Monday, December 31, 2007

Off to Chicago - Again

We're heading into the Chicago area today for New Year's. We're going to be staying with Jane and Shark in their new house, so it should be a lot of fun. Tonight I think we're doing a low-key dinner out, and then tomorrow we'll hang out and watch football. Just our speed.

I wish you all a Happy New Year! My friend Patty told me this a while ago, but I still love it:

"May your best day of last year be your worst day of the new year."

Isn't that the truth? I wish you all a healthy, and happy New Year filled with laughter, love, and people who make you smile.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Last 2 Days in Chicago

After Stein and I exchanged gifts and had breakfast (and a mid-morning nap!) On Christmas morning, we set out to Mickey's to celebrate Christmas with the family. As I said before, my brother Bryan and his family were there, and so was my dad. Rick and Monik are in China, so they were missed.

Mickey decided to have appetizers along with ham for the meal. Everyone brought something and the food was delicious. We had beef with roasted red peppers and garlic on toasts, pizza bread, baked goat cheese with marinara, artichoke dip, and other assorted things. When we were done with the appetizers, we realized that we forgot to put out the ham and homemade corn bread. That became the running joke of the day, when Mickey or Mike would try to offer ham or cornbread at every opportunity. It's always so fun for me to be with my family and catch up. Inevitably, old stories are told and there's a lot of laughter.

We also had a grab-bag gift exchange. Normally there is one item that is coveted and stolen throughout the game, but this year everyone was satisfied (or settled) for what they got. I got a really nice wine opener, and Stein got a Tandoori chicken clay pot. We attempted to use the clay pot tonight for dinner, until we noticed that the sticker on it said it needed to be soaked in water for 12 hours prior to using.

Stein drove home that night and I stayed with Mickey. We needed to get an early start to go into the city for shopping. We met my dad for a pre-shopping breakfast at Toast in Lincoln Park. They have a stuffed french toast that is incredible. They stuff it with either cream cheese and strawberries or chocolate. We had both and it was to die for.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not really a shopper. I think I've written about my theory on shopping: if I need something, I go buy it, but I rarely go shopping just to shop. It's just not my thing. But, the day after Christmas, it's different. Mickey and I like to go to see what's on sale. Mostly we look for gift-type items that we can give the following Christmas. Or we look for decorations. This year the pickings were a little slim in terms of the things we like to buy. But we managed to buy some really nice gifts at half-price. I always like opening the bags a year later. It's a surprise all over again.

We got done shopping at about 1:30 and decided to have lunch. I was convinced that there was an earlier train than the one I was scheduled to take at 6:00, but unfortunately there wasn't. When Mickey dropped me off at the train station, it was 2:30. I obviously had a lot of time to kill before catching the train.

I decided to walk down to State Street to go to Macy's and the other stores there. I'm glad I did. For a long time, we had the tradition of going to Marshall Field's (now Macy's) and sitting under the tree for lunch in the Walnut Room. We haven't done that in a long time, and I miss seeing the tree and being at Macy's. The place just puts me in the Christmas mood.

If you've never been to Macy's on State, you should go. The building is humongous. I think there are 10 floors. And there are escalators and elevators going up and down carrying people with bulging bags. It's pretty amazing. Every time I am there, I think of my grandma. She went downtown a lot, and talked about going to "Field's" where she bought something she was looking for, or stopped by the "cafeteria" to have lunch with her friends. As I rode the old escalators up and down throughout the store, I couldn't help but think that my grandma was on the same escalators. I suddenly felt the urge to buy a hat. My grandma always wore the most stylish hats, and they looked great on her. I'm not really a hat person, so the thought quickly vanished.

As I walked back to the train station, I thought about how comfortable I am in the city. I know the city. I instantly go into city mode when I'm downtown. There's a certain way to walk, a certain way to avoid the eye contact of a pan handler, a certain way to stare in awe of the tall buildings without looking like a tourist. I pride myself in remembering all of these nuances. To me it's like riding a bike. It was a great walk.

When I got back to Union Station, my good mood began to diminish. The boarding area was packed with people. I was immediately back to my traveling days when I worked for Einsteins. My game face was on and I felt very annoyed. I listened as one guy told his life story to the woman next to him including the exact place in Minneapolis where he lives. I saw people pushing and shoving to move about a foot ahead in line. And I had more than one person bump into my leg with their suitcase or their leg or their foot. I just wanted to be home and all I kept thinking about was that I had a 4 1/2 hour train ride ahead of me. Looking back, that wasn't so bad. If you remember from my earlier post, the train was an hour late.

I had the pleasure while riding on the train of listening to 2 women talk about all the trains that they have taken in their lives and all the routes that they have gone on. Judging from their conversation, I don't think either of these women have ever traveled to another city via car, bus or plane. They were Amtrak experts, and each tried to one-up the other with her knowledge. As if that weren't annoying enough, I also had the guy in front of me who got off at every stop to have a cigarette and came back reeking of smoke. He also had about 4 beers on the trip and moaned in his sleep when he fell asleep. I have never looked at my watch so many times in a 5 hour span.

I got into Ann Arbor at 12:30 am and Stein was waiting for me. I was so grateful at that point that he refused to let me take a cab home. I was exhausted from a long day of shopping and traveling. I slept like a baby that night.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Presents!

