Monday, December 27, 2010

Random Randomness

This break has been wonderful. I have been catching up on my sleep, catching up with friends, and catching up on my TV. But I can't keep a thought for more than a second. I have the attention span of a gnat. I seriously have been comparing myself to some of the kids in my class who have some challenges with attention. Read a book? Ha! I can barely get through a short article in a magazine.

Yet in between these random thoughts and activities I have been enjoying the season. There was some shopping for Stein's Christmas presents, a trip to Greenfield Village for Holiday Nights, get-togethers at friends' houses, and a lazy, movie-indulgent Christmas Day.

I'm trying to figure out why I have this lack of attention lately. I was talking to a friend of mine who also teaches (Hi, Alissa!) and she is going through the same thing. I think it may be the curse of teaching. You get into a mode where you are constantly thinking about What Next? In a given day in the classroom, I switch gears at least 10 times and try to anticipate what may happen next. Not to mention fielding off the wall questions and requests that make you stop and think, Did you really just ask that question? I haven't been able to sit still. I am always thinking that something else needs to be done.

I think I'll quit while I'm ahead here. You're probably getting a feel for my randomness by just reading this post.

Happy Holidays, Everyone! I hope you're enjoying the season with family and friends.

I am. Randomly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

About a week ago, a friend of mine from high school recommended on Facebook that people read this blog. It was started by a friend of hers, and I was immediately drawn in when I saw it. The gist of it is that this father draws part of a picture and part of a caption on a post-it note and puts the note in his son's lunchbox. The son then completes the picture and caption and brings it back home. If it makes it back home (in one piece) then the father posts it on the blog. He was interviewed on this blog if you want to read more about it.


I love this idea. I love the collaboration. I love the interaction. I love the fun this dad throws into the middle of his child's day.

There has been a lot of research done on how parental involvement is so important in a child's life. I could list all of the ways in which it is beneficial, but I know you know it's important. What better way, then, to build memories, build tradition, and do it in a fun way on a regular basis? LOVE this.

It reminded me of some correspondence I have had with one of the parents in my class. It is nowhere near the interaction that this father has with his son, but it does have a small element of surprise.

It all started when my student's father signed his daughter's planner and put a smiley face next to his signature. When I saw the smiley, instead of just putting the normal star that showed I checked the planner, I responded back with a smiley of my own. This led to another smiley from the father the next day. I responded again with another smiley of my own.

Eventually the smilies turned into faces with goofy grins, a pumpkin at Halloween, and a turkey at Thanksgiving. Every morning, I look at the signature and small picture and laugh. Then I stand there while my student stares at me, wondering just what I'll respond with.

This past week I've been stumped on occasion. The theme has been Christmas (even though I don't think they celebrate Christmas). He drew a Santa one day and I responded with a Christmas tree. He drew a candy cane the next day and I drew a strand of Christmas lights. Today there was an elf, and I was stumped. His daughter said, "How about a stocking?" "Yes," I thought, "That's it!" It's going to be a problem in a few days when I run out of ideas. Good thing it's almost time for break.

I love the daily connection I have with this parent. I have only seen him a handful of times, but his humor makes me feel like I've known him for a long time. I also love how the daughter feels like she's part of the process of laughing and collaborating with me on the pictures.

Who knows. Maybe by the end of the year we'll have a comic strip going.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Law and Order on the Frozen Tundra

Today during recess I was freezing my be-hind off. It made me contemplate just why in the world I became a teacher. A teacher in Michigan. A teacher in Michigan where it's already in the 20's with a colder windchill.

I further contemplated the whole thing when I had to walk across the frozen tundra that is the soccer field to give my "It's Getting Rough Out Here" speech for the 10th time this school year.

I was ready to turn my keys in when I had to walk back to my spot through the whipping wind and pelting snow. (Okay, maybe I just put that last part in for effect.)

Anyway, about five minutes after my speech, I noticed a kid go down on the field and the rest of the kids gather around him. I gave it the usual few minutes necessary for the half-hurt to get up. After a few minutes of no movement, I made my way back over to the tundra.

Like clockwork, the string of people greeting me before I got to the field occurred just as it does every time. A murder trial couldn't be orchestrated better than this:

The first person always makes his way nearly all of the way back to where I stand on the blacktop. He always gives me the overview of the situation as he sees it, peppering his story with his opinions of who is at fault.

The second person then comes trotting over to hear a bit of the first person's story, and add her own opinion as she viewed the situation from her vantage point.

And finally, the third person doesn't listen to the first two. Rather, he just tells me who is at fault and what the consequences should be.

As I examine the patient lying on the field, I hear bits of each of the three informants' stories. They are trying to get their point across and win the case.

Who needs Law and Order when I have this to experience first hand? On a tundra, no less.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Little Girl in the Big Chair

You know the skit done by Lily Tomlin on Laugh-In where she plays Edith Ann, the little girl in the big chair? I have to admit, I feel like her sometimes.

Mickey and I joke that in certain intimidating situations, we feel like Edith Ann. For example, the stigma associated with principals leads both Mickey and I to straighten up a bit before going to the office. Yes, we realize that now the principal is our boss, but nevertheless, we still feel intimidated.

I never really had this feeling in my previous jobs, aside for my first job straight out of college when I was so fresh to the world of sales and marketing. I absorbed things like a sponge, kept my mouth shut, and just observed the world around me. It wasn't until I was really confident of my knowledge that I even dared to speak up in a meeting. And that was only when someone asked me a question.

I am the rookie on my hallway at school. All of the other teachers have each been teaching over 15 years, and most of them are old enough to have grown children as old as me. Some of them have taken me under their wing, and most of them check in with me the way a grandparent asks about you. As a result, I have thought about myself as the junior in their eyes.

I don't feel like I have to prove myself to them, and I'm not really intimidated by them. Rather, I look to them for their wisdom and experience. Yet when they come to me for advice on students or ways to teach something, I feel like I have landed in the big chair, feet dangling, my voice an octave (or three) higher. I have joked with some of them on occasion about how I have pulled the wool over their eyes. I think to myself, They're looking to the little girl for her expertise? Do they know that I'm just a five-year-old girl with a good act?

I think that as I get my feet wetter in this profession and become more of a "senior" teacher this feeling will eventually fade. But for right now, Edith Ann lives. Right in the big chair.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Time of Thanks, a Time of Reflection

Stein and I just got back from Chicago last night. We had a wonderful time there, catching up with family and friends. It's funny how easily I fall back into the swing of things when I go back to Chicago. We slept in late, had leisure breakfasts at local restaurants we love, met friends for drinks and food at places that have changed faces and names since I grew up there, and relished the fact that the town clears out and leaves ample parking spaces and unoccupied cabs for us to snag.

My brother had Thanksgiving at his house, which I know I have written about before. He and his family live in the house we grew up in, so it's always fun to go back there. Although he has remodeled a lot of it, and it doesn't look exactly the same, it feels like home to me. I sometimes have to remind myself while I'm there that I am not just going upstairs to bed. We ate, played a game, and talked.

I always like Thanksgiving because it's a time to get together, but it's free of all the gift-giving pressures that Christmas holds. Will she like what I bought her? Does he need another book in the same genre? Have I experienced the Christmas spirit yet? Thanksgiving is just a time to gather, give thanks, and eat. A lot.

On the morning of Thanksgiving, I received two pieces of news that really made me thankful for what I have, for what I was going to experience later that day. I was on Facebook, and saw that the mother of a friend of mine died unexpectantly and suddenly on Tuesday night. I know my friend was busy before that preparing Thanksgiving for her family including her mom. In a matter of minutes, her week was turned around. I thought of her all day on Thursday and continue to keep her in my thoughts as we move through this holiday into the next.

While I was on Facebook, I also found out that a friend of mine whom I used to work with died at the beginning of October. I knew by the pictures of her wearing hats and wigs that she had cancer (for the second time in her life) and was battling it for a while.

I worked with Gayle at the University of Michigan, where she and I sat side by side in an academic department, answering phones and dealing with students and faculty members on the front line. In between our daily duties, we swapped stories about ourselves and became friends. Gayle was such a classy lady who hailed from the south. She worked as an accountant for many years, and tried to retire (at a young age) at one point. But she was bored and missed the daily interaction with people. How lucky was I that I landed in the same office she did, if only for nine short months.

In those nine months, Gayle taught me a lot. She worked hard, but also worked hard to find a balance between work, play and family. I learned not to sweat the small stuff, to laugh often, and find the silly whenever you can. My days were peppered with stories from her days growing up as the child of a military dad, stories about her three daughters and doting husband, and stories about her chihuahua Isabelle, who had a personality all her own.

I kept in touch with Gayle since the time we worked together, but in the last 2 years I only saw her once. When we reconnected with her on Facebook, I sent a message to her about getting together. I never heard from her, and assume that she had a lot going on in her world.

