upcoming weeks of zero paychecks, I was a stressed girl for a while. The good news is that I really did learn a lot from subbing. The great thing about being in so many classrooms is that I get to see so many ideas - and steal the ones that work for me! :) I also made some good friends in the process!

2. Student Teaching - In March, I began my student teaching experience. My cooperating teacher was amazing, and I feel eternally grateful for her guidance and support. I taught 7th grade language arts and social science. It was a much different experience than my subbing days. I certainly missed the paychecks, but it was awesome to be in the same classroom each day and really having an opportunity to know my students. I was challenged by the new curriculum and by learning classroom management (something that cannot be taught). I really enjoyed working with those students and came to feel like they were really my students!

3. Graduation - In June, I received my Masters of Education from DePaul University. I don't think I was very challenged by this program, but I do feel that it prepared me for the classroom (for the most part). I had some fabulous instructors and made some great friends in my program. The decision to obtain my teaching certificate was certainly the right choice for me. I think about where I might be if I had stayed in marketing, and I know I would not have the sense of accomplishment that I feel today. I needed a career where I could feel like I was making a difference. My only regret is that I didn't do this earlier!

4. Summer School - For those that don't know, I am an instructor for the summer school program at the local community college. For the past two years, I have been assigned the Freshmen English. To say the least, this is a challenge. Freshmen are the hardest students to teach for a multitude of reasons. My classroom is filled with students who failed the first (or second, or even third) time around, which should give you some insight into their attitude about English (and school in general). My challenge for the summer is to find a way to reach these students, who resent being "sentenced" to my classroom from 8-12 five days a week.

The hardest part is getting students to "buy in" - but I think that my enthusiasm is kinda contagious, so I work with that! :) Our final project for the summer was for students to prepare and present "How-To" speeches, and I was so impressed with their work. I was able to teach them so many important skills by allowing them to choose their own topics. Our last day of class was spent presenting their topics - I saw everything from skateboarding and beading to a fiesta! What a fun way to end the summer!

5. New Job - In August, was fortunate enough to start a full-time teaching job in a fabulous school district (at the same school where I student taught). With so many friends unable to find positions, I am well aware of my good fortune in avoiding that stress and landing this job in a highly-respected district. I also can't tell you how comforting it was to have all those familiar faces during my first few weeks of school (co-workers and students).

I have a great assignment teaching my 7th grade language arts. 7th grade is such a unique age because students are walking a fine line between dependence and autonomy. It's so fun to watch their personalities emerge as they learn and grow each day, and language arts is the perfect curriculum for that growth. How fortunate I am to be in a classroom where I can encourage students to express themselves through journals, stories, poetry, music - where they learn to make connections and learn from each other. I know they are challenging themselves because they challenge me - what an awesome opportunity!

I feel so blessed to be able to wake up every day with enthusiasm about my career!

6. Co-Workers - While we're on the subject, I can't talk about my new job without mentioning my amazing team. If you don't know, middle schools are set up so that the core classes (math, science, social science and language arts) take place within a team. My team is awesome - I can truly call them my friends and look forward to working with them each day. I didn't know it was possible to laugh so hard or so often at work!

7. Friends - I went through a time last year that caused me to evaluate my friendships. I started to ask myself what friendship really means and who I could truly consider a friend. I can honestly say that at this point, I feel confident in my relationships. Old friends or new, the people who are in my life are people I truly care for and know they care for me in return. After years of trials and tribulations... this is a good feeling!

Happy 2009 to you and yours!

December 28, 2008

Hostess with the Mostest!

This was my first year hosting Christmas. It was not planned, but when my poor mother came down with food poisoning, I had no choice but to step up to the plate. The good news was that I had been a part of the whole preparation process, so I knew what to expect. Mom and I had already done all of the grocery shopping and decorating in the days prior, so when she announced her plan to remain in bed all day, I was able to continue with the plans (and take care of my sick mother).

We decided on an appetizer theme for this year's menu rather than a traditional Christmas dinner. We served chicken fingers, meatballs, meat and cheese platters, shrimp, veggies and dip, pizza bites and so much more... we had plenty of food to feed a small army. Even after 16 people made their rounds (and I do mean rounds), we had plenty of leftovers!

With some assistance (my sister came early to help with the last minute items and my dad helped me clean), I was able to pull off the evening without a hitch. I only wish I had remembered to document the day with some pictures!

It was an exhausting yet wonderful day - I hope yours was just as great!

December 19, 2008

Christmas Elves

Sometimes, the best lessons happen outside of the classroom. For our December service project, our students participated in a Letters to Santa campaign. We adopted two kindergarten classes in a nearby city and our students fulfilled the Christmas wishes of each child.

They line to adopt a child stretched outside the classroom on sign-up day. Students spent days contemplating and shopping for the perfect gifts. I was overwhelmed at their generosity - and that they were sincere in their efforts to please these children.

I was fortunate enough to take a small group of children to deliver the gifts. It was such an amazing experience to stand there and watch my students act as Santa's Elves. They were so excited to watch the reactions of those little guys as they tore into their presents. The smiles on those faces and the hugs my students received were probably the best gifts they will receive this year! I was so blessed to be a witness to that experience!

