Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Around the Country

Hard to believe that it's been 5+ years that I haven't been traveling for work. I don't miss it, except for a few things like getting upgraded on flights or in hotels. Or having my own schedule for the most part. But all in all, it's good to be home, week in and week out, not having to worry about late or cancelled flights, sleeping in hotel beds 4-5 nights each week, and trying to find something relatively healthy to eat in podunk towns.

Right around this time, however, I get a little homesick for the road. I get this way because I have been in some pretty interesting places while traveling during the holidays. I really enjoyed going to different places around Christmas or New Year's. I loved seeing how other towns decorated. I also loved being in a different place, but nevertheless experiencing the season.

There was a time when I was in Daytona Beach about a week before Christmas. The cheap hotel rates allowed me to stay in a fancy hotel on the beach, which was extremely rare for my miniscule travel budget. I ate in the hotel restaurant which looked right out on the water. Although it was nighttime and I really couldn't see the water, I could hear it. Meanwhile, the restaurant was decked out in Christmas decorations. I bought a hula Santa in the gift shop.

On that same trip, I had to drive from Daytona to Jacksonville to catch my flight the next morning. I stopped at an outlet mall that was all lit up with Christmas lights. It was an outdoor mall, and it felt so foreign to me to walk around in late December without a coat. I remember finding a Christmas song station on the radio. Another foreign concept listening to Christmas carols while the ocean breeze wafted in the windows.

There was another trip to South Carolina when I ate she-crab soup at an outdoor restaurant. The locals couldn't believe it when I told them about the temperatures back home. Trunks of palm trees were wrapped in Christmas lights.

I've been to Cleveland around Christmas, but that wasn't anything to write home about. Denver is pretty at Christmas, but can be precarious when you're trying to get home before a snow storm. Same thing with Indy, Minneapolis, and St. Louis. Pittsburgh is pretty at Christmas. So is DC. And of course in my biased opinion, so is Chicago.

Even airports get decked out in holiday garb. It's fun to see the nooks and crannies that people choose to decorate.

I hope you're feeling the season, no matter where you are.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

FInding Joy in Unusual Places

The news out there is not very uplifting right now. The economy, the resulting job market, the crazy political upheaval, being in a profession that is being scrutinized more and more. Yet, the one thing that I have been trying to do is relax, be thankful, and find sparks of joy. I have learned in my older age, that I need to take time for myself. I need to let things go. I need to say no more often. It's liberating. I also need to be thankful for all that I have, including a job I love, a house, food on the table, and family and friends who love and support me.

The joy strikes me at some of the most unusual times and places. A couple weeks ago, Stein and I were out for my birthday. We put our name in at a restaurant and then decided to walk around downtown while we waited. At one point, we went into a store that sells all kinds of trinkets and gifts. It's the kind of store that sells everything from cleaning supplies to wax lips to jewelry.

The woman working at the store was in her early 20's, and had such a fun, laid-back personality. While we were looking around the store, an older man (60ish) came into the store and talked to the woman. They greeted each other like friends. I gathered that he was the owner of the used bookstore next to the shop we were in.

After we bought the things we wanted, she said, "Oh, and now you get a token to play our game!" She then explained that they had a Bozo bucket-type game set up in their window display, and if you made it into the cup, you would win what was in that cup. As Stein stood near the cups taking aim at one of the prize cups, I noticed that the woman and man were outside looking on like spectators. When Stein's token made it into a prize cup, they both started cheering and jumping up and down. That made me laugh. It also made me feel good. It didn't matter that we only won a finger-puppet-like "We're #1 pointer finger hand". It really is the little things.

Hope you're finding and spreading joy in places big and small.


Next Tuesday after school I will officially be on Thanksgiving break. I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to the break. Nothing has changed with my class since my last post. They're still great. I am constantly receiving compliments from other teachers. I am constantly telling people that I have to count my lucky stars. And I do.

It's more that the things surrounding my class have really worn me down. Since the beginning of the school year, I have had curriculum night, parent-teacher conferences, national tests for the students, state tests for the students, and report cards. Not to mention after-school meetings for professional development, and staff meetings. Oh, and then "life stuff": out-of-town visitors, dinners with friends, planning for Thanksgiving, keeping up with stuff around the house.

Surprisingly, I haven't felt extremely overwhelmed by it all. Time has flown, but while the time plane is flying by, I can see it's a full flight. I am comforted by the idea that time will go by, things will get done, and anything stressful will end eventually.

I am equally surprised that I haven't felt the effects of the weather turning colder and the daylight getting shorter. In fact, I feel like the change in light and weather has made me a bit more productive. I get home and start to speed up a bit thinking that we're near bedtime. Then I look at the clock and there are still 2 hours left. I feel like it's a gift. (Talk to me in the dead of winter and I'm sure I wouldn't say the same).