I am sad that the world lost such a vibrant, life-loving person. But I am counting my lucky stars that I got to spend everyday for nine months with her. I am also thankful for the other people in my life, many of whom I was lucky to be able to see this weekend.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Want to Wake Up in a City That Doesn't Sleep

Stein called me a couple weeks ago on my way into work. He seemed frazzled as we had the following conversation:

Stein: Can you take off a half day in the afternoon on your birthday?
Me: I think so, I just need to figure out the logistics.
Stein: Well, could you find out and call me back?
Me: Sure. When I get into school. When do you need to know?
Stein: This morning.

I called him later that morning and told him that it would be no problem. I tried to pry a little, but figured I should leave well enough alone. I love good surprises, and part of the fun was finding myself daydreaming about possible scenarios for the next couple weeks. A trip to Chicago? A massage and lunch? A trip to Lansing to see Mary Poppins? A trip up north? A dinner with friends?

Tuesday when I got home from school, there was a birthday card on the coffee table. Inside was a plane ticket to New York.

Stein is sending me to New York to spend the weekend with Chris.

The idea for this trip started when Chris sold her condo and felt free of the financial obligations that two mortgages held. She wanted to do a girls' weekend, and no one was really biting at the suggestion to go to New York. I said I would go, but selfishly forgot about it in the midst of my school drama. Apparently she and Stein were in cahoots the whole time, planning this weekend. Bless them both.

Oh, and need I mention? Reason #6,354 why I married that man. He spoils me.

The last time I was in New York was when Chris ran the marathon there. We did have some days surrounding the marathon to hang out, but nothing like we'll have this weekend. I can't wait to just walk around, catch up, eat good food, talk, and people watch.

These little town blues.... are melting away...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Time Here and Away

Last weekend Stein went to Chicago with some friends and I got to have a girls' weekend with Mickey and Bre. We kind of got away from our traditional girls' weekends, so it was so nice to get back to it. They got in on Friday and left on Sunday. In between those two days we packed in some shopping, eating, drinking, game playing, a trip to the cider mill, and a whole lot of talking.

I have been having some pretty stressful weeks at school lately. It has nothing to do with the kids, but rather the "other" stuff that goes along with teaching. There's some politics, some eggshell walking, some tricky scheduling, and lot of switching gears every few minutes. When I get home from school, I don't want to do anything but stare at the TV, shove some food into my mouth, and go to bed.

Having Mickey and Bre here turned my attitude around. They sat through a vent of mine right when I got home on Friday, and there were so many times throughout the weekend when they offered an ear or advice on whatever it was that I was talking about. We didn't do too much but hang out. I needed to do that. I needed to let go of whatever it was that I was thinking of doing, and needed to unwind. I didn't realize just how tight I was wound.

This past Friday, Stein picked me up from school, and we were soon on the road going north. We spent the weekend in Harbor Springs. We didn't have anything planned other than wanting to go to one of our favorite restaurants. Again, the timing was perfect. The stress continued this past week, and the weekend provided me with another reprieve.

We got in on Friday night, and had a beer and burger at a casual local restaurant. We made our way through the winding dark road to where we were staying and schlepped our stuff inside. Stein made a fire in the fireplace and I settled onto the couch. I don't think I was on the couch more than 10 minutes when I fell asleep. I trudged upstairs and fell into bed, barely moving until the next morning. When I looked at the clock, I realized I slept for 10 hours. I guess I needed the sleep.

Stein and I walked into town along the water to get some breakfast. It was a great walk on an overcast day, looking at houses boarded up for the season, and bushes and trees wrapped up in preparation for the elements of the harsh winter. We needed to look at nature. We needed to hear the water lap up on the shore. We needed to hear water slip down a stream.

After breakfast, we took turns napping, eating, and reading for the rest of the afternoon. I did make it out at one point to buy some snacks for us to eat before going to dinner. We made our way into Petoskey for a late dinner and were back assuming our positions in the living room a short time later.

This morning we stopped at one of our favorite places for breakfast in Charlevoix, where we indulged in pumpkin bread french toast. I'm still full almost 5 hours later. We then meandered our way back home, traveling back south on the winding roads that carried us north just 2 days before.

These two weekends have been just what the doctor ordered. Taking time out, slowing down, and savoring the still and the relationships that keep us sane.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On the Other Side

Three years ago, I sat in conference rooms at the student center at EMU and listened to people give advice about various student teaching topics. I was most interested in learning about what I needed to get a job, what I should be prepared for during an interview, and what I should do in these crazy economic times.

Three years later, I was sitting in a conference room again. This time, though, I was the one giving advice. The experience was surreal, and the audience had people that seemed so inexperienced. I was the same way, three years ago, thinking I had it all together with the months I had been in the classroom student teaching. Oh, what a sheltered thought and life that was.

It felt so good to be there, as part of a panel of three, sharing our experiences since student teaching, and offering advice for finding a job and then sharing some first-year teaching nuggets of wisdom. The three of us have had similar experiences with all kinds of jobs from long-term sub jobs, to after school programs, and summer school.

Some of the people in the audience had the deer-in-the-headlights look the whole time. I would love to know what they were thinking. I would think it was similar to what I was thinking at various points in the past three years. How much longer can I work for people and not get a job? How much longer can I spin my wheels? Why did I make this career change in the midst of the worst economic times? Am I destined to be a long-term sub forever? And the questions could go on and on.

I think (and hope) that the main message this audience got was that you have to be persistent, you have to make connections and network, and you have to work hard. Jobs aren't going to come knocking on your door. You're going to have to bang down doors yourself.

Even a month and a half into school, I still have to pinch myself sometimes that I'm a full-time, real live teacher. I am so thankful to be here, and it was so satisfying to tell my story.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quick Dinner

A couple nights ago, I went to make dinner and was ready for the old standby of pasta with sausage. After scanning the kitchen for something different to put in the pasta, I saw some sad looking tomatoes that we picked last week but never used. I also thought about the tomatoes still clinging to the vines outside that will eventually need to be used. (We started our plants a bit too late. We have a ton of flowers still on our plants that I'm afraid will get frostbite before too long).

I thought some sort of pasta salad with roasted tomatoes would be good. I looked up this recipe from Ina Garten and boiled some water for the pasta while the tomatoes roasted. When the pasta was done, I drained it and doused it with some olive oil, crushed red pepper and basil. When the roasted tomatoes were ready, I added them to the pasta with some goat cheese. Oh mama, it tasted great together. It would be great on its own, but it made a great accompaniment to the sausage we had.

I love when a plan comes together, spontaneously.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reason #2,473

I was on a teacher website yesterday looking for resources for Mickey and me, and stumbled on a discussion thread about new teachers. There were veteran teachers and new teachers who were chiming in about the roller-coaster experience that is the first year of teaching. The new teacher who started the thread was basically at her breaking point and was thinking that teaching wasn't for her. The veteran teachers kept telling her to stick it out, that it gets better.

Knock on wood, I'm not at my breaking point. That's not to say that I'm not busy, that I don't think about the kids in my class when I'm up at night, that I don't spend a good amount of my free time either thinking about school or preparing things for school. I think my time spent as a long-term sub in different capacities has taught me some things that most teachers learn in their first year. I'm still learning, of course, but I feel (keep knocking on that wood) that I am keeping my head above water (cue "Good Times" theme here).

In thinking about all that I do, especially at home, I have one person to thank.

That boy Stein.

Ever since August when I knew I had an interview, he has jumped in and helped me every step of the way. He helped me put together my mini-portfolios before the interview, helped me celebrate when I got the job, helped me move my stuff into my room on a hot weekend day. And when school started? He has been taking over most of the responsibilities we typically share at home including laundry, cleaning and cooking. Oh, and correcting papers. He always asks what there is to correct, gets out a marker (never red, of course) and goes to town. He has saved me on more than one night when I was able to get to bed at a decent hour and had a good meal in my belly.

I know that without his support, I may be at the point of that first-year teacher on the discussion thread. I feel so lucky. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is reason #2,473 why I married that man. And reason #2,473 why I am thankful to have him in my life.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ready or Not, It's Here

There's a fire in the fireplace roaring as I write this. Stein is eating the chili that I made yesterday. The pumpkin bread I baked this morning sits on the counter. Our new furnace is pumping out heat. I just got in from covering the tomatoes.

Fall is here.

It happened officially two weeks ago, but I didn't want to believe it. I also was still in the throes of beginning school, trying to get used to a new routine, a new school, and new kids. Now that we're into October and I've had a chance to breathe just a bit, I've taken notice of what's been happening around me. Trees are changing from greens to yellows, oranges and reds. The sunlight has tilted and puts off a golden glow when it hits the ground. The skies are bright blue when it's sunny, and dark, dark grey when it's raining. It feels different. It smells cold and crisp.