On Christmas morning, Stein and I exchanged Christmas gifts. As usual, Stein went overboard. We always set a dollar limit, and he manages every time to go over the limit. Not that I mind, of course, but I always stick to the limit, and he seems to come out short of presents in the end.

I received some really thoughtful gifts this year. He gave me a beautiful jewelry box that will now contain all the random bracelets, earrings, and necklaces that are strewn on my dresser or are still in cardboard boxes. Don't get me wrong, you know I don't have a ton of jewelry, but what I do have is in a mess on my dresser. The new jewelry box will definitely help to contain the mess.

In the same vein as jewelry, he got me a necklace that matches a bracelet that he gave me a couple years ago. It has pieces of tumbled sea glass surrounded by sterling silver. I like the pieces because they're colorful and pretty unusual. Since sea glass is randomly tumbled into its shape, there are no two bracelets or necklaces alike.

I also got a Marquette license plate holder to replace my old, faded one. You can barely read "Marquette" on the old one, so I guess it's time for a new one.

My favorite gift is pictured here:

Stein commissioned our niece Claire to make this quilt for me. She made one for her brother this year when he graduated from high school which was double the size! I couldn't believe it when I opened the box and this was inside. It was a group effort by Stein and Chris to get this together. They both donated shirts to make it possible. I know what a sacrifice it is to give up old favorite t-shirts, so this is truly a precious present. In case you can't see it clearly, I'll explain the quilt by row:

Top row (from left): 1.)The Avalanche Bar that was near Marquette but was torn down shortly after we graduated. (This was a landmark for Marquette students who made it famous with its beer slides. No, I never did one, but Chris Farley did when he attended Marquette.)
2.)Marquette Warriors. (This was the Marquette nickname prior to and while I attended Marquette. After I graduated, the university decided to change the name proactively because of the Native American connection. However, it was never a condescending image (like other teams) so alumni are still upset about it.) 3.) Coldwater Triathlon. (This was the triathlon that we participated in twice. Before you get all impressed, I have to tell you that it was a MINI triathlon. But, we finished, which was a major accomplishment.)

Second row (from left): 1.) A dog howling at the moon. (This was a t-shirt that I bought in Madrid when we went to Spain a few years ago. That was a memorable trip for both of us.)
2.) O'Donoghue's Pub. (O'D's as we called it, was another Marquette institution, and our hang-out for most of senior year. It too was torn down shortly after we graduated. We even roller-bladed in that bar once, and spent more hours there than I care to remember.) 3.) Chicago Cubs. My baseball team. I can't even count the times I have been in the bleachers at Wrigley, or the opening days I have attended, or the losing seasons I have watched. Eh, it's all in the life of a Cubs fan.

Third row (from left): 1.) Eastern Michigan University. (This is where I just finished my teaching program, and where my teaching certificate is from.) 2.) Yak-zie's bar. (A bar in Wrigleyville that holds so many memories for me. This was our hang-out for most of my post-college years, including the first time I met Stein, countless 6am opening-day mornings, and many Friday nights when Chris and I were roommates and had no plans for dinner.)
3.) Mama's Fish house. (This is a restaurant on the island of Maui, where Stein and I had the pleasure and fortune of going to twice. The first time we went on Thanksgiving night, which is one of my most memorable Thanksgivings. The second time we went with my Mom and Rich, which was another great time. They have, hands down, the best fish. It's caught daily, and they even list the fisherman who caught the fish on the menu.)

Fourth row (from left): 1.) The Bears. My football team. Being a Bears fan is kind of like being a Cubs fan, except that the Bears have gone to the Super Bowl and even won one! Growing up we had season tickets, so we would be out in the cold and snow at Soldier Field until the bitter end. 2.) Michigan football. (You already know that I like Michigan football, not only because we live blocks from the stadium and attend the games, but because we didn't have football at Marquette. Football games are a whole new experience for me.) 3.) Marquette. Need I say more?

You can probably see why this was my favorite present this year. Every time I am snuggled under it while I'm sitting on the couch, I look down and instantly memories go racing through my head. What a great gift.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Eve - Chicago Style

On Christmas Eve, Stein and I met up with our friends Patty and Paul and Patty's parents for breakfast. We went to Nookie's, which I haven't been to in a long time. It used to be one of our late-night haunts, where inevitably our friend Erik would order a Monte Cristo sandwich. (Talk about a gut-bomb at 2 am!)

After breakfast, Stein and I had some time to kill before checking into our hotel. We decided on seeing the movie Charlie Wilson's War, with Tom Hanks. It was a great movie, particularly if you love Tom Hanks and love government-type movies. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

We checked into our hotel, relaxed a little, and then walked around downtown. The streets were more crowded than we anticipated, and it was freezing! We wandered into a couple stores, where it was a nice break to get out of the cold. We always get Garrett's popcorn when we're downtown, but we also wanted some hot chocolate. I made the bad decision of getting the hot chocolate first.

If you've never heard of Garrett's, I'll tell you a bit about it. Garrett's popcorn has a couple locations downtown. Their location on Michigan Ave. is a small storefront shop with enough room for a double line of people, the counter, and the popcorn bins. Eventually crowds spill outside and down the sidewalk. People wait up to an hour or more to get this popcorn. So what's the deal with this popcorn? In my opinion, it is the best popcorn, hands down. They have a caramel/cheese popcorn mix that is their specialty. Yes, you read right. Caramel corn and cheese popcorn mixed together. I'm not normally a caramel corn person, but this is different. It's not sugary, it's buttery. So that, combined with the cheese popcorn just makes my mouth water. Oh, and the cheese popcorn? Your hands are orange for days from the cheese stuff.

