December 19, 2011

The Perfect Cold Weather Soup

This weekend was the first snowfall that stuck around. It didn't snow much, but there was enough to coat the streets and look really pretty from my living room window. And I don't know about you, but I don't think there's anything better on a cold day than snuggling up on the couch with a warm bowl of homemade soup.

Luckily, my coworker gave me her amazing Creamy Chicken Soup recipe, and I already had all the ingredients on hand. It was the perfect day to bust out my cutting board and give the recipe a go.

Usually, I only cook out of necessity (I think I inherited this from my mother), but for some reason, I was really enjoying myself in the kitchen all morning. It definitely helped that I started cooking just after breakfast, rather than waiting until I was hungry and impatient. I turned up an audiobook I've been listening to and diced, sauted, whisked and stirred my soup into perfection.

And perfection is exactly what I made. This is no crock-pot, set it and forget it, kind of recipe, but the result was absolutely worth the effort. As soon as I took my first bite, I knew this was a recipe I had to keep in my arsenal. Not only were the flavors delicious, but the consistency was perfect. It was creamy yet still substantial enough that I didn't even want bread on the side.

Okay, I know you're all salivating now, so here's the recipe:

Ingredients:
Sorry for the not-so-professional food shot. This is new to me.
1/2 C onion
3-4 garlic cloves
olive oil
1/2 C carrots (I added more)
1/2 C celerey (I added more)
4 C chicken broth (I used the low sodium)
2 C water
2 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (I actually used 3 and cubed it for more of a bite)
1 (4.5 oz) package of quick cooking long grain wild rice with seasoning packet
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 C flour
6 Tbsp butter
2 C skim milk

1. In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil.
2. Add carrots and celery and saute until softened.
3. Add broth, water and chicken, bring to a boil.
4. Stir in rice. Reserve seasoning.
5. Cover and remove from heat.
6. In a medium sauce pan melt butter over medium heat.
7. Stir in seasoning packet, salt, and pepper until bubbly.
8. Reduce heat to low.
9. Slowly whisk in flour to form roux.
10. Slowly whisk in milk until smooth.
11. Cook until thickened.
12. Stir into broth and rice.
13. Cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

December 18, 2011

Not Your Average Sub

Anyone who's ever taught can tell you that it's easier to go to work, even when you're really sick, because making sub plans is such a pain in the you-know-what. Without knowing who will be in your classroom, you have no option but to leave the dreaded busywork for your students because you can't assume your sub will be able or willing to move forward in your lessons. It's really unfortunate.

On Friday,I was talking to another teacher when another sub walked in and explained that she simply couldn't be expected to teach students about how to find the least common multiple, despite the fact that the book lays it out for you step by step and that the classroom teacher left several examples to follow. We assured her that the lesson would be review for the students (because I knew they had been working on it), and after some coaxing, she hesitantly agreed to give the lesson a try.

As one of the "good" and "capable" substitutes out there, her attitude offended me. I don't understand why she'd take a math job knowing full well she's uncomfortable teaching that subject. You can't take a job and then not be willing to do it!

It's subs like her that make this position a joke. They're the ones that want the students to sit quietly so they can knit, text, watch movies on their phone, or even sleep... all things I've seen first-hand. They aren't interested in knowing the students at all. They see themselves as glorified babysitters, simply there to control the chaos until the classroom teacher returns.

I am not that kind of sub. As you all know, I'm subbing because teaching is my passion, and I'm using this opportunity to stay involved in education until I can have another classroom of my own. I choose to work in the same few buildings so I can be more than just another strange face. I want the staff to know me and learn they can depend on me. I work hard to establish a positive rapport with students, learning their names, interests, and academic needs.

And you know what? The teachers in my buildings request me - all the time. They know I'm willing and able to teach a real lesson, so they don't have to disrupt their curriculum with a movie or book work in their absence. More than once, I've had teachers call me with vague lesson plans rather than formally writing them up because they know I can take their direction and run with it.

So... I guess I should really be thanking all those less-than-stellar subs because they make me look awesome. :)

December 14, 2011

TLC vs. Lowe's

I read today on one of my favorite sites about a certain well-known hardware store pulling advertising for TLC's new show, All-American Muslim. I, for one, think it's disgusting that they're allowing themselves to be influenced by a bigoted group like the Florida Family Association (FFA). 

I've seen the show, and I was actually really impressed with TLC for adding it to their Sunday night line up. There are too many people in this country with false beliefs about Islam, I think education is the most important step toward tolerance. The families on this show are no different from anyone else. They coach high school football, struggle with fertility, deal with interfaith marriage, observe religious holidays, experience the trials and errors of parenting, and every other issue that every other American deals with on a daily basis. I'm not sure how, exactly, this show is at all offensive.

To the FFA, who feel the show is harmful to one's belief system because it doesn't represent the radical Islamic groups, I can only laugh at your ignorance. Should every reality show about Christian families also represent the the radical Christian groups as well? Surely, you'd be offended if someone told you that being a Christian meant that your beliefs must be in line with the KKK, but that's precisely what you're saying about the Muslim communities.

Take a few moments to watch Jon Stewart's take on this matter. I love him!

December 4, 2011

Thanksmas Party Recap and Recipe

Last night was Mary and Jon's annual Thanksmas dinner party. I was super excited to be included in this year's event, which they've been hosting for friends since right after college.

Mary, as always, was the hostess with the mostest. She's like a mini Martha Stewart, always going above and beyond when entertaining, whether for two people or twenty. From holiday decorations to place settings and centerpieces, her little details create the perfect ambiance for any occasion. I love going to her house... maybe too much (I spend the night there often).

I learned very quickly that Thanksmas is an excuse to eat copious amounts of food. Seriously, I think we all filled up on appetizers before dinner was even served. I didn't even finish my plate, and I was stuffed! Some people, whom shall remain nameless (Paolo and Brandon), started drinking super early and ended up in bed soon after gorging themselves on dinner... that's how good the food tasted!