That bittersweet feeling comes back to me at this time every year. Sad that summer is ending, but excited to have a change. New foods in season, new clothes to wear, new ways of doing things.

I am trying to have a better attitude this year. Having some things planned in the next few months already is helping. Knowing that within a few months time I will see daffodils and tulips poking up through the dirt helps too. Knowing that sitting on the couch watching the fire while wrapped up in a blanket is not such a bad place to be will get me through. It always does.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Grown-up Stuff

A good friend of mine has hit a rough spot in her life. I should probably clarify: a rough spot could mean a rough piece of skin that just needs exfoliating. It's not like that. It's much, much worse.

Through all I have learned this week about her situation, all I can do is just sit here and do nothing. Do nothing except think about her all of the time. She is hurting, and I want to comfort her. But I know at this initial, raw state of hers, there is little comfort to be given and received. She is trying to seek clarity, trying to answer questions that can't be answered, or the answers are just too hard to face. Stein and I have been asking some of the same questions, I'm sure. We're frustrated that they can't be answered and we just want things to be good for her once again. I'm sure my friend feels the same way, only more deeply.

Growing up sucks sometimes. We all have our crosses to bear, as my Catholic upbringing has told me. But sometimes it seems like a tsunami occurs in people's lives. Events that completely wash over them and make it impossible to come up for breath for a long time. In my friend's situation, I feel like I'm watching her being swept away by the tsunami, and I can't help her get to safety. As humans we all have the genetics that make us want to "right" ourselves again, to find a balance, to be safe. We want that for others, especially our friends.

I know in my heart that she will be alright one day. When that is, no one knows. But from where she has come from and the journey she has taken through life and the attitude she has, it will happen. In life's unknowns, I do know she will be alright. I am grasping to this hope, and I want her to know that. As faint as it is right now, there is hope that you will be alright. I know you will.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Going Along Swimmingly

I'll just put it out there and say that things continue to go well. Aside from a little bully talk with some of my boys, for the most part fifth grade is where it's at. We can have pretty mature conversations, while at the same time sing along to Schoolhouse Rock and trade silly bands. Well, I don't have silly bands nor do I trade them. I have a feeling that the silly bands are going to become a bit of a problem in my class. The kids learned a new phrase, "bane of my existence" the other day when I was talking about silly bands. I think they got the message. So far the rule, "if they're not in your pocket or on your wrist, they're mine" has seemed to work. We'll see how long that lasts...

The other thing that I love about these kids is how they play. I try to do at least one recess during the day in addition to the recess they get at lunch. I think that it's so important for kids to get outside, run around, work things out, and just play. It also helps with getting some of their energy out.

Most of the boys play soccer. Most of the girls play four-square, hang on the monkey bars, or play jump rope. Everyone is active. I love it. In some of the other schools where I worked, the fifth graders would just stand around and talk. I used to tell them to run around, but they would look at me like I told them to jump into a lake with alligators.

Kids being kids. Just as is should be. They're lucky.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Better Knock, Knock, Knock on Wood

School started this week. I had butterflies and knots having some sort of wrestling match in my stomach on the first day. I have to say, the knots won the match that morning. I was downright nervous. (It also didn't help that I was meeting parents in addition to the students that morning.)

Like every other teacher starting school, I had dreams about school every night for about three weeks prior to the first day. I dreamed of faces in a class I didn't know, had nightmares about badly behaved students. I woke up feeling uneasy about the unknowns. My mind was swimming with lessons plans, team-building activities, names, and school supplies.

Tuesday afternoon, after spending a good amount of time with my class, I could tell that everything was going to be okay. The knots decided to leave the wrestling mat that was my stomach. I even cracked a smile, and laughed a little. I felt better.

When I got home that night, my mom was still here. She asked how the day was, and asked if I wanted a glass of wine. I didn't need the wine because it was a bad day, I wanted the wine because I wanted to celebrate a great day. It was so nice to have my mom there to talk about the day. She went through countless first days in her teaching career and could relate to my stories. I'm lucky she was here.

Every night this week when I came home, Stein would ask how the day went. And every night, I replied the same way: "I'm going to knock on wood when I say this, but it was a good day."

I know it's only been a week (actually four days), but I really like my class. The personalities remind me a lot of my third graders last year. I don't have any major behavior problems to deal with yet, and most of them are eager to learn, eager to help out, and eager to please.

I know Mickey is experiencing the same thing with her second-grade class this year. And we're both knocking on wood.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Mom Rocks

I am so lucky. First I switched careers and had my Mom and Mickey to guide me through the whole thing. Then I had long-term jobs that they continued to guide me through. And now that I have my own classroom from start to finish, I have my Mom here to help set it up.

Two weeks ago, I stood in the classroom frozen with a daunting feeling. The previous occupants of the room were not moved out yet, the tables were too small for fifth graders, and we were about to go on vacation. I called Mickey in a panic to help talk me off the ledge. She did. Of course she did. She reminded me that our Mom would be in town the next week and would whip the place into shape.

She was so right. Here I sit on Saturday morning, and my whole classroom is done. I had visions of being in the classroom until midnight before school started, sleeping on the floor, and waking up before the bell rang. I owe it all to my Mom.

She got here on Tuesday night, and by Wednesday afternoon I knew everything was going to be fine. Through 90 degree heat and no A/C, she worked in my room while I attended meetings. We were back on Thursday afternoon, and went back yesterday to finish up. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, she had a plan. Whenever I didn't know what to do with something, she did.

I of course now have the feeling that I'm forgetting something, but I think I'm just being superstitious. The classroom is ready to go. Ready for all of the new fifth graders and the new teacher.

Thanks, Mom!

Monday, August 16, 2010

We're Gonna Party Like It's 1980

Stein and I have watched the documentary Do You Believe in Miracles? about the 1980 US Men's Hockey team about 50 times, I'm sure.  Each time it comes on, we stop what we are doing, watch it, quote it, and get goosebumps from it.  There are certain lines that I quote occasionally out of context.  Like when I was in Steamboat screaming down the mountain and clenching my muscles out of fear, I found myself saying, "Play your game, play your game," just as Herb Brooks said to his team under pressure.

It's not surprising, then, that I quoted that movie last week when I had a major victory of my own.

I got a job.

Yes, a job.  A real, full-time, salary paying, benefit offering, kind of job.  I will be in charge of a classroom of 5th graders from the start of the year until the end.  I will know where I'll be everyday.  I will be the one calling for a sub.  I will be the one who decides where things go in the class.  

Needless to say, I'm more than excited.  I'm ecstatic.  I've been told that there were 1100 applicants, 40 were interviewed, and 18 got jobs.  I find it unbelievable that I beat those odds. It's all finally settling in, especially since I have been in orientation and training meetings for the past couple days and there are more ahead of me this week.  

The morning after I received the job offer, Stein called me at home.  "Are you still excited about your news?" he asked slyly.  "I feel like Jack O'Callahan in Do You Believe in Miracles," I said.  He laughed and asked why.  "You know, the part when he's being interviewed about beating the Russians and how he felt when they did it.  When he rolls his eyes in disbelief lets out a breath and says, 'Whoa.  We beat those guys.'  That's how I'm feeling."  

I did it.  Whoa.  I beat those guys. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Letting go, or Shutting Down

After our relaxing time of sitting by the bonfire Friday night, we had a bunch of stuff going on this weekend. I had mentioned in my last post that we were going on our canoe trip on Saturday, and then to the Tigers game on Sunday.

I typically would be all ready for the canoe trip the night before. The cooler would be packed with drinks and ice, the beach bag would be packed with towels and extra clothes, and some snacks would be bought and packed in a bag to bring on the canoe. Instead, we raced around the house on Saturday morning, grabbing things we thought we needed and throwing them into random bags, ran out of the house, and jumped into the car to race to meet our friends. I had a moment in the car to think about the day ahead, and realized we never ate breakfast. Crap. We found ourselves in the line at the McDonald's drive-thru, and scarfed down something greasy as we arrived at our destination.

The day of canoeing was great. We couldn't have asked for a better day. Warm, but not hot temperatures, bright blue skies, and no humidity. After we stopped for lunch, we found our canoe attached to 3 other canoes of adults floating down the river. So relaxing.

I guess Stein and I were lulled into relaxation. Once we got home, we became one with the couch. We talked about the next day and the baseball game we were going to, but didn't really talk about the details or what needed to be done.

The next morning, we were up at a pretty early hour, thinking that we had some time to get ready for the day. Then my brother-in-law showed up with his back hoe and dump truck (more about this in another post), and I decided it was a good time to go for a run. When I got back from my run and Stein took care of the heavy machinery stuff, we found oursleves right back to Saturday morning. We ran around the house, gathering the things we needed for the bus ride to the game. Stein went to the grocery store to get what we needed and added some muffins to his haul. We scarfed those down as we raced over to meet the bus.