A Trip to the Theatre

Each year, the entire seventh grade takes a fieldtrip to see A Christmas Carol after reading the novel. This was a highly anticipated day for our kids - they get to dress in their Sunday best, watch a wonderful stage production, and have lunch on the town. What more could a twelve-year-old want? We make it very clear to our students that a trip to the theatre is quite different than an afternoon at the movies. We talk about proper etiquette and attire for such an occasion (read: no jeans allowed). Well, this year, our students went above and beyond our expectations. The girls slept with curlers in their hair, painted their nails in shimmery Christmas colors, and donned their best dresses and high heels. The boys combed their hair (this is a feat for many), dusted off their dress shoes (or borrowed from a brother or father), and dressed in their best shirts and ties. Some even wore suits for the occasion. It looked like a middle school prom!

After a lengthy bus ride (thank you Chicago winters) our little ladies and gentlemen enjoyed a wonderful morning at the theatre followed by a leisurely lunch at Portillo’s. They were very well-behaved and even received two compliments from other patrons at the restaurant. Once again, I was a very proud teacher!

December 18, 2008

How Do You Measure Up?

Anyone else find this to be absolutely hilarious? I can only imagine how many boys will be trying these on for size (pun intended)!

December 15, 2008

Secret Santa

My coworkers have arranged a Secret Santa Exchange this week. We are supposed to leave a little something each day of the week. I don't know about you, but I love the idea of giving and receiving surprises each day - anything to brighten these dark, winter days!

My Secret Santa hit the jackpot this morning by leaving me a cute little bag of Holiday Chai mix! There is nothing I enjoy more on a cold winter morning than a hot chai tea latte. Yum!
I can already tell you that my commute will be much better tomorrow with this in my hand!

What a Dismal Day!

If you've ever read Jack London's "To Build a Fire", you might be able to get a sense of how bitterly cold it was today in Chicago. I know that Illinois isn't exactly located in the middle of an arctic tundra, but this was as close to that feeling as I ever want to feel!

I first knew it would be a rough morning when I awoke at 3:00 frigid in my bedroom. I realized immediately (from the sound of the blasting air) that my bedroom window was not locked shut, thus leaving my room more-than-comfortably exposed to the cold. I have a closet full of extra blankets, but it was even too cold to emerge from my covers to gather a down comforter. Instead, I covered my trembling body with extra pillows and willed myself back to sleep.

I woke up extra early for the day. Knowing that the roads and my car would likely be full of ice, I allowed myself plenty of time for an extended commute. However... I did not anticipate that after 25 minutes of pre-heating my car (thank you again, C for my wonderful remote starter!), my windows would still be covered in layers of ice. And my ice scraper did not help at all! I literally drove to school with no view out my rear window (even after my 50 minute commute) and only one of my windshield-washer-fluid-projector-thingies working (and of course, it was the the one on the passenger side that worked). Did I mention that it took me 15 minutes to drive 3 miles? I think I knew people in high school that could run faster than that!

How much longer until Spring break????

December 11, 2008

The Plan

About a month ago, a friend of mine celebrated her 28th birthday. I saw this declaration on her webpage, to which I replied, "She can't be 28! She's only a year older than me!" At that, my wonderful boyfriend reminded me that I will be turning 27 in a few short months.

I know that some people think I am crazy when I admit my emotional response to the realization that I am much closer to 30 than I cared to remember. You see, I had this mental list of all the things I wanted to accomplish by the time I reached that milestone. And none of these things are done!

My mom has always said that 30 is the age when a person truly becomes an adult - when people stop thinking of you as young or inexperienced in life. By my 30th birthday, I planned to be happily married to the man of my dreams with 2-3 children, a perfect home and the perfect job. Lofty dreams, I know, but I think that the overall hope was for stability and happiness.

In reality, I am unmarried, childless, living with my parents, and just starting my second career. But you know... I'm actually pretty happy with my life. Maybe it's time for a New Plan!

Quality Time

I was always a very conscientious student, but sometimes I had difficulty getting to class on time (to say that I was a social butterfly would be an extreme understatement). This was especially true for my German class. You see, Frau's classroom was the classroom furthest away from the main building, and sometimes I was simply unable to traverse the hallways before the bell. I honestly think this was the only class for which I was ever tardy.

Frau had a 3 tardy policy. Our first two were freebies, but after that, we were assigned "quality time." Yes, these were truly detentions, but there was something about spending "quality time" with our dear German teacher that was much less threatening.

As a teacher, I think I'm truly starting to understand the value of one-on-one time with my students. I already mentioned one student, in particular, but I have seen many positive changes after giving several students some "quality time." Sometimes, this means I need to pull a child after class and simply ask, "What's going on?" Sometimes they just need someone to care.

These are the moments I am reminded how much I love my job!

December 5, 2008

What Not to Wear

I was thinking today about the fashion articles online where the experts tell us what to wear and what not to wear. My favorites are the ones where they go out and take pictures of real people on the streets of a major city. Most people would be quite pleased if their faces ended up on the fashion "Do" list. Imagine, however, the horror people must feel to recognize their faces on the "Don't" list. Bad mullets, visible panty lines, extreme muffin top... think of all the possibilities!

