Monday, February 23, 2009

Up North

Nothing like having your 13 year-old niece up (from NC) who has never been to Michigan or in the cold and snow to inspire you to do all things outside.

In the winter.

Y'all know I don't like to be cold. And that I'm about to pack my blankie (if I had one) and move to places south of here. But send a niece my way who wants to experience all this cold and snow and stuff, and suddenly I'm into it.

Into it as in sledding and ice skating and hiking and rafting. In the cold. In the snow. In the cold.

Thankfully, it's been really sunny, where it's actually warm when hiking or sledding, and nice to look at when skating or rafting. We've been having a great time, experiencing this all with her. I have to keep reminding myself to take pictures of all the stuff that she experiences for the first time. Things we northerners take for granted, like snow plowed into a huge pile, frozen lakes, skating outside, or sinking into snow up to your thighs. I will post all the pictures later this week (probably when she goes back home). In the meantime, we'll be doing some more winter stuff. Tomorrow we're off for some tubing, and then a trip to the waterpark (indoor, of course) to change things up.

Thank goodness for hot chocolate.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When the Grueling Days of Travel Pay Off

I can't tell you how many times I have spent early mornings going through security and then sitting in the Northwest terminal in Detroit. Or countless times I spent in other terminals that were in my territory: Indianapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Newark, Ottawa, DC, Minneapolis. You also could easily tack on the myriad of nights I spent in forgettable hotel rooms too. Ones that were not so clean, or not so quiet, or not so friendly. (A friend of mine actually collected all of the key cards she got from hotels in the years she worked for our company. When she stopped traveling, she had 2 large shoe boxes filled with cards. And she didn't work as long as I did...) Then combine with that wonderful mix all the meals that I ate, or forgot to eat, or didn't have time to eat: the burger ate at 11:30 pm after driving for two hours to my hotel, the peanuts and water bought at the airport that sustained me when I didn't have a chance for a meal, the room service that sounded delicious in words but was a completely different meal when delivered.

For those people who had never traveled for work, my job sounded like the perfect thing. They seemed to confuse traveling for pleasure with traveling for work. Two completely different things, for sure. Traveling for pleasure means going someplace (often warm or exotic) to relax, leaving at a decent hour, and being gone for an extended period of time. It also means being able to see the outside during the day, and not being on an agenda. Traveling for work is obviously just the opposite.

Don't get me wrong. There were a lot of trips that I took for work that were fun. Trips like going to our corporate headquarters, which meant not only seeing mountains and blue skies in Denver, but reconnecting with fellow road-warrior friends and eating good meals. Or a trip to San Diego in February which also let me visit a friend in LA. Or trips to Florida in the middle of winter when I stayed at hotels on the beach. Those were the times when I was glad to have that job. But those times were few and far between, and the other ones eventually led me to break down one day and decide to switch careers. Wow, am I glad I did.

The only downside that I really have felt by switching jobs is the accumulation of hotel points and airline miles. I never thought about them before. The points seemed to add up by themselves. I had the right credit cards to get more miles and more points. I signed up for every promotion that would give me double or triple points. I played the point game hard. The perks weren't so bad, either. Getting upgraded to first class on a four-hour flight was priceless. (Especially if the flight was on its way home.) Or getting upgraded to the Executive floor with a free bar and breakfast wasn't bad, either. The further away from that job I've been, the fewer perks I have received. Now I only have the points and miles, but none of the cool perks.

There was a big-headed big wig who used to boast about the amount of points and miles he had. Another co-worker and I joked about how he was going to take them to his grave and then his eulogy and headstone would announce the balance of points. Well, I'm not going to be that guy. I have already used points so we could fly to Hawaii and spend a week there for our honeymoon. I was lucky enough to have my Mom and I stay at Disney for a family vacation for almost a week. And there have been other little trips, like ones to visit Karen, and other ones to visit my Mom.

