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?