In between bites, I said, "You know, last night I sat on the couch reading a magazine when I could've been getting ready for the day today. What is my problem?"

"You shut down, Kel," Stein said. But before I could get my dander up about the comment, he added, "And that's good. You've been going all summer, and now you finally stopped."

He was right. We were going to make the bus. We had sunscreen and hats packed. We had what we needed for the bus. We survived the canoe trip the day before with what we packed.

Although I usually like the feeling of being prepared, this time everything was okay. Everything worked out. And the most important part? I was in the moment.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer is Here

Oh, I know that it's August 7th. But to be honest, I feel like summer has finally begun. Don't get me wrong, Stein and I have done our fair share of summer stuff. We planted flowers, tomatoes and herbs and watched them grow almost in front of our eyes as we sat outside eating dinner. We have enjoyed the fruits (and vegetables) of the farmer's market where we ride our bikes every Saturday. We've also been running outside on a regular basis. But it wasn't until this week that I really felt like I was on summer vacation.

I got out of school in mid-June, and then had a bunch of things right after that took up my time. Then I had summer school. When that was over, Stein and I immediately got on a plane that night and flew to the VA/DC/MD area to see our friends. On the other side of that trip a flurry of activity awaited me back home. Yesterday, I was done.

Last night Stein and I put together a fire pit that we bought a few weeks back. The instructions sounded pretty simple. I was half-reading them as I took all the pieces out of the box, peeled the inspection labels off, and set them aside. It wasn't until I was trying to put the screen together that I realized the labels had a purpose. Namely, they were lettered, and you had to put each piece in a certain order. I used most of my patience trying to get it together, and Stein dipped well into his patience reserves. He ended up rigging it so it was useable. We'll have to revisit that project at another time.

Once Stein got the fire lit (after I botched my attempt), we sat back and stared into the flames. Drinking a nice glass of wine, just relaxing, and not thinking about anything. No lessons to plan, nowhere to go, no one to worry about. I was in the moment and loving it.

I know we have the most clarity at times like these. In that moment, I realized that I haven't been in the moment very much this summer. Every time I was doing something, whether it was teaching, or planning, or tutoring, I was thinking about the next thing and what I had to do. Being a teacher, you become conditioned like this: constantly thinking about what's next, anticipating the "what ifs".

Yet in doing this, I find that I don't enjoy things to their fullest. I had a great time this past weekend away (and will write a separate post about it) but also had a lot of things on my mind which prevented me from fully enjoying it.

Today we went canoeing. And tomorrow we go to the Tigers game. Two definite summer activties that I enjoyed and hopefully will enjoy fully.

It's only taken me two months to realize it, but summer is finally here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

This Week I'm Feeling

-to see Chris, 2 of my college roommates and their kids, and another friend this coming weekend. We'll all be at the beach out east, picking up where we left off the last time, reminiscing and making new memories. These are friends who I feel so comfortable with. They know me so well, and I am so glad that we have stayed in touch.

-that I only have 5 days left of summer school. While it's been a pretty good program, I still feel like it could've been better. I already have an extensive list of things to do if they want the program to run again next year.

-by getting some things on my to-do list done while also catching up with some friends whom I haven't seen in a long time. The friends always tend to fuel my productivity.

-for the diagnosis of my friend's husband. It looks like they got all of the cancer during the surgery and it was not in his lungs, colon, or other vital organs. He still has a long road ahead, with chemo and radiation treatments, but the initial prognosis is good.

-about the upcoming vacations we have planned: the trip I mentioned above, and then a trip up north. I have a stack of books and magazines ready to be read. Or not.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Change in Perspective

The mom of one of the kids whom I tutor has asked me over for dinner a couple times. Between those times, and the times that she has dropped off and picked up her son at our house, I have become friends with her. We're not close friends yet; we're at the beginning stages of our friendship where she's learning a lot about me, and I of her. She is an excellent cook, and has an excellent kitchen, which provides the perfect backdrop for getting to know each other. Both times I was over for dinner, I sat at the counter in her kitchen for 3 or more hours just talking and eating. As it should be.

About a month ago, as she dropped her son off for a tutoring session, the boy said, "My dad has an owie." The mom nodded her head and explained to me that he had some intestinal issues and they were being cleared up with some antibiotics. The words for his condition and symptoms were flying over her son's head and swirling in my brain while he dug in our flower bed for slugs and other creatures.

Fast forward to last week when I was invited over for dinner again. As I watched my friend shake pans on the stove, marinate meat for the grill, and shake drinks for her friends, she told me that her husband was in the hospital. She swatted the air and said, "Yeah, it's more of the stuff he had before, but now they found a mass of infection and they need to do surgery after giving him a course of some major antibiotics." She seemed fine with it, and he didn't want her at the hospital. It seemed pretty routine to me at the time.

I should've known better. Rarely is the word "mass" ever good, except if you're Catholic and the mass miraculously lasts less than 45 minutes. I emailed my friend last week after the dinner to thank her and check in on her husband. I never heard back from her, which is very unlike her. Today I casually called her, and asked how he was doing. "Well," she sighed, "When they did the surgery to remove the mass, they realized that it was cancer." Her voice went up an octave with the last word.

I offered my sympathies, my prayers, my good thoughts. I told her to please call me if she needed anything. I said all of the things that I'm sure she heard countless other people say already. I wanted to stay on the phone to help, while at the same time wanting to get off so badly to avoid the uncomfortable situation altogether.

Out the window went the pity party I was having for myself last night and this morning. Out the window went pressure I was feeling during this summer school program. Out the window went all of the small stuff I had been stressing about. Does it really matter if I get my toenails painted before this weekend? Does it really matter if my house isn't clean? Doesn it really matter if fix the iTunes issue today?

No, no, and no. What really matters is people. And friendships. And family. And laughter. And love.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pavlov's Dog

I know I'm speaking for my fellow bloggers when I say that getting comments on your posts is pretty cool. It's kind of like getting real mail in your mailbox. Not something addressed to "current resident" or to someone who has a name kind of like yours but has been changed in some weird way. The real stuff. Letters, cards, whatever it is that is delivered to your house, in your mailbox, to you. And it's usually from someone you know and love. I love the surprise of mail, especially now that we're in the digital age of email and facebook and texting.

So in the case of the blog, getting comments feels a lot like getting mail. If you have a blog, I'm sure you log into your space, scan down to where it says comments, and then scan to see if the number next to the word "comments" is greater than 0. When you see a one, or two, or bonus of all bonuses, a three or four, your mind starts racing. You think, Who commented? Which one of my four readers had an opinion about what I wrote and wants to tell me about it?

Lately I've had an onslaught of spam comments. They're such a tease. I go through the whole drill, scan down, see one or two comments are waiting, and click with anticipation to see who wrote something. But I don't know who wrote to me or even read the comment, because the sender's name and comment is written in Asian characters. Bummer.

So please, mysterious Asian person, log onto a translation website before making a comment. I'm sure you have something just riveting to say about my students or the recipes I make.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I miss my third graders. I know how good I had it when I was their teacher. They were a great group of kids and I got to know them really well. I could have a conversation with any one of them, asking questions about things like hamsters, or sisters, or soccer, or whatever else was in their third-grade world.

Now that I'm teaching summer school, I know that I won't have the same relationship with these kids in my class. It's really not possible in 3 1/2 weeks to build relationships with them. I only see them for an hour and half each day. And all of that time is jammed with reading and learning.
I almost feel like it's a waste of time. I know that these kids are getting some learning that normally wouldn't be happening at home. The possibility of having "summer slide" is lessened by what we're doing together. But I really feel that getting kids to be engaged and learn is so much dependent on relationships. If they know you and trust you, they're likely to want to learn from you.

There's one little girl in the group who is going into fourth grade. She is reading at about a first-grade reading level. After working with her one on one, I said to her, "Great reading! You are a great reader!" She looked at me and said, "I'm not a reader." I looked at her in disbelief and said, "Yes, you are. You just read these words to me." She sat for a minute formulating her thoughts and said, "I don't want to read. I don't want to learn." After going back and forth with her, I realized that it was a losing battle. Her stubbornness won out.

I've been thinking about her all weekend. (That's one of the side effects of being a teacher; you can't leave work at school when you leave. You're constantly thinking about it.) I'm stumped. I've never worked with a kid who came out and said that he or she didn't want to read, didn't want to learn. I have made it my mission to figure out how to get through to her and help her see that reading and learning is fun. I don't know if there's enough time, but I'm going to try.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spinning Plates

After a good fifteen-minute-long rant that I spewed to Mickey on the phone today , she said to me, "It's just a a lot of new things at once. It's all going to work out." I knew she would have a morsel of sanity to calm me down. I also knew I had to tell her that I wasn't on the verge of tears and that I was in fact sleeping at night. These two things normally get turned on (or off) at the first sign of anything stressful. I wouldn't say I'm stressed, just busy. Just trying to figure things out.