For my part, I brought our favorite boxed wine (don't judge us... it's delicious!) and a recipe I found at About.com for Crock Pot Garlic Smashed Potatoes. It was well-received and pretty easy (though time-consuming, as is anything in the crock pot... so plan ahead) to prepare, so I would definitely make it again.

A few of us spent the night and got to hang out this morning too. It pretty much made for a perfect weekend (except for that pathetic Bears game today... don't get me started). Thanks, Mary and Jon, for including me in your tradition. I hope it's the first of many Thanksmases together. I love you guys!!

For those so-inclined, here's the recipe I used:
Ingredients:

•3 lb. small red potatoes
•5 garlic cloves, minced
•1 onion, finely chopped
•2 Tbsp. olive oil
•1 tsp. salt
•1/8 tsp. pepper
•2/3 cup water
•1 cup cream cheese with onions and chives, softened
•2 Tbsp. butter
•1/3 to 1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream (I skipped this step)

Preparation:

Quarter potatoes to make pieces about the same size. Place potatoes in a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Add garlic, onion, oil, salt, pepper, and water and mix to coat. Cover crockpot and cook on high for 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours until potatoes are tender. I definitely recommend stirring the pot every hour or so to be sure the potatoes cook evenly.

Mash potatoes roughly with a fork or potato masher. Stir in cream cheese and butter until mixed. If you want to add the milk/cream, this is when you do that. As I said above, I skipped this step because I don't drink whole milk and wanted to avoid the calories of heavy cream.

December 1, 2011

Salon Kids

Today, on The View's "Hot Topics" segment, the ladies discussed this new trend of young girls (we're talking 8-12 year-olds here) visiting the salon for treatments. And when I say treatments, I don't mean a haircut and blowout. I mean treatments:
  • Manicures/ Pedicures
  • Hair coloring/ highlighting/ straightening
  • Facials
  • Eyebrow shaping
  • Waxing (even the bikini line!)
And no, these aren't just pageant girls. These are the girls next door (as in, next to you and me, not Hef's girlfriends), the ones in school with your children every day.

I've already discussed the dangers of sexualizing young girls, so that's not what I'm going to focus on today. (Although, I do have to seriously question any parent who thinks it's necessary to get their daughter a bikini wax at this age.) Instead I want to focus on the message this gives young girls: you aren't good enough.

We've all heard this warning in terms of weight. Psychologists all over the country have cautioned us from speaking negatively about our bodies or obsess over every calorie in front of children. The result of this, we know, is a generation of little girls with negative body images.

But what about the other things? Are you teaching them that it is impossible to face the world without a full face of makeup? (If so, I recommend you consider the No Makeup November challenge next year.) Are you teaching them that the hair on their head is only acceptable in certain colors, perfectly straight, full of body and without any sign of frizz? Are you teaching them that their body hair is gross or embarrassing by waxing or lasering away every last strand?

Not that any of these things is inherently wrong. And I think that we, as adults, have the right to choose to do whatever we feel necessary to our bodies. I'm not here to tell you to stop wearing makeup or stop maintaining your bikini line. In fact, please don't stop... no one needs to see that!

I just think that we, as parents, teachers, and mentors are role models in the lives of little girls, we also need to be mindful of what we're sending them. We can't say that we want to raise confident young women and then let them see us spend so much time and effort altering ourselves in order to face the world (no pun intended).

I Love You, Siri!

When I bought my last cell phone, smart phones weren't yet dominating the market. I was among those who didn't consider it necessary to have 24/7 Internet access. I scoffed at the idea that I would ever even use such a tool when I most of my time was spent at work or home, both places I already had the Internet on laptops. So, I opted for a "dumb phone."

If you've followed my blog for a while, you already know how much I loathed that phone.

A few months later, I received an ipod touch as a birthday gift from my very generous parents. I was instantly in love with that little device and found it hard to go anywhere without it. As reluctant as I was to become a slave to Apple, I have to admit it happened very quickly. I learned very quickly that there were only two things in life that would make my ipod touch better:
  1. Internet access without using wifi. Because, let's face it, there are plenty of times when it's nice to access the web when you're not at home or work. And because of the asshole firewalls at work, which don't even allow me to check my email muchless Facebook.  
  2. The ability to make phone calls. Why carry around two devices if one could do both jobs for me.
(And then my ipod touch was stolen, making my live devastatingly incomplete.)

Fast forward to this past weekend when I, finally free of my cellular contract, was able to switch providers and get myself an iPhone 4S! Oh, the bliss!

If you haven't yet had a chance to meet Siri, the digital personal assistant, you should really get acquainted. She's uber helpful. Like, if you want to schedule a meeting, she'll put it in the calendar for you. If you want to hear a specific song or artist in your itunes folder, she'll locate it for you so you don't have to waste precious seconds searching through your folders. She'll remind you to pick up milk or use a coupon the next time you walk into the grocery store. Tell her what you want to say, and she'll update your Facebook status for you. She will even transcribe a text or email for you while you do more important things, like drive. And if you want to hide a dead body, she'll give you all sorts of suggestions: mines, metal foundries, swamps, reservoirs, and dumps. See? Super helpful! 

And she refers to me as Princess (because I asked her to).

She's pretty much my new best friend!

November 25, 2011

Grandma's Secret Ingredient

We started a new tradition last year where my family goes to my grandparents' home for pie after our holiday dinners. My grandma makes the best food in the world, so this is something I look forward to each time. She always makes three pies: pumpkin, apple, and pecan. You should be jealous right now. And here's why...

Me: (as I take a bite of her delicious pecan pie) Grandma, you seriously make the best pies in whole world! I've been looking forward to this moment for weeks.

Sister: You do! Even the restaurants and stores don't compare to your pies. They're SO good!

Grandma: Do you know my secret?

Sister and Me: (in unison) It's baked with LOVE???

Grandma: Nope. Rum!

Sister: Rum?! Really?

Me: I was sure you were gonna say love.

Grandma: Oh yeah, that too!

Papa: (completely disgusted) Rum? You seriously use rum? You know I don't drink!

