Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Teacher's Best Investment

I am not a big fan of shopping. At all. My mother will be the first to tell you that taking me shopping is not a really pleasant experience. I tend to get bored and cranky very quickly. I hate trying on clothes. Hanging out at a mall is not something I do. In fact, about the only place I enjoy shopping are bookstores and places like Home Depot or Lowes and hardware stores.

I guess I inherited my grandmother's practical side. She raised three kids during the Great Depression and the Dustbowl in Kansas and that woman brought frugality to an art. She also taught me to knit, but that's another story for another day.

In any case, one thing I have learned is that although I may buy my clothes at Good Will I will spend big money on shoes. (Good Will is the place to shop if you're in the weight loss mode and need clothes but aren't where you want to be size-wise yet. Why spend money when they hopefully won't fit in a few more pounds?)

One of the biggest revelations I had when I started teaching was that you are on your feet nearly all day long. I had moved from the corporate world where I sat all day long at a keyboard or in meetings, and all of a sudden I was on my feet constantly. From the looks of the footwear I've seen on the various education majors that have observed in my room, no one has told these kids about the standing on your feet all day thing either. It rapidly occurred on me that if I was going to be standing all day long, I was going to have to spend money on really good shoes.

Because when it comes to shoes, you get what you pay for. You buy cheap shoes and your feet will hurt all day long. If your feet hurt all day you will have a very bad day and the kids will seem even worse than they are. Your back hurts, you're cranky, and your spouse starts walking on eggshells. Spend some money and not only will your shoes be more comfortable, but they'll last longer and people will fear you less. Although I spend a lot of money on shoes, I don't do it very often. I take care of the ones I have and I don't have a lot of variety in styles. Truth be told, when it comes to school I have three pairs of Birkies (brown, black and blue), plus a pair of Noat sandals (brown).

For those of you who have never heard of Noat shoes, they are heaven. They are made in Israel and are some of the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn in my life. Fortunately I live where you can wear sandals nearly eight months out of the year and I wear these things a lot.

But I really needed a black sandal.

So, since I needed to go to the Big City Mall to pick up my replacement iPod, (another long story) I asked Mrs. Eagle if she'd like to go with me and we'd check out some shoes and do lunch. Like me, Mrs. Eagle knows the value of good shoes, and unlike me, she has to wear inserts (due to her 20 years in Army boots she says). Good shoes are really, really important to her.

We ended up at this store I discovered, The Walking Company, and had a great time. I love a nice, knowledgable sales rep who isn't pushy but who really works to find you the most comfortable shoe for your particular feet. Mrs. Eagle and I both ended up buying the same pair of shoes, some black Dansko sandals, and Mrs. Eagle even added in a pair of inserts which she said were more comfortable than the ones her doctor prescribed for her. We spent some money but we got a wonderful, quality product. (I have heard great things about Danskos from some friends who wear nothing else - I can see why.)

The fact that we bought the same shoes will surprise no one at The School. They already call us The Twins.

We are now ready to stand for hours on tile floors with our feet comfy and our smiles intact.

My most important advice for a new teacher? Buy really, really, really good shoes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Carnival Time!

Head on over to the shore and check out this week's Carnival of Education at Where's The Sun? Enjoy!

Too Smart for His Own Good

Last fall, Mr. Bluebird and I lost our cat Bedford to a brain tumor. It was a pretty miserable experience, as we tend to view our pets as our children since we don't have any human children. Bedford was an awesome cat, very smart, lovable, and very large. We still miss him.

However, we realized that we missed having a boy cat around the house. We had three girls, and we love them to pieces, but we kind of missed the little personality traits we tend to find in male cats. So, I found a wonderful pet rescue organization, The Privileged Pet, and we found Duke.

Duke has been an eye-opener. He was under a year old when we got him, only about 8 months, so he still was very much a kitten. Our girls range in age from 10 to 12, so this little guy was a bundle of energy that really woke all of us up. He's a character. He was highly socialized before he came to live with us, so he gets along with everyone and he and Spicer, our youngest girl, tend to play together a lot. It's been great for everyone.

And he's also so smart he's beginning to freak me out a bit.

I tend to wear my hair in ponytails during the summer, especially when I'm going to the gym and working in the yard a lot. I recently bought a pack of about a dozen or so ponytail do-dads, not quite scrunchies, but similar.

Duke is obsessed with these ponytail holders.

I have found these ponytail holders, obviously chewed and played with, all over the house. He's completely destroyed an orange one so I decided to let him keep it for a toy, especially since I don't like orange anyway.

I then found a yellow one on the living room floor.

Apparently Duke has figured out that I usually toss these on the bathroom counter. Hubby and I have both caught him snooping around the counter, looking in baskets, and dashing off with a ponytail holder when he finds one.

