May 27, 2011

Step Off the Scale!

Whenever people ask me how much weight I've lost since starting Zumba, they are shocked to hear me say that I don't know.  But the truth is, I don't. 

Because I have a rule: I never get on a scale.  

I admit, I'm a bit intimidated by scales because I tend to be somewhat obsessive over numbers.  This became apparent to me when I tried Weight Watchers in college.  I spent my entire day thinking about food and points.  It was like a sick game for me of trying to consume the most amount of food for the least amount of points.  I would be eating breakfast and already thinking about dinner.  Not so healthy, huh?

I refuse to step on a scale because I know I'm the kind of person who would let it control my life.  I wouldn't be able to limit the number of times I'd check my weight, and I know how easily a "bad" number would ruin my day.  I just don't want such a trivial number to have so much control over how I feel about myself.      

So, how do I measure my success?  I'm more concerned with the size of my clothes.  Yes, this is still a number, but it's not a number I can obsess over quite as much because it doesn't fluctuate so frequently.  I want to be a smaller size, yes, but I am more motivated by looking better in my clothes than an ideal size.  For me, this seems to work better.

May 23, 2011

An Engineer, I Am Not

I wanted to buy a new dresser for my bedroom to hold some of the clothes that were packed like sardines in my closet.  Remember when I said I donated multiple bags of clothes in preparation for my move?  Yeah, I can't even imagine what my closet would look like had I not done that.  I swear my clothes are repopulating as I sleep!

Anyway, not only did I need a place to store my ever-growing workout collection, but I also needed a piece that would serve as a TV stand.  I searched high and low and always ended up disappointed because the dressers I liked were far too expensive, and the ones in my price range had terrible reviews. 

And then I remembered IKEA.  I did a lot of shopping there back in my North Park days (the Swedish connection seemed fitting), but I promised myself I would never shop there once I became a real adult. 
I lied.

I know that the quality isn't the best, but the price... was right. 

I ended up going with a 3-drawer dresser pictured to the right.  It's tall enough to hold my TV for optimal viewing from my bed and provided plenty of drawer space for my clothes. 

The problem, though, with any IKEA furniture is that you have to assemble it yourself.  This was a task I did not fully consider before my purchase.  When I picked it up on Friday morning, I was certain I could have it put together in no time, and that my room would be presentation-ready for our big housewarming party Saturday night. 

Little did I know, IKEA directions aren't all that helpful for those without advanced engineering degrees.  My friend Rachel came over to help me assemble the piece, and I was quickly frustrated at the number of times I had to undo and redo steps that I realized were wrong... well after the fact.  We finally gave up for the day when we realized I didn't have a hammer, a necessary tool for the remaining steps.

On Saturday morning, my mom came over to help.  Once again, we realized too late that I assembled the drawers wrong, making it nearly impossible to screw on the tracks.  I called my friend Carolyn to come over with an electric screw driver to help create new holes... because it was impossible to redo my work at that point.

Two trips to the hardware store later (for self-drilling screws), I had a dresser that looked great.  But the drawers don't open exactly as they should... because the screws get in the way of the tracks.

In hindsight, I can laugh about my misfortune.  I'm sure it would have been hilarious to witness had it not been happening to me.  I guess I'm just not cut out for home-improvement activities... at least not when it comes to engineering. I have some painting and staining planned for the summer, and I'm hoping those jobs are easier for me. 

Lesson learned: spend the extra money on furniture that is pre-assembled.  (But just in case I don't, I am now prepared with my own set of tools thanks to Elaine and Josh... you guys rock!!!)

May 22, 2011

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Last night, we had a great time at our housewarming party.  We probably had about 30 friends and family here throughout the night, and it was fun to be able to celebrate our new home with them.   

Apparently, though, we are a little too much fun for this neighborhood because at about 10:00 PM, the police knocked on our door.  After receiving a noise complaint, we're certain they thought they were coming to bust an underage party.  When they walked in, though, and saw that everyone in attendance as clearly of age, they knew they were wasting their time.

"Did we sound too loud to you?" I asked them.

"I don't live here, so I don't really care," replied one officer.

We offered to close our windows to keep our voices from carrying, and they were on their way.

The funny part was that some of our friends thought the cops were.... um... entertainment... because they were pretty good looking.  Should there be a repeat performance, I promised we'd invite them to stay!  :)

May 19, 2011

Bitersweet News

One of my former co-workers from the school where I did my long-term subbing this year called me this afternoon to share some news.  She was at a district-wide language arts meeting with several of the teachers I interviewed with for a job in another building. 

