July 31, 2011


This weekend marks one year since I was first introduced to the amazingness that is Zumba.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first walked into that class.

I have a pretty extensive dance background. I've taken tap, hip hop, ballet, jazz, lyrical... the list goes on and on. This usually means I'm bored in adult dance classes because I find myself waiting around for less experienced dancers to catch on to the choreography. To be honest, this is what I anticipated for Zumba as well.

Jello shots with Zumba friends!  Yum!
Boy, was I wrong.

It's not just a dance class; it's a fitness class. There's no stopping to learn the choreography. You just keep moving and catch on to whatever you can. And you burn calories. Lots of them. Only it doesn't feel like torture (which was pretty much the only adjective I would've used to describe any other workout). It's like a dance party - with really great music. And, if you come to my classes, a really great group of friends.

I'm an all-around different person today because of Zumba.

It's changed my life. 

For the better.

And I don't see myself stopping any time soon.

Happy Zumbaversary to me!

July 29, 2011

Pity Party

I spent way too much time this week having a pity party for myself.

And the irony is that I have so much that makes me happy.  I have the best friends and family a girl can ask for. Seriously! The people in my life fill my days with laughter and love, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. I have a home and roommate I love. I'm healthy - healthier, in fact than I've been in a long, long time. I have money in the bank (even if more is coming out than going in these days).  So, in all these areas of my life, I would say I'm happier than ever before.

But every single time someone asks me what I do for a living, another small part of me dies.

"I'm a teacher," I tell them.

"Oh, really?  Where?" they always ask.

"Well," I hesitate, "that's a good question."

It's nearly August, and the only interview I've had was in a district that won't hire me because I'm too educated. I'm getting devastatingly close to another year of subbing, and it breaks my heart because I want my own classroom so badly!

So there were some tears. And there was some sulking. 

And then Rachel came over last night, and we made guacamole and lowfat peanut butter banana bread. We watched Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion with Tom (because Rachel had never seen it, and an intervention was necessary). And even though it's not exactly a thought-provoking movie, it reminded me that the relationships I have in my life are way more important than my job title or relationship status. I'm holding on to that thought today.

On a semi-related note, Saturday is National Dance Day, and since I am dedicated to celebrating all national holidays, I'm going to teach myself my part in this routine:

July 26, 2011

Healthier Happy Meals

I read on NPR today that McDonald's is finally giving their Happy Meals a nutritional overhaul. Until now, your options included apple slices instead of fries, but only if you ask for them. The new plan, rolling out in September, is to include fresh fruits or veggies with every meal. And, in what is probably the smartest move yet, they are cutting the portion size of the fries by more than half. The lower fat and sodium offerings result is a much healthier meal for our children.

I, for one, think this is a great move. I think it's fantastic that we, as a society, have become health-conscious enough that we are demanding better fast food options for our children. We still have a long way to go, but this is a huge step in the right direction. My guess is that many other fast food chains are going to follow suit, and hopefully, we'll be able to see future generations that are expected to outlive their parents again. 

July 25, 2011

Best. Wedding. Ever., Part 2

OK, it's time to fill you in on the reception.  For those that are just catching up, you can read about Ashley's bachelorette party and ceremony first, and then meet us back here for the grand finale!

After the ceremony, we were escorted downstairs for a cocktail hour. The venue was part flower shop, and it had a beautiful little garden oasis... but I'm not gonna lie, it was way too hot for me out there, so I stayed inside with my wine (holla, White Zinfandel!).  The rest of the space was leveled, with candle-light walkways up to the third story on either side.  The third story overlooked the ground floor in a way that made you feel very much a part of everything even if you weren't on the same level.  I probably should have taken a picture of this, but you'll just have to trust me when I say it was beautiful. 

After a couple heart-warming (and tearful) speeches, we were shown to the various dinner stations that were scattered throughout the space.  I have to say, I'm definitely a fan of this buffet-style eating.  It must be the midwest in me, but I like being able to choose what and how much I put on my plate.  I had the most delicious salmon, a steak kabob, green beans, and mashed potatoes.  Yum!  I want to eat it again! 