I started summer school this week, and while it's something that I've done before, I've also been trying to handle things that I haven't done before. Things that normally a principal or secretary may do. But in my case, neither of those people is present. Welcome to my school! Where I do every job required! Oh, and teach? I can do that too! Would you mind spinning a few plates? Because the hundred I'm spinning may stop and crash to the floor if I spin those too.

Add to this some tutoring I'm doing on the side. Two of the kids just started with me this week, so I've been trying to plan the lessons I'm doing with them in addition to the lessons I'm planning for school. No problem! Maybe I can take this spinning plate show on the road!

I know that things are going to get better, that I will soon be in a routine again. That is, up until summer school ends. In three weeks.

Our running instructor reminded us that we have six weeks if we want to run a race in Flint. Then I saw the date on the application: August 28th. That's six weeks away? That's near the beginning of September. That's near the beginning of school. I don't even want to think about it. Didn't we just bring out the patio furniture?

Although I'm not stressed, I guess I'm feeling a bit behind the eight ball. We're making plans to see Karen and Sara in DC and also go up north once summer school ends. And once those trips take place? Well, it's almost time for school to start again. Funny how that school thing sneaks up on you when you're a teacher. A teacher spinning plates.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

On Having Manners

I have been thinking about manners a lot lately. I guess I didn't mention that in yesterday's post. It's that attention span of a gnat, you see. Things come and go in a flash.

I have been amazed lately at the amount of nerve some people have. I grew up in a home where not expecting more than you deserve was the norm. I was taught that you get what you get, and unless you need to speak up because of unfairness, you don't. You don't inconvenience people. You get what you give. You are never entitled to something simply for the fact that you think you are entitled.

Lately I have taken notice of people who exhibit this sense of entitlement, this nerve. I don't know if there has been an increase in this type of behavior or if I am just noticing it more. Regardless, it never ceases to amaze me when I witness it.

I like to be mindful with manners. I say "excuse me" when I bump into someone, say "please" when I would like something, and say "thank you" when someone gives me something. I write thank you notes when someone gives me something. In my mind, you can never go too far with manners. It's a token of respect; of saying to someone, "I appreciate the effort that you're making for me".

A couple things happened to me in the last few days that made me stop and take a little more notice on the subject. Wednesday, I was at the farmer's market (ah, summer, thank you for Wednesday afternoons at the farmer's market) and got in line to buy some cherries. The woman behind the table asked what I wanted to buy. "A pint of cherries, please," I said. Then I looked to my left and saw a woman standing there. Instinctively, I turned to her and said, "I'm sorry, were you in line first?" She shook her head and said no. As I was paying for my cherries, the woman behind the table lowered her voice and said, "I have to give you a compliment. Thank you for asking that woman if she was next. There are some rude people who come here, trying to push their way in, and don't care who is in their way or who is next." I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "Oh, thanks, I don't like when people do that to me, so I wanted to make sure." She added, "Well, people also don't point out the positives enough, so I needed to share that with you." Okay, cherry lady, thanks for the manners lesson. Point well taken!

A few days later I headed to the garden center to buy some last-minute things we needed in the yard. As I left the store, I took notice of the woman who was in front of me in the checkout line, positioning her cart in the parking lot so it wouldn't roll away. She wasn't putting it in a place that carts were supposed to go, she was putting it in a place that was convenient to her. This is one of my pet peeves. It makes parking in the lot an obstacle course, and also makes the store employees go out of their way to collect rogue carts. After loading my trunk, I made my way back toward the store and slid my cart back in place where the other carts were located. As I walked away, I heard one of the employees say, "Thanks miss, for doing that, and have a great holiday weekend." It was nice to hear that, but I certainly didn't expect it. I just did what I thought needed to be done.

Where does rudeness or being impolite come into play? Where does it start? I'm baffled by it. I don't get it. And I guess that's a good thing.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I don't know if it's the six months I spent with third graders, or what. My thoughts continue to bounce around my head like a kid in a bouncy house. I tried to sit down and read a book the other day, and I kept re-reading the same page about five times. During the school year, I had the attention span of a gnat, which was only good for reading magazine articles. Now that summer is here, there's really no change from that. Oh well.

So, I'm just going to go with this tangent-type thinking, and list what's been rattling around in this brain of mine. Memories and thoughts that I've been going over as I start preparing for summer school to start, make plans for the holiday weekend, and make travel arrangements to see some dear friends at the end of the month.

-So excited for the flowers and plants that are blooming in the yard. Thoughts of pesto and other basil-based dishes are dancing in my head.
-The moments on the trip to South Carolina when I laughed so hard I cried. Haven't done that in a while, and I loved it.
-The generous gifts that I received and am still receiving from the students in my class.
-Wanting to go to a baseball game, eat a hot dog and drink a beer.
-Savoring the low humidity and low temp days we've had this week. My favorite sleeping weather.
-Feeling so thankful for my friends and family. Their constant support, encouragement, and humor keeps me going.
-Still running. And running further. Not faster, but further.
-Grateful for summer. And having time to think and take things in.

Have a wonderful, safe, holiday weekend!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Month Hiatus

Call it a sabbatical, of sorts. I've been gone from here for over a month, and believe me, it wasn't intentional. I attended our nephew Blake's high school graduation party, closed out the school year successfully and bittersweetly, started preparing for summer school, drove to Chicago, and then ultimately South Carolina to attend Chris' brother's residency graduation, and now I'm home. Oh, and did I mention that we also had a virus on our home computer?

It's been a busy month.

I'm not complaining. I'm just glad to back in this space. Glad to have the time that summer provides to catch up with everything.

I just got home from Chicago last night. I mistakenly took Amtrak, and I'm feeling the effects of an hour delay getting home. My mind is a pile of mush as I try to unpack, figure out what I want to write about, and figure out what we're having for dinner tonight. I have bits and pieces of thoughts and memories that I need to collect and organize into something coherent. I hope to be back here tomorrow with another post. But in the meantime, here's a video that one of my students made from pictures she and I took throughout the school year. Be sure to turn up the volume - there's music too. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

One on One With Kids

It's been hot here this week. Hot, as in, "Hotter than a ____ in a _____." A friend of mine posted yesterday on Facebook that she was "sweating like a Kardashian on Jeopardy". Brilliant.

Our school is not air conditioned. Thankfully I'm on the garden level, so even when the morning sun shines in, it doesn't take over my room. Plus, there are some pretty large trees just outside my window which help to shade the area.

Regardless of all these things, the air gets pretty stagnant when you cram 25 sweaty third-graders in the room, combined with the heat from our computers or the florescent lights. I have two fans in my room to help blow the air around. The kids have gravitated to these fans like flies on fly paper. They like to stand two inches away from them, having their hair blown back, while they squint their eyes like a dog out of a car window. During silent reading time, they pull their chairs around the fan as if it's some kind of prayer ritual. They also like to talk into the fan to make their voices sound like a bad Darth Vader imitation. I have set rules about these fans, but apparently they're following the rule that "rules are meant to be broken". I can turn around for one second, and they're back at the fan.

Today it was my turn. In the morning, as I made my way into the classroom after greeting everyone when they came in, I stopped by the fan. I made all of my morning announcements by the fan. I stood by the fan as I told the usual kids to get back to their desks and stop talking to their friend across the room.

At one point during my fan time, one of my philosophers came over to get some fan air and also to chat me up. We talked about the previous night's homework and how he "knew the answer right away, but his mom made him figure it out!". We talked about the book he is reading, and how it caused him to be late for the bus. (This isn't the first time that reading or being read to has caused him to be late. I think I'll forgive him.) We talked about the ice cream social the night before and all of the junk he consumed and won.

As he stood there talking, I tried to take it all in. This class has been wonderful. Sure, the kids or I have our moments, but all in all, it's been a great ride. Now with just three weeks left, I'm starting to see the end is near. In my past teaching gigs, I couldn't wait until the year ended, and I wasn't too concerned whether I would see the kids again. But this gig has been different. The class is such a great mix of personalities with great attitudes. They care about each other, they (for the most part) respect each other and me, and they care about being in school.

I'm going to miss the one on one time that I've spent with each one of them. Even if it's just to get closer to the fan breeze.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

And I Was Running

You know that scene in Forrest Gump, the one where he's running like a maniac, runs across the country, and can't stop? That's not me. The only thing that I have going is the running part. Maybe.