Another trip is in the "hopper" as we speak. Chris and I are going to Sundance, Utah in a couple weeks! She "won" a two-night stay at Sundance in a silent auction, so we'll be there for 2 days, and then I'm throwing some points in the pot for two more days in Park City. Airline miles are getting me out there and flying me back too.

I'm really excited. In these tough times, travel for pleasure is usually thrown out the window. But my hard work has paid off. I can actually enjoy the travel this time. Traveling for pleasure? What a concept.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Minestrone Soup

This weekend, as the temperatures continued to dip back down, we craved hearty, hot foods once again. We also overindulged when we went out for Stein;s birthday on Friday and then again when we went out after Eric's play on Saturday. So I decided to make this soup. It is a really easy recipe, but I wouldn't say it's quick, unless you have help. There is a lot of prep involved, but Stein and I worked together on it, and it was probably done in less than an hour. We had some crusty Italian bread that we alternated between dipping in the soup, and dipping in olive oil with Parmesan. The recipe makes a good amount, and it's pretty hearty, so we'll have it for leftovers for a couple days I'm sure.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I blame my Mom for this. And I don't think that it will come as a surprise to her, either. This weekend, as we were watching our nephew Eric perform in the community's production of Annie Get Your Gun, I was in heaven. You see, I blame my Mom for a love that I have.

I love plays.

Mostly Broadway Musicals, but really any live performance that involves acting, dancing, or singing. Because she loved (and still loves) plays too, she took us to a lot of performances when we were younger. I remember going to Candlelight Dinner Playhouse every December, right after Christmas when we would receive the tickets for the performance. We would dress up in nice clothes, drive about 45 minutes outside of Chicago, and see a musical being performed in a theatre-in-the-round-type staging. As the years went by, we became used to the routine, which included ordering our dessert to be served at intermission, and counting the back-lit signs from previous musicals that we had seen. Man of La Mancha? Check. Oklahoma? Check. La Cage Aux Folles? Check. Phantom of the Opera? Check. Fiddler on the Roof? Check. Evita? Check. And the list went on and on.

One year for Christmas, I got the record of Annie, and also a ticket to see the play downtown. I was so excited because it was going to be in the big theatre, much bigger than the dinner playhouse I was used to. When we walked out onto the balcony (or it may have been the second balcony), I was in awe. The orchestra was warming up, the maroon velvet curtain was covering the stage, and the ushers scurried around trying to seat all of the people before the show began. And once it did, I was mesmerized. I think I especially loved it because there were a lot of kids in the production. I thought that was cool, and I dreamed of dancing along with Daddy Warbucks while holding onto my dog, Sandy. For weeks after seeing that production, I would play the record over and over on my blue phonograph, and look at the back of the album jacket at the few pictures from the Broadway production.

Listening to musicals on records became the norm in our house. Our parents' copies of West Side Story, or Oklahoma, or The Sound of Music, or The King and I, or A Chorus Line were dusted off and played incessantly. A lot of times we would never have seen the show, but could imagine the dancing that would take place around the songs. In fact, I have never seen A Chorus Line, but could probably sing every line in every song of that play if I did.

Our high school had a really good drama department run by a very obsessive teacher. Because of his OCD, the productions were fabulous. Some of the productions I vividly remember were The Sound of Music, when our neighbor was in it, The King and I when my brothers were in it, or Bye Bye Birdie when Mickey worked on stage crew. It was a high school production of Oliver! that piqued my interest in Dickens.

But the love didn't end after I graduated from high school. I still love to see plays of any kind. Chris gave us a gift certificate to see a Broadway play in Chicago, and I can't wait. I'm thinking Mary Poppins would be fun, especially because I loved (and still do) that movie as a kid. Stein is still amazed when I sing along with it when it's on TV. In fact, when any musical comes on and I start singing, he just shakes his head, and says, "How do you know this?!"