I'm no fashionista, but I sure hope I have enough fashion sense to never see my face (or body) on such a list! (Good thing I own a full-length mirror!)

Locks of Love

I'm debating a change. For some, this type of change is rather insignificant, but I approach this change with great trepidation. I am a creature of habit. I don't really embrace change as I know I should. But I'm trying to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I'm not talking about moving across the country or buying a new car. I'm talking about a new hairstyle. Seriously. This is that much of an issue for me. I've had long hair all of my life, but now that I am approaching the end of my 20's (I know it's still a few years off, but that big 3-0 feels as though it is looming just ahead. But that's another blog for another time.), I feel that it is time that I lose my long locks. It's time to accept the fact that I am, indeed, and adult!

I admit that part of what has inspired this consideration is the fact that my hair has gotten much thinner over the years. I don't think I'm in any danger of having bald spots, but my hair is significantly thinner than it was when I was younger. I'm not sure what's causing this, but I do feel the need to accept this reality. Long, thin hair tends to look stringy, and that is not a look I desire.

This is sort of the style I'm considering (with many more layers for volume). What do you think?


Grey's Anatomy is my favorite show, but I am having a really hard time with this recent relationship between Izzie and Denny. In case the writers have forgotten, Denny is dead! I, for one, find it really creepy that Izzie is sleeping with a dead man - on a regular basis. And I find it disturbing that she prefers this over live, human contact (especially when that human contact includes Alex). Anyone else with me on this?

December 3, 2008

Special Attention

I have a student, J, who is one of seven children in his home. He's a great kid, but he can be very distracting in the classroom (imagine the loudest child you know and magnify that by ten). It isn't hard to imagine why a child from such a large family would need to adopt some attention-seeking behaviors, but he has a hard time turning that off in school.

A couple of weeks ago, J asked if he could sit with me behind my desk in a spare chair. Although this is an odd request from a middle school student, I permitted him to move. At the time, I was willing to negotiate pretty much anything to get him to stop talking and stay on task!

It's been about two weeks now, and J is still happily sharing a desk with me during his language arts classes. Because of his proximity, he is often the first student I ask to do me small favors (turn on the projector, hand out papers, etc.), and he is eager to comply with my requests.

J's behavior has dramatically improved with this new seating arrangement. I think he really relishes in having that "special attention" from me and with his added responsibilities in the classroom. It's amazing how such a small, seemingly meaningless change can sometimes have such a profound effect.

November 30, 2008

She's Back!

I cannot contain this any longer. I refuse to hide my true feelings. I will not be afraid of what the haters will say. I'm going to declare it proudly for all to hear, "I am a Britney fan!" Whew! That's much better!

When Britney Spears became a star, I was in high school. In fact, Britney and I are the same age, which no doubt added to her appeal. Whether or not you like her now, you have to admit that she was an amazing entertainer. I didn't even care that she wasn't actually singing her songs because she was an incredible performer - the costumes, the lights, the dancing - she was great to watch!

OK, OK! I know we cannot ignore the train wreck that was Britney over the last few years. She certainly made some terrible, life-altering decisions, but I felt bad for her. She didn't have the support system that she needed to keep her grounded. I don't think that anyone around her truly had her best interest at heart, and the result was devastating.

All along, though, I have been secretly holding out hope for her, and I can tell you now that I am cautiously optimistic over her recent comeback. Her new single, "Womanizer" is actually a fun, catchy song. And check out her latest magazine cover shot - she looks amazing!

I hope this is truly a new beginning for Britney. Though her star may not rise as quickly or high as it did in the past, I hope that she is able to stay on this new path and to find happiness within herself.

A Budget-Friendly Holiday

Each year, my mom, sister and I get together with my cousin, Sara, and her two kids to make Christmas cookies. It's always such a fun day filled laughter as we try new recipes and prepare sampler plates for friends and loved ones. The kids typically keep busy cutting and decorating sugar cookies (not to mention eating cookie dough), and my sister (the culinary artist in the family) takes the lead on the more elaborate cookies.

This year, though, my mom suggested we skip cookie day because of busy schedules (our cookie day can easily turn into a cookie weekend) and efforts to be budget-conscious. My sister and I were immediately appalled at this suggestion, but it's not because we'll miss the cookies. Sure, we enjoy eating and sharing our creations, but what we'd really miss is that time spent with our family.

I saw this idea on Oprah this past week, and I think it might be just the perfect alternative to our cookie day this year. It's such a sweet idea for the holidays (pun intended) and simple enough for the kids to help!

How cute is this Hot Chocolate Cone?!

The process is simple. Start with a plastic piping bag, fill it with your favorite cocoa mix, add a generous amount of miniature marshmallows, top with chocolate chips and secure the bag with ribbon. I plan to attach a candy cane or two and a personalized note for some added flair.

What budget-friendly gifts do you plan to share this year?

Officially In Love

Have you read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight? If not, you really ought to!

I admit that I was initially uninterested in reading a story centered around a young girl falling in love with a vampire. I've never really been a big fantasy reader (though I did enjoy the Harry Potter series), so I had no intention of picking up this series (Twilight is the first in a series of 4).