After getting our hot chocolate from the Ghiradelli store, Stein and I went to Garrett's. We thought we were such experts. "The line isn't even outside!" we noted. What we didn't note was the hours of operation on the door. As we stood in line for about 20 minutes, we heard one of the employees shout, "WE ARE ALMOST OUT OF CARAMEL CORN. WE WILL NOT BE TAKING ANY MORE ORDERS UNTIL THE NEXT PEOPLE'S ORDERS ARE FILLED. WE CLOSE AT 4:00." After initial groans from all the customers in the store, everyone started planning. "We can get by with just cheese," a woman behind us said. "I guess butter popcorn is okay," we heard another person say. I told Stein that cheese would be okay with me too. It was only 3:30, so they should have enough by the time we got up there. As we waited longer in line, I started eyeing the people getting their orders filled and counted how many others were in front of us. "She ordered a whole gallon! She's taking all the popcorn!" Stein said. "Tackle her!" I half-joked that Stein could be like Seinfeld in the bread episode. Then we got the devastating news.

They were out of ALL popcorn. And to make matters worse, we were the next people in line to order.

Stein immediately walked out the door and started walking down the street. I got outside and just stood there in disbelief. No Garrett's popcorn. No buttery caramel and messy cheese. I was gypped. We walked back to the hotel with our heads down. Partially from the wind, and partially from our defeat.

That night, we went to the Drake hotel to have drinks before dinner. (The Drake is the "small" white building in the picture above). We stayed at the Drake a few years ago, and really liked how they decorate for Christmas. It's such a Chicago Landmark, and I love to go there. It's very elegant, and you can just picture all of the famous Chicagoans who have been there hobnobbing at various functions.

After drinks, we went up to Mia Francesca's for dinner. This small, busy Italian restaurant in Wrigleyville is one of our favorites. It's not pretentious like some stuffy Italian restaurants. It's bright, upbeat, and friendly. The tables are packed together, but you never feel crowded. We started off with some carpaccio as an appetizer, and I had a chicken dish and Stein had pork chops. We shared a chocolate cake for dessert that oozed in the middle. Everything was outstanding, including the wine. I tried to snap a picture discreetly without flash just to get an idea of how it is in there. It came out blurry, but you can see how close the tables are together, and also see the small bar (only about 8 bar stools).

The night was still young, so we went to meet our friends Sarah and Scott. They were eating dinner with their parents at a restaurant near our hotel, so we decided to join them. Unfortunately, they were still finishing eating when we got there, so Stein and I waited in the bar area. Well, the food coma hit us while we were waiting, and we had to get to bed. We said our goodbyes and walked back to the hotel.

We had a great day. Some things planned, some things spontaneous. What a fun way to spend Christmas Eve in the city I love.

Happy Birthday Karen!

Before I continue with day 2, 3 and 4 of my trip, I need to give a Happy Birthday greeting to Karen.

You may know her from her blog, flidstickdig (see blog list at the right). I've known Karen since college (I won't say how many years) and I consider myself a lucky duck because I still have her in my life.

I first met Karen at a Halloween party at Marquette (go figure). She wasn't "invited" to the party, but she managed her way in. So there she stood, dressed as Santa Claus, albeit a disheveled Santa Claus, with drink in hand. Later, the Santa Claus costume would be shed, but the drink seemed to remain. (Need I remind you that we were in college? In Milwaukee, no less?)

I have a lot of stories about Karen, some embarrassing, some hilarious, some touching. But the one thing about her that comes shining through no matter the story is her laughter, her sensitivity, and her passion. Passion for living, passion for whatever she puts her mind to.

Since college, Karen has lived in Colorado, Idaho, England, and now France (I think I may be forgetting someplace). With each place comes more stories of passion. Passion for those around her, passion for things she loves to do. Passion for the little things she takes notice of and treasures.

Throughout the years since college, I have managed to see Karen on a somewhat regular basis, despite the distance. She comes in to see her family, and I go there. I am instantly adopted by the family for a few days while Karen and I catch up, or while I play with her 3 adorable kids (and adorable husband).

You know you're with a good friend when you just pick up where you left off from the last time. Without skipping a beat. Without pause in conversation. Without so much to say, you can't stop. We both treasure the time we have together. We both know we will soon have to go back home. So we pack in reminiscing, catching up, and laughing into a short time.

This lucky duck says Happy Birthday Karen! Have a wonderful day doing whatever you're doing over there. I'm sure it is something that makes your heart sing and laughter flow. Cheers!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sunday Night - En Fuego

Sunday night we had sushi at a great place near Chris' house. This particular sushi roll was on fire. I can't remember exactly what kind of roll it was, but it was fun when it came to the table. Kind of like the saganaki at a Greek restaurant, the people at the other tables turned around to see the "show". Our waitress was into it too, unlike some of the Greek restaurant employees who mumble an "opah" after setting your cheese on fire.