So, I started making a very determined effort to keep them in a drawer, which is then shut, so he won't destroy all of them. After all, he won't figure out they are in there, will he?


I thought I'd solved the problem of Duke snagging and destroying my ponytail holders and was enjoying a cup of coffee and sudoko the other morning when he trotted by, went to his shoebox (a box he likes to play in, sleep in, and apparently hide toys in), grabbed a yellow pony tail holder, and trotted back to the guest bathroom where he hopped in the tub and played hockey with his new toy.

"Okay," I thought. "Maybe I forgot to put it in the drawer and he found it."

So I made another real determined effort to keep the ponytail holders in the drawer, and the drawer shut.

And the next day I caught him on the bathroom counter twice, and found two ponytail holders on the floor.

This morning he was sitting in the sink, looking innocent. Later on, I found the drawer open and another ponytail holder in the living room.

Duke has not only figured out that these ponytail holders are kept in a drawer, but he's figured out how to open it!

Which brings us to this question: Are they putting catnip on ponytail holders now?

****Silly Cat Update****

This is now a continuing game with Duke. I put the ponytail things in the drawer and shut the drawer. Next time I go into the bathroom, they're out on the floor. Repeat. Obviously he needs a challenge to keep himself occupied!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Of Dads, Birthdays, and the Dreaded In-Service Sessions

Yes, I'm still alive.

I didn't really mean to neglect this blog for so long, but sometimes things kind of get in the way and I keep thinking, "oh, I'll do that tomorrow." So very Scarlett of me, I suppose.

In any case, my father has been up visiting for about a week. He lives a little over three hours away and tries to get up several times a year. For someone who's retired, trying to find free time where he can actually come visit is insane. This man is busier as a retiree than he ever was when he was working for the airlines. In between activities with his church, his hobbies, and traveling, finding time to come up to our neck of the woods is a challenge. So, when he's here I like to devote my time to him and tend to neglect the computer. After all, I realize that my parents won't be around forever, so I do want to maximize my time with them.

Even if it means watching NASCAR all freaking day.

Honestly, we had a bit of a heat wave while he was here, and it was brutally hot and humid so we didn't do a whole lot of outside work (we did, however, fix my yard gate which was a mess). Daddy is a handy-man sort of guy (and has taught me quite a lot), so in between daily trips to Home Depot, Lowes and Harbor Freight, we managed to watch a lot of NASCAR, baseball, and golf in air conditioned comfort.

I don't mind the baseball or golf one bit. In fact, I really enjoy baseball and have had a lot of fun watching the College World Series. And truth be told, the U.S. Open with Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate was amazing golf. But NASCAR is not my thing. I do, however, have to give my dad credit - he doesn't have a favorite driver. He likes anyone who beats Junior.

So Dad and I hung out, celebrated my birthday and Father's Day. Mr. Bluebird wasn't able to join us as he was up in Washington D.C. (or as he calls is, the "Lair of Satan") doing research at the National Archives. In other words, squinting for hours and inhaling very old dirt.

And then I had four days of in-service work. The first one, on podcasting, I took by choice because it sounded useful and interesting...and it actually was. The second one I took because I was the middle school teacher from the district that was going to a "train the trainer" session on our new standards, put on by the State. It was local (thank goodness) and had teachers from all over the middle part of the State, and actually was not, for once, a complete waste of time.

Which brings to mind the absolute worst in-service that Mrs. Eagle and I attended a few years ago. This was another one put on by the State and it was mind-numbingly dull. The major focus was a CD that the State produced that had all these very cool links and resources to help us find wonderful lessons that have lots of inquiry and align with the state standards. Not a bad thing at all except it was presented completely wrong. The fellow who did all the work to put together the CD basically sat up at the computer and we spent the whole day watching him click from link to link to link and talk about what he was doing. I wanted to put a needle in my eye. It would have been a lot more effective if they had let us play with the CD ourselves on computers.

Anyhow, I spent three days at this workshop and now will be expected to host some of these workshops (smaller versions, definitely not three days) to help our teachers become familiar with the new standards which go into place in the 2009 school year. There's some big, big changes in middle school science and the workshop really helped me get my mind around some of it. There was also a large section devoted to textbook adoption which should be interesting as new books are often the first thing axed when budgets are tight.

But hey, it's summer, and what else is a teacher to do on "vacation"??

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Five Reasons Why You Need to Check out the Carnival!

It's time for the Education Carnival and here are five reasons why you need to go check it out!

1. It's hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Teacher. You gotta admire a guy who's got the cajones to teach elementary.

2. It's better than a game show (go there and you'll get it!)

3. You'll find lots of cool, fun, interesting, sad, funny, and thought provoking stuff.

4. It's better than doing yard work for those of us who've already finished for the year.

5. It will motivate you to hang in there for those of you who haven't finished for the year!

When They Surprise You

The first group of seventh graders that I taught at The School will be seniors in high school this next year. I promised myself that when they started to graduate, I'd be going to graduations, just to see these kids get their diplomas. They were a pretty memorable group, both in good ways and in bad ways and in sad ways.