There was no assigned seating (yay!!), so we got to choose our own tables and mingle with whomever we wanted.  This was especially fun for me because I've known the Link family for 15+ years, so I know several of her cousins and aunts pretty well and had a great time catching up with them too.  I felt like part of the family! 

After dinner, we were ushered back downstairs for an ice cream sundae bar. Although it looked delicious (they even had sprinkles!), I didn't have any because ice cream doesn't go well with wine, and I have my priorities! 

While we had our dessert (or more wine), they cleared away our tables to make room for dancing. Let's be honest, the dancing is the best part of any wedding, and we had the best group for it! During and after college, Ashley, John, Andrew, and I used to go to the clubs almost every weekend because we had so much fun dancing together. This was the first time we've been together like this for years, and, as you can see from the pictures, it was just like old times. The DJ played a great mix of current pop songs and our favorites of the 80's and 90's.  Everyone there sang along and danced the night away. It was a blast!!

Congratulations to Ashley and Michael Giganti! I wish you both a lifetime of happiness and love!





July 24, 2011

Best. Wedding. Ever., Part 1

Ashley's wedding was one of the best nights ever! It was honestly the most fun I've ever had at a wedding - and that's saying something because I've been to a lot of fun weddings! There's so much I want to share because I don't want to forget anything.  I think this post will have to focus on just the ceremony...

Of course, I expected Ashley would be a beautiful bride, but she was simply stunning! When I finally saw her in her dress, she took my breath away. She looked so timeless and classy. It was just perfect! 

The groom, Michael, wore green Chuck Taylors with his suit, if that gives you any insight into his personality. That's one of the things I love most about this couple: they never take themselves too seriously. In fact, Beth and Kevin (friends who officiated) began the ceremony by expressing their shock that Michael was standing there with a woman and proceeded to make fun of his sayings, movies he likes, and even an embarrassing outfit he wore (which they blew up to poster size to share with us all... I wish I had taken a picture of that). It was hilarious!
Her sisters, who were her only bridesmaids, looked beautiful in their dresses as well. Kelsey is a couple years older than Ash and me, so I've seen her all done up for dances/acting gigs, etc. many times. Sometimes, though, I'm still caught off guard by how much Whitney has really grown up.  I still think of her as a little girl sometimes, but, as you can see in the picture, she has grown into a beautiful woman.  They both looked amazing in their dresses!  And can we talk about their flowers? I love them! All those pops of color were just gorgeous against that royal blue!

I loved their nontraditional ceremony, which included a poem about how love is like a puppy (read by Ashley's childhood friend, Christina, who is a veterinarian) and a reading of The Velveteen Rabbit by Ashley's elementary-aged cousins.  Christina's son, Chase, was one of the ring bearers, and he just didn't want to get dressed for the ceremony, so they sent him down the aisle in his diaper, shoes and hat - pushing the red wagon. If I hadn't known better, I'd have thought they planned it because it was absolutely adorable.     

My favorite touch of the entire wedding was in the handkerchief she held around her bouquet. On it was a photo of Ashley and her dad, who passed away last year from ALS. Just looking at the picture (from her brother and mom walking her down the aisle) is enough to make me cry all over again. Her dad was like a second father to me. He was such an amazing husband and father, and I know he was so proud of the adults his children have grown to be. He would have been so proud to walk his little girl down that aisle and give her to Michael to cherish forever. In fact, not long before he passed away, Michael told Bob that he was planning to ask Ashley to marry him someday and wanted his blessing. Bob wasn't able to speak anymore at that point, but he gave Michael his thumbs up of approval... how sweet is that?! So even though he wasn't able to be a part of this day in body, he was certainly there in spirit. 

Oh, and of course, I cried, but no more than anyone else. Despite feeling as much anxiety as I was experiencing for the days leading up to the ceremony, I felt pure excitement for her on this day. I couldn't have pictured a more perfect ceremony for my best friend. It was beautiful, beginning to end.

July 22, 2011

Mixed Emotions

In a matter of 18 hours from now, my best friend since age 14 will be walking down the aisle. This is the girl who knows me better than anyone (and likes me anyway!) because she's been there and supported me through it all. And tomorrow I will watch her become someone's wife!