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is one more reason I love my grandparents! 

November 20, 2011

Thankful Thursday (Sunday): Sisters


So, I know I've totally sucked at my Thankful Thursday posts this year, but I have another post for ya'll, albeit super late...

My sister.

She turns 27 this week, which means that I've had my longest friend for that many years. Awww!

We celebrated her birthday last night by taking the train downtown with friends to eat at her favorite Spanish tapas restaurant, Cafe Iberico. I'm not a very adventurous eater, so I was fully prepared to eat very little. I promised Amy, though, that I would try everything, and I did. We had grilled octopus, steamed clams, goat cheese and tomato sauce, garlic shrimp, beef tenderloin and potatoes, some kind of pork, a seafood salad, chicken (ironically, the only dish I didn't try all night because it was gone before it got to me), and bananas foster and a Spanish tiramisu for dessert. I can't remember any dish that I didn't like, and that's saying something coming from this picky eater. If you're a tapas fan or want to try it out, I highly suggest you try this place.

After dinner we went to Kingson Mines up in Lincoln Park to listen to some blues music. This was my first time ever at a blues bar, and as a people watcher, I was impressed by the very eclectic patrons. The bar has two rooms, and they switch back and forth between bands in each room. If you like that kind of music, you'd probably love this bar too. I'm not a huge fan of this genre, so I liked it better when they played in the other room, and we were able to talk while we still listened.

The train ride home was probably the most eventful with a drunk guy passed out on his wife across the aisle from us. I could see in her eyes that she was near tears when we boarded. And then he started heaving and puking. She tried to stop him by covering his mouth, which ended up in a nasty mess all over her hands. And I know she was super embarrassed. I felt so bad for her. She called someone and explained that he took 8 shots with someone at the bar, almost got into a fight with a homeless man, and punched the windows at Macy's all before passing out on the train. She looked at us at one point and said, "This is not my job. I'm a wife, not a babysitter!" I know that totally sucked for her, but it was good entertainment for us. Haha! I hope she makes him pay for it today while he's surely hungover.

Anyway, it was a great night on the town. I didn't get home until after 2:00, but it was worth the exhaustion. Happiest birthday, Seester! I love you!

November 16, 2011

Mission: Closet Organization

Today, I subbed for the Library Director at one of my schools. She asked for me, specifically, because I often stop in to help out during my down time other days. I love to sit at the circulation desk where I get to be in charge of checking in, checking out, and renewing books to students. It makes me feel powerful. And I like to use the scanner. And I never have to discipline students. Instead, I get to talk to them about what books they're reading and help them find the perfect selections. It's so fun!

And yes, I realize this makes me sound like a huge nerd.

So be it.

Or should I say, So B It? Ahhh, teacher humor!

Anyway, I was only scheduled for a half-day of work, so I had every intention of coming home and doing absolutely nothing productive. But then I was browing furniture on Bookoo, as I often do for fun (or self-torture depending on what I find), and I came across a listing for a seven-drawer storage cart for only $10.

I've mentioned before that I love to organize. It gives me a sense of calm in this chaotic world.

And as an organizer, I have admit that I get overly excited about these things. I have a few already, but I always imagine what I could do with just one more. Within minutes, the lister confirmed that the cart was mine and the planning stages began.

What should I put in it?

Where can I put it?

The one thing this house really, really lacks is storage. It's pretty much non-existent. Unless you count the tiny, under-the-stairs closet where I store my shoes, coats, purses, scrapbooking supplies, towels, scarves and other outdoor accessories, reusable bags, and my tool kit. (Yeah... you have to be a really good organizer to get all of that in there!)

My bedroom closet is the only other option, but that's been busting at the seams for months, being my only storage space and all.

But, I'm nothing if not determind, so I set forth in organizing my closet.

Note: I did not purge anything. Because I already got rid of tons of clothes earlier this year before I moved. This was a mission of re-organization, not downsizing. This has actually been a challenging task for me because I grew up in a home with closet organizers. If I wasn't a renting, I would put one of those babies in immediately.

But here's the end result. Not bad, huh?



Note: The Scholastic box is where I store all of my gift bags, tissue, and boxes. I'm a sucker for a cute gift bag and always keep some on hand to make my life easier. The clothes on top will be stored under my bed as soon as I get myself a proper container. The bags on the floor are both empty and can easily be combined to make more room when needed.

November 10, 2011

Elf on the Shelf

Some parents have moral dilemmas about lying to their children about Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny. Even though I don't have kids of my own, I can already tell you that I will not be one of those parents. I love the holidays and want my children to embrace all the magic that comes with them.

OK... and I'm not going to lie, Santa is a fantastic behavior monitor. I'm all about anything that motivates children to act like little angels so they can be handsomely rewarded on December 25. It's bribery on steroids, but you know what? It works!

For any parent that has not yet been introduced to the magic that is The Elf on the Shelf, you need to request one from the North Pole immediately! He's basically Santa's gift to parents around the world who need to start threatening consequences to bad behavior before the holidays (or July, if you live in my home... because I like well-behaved children all year long).

Clearly, keeping a watchful eye on all the children of the world is a very daunting task for the Cookie Monster Santa, and he needs the assistance of his little elves to create his Naughty or Nice list. So he sends his spies...narcs... elves, whatever you want to call them, into the homes of young children to be a tattle tale, kinda like the geeky hall monitor you saw on every after school special but never knew in real life. Because, you know, we teach our children not to tattle, but it's totally okay for elves.

The magic of these elves, or little people as I'm sure they'd prefer to be called, is that they mysteriously move to a new location each night. That's right, people. These are no ordinary dolls. The little guys bring the joy of Easter egg hunts to Christmas with a morning ritual of Find the Elf. Sometimes, he might even be carrying a note from Santa himself, a behavior report card of sorts for any naughty children who need redirection.

I've heard tales from my mommy friends of children who have literally cried at the first annual appearance of their Elf on the Shelf, knowing full well that their behavior is being monitored day and night.