Without prompting (she didn't know they even knew who she was much less that we worked together), one of the ladies I interviewed with approached her and asked her if I found a job for next year yet (in case you're wondering, I haven't).  She then proceeded to tell her how much they all, including the principal, loved me at my interview.  She said that I was everyone's first choice, and they were really disappointed that they couldn't hire me based on financial limitations. 

I'm extremely flattered to know that they thought so highly of me.  I knew the interview went well, but I had no clue how I did compared to other candidates.  Also, the topic of my last school (and principal) came up, and I questioned some of my answers regarding that experience.  I guess it's good to know that I said all the right things. 

The downside to this is that I have official confirmation (it was merely speculation before) that my degree is holding me back.  And there's not a darn thing I can do about it.  Without my masters, I wouldn't have my teaching certificate, so I can't exactly omit that information on my applications.   

My fingers are still crossed that there's a district out there that will want me... and my degree!!

How I Earned "Cool Points" with my Students

Today I subbed for an eighth grade team.  Anyone who has ever worked in a middle school knows that the eight graders can be quite the handful... especially this time of year.  They're already a pretty surly bunch, but now they have graduation and high school on their brains, making it extremely difficult to get them to do any quality work.

My schedule for the day was to supervise two separate groups in watching Mr. Holland's Opus, a movie none of them have even heard of before today.  Despite being a fantastic movie, it was hard, as expected, to get certain groups to focus.  At the risk of offending everyone with this statement of gender-bias, it was mostly the boys.  My colleagues and I often joke that middle school boys are like puppies in a box - they just can't keep their hands off each other.  It's actually quite comical to think of how many times I have to redirect this behavior in a given day.  It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to bring in their kindergarten teachers for a refresher course in "Keeping Your Hands and Feet to Yourselves at All Times." 

Anyway, for those that haven't seen the movie, it takes you through three decades of Mr. Holland's teaching career.  To show the passage of time, we see dramatic changes in the students appearance and behavior - as appropriate for each time period.  Well, in the 90's intro, there's a shot of the students walking into the school, including two guys, and when the camera pans down, you can see that they're holding hands. 

Immediately, the immature and judgmental boys in my class freaked out (could've seen that one coming), and someone from the back corner declared, "That just ruined the whole movie!" to which my response was, "Say the guys who can't keep their hands off each other!"

Of course, my statement earned me tons of props from the rest of the group because... well... I pretty much "pwned" them.

Lesson learned: if you make fun of your students, you instantly become their favorite substitute.  And... the boys kept their hands to themselves for the rest of the day!

May 17, 2011

Words to Live By

I saw this on Oprah years ago, and it really struck me.  Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  In this video, he delivers what's called a "Last Lecture," something usually only discussed in hypothetical situations.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you listen to entire message.  Warning: You'll want to grab a box of tissues first.

A Revelation

Ground chicken.  It doesn't sound appealing, but I saw Tom pick it up on one of our many trips to Jewel.  I'm normally a beef girl, but I was willing to give it a try for the health benefits. 

Just to be safe, I made tacos... it always helps to disguise unknown foods in things that are familiar, right? 

Also, when in doubt, a little taco seasoning goes a long way in camouflaging the unfamiliar. 

And you know what?  It was tasty! 

And healthier. 

I think I'll do it again.  


Look at me, stepping out of my comfort zone! 

May 15, 2011

Amazing Banana Bread

At our first grocery shopping trip, Tom and I both bought bananas.  I didn't think much of it at the time because I'm used to living with my family, where bananas disappear practically overnight.  What we learned, though, was that the two of us just don't eat them quite as quickly on our own.  The result was a bunch of nearly-black bananas sitting in our fruit basket.  My solution: banana bread, of course.

I can't tell you how amazing our house smells after two loaves baked in the oven this afternoon.  I tried a new recipe (because I haven't baked this since my college days and have no idea what recipe I used then), and it turned out DELICIOUS!  Seriously, it was so.... moist (ew... I hate that word, but I don't know what else to say).  I can't wait until breakfast tomorrow when I will allow myself to have another slice.