My students, though, are completely obsessed with these books. They are impossible to find in our school library or even in the local public library due to such a high demand. My students are reading these books furiously, and the proof is in the numerous vocabulary words they point out each day as they read (they get points for each word they find for their class competition)!

When my co-workers couldn't stop gushing about Edward Cullen and planned a girls night out to see the new movie, I decided it was time to give the book a try. I decided Thanksgiving weekend would be the perfect time for some leisurely reading.

Well, folks. It's official. I, too, am in love with Edward Cullen! If you haven't yet, you need to read this book! I literally couldn't put it down.

I'm scared to see the movie, though, for fear that it will ruin the image I have of Edward in my mind. I don't think any director could fulfill the standards I have set for Edward. Have you seen it? What do you think?

November 22, 2008

Safe Haven

Safe-Haven Laws exist to protect babies from being abused or neglected. Instead, parents have the option of legally leaving their child at a safe haven, turning the child over to the state. Age restrictions for these laws vary by state. In Illinois, for example, this law applies only to children up to seven days old.

Earlier this year, Nebraska's legislators were implementing their law, but could not agree on an age restriction. Because they didn't specify an age limit, the state has seen a surge of parents dropping off older children and even teenagers at these safe havens. I cannot imagine what it must do to the psyche of a child to be abandoned by a parent like that. It honestly breaks my heart.

On Friday's 20/20, the journalists profiled families who have taken advantage of this law because their children suffered from mental disorders that they could not handle (most common was bipolar). These children were endangering their own lives or the lives of others (parents or siblings), many had been hospitalized countless times, and the families had reached their breaking point.

I found myself angry as I watched these stories. Not because the parents had given up, but because people do not have the resources they need to support their children. I wonder how many of these families do not have access to mental health care or resources because of a lack of awareness and/or coverage.

As someone dating a mental health professional, I am far too aware of the lack of respect for mental illness. It is so unfortunate that there is such a negative stigma about these issues. Many insurers do not cover mental health issues, or they offer very limited coverage. In a society that is obsessed with the health of our bodies and spirit, how can we ignore the mind?

November 19, 2008

Sharpie Heaven

While chatting with some students during some down time the other week, I happened to mention my love of sharpie markers. As it turns out, the father of one of my students holds a rather prominent position within the company, and said student promised a box of writing tools in the days to follow. While these types of promises flow freely in my classroom they typically lack follow through, so I try not to get my hopes up!

I am pleased to announce that both Christmas and my birthday came early this year, my friends! Last Friday to be exact. That was the day that my wonderful, thoughtful student came to school carrying a rather large box of these (among many others) wonderful goodies:

I am living in Sharpie heaven! What a generous gift! And I have to tell you that grading papers us much more exciting with a pack of retractable, ultra fine point sharpies by your side!

Inspired by my new tools, I decided to spend my weekend creating holiday cards. I've never even sent cards before, so this is a big step for me. A quick trip to JoAnn's for more scrapbook paper left me fully prepared for hours of crafting entertainment. What fun I had!
A father of another student makes leg lamps for a living. Yes, like the leg lamp in A Christmas Story. I'm truly hoping this student makes good on his promise as well!

November 12, 2008

Preserving Art

I can't stand clutter. I do not have an appreciation for the little knickknacks that monopolize people's shelves (that must be so annoying for dusting). I'm sorry, but I don't see the charm in a spoon collection that hangs on your kitchen wall. I simply don't understand why people feel it's necessary to have so much stuff!

I have rules about these things. Take the refrigerator, for instance. It is completely unnecessary to adorn your appliances with 10 magnets advertising the phone numbers to your local fast food delivery. That's why we have the Internet (or at least the yellow pages). I like my refrigerator bare. The one exception I can make to this rule (because it serves a function) is a shopping list.

My mother likes to tease me about my future with children and the chaos they will cause in my organizationally obsessed life. For years, I've declared that my children's art work will not hang all over my house. I planned to have a specific location for said items in a hallways or someplace where it doesn't look messy. I know it makes me sound heartless, but I promise you that I'm not - I just can't stand the clutter.

Today, I learned of two fantastic ideas for such a dilemma (thank you Oprah and Peter!):

1. Remember that designated space I wanted for my children's' artwork? Peter Walsh agrees! He suggested a purchase of carpet tiles and double stick tape. He simply taped the tiles on the wall and used tacks to mount some of the work (and it can be easily changed as new art is created)! Check out this photo:

2. A wonderful way to preserve your child's artwork is to take a digital photo and create a photo memory book. Several photo websites offer such options at various price points. I don't know about you, but I would love a coffee table book of my children's artwork (if I had any).

See, Mom! There is plenty of room for organization - even in a home filled with children! :)

As Seen on Oprah

On today's Oprah, the Clutter Crew from HGTV's Divine Design, led by expert Peter Walsh, tackled some organizational nightmares. The show promised some inexpensive and easy tips to tackle the clutter in one's home and it did not disappoint. I was pleased to see him discuss some tips that I already use!

