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.

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!