I have started running again. Once upon a time, I was running on a regular basis. It was easy to do when I was traveling for work. I would come back to my hotel at the end of the work day, change into my workout clothes and hop onto the treadmill in the hotel "gym". The gym inevitably was a closet crammed with a treadmill, sometimes an elliptical machine, and a big bonus was a TV to watch while running. I counted on this routine to keep me sane, help lose or maintain weight, and build my confidence in running. I was running about 3 miles on a regular basis.

Eventually the travel ended and I kept up with the running at our local Y, and outside. But all good things must come to an end, I guess. I used the excuse of school and life stuff to stop running. I was always afraid to start again. It's like when you're deciding to get your hair cut short after growing it long. You don't want to deal with the beginning stages again.

Enter in a class called Running 101 at our local running shoe store. It's a class designed to get you the tools and support you need to run a 5K within 6 weeks. Once a week, Stein and I gathered with a group of people to run and then learn about things like running nutrition, or stretching, or core strength. The class is designed in a way that you are expected to be doing regular runs on your own to build up to the 5K mark. It was a great way to get back into it, with a group of people who were in the same boat.

At the end of the 6 weeks, we were running 3 miles on a pretty consistent basis. We wanted to keep going with the class atmosphere, so we decided to try the Running 201 class. Last week was the first time with this class. The people in the group had all been in the class for the last session, so they were friends. We introduced ourselves and were thrown into the reality that is the 201 class. In 101, the goal was to run a 5K at the end. In 201, the goal is to run a 10K at the end.


Our instructor (who was the same instructor for the 101 class) handed me the slip of paper with the route we would be running that night. "There's a 4-mile route, a 6-mile route, or a 7-mile route. It's up to you which one you want to do," she said. Then she turned to me, and said, "Which one are you going to do?" Gulp. Gulp. "I think I'm going to do 4," I squeaked out as confidently as I could. In my head I was thinking, 4 miles?! 4 miles?! I don't do 4 miles. Well, not yet, anyway. Well, I did do 4 miles before. There was that hotel in Golden, CO, where I did 4 miles, or that hotel in Scottsdale, AZ where I did 4 miles. Both on treadmills. Set at 0% incline. With air conditioning in the room.

We started out on the route, and I was feeling pretty confident, with a little bit of fear mixed in. When we got to the turnaround point, our instructor joined us, and ran with us. I could tell that she was having a hard time slowing down to my pace, but I kept trudging along. I kept thinking, I really want to stop right now. But I'm with the instructor so I can't. But I really want to stop right now. Over and over this thinking went, until we got to a pretty large hill, the one we coasted down on the way out, and I just stopped. "You go on," I managed to get out in between huffs and puffs. She eventually caught up to Stein, who told me later, also went through the same thoughts of I can't stop now, but man I want to stop. We eventually made it back to the store, had a nice session with a yoga instructor for some deep stretches, and were on our way.

I think the main thing I have to remember with this class is to do those runs in between. To challenge myself to do something I'm not so comfortable with. To just keep running.

Run, Forrest!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

And the List Keeps on Growing

So I'm here. And there.

We're at the 5-weeks-left-of-school mark. The point where most teachers have a split personality. Half of your thoughts are, "Five more weeks of school? I can't. Take. Another. Day." While the other half of your thoughts are, "Oh, #@$%&&! I only have five weeks left of school? I have so much to get done! How will I ever get all of this done with the way the kids are being so squirrelly?" Before you know it, the five weeks have whizzed by, and summer is in full swing. I can't wait.

Until then, I/we have been/will be crazy busy. School stuff, life stuff, and everything in between. So, more lists for blog posts get created in my head:
-Running (again)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Writing in Nature

We recently started a unit on poetry. While I don't mind poetry, it's not one of my favorite forms of writing. I much prefer personal narratives. I know you're all saying, "Duh, Kelly, you write a blog, of course you like personal narratives." Yeah, yeah, I know.

So when we started this unit on poetry, I wasn't really looking forward to it. In fact, I give each lesson somewhat hesitantly. Sometimes I feel like the kids are going to sense my apathy on the subject and reflect it in their writing and behavior.

I've been pleasantly surprised by their reaction to poetry. You can hear a pin drop when I read some of the poems as examples of what we're focusing on that day. The time spent on writing their poems is only punctuated by talking, which is more often sharing of their writing than chatting. After each lesson, I let out a big sigh of relief and think, this is not bad. In fact, this is great. But something happens between the end of one lesson and the beginning of the next one. The same feeling of trepidation creeps back in as I prepare for the next lesson.

Today I was all ready to do the next lesson in the unit. I copied the poems we would use as examples, and had them all ready to go. But somewhere between the copying and the time for writing, I decided we needed to get outside. The weather was gorgeous here today, which has fortunately been typical of this spring. Warm, sunny, and no humidity.

I told the kids that we would be taking our notebooks outside, and after recess we would write some more "dear poems". A lot of dear poems deal with things found in nature. What better way, I thought, to get out in nature and write about it? Besides, there have been a lot of articles published lately on the lack of exposure to nature that kids are getting lately. Mickey and I have been talking about this, how kids are missing out on the benefits of being in nature. I have to be honest, I forget about these benefits until they're right in front of me. I warned the kids before we went out that we could easily come back into the classroom if they weren't working on their writing. I had those copied poems waiting. Yet I don't know why I even warned them. They didn't need a warning. Except for a few seat changes, they all were into their writing.

We're lucky to have our school situated in a place surrounded by huge, mature trees and plenty of natural settings. There are picnic tables scattered around which are perfect for doing classroom-type activities.
Some kids chose the concrete as their workspace. The shadows of the trees couldn't be ignored, however. What a fantastic way to spend our writing time today. I think we need to do this more often. We all need it.

Nature - The Samples
nature it's all around me
nature is so astounding
it puts me on a beach
it swims beneath the sea
it's never out of reach
it's even you and me
nature it's all around me
nature I hope it finds me
it takes me from a book
from pictures I can't feel
but outside when I look
natures something real
nature it's all around me
nature I hope it finds me
it's hiding up a tree
it sees me looking down
look at you and me
and nature can be found
nature it's all around me
nature I think it found me
I wonder where it starts
I wonder where it goes
maybe in our hearts
only nature knows

Sunday, April 25, 2010

That Was Cool

I'm procrastinating a little right now. I have a pretty long list of things to do today, things that should've been started yesterday. But then I turned on the Wii, and then we went to our friends' house for dinner. And that was the day.

I did finish a pretty daunting project just now, so I thought I would reward myself with a little blog writing. I downloaded some of the pictures from our field trip the other day, and was reminded of what a great field trip it was. We went to U of M's Museum of Art and also their Museum of Archaeology. While on the trip, I was thinking once again how lucky we are to live in a college town like ours. We have a lot of the cultural offerings of a big city, but it's all within reach and most of the time, cheap or free.
I love art museums. And I forget that I love art museums until I'm there. I thought about that right before I snapped this picture. The docent asked the kids to just look at the painting for a couple minutes. After a while, she asked them what they thought was going on in the painting. I loved the minutes of looking and thinking. That's one of my favorite parts of art museums. Just looking at beautiful pieces of work, thinking about the artist who painted or sculpted it, thinking about the time in which she or he lived, thinking about the end result and the feelings that it may evoke.
The kids were led through several rotations by the awesome docents at the museum. I was once again really proud of the kids in my class. They were polite to the docents, didn't run around the museum, and dove into any activity that was presented to them. The picture above is an activity they had where they had to copy the Picasso painting that was on the wall. I love the name of the painting, by the way: Two Girls Reading.

The museum has recently gone through a major renovation and I'm ashamed to say that Stein and I had not been to it since they finished its makeover. There are a lot of interactive displays similar to this one above where the kids can do some pretty cool stuff. Again, they were completely enthralled in the experience.
We were so lucky to have beautiful weather that day. We were able to eat our lunches outside and play a little before we went on to the Archaeology Museum.
The kids have been learning about Egyptians and mummies in their art class, so it was pretty cool to see some real mummies up close and play around with hieroglyphics.
It was a great trip for great kids. I am so lucky to be a part of their experiences.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Few Notes

To continue with the scatterbrained post of yesterday, and help myself remember some stuff, I wanted to jot a few notes down so I can remember what I want to write about. I do miss writing when I don't do it on a regular basis. Maybe this list will help me stay on track:

Art Museum
One on one with kids
Two Worlds of Teaching

Now, I have been known to give some "key words" to people when I'm out and can't tell a full story because people are within earshot. Yet, if the key words are part of a scene that may involve some wine or beer, the key words may not be remembered. The topics above may face the same fate as key words. But I'm willing to risk it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Here, There, and Everywhere

In my mind, that is. I have fleeting thoughts of topics that would be great for the blog, but they're just that, fleeting.

I want to tell you all about the field trip we went on today, but I also want to show the pictures which aren't uploaded yet. It seems that my thoughts lately have not been uploaded. They're there, rattling around somewhere in my brain, but I can't find the time, nor the energy to get them down on paper, or computer.