Any toy that produces that kind of terror in the mind of a young child is welcome in my home! I mean, there's obviously nothing at all creepy about a doll that watches you all day and turns to life while you sleep, right?

November 3, 2011

Thankful Thursday: My Relationship with Former Students

Last November, I did a Thanksgiving post every day of the month. This year, I'm giving myself permission to consolidate my thanks into weekly posts instead. If I'm completely honest, it's largely because I'm often without Internet access all day at work, and I used to do my writing during my lunch or planning period. I guess I'll have to make each post extra special to make up for it!
So, for my first Thankful Thursday post, I wanted to focus on something that I appreciate at my core: the relationships I have with my former students. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I love, love, love that I'm still connected with so many of my former students. Every time I get a message or email from them, my heart swells with happiness. I feel so privileged that I was able to create the kind of relationships with my students that they want to keep even after I'm gone.

This is especially important to me now, after spending much of the last two weeks supporting a student who lost his mother to breast cancer. I'm so thankful for the relationship I have with him, and that I was able to stand by his side at the wake and funeral services. And I can continue to support him by being a another caring adult in his life. We've agreed to weekly hangouts, and today was our first. He brought along a friend (another former student) for dinner and ice cream, and we had a great time catching up. He can have different conversations with me than with his father or siblings, and I'm so grateful to be able to be another mentor in his life.
And I'm not just thankful that I was there to support him. I was also immensely thankful to be able to reconnect with several of my former students (and parents), some whom I haven't seen in years. My heart was so full to be able to see the excitement on their faces (and sometimes tears in their eyes) when they first saw me, to feel their embraces, and to hear them tell me how much they love and miss me. Although the circumstances were tragic, I can't tell you how good it felt to be surrounded by my kiddos again. It made me miss them even more!

Earlier this week, I was approached through old coworkers on behalf of another parent. Her son wasn't technically one of my students, but we formed a great relationship anyway because he was on my team. He used to sneak into school early for two years to hang out with me in my classroom and help with whatever project I was doing at the time. Anyway, this weekend, he's attending a church retreat. One of the things they do is give each kid encouragement letters written by adults in their lives. His mom asked me, of all people, to write him a letter. I was so touched, and of course, sent off my letter last night.

Everyone may not agree with my teaching style, but I think I must be doing something right to have so many former students still in my life today. To me, these relationships are even more important than the academic lessons I teach them. I love that I can be there for a student when he/she is struggling with an issue and doesn't know where else to turn (yes, this has happened). I love that they want to share their lives with me. I love that they remember me and my classroom fondly. I wouldn't have it any other way!

November 1, 2011

No Makeup November

I have more Halloween goodness to share, but before I do, I have something else on my mind...

Apparently, it's a thing for the menfolk to do No Shave November, or Movember, as they're calling it. The idea, I learned, is to get sponsors to back you on the no-razor thing for the entire month, and the proceeds benefit prostate cancer.

I'm not generally a fan of facial hair beyond the five o-clock shadow, but I'm down for a good cause.

Taking a cue from women across the globe, some students at my alma mater have banded together to make this month meaningful for the women as well. Today, they kicked of No Makeup November in an effort to remind women what we really look like under all those cosmetics: beautiful!

And it worked out well for me since I was lazy this morning (or last night, to be precise) and didn't have on any makeup when I read about this on the alumni page Facebook page.

I'm thinking about officially "joining the cause" so I have an excuse to do one less thing in my routine for the next 29 days.

Unless I have a hot date.

Or a job interview.

A girl has to have priorities, you know!

October 31, 2011

I Should've Been Adele for Halloween!

Add this quote to the list of reasons I love Adele.

I don't know the context from which this was taken, but I can only assume it was in response to some moronic idea that she isn't good enough or pretty enough because she's not thin.

This is a (beautiful, I might add) woman who has her priorities straight, people. 

I knew I liked her!

Also, I think I just found my 2012 Halloween costume!

October 25, 2011

A Chicagoan View of the Midwest

It's been a rough few days for me, so it was a welcome pleasure to come across this map of how Chicagoans view the rest of the midwest (You can click on the picture to blow it up if necessary). I needed this laugh today.


After some consideration, here are some modifications I'd make to the list:
  • Iowa should start just west Elgin.
  • Downstate should start just south of Joliet.
  • Wisconsin needs to say "Cheese" much like Iowa does "Corn"
  • Indiana should include the Amish and car racing.
  • Gary, Indiana should be labeled, "The Armpit of America."
  • Borders of both Indiana and Wisconsin should include "Police Zone" since that's where Chicagoans always get ticketed.
  • Wisconsin should just be labled "The Lake House" because everyone has one there.

October 23, 2011

Gone Too Soon

Today, the world lost a fantastic wife, mother, and friend. My heart is very sad, and I wish there was something I could do to help the hurt for those that are left behind. For now, I will share the story...

During the last year at my old school, I had one student in particular that I really bonded with. P was my little buddy in the classroom, always offering to help pass out papers or hang things for me. At fall conferences, his mother told me that he talked about me at home all the time, and that there was no doubt at all that I was his favorite teacher. I have to say, the feeling was mutual.

In January of that year, I got a distressing email from his mom on a Saturday morning asking me to call her at home. When I did, she told me she had just been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. She was calling me, she said, because I had a special bond with P, and she wanted to know if I would be willing to be his person. She wanted someone at school who knew what was going on that he could go to at any time, a safe person to turn to in a bad moment or day.

That's the kind of mother she was. In the face of her diagnosis, the first thing she did was make sure her children were supported.

P and I grew even closer as the year went on. I found ways to help him deal with his feelings within the context of our class assignments. His entire poetry anthology, for example, was all about his mom. Every poem expressed how much he loved her. He was even vulnerable enough to admit his fear and anger in writing. His dad helped him get pictures to decorate the book, and he presented it to his mom for Mother's Day. She later told me that it was, "the single most touching piece of schoolwork he ever produced."