May your time be full, and you find a spark of light in the darkness.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's Time

Time to write again. I'm not promising it on a regular basis like I used to do, but I know it's time. No one has nudged me back into it, thankfully. I just feel that it's time.

We're up north this weekend. In a place that we so needed to be at this point. Things have been crazy at school with testing, conferences, and just the day-to-day busyness of life.

I have been waiting to write about my class, because honestly I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. In one word? Awesome. The kids are great. I have so many moments where I think to myself, "This is what teaching is all about," or, "I'm having so much fun." They're polite, kind, funny, and really insightful. Other teachers compliment them. Other teachers mention good things to me. Believe me, I'm counting my lucky stars...

Back to being up north. Stein picked me up from school after I had my last conference on Thursday night. It was dark already, and while we drove the 3.5 hours heading north, I wavered between having thoughts of why didn't we just stay home tonight and drive up tomorrow?, and, I'm so glad we'll be up there tonight to enjoy the full day tomorrow. Finally, we arrived. And I went right to bed.

The next two days were a blank slate of possibilities. We each had things we wanted to do or see, and we each wanted some down time as well. Last night, our plans to have a nice dinner were scrapped when we had a mid-afternoon snack that ended up to be more like a meal (who can resist being gluttonous with whitefish spread or horseradish-cheese spread on crackers?). We stayed in and ordered a pizza for dinner.

There were walks taken, magazines read, colored leaves whizzing by on a drive, a dinner with friends, shops visited, breakfast at a diner counter, mid-afternoon beers that felt so decadent. One of my favorite things about being on vacation is remembering that not everyone has the day off. That people are working when you're not. I get giddy thinking about that. It feels like I'm getting away with something.

We'll go home sometime today. Maybe meander our way home through small towns and along lake shorelines. What a break this has been. A break we didn't even know how much we needed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker

Growing up in a big city, I rarely ran into people I knew once I left my neighborhood. (Although my mom seemed to run into people she knew a lot.) I got used to that sense of anonymity, and I liked to think that if I did something wrong or klutzy, no one would ever see me again. I liked the idea that not everyone knew my business.

Now I live in another city, but it's a lot smaller. Here I can leave my neighborhood and still run into people I know. The more schools I have taught in, the more my chances are of seeing people I know in most grocery stores. I can no longer just run to the grocery store in my pajamas, I mean, my sweats and a baseball cap. Ahem.

Stein grew up in a small town. So small that most people know everyone's business. You say our last name, and immediately people start asking who you know, Stein, or his siblings or his parents? Or the niece and nephews?

Friday night we went to see our two nephews play football. High school football is a world of its own. I never really got into it while I was in high school, partially because I went to an all-girls school, and partially because my guy friends didn't play football. I never experienced the "Friday Night Lights" of it all: bleachers, bands, cheerleaders, kids strolling the bleachers, kids hanging out. The game was good (they won!), but the people watching was even better. It was Homecoming, so there was a parade of girls throughout the game strutting their dresses and tiaras through the bleachers. In addition to that, there was the usual groups of people who know Stein, know his siblings, and know his parents.

On Saturday, friends of ours had an Oktoberfest party. Of course we knew most of the people at the party since Stein grew up with most of them, and also the hosts were the local veterinarians. At one point a local accident that happened earlier that day was being discussed. The person who was hurt in the accident had to be flown to the hospital by helicopter. When the question was asked whether or not the person had survived, our friend who is the local funeral director said, "I don't know, but I didn't get a call." It was at that point, combined with the football game on Friday, that I felt that small town feeling. The city-girl in me thought it was time to get back to our semi-anonymous city.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

On this 10th Anniversary of September 11th, I just re-read what I wrote two years ago, and that post also has a link to a post I wrote years before that. It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years.
Today I sent a message to the District Manager whom I was with when we heard the news. I told her that I will always remember being with her on that day. She wrote back and said, "I can't believe it's been 10 years ago because the memory is so vivid." I agree. The impact that event had on me is so strong. The impact that event has had on our country is so strong. The impact that event had on the world is so strong.

Never forget.

Friday, August 19, 2011

One Year Ago

One year ago this week, I was sitting in a workshop for new teachers, trying to concentrate on the speaker. Thoughts swirled around my brain and kept me from paying attention. I had so many questions at that point, so many unknowns, so many plans. Two weeks from then, I would be standing in front of a room full of students, and as it turned out, many of their parents.

Wow, how much has changed in a year.

This year I have had the luxury of getting into school earlier than last year. I have also had the luxury of being in the same room two years in a row. The work that my mom and I did last year before the start of school paid off. Over the past couple weeks, I have gone into school a handful of times to get things unpacked and organized. Yesterday I hung my bulletin boards and got the room pretty much ready.