Here's the recipe, adapted from All Recipes:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use Chobani)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
2 medium bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix well. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt, stir into the butter mixture until smooth. Finally, fold in the Greek yogurt, walnuts and bananas. Spread evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top, if desired. 
3. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool loaf in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

May 12, 2011

Pageant Mom Gives Botox to 8-Year-Old

Remember the mom who punished her child with hot sauce on the tongue? Remember how outraged people were, and how some said it was child abuse? How about injecting poison into your child's face?

I've long thought pageant moms were crazy, but this... this is a whole new level of crazy.

Some people just shouldn't be allowed to have kids!

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries

I really enjoyed this article in the New York Times by Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari comparing teachers to soldiers.  It's an interesting perspective when you consider how teachers are constantly the first to be blamed when students don't achieve optimal results, and yet we still praise our soldiers for putting up the good fight even when their efforts fall short. I like how this article puts much of that responsibility back on the decision-makers, much like the commanders in the military.

There's a lot of pressure on American teachers right now because we are inundated with studies that show how poorly our students are achieving compared to students in other countries.  There is a fear that the United States will not be able to compete with future generations unless we fix our broken education system.  This article also points out something I've read time and time again about how great it is to be a teacher in other countries, where educators are respected.  If we want different results, we have to make changes... and I don't mean just the teachers.

Here's the full article for your reading pleasure:

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.
Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

We have a rare chance now, with many teachers near retirement, to prove we’re serious about education. The first step is to make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates. This will take some doing.

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet. For Erik Benner, an award-winning history teacher in Keller, Tex., money has been a constant struggle. He has two children, and for 15 years has been unable to support them on his salary. Every weekday, he goes directly from Trinity Springs Middle School to drive a forklift at Floor and D├ęcor. He works until 11 every night, then gets up and starts all over again. Does this look like “A Plan,” either on the state or federal level?

We’ve been working with public school teachers for 10 years; every spring, we see many of the best teachers leave the profession. They’re mowed down by the long hours, low pay, the lack of support and respect.

Imagine a novice teacher, thrown into an urban school, told to teach five classes a day, with up to 40 students each. At the year’s end, if test scores haven’t risen enough, he or she is called a bad teacher. For college graduates who have other options, this kind of pressure, for such low pay, doesn’t make much sense. So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion yearly. The effect within schools — especially those in urban communities where turnover is highest — is devastating.

But we can reverse course. In the next 10 years, over half of the nation’s nearly 3.2 million public school teachers will become eligible for retirement. Who will replace them? How do we attract and keep the best minds in the profession?

People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.

Can we do better? Can we generate “A Plan”? Of course.

The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.

McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.

For those who say, “How do we pay for this?” — well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.

Things on My Mind

1. I should be working right now, but my job was canceled this morning when the teacher realized she asked for a sub for the wrong date.  This is kinda annoying because I could be earning money... just sayin'.

2. The good thing about staying home is that we finally got our dryer today.  Our delivery was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but our landlord ordered an electric dryer by mistake.  Getting them rescheduled has been a pain in the you-know-what, and I am relieved to have this task done.  Also, it will be nice to be able to do our laundry.  Oh yeah... after I get laundry soap!

3. After much research, I think I found a vacuum and plan to get it today.  Our floors need a good cleaning, and I just can't wait anymore.  Because I can't stomach spending any more money right now, I'm using a gift card (hooray for credit card points) and therefore limited to purchasing vacuums that are available at Best Buy.  I've never purchased a vacuum before... it better work!

4. I now live down the street from a friend from grad school.  I have to say, it's kinda fun to have a neighbor friend.  She recently had a baby, so we can go walking together on days I'm home.  Great perk of the new neighborhood!

5. We need to buy a lawn mower of some sort.  For a piece of lawn about the size of my parents' bathroom.  No joke.  We could probably do it with scissors!  It would be easier to find some neighbor kid whose parents have a mower to come do it.. but that requires talking to the neighbors.  Would a reel mower work?  I read online that they are a pain to use, but I keep thinking they can't be that bad for such a small space.  Also, they are far less expensive... and I like that.

6. I think it's ironic that I can't get a job as an educator because I have too much education.  Anyone else think that's just silly? 

7. Tom and I want to have a housewarming party next weekend, but neither of us have any idea what you're supposed to do at such a party.  Suggestions???

May 10, 2011

Giggles in the Middle

When I was in school, we started each day with a D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) warm up.  My teachers would put a sentence on the board or overhead, and we would copy it into our spirals exactly as we saw it and the use a red pen to fix all of the spelling, grammar, and convention mistakes. 