Accompanying us at dinner was Chris and Mike, and Sarah and Scott. We managed to order almost every specialty roll on the menu, and then we told the waitress to have the chef surprise us with some rolls of his own creation. He didn't let us down. Everything was delicious.

Patty and Paul met up with us toward the end of dinner too. It was a bitter-cold day and night with a wicked wind, so we all left at a reasonable hour to get home to hunker down.

Whirlwind Trip

We're back from Chicago. Stein actually came back on Tuesday night, and I had the pleasure of taking Amtrak home last night. As predicted, the train arrived late. One hour late to be exact. Stein is sick, so the poor guy had to stay up until 12:30 to pick me up. I had the luxury of sleeping in today, he had to go to work. Bless him.

I am going to write about our adventures in a different post for each day. I can't promise that I will get all the posts written today, but hopefully by New Year's. We're going back to the Chicago area to visit Shark and Jane for the holiday. They just moved into a new house, so we're anxious to see it and catch up with them.

Right now I'm glad to be back home and sleeping in our own bed. Each night we slept in a different bed, so I'm happy to shed the gypsy feeling I've been experiencing the last couple days.

I'll leave you with this. Our time spent in Chicago revolved around food, family, and friends. Oh, and did I mention fun? Yeah, there was a lot of that too.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the Road Again

We're heading to Chicago this afternoon for Christmas. We'll stay with Chris tonight, and then tomorrow night we'll stay at a hotel downtown. We did this a couple years ago, and we loved it. Downtown gets deserted on Christmas Eve, and it feels like you have the whole place to yourself. You can stop and look at the lights without bumping into people. It's peaceful. We made reservations at one of our favorite Italian restuarants for Christmas Eve. I can taste it already.

We'll spend Christmas Day at Mickey's with her family, my brother Bryan and his family, and my dad. I'm going to stay over at Mickey's that night so she and I can go to the after-Christmas sales the next day. I'll take the train home that night.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone. I don't know if we'll have a white Christmas, but says that it will be a cold Christmas!

If I don't post before Christmas, I hope that you all have a merry and peaceful one spent with the people you love.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Making Fudge

Today we went over to Stein's parents to make fudge for Christmas. This used to be a tradition with my brother-n-law Marty's family and us, but we got away from it the past couple years. Jake, our nephew, requested that we reinstate the tradition this year. And so we did.

I forgot to bring my camera (I still forget that I have one, so I forget to bring it with me when we go anywhere). I wish I would've, because it was quite the scene to see Stein, his brother Marty and our three nephews working together to get the fudge made. We really noticed today how tall the boys are getting. Even though we see them pretty often, for some reason we noticed a change today. Jake is now about 6'3" and he's 13. He towers over Stein, and is now taller than his dad.

Each of the boys took his stirring responsibilities seriously. Stein also took his uncle responsibilities seriously and coached the boys during the process. "STIR!" This was the word of encouragement that he barked while the boys stood at the stove.

They ended up making 4 batches - 2 chocolate, one peanut butter, and one chocolate/peanut butter. They all turned out great. We managed to get away without taking any fudge home. We already have a ton of holiday junk food around, and didn't need to add the sugary fudge to the mix. We had a couple pieces before we left, and that was enough. I'm still experiencing the sugar high that started about 2 hours ago, and I think a nap is in order this afternoon. Maybe I'll have visions of sugarplums, or sugary fudge, dancing in my head.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I subbed yesterday.

When I got there in the morning, I was in a great mood. I knew the drill, I knew what to do. And most of all, I knew the kids. I got into the room and Linda was already there. It was good to see her, and it was good to touch base with what she wanted me to cover that day. We chatted for a while and she was on her way to her meeting. I did some last minute things that needed to get done, and Matt came in to say hi and chat. "It's good to have you here," he said. "It's good to be back," I said cheerfully. How nice.

The kids greeted me with hugs instead of the usual handshake that is the routine in the morning. Even kids from Matt's class stopped in the hall to give me hugs.

The morning started just like any other morning did when I was student teaching. Keeping the same 3 boys on task, getting kids to finish their planners and their breakfasts (most of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch). Another teacher came in to do some work with a group of kids, so I had everyone else do some work in their workbooks. We had our morning meeting when I told the kids that I was excited to see them and excited for the day. Everything was going swimmingly.

Until the math lesson.

The math lesson was not as structured as other math lessons given, and I know these kids when this happens. They lose it. They go crazy. And predictably, they did. The lesson dealt with measuring things around the room with a meter stick (yard stick). Suddenly, sticks were being twirled, sticks were being used as swords, and sticks were leading impromptu parades. I had to use my teacher voice more than once during this time. The girls with attitudes used this time to chat and gossip in a corner. When I would go near them, they would suddenly be measuring. Anything. "Let's measure your face," one of them said.

Oh, and they tested me. Like I had never been in their classroom before. Asking me for things that I knew they couldn't have, telling me procedures that I know didn't happen. Each time I said no, the face I got in return was like I had just given them the worst punishment of all.

The afternoon was okay. I had Matt's class for science so that was a nice break. We took a break and went to recess outside. I think this did more harm than good. The kids felt that because they were being loud outside, they could just continue being loud outside. In the computer lab.

Luckily computers was the last thing on the agenda before going home. They came back into the classroom, and got ready to go home. As I said goodbye to each one of them, I got the customary high-five on the way out.