During the last week of school, she sent an unsolicited letter to my principal (whom, you may recall, did not have the best relationship with me at the time) praising me for my role in P's life that year. When I called her that day to thank her, I also notified her that I would not be returning the next year. She immediately expressed her disappointment and invited me to dinner at their home. It was the first of many we've shared over the years, as this family grew to become my friends.

Even though I haven't been his teacher for years, the friendship I have with his family has allowed me to continue being a support for him through his mom's sickness. She's reached out to me on a number of occasions to ask me to take him out for a little pick me up. It was important to her that he and I still keep our bond, and I am so grateful for that.

This morning, though, she lost her battle. I feel heavy with sadness, mostly for P, his father, and his siblings. But also for myself. She was a great support to me. And a good friend, even in the midst of her own struggles.

Cancer sucks!



I think about her three children, all in high school, who have to go on without their mother. There will forever be a void in their lives without her. But I know she will be with them wherever they go. May her spirit shine through each of them forever more.

October 19, 2011

The Learning Environment

When I had my own classroom, I spent a lot of time, money, and energy trying to create a classroom that was engaging and motivating for my students.

As a language arts teacher, I focus a lot on my classroom library. I strive to make an inviting space full of books my students actually want to read! I am proud of my several bookshelves overflowing with books, and regularly purchase (even now) new novels for my classroom. I was fortunate to work in a district where the Home and School Association provided LA teachers with copies of the Rebecca Caudill books each year. When I have a classroom, I promote the Scholastic Book Clubs and used the bonus points to purchase new novels. When I decided to start book clubs, I visit the Scholastic Warehouse Sale and purchased multiple copies of the books I know they love to read so they could have multiple options at their fingertips.

I purchased big pillows, bean bag chairs, and a rug to make the space inviting and comfortable for my students as they sprawl across the floor with books in their hands. I decorated the walls with 3-D lollipops advertising the titles of suggested novels, creating a visual book recommendation list. I also kept a binder of student recommendations that my students browsed through regularly. Posters of reading strategies hung on my walls to guide my struggling readers.

My point is, I worked really hard to create a space that would be warm and inviting for my students. I wanted my room to be a place my students felt comfortable and wanted to be in, particularly my reading center. Did it work? I think so. My students loved my reading corner and most would happily cuddle up with a pillow and read for twenty minutes without complaining. They saw it as a relaxing activity and a nice break from sitting in their cold, hard seats all day... but they were still learning. They were reading! And they were applying the skills we practiced each day. And that's the part I loved!  

I bring all of this up because I read an article in the Huffington Post yesterday called, Designing Schools to Engage and Drive Learning. The article talks about the physical environment at Google (the business, not the website itself) and how we should be creating similar environments for our students. It argues that we should design our schools so they are places students want to be and where learning can happen in a natural, comfortable environment.

I, for one, would be the first teacher to sign on board with any school district that was willing to give this a try. I would love to work and teach in that kind of environment.

Would You Eat Your Placenta?

Apparently, there is another movement happening right now... in mommy world. I read this article yesterday about women who are now "eating" (ok... usually taking pills) their placenta. Yes, placenta.

I highly recommend you read the article yourself because I don't know if I have it in me to do a full recap. Also, there's a video of a placenta lady who will come to your home, cook and capsule your placenta for you.

And per the comments on the post, this is a pretty polarizing topic. Some women swear by it, and others (I think I'm an other here) can't get past the ick factor.

I'd love to know your thoughts in this. Really. Truly. Please share!

Occupy Wall Street

If you've been following the news or live in any of the 800 cities across our nation where these demonstrations are taking place, you may be familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

This is an excerpt from a post on The Curvy Girl Guide that I wanted to share:

Whether you agree with the movement or not, it is hard to deny that over the last few years a small percentage have profited while the majority of Americans have found it harder and harder to make ends meet. A recently organized blog called We Are the 99%, a nod to a study that showed the top 1% of Americans control 40% of our nation’s wealth, has put a face on some of the issues Occupy Wall Street was organized to protest. These aren’t people complaining that they can’t afford an annual vacation or an upgrade to the latest smart phone as some critics and media outlets would have you believe. These are people bankrupted by illness, people working multiple minimum wage jobs that remain impoverished, average citizens that, despite working hard all their lives, have little chance of retirement.


This is something that affects all of us. Well, 99% of us anyway. This movement is trying to give a voice to the "powerless" workers who have been laid of, kept from raises, been asked to contribute more toward their benefits, etc. in the name of a spiraling economy while they have to watch the CEOs rake in millions (and sometimes billions) of dollars each year. Alone, there's not much that can be done. You can read more of this great post here.

October 18, 2011

"Can I Go to the Bathroom?"

I swear I'd make more money if I had a dollar for every time I heard this during the school day. Substitute teacher = busy work = students do anything to get out of class. There needs to be a revolving door from my classroom to the bathroom. I know it's not popular policy, but I think my life would be easier if I took the whole class on a bathroom break like in elementary school!

A local suburban high school was in the news this week because of a new bathroom policy. Evergreen Park High School teachers now have the administration-supported option of limiting students to three bathroom breaks per semester, and apparently, this is causing quite the uproar among parents and students.

I'm totally this teacher!
First of all, I would like to point out that the article says this is an option for all teachers. Meaning, every teacher doesn't have to take on this bathroom policy. And furthermore, we're talking about three bathroom trips per semester per teacher. That's a lot of time out of the classroom!

Also, the policy doesn't limit bathroom privileges beyond the initial three, it's just that students are required to make up any learning time outside of the regular school day. My high school German teacher had a similar policy in her classroom. We could choose to leave, but then we had to come in for "quality time" with her for 15 minutes to make up for it. It was a decision we made. Many decisions in life come with consequences. Even then, I didn't think it was a bad policy... inconvenient, yes, but not bad.

In my classroom, I used a punch pass for locker/bathroom trip to help my students determine when they really needed to leave, and when they were just trying to get out of class. I allowed students to turn in any unused punches for extra credit at the end of each trimester, and this, too, was a good motivator for my students to use them wisely. And, even as a substitute, I only allow students to leave my room during their work time, never during instruction or small group activities.