On one hand, I am ecstatic for her. She's an amazing woman and deserves all the best the world, and I'm super excited to see her so happy. I absolutely love her fiance! He's got all the qualities you'd want in the man who's marrying your best friend - especially supportive. He proved that when he stood by her side through her dad's illness and death last year. I honestly couldn't pick a better man for her.  It makes me so happy to know that they'll be together for the rest of their lives.

But then there's this other (selfish) part of me that can't help but feel anxious. For the first time in our lives, one of us is moving on to a new phase of life without the other. I can't help but worry that it will only be a matter of time before she has babies and surrounds herself with other families rather than her single friend. Not because she'll stop caring about me but because it's easier to be with people who share your lifestyle. And this totally freaks me out because I can't imagine my life without her.

I heard our song yesterday and my eyes immediately filled with tears.

"I'm not dying," she reminds me, "I'm just getting married!"

And I know she's right. The logical side of my brain tells me to stop worrying about what hasn't happened yet.  But the emotional side of me keeps fighting back tears for fear of the unknown.

I hope the logical side of me can stay in control at this wedding tomorrow. But I think I'll wear waterproof mascara just in case.

July 20, 2011

Fit or Fat?

I read a post called, "What Fit Actually Looks Like" at the Curvy Girl Guide yesterday that had me nodding along in agreement the entire time.  It was written by Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan (one of my favorite blogs), and I have to give her credit because her words really resonated with me.

The post was about how people make assumptions about fitness and size. Society has taught us that thin = fit and fat = lazy, but it's just not true.  She started the post talking about a friend of hers who was lamenting about when men on dating websites say they're looking for a fit woman, it's no secret that they really mean they're looking for a thin girl. This truth is frustrating for her because as someone who is very physically active, she is, indeed, fit but knows others would find it would be misleading to describe herself that way.

With all the Zumba I do, I know there are tons of skinny people I could literally run circles around. But that doesn't change how society views me. I try not to let that bother me, but I have to admit it makes me self-conscious when I tell someone how much I exercise and I can almost hear them thinking, "Yeah, right!" 

And it's not just an issue in the dating world. Do you have any idea how hard it is for plus sized women to find workout clothes? The entire industry basically gives them little option but to wear sweats and oversized t-shirts to the gym, which only makes them look bigger than they actually are! It's hard enough as a bigger girl to gain the motivation to even go to the gym and workout among the barbie dolls that live there, but to have to do so when dressed like a slob makes it even worse. Even, though, the biggest names in athletics have bought into this notion that fat people don't workout, and their plus size options, if they exist at all, are extremely limited.  It makes me want to scream!     

At the end of Kristen's post, she added this picture to show/remind us that even Olympic athletes come in all different shapes and sizes.  Thanks, Kristen, for your awesome post!  

July 18, 2011

Ashley's Bachelorette Extravaganza

This weekend, I attended the bachelorette party for my best friend since age 14. Her sisters planned the perfect day of events, and we had a great time celebrating! 

Runaway Bridal Party representing the CHI at Fullerton Beach.
 The day started with a Chicago scavenger hunt/5K put on by Challenge Nation (where I recieved my first ever race bib!). We were given a packet of 12 (super hard) clues that led us to various hot spots in the city. We had to rush to each location and take a picture of our group as evidence. The goal was to solve 11 of the 12 clues and be the first group to return to the finish line to win a $200 prize.  The first group usually finishes in 1.5-2 hours, and let's just say that we didn't even solve all of the clues in that amount of time much less make it to each location. To be completely honest, we only solved five clues on our own before running into another team (who ended up winning second place) and getting the rest of the answers from them.  Nevertheless, we had a great time running around the city in our tutus (our team costume was Runaway Bridal Party) with 1200+ other participants, and getting strange looks from people everywhere we went. I would highly recommend this activity to anyone with great knowledge of their city and a knack for solving clues (and really fast smart phones).