Kids will be kids. And that's what keeps me coming back for more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

100 Posts and Chicken Pot Pie

Whenever I log on to do a post, it tells me how many posts I have done. The last post was 99, so this post is 100. Happy 100 posts, or whatever you say! I honestly didn't know how this whole blogging thing would work with me, but I have to say, so far so good. It's been nice to have a place to tell you what's happening in our world, and also to read about other friends' worlds.

Tonight we had Stein's parents over for dinner and we made a chicken pot pie. I made it for Stein before and thought it would be a good thing to make tonight. Talk about comfort food. Here's the recipe if you want to make it too. (Oh, and don't worry about the the prep time, we cut this down by just using store-bought pie crust. I can hardly tell a difference.),,FOOD_9936_5251,00.html

We couldn't think of what to have with it, since pot pies really have a whole meal in them - starch, meat, vegetables. So, we decided on a salad. I went with the comfort food theme and saw this recipe for Roquefort, bacon and dried cherries salad. It was delicious! Again, we did some shortcuts: we used bagged lettuce and also just used blue cheese instead of Roquefort.

Tomorrow I will be subbing for Linda. I'm excited to see all the kids again, and I hope they are excited to see me too. I have so much of a different feeling going in tomorrow than I had during student teaching. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I'll only be there one day. I wonder if they're going to be a little crazy with the start of vacation only 2 days away? Yeah, I bet they will be.

Only one day. I can do it.

Monday, December 17, 2007


"Happiness is a warm puppy." - Lucy VanPelt

My senior year in college, my roommates and I followed a series of articles written by Bob Greene. (Bob Greene was a prominent Chicago Tribune journalist who ran into some "bad luck" and is no longer working for them.)

Anyway, the articles revolved around happiness and what made him happy. He believed that there were countless things that made him happy, and chose to make a list of all of them in each article in the series. As I recall, the series lasted for about a week. It became kind of an obsession with us, as we decided who would buy the paper each day and then racing home to read the article. (It was winter and we were in Milwaukee. Not much was going on.)

We taped these articles to our pantry door, as a reminder of all things happy. Then we started a list of our own. This list grew and grew as we noticed all the things around us that made us happy. I remember one in particular that still makes me smile. "The day after a trip to the grocery store," was I'm sure written by Karen, who loved the grocery store and even dreamed of having her wedding there someday.

So, in honor of that list, and in an effort to document happy things in a time where rushing around, honking horns and grunting "happy holidays" has become the norm, I give you the beginning of my happy list (feel free to add more in the comments section):

Things that make me happy:
-Stein (aw, shucks, couldn't resist. gush gush.)
-A cup of chai tea, Trader Joe's cookies, and an episode of the Gilmore Girls.
-Friday nights.
-Time spent with family.
-Sunday afternoons with nothing to do but nap on the couch.
-The summer wind (the song and the actual thing)
-Freshly baked cookies with a cold glass of milk.
-Time spent with old friends.
-Laughing so hard that you can barely catch your breath.
-Going to see a play, or better yet, a musical.
-Coming in from the cold and having hot chocolate to warm your chilly fingers and cheeks.
-Reading for pleasure.
-Receiving an email from an old friend.

I will add to this list from time to time, so don't worry. There are definitely a lot more things that make me happy. I just don't want to bore you with a long list right now...

Sunday, December 16, 2007


As I said in my previous blog or if you've watched the news in the last day, you know we got a snowstorm last night and today. Here is a picture that Stein shot this morning when he was out shoveling:Luckily we could just walk to the store today when we needed some groceries. We bought stuff to make chili. Stein made it this afternoon, and it tasted so good. What a perfect day for it.

And there's a snow day tomorrow for all the school districts around here. Normally that would be a good thing, especially while I was student teaching, but since I'm subbing now, it's not such a good thing! I was looking forward to subbing tomorrow. It looks like the only day I'll be subbing this week is Wednesday. Darn.

My Sister

In my high school's chapel, there's a painting on one wall that I remember well. In the picture, St. Benedict and St. Scholastica (the saint my high school was named after) sit across from each other at a table. In back of the table, a window shows that there is a storm raging outside. As the story goes, St. Scholastica and St. Benedict were twins. But they only got to see each other once a year, as they each had duties at the monastery (St. Benedict) or convent (St. Scholastica). One night, when they were involved in a great conversation, St. Scholastica didn't want her brother to leave. So she bent her head and said a prayer for a storm to keep her brother there for another night. It worked, and they got to talk longer. I think about this picture when I'm with my siblings. I wish that I could somehow lengthen the time we're together.

I went to visit my sister Mickey last week. One of the main reasons I went was to see her second-grade classroom and observe her teach. But like all other times we're together, we spent most of the time talking and catching up. We usually talk several times a week on the phone, but it's so much better when we're in person. From the time I got there, to the time I left 2 days later, there was rarely a pause in our talking.

Our relationship has grown over the years from that of sisters to that of friends. And now that we're both in the same profession, we've added teacher talk to our conversations. There's a lot of give and take in our relationships. Because we're similar in many ways, but still different in others, we can give and take advice and see things from different perspectives. We rely on each other to vent, mull things over, or offer some humor to lighten a situation.