I still have some summer left and I'm going to squeeze every last drop out. On Sunday, my Mom and Rich are coming to visit. We have a family reunion of sorts in Chicago the following week. But until then, we'll be up north. I'll bring some teacher books, and I'll bring some books and magazines for pleasure. I'm hoping the latter reading material will be read most. I have a week of teacher meetings and set-up to help me prepare for the start of school. Until then, I'm going to do my best to enjoy.

I look back to last year and smile. Thankful for the preparation, thankful for the experience, thankful to be where I am. Time to look ahead. When I need to.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Where to begin? There's so much I want to talk about. So many great memories, such beautiful scenery, such wonderful people. The food, the wine, the leisurely way we broke up our days of travel. Lunches, wine breaks, dinners that lingered for hours. Oh, Italy, I miss you.

I will recount the trip with pictures and sights that we saw in another post. This post is dedicated to Stein.

You know from the other posts I wrote that he had been saving for over four years for this trip. During our Italy trip, he blurted out, "I WILL go skiing this year!" to Chris and me. In the past four years he hasn't taken a vacation. Meanwhile, Chris and I have gone on two ski trips and to New York together. Ooops.

Before we left for the trip, Stein explained to me that nothing would stop us. "If we want to take a cab instead of the metro, we will. If we see a nice restaurant and want to eat there, we will. If we like a bottle of wine and want another one, we'll have it."

I can't tell you how much of a treat this trip was.

Most days started at 8 or 9 in the morning, and didn't end until we literally dropped into bed at midnight. There were cabs instead of trains, dinner in nice restaurants, and many second bottles of wine (don't worry, Chris was there for some of the trip too). On any trips prior to this, I would find myself hemming and hawing about the price of something or whether or not we could do something. Not this time.

This was one of the best vacations I have been on, and no doubt was due to the generosity of my husband. Above and beyond is where he went. And the vacation followed suit.

Reason number 9,678 why I married him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Snowball Effect

I recently linked another friend's blog to mine. When I do that, I tend to take a closer look at my blog because I feel like it's being exposed to one more person. Taking a closer look almost always means that I go back to some of my archived posts and read about things I've done and reminisce. It's nice to have this blog as somewhat of a diary to reflect on what I've done. On the other hand, looking back makes me realize that I used to post a lot more when I first started.

Having a blog sometimes presents a problem. You want to write down everything that happens right when it happens. Facebook makes this easier, where you can write a few sentences to get your point across. But most of the time, the opportunity isn't there to sit down and write a detailed blog post. So then more ideas pile on, and the next thing you know, you're overwhelmed with the enormous snowball of a blog post in front of you.

I've had so many things running through my brain since summer began. Part of the list would include flowers blooming, making pesto, choosing clothes for Italy, relaxing on a porch up north, meeting up with friends we haven't seen in a long time, booking hotels and tours for Italy, anticipating a family get-together in August.

The luxurious thing about this summer is that I have time to do these things, and more. Although the more luxurious thing about this summer is that I have the freedom to choose to do these things, or not. I'm reveling in this freedom. I know just how lucky I am.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Summer. Oh, summer. How I love you. And how I love you even more when I don't have an agenda, a schedule, a job. How I love you even more when I have a paycheck coming in, a trip to Italy to plan, and options for getting together with friends and family.

To those who are reading this and rolling your eyes, I get where you're coming from. Really, I do. But after nine months of being strictly tied to a schedule, so tied that bathroom breaks became scheduled too, I am relishing this free time I have. This is only day two of the first week off, and already I feel like a weight was lifted off me.

Don't get me wrong; I had a great year. My class was such a great assortment of kids, that seeing them off the last day was so bittersweet. I could tell about 3 weeks before school was out that they were ready. Ready for middle school. Ready for summer. Bless their hearts, though. Most of them held back the urge to cop attitudes like only a few of them did. Some of those days it wasn't pretty. But looking back, that's not what I'm going to remember.

I am going to remember that being a fifth grader is tough. You want to remain a kid for all the kid stuff You want to start to show some adult behaviors to put your toe in the adult pool, but you still have so much to learn. I am going to remember that forgiveness is sometimes wrapped up in a facade of coolness. I am going to remember that friends change by the minute, by the mood, by the activity. I'm going to remember that four-square can be ultra-competitive. As soccer or wall ball can be.

And now for my time. Time to think. Time to dream. Time to plan. Time to read. Time to be.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wandering Mind

I'm finding myself daydreaming a lot lately. Knowing there are 2 weeks left in school has made me jump into planning mode. Our garden is pretty much planted, we have new landscaping in the front of the house (no more white trash), and we're thinking about adding brick pavers to the backyard. It all sounds so grown up to me as I just listed all those things, but I guess I'm a grown up...

In the midst of all of this garden work, my mind has been wandering aimlessly in all directions. There are things that I want to do differently next year in my classroom. There are trips to plan both around here and abroad (hello, Italy!). There are books that I would love to read. There are friends whom I would love to catch up with. There are recipes I want to try. There are things around the house that I still need to catch up on (shredding party, anyone?).