Talky Girl had a baby her sophmore year, but amazingly enough, she's still on the honor roll, the flag team and is going to make it to college. Another, Phillip, died in a drowning accident two years ago and I still think of him when I drive over the bridge near where he drowned. His sister was in Mrs. Eagle's class this year and looked so much like him that it would sometimes nearly startle me when I'd see her. I miss him still. Another, apparently, will be spending his senior year behind bars in a youth detention facility.

And then there's Motormouth Boy.

Motormouth Boy was a skinny kid with big glasses who could not, for the life of him, shut up. He came to us in late fall from a local private church school. His parents had decided that their children needed more exposure to the real world, and they'd heard good things about The School, so they enrolled them. After a week with Motormouth Boy I was wondering if maybe he hadn't been asked to leave the previous school. This kid had something to say about everything and anything. He'd talk to a wall, given the opportunity. He still holds the record for the fastest return to isolation island of any student I've ever had. I'd had him in an isolation seat, he'd been good, did his work, and earned his way out. It lasted under five minutes. He spent a lot of time in trouble and knew Mrs. Squirrel quite well as she tended to end up with his referrals. He was a regular in ISS.

I had his sister two years later. I didn't realize that she was his sister for two months (very common last name). She was one of the hardest working children I've ever seen, very quiet, very studious, and would beam when you gave her a compliment. She mentioned to me one day that I'd had her brother, Motormouth, and I about fell over. I couldn't believe that this quiet, well-mannered child was related to Motormouth, and chalked it up to the fact that she couldn't get a word in edge-wise.

This past May we had the traditional 8th grade dance which I always volunteer to work at since I get a kick seeing all the good kids dressed up and trying to act to sophisticated. It's a real big deal to them, and a lot of times parents tag along for a little bit to get photos and to see how nice everyone looks. Motormouth's sister was there, looking lovely, and her parents were there as well as a very nice looking young man.

"Mrs. Bluebird, I bet you don't remember me," the young man said.

I didn't recognize him, but I knew that voice! It was Motormouth!

"Oh my gosh!" I said. "Look at you!" Motormouth was no longer the gawky, geeky, dweeby, seventh grader. He had matured into a very well mannered, well-dressed, attractive young man.

His Dad piped up, "He's on the honor roll now! Can you believe it! After all the trouble we had in middle school?"

Motormouth looked embarrassed. "Yeah, I'm doing a lot better. Had to grow up, I guess."

We had a nice long chat. Motormouth is going to maintain his grades and is planning on doing something with computers in the Air Force. His Dad is a Marine (as there is no such thing as "was" a Marine), and he credits having his father as a strong role model to help him get over the middle school bump. His parents were positively beaming.

It's so gratifying to run into your former students and hear how they've managed to grow up. I honestly worry about quite a few of them, wondering if they'll make it in this world. Motormouth was one of them. However, with strong family support (he does, after all, have his Dad there to help him and many of my students don't), he did okay.

I'm so proud of him.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Eat Your Vegetables

A few months ago my knitting friend Mrs. Budgie (who really has a budgie at home named Franklin) and I got to talking about vegetables. The big article in the big city paper that Sunday was about CSA's - Community Supported Agriculture. In other words, a lot of local farmers are growing vegetables for the local community. You pay for a share, and receive a box of veggies, fruit, and good things every week. She knew someone who had done it the year before and raved about it. I was interested, but face it, there's no way on earth I'd be able to utilize a single box on my own, since Mr. Bluebird is a tad - shall we say it? - fussy, when it comes to vegetables.

So, Mrs. Budgie and I decided to go in on a half share and split that. She's home by herself right now (hub is in the 'Stan) so that would work out pretty well. I actually did an analysis of the cost as well and it's going to cost me $120 for the season, which runs May through November. That's pretty good. And the local farm that does it is certified organic so that's another plus.

We got our first box last week and it was an eye opener...for one, there were vegetables in there that not only had I never had, I'd never heard of. Like perilla. Perilla is apparently a Korean veggie, and has a bit of a minty zing to it. We also had Swiss chard, lettuce, greens, green onions, kale, and basil. Fortunately, the organic farm is really good about sending out a list of box ingredients as well as recipes, because Mrs. Budgie and I were both going, "what on earth?" when we saw our goodies.

So, we split our goodies up and I had a frig full of leafy green stuff. Now the creative part. What to do with all this?

Well...I stir fried the perilla with soy sauce and onion. Awesome. I made a homemade Italian soup with the kale. Incredible. Hubby actually loves vegetable soup so I got bonus points for that. The basil went into a garlic basil mayo spread. The lettuce I used up in salads. The Swiss chard and the greens both got steamed and topped with a vinegar dressing. Yummy.