Even though we get to see each other more than once a year, I still value our time together. That's why I thought of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica as I left her house to come home. I would have loved to have more time to continue talking. Unfortunately, we both had things we needed to get done and I had to go home. And wouldn't you know, a snowstorm appeared a day later. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Roughing It

Our furnace is out. Well, actually Stein thinks the pilot light is faulty, but nonetheless, we don't have heat. Right now I am sitting with the laptop in front of the fireplace. Thank goodness Stein just bought a bunch of wood a few weeks ago. We're set if we need to have a fire all day (or until the heater guy comes). And to be honest, I don't mind. A fire in the fireplace just says to me, "Relax, what's the hurry?" It also says, "Slow down."

What appropriate words for the week I've had so far. I've been able to finally truly slow down. I was talking to Mickey the other day and said that I'm almost overwhelmed by the time I have. It seems like an overabundance, a gift, a luxury. Stein and I have also been joking about "how much I have to do now". I'm truly done. No more due dates, no more projects. It's a weird feeling, that's for sure. This week has made me think about time, and how it means different things at different times. I'll explain without being too philosophical, of course. (I usually save all philosophy for Rick the philosopher.)

If you've seen the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks, you know the story. And you probably know the quote: "We live and we die by time. And we must not commit the sin of losing our track on time." He works for FedEx, of course he lives and dies by time. The irony comes when he is stuck on a deserted island with nothing but time (and Wilson).

Although I haven't been as connected to time as a FedEx worker, at times during the past three months I have definitely run against and out of time. We all know that school is run by schedules. Not only the schedules of the students, but also the schedules of the teachers. While the kids are at gym, music, etc., teachers scurry around the building, make copies, or meet for a brief chat with the principal or colleagues. Time tends to fly during these times. So many times I would think, great, I have this hour to do this and that, only to be stopped short when someone wanted to talk to me, or Linda needed something done. The plan would be out the window. Along with the time.

When I worked at Einstein's, my perspective of time dealt mainly with flight times and store hours. I also was under the constraints of traffic and weather all revolving around getting to or from airports. So much of that was out of my control. Yet, I did feel like I had a lot of time when I was on the road. I didn't have a boss sitting next to me or down the hall, so it didn't matter if I did my work at midnight or 3 p.m., as long as the work got done by the deadline. And because I worked out of my house, I could use my time during the day to run errands when the stores were less busy. Then I could return and work at night. I never felt like I was up against time. I felt like I was working with it, maximizing it.

The jobs I had before and after Einsteins were ruled by time. The one before was especially frustrating. The HR manager had an office at the front of the building, so she could watch out the window and clock us coming and leaving. Talk about Big Brother! And then at the job I had after Einsteins, I had to fill out a time sheet every week, and every minute counted. I once had a doctor's appointment, and my boss wanted to know how I was going to make up the time! Those two jobs really showed me how time can be suffocating.

And now? Today? Well, the clock is something that I look at to see when a show is on TV, or when a store is open, or if it's time to eat lunch, or how long my chicken has been in the crock pot. Right now time is truly a luxury. I'm savoring every minute of it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

New Blog Link

I would like to announce the addition of another blog link, "Jack's Arts and Crafts". This is the showcase of artwork by my friend Karen's (of flidstickdig fame) son, Jack. Quite a budding artist, I must say! So check out the link to the right, and I'll let you know when the pieces will be for sale. Although, the shipping charges may be pricey (they live in France).

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Fat Lady Sang

The Kids and Me on the Last Day

It's over, folks. I can't believe it. 3 months of student teaching, over. 3 months of excitement, nervousness, hilarity, tears, smiles, frustration, and wonderful kids, over. It went by really fast, I have to admit. Now I keep thinking about my experience and wonder if I got enough training. It's the paranoid side of endings for me. Was that enough? Am I prepared? My logical side tells me I am.

Friday was a great day, but it was filled with so much emotion. I prepared all of my thank you cards and gifts on Thursday night, and woke up early on Friday morning to do some last minute things. The other student teachers and I brought treats for the faculty and staff, so I had a lot to carry into school in addition to the cards and gifts. I had the feeling that I've had many times on the last day of school before a holiday - excitement and anticipation. I knew that the day ahead was going to be filled with all kinds of fun things. I was ready.

For most of the day I was out of the classroom, preparing the things I made for the class, or observing other teachers. Linda mentioned that she was already tired and ready for a break. Hmm, I thought, I'm done. And I get a break after today. Hooray for me!

In the afternoon, Matt's class came over to our room to join our class. All the kids (36) sat in a circle. Each one of them said something that they appreciated about me. Some of the things they said surprised me, like saying that they appreciated how I helped them in math when they didn't understand it. Math is one subject I don't really enjoy teaching, so to hear this gave a boost to my confidence. As I listened to all the kids, I wondered what was wrong with me. I wasn't crying like Linda said I would.

Then Matt spoke.

He went on to say that this was a really big day for me. He tried to put it into perspective from their point of view, saying that I've had this goal for a long time and it took many years of going to school to accomplish it. He said, "This is a really big deal for Mrs. Steinhauer." It hit me at that point. I was done. I finally got to the point that at one time seemed so far off. The floodgates opened.

Then Linda spoke. She said that she learns from her student teachers and what she learned from me was calmness. She said no matter how crazy the kids would get, I would remain calm. She said that she needs to learn how to be more calm too. She also said that we had a great time during our planning periods. We would talk with each other and laugh. I agreed. Those were some of the best times I had with her. It was during those talks that I learned even more about teaching. I also learned more about Linda.