I can't wait to have some time. Time to reflect on the past year, time to enjoy my favorite season, time to plan for future gatherings and school years, time to enjoy my friends and family without having 10 other things on my plate.

I'm going to wander wherever my mind and spirit takes me. I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mork Calling Orsen, Come in Orsen

Yes, that's a Mork and Mindy reference. For those of you out there who never heard of the show, or weren't a TV hound like me, this was the TV show that started it all for Robin Williams. He was an alien (Mork) who arrived from outer space in Boulder, CO in an egg. As I write this, I realize just what a crazy twisted concept that was. And yet it all made sense.

The title of my post is the phrase that Mork would use to call "home". Orsen was the leader and would guide Mork through his confused life on earth with alien wisdom.

I'm feeling like Mork right now.

My last post was a preview of what was to come in the last month or so of school. Yet, as I'm in it now, I was a little off in my prediction. I should've said magnify the craziness by about ten. And then double that.

In addition to the neverending to-do list and event calendar, my class has gone off the deep end. They're done. They're done with elementary school. They're done with patience. They're done with listening. They're done with self-control. So while the end-of-year plates started spinning as predicted, a few more started at the same time.

The only saving graces in this whole thing have been two trips out of town. Chicago and Boston. Chicago to see family for a get-together, and Boston to see friends and the Cubs play the Red Sox at Fenway. On both occassions, there was a lot of eating and drinking. And a lot of laughing. And did I mention eating and drinking?

I continue my life as a pinball in the midst of these crazy weeks. Being hurtled from one crazy event to another, adding just one more event to my to-do list, telling a student to be respectful, packing a bag for a trip, unpacking the same bag and doing laundry, organizing a field trip, planting flowers, watching the skies open up again to rain.

Sometimes I wish I had an Orsen to call to explain it all to me and offer some wisdom to guide through this chaos.

But what fun would that be?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In the Blink of an Eye

May is always a month that whizzes by for teachers. Beginning sometime in March, dates are decided for important things like field day, ice cream socials, and farewell celebrations. The dates are penciled into calendars and while the snow drifts by the windows, teachers dream of better weather and the events ahead.

Yet when May finally arrives in all of its blooming-spring glory, it's almost like a shock that we're finally there. The dreams that were created 2 months ago and seemed impossibly far away, are here.

This week I experienced my first, oh my gosh, it's May already and I have so much to do and can I get everything fit in and wasn't it just March when I wrote this event in the calendar and it's really only 3 weeks until Memorial Day and do I have to actually teach when I have all of these meetings and events and farewells and and and and.

I have been attending a tech integration class for professional development. It has been a series of classes that has met four times over the course of the school year. When we first got the schedule in September, I almost laughed at the May date. That far away? I don't know if I'll make it until next week! And yet there I was, yesterday, sitting in that May class. I could hardly believe it.

It's around this time that teachers realize that the remainder of the year is so short compared to what we've been through. There's a sense of accomplishment to flip back in the calendar and see what has already been done, what we've endured. And yet, there's a bittersweet feeling too. Happy to be close to summer, but nostalgic about the year behind. Looking forward to sending kids on their way, but knowing this group will never be together as a whole again.


Monday, April 25, 2011

10 Things I'm Loving Right Now:

Hey, I'm not trying to cop out of writing a long post (did you hear that, Bre?), but I was inspired by Soule Mama to write some things that I'm loving right now. Things that are making me happy. Things that are carrying me through these days of relentless rain, grey skies and crazy politics and world affairs.

1. Daffodils that were planted blindly in the fall are blooming in all of their yellow glory. The tulips planted nearby are not far behind.

2. A class full of mindful students who really do care. They just sometimes have a weird way of showing it.

3. Planning a trip to Italy. You'll have to pinch me. Again.

4. A wonderful, lazy, casual, spontaneous, low-expectations weekend.

5. Catching up on sleep from said weekend.

6. A family dinner shared with Stein's siblings and their families. Good food, laughs, wine, and great conversation.

7. Dyeing Easter eggs with our niece and nephew. Preceded by a homemade waffle breakfast. A tradition that continues to evolve.

8. Looking forward to seeing my Mom and Rich in a few weeks after not seeing them for over 6 months.

9. Signs of Spring around town: U-M students moving out of dorms, people wearing shorts and flip-flops in questionable temperatures, Magnolia blooms waiting to burst.

10. A calendar that tells me that there are 8 more weeks left in school. I waver between, "Wow, that's a long time." To, "Crap! I don't have enough time to get everything done!"