I've probably eaten more vegetables this week than I ever have.

My own garden is progressing. The tomato plants are looking healthy and have a lot of blossoms on them. The red pepper has two little peppers on it. The sage, basil, tarragon, dill and rosemary are doing great. I'm looking forward to doing some canning of marinara sauce and tomatoes this summer. I've already done one harvest of oregano and it's drying.

And then I found the Amish farmer! We've been buying produce from an Amish farmer who had a little stand nearby. Except now there's construction at that intersection and he wasn't there...but I found him a bit further down the road near a church. Yeah! He has some of the best veggies around and Mr. Bluebird loves the homemade cookies he sells as well.

So, I'm eating a lot of veggies...and still thinking about school. (Do we ever stop?) For example, how can I encourage my students to eat more of these things, and less of the crap they eat every day? I may take some of my organic stuff in to show them when school starts back in August. Mrs. Eagle and I did our plans for our new health unit and we are including a few "healthy cooking days"...hummmmm...

Friday, June 06, 2008

If I'm on Summer Vacation, then How Come I Can't Find Time to Sit and Do Nothing?

I'll be honest. The end of the school year caught up with me and sort of took me by surprise. One minute it was late winter, and the next minute it was "Holy Crap! I've got to get grades finished!" I don't know where the time went.

So, here I am, on summer vacation, and I haven't really seen any vacation yet.

Oh yeah, that's another thing. Don't you hate it when people who aren't in education go on and on about how cool it must be to have three months off all summer to sit around and do nothing? I wish. First off, three months is a dream. I'll be back in my classroom by the end of July trying to get ready for our first full day - with kids - on the 8th of August. I think it adds up to something like nine weeks. As for doing nothing...I've already had one in service session, and I have about five more full days of in service before I head up north to do summer camp, then about two more before school starts. I think I spend more time in a classroom than I do on my deck.

Which brings me back to our topic. My deck needs to be painted - again. My white glider needs to be painted. I need to paint the porch. I'm still trying to finish painting two wardrobes I was given that will eventually become storage units in my craft room/office.

The same craft room/office I've been painting since March.

Last year we let the yard go to hell because of the drought. It did a beautiful job of doing just that. It looks much better than it did, green grass being something of a novelty after last year, but the weeds are amazing. And we had built some raised beds in the back yard that had no landscaping whatsoever but we never got around to putting anything in it. After all, with no rain, who wants to spend money on landscaping?

So I've been running to Walmart to buy bags of topsoil and trying to get these raised beds filled with something other than red clay and rock. Fun. And the wheelbarrow tire went flat so I had to get that fixed. And then I found a sale on daylillies at Lowe's and bought and planted ten of them. And then we're reseeding grass seed in spots that went bare over the winter and last summer, so that needs to be watered.

And that's just the yard. I need to mulch still, need to get more weeds under control and my riding mower is still in the shop so I'm push mowing this entire yard which takes two hours when the temperature is in the 70's. It will take much longer now that it's in the 90's.

I can't believe how many errands I end up doing when I'm not in school. I've been to the eye doctor, the allergiest, and the dentist. I've taken Morgan, my kitty with cancer, to the vet for a look-see. I've gotten a hair cut (finally).

I'm beginning to wonder when the vacation will start.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Carnival Time!

Sit down, grab a frosty one, and enjoy this week's Carnival, hosted by the Head Wonk!!! It appears The Education Wonk had some major technical difficulties and still managed to pull off another excellent carnival...gotta give this guy some extra credit.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It's Summer, Stoopid!

So Hubby and I were up in Chicago last weekend, enjoying one of our favorite cities. Hubby is a Chicago native, but left when he was ready for middle school and his dad got transferred overseas to South America.

Anyway, it's a great city. We had a lot of fun, went to the Randolph Street Market to look at the most amazing antiques and collectibles, checked out our favorite bookstores and ate vast quantities of Italian food. We were having a conversation while walking through the market about some landscaping ideas and yard work we needed to get done. Specifically, borrowing our friend Mr. Littlebird's pickup and getting a load of mulch. And this is where I apparently lost my mind.

"I'll be working all week at the museum," says Hubby. "That means you'll have to get the mulch since I won't be home until 7:00 pm or so."

"Yeah, I suppose, although it will be late afternoon before I can get out of school and hook up with Mr. Littlebird," I respond.

Hubby looks at me weird. He shakes his head. "Honey," he says. "You're out of school. Your last day was Thursday."

And it dawns on me that he's right. That I actually forgot that the school year was over and I was free (well, except for a bunch of in-service workshops).

"Oh," I say, "I forgot."

Hubby shakes his head. "You work too hard."


Honestly, though, I had a good group this year. Maybe I was just hoping it wasn't going to end.