If you can't tell by this post, I'm pretty scatterbrained lately. Some of it has to do with the teaching gig, and the 3rd grade concert we've been rehearsing (they're going to sing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald for part of it!), a new tutoring gig, and another trip to Chicago planned.

But what I think it mainly has to do with is spring. I'm feeling like those tulips and daffodils that just come up, faithfully every year, not knowing what's in store, whether it be a warm spring, frosty spring, or rainy spring. All that they know is the trees have buds exploding, the other flowers are blooming, and the grass is green and growing. All that they want to do is just take it all in, admire it, and cherish it.

Forgive my scatterbrain. Blame it on the tulips.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Heart Apple

I've always liked Apple computers. My sophomore roommate in college had an Apple computer, and a printer, which ran circles around my typewriter. It was such a crazy concept to me to think that she didn't have to go to the computer lab across campus with the masses and wait to get on a computer, and then wait for hours for the dot-matrix printer to chug out a three-page paper. I should've reconsidered the convenience when we both went our separate ways the next year to live in separate apartments. What was I thinking?

I took a few "desktop publishing" classes in college and those were on Macs. It was always easy to navigate around those computers. It always just seemed to know what I was thinking or wanted to do. I was happy, then, that my first job out of college had me working on a Mac as well.

Fast forward to the invention of the iPod, and all other cool things from that big ol' Apple company. My love was re-kindled as I realized that all the music from my cabinet full of CDs could literally fit in the palm of my hand. It was all user-friendly just as it had been in college and post-college. And my iPhone? Don't even get me started. Those Apple people are smart. And cute. And clever.

Then I had the pleasure of talking to that nice man from the Apple customer service line and he firmed the relationship. But today? Oh, that relationship was cemented.

Today we went on a field trip to the Apple store.

Yes, you read that correctly. Apple offers field trips to their stores for elementary students. They work with the kids on new projects or help to make existing projects better. Best of all? It's free. Oh, and the kids get a t-shirt and a certificate. Bonus.

I always knew those folks at that Apple place were smart. But what ingenious marketing. They grab the kids at a young age, give them a great experience, and send them on their way wearing bright yellow t-shirts that say, "Apple Store Field Trip". Brilliant.

But all marketing and propaganda aside, it really was a great experience. The people who helped our group (4 trainers) were great with kids, kept everyone including the adults entertained, and were excited to have us there. From the time we got there until we left, we were thoroughly engaged. They pulled out all the stops, including having us work right near the new iPads.

Didn't they know that they had me at hello?

Monday, April 5, 2010

On Gratitude

The Easter Bunny brought a copy of Runner's World for Stein. I was flipping through it yesterday, and came upon a short piece by author Kristin Armstrong. In the article, she talks about the idea of gratitude. She starts the article by describing a run she went on where she had some hills to tackle. Her usual mantra for hills would be, I have to get through this. She began to think about people in her life who would love to be tackling those hills, but couldn't, for various reasons. She changed her mantra to, I get to do this. The mantra soon found its way into other areas of her life. She said that her attitude changed from one of obligation to one of gratitude.

I keep thinking about this idea and I have to say, it has started to creep into my attitude as well. I went on a run today and kept saying to myself, "I get to do this run this morning. I get to run on a Monday morning because I'm on spring break. I get to run this route." (Believe me, by the end of the run, I wanted to scream at that voice, "I GET IT. AND I'M OVER IT.") But all in all, it really made a difference.

I am guilty of so many times going from one thing to another, trying to wrap things up, getting things checked off a list, or not giving a thought to something I'm in the middle of doing. I also take a lot for granted. Voicing gratitude for the things I get to do, the people I get to hang out with, the sounds I get to hear, the beautiful things I get to see, or delicious food I get to taste, makes all of those things so much more important than they normally seem.

They are important.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring Break

Ahhh. Vacation. Or should I call it staycation? Either way, I'm so happy and content to be off of school for a little over a week. The teaching gig is still going very well, but we all needed a break, kids included.

This spring break I am staying put. Although I would love to be in Arizona visiting my mom, the astronomical airfares kept me from going. Sigh. Being home will do me some good. There are a bunch of little projects that may or may not get done, some friends to catch up with, and some reading for pleasure to keep me busy. I may even take a trip to Chicago. Maybe. Or maybe not.

Happy Spring to you!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Are You Up for the Challenge?

On All Things Considered on NPR on Sunday, they talked about a contest that is currently running. It's called "Three Minute Fiction" and it's now in the fourth round. The rules are to use the four words they list (in any of the possible forms - verb, noun, adjective) and the story needs to be read in three minutes. Since it has to be read in three minutes, they say to limit it to 600 words or less. The four words this week are:

Here's a link for more information:

Are you up for it?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Flip Side

I had some issues with my iPod today and had to contact Apple customer service about it. I figured I would leave a message, they would call me back at their convenience, not mine, and I would be playing phone tag until I gave up.

Instead, I went to the website, answered some quick questions about my problem, clicked on the button that said I wanted to be contacted immediately, and waited. For a second. I'm not kidding, about a second after I clicked the button, our home phone rang. When I answered it, the computerized voice said, "An Apple representative will be with you shortly." The cynic in me immediately thought, here we go with the waiting. Now I'll probably have to keep pressing buttons until I give up. The cynic in me only had a second to think about it, though. The next second I heard a live person asking if he had Kelly on the phone and confirmed what my problem was.

When the easiest solution became downloading 1/2 of my library of 600+ songs again, he said he would wait to see if we could catch the culprit that caused my problem in the first place. He would wait? And I wasn't being charged for him to wait? In the time that I was called, to the time he was done, Stein went and took a shower, and was back downstairs. And the whole time we waited for the computer to do its thing we talked about music and computers. It wasn't creepy; he wasn't asking me where I lived or what I did for a living. We just talked about the various artists that were in my library (John Denver started the whole conversation on a funny note - no pun intended), and some of the bands that he worked for as a sound technician.

I found the whole experience to be helpful and refreshing. So different than the crazy customer service experience with the hotel. My belief in good customer service has been restored. Now if only I remembered his name, I could write a positive letter this time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mrs. Owl

Check out this website:

It's a female owl in a box that people have in their backyard in California. There is a camera that sends a live video of the activity in the box. They named the female owl Molly, and the male's name is McGee. One of the eggs hatched, but there are more that are ready to hatch any day. Right now when I checked the site, she was feeding her baby.

We're kind of hooked on watching her. I walked into the office the other day, and I heard the sound of McGee. I said to the secretary, "Are you watching the owls?" She had such a surprised look on her face, and then laughed. Busted!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Daily City: Population 26

My classroom is like a mini-city. With all of the personalities, I find that there's a job for everyone. For some reason I am very cognizant of the personalities in this class. I think it may have to do with not having to worry every minute about classroom management, and having more time for observation.

In my class, the personalities run the gambit, but for the most part everyone gets along. Most of the personalities are complementary. We all have our moments, though. Just like a big family, there are bound to be quibbles or spats or disagreements.

In our city of 26, oftentimes the mayor is not me. I have a couple mayors who try to tell me what needs to be done in the city. Just the other day, one of the mayors said to me, "Mrs. Steinhauer, will you please get someone in here to vacuum the rug? There are lots of scraps of paper around." The timekeepers also keep me on my toes. If we are more than 2 minutes behind on the schedule, they let me know. One of the timekeepers says to me, "Running a little behind?" Another one just reminds me of the time.

I have many lawyers in the city who seem to come out of the woodwork when they find it selfishly appropriate. Fairness, equality, and justice are their specialties. They're not afraid to voice their opinions or use tears to try to get their point across. Their defense sometimes has some backing, but oftentimes it is unfounded.

There are many entertainers in the city. The comedians help us all laugh at some of the silly things that happen to us. They also help me to remember to laugh at myself, and keep things light. After all, it is a young population, and life doesn't need to be taken too seriously. The other entertainers are musicians, singers, and dancers. Some of the acts they perform take place in the hallways, in the class, or on the playground. Sometimes they want an audience, but most of the time they seem to be entertaining themselves. There are also a handful of social organizers who live for parties and socializing with friends.

Some of my favorite people in the city are the philosophers and dreamers. I see the far-off looks on faces and think that they're not paying attention. But when they raise their hands to make a connection or tell me a related story, I realize that they're just deep thinkers.

The artists, custodians, and organizers help to keep our city beautiful and clean. The nurses take care of everyone and are sure to ask the right questions when someone is hurt. They also like to accompany any patient who needs to journey outside of the city to the office for ice or to call a parent.

You are more than welcome to visit our city. I'm sure you would fit right in.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


If you follow me on facebook, or if you read my post about my trip out west recently, you know that it wasn't such a travel dream getting there. I have been trying to recoup spent money and it's like a part-time job. One day I was faxing and emailing and sorting through receipts for a good two hours or so. Not what I want to do with my free time, but you really have to keep up with it.