After abandoning the race (we lasted more than three hours in 90+ degrees... don't judge us!), we stopped at my favorite bakery for some delicious cupcakes to bring back to Ashley's house.  We spent a few hours resting, showering, eating pizza, laughing a YouTube videos, and challenging Ashley to a "How Well do You Know Your Fiance?" game before heading out for the evening.

In line at the Baton Club.  Ignore my creepy eyes!

We started our evening festivities with a few drinks at the swanky Hub 51 and then headed over to the Baton Club for a hilarious drag show.  Apparently, it is the thing to do for bachelorette parties because there were at least 10 there for our show alone.  Some of the drag queens were kinda disappointing, but others made up for them.  My favorite was one who did Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and Beyonce's "Run the World" and clearly had a dance background because she was amazing!

After the show, we headed back to Ashley's to enjoy our delicious cupcakes and hang out.  Her older sister, Kelsey, lives in LA, so it was a real treat to just all be together again.  There was a lot of reminicing about life back-in-the-day well into the early morning.  It was the perfect bachelorette party! 

I can't believe my best friend is getting married on Friday!  Soooo excited! 

July 14, 2011

Back Into the Swing of Things

Tom was in Florida last week at the annual Zumba Instructor Convention.  It's basically a full week of Zumba awesomeness, and I'm super jealous of all the fun my instructor friends had together: days and days of workshops, partying all night long, and even a private concert with my love, Pitbull!  It has me seriously considering becoming an instructor just so I can attend next year's festivities!

Most of the week went by pretty quickly for me because I stayed busy hanging out with friends and catching up on my non-Zumba activities, but I have to admit I was seriously missing my roomie over the weekend.  I don't mind my alone time, but I was starting to go a little stir crazy on Sunday night when I realized I hadn't spoken to anyone all day long.  Needless to say, I was beyond excited for him to come home Monday night. 

As of Tuesday, we are officially back into our normal routines.  After a whole week off from working out (except for Joy's backyard Zumba class on Thursday), it felt so good to be sweaty and burning calories once again.  I know I keep saying this, but it's still shocking to me how much I enjoy working out now. I just never thought I'd be the kind of person who is sad about missing a fitness class.  It's funny how things change! 

Yesterday, not only did I do my normal classes (Zumba toning, and two Zumba fitness), but I also threw in a Butts n Guts class Tom was subbing for and a walk along the prairie path with a friend.  And our evening Zumba class was extra sweaty because everyone was super excited to be back in the gym.  My (tiny) friend, Rachel, wears one of those heart rate monitors that said she burned 623 calories in that one class alone, so I knew I had to be even higher.  Tom estimated that I burned more than 2,000 calories yesterday!  How awesome is that?!

My body is a little sore today, and I couldn't be happier about it!  So glad to have you home, roomie!   

July 11, 2011

Lead-Free Zone

I found, on the Excellence in Writing website, several audio downloads by Andrew Pudewa addressing various topics related to writing instruction.  In one of his seminars, he suggests that pencils should be banned in the classroom!

Let me say, in no uncertain terms, that I hate pencils in my classroom.  They constantly break or dull and need resharpening, the sharpener is endlessly jammed, the shavings make a huge mess, the lead is difficult to read, the erasers never work/run out too quickly, the mechanical ones are always out of lead... the list goes on and on. 

But up until this point, I haven't banned them from my classroom because I didn't want to be the teacher that makes up rules simply because the are my preference.  (This probably goes back to hatred of my parents using the "because I said so" reasoning.  I try hard not to be that teacher.)   

But here I have an "expert" giving me logical reasoning as to why I shouldn't allow them?  You have my attention, Mr. Pudewa!

The reasoning for this recommendation are as follows:

  1. You cannot erase it.  This is helpful for teaching students that writing is a process rather than something that should be done perfectly the first time through.  Students should learn from their mistakes rather than hiding them with erasers. 
  2. Pencils are neurologically, tactilely, and emotionally disturbing to children.  He says this is because of how pencils are constantly changing (dulling), causing a different feeling in the students' hands.  And what students want, more than anything else in the world, is consistency.  This, he says, is why they have a compelling need to sharpen their pencils every two minutes.
  3. Pencils contribute to Tired Hand Syndrome.  He says this is especially true for those who are visually challenged because they push harder to make a darker line that's easier to see. 