I understand that a four or five minute passing period doesn't leave a lot of time for the bathroom. But even as a teacher, that's when I can go... and that's only if I'm not setting something up for my next class or answering student question during those precious minutes.

I also understand that students have all the time in the world to socialize with their friends during that time, and then the second the bell rings, that's when they have to use the bathroom. And, of course, they claim it's an emergency.

To address students with urinary issues, those should be addressed in 504 plans. These are accommodations for students with medical, not learning needs. It's very common to see a 504 plan that basically says a student should be permitted to use the bathroom or drink water at any time, even if this isn't the norm. And like the urologist said in the article, it's not going to harm a healthy student to hold it.

I'm sorry, but I just don't think it's a bad policy. Feel free to enlighten me if you do!

October 17, 2011

Way to Be the Bigger Person!

Dear Kelly Osbourne,

As someone who publicly struggled with your own weight issues, I am appalled to see that you are again in the media for attacking Christina Aguilera's weight.

The intention behind The Fashion Police (albeit disturbing) is to discuss fashion. It's one thing for you and Joan Rivers to critique the ensemble. Go ahead and say it didn't flatter her figure, or even better, critique the clothing itself. But you absolutely crossed the line when you called the singer fat.

As someone who understands, first-hand, how humiliating it is to have your weight scrutinized (much less in the media), you should be ashamed of yourself for doing so to another person. And the fact that you're trying to justify your mean-girl comments by implying that your comments are simply revenge for comments she said about you int he past is disgusting. Not that I condone the comments toward you either. I don't. But when I was a little girl, my mother taught me that two wrongs don't make a right. Have you never ever heard of turning the other cheek? Being the bigger person?

Contrary to how you may have felt in the moment, these types of catty comments don't make you look superior to her in any way; it, in fact, does the opposite.

I, for one, think Christina looks beautiful. And furthermore, I appreciate her for her amazing vocal abilities, which is what we're supposed to recognize her for since, you know, she's a singer and all.

If you have a personal problem with Christina, then you need to deal with that off-camera. Using your television show as a platform to belittle women in this way is unacceptable. This is the exact bullying behavior that teachers and parents are trying to teach their children to avoid. Thanks for being such a great role model for young women!

In the future, maybe you should use your celebrity to promote positive messages instead of tearing others down.

Sincerely,
Christina Fan

Allison's Blogiversary Giveaway!

Happy one year blogiversary to my friend, Allison!

Allison is a friend from high school (actually, I know her from before that because we grew up taking gymnastics and dance together at Palmer's Gym). She has a great blog called the Picky Eating RD where she talks about nutrition, exercise, trying new foods, etc. As a picky eater, I think it's interesting to see how different we can be in our preferred foods (she's more picky about vegetable bitterness and textures where I tend to stay away from things with spices or sauces). She also inspires me to eat more natural, unprocessed foods... basically, she's pretty awesome!

To celebrate her blogiversary, she's doing a giveaway of some of her favorite snack foods, so click over here and enter today... and be inspired by her other posts!

October 16, 2011

Sometimes Political Cartoons Aren't Funny

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a Democrat. It's not how I was raised. In fact, with the exception of my one aunt who lives across the country, I stand alone in my family. For this reason, we've supposedly stopped discussing politics at family gatherings, although I still get endless forwards like the cartoon above. I usually choose not to respond. It doesn't offend me that my family send me their propaganda. They aren't the ones who create it. The mentality behind it though, I find disturbing.

In the past day or two, I've come across this cartoon several times...


Trust me when I say that I get it. I understand that it's done in jest. I'm not being overly sensitive here. I understand why it's showing up on my Facebook news feed and in my inbox. I get that this is supposed to be funny.

Except that to me, it's not.

Because at this present moment in my life, I would be considered one of the "lazy" Americans who is unemployed/ underemployed. And I'm so tired of hearing Republicans claim that anyone who takes a handout from the government lacks the ambition or drive to make it on their own, or even worse, that they are abusing the system.

Am I saying that those people do not exist? Of course not. But do I think they constitute the majority? Absolutely not!

I am a hard-working person. I am passionate about my career. I'm a damn good teacher! I want to work full-time. But I don't have that opportunity right now.

I apply to every job in the Chicagoland area that I qualify for and can reasonably commute to (up to an hour each direction). The options are very limited. You may not recall this, but back in 2010, 22,000 teachers were let go in this state. And with all the drama happening in Wisconsin regarding their unions, you better believe those teachers are looking for work here too. The options are few, and the competition is fierce.

So, go back to school! Get another degree! This is what the Republicans will tell you. Except that I already have a master's degree, and in many districts around here, that makes me over-qualified. I can't get a job because I'm too educated.

So, instead of working full-time, making a stable income, and having the security of health insurance, I am a substitute. I make $85 per day. I have no benefits. And I have no guarantee of work. I stalk the sub finder website countless times each day in hopes of finding a full day's work. I often settle for half days in fear that I won't get anything more. We won't even talk about how little I get paid for those.

And I'm one of the lucky ones. Because I have a roommate who helps me pay my bills. And I don't have any children to raise. My only debt is from school. I'm healthy. And I came into this situation with savings in the bank because my parents let me live at home for years.

If any of those things were not true, though. I would be struggling just like the many Americans who turn to the government for help. Like them, my expenses are greater than my income. God forbid I get sick or injured and have to dip further into my savings for medical care. It happens every day.

But even though I'm not making much money, I'm making connections. I'm meeting teachers and administrators in multiple buildings and districts in hopes that when and if an position opens, someone will keep me in mind. Because I'm not lazy.

I want to work!

October 13, 2011

Miss Representation

As a female who majored in media communications and advertising, I find this fascinating. A friend posted a longer video about this documentary on Facebook, but I was only able to find the official trailer myself.

If you're a woman, if you care about women, and especially if you're raising young girls, I recommend you watch this video. It makes you think about the society in which we live and the messages we send and receive on a daily basis. I, for one, think it's time for change.