As part of this "project" I also wrote to the customer service people for the hotel that made me wait in the cold for two hours for the shuttle that never came. First I got a response from the corporate website saying that the General Manager of the hotel had a week and a half to respond to me. Then, when the GM wrote to me (5 days later - he was early!). Here's the letter he sent (keep in mind I did not change any of this letter):

Dear Kelly Steinhauer:

I would like to apologize for the shuttle service you encountered on February 20th . I would like to asure you that I have shared your comments with our Desk and Shuttle departments along with the General Manager of the Hampton Inn in order to examine the problem that occured that evening and to make make changes if needed in order that no future guest will wait a extended amount of time to catch one of our shuttles.

On that evening we were running one shuttle for the two hotels and usually that staffing is able to handle the demand of the airport we were not prepared for the amount of distress passenagers we encountered that evening. The shuttle was dispatched to pick up distress guests at the airport and the problem was two airlines had cancel fights at the same time and we brought back approx 40 people in a two hour time frame and for that level of activity we needed to have more shuttles running.

Please know that problems like this are rare as we communicate with the airport on a nightly basis and when the airport informs us of the amount of distress they will be sending us we make schedule changes to have the proper amount of shuttle service.

I will be sending you a certificate for a complmentary night next time your plans bring you into Denver .


I do apologize for the inconveince that we caused you that evening.

I have removed his name to protect him from embarrassment should he ever google his name and find this post. But seriously, how could you write a letter riddled with grammatical and spelling mistakes? Surely, all he needed to do was click on the spell-check button. I'll let the grammatical errors slide. I guess.

I didn't stop there. I called the customer service number and complained again. They were very rude to me and couldn't understand why a certificate for a free night at a hotel in Denver was unacceptable. I tried to explain that I was diverted there, that I don't intend on going back to stay in Denver.

Yesterday I got this letter from the GM (again, nothing has been changed):
Dear Kelly Steinhauer:

I sent out a free night gift certificate today that you may use on your next trip to Denver , This should arrive in the mail this in the next few days.

Again I do apolgize for the inconvience you encountered with our shuttle service on your last trip. You were not charged during your last trip by the Baymont Inn & Suites and I am able to offer you this free night for your next stay in Denver.

After all of this hullabaloo I have realized that the customer service policy we had at Einstein's was a really good one. Customers had to receive a response within 24 hours of their complaint. And I know it sounds like a really modern space odyssey kind of a thing, but we actually used the spell check function on our computers.

Imagine that.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Light

As much as I start hoping and waiting for it to start sometime in November, it always takes me by surprise. Somewhere at the end of January or maybe sometime in February, I notice that it's staying lighter later. Then I notice a shift of the time the sun is up when I get ready for school in the morning. My class has been tracking the hours of sunlight and have been making graphs too. But even though I know all of this and the science behind it, it just feels good. Having more light around is a pleasant, welcome surprise.

This weekend was beautiful, with sunshine everyday and temperatures above 40 degrees. I can't get enough of the sunshine. I found myself more than a few times, staring out the window at it. It's like I've never seen it before. And yes, I know that we could get snow at any moment, but I feel like we're past the point of caring too much about it.

My classroom faces east, just like my classroom did 2 years ago. But this year it's different. As I get ready in the morning, moving around my room and doing my morning routine, the sun is there with me. Two years ago, I held on to that morning sun just to get me through. Minute by minute, it seemed, with a hope for longer days and warmer weather, and eventually summer. Now the sun is a part of my routine, but I don't need it in that desperate sense like I needed it before.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

In the neverending quest to find recipes that are easy, yummy, and can last for a couple days as leftovers, I stumbled on this one that was in our paper. It fit all of the requirements and then some. If you like pulled pork, give this recipe a try. You don't even need the additional barbecue sauce. The sauce that you make is just fine. We had ours on kaiser rolls with cole slaw (of course on the sandwich). If you need a quick cole slaw to make, just grab a bag of cole slaw and mix it with Marie's cole slaw dressing (thanks Kris!).
Pulled Pork
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 cups ketchup
1 teaspoon garlic powder or garlic salt
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
5-pound boneless pork shoulder roast, fat trimmed
Barbecue sauce for serving
In a mixing bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic powder, onion and Worcestershire sauce together. Pour into a large zipper-top plastic bag. Place the pork in the bag with the marinade, seal the bag and turn the pork to coat. Refrigerate overnight, turning the bag once or twice.
Pour the entire contents of the bag into the insert of a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 10 hours, until the pork is fork tender. Remove from the slow cooker, cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, skim off any fat from the sauce.
Using two forks, shred the meat, then return it to the sauce. At this point, the pork may be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Serve warm, with additional barbecue sauce.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What a Short Strange Trip It's Been, Cont.

The flight into Denver was uneventful. I sat with a woman who I befriended, and we chatted the whole way as if this little side trip was all part of the plan. I got off the flight, headed to baggage claim and went right to customer service. I wasn't going to fool around. After talking to several people in customer service, including a baggage handler, I was told that my luggage was headed to Hayden, but they could intercept it and get it for me. Excellent, I thought.

But the day didn't want to run smoothly up to that point, what made me think it was over? The baggage handler came back up to the office with a worried look on his face. "Your luggage is already in Hayden," he said. At this point I had heard everything. But I was beyond defeated, I was just tired.

I called the hotel where I had arranged to stay through the airline's suggestion. The girl at the hotel told me that I needed to "Go out door 511 and wait on Island 3." I followed her directions and stood on island three. An island in the middle of a snowstorm, that is. The weather was unseasonably cold that night. Of course, why wouldn't it be? I got to experience just how cold it was, because I stood out there for TWO hours. I called the hotel about every half hour to inquire about a shuttle, and the lady at the hotel kept reassuring me that the van was coming, or going and coming back, or whatever. I had faith that I would eventually get there. When my faith ran out, I asked one of the other hotel vans if they had any vacancies. The kind kid driving the van called over and found a place. I was able to rest my cold and weary bones for about 4 hours before I had to get up in the morning and go back to the airport.

I was somewhat refreshed in the morning and was convinced that it was a new day. I got to the airport easy enough, went through a short security line, and made my way to the gate. The woman I befriended the day before joined me in the gate area, and chatted with me as we waited for the flight to board. "They didn't charge you for the room last night, right?" I looked at her like she was crazy. She went on to tell me that they didn't charge her for the room, that it was on the airline. I thought back to when the agent gave us the hotel information and swore she said, "This isn't for a free room, this is for a discounted room, usually about $50."

The flight to Hayden was uneventful except for the additional hour we needed to circle the airport to wait for conditions to improve. We did finally land and I thought my luck had turned around, finally. I walked confidently up to baggage claim customer service and asked for my bag that had been delivered the night before. The woman looked confused when I told her my situation. I had seen that confused look before. Something was not right. Again. She clicked the keys on her computer and stared at the screen, prolonging the bad news she was about to tell me. "Your bag is still in Salt Lake City. It will be delivered this afternoon."

Okay, I thought, I am in Hayden. I am on my way to see Chris and Patty. I will be able to sleep in a nice bed tonight wearing my own pajamas. I will be able to take a shower using all of my own toiletries.

As if I thought that was going to happen. I should've known. I talked to the airline that evening when I still didn't have my bag. The man on the other end of the line told me that I would have my bags that night. I repeated this back to him just to make sure. He simply said, "Yes."

I went to bed early that night, and actually got up in the middle of the night to see if the airline had delivered my bag while I was sleeping. No dice.

In the morning I called the airline back. The man on the other end told me that my bags were in Atlanta. "Atlanta?" I asked him. "I haven't even been to Atlanta!" He gave me some sort of far-fetched explanation and told me that I would have my bag that evening. I've heard this before, I thought.

In the meantime, he told me that I could shop for toiletries and clothes that I needed and I would be reimbursed by the airline. I also had a voucher for one of the local ski shops that rents ski pants, gloves, etc. for people who lose their luggage. Off to Wal-Mart I went to get the under clothes I needed, and then off to the ski shop to get the outwear. Then on to our lesson.

As we were enjoying some apres ski that afternoon, the call came in that my luggage was being delivered. That night, I almost couldn't believe my eyes when the luggage was in our condo.

I was able to enjoy two days of skiing (as opposed to the 3 I had planned on), and was able to breathe some fresh mountain air. But in reality, the trip felt more like work for most of the time than vacation. I was constantly thinking about what I had to do to get my luggage, or replace my luggage, or change gears when a wrench was thrown my way. Don't get me wrong, I had a good time when I was there, but I just felt rushed. Not my ideal way to spend a vacation.

What a short, strange trip it was.