1. In your closet (and dresser), group like items so you can see what you have. I know many people who group their clothes by color, but I prefer to group them by clothing type (jeans, pants, sweaters, long-sleeved shirts, T-shirts, etc.). I find that I am searching for a specific color much less often than a type of clothing. For example, on a cold day, I much prefer to look in my closet and see what sweaters I already own than how many pink tops are in my closet.

2. Speaking of your closet, Peter suggests hanging all of your clothes on hangers the wrong way. As you wear your clothes over the next six months (or I suggest a year if you live in a city with four seasons like Chicago), you can hang them the right way. This is an easy way to get a visual of what you actually wear in your wardrobe (Peter says we wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time, and while I'm not a huge fan of statistics, I'd say that one's pretty true for yours truly) and donate or sell what you don't wear.

3. Peter also talked about respecting your things. This means that everything should have a place and everything should be in its place. I can't agree more here. If you've ever seen my classroom, you'll know how crazy I am about organization - everything not only has a place, but it is also clearly labeled. I can't work in clutter. In college, I was physically unable to write a paper or study for a test until my room/apartment/house was clean. Mr. Walsh would say that's because your home reflects your life.

4. I do have one exception to the above rule: the junk drawer. Ever since I college, when I first had my own space, I've kept one drawer in my work desk, kitchen or even coffee table for the odds and ends that don't have a home. I think this works because a) I limit myself to only one drawer and b) I clean it out regularly.

Happy organizing!

November 4, 2008

History in the Making

Did you vote today? I sure did! And I'm pleased to watch the election unfold on CNN because I like the results this far! I feel a great sense of pride in knowing that I can say that I voted for the first black president in the United States of America. My children and grandchildren will read about this day, and I will be able to tell them that I was a part of that movement. How exciting!

On a side note, I've had some very frustrating conversations with certain conservatives in my life over the past few months who've accused me of being unpatriotic (among other things) for not supporting (which really means not liking) our current president. I wonder... would it be entirely too childish of me to throw that same line back into their faces after Obama takes office? :)

November 2, 2008

Exploring Nature

A couple weeks ago, we took our team on a fieldtrip to a local forest preserve. Students were asked to observe the various biomes in nature as we hiked a trail. It was a beautiful fall day.

Here's my group looking for woodpecker holes in a tree.

Here they are walking the trail (notice all the pretty autumn leaves changing around them).
This was the highlight of the day. While the waterfall itself left much to be desired, the students spent much of the afternoon exploring this area and loved every minute. Picture 100 students without shoes or socks, jeans rolled to their knees, walking in the shallow river, skipping rocks and having a great time. It was so picturesque - a perfect day!

Halloween Bash 2008

Corey and I had a blast at my co-worker's annual Halloween Bash last night! We went as Giggles the Clown and Joe the Plumber (He refused to be a clown with me, and I was too in love with this costume to be anything else. I just couldn't resist that hoop hemline!)

"Joe" was the proud winner of the Guess-How-Many-Kernals-Are-In-The-Martini-Shaker Contest! Even though he won, I decided to keep his prize (the super cute shaker) because I filled out his guess card for him (aren't I nice?). I promse I'll use it with him! :)

He got a little frisky with his plunger. Apparently, Wrigley didn't appreciate the joke!

My co-worker, Jenny, came as a beautiful Tinkerbell, which is a PERFECT costume for her!

Elaine, our gracious host, dressed as a sexy vampire! Her husband, Josh, who went above and beyond in decorating the house (inside and out), dressed as Hulk Hogan (He's not wearing his wig in this picture).

My co-worker, Ed, won best costume (I didn't get a picture) for his Captain Crunch costume made by his wife, who came as lucky Charms. I also loved a couple dressed as a cow and milkmaid (the cow shot water from his utter... hilarious!). Ho White and the Seven Horny Dwarfs were also favorites of the group.

What was your favorite costume this year?

October 29, 2008

99 Balloons

This story aired on Oprah yesterday and it's too good not to share. It is a video diary of sorts from a father of a little boy born with Edward Syndrome. The video, 99 Balloons, will surely touch your heart (grab your Kleenex now!).

October 26, 2008

Evidence That We Should Think Before We Speak

My students have been researching environmental issues this month in preparation for their persuasive letter writing (to politicians) and upcoming speeches. This past week, they created and presented Did You Know...? posters stating a fact related to their topics (in order to increase interest in these upcoming speeches). One poster said something (I can't recall the exact fact) about a chemical that causes lung cancer. Here's the discussion that followed:

Student 1: Isn't that chemical in cigarettes too?
Me: I'm not sure, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Student 2: There's tar in cigarettes!
Student 1: What do you mean?
Student 2: Like street tar.
Student 1: So they scrape the tar from the streets and put it in cigarettes?
Student 2: No, but it has the same chemicals.
Me: There are tons of chemicals in cigarettes. A lot of the chemicals in cleaning products are in cigarettes.
Student 1: What?! You can't breathe those in! They'll kill you!
(At this point, the whole class breaks out in laughter)
Me: Yes, J. And that's why it's bad to smoke! Because cigarettes DO kill people!

Ha! I love my job!

October 20, 2008

Intolerable Ignorance

This is an old bulletin I posted on MySpace back in the day, but I wanted to reiterate my thoughts....