Most students today, from what I seen, don't do these types of activities anymore.  There is such an emphasis on "authenticity" in the classroom, that it seems many teachers have shunned these assignments in hopes that these skills will be learned during other writing activities. 

The problem, though, is that students aren't getting the basics because they aren't taught the rules of our language.  It shouldn't be the case, but year after year, my middle school students come to my classroom not knowing what a noun is much less how to diagram sentences.  How can I expect them to edit their papers (or their peers' papers) when they don't even know how to punctuate dialogue properly?

A while back, I came across this wonderful book called Giggles in the Middle by Jane Bell Kiester (this is a newer version of her Caught'ya! series), which is really a modern approach to D.O.L. in the classroom.  The concept is the same, only instead of random sentences each day, they build upon each other and tell a hilarious story that carries students throughout the year.  It becomes one of those activities that students look forward to seeing on the board each day because they want to know what happens next in their story.  

The book has been sitting in my Amazon wish list for months, but I was lucky enough to sub for a teacher who was using it in her classroom.  Not only was I able to read the entire book that day, but I was able to see the plan in action.  I saw how motivated her students were to find and fix all the mistakes and witnessed an academic conversation in that classroom that most teachers only dream about.  A debate over whether or not this sentence should start a new paragraph?  Priceless!

The book takes D.O.L to the next level by including vocabulary, journals, and other writing assignments to expand the learning experience.  Bonus: the middle school version includes three stories, one for each grade, which is helpful for those teaching more than one grade.  Also, all of the sentences, corrections, and assessments come on a handy CD, making it easy to duplicate and/or project in your classroom. 

I highly recommend this book for any language arts teacher or even for parents who want to help their struggling writers gain confidence in their editing abilities at home!

May 9, 2011

Our Home: A Picture Tour

Our house!

My bedroom.
The other side of my bedroom including my closet and door to my patio.

My patio.

My bathroom.

Laundry room.  Washer and dryer are coming... so we're told. 

Hall closet that Tom let's me use for my purses and shoes.  :)

Dining room.

Living room.
Living room again.

Eating area off the kitchen.


Deck off the kitchen.

Tom's bedroom.

Tom's bedroom again.

Tom's bathroom.

Tom's tub... in his bedroom.  He loves it!

Tom's closet.  I'm jealous!
The "view" in front of our house.  Nice, huh?


May 2, 2011

What Moving Taught Me

1.  I have a lot of stuff.  Seriously.  Even though I've been preparing for this move for weeks by sorting through my things, I still have a lot.  Tom and I have a whole house to ourselves, and I still couldn't bring everything with me. 

2. I would hate living "off the grid" for any extended amount of time.  I am realizing just how attached I am to the Internet.  Thankfully, I am working today and have access to some sites, so I can catch up on news and events (I feel like I might be the only person in the world who still hasn't seen pictures from "The Royal Wedding").  Still, though, I was logged in by a student, so my access is very limited.  Not being able to check my email and Facebook makes me a little batty.

3. Furthermore, it's extremely difficult to find jobs without access to the online systems. Thank you to my wonderful mother for doggedly searching out some subbing assignments for me for this week.  Job applications will have to wait until I have access myself since the documents are all on my computer.  

Yes, this is our house!!!  Cute, huh?

4. When important things happen (Osama Bin Laden's death, for example), I can count on my considerate friends and family to text me with the news.  I would've felt really dumb coming to work today without that information!  

5. I can survive without my reality TV.  I still don't want to... but I can do it if I must.  :)

6. I am so much more productive without cable and the Internet to distract me.  As of last night, my bedroom, bathroom, dining room, living room, and kitchen are completely unpacked.  Every single dish we own has been washed and put away (after years in storage for us both).  And we even went grocery shopping late last night... success!     

7. Moving is expensive.  Really expensive.  Every time I start doing the math for what I've spent in the past 4 days I want to cry.  I have to keep reminding myself that this won't happen all the time!  Also, I am very glad that we love our house so much because I'm never moving again!  Haha!

8. I have the best friends and family around.  Honestly!  Without hesitation, they gave up their Saturday to lift heavy furniture, carry boxes, pack and unpack trucks, and help Tom and me make our house a home.  I love you guys!   

I swear, I will upload more pictures once I have access to the Internet again... or you can come visit.  I like to snuggle!  :)