Then Matt asked if I had anything to say. I did have something to say, I had a whole speech planned out in my head. The speech went out the window. I forgot everything I wanted to say. Instead, through tears and a cracking voice, I told the kids that this was a big deal, but they could also get to this point if they believe in themselves. I told them that I know that they can get here someday.
Matt pulled a book from behind his back. There, on the front of this homemade, bound book, was 2 pictures, one of each class. And inside, all different colored pages with pictures and notes from all 36 of the kids. I was so surprised. What a gift. Linda typed up all the appreciations that the kids had submitted about me. We normally do appreciations on Fridays before the kids leave for the weekend. It gives them a good feeling regardless of how their week went. It had the same effect on me as I read over them later. One, in particular, cracked me up and also kind of summed up my experience:
"I appreciate Mrs. Steinhauer because she was helpful the last 15 weeks! It just was really kind and sweet of her to even like this class because sometimes we can be bad or a little crazy!"

Then the combined "party" was over. Matt's class came up to me and hugged me. It became a group hug and started to get a little scary as we started falling over! We quickly recovered and I said goodbye to Matt's class.

Then it was time to give out my "gifts" to the kids. I had printed out a motivational poem about seeing themselves as I see them, and believing in themselves as I believe in them. I mounted this on green paper and then wrote an individual note to each student on the back. I read the poem out loud (again through tears and a cracking voice) and then gave them out one by one. I wasn't expecting what was going to come next.

Some of the kids were sobbing.

I knew some of the kids were going to cry, even sob. But some of the kids I didn't expect at all. The class clown? I didn't think he liked me. The boy whose name I said in my sleep because I repeated it all day, everyday? I didn't think he cared at all. It was surprising, and it made me cry harder too. I kept reminding them that I was going to be back, I was even going to sub for Linda in 2 weeks. It didn't matter. They knew as well as I did that we weren't going to be together everyday. I tried to break up the mood by giving them the class presents from me. I wrapped up the game Sorry, a Mad Libs card game, and a book that the class liked. They seemed touched, but this didn't help to ease the sadness. It just continued.

Linda finally had the answer. She told the kids to clean out their desks. So they did. We put on one of their favorite CDs, and it seemed to keep our minds off of things. Even at the end of the day when I gave them hugs before they left the building, it didn't seem so bad. I know I'll see them again, and they do too.

What a day. The end of an era. The beginning of a new one. A bit intimidating, a bit exciting. I don't know for sure what I will be doing weeks or months from now, but I know it will involve teaching. Probably substitute teaching, but teaching nonetheless.

I'm done. And I'm ready.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Maybe I Didn't Need That Cup of Tea

We used to laugh at my two great aunts who always kept the table pads and a tablecloth on their dining room table. We wondered what the table actually looked like underneath. We speculated that it was a pristine wood beneath all of its protection. It was, and it still is.

I am sitting at it as I type. And I keep the pads and tablecloth on it religiously. I know, I go back and forth - do I expose the table to the elements and risk it getting scratched and stained? Or do I keep the layers on it to keep it safe?

I took the day off today to get some last minute things done on my portfolio and get some things done around the house. Linda was going to be out today, and since I would have to leave by 3:00 to get to my meeting, we would need a sub in the room. I thought, well, if I'm not going to be the sub (I can get paid for subbing now) I won't go in. So I didn't.

I "slept in" a little later than usual, and then fixed one of my favorite breakfasts: a toasted pumpkin bagel with butter and a cup of chai tea with milk. As I set the cup of tea down on the table, I had a feeling that I shouldn't set it down. I don't know why, I usually have water or tea near me while I'm on the computer.

I should've listened to myself.

Maybe it was the butter from the bagel on my fingers. When I reached for my full cup of chai tea, my hand fumbled and suddenly chai tea was everywhere. I danced around the table, lifting up papers and notes and everything else needed for my portfolio before the puddle of tea soaked further along on the tablecloth. Luckily the cup tipped away from the computer.

I'm no longer laughing at the great aunts. I'm thankful for their wisdom and forward thinking.

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas

This weekend we went to cut down our Christmas tree. We do this every year with the same group of people. It's become one of our Christmas traditions, and it's really a lot of fun.

No offense to our Christmas tree growing up, but it was an artificial one. At that time, not a lot of people bought real Christmas trees, at least not in my neighborhood. The McGraths across the street had a white one that they kept in their foyer. But that wasn't the best part. They also had a light that changed from red to blue to green that they would shine on the Christmas tree. No joke. We would watch that thing for hours. Cheap entertainment.

In our house every year, my parents would wrangle a huge box up the basement steps and plop it into the living room. When we would open the dusty box, we were immediately met with a musty smell. The Christmas tree waited inside, all in pieces. Each branch was held together by a thick wire. And on the end of the wire was a painted color that corresponded to the hole on the tree pole ("trunk"). Once the tree was in the stand, you could try to match the branches to the trunk. Sounds easy, huh? Yeah, not so much when half the paint was chipping off or you couldn't tell if the color was green or blue, or rust.