I read a very disturbing bulletin today. I don't know who originally wrote this exact post, but I have seen similar commentaries in the past. I can't hold my frustrations any longer. Please read the posting below and see my comments following:

You call me: "redneck", "Hillbilly", "Slacker", "Cracker", "Honkey", "Whitey", "Gringo", "Sage" and "Hick" and you think it's okay.But when I call you: "jungle bunny", "spear chunker", "coon", "wet back", "jiggaboo","porch monkey", "sand nigger", "rag head", "towelhead", "Camel Jockey", "Gook", "Spook", "nigger", "kike", "slant eyes" or "Chink" you call me a racist.--You have the United Negro College Fund.--You have Martin Luther King Day.--You have Black History Month.--You have Cesar Chavez Day.--You have Yom Hashoah--You have Ma'uled Al-Nabi--You have the NAACP.--You have BET.--If we had WET(white entertainment television) ...we'd be racist.--If we had a White Pride Day... you would call us racist.--If we had white history month... we'd be racist.--If we had an organization for only whites to "advance" our lives... we'd be racist.--If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships...we'd be racist.--In the Million Man March, you believed that you were marching for your race and rights. If we marched for our race and would call us racist.--Did you know that some high school students decided to make a club for only the white students because the other ethnicities had them. they all got sent to court for being racist but the African American, Latino, and ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /> Asia clubs were not even questioned.--You are proud to be black, brown, yellow and orange, and you're not afraid to announce it. But when we announce our white pride, you call us racists.I am white. and I am proud.Why is it that only whites can be racists?Now watch, I'll be racist for reposting this.If you agree w/ this than repost saying "I'm not RACIST but it's true"

My immediate reaction is one of shock. How can people be so ignorant? Do they not know the history of our country? Have they not been educated about the hardships faced by persons of color? Do they not acknowledge that discrimination and racism are active still today? Do they not understand how hard it is for these people to have their voices heard?

In the past, racism was very overt. Those behaviors are no longer acceptable in our society (thank God). Now, though, racism has become covert. People are still racist - even though they may not say anything or physically do anything. Institutional racism is alive and well - and it is mighty powerful. And if we sit idly by as it happens, we are only contributing to our nation's delinquencies.

The author of this posting complained about the one measly month dedicated to black history, but I don't hear any complaints about the 11 other months that are (covertly) dedicated to white history.

The author criticized our cable network for allowing one black entertainment channel, but I didn't read any criticism about the hundreds of other channels dedicated to their white audience (because let's face it - that's who they're marketing to).

The author criticized the NAACP. Maybe the author doesn't know that we have institutions in this country that have been established to promote the advancement of white people - it's called Corporate America!

Let's not forget that it's been only 30-40 years since persons of color where even granted the same rights as whites in our country. You have to acknowledge that whites got one hell of a head start there!

The author even criticized the United Negro College Fund. God forbid we have an organization dedicated to giving disadvantaged persons (because they all are in our society whether you like to admit it or not) the opportunity to better their lives!

This posting shows a great lack of acknowledgement (or education) of why such institutions were created and their necessity. I find it despicable that any person can write such a posting and truly believe that the white people are somehow being disadvantaged in this country.

And finally, I wanted to comment on the question of why only white people are considered racist. In the past couple years, I've been exposed to some highly respected authors who have helped me to redefine "racism”. I now understand that the word "racism" can only really apply when a person has power and privilege over another. For this reason, it is only whites in this country that can be racist - because only the white man has such power and privilege where his hatred of others can really affect their lives.

Think about it.

Only in America

This story is right up there with the idiot who sued McDonald's for not warning that the coffee was hot!

The article tells the story of a single, overweight, middle-aged woman (trust me, these facts are important) who arrived at a Tampa hospital complaining of severe abdominal cramps. While the professionals were busy running tests and such, said woman decides she needs to use a bathroom and oops!... pops out a baby.

Because all Americans feel they are entitled to sue the world, this family wants to sue the hospital for negligence (to pay for the baby's ongoing medical care - she suffered brain damage from the incident). Have I mentioned that the mother was fully aware of the fact that she had missed her menstral cycle for over eight months? Did I also mention that the woman's lab reports showed traces of cocaine? But, oh yes... the hospital was the negligent party here!

I especially love the last line in the article, "This woman doesn't know she is pregnant, but somebody else should." Seriously!

I Can't Say It Better Myself

This blogger, who happens to be a family friend, couldn't have expressed my thoughts better (even though he's really only expressing his own). Check out his post here.

October 19, 2008

Words to Live By

I love when I read a book or watch a movie and come across some great "words to live by." Often, I quickly write down the words in an effort to remember their message, and I thought it would be fun to share some with you.

I love children's movies. I often say that I need to have my own children so I have an excuse to enjoy the latest films in theatres rather than waiting until they are on TV (I'm still waiting for Horton Hears a Who). This morning, I watched the wonderful story of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. It was quirky and cute, and its message rings loud and clear: Believe in yourself so life's magic can appear.

I leave you with this inspirational quote from the eccentric Mr. Magorium himself:

"Your life is an occasion - rise to it!"

October 17, 2008

What Address?