October 10, 2011

Chicago Marathon 2011

I've mentioned previously that I'm definitely not a runner. But when our friend, Paolo, signed up for his very first marathon, Mary, Jon, Brandon and I knew we had to be there to support him.

Up until this weekend, I knew the marathon was a big deal... but it wasn't something that really impressed me, if I'm honest. But I'm a changed woman after watching yesterday's race. The energy downtown was amazing. I'm so glad I got to experience this day. 

We talked to a woman (and her grand daughter) who was cheering for her daughter who was running her 19th marathon at age 50 in her goal to run in every state. We talked to two guys from World Vision who told us about their mission to take on these races as a means to raise money for clean water and basic living needs for impoverished people around the world. We saw people of every race, shape, age, and size you can imagine. Inspiring, I tell ya! 

We decided that our first viewing spot would be just before the 13 mile marker. We knew Paolo had been doing 12 miles in his training and thought he might need a little extra boost once he hit that point. We staked out the perfect spot and waited... and waited... and waited.

Once we got confirmation (via text updates) that he hit the 15k mark, we knew he was close. We stood there with our sign in hand, scanning the crowds of runners for our friend in green.

And then, finally, he saw us (We almost missed him)... and he ran over with the biggest smile on his face and hugged us all. He said later that he had been scanning the crowd the entire race looking for familiar faces and was so happy and relieved when he finally saw us.

We all agreed that we were surprised and proud at how strong he looked at the half-way point. I'll be completely honest and say that some of us (including me) may have doubted his abilities just a tad. But he proved us wrong. We saw him at four different locations along the race, and each time, we were impressed with how well he was doing. His spirits were especially high when he found his brother's girlfriend, Whitney and her uncle and friend and was able to continue running with them (only Paolo would happen upon someone he knew in a crowd of 45,000 runners). 

I'm so excited to report that Paolo crossed the finish line in 6:00:12. Not bad for his first time, huh?

Congratulations, Paolo, on finishing your first marathon! I am so proud of you and inspired by you! You did it!!!

Fall Festivities & Food

We were looking forward for Saturday's Fall Festivities for weeks. In the afternoon, we headed to Kuiper's Family Farm to walk the corn maze, feed animals at the petting zoo, take a hay ride, and pick pumpkins. It was a beautiful day, albeit unseasonably warm, and it was great to spend it outside with some of my favorite people! 

I fell in love with a mini horse that we got to feed at the petting zoo. He was so cute! And since I just finished reading Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, I couldn't help but laugh to myself about how perfect it would be to see a little person riding a mini horse. I know my mother would enjoy seeing that too. Oh, how I love you, Chelsea Handler!

The major disappointment of the weekend came when the farm closed at 6:00 before we had a chance to get across the street to the bakery for the apple cider doughnuts. I've never had one, but everyone keeps telling me they're amazing. One of my coworkers breaks her gluten-free diet for these things. That's how good they're supposed to be. These doughnuts are, in fact, the only reason we chose to go to this particular pumpkin farm, since there are several closer options. And then we missed out on our opportunity because we made the uninformed decision to get on a hay ride rather than making our way to the bakery around 5:30.

Life lesson #87897: Always get the apple cider doughnuts FIRST!

After the farm closed, a few more friends joined us at our house for pumpkin carving. Pictures of the pumpkin sculpting are to come (when the girls post their pictures on Facebook for me to steal), but for now I'll share the recipes and pictures of the delicious fall treats Mary and I decided to make in lieu of pumpkin carving.

The first dessert is Pumpkin Cake Squares. It's seriously the easiest recipe ever. I used a boxed spice cake and one 15 oz. can of pumpkin. That's it! Just mix and bake. And then top it with a cream cheese frosting. It was a big hit with our friends.

The second treat we made was a Taffy Apple Salad. Mary cut up 6 granny smith apples into bite sized pieces. [Side note: If you're making this for a party, I suggest you soak the apple pieces in 7-Up for a bit to keep them from turning brown.] As she was doing that, I combined one tub of cool whip (lite) and a box of instant vanilla pudding mix. We then covered the apples with the mixture and stirred in caramel sauce. Then you just top that with crushed peanuts if you're a fan. It was so yummy... and since it's called a salad, we told ourselves is was kinda healthy! :)

So, there you go. We had two delicious desserts in less time than it took to carve the pumpkins. Enjoy!

October 5, 2011

Repost: Mermaid or a Whale?

The gorgeous Tara Lynn, a French model. Love her!
This story is great and we all need to remember this, no matter where we are in our journey.-----A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was “This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?”

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

“Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness. They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia. They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on cds. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defend and admires.

Mermaids do not exist.

But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish? They would have no sex life and could not bear children. Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad. And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I’d rather be a whale."

October 2, 2011

Help Me Cook!

Yesterday I took the day off of Zumba (Tom was out of town), and Mary and I treated ourselves to a fun day of shopping and lunch. It was a perfect way to spend a Saturday, I have to say, and I may have splurged on some new, fun things for myself... new boots, a jacket, sunglasses, and my very first crock pot.

Remember when I explained my issue with cooking and how it sometimes prevents me from eating the healthy meals I want and need? This crock pot is another attempt at a solution to this dilemma.

But here's where I need your help...

I don't have any crock pot recipes. And, yes, I know there are gazillions on the Internet, but I'm pleading with you, my dear readers, to provide me with your favorites. Because we all know that "The Internet is a Bathroom Wall," and just because it's online doesn't mean it's any good... I trust you all more than a random list on Crock Pot Girls.

So, give me your suggestions! You know, the ones that are tried and true. The easier, the better.

And if you have a picky eater in your home, please give me the recipes (s)he will gladly eat... because I tend to be a little picky myself.

I promise to report back to you all on any recipe I try, with full credit given to the sharer of said recipe.

Thank you, in advance.

Ready? Go!

September 23, 2011

Daughters and Dating

Sometimes, my Facebook news feed has more to offer than people complaining about the new layout.  Here's a quote I really liked (no idea who the original author was)...