I just do, and I love it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Quick Note

Hi! Still here. It's been a crazy week at school. For some reason, the evil gods were working together this week - indoor recess, an out-of-control barometric system, no Internet for 3 days, and a full moon have caused all of the kids to go completely insane. It didn't matter what grade, they were all insane. Oh, and couple that with an assembly on Monday, and a Valentine dance coming tomorrow afternoon. Also, there's sure to be sugar highs and lows running rampant from an excess of candy hearts exchanged at Valentine's Day parties tomorrow. I can't wait.

Good news is that the warmer weather continued throughout the week, which melted most of the ugly, dirty remaining snow and set the stage for some new, clean stuff. Yes, I am talking about more snow confidently. I don't want to get all grouchy in the end by trying to trick myself into believing it won't come. We all know it will. It may come in May, for all we know. (My freshman year in college, we walked to our finals one morning in May in a snowstorm, no joke. So you never know.) We also have our niece Danica coming up from North Carolina next week. She'll be spending about 5 days with us, experiencing life north of the Mason-Dixon line in (hopefully for her) snow. We're also going to head up north to help ensure that she sees the white stuff.

I'll be back with more in the next few days. Just after I decompress from this craziness we call Valentine's Day in school. Oh, and some one's (wink, wink) birthday is just around the corner (as in tomorrow), so that's something to celebrate for sure!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mo' Better

Why does February feel like a smack in the face? Even though it's a short month, it seems to stop you cold in your tracks and keeps you there. You get through the holidays and cruise into January, and by the time you get all of the gifts and decorations put away, you're at the end of the month. And then, BAM! Stop. It's February. Then, as if smacking you in the face isn't enough, it just takes its sweet old time going by.

This weekend we had unseasonably warm weather, which made being stuck in February a little more tolerable. I ran a bunch of errands yesterday, and wore a light jacket. Wow, did it feel good not to have my heavy coat bogging me down. Just as any warm or sunny day will do, it gave me hope that yes, spring will come. Eventually, but it will come.

But we're not fooled by the daytime temperatures in the 50's. The nighttime temps have been cold, and we're still craving the hot comfort foods that keep us cozy. Along comes Stein with a recipe for gumbo (that boy, Stein!). Fat Tuesday is a couple weeks away, but let's think of it as a practice run, okay? And with the slight kick from the sausage, and the creamy brown roux, I am ready to practice this a lot.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Promotional Videos

When it comes to promotional videos, I'm a sucker. I remember when I worked for Einstein's, we did a new menu roll-out and had all of the general managers come to the corporate headquarters. They came in groups every 2 days for about 6 weeks total. I had to be out there for 2 weeks straight to help with the roll-out.

At the meeting, we showed the managers a promotional video made by our ad agency. It was meant to pump everyone up about the brand, etc., and it really did. Pair that with a compelling speech made by our CEO, and the experience was great. I had to watch that video over and over, and I never got sick of it.

Fast forward to a couple years ago, when U-M started a campaign which, no matter how many times I have seen this commercial played on TV, I still love it and am mesmerized by it.

And then fast forward to last weekend when we were in Milwaukee for a Marquette basketball game (more about that in another post) and saw this promotional video. Sandy told us about it before we went into the game, and when it came on, I loved it. (Thanks for the You Tube link, Sandy). It's probably good if you have been to Marquette or even better if you went there, but I still think it's a pretty cool video.

I am amazed by the creativity of some people, especially when it comes to advertising or promotional pieces. Competition is cut-throat, and the videos or images that stick are few and far-between. But I think I'm just a sucker for these videos, especially when they hit home.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Remind Me of This

There are times now and then when I have to attend meetings or training sessions with other teachers in the district. Even though I'm a long-term sub, there are some things I need to learn in order to do my job. It will look good on my resume too, right?

Anyway, I had to attend a meeting last week and toward the end of the meeting, it got to be a huge complaining session. I understand that the people were feeling overwhelmed with some new information, and it meant some change was coming to their jobs. But it went on. And on. And on. Different people each saying the same thing the previous person said in another way. I wanted to stand up and scream, "Don't worry about it! You've gone through things like this before! Be thankful you have a job and you are working!"