Things that are keeping me sane. Hope you're loving a lot right now, too.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Erica, Phoebe, Adam, and Stuart

There was one summer when we were left to our own devices (vices? what is it?) that we somehow became obsessed with the soap opera, All My Children. When I say we, I mean Mickey, Rick and I, with an occasional comment thrown in by our brother Bryan. I don't know where we picked up this obsession. My mom, as far as I know, was never a soap opera watcher, but the three of us became entrenched in that show like housewives from the 50's. I even had a job one summer where my boss had a TV radio, so we would sit and eat our lunch and listen to the show.

Mickey, Rick and I would talk about these people as if we knew them. We discussed their choices, and predicted their futures. We rooted for some of them like best friends would, and hoped that the bad guys eventually would meet their demise. My mom couldn't care less about this show, so she ignored us when we would talk about it. Yet by ignoring us, she didn't pay attention to the names and would suddenly perk up the next time when we mentioned someone was in danger or on their death bed, or someone suddenly returned from the dead. "Who are you talking about?" she would ask with a worried look on her face. We would start explaining it to her and then she would say, "I can't believe you're talking about these people like you know them. It's a TV show."

Fast forward to recent years, when Mickey and I have become obsessed in the same sort of way with blogs. I think I may be to blame in this situation, when I stumble upon a blog that one of my regular-read blogs refers to, or I find through a google search. I usually tell Mickey about it, and then we start following those blogs regularly. When Mickey and I talk on the phone, inevitably part of our conversation will turn to blogs. "Did you hear that Soule Mama is pregnant? I am so happy for them!" Or, "I love that craft project Shivaya Naturals did with her kids. She's so creative." Or, "Did you see that Pioneer Woman has a contest? Maybe we could win and get to stay in the Lodge."

These people become like celebrities, in that we follow their lives through their blogs and get to know them as we read more about them. One post I did a couple years ago caught the attention of one of the bloggers I follow and she commented on it. I called Mickey immediately. "Heather commented on my blog! She read my blog!" Recently, one of my favorite bloggers, David Lebovitz, visited Chicago, and one of my friends Kathy, who writes the blog Stresscake, got to meet him. She wrote a hysterical post about meeting David, sitting next to him at a breakfast, almost spilling water on him, and spending the rest of the time talking with him. I was so jealous. A couple days later, David wrote a post about Garrett's Popcorn in Chicago. I made a comment on the post, and the next day I noticed he responded to my comment! I immediately emailed Mickey and told her my good news.

I guess once a groupie always a groupie. A geeky groupie, at that.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Random Dinner

Going along with the theme of random for this week, here's a random dinner I thought up at the the last minute (sorry for the poor photo quality - taken with my phone in poor lighting).

Stein hasn't been feeling well, so all he wanted was soup. I was in the mood for something a little more hearty. I remembered we had some frozen pot stickers in the freezer, but knew that a meal out of pot stickers probably wasn't the most healthy option. I decided to have a salad, but knew that I would need a dressing that went with the pot stickers and the salad. Peanut sauce! But then I needed a recipe for a peanut sauce that wouldn't be too thick, like most satay sauces are. This one did the job.

I didn't have sesame oil or ginger on hand, but it still tasted great. I also used sriracha sauce instead of the "chipotle pepper puree" that it calls for. It was just what I wanted. A little bit of sweet, a little kick. I also found some leftover brown rice in the fridge so I threw that on, along with some frozen edamame to put on the side. From start to finish, I think it took me 10-15 minutes. Perfect.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Random Bits of Randomness

~Despite the low temperatures, I am very excited that spring is here in all its long-houred, newly-budded, Dairy Queen-opened glory. I am also looking forward to spring break next week. I'm trying to keep my expectations low and unplanned for the break. There may be some books read, or not, there may be some organizing, or not, and there may be some lunches with friends, or not. I love that it's just brimming with possibilities for whatever.

~Today is the birthday of the girl whose father draws little pictures in her planner. When she opened her planner so I could check it, there was a note from her dad that said, "Happy Birthday! Today is one of the best days of my life! I love you." How wonderfully sweet.

~The kids in my class continue to make me laugh with some of the things they say. For example, one of my boys was talking to another boy, and when he one-upped the other one in a joking way, he said, "You wanna eat those apples?" Instead of "How 'bout them apples?"

~We had a wonderful time in Chicago this past weekend. We were in for our friend Linda's birthday party (Hi, Linda!). We ate at four new restaurants (2 dinners and 2 breakfasts) while we were there. All of the places were delicious in their own way. I always go back to this when I reminisce about a trip, but my favorite parts were just hanging with the people I love to be with. Whether it was around a table at a restaurant, sitting around the living room, or walking around the neighborhood, it just felt easy and comfortable.

~I checked out 5 Italy guidebooks from the library. Yes, 5. I'm trying to narrow down the areas we want to see. Definitely Rome. Definitely Florence. Definitely the Cinque Terre. Amalfi Coast? Milan? So exciting to just dream.

~Did I tell you how excited I am to be on break next week?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Generosity Strikes Again. Big Time.