With such evidence to back up this recommendation, I think it's safe to say that my future classrooms will be lead-free zones except for special circumstances (testing, drawing, and coloring come to mind).  Now, if only I can find an expert to tell my students why they shouldn't submit fringed notebook paper.  :)

July 6, 2011

Raising Nerds

Last week, I shared some advice on how to talk to girls.  Today, we're going to focus (mostly) on the boys.  I read a great article on CNN called "Why I'm Raising My Son to be a Nerd" by columnist LZ Granderson.  In it, he starts by talking about how he (like many dads) rushed to sign up his son for soccer as soon as he learned to walk, and then cheered so loud on the sidelines that his voice turned hoarse.  And until recently, he never even thought to show that same level of enthusiasm when his son brought home an A grade.  

I agree with Granderson that we, as a society, do not put enough emphasis on education.  We spend so much time worrying about why our students are being outperformed by so many countries around the world, but the thing I see over and over again is that those other countries value education much more than we do here.  Sure, we say we value education, but do our actions (once again... I'm talking about society here, not individual families) back that up?

We live in a nation where 33 of 50 states increased the amount spent on prisons while decreasing dollars spent on K-12 and higher education.  What, exactly, are we setting ourselves up for here???

It's no surprise that when I ask my middle school students what they want to be when they grow up, a large majority of my boys want to be professional athletes.  It wouldn't bother me if I thought they all wanted to be NBA players because they loved the game as much as Michael Jordan, but the truth is, they want idolize those careers for other reasons as well.  Our kids are smart.  They know who makes the money and who gets the praise, and who wouldn't want a slice of that Heaven? 

See how many kids you know that can tell you who won the last Pulitzer or Nobel Peace Prize.  It's just not something we place enough emphasis on.

Granderson says that the change has to start with the parents.  We have to show our children that education is a top priority, and our actions better back it up.  He says he's making a conscious effort to praise his son for not only being an exceptional athlete (the only thing outsiders ever recognize) but for also maintaining a 3.86 in an international baccalaureate program, studying Chinese, attending debate camp and a desire to go to Stanford since the fifth grade.

His hope is that his son will recognize, "Jocks go on to play for your favorite team but nerds go on to own the teams for which those jocks play."

July 1, 2011

The Fun Continues

A few weeks ago, Tom and I were talking about all of our Zumba friends who don't work on Fridays in the summer (mostly teachers).  Then, he had the brilliant idea those girls come over every Thursday to hang out and make our working friends jealous (okay... so that last part wasn't really in the plan, but it happens).  Since then, Thursdays have become my new favorite night of the week!

The husbands were feeling a little left out of the fun, so they decided to join us last night despite the fact that they had to work today.  The more the merrier, I say!  We had a delicious dinner at a dinner nearby called Grandma's Table, which we plan to visit again soon, and then everyone came back to our house to hang out.

Apparently, our competitive game of Trivial Pursuit, Pop Culture Edition (where we made Tom play without a team because he's really good at trivia games) was a little too loud for our neighbors.  We didn't know this, however, until our guests were harassed as they walked to their cars at the end of the evening.  The two twenty-something boys that live with their mother in the house across the street (which we have dubbed the Blue Light Special due to it's annoying blue exterior lights) were sitting on the porch and yelled to our friends, "Thanks for being so loud!  Thanks for waking up our mom!" as they were leaving. 

I guess they were really upset about this situation because they also decided they were justified in egging our house to teach us a lesson.  Yes, egging it.  Who does that?

All day today I've contemplated whether to file a police report or go knock on their door with a batch of cookies and apologize for our noise (and hopefully making them feel guilty for not knocking on our door).  So far, I have done neither.

And then while I was scrubbing the dried egg yolk from the walls, door, and windows this afternoon, I managed to lock myself out of the house... without any shoes.  Thank God I had my phone with me and that Tom came home to let me in.  Thanks again, Roomie!

I guess our neighbors like to keep it classy here in Pleasantville (which is what we call our subdivision because it looks like you've stepped right onto the movie set)!