Next came the lights. As if untangling the mound of lights wasn't enough, plugging in the strands to see if they worked was another job. And if they didn't work? Well, you wouldn't throw them out. Oh no, there was some engineering to be done. In other words, go through each strand, bulb by bulb, and see if you could find the culprit. Right.

And then came the dusty, fuzzy garland. I think it was gold. Or silver. Regardless, this same garland came in handy when my brother's needed some "garnish" for their shepherd's costumes for the church Christmas pageant. The silver or gold looked exquisite tacked onto my dad's light blue terry cloth bathrobe.

And finally the ornaments. I loved (and still do) the ornament part. Every year you get to reminisce about special ornaments given to you by special people. My mom did a great thing every year. She bought all of us ornaments surrounding a theme. So now on our Christmas tree, we have a lot of ornaments, some as old as me! In fact, one of my favorite ornaments is the spoon from my "Hey Diddle Diddle" mobile that my mom fashioned into an ornament. Very cool.
It wasn't until I was in college that we got rid of the artificial tree and got a real one. Go figure - the church started selling them as a fundraiser and suddenly we were real-tree converts. At one point, we even had 2 in our house (we really wanted to give to the church). It was at that time that I decided real is the way to go. You really can't get that pine smell from a candle. Or from Pine-Sol. Believe me, I've tried.

After college, my roommates and I would go to the local lot selling trees. I never really considered where they came from, I guess somewhere in the "country". "You can take a girl out of the city..."

Okay, I digress. Back to Saturday. We went to a tree farm not far from our house. The day was grey and cold (about 25 degrees - brrr). I bundled up in long johns, boots, hat, mittens, and my heavy ski coat. I didn't know how long it would take to find "our" tree, and I didn't want to be cold. Luckily, I really didn't need all of the layers because we only took about a half hour to find our tree. Here is a shot of the tree before we got it:

(That's Stein on the right cutting it down. My job was to wait for the signal to pull the tree while he sawed. I had time for a picture.)

And here it is once we (Stein) cut it down.

And check these out. No, I didn't touch up the pictures in blue. These are blue Christmas trees. If the McGraths could only see these now. They wouldn't need their fancy rotating lights. Seriously, how do you decorate without clashing colors?

After loading the tree into the car, we headed over to our friends Doug and Susan's house for a get-together. There ended up being a lot of people there, about 25 + kids, so their house was pretty full. When we first started this tradition, there would only be a group of us, so it really has become an event. Our holiday eating continued. Everyone brought an appetizer or dessert, and Susan made chili, so there was food galore. One of my favorite recipes there was this one which may become an appetizer I bring to all holiday parties:,,FOOD_9936_30611,00.html

We left their house just in time to drive through snow and freezing rain. Lovely. We made it home safe and I immediately crawled into bed.

Sunday, we had our niece and nephew over to decorate the tree. This has also become a tradition for us. Eric has been doing it for about 4 years now, and this was the 2nd year for Mia. We still separate the really fragile ornaments from the less-fragile ones just to be safe. This year, they thought that the back of the couch would be a great ladder to use. I didn't want to see either one of them dive into the tree, so I kept a close eye on them. Here are some pics from Sunday:

Eric putting some ornaments on. (That was the other thing - Stein and I had to do a little rearranging after they left to eliminate the cluster factor).

Stein giving Mia a boost to hang an ornament. "I want to hang this one really high!" she said. (She said that with all of them.)

Keeping steady with my hand on the ceiling while I put the finishing touch on the tree top. Beth the angel. (My mom named her. She was actually made by my Aunt Connie, but she lives in a box from Beth's Hallmark.)

And the tree, all aglow. If only you could smell it. It smells like Christmas. And it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Most endings are bittersweet for me. Usually they're sad because of the closing, the finality. But they're also exciting because of the promise of new beginnings, a fresh start. That is exactly how I'm feeling this week. Bittersweet.

It's hard to believe that this will be my last week of student teaching. Not to sound cliche, but I feel like it was just last week that Linda and I were getting the room ready to start the year. Now it's time to leave. This past week flew by as I was weaning myself from teaching all the lessons to just teaching two. I resumed my role as observer once again, watching Linda as she took over in the classroom. She's the pro, and she took over flawlessly.

In the next week I will be giving back all of the teaching as I wrap up the units in writing and science. I will be getting my portfolio together in a more polished state. I will also be getting my thank you notes written.

Linda told me what they typically do for student teachers who are leaving. Friday afternoon, the kids (from both 4th grade classrooms) will gather in one room, in a circle. I will be the guest of honor. Each child will say something that he/she appreciates about me. "I have never had a student teacher who didn't cry at this point," Linda said. I started getting choked up as she was explaining it.

I'm going to be a mess on Friday.

I am feeling bittersweet about this ending. I'm sad that I won't see all of these kids on a regular basis, sad that I won't get to see the strides that they will make by the end of the school year. But I'm excited to start the next phase of my learning, to actually get out there and put what I've learned into action. I'm definitely ready. Am I going to trip and fall and skin my knees as I start teaching? Of course. Will I have hard days when I wish that I was instead working at Hallmark (a family joke)? You bet. But I know that "the hook" is there. The hook is what my friend Regina calls the breakthroughs with a child, or a good lesson taught, or a kind gesture from one of your students. I have been "hooked" and it's what gets you through the other more difficult days.

After this week, I will no longer be a student teacher, I will be a teacher. Wow.