I've been wanting to write this post for almost a week now. I've been struggling with how to get it out without boasting, and trying to convey just how excited I am at the same time. I know y'all will forgive me for going overboard on the former idea, and being less than I should be on the latter idea.

We're going to Italy this summer.

(I guess I can't just end it there, can I? Don't worry, I won't. Of course I have a few stories to tell.)

I'm going to take you back a few years, to Stein's 40th birthday party. I surprised him with a trip to Las Vegas. Once we got there, the surprises didn't stop. There were friends who met us there that he didn't know about, a surprise helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, a surprise appearance of his great friend from his childhood, t-shirts, CDs. It was a great trip. Great fun was had by all, and Stein's friends still compare their 40th birthdays with his. As the main planner, I felt successful.

Fast forward to this year. It's been a while since Stein and I had a vacation. Granted, we've been up north a handful of times, went to visit friends last summer in Maryland, and I was lucky enough to go skiing out west and then to New York for my birthday last year. But a real vacation somewhere that wasn't tied to friends or family? It's been a while. So when I saw some great deals to go skiing in Colorado, I jumped at the chance to try to get us to go. Stein wasn't really into it. He kept skirting the issue. I did start to get frustrated when I kept presenting ideas and he didn't really listen. Or so I thought he wasn't listening.

Last Saturday I picked him up from the airport (he was coming back from a family-related trip, not a vacation) and he told me we had to go to his office to pick something up. When we got there, he told me I needed to open the trunk and not look. I did as I was told, and then we were on our way. Once we got home, he told me to go upstairs for a while. When I came downstairs, there was a birthday cake, card, and gift bag on the dining room table. "It's not my birthday," I said. I read the card, and then he pushed the gift bag toward me. When I reached inside, there was a guidebook to Italy. "I've been scrimping and saving for four years," he said. Later, when we started making tentative plans and started talking about the cost, he told me that he had enough money for everything. "How did you save all that money?" I asked. He turned to me and said, "I haven't gone on a vacation in four years."

He wins.

As I've said before in a recent post, we're not about one-upping each other. But comparing the two birthday trips, he wins. When I think back to the awesome birthday trip I planned for him, I did it on the cheap. There really wasn't any sacrifice on my end. I used hotel points that I earned from years of business travel. Our friend Shark (hi, Shark!) was generous enough to give us airline vouchers. And the rest of the planning? It just took some emails and phone calls and we were set.

This is different. This is planning. This is vision. This is determination, sacrifice, and kindness. This is how one man, whom I married for these and thousands of other reasons, humbled me to no end.

Lucky. Blessed. Fortunate. However you want to say it, I am. Truly, I am.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Great Expectations

It's funny how this whole blog world works. Usually one of the handful of blogs that I read on a regular basis seems to line up with what I'm thinking at the moment. When the light started to shift sometime in February and I thought about writing about that, someone else wrote about it. When I was out snowshoeing and my friend Wendy pointed at the buds that were coming out on the trees, I thought about writing about that too. The next day I read someone's take on the same thing.

It doesn't surprise me. I read blogs that are similar to mine. Blogs that are about cooking, crafting (I don't really craft, but I like to read about it), gardening, and travel. So when someone writes about something I've already noticed, I nod my head in agreement.

It just happened this week. I had been feeling in a funk and I couldn't figure out why. School is busy, as always, report cards are done and ready to be handed out, and I was able to get 2 last unexpected snowshoe adventures in before the rains came and washed all the snow away. What was making me feel this way?


It was on the tip of my tongue at the beginning of the week, and then I read one of the blogs and the author hit the nail on the head. I expect too much. I expect too much of my time. I do it to myself. No one is to blame but me.

If I'm given some free time, I fill my head with all kinds of lists of things that need to be done. I tell myself that they need to be done. The list is then made memorable by me counting the things I need do and storing that number in my brain. At the end of the free time, if the number of things done does not match my initial number, I think I have failed. Or, if something I have planned doesn't go almost exactly like I had envisioned it, I feel bad.

This happened over winter break. Chris flew in from Chicago and we headed up north the next day with a car full of winter gear. We drove through a snowstorm to get up there, only to find that there was no snow. Like none. Like you could see the leaves that were left on the ground in the fall.

What flew out the window were my hopes of snowshoeing everyday. And possibly skiing. And maybe playing in the snow. What flew into the window was some funk. I instantly tried to change gears to make myself feel better, but I didn't know how to do it. To quote the U2 song, I was "stuck in a moment and I couldn't get out of it." I couldn't just be fine with the time I had to spend with friends. And I couldn't stop my mind racing to try to make things right.

People who know me think of me as a really calm, laid-back person. And I am, for the most part. But have me envision something and then completely change it will throw me into fits like a two-year-old with a temper. Of course I don't kick and scream (as far as you know), but my mind races like it's in some sort of NASCAR event. I become someone else. Someone who I don't necessarily like.