This was an interesting conversation I had with one of my students about formal letter writing:

Me: (While demonstrating on our fancy ELMO projector (which I love, by the way)) This is where you write your address. Go ahead and do that now."
Student: "Wait. My e-mail address goes here (pointing to his paper)?"
Me: "No. Not your e-mail address, your street address."
Student: "I don't get it. I don't have one of those."
Me: "You know... your house number... the name of the street you live on."
Student: "Oh!!!! I don't know my number, though."
(Please keep in mind that this is a 7th grade honors class)
Me: "Seriously? You don't know what numbers are on your house?"
Student: "No."
Me: "Don't you ever get mail?"
Student: "In my e-mail."
Me: "Well, when people come to your house, how do you tell them where to go?"
Student: "My parents do that."

We are truly in a digital age, my friends!

October 15, 2008

Parent Conferences

I know it's been a while since my last post, but I have been busy saving the world! :) OK, I've really been busy preparing for my first parent-teacher conferences, which took place last night and today. I am happy to say that I have survived... one more notch in my teaching belt!

My conferences went very smoothly. I have great students this year, and that resulted in pleasant conversations with the vast majority of parents. For this, I am thankful!

There was though, one conference that has been tugging at my heart strings. There is a student on our team this year who clearly has too much on his plate. This particular student is in the honors math and language arts program, runs cross country, plays club hockey, and has decided to take on a foreign language and a new musical instrument this year. As you can imagine, this is a lot to maintain for your average middle school student (especially with such a demanding 7th grade curriculum in this district), but this student also has some emotional/behavioral concerns. To make a very long story short, our team agrees that this child's behavior needs to be addressed, and we believe that his overwhelming load has caused a lot of unnecessary stress. We, as a team, agree that we are not meeting his needs in the honors math and language arts programs.

I can't tell you how hard it was to break this news to an already-stressed mom. She has been receiving phone calls from teachers since the beginning of the year, but I think this conference was the first time she was really forced to face the issues. I felt for her... I really did. It must be so hard to hear your child's teachers say that he just can't cut it. It must be devastating to have to go home and relay that information to your child. All I could do was assure her that we're doing this because we care. I hope that message was received.

We put so much pressure on our kids to succeed. I sometimes worry that our expectations of "success" need to be adjusted. Sometimes, kids just need to be kids. It's okay if they aren't earning straight A's, taking every honors class, or finishing their cross country meets in first place. When did "average" take on a negative connotation?

October 7, 2008

Fashion Gone Wrong

Do you remember fashion in the early 90's? Big, teased hair (the bigger, the better), biker shorts with oversized t-shirts, scrunched socks, snap bracelets, hitop sneakers, MC Hammer (aka parachute) pants, Madonna-inspired cone ponytail holders... ah yes, those were the days!

At the peak of this high-fashion era, I was about 10 years old. Fifth grade, for me, was a time when I was becoming very conscious about my appearance, and I spent far too much time in front of mirrors teasing my bangs as high as possible and feathering my sides (you know you did it too!). I don't think there has been a time in my life since that I've followed fashion so closely.

Imagine my surprise today when I noticed that our school librarian was wearing a t-shirt tie. Do you rember those? I'm not certain of their exact names, but they were plastic rings (they came in several shapes and colors), and we'd weave our oversized shirts through them to hold them tight to our sides. Seriously... I know fashion is recycled, but I haven't seen these on anyone since the 1990's. And the lady in question is not one I would describe as fashionable.

Is there an old fashion trend that you're hoping will return?

October 6, 2008

Love is Blind

My girl, Eve, sure said it with the lyrics, "Love is blind."

I was thinking this evening about people who are in unhealthy relationships. I'm not talking about abusive relationships (though those certainly qualify), but I'm talking about the ones when it's so clear to everyone except for the couple in question that the relationship is all wrong (Speidi, anyone?).

I think one of the biggest problems with these relationships is the strain they can put on other relationships (friends and family). In the end, that just isolates the couple, making it even harder for reality to sink in, and by the time it does, sometimes friendships can no longer be salvaged.

Have you ever been in one of these relationships?

Or... to add a twist: Have you ever dated someone knowing full well it was a mistake from the start?

October 5, 2008

Off the Grid

Though I am fairly certain my age falls beyond their viewing demographic, I admit that I still enjoy some MTV programming. I find True Life, for example, to be somewhat education in that if provides a glimpse into lives that are much different that my own. An episode I watched this evening was, "Off the Grid." Basically, it was a group of 6 strangers literally living off of the land for one year in the middle of Wisconsin (Do you know how cold it gets in Wisconsin in the middle of winter? Yikes!).

Let my start by clarifying that I'm not so much of an outdoorsy person to begin with - I prefer my soft bed, flushable toilets and warm showers. I used to go camping every summer with my friends, but I secretly hated these trips because I was always hot, dirty and full of bug bites. I'd rather vacation at a spa!

These brave souls, however, were living in mud huts and bathing in frigid lake water with only sand to "cleanse" their bodies (chemicals were not allowed). The stretched hides for clothing and shelter. They ate deer, frogs and squirrel... squirrel! I seriously think I'd rather go hungry (and that's saying something). If this documentary was supposed to make me interested in the green lifestyle, I would say it failed miserably. It's just too extreme for me!