 "We need to teach our daughters to distinguish between a man who flatters her and a man who compliments her...a man who spends money on her and a man who invests in her...a man who views her as property and a man who views her properly...a man who lusts after her and a man who loves her...a man who believes he is God's gift to women and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man."

September 20, 2011

On Tina Fey and Photoshop

I know none of you have signed up to be a part of my impromptu book club, but this is something I wanted to share...

In the last year or so, I've been reading a lot of autobiographies: Kristin Chenoweth, Chelsea Handler, Chelsea Handler again, Kathy Griffin, Tori Spelling, Tori Spelling again, and currently, Tina Fey. Yes, there is a theme here of funny women... what can I say? I like 'em. If you're looking for fun reads, I highly recommend any of the above links. You will not be disappointed.


In Tina Fey's Bossypants, she talks a little about the use of PhotoShop, which we all know has been a hot button issue recently. Tina, though, takes a different approach than most I've heard. She thinks that we, as a society need to accept that it's here to stay. As she says, "No country has ever been de-industrialized," and the only people who are ever fooled by Photoshop are people over age seventy!

She made a really good point about how we, as a society (any society, really) have never, in the span of history, accepted the human form the way that it is. "That's why," she says, "people wore corsets and neck stretchers and powdered wigs." I don't know what that says about us as people, but she's right. Photoshop isn't the enemy - it's our constant need to manipulate and transform ourselves to be better than the rest... or at least to provide the illusion that we're better than the rest.

September 13, 2011

Back to Jewel(s)

Grocery shopping, I've decided, is a skill. Not everyone is good at it. I think I happen to be one of the unfortunate souls that was not blessed in this area.

It's kinda overwhelming, really. Even when I think I've done a really good job, I cringe as I watch the total on the register climb higher and higher. I strongly believe it's cheaper to eat out than to cook for one. Just sayin'. 

Just once, I'd like to go to Jewel (or The Jewels for my Chicago friends) and buy food because I used all mine up, not because I threw half of it away. Often times these are well-intended items: fruits and veggies I know I should be eating. Ones I even enjoy. But they still end up in the trash. 

Part of my problem is that I'm rarely home for a normal dinner time. I get off of work at 3:00, and then I leave for Zumba around 6:00 most days. In my experience, it's not a good idea to workout right after eating a meal. So during that window of time, I usually just have a snack to hold me over.  

When I get home from class, no earlier than 8:30, it feels too late to start cooking and eating a whole meal. Too often, the result of this is Grab n Go foods. Even when I have a full supply of meal options that would be amazing, I just don't have the desire to fire up the stove and start chopping veggies. Not to mention, I'm usually starving at this point so when Tom suggests pizza for the zillionth time, I don't argue, even though I know I should, because I just want to eat something. 

So week after week, I throw away unopened bags of spinach, cartons of mushrooms, and overripe green peppers. And then I complain that we have to go grocery shopping again because I have nothing to eat. I wonder why?!

I think a personal chef is the only real solution to this problem, but I don't think I can afford one on my substitute salary. So, unless there's a kind soul out there who's willing to be my personal chef for free, I'm on my own. Tom and I have vowed to make better food choices.

For starters, I am trying my best to keep the junk food out of the house so it's not even there to tempt us. I was much better at this when I lived with my parents. Now, because we do a lot of entertaining in our home (and because someone just celebrated a birthday), it seems there are always snacks and treats on hand. Today, though, I walked right past those delicious bakery cookies and grabbed another bag of baby carrots instead. 

I have a fully stocked fridge and freezer. I'm going to test myself to see if I can keep this food from spoiling!

September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Ten years ago today, I was startled awake when my roommate's mother called to warn us that we were being bombed. I had a view of the Chicago skyline from my room, so I looked out the window and saw nothing out of the ordinary. So, I did what any normal collegiate would do at that hour: I went back to sleep.

Not even five minutes later, though, my next door neighbor was pounding on our door. Her boyfriend, a marine, had called her with the news, she wanted to make sure we were watching the events unfold. So, I got out of bed and turned on the television, not knowing how those moments would change our lives forever.

I remember sitting around the television with the girls on my floor in complete disbelief as we watched the reports come in. I can still hear our collective gasps as we watched the second tower get it, the reports came in from the Pentagon and Flight 93, and as the towers, one by one, collapsed before our eyes. I wanted it to be a bad dream, a movie gone wrong like War of the Worlds.

Ten years later, I still remember the events and emotions of this day like it happened yesterday. I struggle each year with trying to relay the magnitude of this day to my students who have little or no concept of the day's events much less it's significance. It's mind-boggling to me when they dismiss it and ask why they have to learn about it again when I can't tear myself away from the documentaries, year after year.

My thoughts are with the thousands of people to were affected that day. And my thanks are with the first responders who show their bravery and selflessness in the face of danger.

I will never forget.

September 10, 2011

Life Lessons: Jello Shots

On Saturday night, Tom and I hosted a taco birthday fiesta for some of our friends. As with any social event, this was really just an excuse for us to get together, drink too much alcohol, and get crazy dancing on each other. Nights like this just remind me how much I love my friends! The pictures on this post are the "appropriate" ones... you can imagine how the rest of them look!

In preparation of the evening, I wanted to make Jolly Rancher jello shots, something our friend April made for another party earlier this summer. The recipe calls for sour apple Pucker and watermelon jello. Who knew watermelon jello was a seasonal flavor and no longer in stock? I had to come up with an alternative: watermelon Pucker and strawberry jello.
Because I'm an idiot, I made the jello part first, and then I realized I needed twice as much alcohol as I purchased. But fear not because I'm super creative, and I managed to mix together three cups of leftover Malibu, Raspberry Stoli and Midori to finish the recipe. And the result? Fantastic, if I do say so myself. Although I may have made a few too many - I blame this on my mother who taught me to always worry about not having enough food or enough food for gatherings, which always results in way too many leftover.

So, the moral to this story is that pretty much any alcohol tastes good in a jello shot. And we have lots leftover, so come on over and hang out with us!