I need to let go.

The blog that I read this week talked about doing just that. The author was saying that she is trying hard to go into situations without expectations in mind. Without an agenda. This is easier said than done, of course, and hard for someone like me who likes to be in control. Who likes things just so.

I'm trying. I'm trying to let go. Trying to see the big picture. Trying to realize what's important. Trying to weed through the garbage. Trying to just be.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Latest Obsession

Besides snowshoeing (which I do have another post to write about it), my latest obsession has been the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. You may have seen them both on the Grammys. They each performed and then played together with Bob Dylan.

I love their lyrics. For some reason, both of these bands have lyrics that are really pertinent to the moods and themes of my life right now. The Avett Brothers have a song called I and Love and You, which has the line, "That Woman she has eyes that shine. Like a pair of stolen polished dimes." It's one of my favorites.

I love this song. Especially the line, "Remember that nothing is worth sharing, like the love that let us share our name."

And I love this song. I think of my friend Karen when I hear it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Wuv, Twue Wuv

If you've ever seen the movie The Princess Bride, then you know that the title to this post is from that movie. Stein can quote just about the whole movie when it's on (which is frequently), and I love to see his face light up when his favorite parts are on.

We're not sappy people, so holidays like Valentine's Day and Sweetest Day and every other "lovey" holiday in-between usually pass without much notice. Valentine's Day usually brings with it a healthy dose of chocolate in our house. As if we need another excuse for buying chocolate. ( Ahem.) So a card, a kiss, and some chocolate usually suffices.

This year I wrapped up some things for Stein for Valentine's Day. (His birthday is the day before, so any gift overflow is usually given on Valentine's Day.) I set the gift in my closet and thought I would wait until we both were home from work to give it to him. As I made my way down the stairs to make breakfast for myself that morning, I noticed some light coming from the dining room which is normally dark. As I turned the corner, I saw this on the dining room table:
I think I may have said, "Awwww" out loud to myself too. All of my favorite candies. He thought of this and set this up the night before. I wish I could've been a fly on the wall and seen his face while he orchestrated this whole thing.

Suddenly the gift-wrapped box in my closet seemed pretty generic. But that was okay. That's how our relationship is. One person may have a great idea and be creative, but it doesn't mean that the other person needs to one-up the other. The receiver of the creativity can bask in the fun of it all. And then maybe start concocting a plan for the next time...

Wuv. Twue Wuv. Reason #3,467 why I married that man.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Slowing Down, Stepping Back

The life of a teacher revolves around the curriculum that needs to be taught in his/her district/state. In my district, we are given rough schedules of what should be taught at certain times of the year. It's not written in stone, rather it's a guideline to use while navigating through the year. Subjects like math and history follow a pretty straight line. Lessons are taught in succession and build on each other over time. Subjects like science and writing can be taught out of order and can fit around the more rigid schedules of the other subjects.

I teach a special reading class to a small group of fifth graders while the rest of my class goes to reading with the other two fifth-grade teachers. The format of this reading class is like math and history: there are certain things I must teach, in a certain order, and the schedule of the class follows a certain structure as well. There isn't a ton of room for creativity, which sometimes makes it hard to do day in and day out. I like to exercise my creative side every now and then. The flip side of this, though, is that this doesn't require a great amount of planning on my part because it's all laid out for me.

Because most of our schedules are pretty tight and somewhat disjointed with kids going here and there, there is a lack of continuity throughout our days and weeks. I can't say to the class, "Remember when we read about the Egyptians last week?" Only four of the kids would know what I was talking about. The district suggests that we do a lot of cross-curricular learning in part because the curriculum is so large and tight, which makes total sense and is what's best for learning. Yet in my case, it is nearly impossible.

This past week, we had a change in schedule when I was with my class for reading. We were able to use some of that time for writing. We were able to have a discussion during some of the time about an important topic. We were able to take our time, rather than rush to get things cleaned up so we could move to the next subject on the schedule. I felt more relaxed. The kids felt more at ease. Honestly, I felt like we all were more creative.

I want to say that I'm not complaining, nor am I saying that there is only one way to teach or learn. But I am saying that for the two days this week when I had some time to slow down, step back, and gain a new perspective, it just felt good. I'm thankful I had the opportunity.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Labor of Love

Remember this picture? I took it in September after I spent hours with a group of friends canning tomatoes. It was a labor of love, for sure. Yet deep in tomato season, I didn't realize just how much of a labor of love it was.

Fast forward to this week: more than a foot of snow on the ground, temps in the single digits or below zero, and me having a bad case of cabin fever. My new obsession with snowshoeing has curbed the cabin fever a bit, but not all of it. If given the choice, I would gladly be on a beach right now, or in a backyard somewhere, I'm not going to be picky.