Now, I'm all for thinking green and doing what we can do help the environment. I look forward to a future filled with smart cars and solar panels for all. I do my best to reduce, reuse and recycle. I believe in supporting Community-Supported Agriculture, and If I had the ability to keep a plant alive (seriously... I've killed bamboo), I would even grow my own fruits and vegetables. in a garden. I think it's pretty safe to say, though, that I couldn't make it living completely off the grid. Could you?

Party Foul

Last night's homecoming dance at Maine South was cut short becuase of a bomb threat. You can read the full article here, which I find disturbing on so many levels. While I completely understand and respect why the authorities must take each threat seriously and respond accordingly, I think it completely sucks for all the students in attendance.

I remember my own excitement around homecoming dance -especially my freshman year. I remember the anticipation of my first real date, the weeks spent searching for that perfect dress and coordinating accessories, the hours spent coordinating plans (transportation, dinner, flowers, hair and nail appointments, pictures, etc.).

I can't even imagine how disappointed these students must have felt when their dance was cancelled less that an hour into the evening. All that hype, all that excitement... cut short. And why? I am willing to bet that the threat came from a selfish teen who wasn't invited/permitted to attend the dance and decided to take it upon himself/herself to ruin everyone's party.

I hope the police are able to identify the caller and that he/she is forced to pay for the losses (hair, nails, limos, etc.). Seriously!

October 3, 2008

One Less Guest

If you are in a serious relationship (and you have been for quite some time) and you receive an invitation to a wedding sans guest, are you still expected to attend? What if said event is out of state? I've been wrestling with these questions since receiving an invite to a friend's wedding a few weeks ago.

I know that my single invitation is not personal; I understand that guest lists multiply very quickly. My problem is that I need to make a decision, and I'm none too thrilled about either of my options. It is completely out of my comfort zone to make the trip (have I mentioned this wedding is out of state?) and attend the day's events alone (If you know me, you understand why this is such a big deal. I don't even go to the bathroom alone.), and I don't want to be a bad friend by not attending.

What to do? What to do?

October 2, 2008

A New Understanding

On this week's Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, my understanding of pedophilia was challenged, to say the least. In this episode, the detectives dealt with persons who were clearly sexually aroused by children but had never engaged in any criminal behavior (they even exchanged photos of children on the internet... fully clothed). This was a new concept for me, but if you think about it, all pedophiles must have started with a fantasy. I'm sure most offenders would agree that they tried to resist their urges, knowing the consequences of their actions, but they were eventually overwhelmed by their own desires.

The episode leaves me questioning whether or not it is possible for people to have these strong urges and to truly never cross the line. Are these people just ticking time bombs waiting to explode? If so, don't we have a responsibility to our children to find ways to prosecute these men before they cross that line and destroy lives? Unfortunately, law enforcement cannot convict someone for his fantasies - at least not yet.

The Search for Truth

An e-mail circulated our building today from an irate parent, who contacted our superintendent (not the teacher in charge or even the building principal... this man went straight to the top) in regards to a documentary shown on last week to the seventh grade academic teams. Tomorrow, you see, begins our environmental research unit, and in order to give students a glimpse into a hot button environmental issue, we show An Inconvenient Truth.

After this father fully admitted that he had not seen the film himself, he demanded that it be removed from the curriculum. He was "livid" that his twin daughters were exposed to this type of "liberal, political material" and "appalled" that our district would be so "irresponsible" to present this information to students. Furthermore, he demanded to know when the other, "scientific" side would be presented to students as well (this is where I laugh).

Of course, our response (this was not a parent on my team... thank God!) was that this film is presented as one perspective and that students will spend the next month researching alternative views and that all popular research is somewhat biased. We are fully supported by our principal in this effort, so it sounds like this daddy will have to take his tears elsewhere.

I am well aware that my school is located in a very conservative, upper-middle class Chicago suburb, but I guess I didn't consider how close-minded some people could be at times. I believe that a well-rounded education includes information from multiples sources, so that when these students can learn to be critical thinkers with the ability to discern for themselves what is true. Isn't this what we want for our children?

October 1, 2008

Diving In

I was blessed this past weekend to be able to spend time with some of my friends from college, some whom I had not seen in more than four years (Yikes! Has it been that long since we graduated?). In the midst of our conversations, one of my friends asked me why I didn't have a blog. I confessed the following two reasons: 1) I couldn't think of a creative title and 2) I have nothing "interesting" to share (read: I'm not planning a wedding, having/raising a child like everyone else I know).

I decided this evening, that I was going to take the plunge. I figured it's only fair, as I spend many hours reading everyone else's blogs (even people I don't know), that I contribute to the blogging world. The title of my blog was inspired by my students during my student teaching experience. It is certainly a play on my actual last name, but my mentor insists the deeper meaning cannot be ignored. I don't know that I've saved any lives quite yet... but it's something to which I can aspire! :)

While I'm still neither planning a wedding nor expecting my first child, I do think I have some things worth sharing. Mostly, I look forward to having a place to share thoughts/ideas/opinions, whether or not anyone reads them.