When I worked for Einstein's, my co-workers and I joked about all the changes that we went through on a regular basis. "Flavors of the day, week, or month," as we used to call the most pressing issue at the time. I learned to be flexible. I learned that if I didn't like something, it would eventually change. I learned to be thankful for the job I had.

Teachers are pretty flexible people too. You have to be. In a matter of minutes, a well-planned lesson could be chucked out the window because it wasn't working. Or a student throws up. Or decides that macaroni should be stuck in ears and noses. Or the whole class has a glazed-over look on their faces. Plan B, C, D, or E will have to do. So is it that some teachers feel they're flexible enough in the classroom, that they don't need to be out of the classroom?

Today I went to another training session where we had to import student's names into a computer program. It didn't take long for the complaining to begin. "Why do we have to import this information?...Can't I.T. just do that?...This is SO tedious!...This is ridiculous!" I felt terrible for the instructor. Here she was, trying to teach us how to do this program, and all she got were complaints. I tried to be as nice to her as I could. I know first-hand how stressful it is to lead large training groups. There are always a few that spoil the mood.

As I sit through these complaint sessions, I tell myself that if I ever get like that, I need to get out of the profession. So remind me of that, please. Aside from some little complaints here and there, I need to remember to be flexible. And wait for the next flavor to come along. Mmmm, chocolate?

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Library

Remember filling these cards out when you went to the library? A couple weeks ago, some of the third graders thought they would be helpful by taking the cards out of a bunch of books and bringing them to me. Seeing these cards really brought me back to when I was younger. That's when my love for the library started.

I don't remember my first time I ever went to the library, but I somehow think I was probably in a stroller. Going to the library was a weekly trip we took as a family, usually without my mom. (I think this trip served the "get the kids out of the house" purpose that gave my mom a few minutes to get back some of sanity.)
So there were the five of us kids, along with my dad, walking the five or so blocks to the library, clutching our library cards. When we would get there and pull open the big heavy doors, my dad would put out his cigar and set it on a ledge just inside the door to retrieve later. We didn't think anything of it, because we were so entralled with the shiny brass banister that led up the stairs. It was better than any jungle gyms at the park, becaue it wasn't made for playing.

Oh, and the smell of the library. A little bit paper, a little bit mint, a little bit street fumes. It was mandatory that we whispered in the library. Even the librarians whispered when they helped us. Even now in the school library, I get a bit ruffled when kids talk to me in regular voices. I always thought it was a rule that shouldn't be broken. Or else.
I could spend hours and hours in the children's section at our library. It was tucked in a corner on the second floor, and I remember slowly walking along the shelves looking at the colorful covers of the books. I would gravitate toward the known favorites like Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman, but also choose a few new ones to add to the bunch. Inevitably, I would have too many to carry, and I would need to make tough choices about which ones to put back.
I marveled at the big books that my dad would get from the hidden shelves on the other dimly-lit floors. I loved looking at all of those big books on the shelves, their spines dark green, red, black or blue.
I was exposed to so many different types of people at the library too. The homeless people who warmed up by coming to the library, holding up newspapers in front of their faces while they snuck in a nap. Or adults that my dad would know who would peer down at me and say things like, "Oh, you're getting so big. Are you going to read ALL of those books?" I would smile and nod, and think, Why would they ask such a silly question? Of course I am going to read all of these books. Tonight.
When I got older and had to do research for school projects, I learned how to use the card catalogs and microfeish machines. The latter was like a toy to me, and I loved the way that it whirled and whizzed when I pressed the buttons.
My how things have changed. The other day I went to pick up a book at our library. I looked for the book online, reserved it online, and it was waiting to be picked up in a matter of hours. All I had to do was go in, find the book under my name, take it to the counter, and scan my library card and the book. I was out of there in a matter of minutes. I didn't have to say a word to anyone. But if I did, I would whisper.