The tomatoes have been sitting on a shelf in the basement since I made them. I've been rationing them, in a way. I figure I need to spread the fresh tomato love throughout the winter and well into spring. Maybe one a month, and then it will be time for spring vegetables and fruits. Which will lead to summer fruits and vegetables. And more tomatoes.

So last night, in an effort to procrastinate doing some schoolwork, I made this bolognese sauce. As I popped the lid off the jar of tomatoes to add it to the sauce, I took a whiff of the freshness. They smelled so much different than canned tomatoes from the store. It was like I added some sunshine to the pot on the stove. (Remember when those cans of sunshine from Florida were really popular? Do they still sell those?) When I took a taste of the sauce once the flavors melded together, I said to myself, "Mmmm. Yes." It was perfect.

Perfect for a mid-winter's night. Perfect for procrastinating. Perfect for embracing cabin fever.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Birthday Week Begins

Happy Birthday week to Stein! In honor of the birthday boy, here is a list of some of the great memories that we have made together. And because I am feeling some cabin fever and in need of a vacation, this list has a vacation theme, too:

  • Being in Seattle, afraid of heights (me) on the Space Needle.
  • Drinking wine with Chris, Steve and Kate in Napa.
  • Skiing in Colorado and eating lunch outside on the sunny mountainside at Winter Park.
  • Sitting on the deck of the USS Missouri in Honolulu, eating dinner and listening to a big band play.
  • Eating the best paella I've ever had and getting sunburned in April at an outside cafe in Madrid.
  • Tromping around Gaudi Park in Barcelona.
  • Walking on hardened lava cautiously (me) and watching flowing lava in Hawaii.
  • Being the only people on a beach in Naples, FL because the temps were too low for the locals.
  • Cubs spring training games in Arizona.
  • A day in Sedona with a Pink Jeep tour, a drink at the Enchantment resort, and a beautiful sunset on the red rocks.
  • Eating pancakes at Pamela's in Pittsburgh.
  • Laughing with our friends while eating crab in Maryland.
  • Watching a football game at Penn State. Twice. One time arriving in style in a metallic green Mustang.
  • Sitting in adirondack chairs on the lawn of Mission Resort on Mackinac Island.
  • Walking around the monuments of DC at night. On more than one occasion.
  • Eating dinner on the grounds of the union at Marquette on a beautiful summer night.
  • Watching sunsets for five consecutive days up north, each night different than the next.
  • Sitting on the beach in Maui for hours reading, sleeping, sunning, swimming.
  • Cruising down the mountain in Maui on bicycles, shedding layers of clothes as we went.
  • Wandering around Quebec City with nowhere to go.
  • Watching a game at Fenway Park in Boston.
And the list goes on and on...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Up North

About 2 hours into the drive up north on Friday I realized that my ski jacket and snow pants were resting nicely on the couch back home. D'oh! And me being me, I kept kicking myself (figuratively) about it that whole night and into the next morning.

What I didn't realize that morning was that the only thing I was missing at that point was a snow shoe hike through the woods. (And I was also able to borrow the clothes I needed).

I'm hooked on snowshoeing now. Stein and I rented snow shoes and went on a nice jaunt in the woods with our friends. The sun was shining a bit, as we made our way down a winding path through the trees. The concern that I had earlier in the week about not having time to get away quickly melted. We needed this.

Snowshoeing is a great workout, I quickly learned. I didn't need to worry about the twenty-degree temperature. What better way to get a workout in, instead of walking on a treadmill at the gym? We liked it so much that we did it again the next day. The eight-degree temperature didn't matter, either.

The rest of the weekend was fantastic. We were able to relax, read, eat good food, and get some sleep. Our friends were so hospitable by inviting us to stay with them in their beautiful house. A fire constantly roared in the fireplace, and a cup of tea or a bowl of hot soup staved off the cold.

For someone who generally loathes the cold and dreads the drawn-out time of winter, I had a wonderful time. Who knew that strapping some aluminum frames with webbing on my feet would do the job?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

That Sunday Night Feeling

The clock on 60 Minutes tick, tick, ticks away in between commercials. I woke up this morning and heard that clock ticking the minute I got out of bed.

I go back to school tomorrow.

I know, I know, you're going to tell me that I had 2 weeks off and to quit my complaining. And I know once I'm back at school tomorrow in my routine, it won't seem that bad. But sitting here on the couch in the spot I have worn away in the last 2 weeks, I am not happy to be forced out of my vacation routine.

As I wrote in my last post, I really couldn't sit still during a lot of this break. Mickey tells me that this is what happens when you're on break, that it normally takes about 2 weeks to really fall into a relaxing routine. I guess I've hit that 2-week mark right now, and I'm ready for more. I got a lot of things done in the past 2 weeks and feel pretty productive, but now I'd like to get more productive in the area of relaxation.

I guess I can wait until the next break. Or a possible snow day. Or summer.